< Preparing for a bear hunt requires some strength and lots of strategy. This bait barrel will be stood in place in this niche of trees in a field not far from thick woods directly behind and to the right. Within a couple of kilometres is a Provincial Conservation Park with lots of wildlife, including bears. The strategy was to attract some of those bears to the bait. I managed to take three bears on this property and a young friend shot two.
I write these big-bore rifle commentaries for whoever wants to read them. But, of course, they are not reserved to BIG BORES only. I’ve expressed my experiences and views on MEDIUMS and even SUB-MEDIUMS from time to time since there is only so much to say on big-bore rifles for hunting purposes. Even so, the point has been made more than a few times that those of .458-caliber, namely the .45-70 and .458 Winchester Magnum, are arguably the most versatile big-bore rifles for big-game hunting due to the vast array of component bullets and powders available to the handloader. And there’s no shame in employing the .458 WIN in lieu of a BP rifle. I was informed by the manager of the shop where I purchased my Ruger No.1 Tropical that the former owner mostly shot cast bullets through it. The bore is pristine.
Nonetheless, where I’m coming from is the middle of middle men. In other words, perhaps the average hunter, so those are likely the ones who identify most clearly with my prose. Educationally, I’ve completed five years post secondary. Those are facts only, never intended as boasting or demeaning in any sense of others. It’s also a fact that I identify with the “common man” as that has been my heritage from birth – being born into a small fishing community on the East Coast of Canada next to the American border.
Adventure and hunting was inbred. I make no claims to superior knowledge or experience, though I might legitimately be described as a “specialist” in a few areas as there are those who have made comments of that nature in regard to the .45-70 and black bear hunting. While I sincerely appreciate such “comments”, my goal has never been to be other than honest and factual in my experiences, however that might be taken by others.
Therefore, I write for the “common man”, the average hunter who may never have his or her name made public. I think that I know what I know as well as knowing what I don’t know. If I don’t know “It”, I’ll say so. No pretence will be made here that I “know it all”. That’s for others who have a name and status to protect.
Some of my hunts have been cheerful and satisfying even though I shot nothing. I suspect you have experienced the same. As the saying goes: ” It’s not always about shooting something… It’s the total experience that matters”.
Rarely have I used a pro guide, though I did for eight tries early in my bear hunts. My outfitter/guide was known as “The Bear Man”, and I really, really appreciated those experiences in the northeast of our province as that educated me about black bears and primarily hunting them over bait, but not exclusively. I learned their habitat, habits, dispositions and intelligence – though learning their intelligence is still ongoing. When you think you know bears, there will be surprises because, like humans, they are individualistic in behaviour and therefore in thoughts and reactions. It has been said: “If you know what a bear is going to do next, you know more than the bear does”! Some apparent truth there but, of course, fallacious. A bear has been programmed to react in certain ways, but NOT necessarily in predictable ways.
One bear might take flight while another might stay for a fight! Or “shoot first and ask questions later” – the equivalent of a human reaction – known as “a charge”. So, the first lesson for the rookie bear hunter is: DON’T ASSUME TOO MUCH! JUST BE READY FOR THE UNKNOWN, AND, IF POSSIBLE SHOOT THEM BEYOND 30 YARDS. That’s because they can cover 30 yards in less than 2 seconds!
<Friend, Dave, shot this 300 lb class bear at about five yards from a tree stand using his .35 Remington and a 200gr Rem Cor Loc bullet. It went nowhere. After lots of research and experience he knew what he was doing!
What is the best weapon? Recently, I wrote a few articles on that, but it amounts to familiarity with your weapon – it needs to be handy and ready, and powerful enough to STOP a bear, not just kill it! Beyond 30 yards, if a bear isn’t charging, a .30-30 might suffice depending on bullet selection and placement. In other words, the bear must be still and unaware of your presence for careful shooting. If thick brush is handy, or it’s a thick timbered area with deep ravines, I’d never knowingly go to such an area with a .30-30, or something akin, because of the strong possibility of wounding or needing to follow up. If you have a skilled partner with adequate firepower, who won’t panic, your .30-30 might be adequate but there’s still higher risk involved than if you’re toting a .45-70 with good loads, for example. Much better than a .30-30 would be a handy medium like a .350 Rem Mag in a 660 type of thing. And a handy .350 Rem Mag loaded with quality 225s, or preferably 250s, makes a handy firearm for most other North American big game including grizzly. So does a .35 Whelen, .338 Win or 9.3 x 62 Mauser if they are kept relatively light and handy.
Because of costs today, the average hunter will pick and choose his/her annual hunts carefully. It’s likely he’ll never make it to Africa or even Alaska. But there’s still lots of local hunting available in states and provinces. My wife and I were recently invited by our oldest son and wife to visit them this fall in their new home in the Province of New Brunswick, our native province – where we grew up and where I was born. They were living on the lakefront of downtown Toronto in a condo until the end of May. It was sold to another couple who have already moved there. But they have one month left before they both retire so have rented “space” until they move at the end of June. The moving van has already taken their “stuff” to N.B.
Brent, who has been involved in missions, with his wife, in Africa for two decades, then as a rep for another mission that took him to most of the worlds troubled areas for another decade, has more recently been VP of Operations and Personnel at the famed Yonge Street Mission in Downtown Toronto (200 employees and 600 volunteers under him) until he retires the end of this month. He now wants to do fishing, hunting and painting in their new location on an island in the Passamaquody Bay, an inlet off the famed Bay of Fundy. Access to the N.B. mainland is via government ferry that is only a few hundred yards across salt water. There are scores of whitetail deer in the area, and he has invited me to hunt with him this fall, acting as my guide. I will use a borrowed rifle. He has inherited several from his deceased FIL, as well as the one I’ve handloaded for him – a Winchester M94 XTR in .356 Winchester. I’ve loaded it with the 220gr Speer over 47.5 grains of W748 at about 2200 to 2250 fps. That’s somewhat better than the .30-30 from his FIL that I may end up toting! Any black bear in New Brunswick? Tons! Will I get a license? Probably. And factory loads only, but I’d choose the 170gr over the 150. Typically, the 170 leaves the short 20″ barrel around 2100 fps. A male black bear in N.B. should go on average around 350 lbs, though it’s possible for a monster bear to show up. The largest from that area was shot back in the 1930’s and estimated at 1100 lbs. And that was less than 100 miles, as crows fly, from where I grew up! What would that factory load in the 30-30 look like at 60 yards? Brent would likely offer the .356 Winchester, but I think I’d stick with the .30-30 for educational purposes (for myself).
< Brent’s .356 Winchester.
Rifle: lever action M94 in .30-30
Barrel = 20″
Bullet: 170gr RN
SD = .257
BC = .304 (Speer)
MV = 2100 fps/ 1664 ft-lbs/ 31 TE/ -1.6″
30 yds = 2022 fps/ 1543 ft-lbs/ 29 TE/ -0.19″ (With a “good hit” in heart-lungs should put down a 230 lb bruin that’s charging.)
60 yds = 1947 fps/ 1430 ft-lbs/ 27 TE/ +0.45″ (A “good hit” in heart-lungs should do for up to a 480 lb bear at rest.)
90 yds = 1873 fps/ 1324 ft-lbs/ 25 TE/ +0.26″ ( A decent quartering away shot should handle a 300 pounder walking away.)
Who says we need more than a .30-30?
At 60 and 90 yards are what might be described as normal hunting situations of bear that are NOT agitated or charged with adrenaline. When a bear (or other larger game species) is upset, angry or in a predatory mood it’s often charged with adrenaline as in the 30 yard scenario — THAT bear is a different animal than one that’s relaxed or just curious! I recently watched a video of a 400 lb calf moose that revived after it had been sedated for study and examination of its physical status by Conservation Officers and wildlife biologists. Rather than running off, as expected, it viciously attacked the CO cameraman several times! He was knocked to the ground and severely beaten up before the beast fled! All that from a 400 lb calf moose!!
So, what about a 400 lb black bear than can kill a 1000 lb moose?
I had a close friend, who deceased a couple of years ago, who owned in his younger years to retirement a honey business with apiaries scattered around the countryside on private farms with woodlots. Often they were dismantled by bears, and he would usually await a troublesome bear near darkness in some brush nearby. His firearm was a trusty .30-30 with factory ammo. He did in more than a few.
And there’s an interesting story about the .30-30 inherited by Brent from his father-in-law. It was told to me directly, firsthand. And you’d really have to have known Mr. Braun to fully appreciate the story because he could keep you rolling on the floor! In his youth he was a poacher with his brothers living in rural N.B. They lived amongst the wildlife: bears, bucks and moose. Later, after marriage and family life he became an entrepreneur par excellence! He built his own home and worked with wood as few can. He had heavy machinery along with a mill for making lumber. He also owned other properties. On one of them he built a cabin for hunting and fishing. On that property he often had visits from bears. One day as he was out scouting amongst the trees he literally came face to face with one. They stood facing each other on opposite sides of a young fir tree… eyeballing each other. The bear, standing on hind legs, sniffed him as he raised his .30-30. He said “I didn’t really want to shoot it, but figured that maybe I should just in case it decided to attack! My rifle’s muzzle was about on its nose when I squeezed the trigger! Nothing happened! The hammer crawled slowly toward the firing pin while the bear blinked, dropped down and walked away!” Then Mr. Braun gave one of his memorable belly laughs! That .30-30 was special as it was one of the Centennial editions. But for some reason on that occasion some dirt had collected around the channel for the hammer that prevented it from firing. In some peculiar way he was relieved! That .30-30 was to him enough for any beast in New Brunswick. Of course, ranges were short at best.
So, if I get to use it this fall, it will bring back a flood of memories. While living in Ontario for the past forty plus years, we shared ownership of a lake property with my brother and wife in N.B., not far from the Brauns. Often we had visits with them and greatly appreciated their hospitality and his story telling that would bring you to tears of laughter. And, by the way, he became a Christian in later life, and a good one that delivered him from a life of alcoholism. <This is Lindsay Sporting Camp in New Brunswick, Canada, almost directly across Indian Lake from our property that we sold several years ago. It’s the dark spot on the opposite shore line just to the right of the pine tree. If you’re interested in a bear hunt there (there’s also moose, deer and small game) I can send more information. The border is now closed due to Covid-19 but may be opened by the fall. They have both spring and fall bear hunts.
So he was one hunter that I personally got to know rather intimately, and respected his character, testimony and savvy as a hunter, though his main firearm was that .30-30 Winchester. He also owned some old shotguns and, if I recall, a Brit .303.
He was about a year younger than I but he deceased about ten years ago due to an abuse of alcohol in his younger years – to his mid forties when he became a Christian. Through our daughter-in-law, I came to know him shortly thereafter, and my wife and I became friends with Ron and Elizabeth Braun. He was a successful business man and highly respected in the area, even getting government contracts. But alcohol took its toll in later life, cutting it short by at least ten years. A lesson for all of us. Though he never completed high school he was unusually intelligent and could discuss many topics with knowledge and insight. His wife is still living in N.B., sharing a home with her sister. Their son has a doctorate in aquaculture, living and working in one of the Maritime Provinces.
Til next time…