Bears are the largest predator on the North American continent. While many will be content to leave you alone whilst in the woods, being in the wrong place at the wrong time can be hazardous to your health. For this reason, many carry a gun while in ursine habitat. So, what is the best bear defense gun? Let us take a look at some criteria and my top picks.
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A bear defense weapon should be durable, compact, and powerful. It is a weapon that will suffer the usual scars of a firearm constantly carried in the wilds. This weapon must be reliable and have enough power to keep you off the menu in case of an attack. While many excellent options exist, I will present my top five picks for the best bear defense gun.
Top pick: Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan
The remoter fisherman’s friend, the Super Redhawk Alaskan is a short-barreled revolver chambered .454 Casull, .44 Mag, and .480 Ruger. While a heavy weapon, the Alaskan carries nicely in a chest or shoulder rig like the Kenai by GunfightersINC. It can be handy but stay out of the way of your fishing pole. The Redhawk is a handgun that will require practice to master but can be deployed quickly for big problems at short range.
The Professional’s Choice: Ruger Guide Gun
Chambered in .338 Win Mag, .30-06, and the powerhouse .375 and .416 Ruger cartridges, the Guide gun is a formidable rifle, designed for when it’s your job to look for trouble in the thick stuff. Equipped with controlled round feeding, open sights, and a durable laminate stock, this rifle has your back when the chips are down against any North American bruin. If you prefer a synthetic stock, the Ruger Alaskan is the same rifle but with a Hogue Overmolded stock. A nice touch with these rifles is that the sling swivel is mounted on the barrel, so your hand does not get torn up by it during recoil.
Looking for Trouble on a Budget: Savage Brush Hunter
With an MSRP that is half of the Guide Gun, the Brush Hunter should fit into almost any budget. The rifle has stainless metal, iron sights, a synthetic stock, and a threaded muzzle. Graced with Savage’s excellent AccuTrigger, it should also be a nice accurate hunting arm for moose. The Brush Hunter is also over a half-pound lighter than the Guide Gun. Chambered in both .375 Ruger and .338 Winchester Magnum, this looks to be a solid pick for a rifle to carry in the brush when bears are around.
The High-Cap: Glock 10mm Auto
The 10mm Auto has made serious inroads with outdoorsmen in the last decade. Companies like Buffalo Bore and HSM have created some stout loads that make the 10mm a capable bear defense round. The cartridge is easier for some people to shoot than a magnum revolver, and the capacity is double a six-gun. Going with the standard Glock 20 or the long-slide model 40 will get you a magazine capacity of fifteen rounds. If you are a hiker, the compact model 29 still holds ten cartridges in a concealable package.
The Standby: Mossberg 590
For generations, the humble shotgun has pulled duty as the problem solver for man versus animal disputes. The Mossberg 590 proudly carries on that tradition. Available in an array of configurations in both 8+1 and 6+1 capacity models, there is a 590 to meet your needs. This is the same shotgun used by the US military and is an utterly reliable weapon. Loaded with Brenneke magnum slugs, the pump-action model 590 is a serious contender for the best bear defense gun title.
Old Reliable: Marlin 1895
The Marlin 1895, in its various forms, has been a perennial favorite in Alaska for bear defense. Is it any wonder then that compact versions of this model were the first Marlins to be returned to production by Ruger? I don’t think so, the Guide Guns and other compact models were the most popular when Marlin produced them. The model 1895 has always been a reliable and powerful rifle, with a decent magazine capacity, and for many years, was more affordable than many magnum rifles. So far, Ruger’s version of the Marlin seems to carry on that legacy, albeit with a price tag to match the quality.
If you want something different, the Baikal MP-221 is a Russian-built double rifle in .45-70. You can channel your inner Robert Ruark and carry this sleek rifle into the brush where grizzlies roam. Accuracy is not known to be super, but it groups well enough for killing shots out to 100 yards. The advantage of this weapon is the immediate availability of a second shot with no manipulation of the action. Sadly, this rifle is only available on the used market but still turns up on Gunbroker with some regularity.
The second honorable mention is the Interarms Mark X Mauser in .375 H&H. This is the same rifle issued to Us Forestry Service crews for bear defense. The Mauser action is bulletproof, and the sights are excellent. The only downside is the wood stock and blued metal do not care for inclement weather.
The typical answer to the question of what the best bear defense gun is the one that you shoot well. However, I would add that this is a class of firearm that individuals must make themselves shoot well. When your life is on the line, you cannot be fumbling. Take the time to get familiar with your chosen weapon so that operation becomes muscle memory. Practice with it until you can reliably hit the target quickly and under stress. If you are having trouble then get some coaching on shooting magnum rifles.
Some of the calibers discussed here are not pleasant to shoot, like a 12-gauge slug, or the .375 Ruger. Try a friend’s rifle if possible before buying your own. But when you do buy, practice, because a bruised shoulder is a lot less painful than bites and lacerations.
Until next time.