In bear hunting we all hope for success. Of course, there are many styles of hunting under a variety of physical conditions while employing differing strategies and using weapons of our choice.
For example, a bear hunt may be under the guidance of a pro guide. The hunter has chosen a crossbow, and the location is on the edge of a forest that breaks out onto a stream that ambles through mixed timber, marshland and bogs. It’s a guided hunt searching for bear sign. What has that to do with bear bullets? Nothing! But exchange that crossbow for a rifle when the terrain opens up, and a good bear is sighted on the far side of the stream slowly climbing higher on the side of a ridge or mountain. With each step the range increases and waiting for a good presentation only increases the distance.
Finally, the bear stops at a ranged 410 yards and gives a halfway decent angle for shot placement. There is no hope of shortening the distance, and it’s the best bear you’ve seen in a hard week of hunting. What cartridge and bullet would you want in your hands at that moment when you’re tired and need a quick improvised rest for your rifle… perhaps even from a prone position? Is it the rifle and load in your hands that you’ve staked a costly bear hunt on under uncertain conditions?
Actually there are numerous choices in cartridges, rifles and loads… but which one?
I’ll tell you mine, and they would be one of several that I’ve had experience with. Some being capable for any reasonable challenge, while a few were adequate for challenges that might be considered by some as unreasonable.
410 yards is a long shot on an animal that might go 400 lbs at 6.5 ft from snout to tail. The main thing is to intimately know the rifle and load as well as bear anatomy. On top of that is the possibility of atmospheric disturbances. There are rifles and loads that I’d not shoot from prone, and if such were indeed the case, I’d have to find a suitable rest. Shooting sticks might be the best option if toted by the guide. Yet movement must be restrained to not spook the bear. A mound, bolder or even a tree, or one of its branches have served well in lieu of mechanical devices. Assuming a solid rest is achieved, then what? Oh yes, the scope, since we must be prepared for any possible shot. What’s best in size and power?
As in rifles and cartridges, debates are never ending over rifle scopes. Because of the physical conditions described, I’d choose a good variable. Again, depending on hiking conditions and the overall health of the hunter, as well as how late in the afternoon/evening one intends to hunt, these should determine the overall weight of the rifle ready to shoot. A compromise might be a 2 – 7 x 35mm. My Ruger No.1 in .458 WIN has a 2 – 7 x 32mm Nikon. It has bright optics, is tough and relatively light. My Tikka Lite has a heavier 3 – 9 x 40mm Bushnell as it’s extra weight helps deal with 40 to 48 ft-lbs of recoil. My only experience with a Leupold was on the 7mm Rem Mag in the BAR. My son, Phil, also had a 3 – 9 X 40mm Leupold on his Remington Mountain Rifle in .338 Win Mag. But for servicing of any faults or repairs, Bushnell has a main distribution and service center in Toronto, one and a-half hours away. Leupolds must be sent to the USA, and the Nikon has never flinched under recoil in the 40s to 70s ft-lbs range (so far).
So, now we’re ready to shoot all +/- 400 lbs of Mr Bruin at 410 yards away on the side of a ridge/mountain with brush and timber within two bounds. And the angle of the shot would be + 15 degrees into a 3/4 bear profile.
And which bullet?
It would not be one of my Marlins (past tense).
Would a .30-06 do it if you expect a dead bear right there? If you believe in miracles, maybe. Then again, even if you place the bullet in the on shoulder (right side) it will miss the heart due to the angle. If it’s a 180gr TSX at 2700 fps MV from a 22″ barrel, and placed with precision behind the right leg and into the heart, what then? According to my calculations the bear would be killed with over 1500 ft-lbs of smash still left, but how far might it travel before quitting? A .30-06 would be the least I’d choose under such conditions, shooting a good 180gr. But precision shooting is called for. At that range, with the rifle sighted at 200 yards, bullet drop would be more than 2 feet. That’s why I mentioned that the hunter must be intimately familiar with his rifle and load — AND WITH HIMSELF! Can he pull it off?
Personally, knowing the possibilities for matters going wrong, I’d choose at least a .300 Win Mag, and better still a .338 Win.
And what about the .35s? If it were a .35 Whelen, I’d use something like the 225gr Nosler Partition at 2750 – 2800 fps MV. Why? At 410 yds it’s still making about 2000 ft-lbs at nearly 2000 fps. That’s quite an improvement over it’s ancient parent, the .30-06 at 1535 ft-lbs, while still having equal or better trajectory! And the .350 Rem Mag would be a copy of that. Depending on overall weight of the setup, recoil would be less than a .300 Win Mag. The .300 Win would shoot flatter but the Whelen would have more momentum.
In the .300 I’d use the 200gr Nosler at nearly 3000 fps, MV; the .338 Win with a 250 Partition at 2700 MV, giving it a similar trajectory as the .30-06 but about 2110 ft-lbs at 410 yards. That’s better momentum than the Whelen and slightly more energy.
In 9.3 x 62, would I attempt such a shot when “pundits” have pontificated that a shot on big game a 250 yards is stretching matters? I think they got their data from 1905 in Berlin! Not from a Canadian in 2020! If I would attempt such a shot from a .35 Whelen or .350 Rem Mag, or better still from a .340 Wby Mag, surely +2700 fps from the 250gr Accubond would hardly be a mistake, would it? Yet, in truth my load would be the 286 Partition at 2631 fps MV — that’s average for that load over ten years, and 1967 fps/2456 ft-lbs at 410 yards. The trajectory is within 1.5″ of the .338 Win Mag firing the 250gr Nosler at 2700 fps, or the .35 Whelen shooting the 225gr Nosler at 2750 fps. And the heavier bullet will drift the same as the .338 Win in a 10 mph crosswind , and a little better than the 225gr from the Whelen.
So, yes, I’d not be lacking anything in toting my 9.3 x 62.
But for someone who may have a sore shoulder, or arthritis, or shy of 40 lbs recoil, they should never attempt shots on larger bears at such ranges. Instead, they should limit range to no more than 250 to 300 yards in shooting something like a handloaded .358 Winchester employing a 225 gr Partition at around 2500 fps MV/3122 ft-lbs. At 250 yards that load would still be making 2029 fps/2056 ft-lbs — plenty for a 400 lb bruin at a 3/4 angling shot.
While I’d still choose a Nosler Partition over a TSX or Hornady in those calibers, yet the others will work but their BCs are not as good as the Partitions. Then the TSX is a longer bullet in same weight due to being all copper. That eats powder space.
I also know from experience that the heavier Hornady Interlocs in medium calibers are very good when velocities are kept at no more than 2600 to 2700 fps. I’ve witnessed that on both bear and moose.
Of course, there are other common sources such as: Sierra and Speer, not to even mention some special boutique solutions. Yet some are not available in Canada, and as to Speer and Sierra, for bear or moose, with caution I’d go with heavier bullets in mid-bores, the same as for any non-premiums at less that optimum velocities. But there are special exemptions: The 200gr Hornady RN in .358″ and the Remington Coreloc in the same type and weight. At short to modest ranges they seem to work well above their design.
Speer’s 250gr SP Hot Core has a decent reputation on bear and moose (and most things between) from the .350 Rem or Whelen. But should heavy bone be hit they’ve been known to “come apart”. Some calibers by Woodleigh and Cutting Edge are available in Canada but not always what you want or need. And North Fork has gone out of business in North America and GS Custom is unavailable in Canada.
In lesser calibers than .33 I’ve listed my favorites on May 16 in an article: “HANDLOADING — When and Why I got into it – P3”, so will not reiterate here, other than to say that we need to do serious research on the potential circumstances of our bear hunts, rifles, cartridges and bullets. Again, much will depend on whether it will be a DIY hunt, or if a partner will be present or even a professional guide. Think and evaluate all details carefully, because not only will success or potential failure depend on those details, but possibly your very life!
So, what would you want as a companion rifle in the case of a late-in-the day wounded bear departing into the unknown at 25 – 30 mph? I’ve witnessed that on at least three distinct occasions — twice on a wounded bear and a third on a missed shot!
Those narratives next time…