(A wilderness trail in the Haliburton Highlands. That’s a .458 Winchester Magnum in my right hand. October 2007)
Writing a blog is somewhat different than writing a book or manual on the same subject. When I initially felt an urge to write on this theme, I thought it would take two parts, but I tried to cram it into one. That didn’t work very well, for me at least. You will understand, I think, that a blog or short article on a theme is relatively brief in comparison to a book of several chapters and hundreds of pages on the same subject matter. Also, in writing a book there may be a deadline for completion that might be self imposed or by a publisher. The time frame could be a full year or more. In sharp contrast to that, the writing of a short article of less than 2500 words within a week or so requires some cramming of thought and cramping of space. Especially is that true if 85% to 90% of your life is already preoccupied by other activities and responsibilities. A second edition, or more, of a book usually doesn’t appear within four or five years at least, depending on sales. A new edition will usually include improvements, additions and updates. A second edition of a blog, however, is a rarity, but sometimes a necessity. Hence this edition of my last on Rifles for Bear Defence is to permit some improvements and additions. Perhaps I should be writing a short book. Someday, maybe, I’ll attempt one on bear hunting… that’s a “maybe”, but don’t hold me to it.
My blogs require about four hours of my time in writing approximately 2000 to 2500 words. During that time frame each paragraph is reviewed. When completed, the whole article is reviewed for spelling and grammar. Then photos are added. This process takes about six hours in total. The day after publication it is reviewed as it would appear on your computer or any other device. I may make further changes. After several days, up to a week, I may add a new paragraph or other changes for clarification, so you may want to read it again after a week goes by from the original date of publication that appears on the header and the calendar to the top right of the article.
So, all that to say that I’m not always content with the contents as it initially appears, and there is often more that needs to be added, especially if it is less than a series of articles on a particular theme.
(Big bears aren’t reserved to remote wilderness areas. This 400 pounder was visiting my bait site in 2015 on private property. They rarely show up during daylight hours. But they are in the neighborhood, so vigilance is called for.)
Therefore, this is a second edition (or Part Two) on the theme of Rifles for Bear Defence, or really, “Rifles and other firearms for killing a bear, any bear” under any and all circumstances.
Any and all circumstances would include at least the following list: (I like to organize my thoughts in lists, as otherwise there is the probability of too much repetition, and the possibility of someone missing a significant point or more.)
1 – Hunting solo.
2 – Hunting with an outfitter or professional guide.
3 – Hunting solo in unfamiliar territory.
4 – Hunting very rugged country solo.
5 – Hunting very rugged country with a partner.
6 – Day hunting.
7 – Camp hunting solo.
8 – Camp hunting with a partner or partners.
9 – Hunting big game other than bears.
10- Hunting bear over bait with an outfitter.
11- Hunting bear over bait in DIY.
12- Fishing in bear country solo.
13- Hiking in bear country solo.
14- Camping in bear country solo or with family.
15- Camping in bear country with friends.
16- Unexpected conditions while hunting, hiking, fishing or camping.
All of the above have similarities, but there are also apparent differences in circumstances, and the potential for drastic changes from what was planned for if a bad-tempered, mature bear suddenly appears when unexpected “out of nowhere”! And yes, even though uncommon, the seemingly out-of-the-ordinary event takes place far more frequently than believed.
I go prepared for that — NOT the ordinary!
In the previous article, I gave my personal preferences for such a potential event. That was the beginning, not the end of the matter, as those who have mastered a bolt rifle or handgun of apt force are just as well prepared in my view.
(A 286gr Nosler Partition that didn’t fully penetrate from a frontal shot. It did, however, penetrate from frontal chest to just in front of the right hip. It fell out on skinning and retained 71% of original weight at 211 grains.)
However, the bullet chosen is still of prime consideration as well as where it is placed under great stress! Put yourself in one, or more, of the sixteen conditions above and then ask yourself, “What weapon do I now own, and master, that I would put my life on the line with in 100% confidence that it would be the ultimate in self-protection against an aggressive bear intent on killing me, from fifteen feet (5 yards or meters)?” Perhaps 3 yards is more realistic!
There’s an article in ………. on killing a bear bent on mayhem. It begins with the author killing a good size sow bear charging from a few feet in near darkness. It ended with a dead bear killed by a 12ga slug in the right place… and a very shaken shooter.
So, to emphasise again:
It’s the bullet. Not the bullet in a box, or in a cartridge, or in a cartridge in a magazine or chamber, but the bullet in motion at impact.
a) It’s construction must be suitable for penetration of the skull from not only a side shot but also a frontal one at near muzzle velocity. That’s from a shotgun slug, a pistol or a rifle. Get reliable information from testing bullets, from others whom you trust or first hand experience. ANY bullet through the lungs will not stop a bear unless it’s a Big Bore (40-cal +) with a big mushroom or a 50%+ meplat (flat-point). A heart shot will NOT stop a bear either. I’ve seen a bear travel full speed for at least 20 yards with no heart left — heart exploded, just a piece of jelly! But I have seen bears stopped in their tracks from heavyweight, flat point .458″ at adequate impact velocity with shots to lungs and/or heart, without a CNS hit. The difference, for example, between the effect from a .458-cal and a .35-cal is dramatic, to give an objective impression.
As told in my last article, the bear killed using my .35 Whelen was hit by a 200gr X-Bullet leaving the muzzle at 2800 fps. Impact should have been about 2533 fps/2849 ft-lbs if Barnes’ Manual is correct. The angle was from middle rib cage on right side to offside shoulder — complete penetration leaving a gaping wound of over an inch through shoulder bone. The medium bear still went ten yards. Another bear was shot at the same location (different season) using a Marlin in .45-70 (different scenario than the one mentioned in the last blog). This time the bullet was a 405gr Remington leaving the muzzle at 2110 fps/4003 ft-lbs. Impact was 1850 fps/3077 ft-lbs. The angle was a quartering going-away hit that impacted the short ribs of the left side and made exit just behind the right shoulder. There was no CNS hit, but the bear (a bit larger that the one mentioned above) was literally flattened on the spot. Never even wiggled! Distance from rifles to impact was identical in each case since I was using the same bait and blind location — 98 yards as measured several years later by my laser range finder. Prior to measurement, I always said it was “100 yards” — that being my impression. Nonetheless, the point is valid in mentioning that a .45-cal made a rather substantial improvement in effect over the .35-cal, though each got the job done. But, as a “stopping” rifle for protection in unknown circumstances, I’d choose a .458″ bullet of proper construction over a .358″ bullet of proper construction in a “have-to-right-now” situation where I couldn’t be perfect in the placement of the bullet.
(Multiple bears have been taken at this favorite location, including those mentioned, by the .35 Whelen and a .45-70. Bears do make a mess — their table manners need some improving, don’t you think?)
b) It’s velocity: Velocity matters. Whether we’re discussing kinetic energy or momentum, or a combination of both, velocity matters. Without velocity, there is neither energy nor force. The more velocity, the greater of each. That’s velocity at impact. But impact velocity is determined by muzzle velocity and a form factor (shape), which is called ballistic coefficient (B.C.). And B.C. is determined in part by sectional density (S.D.) SD is an expression of the ratio of bullet weight (mass) to bullet diameter (caliber). So all of it is important to impact velocity and penetration.
c) It’s penetration ability: Penetration of skull to destroy brain tissue, or of heart and/or lungs to disrupt oxygen to the brain is what kills. An animal (or human) may be temporarily or permanently parallized by injury to the brain or spine. But they may NOT be dead! Have you ever walked up to a downed animal, thinking it was dead, only to have it jump up in front of you and take off in the other direction? Well then, you know what I’m talking about! But what if it comes for you instead of running or bounding in the opposite direction?
But full penetration isn’t necessary on a bear IF you use a large bore that creates a large cavity going in. I’ve killed several with no exit, but the damage internally was immense. On the other hand, I’ve also killed several, with an exit wound, that ran for quite a few yards. That first bear killed by a 400gr Speer from a Marlin in .45-70 didn’t have an exit wound, but there was massive… and I mean really monumental blood loss from the 2.5″ entrance wound that literally saturated the complete right side of the trophy bear from neck to rump. That bullet came out with the innards in the darkness of night and was never found, but the insurance bullet was retrieved in the offside armpit and retained 90.5% of unfired weight. At it’s widest part it measures 1.068″.
And I’m obliged to a friend, Dan, for a report in using a 250gr CEB from his .458 WM in taking a trophy black bear. It worked very well. So, some of the “rules” regarding heavy for caliber bullets have apparently changed, though the ballistic coefficient would be rather poor comparatively speaking. Don’t use them for long range shooting as their much needed velocity will dissipate rather quickly. Barnes makes a 250gr TSX in .458 for the Marlin in .45-70, but while it can be started rather fast from a Ruger No.1 in .45-70, at over 2800 fps, with a B.C. of only .136 it will loose velocity like a satellite falling from the sky with a parachute deployed!
What does it take to kill a bear? Not much. A record book grizzly was killed in Alberta several years ago by a single shot from a .22LR. But it was placed expertly to the side of the head where it penetrated the brain. A young native girl accomplished that feat, that she was not planning on while hunting with her younger brother for grouse. She saw the bear coming down the trail they were on and wisely sat up high on the side, waiting for the bear to pass so as not to attract it’s attention. When it was opposite them, she shot it in the ear hole or just above it. A carefully placed 40gr, .22 RF will penetrate soft tissue sufficiently to reach the brain. My oldest son has killed numerous wart hog in Africa using a single-shot .22LR in the same manner. But, who in their right mind would recommend that for personal protection in a remote wilderness, alone, being surprised by a bear at spittin’ range?
Numerous times it has been made an emphasis — for dangerous game (and ANY bear over a hundred pounds is potentially dangerous) shoot the biggest caliber you can handle well, without intimidation of recoil, and you will be best served. I agree. Of course, some laws must be observed in some places whether they make sense or not. For example, legally we can use any centerfire (even a .22 Hornet?) for hunting big game here in Ontario. But, I can’t use one of more than 400 ft-lbs if hunting small game during a big game season without a license for the same. But I can use a .458 Win Mag for hunting ground hog in most areas where they may be hunted (and now, where they exist!)! So not ALL laws make much sense even though for wisdom’s sake, we must observe them.
So, in summary:
Play by the rules!
Don’t assume too much!
Give credit where it is due!
You or I didn’t make the creature or ourselves. Me? I give credit to God for any innate wisdom, courage, strength and ability that He in grace permitted me to have… and for His protection. It could have been much different.
(Isaiah chp. 40, verses 21 through 31 — to be read in a modern version, not in ancient English).
’til the next,