Please refer back to P1 and P2 prior to reading P3, if you’ve not done so, as this final part assumes you have.
Regarding bullets for black bear:
1) Larger is better than smaller as they break bones more readily and create quicker loss of blood pressure , assuming ideal construction, weight (SD), profile and impact velocity; all of which needs further clarification.
The importance of the above principle is manifest in larger bears where not just killing them is the goal, but stopping them in their tracks where matters could very easily get out of control, such as in a big bear attack or one escaping, wounded, into unsafe physical conditions, as in a swamp or ravine. Over 90% of my bear hunts have involved those kinds of physical surroundings. Such has immeasurably influenced my choice of not only the rifles, but the cartridges and bullets for which they were chambered.
While I’ve tried a few others, including some “mediums” (my take on “Mediums” is mid-bores: .338 to .375 calibers), rifles chambered for the venerable .45-70s, using smokeless powder and heavy bullets, have proven themselves to not only kill bears but stop them in their tracks. This is not only true of the .45-70 but the .458 Win Mag when loaded to the equivalent of “hot” .45-70 loads. And only two of those involved so-called CNS hits, or head shots, all others were body shots at varying angles: quartering away or toward, broadside, frontal, and from above that missed the spine but took out lungs and heart.
The first that involved the spine and head had already penetrated from just in front of the left hip, through liver and guts before taking out 6 – 8 inches of spine and back of the head. That was using the 350gr Speer in a reduced load at 70 yards from my Rugger 77 in .458 Win Mag. The other involved a wounded bear trying to escape to a ravine through 30″ tall grass. It had been wounded by a young, inexperienced friend and I finally caught up enough to finish it with a going away shot, high to the short ribs that also took out four vertebrae before making exit. The bullet was a 286gr Hornady RP-SP leaving the muzzle of my 9.3 x 62 at +2400 fps. No fragments or pieces of bullet were found anywhere in the animal. It did it’s job excellently.
Such experiences, among several others, have confirmed theoretical dogma that says in effect that a large bore rifle firing a compatible bullet for the intended game at suitable speeds should produce a proportionally greater effect than a small bore rifle producing optimum ballistics from a compatible projectile. As the differences in potential terminal ballistics is lessened due to diminished dissimilarity in bore sizes, so distinctions in potential terminal ballistics should be proportional — all else equal. “All else equal” covers all other issues that might be used as a negative to the proposed principle. In other words, the “what ifs?” and “what about’s?” To simplify: A larger bore bullet needs less kinetic energy (KE) at impact than a smaller bore to bring about equal terminal effect, assuming a proper bullet in the right place from each. That’s a general principle creating the foundation of my Terminal Effect formula (MTE), but which also provides the details. One may dispute some of the details, but the principle has proven itself to me beyond reasonable doubt.
2) Bullets for bear should not be too tough or hard. They are soft-skinned game, not Pachyderms. True, their bones are generally heavier than a white-tailed deer, and their muscles are more massive and dense, but soft-pointed, controlled-expansion bullets should normally be used.
I found the 350gr Barnes TSX to be too tough on medium bear for proper expansion. One was fired from my CZ550 .458 Winchester Magnum at 2750 fps (a moose load), and at 100 yards it failed to expand hitting the bear frontally while making exit in the right flank. The bear ran off as though it had been missed… I knew it hadn’t missed! After running in a semi-circle for about 75 yards, I finally found it stone-cold-dead about 40 yards directly behind the bait setup… in pitch darkness with a flashlite! Impact was about 2450 fps/4664 ft-lbs! I know as a fact that had I used a 350gr Speer with a 3% antimony lead core inside a guilding metal jacket, and a .25″ exposed lead tip, that the bear would have been dead on impact! That bullet would have produced a DRT with an MV of 2500 fps or less! How do I know that? I flattened a bear with that same bullet from my first .458 Win Mag at 70 yards, and MV of only 2345 fps! That was a going away shot that I’ve already mentioned on several occasions.
So it’s vital to use a bullet of appropriate construction. Not too hard, and with a tip that will cause expansion, whether a FT, HP or SP. If there is an exception to that it would be a heavy flat-point hard-cast lead bullet at modest velocity. They seem to work all out of proportion to their construction and design. At least that was true on one 6′ bear that was flattened in tall grass (another in tall grass on the same private property that was facing me at 70 yards — but a different year) so quickly I lost sight of him. It was a 465gr at 1900 fps from a single-shot New England Firearms (NEF) that shot three into 1″ at 100 yards. The bullet was never found and had buried itself somewhere beneath the turf. At impact it was going something over 1700 fps.
3) Bullets for bear should not be too soft: They will over-expand or fragment. They might very well kill the animal but penetration will not reach the vitals unless a broadside hit is made. I had that experience on my first bear using the 400gr Speer from an 1895 Marlin, as recorded in former blogs. Today, Speer identifies that bullet as a “target bullet”, NOT a hunting bullet! The .458″ “hunting bullet” is their 350gr FP.
STYLE of Bear Hunting: There are typically five styles or methods: 1)Still hunting, 2)Spot-n-stalk, 3)Calling, 4)Baiting and 5)Hound hunting.
Baiting is the most common in Ontario and, as stated, over 90% of my bear hunts have been of that type. That is how I began with an outfitter in the northeast of our province — which is largely unspoiled wilderness. A total of eight trips in seven years were greatly enjoyed in that region of Ontario employing the same outfitter. That involved at least a dozen distinct locations with variable physical conditions. For example, one year I was moved to three different locations over four days for one reason or another. In addition, I assisted Norm (the outfitter) in checking baits before noon, and almost always brought bait to the location I would be hunting that day. So, I learned the game of hunting bear over bait.
Ranges varied from 35 yards to 150 yards, and he had command of a huge area (BMW) where 85 distinct baits were located — and none closer than 5 km (3 miles) to another. Involving hunters this way kept costs down both for himself and the hunters. For myself, and most others, that made the hunt more challenging and satisfying. My largest bear, and most challenging in several ways, was my first – a seven-year old good size male that had been in a few fights for control of the area.
Baiting bear is NOT as imagined by self-styled elitists — like shooting fish in a bowl! On the contrary! “Trophy-quality” bears are very smart and cautious! Often they are dominant. They didn’t get to be that way by careless behaviour or being dumb! Because of the physical nature of the northeast of our province, as well as several other parts of the Northeast of the North American Continent, the best method for bear hunting is using bait where legal. The reason? It should be obvious: you might accidentally run into one if you spend much time in these near wildernesses, but you could spend a full lifetime chasing whitetails, moose, wolf… or whatever, without ever personally sighting a black bear. Wilderness bears are secretive and very elusive! Of all the thirty plus years of hunting them, I’ve only seen one that was not coming to a bait! That one was coming to my moose call!
CALLING black bear: I recall an article in one of the hunting/shooting mags by Rick Jamison or Jon Sundra, (I forget which) over twenty years ago. He was hunting black bear by using a call in thick brush and timber… and he was alone! As I recall, his firearm was a short Browning BLR in .358 Winchester — a very good choice for that type of hunt in my estimation. After several attempts, a good bear surprised him by coming full tilt from behind the fat tree that was serving as his back rest! The bear believing there was a good meal awaiting on the far side of the tree almost landed in the lap of its pursuer before the hunter could gather his wits about him as to what was actually happening! But instinct and reflexes took command and the black bruin was shot in the face or chest at mere inches from getting its meal!
The conclusion of that article’s message was: Do not use a call for bears in such tight quarters unless you have a partner with you who is capable of instantly discerning the danger and reacting in a manner suitable for a life or death crisis, and in the use of a firearm perfect for just such a critical situation !
It was mentioned that I once called in a black bear as the sequence of moose calling! And it was a big, mature bruin headed directly toward the source of the call I had made moments before. He had crossed the trail I was on about 40 to 50 yards below me, and stopped when he heard my steps crunching dry autumn leaves. It became a standoff for what seemed like a couple of minutes! Though likely it was a matter of 30 seconds at most even though time seems to stand still! He then swung his head in my direction and sniffed the air… I doubt that he saw me as I made myself a part of the hardwood. I chose not to fire my 1895 Marlin in his direction — though it was loaded for bear and I had an unfilled bear licence. The reason seemed complex at the time. First, I was alone and 90 kilometres from home and anyone I knew, then there was a 6 – 8 inch tree that blocked the area of his broadside chest that contained vitals, plus it was late in the day… I didn’t want him to go into the very thick tangle of brush and timber close by. While I mulled this, he made the decision for me. He put down his head and took off in the direction he was headed in a hurried pace! I followed for a bit and decided to let him go and not shoot him in the rump!
He stopped here, near the bottom center of the pic, I was above him to the right at about 35 yards. After perhaps 30 seconds he left straight ahead toward the center of the photo. (Left click on pics for a better view.)
That was over fifteen years ago, and just last year I revisited the site, taking some pics and my new-to-me Ruger No.1 Tropical in .458 Winchester Magnum. I also had an electronic caller along that fit into the palm of my hand. I experimented with it for about ten minutes without any virtual results. But… it was an enjoyable trek in that semi-wilderness. My “plan”, contingent on a number of personal priorities and relationships, is to visit the area again this fall with a bear licence, small game licence, and a wolf tag in my wallet. Right now, the very first priority is to settle on a load for my Ruger No.1 in .458 Win Mag. It will be a modest load that will also command respect for its accuracy. Still a work in progress…
Still hunting black bear: I’ve done that as I’ve walked many of the trails in Haliburton Highlands. In doing so, I’ve toted handloaded rifles suited for the cause. Most have been mentioned in past articles, but for a review here are some of them: 25-06; 7 Rem Mag; 7 Wby Mag; .300 Win Mag; .35 Whelen; .350 Rem Mag; 9.3 x 62; .375 H&H; .44 Rem; .45-70s (several); .458 Win Mag; 12ga with slugs. And there may have been others that were used incidentally while scouting or deer and wolf hunting that I don’t recall at the moment.
Still hunting black bear on purpose is a skill to be honed in looking for and inspecting sign such as claw marks on trees, scat and paw prints. Discerning age of the sign, location in proximity to food, water and bedding are all important to success in planning strategy, as well as approximate size of the quarry.
Still hunting is an oxymoron in thick brush — the breaking of dry branches from trees and on the ground is the main enemy of still hunting. In more open timber it’s possible with great carefulness and patience, but using trails, watching for movement ahead and off to the sides, noticing physical signs is the best strategy.
Still hunting is more adaptive to those with keen senses, lots of patient endurance and outdoors’ savvy.
It’s not suited to those with “ants in their pants”, wanting lots of action right NOW!
Coming up: more on this theme in P4