So you wanna protect yourself from bears, eh? You’re gonna need a good gun for bear defense then.
I love bears. They’re one of my favorite animals, and they’re some of the coolest wildlife we have in this country. That said, they can be problematic for hunters, hikers, and anyone who lives near their habitat.
It’s not at all fair that we humans have taken over or destroyed so much of their natural habitat, but the fact remains that bears are potentially dangerous to humans, and that means that being armed against them makes sense if you live in bear country.
This is especially true if you live in or travel through remote areas where the larger bears (polar bears and brown bears) live. Fortunately, there are a number of great options out there for those looking to protect themselves from bears.
We’re going to go over a number of options, mostly firearms, for protecting yourself and your loved ones from bears, whether you’re out hunting or just happen to live in a place where you’re likely to run across a grumpy Grizzly.
- Your First Line of Defense: Not Being Stupid
- The Option You’re Not Going to Like: Bear Spray
- Carrying a Gun for Bear Defense
- CZ 550 Safari or American Safari Magnum
- Marlin Guide Gun .45-70 Gov’t or .450 Marlin
- Mossberg 500/590 Mariner
- Ruger Redhawk, Super Redhawk, and Super Redhawk Alaskan: Best Handguns for Bear Defense
- Ruger Hawkeye Alaskan
- Parting Shots…
Let’s start with…
Your First Line of Defense: Not Being Stupid
A few simple precautions will go a long way towards you never needing to worry about bear defense in the first place.
First and foremost, know if there are bears active in the area you’re traveling through. This is the biggest issue, as many people who are attacked by bears didn’t know there were bears around to worry about in the first place.
Practice good camp hygiene and keep your food away from where you’re sleeping, and make sure it’s elevated. No hoarding snacks in your tent, and make sure to deposit any food remnants far away from your camp, and bury them. Use a real bear canister, not a bucket.
Next, make a lot of noise. Bears in general aren’t super interested in hunting humans for food, and most attacks occur when humans accidentally sneak up on a bear, particularly a mama bear with her cubs. Talking, singing, or even using one of those rechargeable bluetooth speakers while you’re hiking is a great way to keep bears away.
I also strongly advise against hunting or hiking in bear country by yourself. Groups of 2-4, or groups with dogs or horses are much less likely to be attacked by a bear, and much less likely to have a fatality during an attack. Having at least one partner means you’re twice as likely to spot a bear before it spots you, giving you a chance to safely and carefully scurry away as needed.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure in most situations, and in this case a little prevention may be worth your life, or the life of your family and friends. Be smart, and avoid an unintended encounter with a bear in the first place.
The Option You’re Not Going to Like: Bear Spray
I know, I know. This is a gun website, bear spray is for pansies, Grizzly bear poop smells like pepper and has bells in it, yadda yadda.
Unfortunately, the science and the statistics says that bear spray is actually more effective at keeping your ass alive than a firearm. It found that those carrying a firearm had an equal chance of being injured by an aggressive bear whether or not they actually used the best bear gun.
This same study also found something interesting in that when guns were actually used handguns repelled or killed an attacking bear 84% of the time and long guns only 76%.
In a similar study, which looked at 83 recorded bear attacks since 1996, bear spray was shown to be 98% percent effective at preventing injuries from attacking bears in Alaska. Alaska has one of the highest incidence rates of attacks by the larger bear species, and still bear spray was shown to be at least as effective as a firearm.
Part of that is because bear spray is easier to use effectively than a firearm in a stressful situation, and part of it is because bear spray is specifically designed to not only stop a bear, but to make the bear simply unable to attack.
Modern pepper spray and bear-specific sprays have come a long way, and I don’t care what 80’s action movies say, the stuff works. If I’m hiking in bear country, it’s a can of bear spray on my hip, not a revolver that would make Dirty Harry feel inadequate.
Specifically, the Sabre Frontiersman Bear Spray. For $35, it’s a cheap investment, and it certainly beats being lunch for a hungry Grizzly. This is very different from regular self-defense pepper spray so don’t go mixing the two up.
Carrying a Gun for Bear Defense
Then again, most of my hiking in bear country happens because I’m hunting in bear country, and I typically have a .300 WM rifle slung over one shoulder, and my hunting buddy has a shotgun, or vice versa.
I’m all for conservation, I’m all for saving wildlife, and I’m all for using science and statistics to dictate tactics in the field…but I’m also for being prepared.
If you’re just taking a day hike through an area where you might see a bear, bear spray is fine. In fact, I recommend everyone have bear spray in a holster, even if they are carrying a firearm as it’s easier to get to and easier to aim spray than a gun.
Sure, you might be Deadeye Dan on a flat range, but your accuracy is going to go right out the window when your body is flooded with adrenaline and your heart rate triples in the second or so you have to react as a 800lb animal charges at you with murder in mind.
But bear spray is a deterrent, and sometimes more than a deterrent is required, particularly if you come between a brown bear and its food or its cubs. The habitat loss we discussed earlier has increased the number of interactions between humans and bears, especially as more people are enjoying the great outdoors, and moving into more remote areas.
Personally, I would rather have the spray as an option, right alongside something that I know will put a bear down, in the unfortunate event that becomes necessary.
There’s also the case where you’re actively hunting bears and need an option handy in case of a wounded animal that’s charging. At that point, I’m not relying on spray. It’s just not gonna happen, and PETA can come fight me about it if they want to.
So, let’s look at the best bear gun for stopping a bear encounter. Some of these are good bear hunting tools as well, but mostly we’re looking at secondary weapons, or defensive options.
CZ 550 Safari or American Safari Magnum
If I could only have one dangerous game rifle, whether I needed it for lions, tigers, or bears, oh my, it would be a CZ 550 Safari.
You can get it in a variety of calibers, and I like .375 H&H and .416 Rigby the most, especially for bear. With the controlled-feed Mauser action, you know the gun is going to be as reliable as physically possible, and with the CZ name on it, you know you’ve got something that can be handed down to your grandkids.
With a magazine capacity of 5 rounds, and a weight under 10lbs, you’ve got a fairly lightweight rifle (for a magnum caliber gun) that has more than enough firepower on tap to deal with any animal that walks the Earth. The thick recoil pad doesn’t quite tame the kick of these rifles, but it does make it manageable enough for quick followup shots.
It also comes factory-fitted with iron sights, which are a must in my opinion for a defensive bear gun. That or a very low-magnification optic or a red dot (yes I know, a red dot on a hunting rifle, you can argue with me about that in the comments all you want).
Overall, if you’re worried about anything from a bear to a T-Rex, the CZ 550 Safari line will give you the peace of mind you need.
Speaking of hunting T-Rex…
Marlin Guide Gun .45-70 Gov’t or .450 Marlin
A perennial favorite for hunters in bear country, the Marlin 1895 series is an excellent option and is a top pick for the best bear gun. The Guide Gun is the 18” model that’s designed to be light and handy for a close encounter, specifically for guides that may need to put down a charging animal quickly.
The lever-action design is actually easier to operate than a bolt-action in a high-stress situation (remember, gross motor movements are easier than fine motor movements when your adrenaline is up) and the design is as reliable as you could ever want.
Marlin has had a rocky history in the past, but their newer guns are showing signs that the old Marlin we all knew and loved is back. I personally own two of their Guide Guns and have had nary an issue over a few hundred rounds through each.
Both .45-70 and .450 Marlin have great track records against brown bears, and with four rounds in the tube and one in the chamber, you have plenty of firepower on hand to put down even the most ornery of ursine assailants. Just don’t miss.
It also has the distinction of being Chris Pratt’s gun in the new Jurassic World movie. Specifically it’s the Marlin 1895SBL, if you’re looking for a very authentic cosplay option.
Mossberg 500/590 Mariner
A pump-action shotgun is one of the most versatile firearms on the planet, so it makes sense that there would be a good option as the best bear gun.
For my money, the Mossberg 500 and 590 are some of the best pump actions around, but there are other great options out there that’ll work just as well. In general, go for a pump-action that you trust, from a reliable manufacturer.
The flexibility of slugs vs buckshot gives you more options as well, but generally slugs are a better choice, and something with at least a 3″ chamber is basically mandatory.
I chose the Mariner options because they’re a little more reliable and can hold up to tougher conditions, especially the salt that’s so common in Northern and coastal climates where bears are more prevalent.
Pretty much any shotgun will work, especially one that’s geared towards home defense, but the M500 and M590 are both available everywhere, and incredibly reliable.
Ruger Redhawk, Super Redhawk, and Super Redhawk Alaskan: Best Handguns for Bear Defense
When it comes to sidearms for bear protection, there’s a lot to keep in mind.
First and foremost, handguns are quicker to bring to bare (heh), but harder to aim accurately. Even with a full-grown brown bear, the central nervous system is a relatively small target, and that’s what you need to hit to put one down right away. You’re talking about a shot to the brain or spinal column, and that’s not easy under pressure.
With that in mind, if you do go with a handgun, practice with it like crazy. You need to be very proficient with one if you’re going to reliably stop a bear with it.
And if you’re going with a handgun, you need one that shoots very big bullets. Enter: the Ruger Super Redhawk and Super Redhawk Alaskan. These double-action revolvers come chambered .44 Magnum, .454 Casull (my personal favorite) and .480 Ruger.
These are all great revolvers, and some of the only revolvers I would consider actively hunting brown bear with (I’d still rather have a rifle, but I’d at least consider it). The 9.5” barrel version is about as good as you can get for something like that.
The Alaskan model is particularly notable because it has a 2.5” barrel that loses about 20% of the velocity of the 7.5” models, does give you the option of wearing it easily in a chest rig, which is where it sits when I take mine out.
This is purely a defensive option, and not something I’d ever choose to hunt with, but six rounds of .454 Casull, even out of a short barrel, is fairly potent, and there are multiple recorded instances of hunters and other folks stopping angry bears with this revolver.
Ruger Hawkeye Alaskan
If the CZ 550 Safari is a little too rich for your blood, Ruger has you covered again with the Hawkeye and Hawkeye Alaskan.
This bolt action also uses the controlled-feed Mauser action, and comes with an integral scope mount that is machined directly from the same billet as the receiver, so you’ll have no worries about your optic getting knocked loose under heavy recoil. Ruger also helpfully ships the rifle with scope rings as well.
You also get some express-style irons with a bold white dot for a front sight so close-in hunting or defense against a charging animal is easy, provided you do your part. You also get an overmolded synthetic stock with a thick recoil pad and a muzzle brake to help tame the recoil of the .375 Ruger (best option) .338 Win Mag, or .300 Win Mag, depending on which option you go with. All of them are excellent guns for bear defense.
Carrying a firearm in bear country is never a bad idea (where legal) and you should always be prepared to defend yourself to the utmost against any danger, be it a person or a 1,200lb Grizzly. I still stand by my decision to carry bear spray, and that’s always going to be my first option for bear defense, but having a firearm as a backup never hurts.
And it may just save your life.