(This was taken by my trail cam last October 1st, 6 hours before I shot a good bear with my 9.3 X 62 and the 250gr Accubond leaving the muzzle at about 2715 fps from 85 yards to the right of pic. I was preparing to refresh the bait.)
I’ve loved my times hunting black bears — I never seem to get tired of it, or bored. Each adventure always has surprises, and differences from those past. Yes, there are similarities that etch lessons into memory, but it’s the newness and differences that have taught me the most important lesson of being prepared for anything, because ANYTHING might happen!
My dad, who was a commercial fisherman on the east coast of Canada, used to say that he loved fishing because each day was different in some way from those preceding it. I too loved being a part of his crew during a number of seasons for the same reasons — each day was a new adventure. For example, we experienced just about every kind of weather that the Atlantic could dish out! Then, there were dozens of different fishing grounds from just off the east coast of the little island we lived on at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy to another ten or a dozen locations within the Bay of Fundy. All were different. But that was only a part of it — we also fished on Brown’s Banks 60 to 100 nautical miles from the south-east shore of Nova Scotia to just outside the legal international limit of the east shore line of the New England States. On those longer trips we lived on board for a week, no matter the weather (unless a hurricane was coming our way) or until we got a full load of ground fish — haddock, cod, pollock, etc.
(This photo was taken last summer by our daughter while visiting Campobello with her husband. The blue-white dragger in the background is very similar to my dad’s last fishing boat, that I worked on for a few seasons as a young man, though married with two small boys.)
Now, my father was quite well educated for his time, smart and a licensed draftsman/blueprinter, and did work in Boston and Providence for a number of years before he reached 30, but his heart was “back home” in a fishing boat. And his heart was also to marry his girlfriend that lived on our small island, so he returned to Campobello and with cash bought a fishing boat, as well as a ten-acre property with a house, barn, a store and a 2-story shoreline building for nets and other equipment — then married the woman who became my mother.
All that to suggest that I must have inherited some of his genetics for the love of adventure and a life that would always be challenging and never dull!
That may, in part, enlighten you somewhat as to my personality type. I hate boredom and love adventure! Of course, no matter what our calling might be, life is full of surprises. But some folk want life to be smooth and calm with no surprises or bumps in the road — or rough seas! There were men — and some of them young men — in our fishing community that never loved the fishing industry or being at sea. Usually, they found something else to do, like carpentry or working for the Provincial or Federal Government. Or, they worked seasonally on a fishing seiner or dragger that belonged to someone else, despising every moment of it, but putting up with it because of the pay check. Of course, that’s not reserved to the fishing industry but applies to any employment where workers are just putting in their time in order to survive — and that’s not to disdain anyone. We should all be thankful for employment even though it might not exactly fit our preferences.
It might be insignificant to mention, but I have also enjoyed other kinds of big game hunts — moose in particular. Many hunt deer, but I’ve lost most of my interest in deer hunting because there are too many hunters in the woods these days chasing the same few deer where I used to hunt them on Crown Land. Of course, if one has permission to hunt on private property with a small group, chances for success are improved. But deer don’t evoke mystery or much of a challenge, especially as they are hunted today. And then, in particular parts of North America, they are as numerous as fleas on a dog’s hind end!
That’s some background, but it’s time to get back to the main theme — rifles for black bear hunting.
As it has been pointed out several times, the type of “bear rifle” should depend on the type of hunting we intend to do for bear. If, for example, we only plan to hunt bear over bait on just a few occasions, and we already own a big game rifle in .30-06, for instance, then there really is no need for going out to buy another especially for bear unless we really want another rifle. But for the “bear specialist” who will hunt bear under a variety of conditions, then I would suggest a rifle dedicated to that pursuit even though it might also be suitable for other big game under the same conditions. As suggested, a rifle suitable for moose under any and all conditions is equally suited for bear under all conditions. For me, that list would start with a .300 magnum. But for hunting bear over bait on occasion, at no more than 100 yards, many cartridges would suffice, but there again I’d lean towards one of the mediums or Big Bores. Why?
Because in the fall, September through November, bears are putting on weight from 2 to 4 inches of fat under a fresh new coat. And even though a .270 or .308 might give complete penetration, there may not even be a single drop of blood that escapes from the entrance or exit wounds. That’s not theory, but a fact! The fat, hide and fur may completely defeat blood escaping!
(That wound was made by a 400gr Speer leaving the muzzle of my 1895 Marlin at about 1865 fps. Impact was at 100 yards with about 1535 fps/2093 ft-lbs remaining. The right side of the bear was saturated with its blood –the bullet never made an exit wound — it didn’t need to. The bear went a total of 10 yards, fell on its back with all four paws skyward. I gave another for insurance that wasn’t needed. It was a trophy that made a nice rug.)
Consider this potential scenario: A 350 lb bear is hit solidly through the lungs with a 120gr at 3000 fps MV from a .25-06 at 75 yards. The bear runs off into a thick underbrush and never bawls. A search gets underway and there isn’t even a single drop of blood to be found that would indicate the direction the bear took when it was lost to view. That bear may have gone 50 yards or 500! But it may be lost for good because there isn’t even a hint of it’s direction or how far. On the other hand, that bear may have only gone 25 yards away, up under a low-lying tree or behind a deadfall or in a ravine or swamp awaiting your arrival. In my experience, the follow-up of a “well-hit” bruin can be very unnerving if there are only a few drops of blood “here and there” that finally peter out. Therefore, I recommend a high velocity .30-caliber shooting a 180 to 200gr that will expand adequately to insure an exit wound of at least 1 and 1/2-inches. A .35/.36 caliber will give an exit of about 2-inches, and a .458 caliber of 3-inches plus IF the right bullets are used.
Then, in any follow-up you want a caliber and cartridge that will put a quick end to matters in a fast handling rifle that you are familiar with. That’s why many bear hunters over bait prefer lever-actions. Kinetic energy isn’t the main thing here, but momentum and bore size is! Using a lever-action, a 2nd or 3rd shot can follow within 2 to 4 seconds. One of my favorite rifles for the baiting procedure, where you may come upon a bruin at the bait that resents your encroachment, was an 1895 Marlin in .45-70. It was the fastest repeater I ever owned apart from a couple of semis, that was suited for bear at muzzle range. It launched 405-grainers at 2100 fps/3965 ft-lbs and 180TE — all that from a 22″ barrel! That was good enough for self defence against any black bear!
So, I’m not advocating magnums “only” for bears under all conditions, but under particular conditions I’ll take something in a Medium to Big Bore that will answer questions that have yet to be asked! The problem, however, with that system, philosophy or whatever, is that I cannot always determine before the fact what, where or when those particular conditions that merit a “magnum”, Medium or Big Bore might ruin my hunt if I were not prepared for “whatever”! Therefore, the rifle I carry for my bear hunts will ALWAYS be adequate for any expected or unexpected course of events.
My recommendation, therefore, is “Think .30-caliber and up to what you can handle without flinch or fear”. By .30-caliber, I’m referring to at least a .308 Winchester with the very best handloads in 180gr or 200gr. The other exception to .30 and up is a 7mm magnum with a heavy bullet for caliber. Why there is a constant recommendation for a 160gr in that caliber, I’ll still scratch my head in puzzlement when moose or bear are involved. There are excellent 175gr bullets, the Nosler Partition in particular, that can be moved along at about 3000 fps (approaching the ballistics of a .30-magnum and a 180gr).
(This bear was literally flattened on the spot by a 175gr Nosler Partition leaving the muzzle of my 7mm Weatherby Magnum at 3015 fps. That was from a 24″ barrel using RL-22 and range was 65 yards.)
Philosophically speaking, I want to enjoy my bear hunts and be relaxed while doing it. That means, among other things, that I don’t want to have ANY concerns over the firearm I brought along, or it’s ballistics. That also means that I should have an awareness of potential scenarios.
(L to R: 450gr/.458 A-Frame; 350gr Speer Hot Core/.458; 286gr N.P. 9.3mm (.366); 180gr N.P./.308; 175gr N.P./7mm; 300gr Hor./.430 — all are good to excellent bear bullets depending on bear size, impact velocity and range. Left click on photo to enlarge.)
Well do I recall early-on advice given by my outfitter, Norm Easto: Pointing to a narrow valley coursing through a rugged landscape, he said in so many words, “Bob, be aware that the bear may come through that valley or over that ridge or from directly behind the bait… OR from behind you. In fact, it could show up at any time from any direction with whatever attitude he/she happens to be in.” That’s a condensed version of his counsel in answer to some questions I put to him.
More to come… and that will finalize this current theme.