What Would You Carry In Bear Country?

Preface: This article deals with carrying firearms in the outdoors. This is a topic that can be sensitive to some. For others like myself, it is the natural choice.

I would never intend to shoot any wildlife if I were in no direct danger (short of hunting game for food), or put myself into conflict/contact with one of these beautiful creatures. When I speak, I speak of last resort options. My first reaction would always be a swift and quiet retreat when possible.

What Would You Carry in Bear Country?

I have been thinking lately about a trip to Alaska. Not a real trip of course, but a fantasy trip. I am to poor and far too inexperienced to do the real thing at this stage. Ultimately, my perfect outdoors experience would be to hire a bush plane to drop me deep into Grizzly Bear Country, by myself or perhaps with a friend, for about 2-3 weeks and pick me up just as I’m crossing the line from sanity over to something from the Shining.

There are dozens of charter companies that you can hire to fly you in and pick you up in many areas of Alaska for a fee. One of the big inspirations for this sort of trip are people like Bruce Nelson who runs bucktrack.com and provides some really awesome information about his experiences in Alaska, shares maps, gear lists, and more. He’s even documented weights for his gear, for the Avid Backpacker. As someone who weighs their pack down to the last half ounce, this is priceless information for me.

Dreamstimefree 155971 300x264 3412351
Grizzly Bear
Photo by Donald Rogers

Where I Really Want to Be Right Now

As I have been reading about said fantasy Alaska trip over the last year or two, I have read a lot about what sort of caliber choices people have made for their backcountry adventures with the mighty Griz. It seems the responses to this dilemma vary quite considerably. At one end of the spectrum, some folks have said they are completely fine not carrying a thing, or at the least some bear spray. On the other end, you just about got a guy with a 20mm Cannon mounted to his pack. Well probably not really, but some people get pretty carried away. On the side of Bear Spray, I wonder if the Bear can taste it while he is gnawing on your fleshy parts.. It is pepper spray isn’t it? Maybe we could get him some salt and a side salad to go along with you. All jokes aside though, I would seriously carry some bear spray as well!

The general consensus though seems to be either on the high powered Rifle side of things or the 12 Gauge Pump with a 3” Slug, either choice including a Revolver like .500 S&W Magnum or .454 Casull or some other sort of heavy, fast moving pistol round as a last defense backup. From what I have read, I tend to side with the 12 Gauge Pump. This was not my first choice, however after diving in a little further, a few people offered some pretty good points as to why a Shotgun instead of a Rifle.

“The ideal bear defense gun needs to be 100% reliable, shoot accurately out to at least 50 yards (protection from bears does not involve long range shooting) and be capable of a fast repeat shot with loads that have adequate stopping power. Adequate stopping power requires that the projectile have sufficient caliber (cross sectional area), penetration and deliver sufficient energy to get the job done. It is ideal if the bullet is of the controlled expansion type to maximize shock and tissue destruction, but it must not break-up on heavy bones.” – Chuckhawks.com

The first was that most of your rifle rounds that you would carry, such as a .300 Win-Mag or .45-70, are intended to reach out and touch something at a distance. Not sure about you, but I don’t intend to shoot anything at 300 yards in Alaska for the purpose of “Safety”. I’m thinking a simple retreat in the opposite direction might serve more purpose than setting up the spotting scope, range finder, and adjusting for windage and elevation… just saying. Also, my guess is that if you were to encounter a Grizzly Bear, like most bears, it would be unexpected, and you will probably be within a much closer range than you would prefer.

The Grizzly Looks a Little Thick..

Another point was that, despite high velocities and lots of energy, rifle rounds are fairly light, especially compared to a 12 Gauge Slug. Sure, they’re great on Deer, Elk, Sheep, and larger game but Grizzly seem to me to be in a completely separate category completely. They are not only large and thick but have considerably denser muscle mass, thick heavy bones, fat, and thick fur. They are just a whole bunch of dense mass, compressed into a big fur coat with sharp teeth and razor sharp finger nails. Once you take that relatively light weight bullet, even moving at high velocities (reverse that for the .45-70), it’s gonna lose a lot of energy on a Grizzly, I would think. Compare that with a 1-1/4 oz 3” (comes out to 546.88gr) Slug with muzzle energies exceeding 3000 ft/lbs and now you’re talking some damage, at close range albeit. I would think (or at least hope) that a few rounds of that would have some pretty hefty impact, even on a big Grizzly. Of course, I could just be talking out of my ass… it’s not like I’ve ever been in this scenario, and it is all purely speculation, so who knows. I am completely basing this off of experiences others have related, so maybe I am off base completely.

Anyway, should I ever make that ultimately exciting, if not a little frightening, trip to the Alaskan Tundra, I think I know what I will be carrying with me as a life support system. Now I just gotta figure out what my sidearm will be. I suppose I can save that for another day..