An Official Journal Of The NRA | 8 Best Charge-Stopping Bear Cartridges (2022)

When it comes to recognizing and responding to a bear attack, few people have as much experience as Alaska’s Steve Nelson, a former research geologist for the U.S. Geological Survey who’s spent the last 41 years teaching bear defense courses in the Last Frontier. As a geologist, Nelson has killed four bears in defense of life and property (DLP), including two black bears and two grizzlies. Nelson continues to teach a bear defense course in Alaska, instructing geologists and representatives from other government agencies how to operate a wide variety of firearms platforms in a bear defense situation.

In terms of firearm selection, Nelson said it’s really about delivering a few well-placed shots on target in a short timeframe. The more energy and penetration the better, provided you don’t select a firearm that’s too powerful for you to adequately manage. As the bear charge drill in his course demonstrates, the average bear attack will happen at 50 yards or less with an 800-pound animal moving at 30 mph. At that distance, a shooter has roughly four seconds to make a charge-stopping shot, which requires a steady hand under intense pressure.

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An Official Journal Of The NRA | 8 Best Charge-Stopping Bear Cartridges (1)

Among firearms platforms, a rifle delivers more energy and is effective to greater distances, making it the first choice. A 12-gauge shotgun and slug will deliver impressive energy and is effective to moderate ranges. A handgun is worn on your person, however, and is invaluable because it stays with you, whether you’re answering nature’s call or stopping to field dress a game animal. Like the Spartan’s xiphos blade, the handgun is a much shorter secondary weapon intended for up-close-and-personal encounters.

Over the decades, several cartridges have proved themselves as worthy against the nastiest bears North America has to offer. Here’s a look at the eight best charge-stopping bear cartridges ever made.

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1. .45-70 Government
First adopted by the U.S. military in 1873, the .45-70 Government has been one of the longest-standing big-game cartridges of all time. It’s also been incredibly popular among Alaskan hunters and guides, especially in lever-actions like Marlin’s 1895 Guide Gun, which is compact, fairly lightweight and highly maneuverable in close quarters. It’s also capable of sending a massive projectile, like Buffalo Bore’s 430-grain hard-cast bullet, at roughly 2000 fps and 3,600 ft.-lbs. from the muzzle. Talk about stopping power.

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2. .454 Casull
Developed by Dick Casull and Jack Fulmer in 1957, the .454 Casull is a dangerous game hunter’s dream come true. One of the more powerful handguns available today, the .454 is capable of pushing a 300-grain Buffalo Bore bullet at 1650 fps with 1,813 ft.-lbs. of energy at the muzzle. Nelson killed one of his charging grizzlies with a .454 Casull, which he says is one of his favorite choices for bear defense. Ruger chambers the .454 Casull in both the Super Redhawk with a 4-inch barrel and the Alaskan in a 3-inch variant, both of which are compact and easy to draw when things get up close and personal. Is it fun to shoot? Not at all. Nelson says after about 20 shots, his wrist starts to swell and he can no longer shoot. The beauty of the .454, however, is that you can practice with .45 Colt rounds and save yourself a bit of recoil trauma.

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3. .44 Remington Magnum
Considered by many to be the minimum for big bear defense rounds, the .44 Remington Magnum was first introduced in 1955 for revolvers and gained widespread popularity in the 1970s thanks to Dirty Harry. While some may consider it the minimum, it’s plenty powerful enough to stop an onerous bear. A 240-grain +P Buffalo Bore projectile carries roughly 1,600 ft.-lbs. of energy at 1550 fps, which is more than double that of the 10mm and four times more energy than the 9mm. Available in shorter versions like the Smith & Wesson 629 with 4-inch barrel, the .44 Mag. has a well-deserved reputation as a charge-stopper.

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4. .375 H&H Magnum
One of the original belted, rimless magnum rifle cartridges, is not only considered one of the best cartridges for hunting Africa, it also has a proven track record for lethality on large-bodied game in Canada and Alaska, including moose and bear. Popular among Alaskan guides and hunters, the .375 is capable of launching a 270-grain bullet at 4,300 ft.-lbs. and 2700 fps, thus delivering massive energy on target. As Nelson points out, the first shot may end the charge but doesn’t always kill the bear, which means it’s handy to have a rifle that can make the longer follow-up shot.

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5. .50 Alaskan
Taking a .348 Winchester case and necking it out to accept a .510-inch, Alaskan Harold Johnson was able to successfully convert a Winchester Model 1886 rifle into a .50-caliber, bear-killing machine. The result, of course, was the .50 Alaskan. Buffalo Bore produces several loads for the .50 Alaskan, including a 450-grain bullet that delivers a whopping 4,400 ft.-lbs. of energy from the muzzle. As a wildcat cartridge, it hasn’t seen the widespread use of other rounds on this list, but that hasn’t stopped many guides and hunters, Nelson included, from converting Marlin lever guns for its very effective use.

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6. 12-Gauge Slug
According to Nelson, the 12-gauge slug gun is by far one of the most popular choices for bear protection in the Alaskan bush. While it is extremely effective, the main reason it’s been so widely-used is because shotguns like the Remington 870 and Mossberg 500 are a fraction of the price of bolt-guns and, in turn, that’s what the government has provided to its employees. Based on ballistic testing and field use, Nelson recommends Brenneke’s Black Magic Magnum or DDupleks’ Monolit 32 solid steel slug. The Black Magic Magnum is a 602-grain slug that carries 3,000 ft.-lbs. of energy at 1500 fps, while the 495-grain DDupleks leaves the muzzle at 1410 fps with 2,180 ft.-lbs. of energy.

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7. .338 Winchester Magnum
The favorite among Alaskan guides as a backup gun, the .338 Winchester Magnum was released in 1958 as belted, rimless cartridge. Based on the .375 H&H, the .338 will send a 300-grain Barnes bullet out the barrel at 2500 fps with a devastating 4,100 ft.-lbs. of energy. Considered by many to be the most versatile North American big-game cartridge, the .338 Win. Mag. has killed its fair share of charging bears. It’s chambered in nearly every major manufacturer’s rifle and has a plethora of ammunition choices as well.

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8. .357 S&W Magnum
While some folks claim the .44 Magnum is the minimum for charging bears, many others have opted for a Glock 20 in 10mm Auto and, interestingly enough, passed right by the . Several folks have even successfully killed bears with a 9mm. While a well-placed shot from a 10mm can no doubt do the trick, the .357 Mag. has 780 ft.-lbs. of energy, while the 10mm has about 728 ft.-lbs., both with a 180-grain Buffalo Bore bullet. As Nelson has seen in bear defense training, many shooters have cycling issues with the 10mm due to the “limp-wrist syndrome,” something that isn’t an issue with a revolver and is the last thing you want to happen during a bear charge. The .357 is also available in smaller-framed revolvers that fit smaller hands, making it ideal for women and less experienced shooters. Any way you slice it, the .357 has proven itself as a worthy close-range bear stopper.

FAQs

What is the best caliber to stop a bear? ›

Best Caliber for Bear Defense: 12-Gauge Slug

This ammo can hit any bear with 300 pounds of lead and copper that is sure to stop any bear in its tracks. It packs a bullet weight of 385 grains, a muzzle velocity of 1,850 fps, and muzzle energy of 2,925 ft/lbs.

What is the best cartridge for bear hunting? ›

308 Winchester. If you're looking for a one-cartridge answer for all methods of black-bear hunting, it boils down to the . 308 Winchester, as it does for just about every other type of big-game hunting in North America. The .

Where is the best place to shoot a charging bear? ›

Aim for the deadliest point you can find. On a close-in, charging bear, this will probably be the face or upper chest. Often full-attack grizzlies lower their heads as they come in, so that's about all you have to aim at.

What caliber can stop a grizzly bear? ›

For a bear cartridge anything equal to or more powerful than a . 41 Magnum or . 44 Magnum will be fine. Oldtime black bear hunters say that any load that throws at least a 200-grain or bigger solid bullet at 1000 fps or more will take any bear in the woods.

Will 45-70 stop a bear? ›

Their 300 grain JHP and 405 grain JFN loads in particular are also excellent . 45-70 ammo for bear defense and will flatten any bear on this planet with proper shot placement.

What is the best handgun to stop a grizzly bear? ›

Big-bore revolvers are the classic backup gun in bear country, and one of the most popular options is Smith & Wesson's six-shot . 44 Magnums. The Model 29 and Model 629 are built on S&W's vaunted N-frame and pack enough punch that, with the right bullets, they'll stop even the largest bear.

Is 10mm or 45 better for bears? ›

Still, it's hard to deny that, as with ballistics, the 10mm Auto has a higher ceiling for both hunting and bear defense. Superior ballistics allow the 10mm to take larger animals than the . 45 Auto or take the same sized animals more reliably.

Will .45 ACP stop a bear? ›

45 acp is a poor choice for bear defense. The round is slow, fat, and has fairly poor penetration on tough-skinned animals; however, some people carry . 45 acp with modern +P ammo and hardened bullets for bear defense. There are many better options, but it can work.

Is a 308 good for grizzly bear? ›

308s are powerful enough for grizzly bears in a technical sense. They offer the right mix of stopping power and low recoil, making it a viable option when you come face to face with this animal. However, grizzlies are very tough and might require multiple shots from a .

Will 357 stop a bear? ›

Two of the three uses of the . 357 were successful. One was against a grizzly that was stopped with one shot, but then escaped. The other grizzly was killed with six shots fired.

Should you shoot a bear in the head? ›

The best bet to immediately stop an attacking bear is to turn off its central nervous system, which requires a brain shot or a shot which severs the spinal cord. Since the spinal cord is so small, it makes sense to aim at the brain.

What handgun can stop a bear? ›

While some folks claim the . 44 Magnum is the minimum for charging bears, many others have opted for a Glock 20 in 10mm Auto and, interestingly enough, passed right by the . 357 S&W Magnum. Several folks have even successfully killed bears with a 9mm.

Will a 12-gauge slug stop a grizzly? ›

It is a common misconception that shotgun ammunition is a good way to chase away a bear. In reality, target or bird-hunting shot is an ineffective solution that often leads to unnecessary outcomes. Bears have relatively thin skin and shotgun ammunition can be extremely harmful and even lethal.

What is the best gun to carry in bear country? ›

Best Bear Defense Guns
  1. Glock 20. If you're used to toting around a 9mm Glock 19, you might be more comfortable with that. ...
  2. Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan. The Ruger Superhawk Alaskan is a relatively small wheel gun, but it's chambered in . ...
  3. Marlin 1895 SBL. ...
  4. CZ 550 American Safari Magnum. ...
  5. Remington 870 SPS SuperSlug. ...
  6. Mossberg 500.

Will a 10mm stop a grizzly bear? ›

If you body-shoot an attacking bear front-on, those 10mm bullets must be chosen for extremely deep, straight-line penetration to compromise as many vital organs as possible, and they must shrug off any bone—no matter how massive and dense—encountered along the way.

What is the best gun for black bear hunting? ›

For black bears, in country where there is no grizzly presence, the popular deer and elk cartridges will certainly work very well; a . 308 Winchester or . 30-06 Springfield loaded with a 165- or 180-grain spitzer bullet will handle black bears.

Will a 9mm stop a bear? ›

The 9mm can kill bears but is considered underpowered by experienced woodsmen. The 9mm has 350 to 450 ft/lbs. of energy, while 1,000 ft/lbs is considered the minimum for a bear hunting gun. Proper 9mm bullets yield sufficient penetration in soft tissue, but it may not stop a bear quickly enough to avoid being mauled.

What is the strongest 45-70 round? ›

Item 8B -- the bullet utilized expands to an inch or more in diameter at our velocities and hence penetration is limited to about two feet in flesh and bone. This is the single most effective hog and black bear load ever devised in 45-70.
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Is a Desert Eagle a good bear gun? ›

Desert Eagle vs. a Charging Bear Feat. Guns, Gear, and Outdoors Alaska

What is the best defense against a bear? ›

Lay flat on your stomach with your hands clasped behind your neck. Spread your legs to make it harder for the bear to turn you over. Remain still until the bear leaves the area. Fighting back usually increases the intensity of such attacks.

What has more stopping power .45 or 10mm? ›

Stopping Power

45 and the high velocity, low weight of the 10mm both make for powerful shots. If you're looking for speed, 10mm will have you covered. The 10mm has a faster velocity and energy than the . 45ACP.

What is the most powerful 10mm ammo? ›

#1 – Buffalo Bore Heavy 10mm 180 Grain JHP

For this 180 Grain JHP load it generates the most Foot-Lbs of energy tested by Ammunition to Go with a whopping 728! This is the only ammo tested that exceeded 700 Foot-Lbs of muzzle energy.

Why did the FBI stop using 10mm? ›

Although it was selected for service by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 1989 from the aftermath of the 1986 FBI Miami shootout, the cartridge was later decommissioned (except by the Hostage Rescue Team and Special Weapons and Tactics Teams) after their Firearms Training Unit eventually concluded that its ...

What has more stopping power 357 or 45 ACP? ›

The . 357 has more stopping power when aiming at targets further away, while the . 45 ACP provides higher stopping power when shooting targets at shorter ranges.

Are hollow points good for bear? ›

Shooting a bear with a hollow point is not going to be effective. What we need to stop an animal this size and strong is deep penetration. We need to cause remote damage or hydrostatic shock.

Why did the military stop using the 1911? ›

But ultimately, the 1911 was replaced because of capacity. World War III was supposed to be fought in the forests and fields of Europe, where American and NATO troops would face an onslaught of Soviet men who may be fighting in human wave attacks.

Will a 357 stop a bear? ›

The three grizzly bears were killed, the black bear was wounded and ran off. Two of the three uses of the . 357 were successful. One was against a grizzly that was stopped with one shot, but then escaped.

Will a .45 stop a bear? ›

In general, the . 45 acp is a poor choice for bear defense. The round is slow, fat, and has fairly poor penetration on tough-skinned animals; however, some people carry . 45 acp with modern +P ammo and hardened bullets for bear defense.

What rifle will stop a bear? ›

Ideal Heavy Rifles for Bear Protection

Look for the biggest caliber you can shoot well in a rifle with a controlled-feed action like the Winchester Model 70 Safari Express, or the Ruger Guide Gun. While big bore rifles are ideal, even a . 308 will work.

Will a 9mm stop a bear? ›

The 9mm can kill bears but is considered underpowered by experienced woodsmen. The 9mm has 350 to 450 ft/lbs. of energy, while 1,000 ft/lbs is considered the minimum for a bear hunting gun. Proper 9mm bullets yield sufficient penetration in soft tissue, but it may not stop a bear quickly enough to avoid being mauled.

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