Recently, I read a thread on one of the Alaskan forums that supposedly was to answer a question by the OP: “Which is best for defence against a charging grizzly, a .338 Winchester Magnum or a 9.3 X 62?” The thread actually turned into several pages of responses. A few suggested that something else would be better, notably a 12ga with slugs or a .458 Winchester Magnum. But the majority stuck with the two original options.
I was surprised on two accounts: First, the 9.3 X 62 won by a rate of about two to one. And secondly, the original thread dated to 2008, which greatly surprised me because I didn’t think that the 9.3 X 62 had that much traction in North America seven years ago! I got mine in the Spring of 2011 and even then there didn’t seem to be a lot of information “out there” for the handloader. Of course, over the past four years there has been a near exponential growth in awareness of its handloaded potential, as well as several new powders, bullets and cases that are turning up in catalogues and on dealers shelves. To say that it has experienced a renewal in North America is not exactly the situation. But to recognize that it has experienced “discovery” in North America by a significant number of handloaders is closer to reality.
To answer the question: “Why is that so?” calls for some analysis and knowledge of facts about this veteran metric cartridge, created by a Berlin gunsmith by the name of Otto Bock back in 1905. At the time of pre-WWI, German and other European settlers of East Africa needed a reliable, adequately powerful and relatively cheap rifle for two important reasons: First, for protection of themselves and property against crop-raiding predators like elephant and lion, and for hunting Africa’s plentiful big game for meat on the table. British doubles and singles of the day were far too expensive, including the ammo that was both rare and beyond economic realities. Otto Bock came up with the solution: A Mauser rifle based on the excellent ’98 action that was within the financial capabilities of the average farmer. Thus, the rifle was an excellent ’98 Mauser of exceptional quality. The cartridge was of new and modern design that about coincided with the .30-06 Springfield and pre-dated the .375 H&H by seven years. The bullets in both softs and solids were made for tough game and the powder was of a modern smokeless creation. All-in-all, it was a success in all ways, perhaps beyond expectations. The traditional load is debatable, but soon became a 285gr at 2350 fps in both soft-points for thin-skinned game and solids for thick-skinned DG.
Yes, once again, I’m blowing a trumpet for that historic and very capable cartridge which is now chambered in several modern bolt-action rifles as well as in some singles and one pump-action that I’m aware of.
There was a time in my hunting career in which a .338 Winchester Magnum was considered by many North American gun writers and “experts” as the sine qua non for Alaska’s largest bears and 1500 lb moose; that is, if you didn’t already own a .375 H&H! Today there are several more contenders for that crown! I could, of course, mention a few off the top of my head without any particular order, like the .340 WBY, the 8mm Rem Mag, the .300 RUM, the .338 Lapua, the .375 WBY, .375 Ruger and the .375 RUM. That’s not a complete list but is representative. Then, of course, there are those who still promote their .30-06’s and .270’s as adequate. I might dispute the latter two but not the other contenders. And we could add some of the .416’s and .458’s… I’d have no disputes with those for the experienced handloader either. They know how to tame or get the best from them for whatever.
For the experienced rifleman-hunter who owns and uses one of the above, excluding the two small-bores, they should be capable of dispatching the largest and most fearsome black or brown or white bear from a single shot placed in a vital area. And, I would agree with the majority who entered the discussion at the top of this page… the 9.3 X 62 has proven its “stuff” and belongs in that elite group!
(Ted’s bear using his 9.3 X 62 in the Yukon.)
What about a 12-gauge? Yes, what about it…
Many police and military units choose it for close-quarter trouble! Also, game wardens or rangers do the same. There must be a reason.
A twelve in a pump, bolt-action or semi that will chamber magnum shells is a fearsome combination — at relatively short to moderate ranges. In checking the factory loads in the locked cabinets at Canadian Tire in my home town, I’m continuously amazed at the number and variety of shot-shells, including slugs. The most common are three: 12ga., 20 and .410. In 12 there are numbers for small game all the way to some for turkey and geese in both standard and magnum. In slugs there are standard and magnum in a variety of brands. I’ve chosen the Challenger in magnum for my bolt-action 12. They leave the muzzle at 1620 fps (over the Chrony) for a 504gr and so far are plenty accurate at 50 -60 yards. I’ve not yet tried them at 100. But they are of a very hard lead and made for military and police offence/defence as well as for the hunter in chasing large game in brushy conditions. I’ll use them for my deer hunt in November as well as for some scouting during bear season (Sept 1 through Nov 30). I’ve tested them sufficiently, I think, to have confidence that they’d do a fantastic job on any angry bear in offensive or defensive mode at close range.
I feel more confident with my 9.3 Tikka because it’s faster and lighter, and I have much more experience with it!
So, what’s best, a .338 Win Mag, a 9.3 X 62, a .375 Ruger, a .458 Win Mag (or 1895 Marlin) or a 12ga?
Let’s have an unbiased look at the ballistics of each at 10 yards with the need to stop the bear in it’s tracks but with also the probability of a finishing shot if needed.
Having no experience with the .375 Ruger, I will try to be fair in choosing it’s best ballistics from it’s Alaskan and Guide Gun format in 20-inches of barrel. With the others I have quite a bit to a lot of experience in rifles with much less in the 12ga. The ballistics of the .375 Ruger will be representative of the .375 H&H which is a favorite in Alaska, though I’d prefer a more compact package and probably would choose the Ruger in its 20″ format.
As in the above order, we’ll start with the .338 Winchester Magnum. The range is 10 yards, the bear is charging head on and its weight is 750 lbs (black or grizzly)! Yes, there was a recent kill of a black bear in Ontario that went over 750 lbs with guts out! The shot placement is under the chin into center chest. The formula I will use is the TE Mitchell Formula. We all agree that bullet choice and placement is critical. With that assumption, which of the six will prove best taking into consideration the following significant criteria:
TE (terminal effect)
Rifle weight and handiness (affects speed of response/reaction and potential tiredness prior to encounter)
Recoil (affects potential speed of follow-up shot)
Action type and slickness (same as recoil)
Degree of bolt lift (same as action type — a 55* bolt lift is faster than a 90*)
FIRST: a .338 Winchester Magnum in a Remington 700 Mountain Rifle. Barrel length = 24″ (my son’s rifle)
weight all-up = 8.75 lbs (4 in magazine, 3 – 9 X 40 Leupold, light nylon sling)
Bullet: 250gr Nosler Partition
Powder: 73grs IMR4831
MV = 2735 fps
Recoil = 39 ft-lbs
Bolt lift = 90*
TE @ 10 yards = 115
Time for 2nd shot = 3 sec (-5 TE points for each sec.)
Total Score = 100 (adequate for a 1250 lb bear)
SECOND: a 9.3 X 62 (my T3 Tikka; 22.5″ barrel)
Weight all up = 7.5 lbs (total of 4 cartridges, 3 – 9 X 40 Bushnell Elite, light nylon sling)
Bullet: 286 Nosler Partition
Powder: xx grs RL-17
MV = 2622 fps
Recoil = 48 ft-lbs
Bolt lift = 70*
TE @ 10 yards = 138
Time for 2nd shot = 3.5 sec (-5 points for each sec.)
Total score = 120 (adequate for a 1500 lb bear)
(Corrected to muzzle is 2622 fps)
THIRD: a .375 Ruger GG (20″ barrel)
Weight all up = 9 lbs (with 3 cartridges, scope and sling)
Bullet: 270 TSX
Powder: 83grs H380 (Barnes)
Primer: Fed. 215M
MV = 2837 – 120 = 2717 fps (Barnes in 24″. In 20″ loss is about 120)
Recoil = 45 ft-lbs
Bolt lift = 90*
TE @ 10 yards = 131
Time for 2nd shot = 3.5 sec (-5 points for each sec.)
Total score = 114 (adequate for 1425 lb bear)
FORTH: a first issue Ruger M77 in .458 Winchester Magnum (22″ barrel; my first .458 WM)
Weight all up = 9 lbs (with scope, 4 cartridges and light nylon sling — same as my #1 Ruger in .45-70 IMP)
Bullet: 350 Speer or 350 TSX
Powder: 68grs H4198
MV = 2500 fps
Recoil = 49 ft-lbs
Bolt lift = 90* (single-shot Ruger has lever action)
TE @ 10 yds = 185
Time for 2nd shot = 4.5 sec (-5 points per sec)
Total score = 163 (adequate for 2000 lb dangerous game)
FIFTH: 1895 Marlin (.45-70 — 22″ barrel)
Weight all up = 8.8 lbs (scope, 4 cartridges and sling)
Bullet: 465gr hardcast
Powder: 57grs H335
MV = 1900 fps
Recoil = 42 ft-lbs
TE @ 10 yds = 191
Time for 2nd shot = 2.5 sec (-5 points per sec)
Total score = 179 (adequate for 2250 lb large game)
SIXTH: 12 gauge
Weight all up = 8.2 lbs (4X scope + 3 slugs)
Bullet: 504gr hard lead
Powder: ? (perhaps 37 – 38 grs)
MV = 1620 fps
Recoil = 33 ft-lbs (about)
TE @ 10 yds = 80
Time for 2nd shot = 3 sec (avg. depending on action)
Total score = 65 (adequate for 800 lb bear.)
Are there any biases in these data? In light of the conditions envisioned — a 750 lb bear coming straight on at 10 yards — I chose a typical bullet that might be used in each case. For example, the 286gr NP was chosen for my 9.3 X 62 because I have some experience with it in killing a 6′ bear with a frontal shot. But that bear (NOT 750 lbs!) did make 20 yards to the escarpment where it rolled or tumbled to the bottom, another 20 yards. But the range was not 10 yards either; it was 68 and I was in a treestand, quite secure up there! So the idea of a 286gr NP at .366″ hitting a bear frontally in the chest at 2510 fps/4000 ft-lbs didn’t stop a 6-ft bear in its tracks! What about an 8 – 9-ft bear?
I’ve shot several bears frontally, under the chin. What I know works for sure as a “stopper” is a .45-70 heaving a heavy-for-caliber bullet with a flat tip at near .458 Win Mag velocities! And if placed right, you would never need a second shot! That I know for sure.
The 270 TSX was chosen for the .375 Ruger because according to all reports I’ve seen so far, it’s the bullet of choice in Alaska for big bears from the .375 Ruger Alaskan or Guide Gun.
A .30-06 is adequate for a 500 lb bear at same range with the time consideration of 3 sec for 2nd shot using a 180gr at 2800 fps. A 200 to 220gr would do better. A 220gr at 2500 fps is adequate for a 750 lb bear, for example, at 10 yds. So one isn’t poorly armed with a .30-06 for heavy black bears or average weight grizzlies when handloaded with heavy-weight premium bullets. Weight matters! That’s why a 500gr in a .458 is much more appropriate for elephant, for example, than a relatively light-weight 350gr. While a good 350gr is great for bears in .458″, they are borderline even for Cape buffalo.
It’s evident from the above, I think, that anything from a .30-06 on up is adequate for bears. But it is still borderline for a wounded bear that goes 1/2 ton in the alders! Of course, as the range stretches, it doesn’t become more powerful, but weaker. So while it may be adequate using the right bullet in cool hands, at 100 to 150 yards it might not be on a wounded bear going in the other direction!
The TE formula is mine. It’s a guideline only without any intended absolutes. It is suggestive, for example, that there would be little difference in effect between a .375 Ruger, a .375 H&H or a 9.3 X 62 when using best handloads in each for big bears, and aimed expertly. So we don’t, or shouldn’t, go after bear with an unfamiliar rifle or shotgun!!
Bear defence and protection, what’s best? Obviously, the one you can shoot best under pressure! Nothing really novel about that, eh? Yet, with the right bullet, bigger IS better!
In conclusion, I’d have to emphasize again that there may be a huge difference between killing and stopping a bear! In reflection, I believe that not only is a true Big Bore best, but it may be vital for stopping a 750+ lb bear in its tracks. By Big Bore, I mean .40 caliber on up that produces at least 4000 ft-lbs on impact!
(My bait setup for 2015. Pic taken from treestand at 85 yards. If you look at 10 O’clock from bait barrel you’ll see the trail cam. Bear comes from directly behind barrel. He’s a big bruin from all evidence! Left click to enlarge.)
Until the next, (Because of an upcoming bear hunt, I’m unsure of the timing of the next issue — but it will likely be an update on our bear hunt.)