There are different kinds of bear hunts, from spot-and-stalk excursions in deep wilderness country to treestand hunting over bait, but one constant: a several-hundred-pound predator with fangs and claws that can be dangerous in a life-threatening way if you don’t bring enough gun to the fight. That holds true across species, from black and brown bears to grizzly.
While handguns offer a necessary backup in bear country, any guide or experienced hunter will tell you that your first and best option is a centerfire rifle or 12-gauge shotgun with a slug. Not only does a centerfire rifle cartridge produce greater velocity, but it also delivers greater energy on target, which is exactly what you want when a mighty bruin is in your crosshairs.
Another consideration for a viable bear cartridge is whether it will perform in two scenarios: first, for the initial trigger pull, and second, if it’s needed to stop a wounded or aggressive bear from charging. So, which cartridges are beast for bruins? Here’s a look at eight great cartridges for bears.
That’s right, the dirty thirty is more than capable of taking a bear. I know what you’re thinking: “It’s too anemic! It’s an old timer’s deer rifle cartridge!” While it is slower than many other modern rifle cartridges, the .30-30 Winchester, or WCF, has earned its place on this list over the last century by taking all kinds of North American big game animals. Bullet and powder technologies have come a long way since the first variant was introduced in 1895, and loads like Hornady’s LEVERevolution are capable of sending a MonoFlex bullet at 2,465 fps with 1,943 ft.-lbs. of energy at the muzzle. Keep in mind, people have killed grizzly bear with a 9mm handgun, which carries less than 400 ft.-lbs. of energy. The venerable .44 Magnum, likewise, carries roughly 1,000 ft.-lbs. of energy and is a trusted bear handgun. All that to say, the .30-30 is more than enough for big bears.
The .30-30 is also the classic lever-gun cartridge and has lasted over a century. Mossberg’s 464 lever-action is a prime example of a contemporary take on a classic design, featuring blued barrel and walnut stock, all in a nimble package of 6.75 pounds. Featuring a 20-inch barrel and 6+1 capacity, the 464 is also great bear protection in tight quarters and thick brush.
At the opposite end of the power spectrum lies the .375 Ruger, which produces a walloping 4,605 ft.-lbs. of energy and 2,600 fps from a 300-grain projectile. The .375 is considered a more-than-capable dangerous game cartridge, the kind of rifle you’d take with you on a brown bear hunt in the far north or, excepting elephant, any dangerous game in Africa. The .375 is designed to fit shorter-action rifles, yet carries roughly 100 fps more than the .375 H&H.
A definite charge-stopper, the .375 is chambered in Mossberg’s Patriot Synthetic Cerakote, a fabulous option for nasty weather and open country. Featuring adjustable iron sights and a 22-inch barrel, the Patriot in .375 carries a powerful punch at a nimble 6.5 pounds. Overall length is 42.25 inches, making it light enough for all-day carry in tight spaces.
.300 Win. Mag.
Originally launched in 1963, the .300 Win. Mag. is one of the greatest long-range, big-game cartridges ever made. It is based on the .375 H&H, the father of the modern magnums, and is essentially shortened, blown out, and necked down to seat a .30-caliber bullet. It’s been proven as a military and hunting rifle, especially at great distances, and can send a 190-grain bullet past 3,100 fps with 4,100 ft.-lbs. of energy. It doesn’t produce the energy of the .338 Win. Mag., but it’s also far less punishing to shoot.
The Mossberg Patriot Walnut rifle comes in .300 Win. Mag. and features iron sights that are perfect in close quarters, brushy country, and as a backup to a scope when game starts threatening your life. The Patriot features a 22 inch barrel and weighs just 7 pounds—heavy enough to absorb recoil from the heavier magnum, but light enough to carry cross country.
The .308 is, well, great. Not only is it one of the most popular North American hunting cartridges today, it also fits in a short-action rifle and carries enough energy and velocity to perform at great distances and on virtually all big game. First introduced in 1952 as a sporting variant of the 7.62x51mm NATO round, the .308 is known for its versatility. A 165-grain projectile will exit the muzzle at 2,600 fps with 2,400 ft.-lbs. of energy, and the cartridge is a capable performer out to substantial distance.
New for 2019, Mossberg now offers an MVP LR rifle in a Thunder Ranch model chambered in .308. At 8 pounds and 39.5 overall inches, the Thunder Ranch rifle is dipped in Kuiu camo and features a medium bull barrel at 20 inches. The rifle conveniently accepts Magpul PMag magazines and utilizes Mossberg’s Lightning Bolt-Action (LBA) trigger.
It definitely isn’t the trendiest cartridge on the planet at the moment, but the .30-06 Springfield is without question one of the most versatile big game cartridges ever made. Adopted in 1906 for the 1903 Springfield military rifle, the .30-06 sends a 180-grain bullet at 2,750 fps with 3,000 ft.-lbs. of energy. It’s proven itself time and again on moose and bear, and more than a few guides and hunters in Alaska have stopped a grizzly charge with a well-placed shot from the ought-six.
Because it is so wildly popular even a century after its inception, the .30-06 is widely produced in a variety of rifles. A modern classic, Mossberg’s Patriot Revere rifle in .30-06 features a Premier 2.0 Grade European walnut stock and oil finish, as well as rosewood forend tip, for a luxurious-looking bolt gun. Featuring a 24-inch barrel and 5+1 capacity, the Patriot Revere weighs 7 pounds and is the classic bear hunter’s rifle.
By far the hottest big game and long-range cartridge on this list, the 6.5 Creedmoor is also fully capable when it comes to hunting bears. Similar to the .260 Rem. in performance, the 6.5 sends a 140-grain bullet out the muzzle at 2,800 fps and 2,469 ft.-lbs., more than enough to conquer long distances and, if necessary, bear encounters of the up-close-and-personal kind. Before you say it’s not enough gun for bears—especially the charging type—keep in mind that the Creedmoor gives you more than three times the energy as the .44 Mag., which is itself capable at close range against bears. That’s a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison, but it illustrates just how much energy is being delivered.
One of Mossberg’s newest 6.5 offerings, the Patriot Predator Cerakote features Strata camo and comes in a nimble package at just 6.5 pounds. Built to handle the toughest climates and conditions, the Predator Cerakote is also a great brush gun, yet is fully capable of incredible accuracy out to extreme distance. The rifle features a 22-inch barrel that is threaded and suppressor ready.
The 12-gauge shotgun is one of the most-used and most-effective firearms used in Alaska for bear protection. Part of that is related to price, as an effective shotgun platform, like the Mossberg 500 or 590A1, is a fraction of the cost as a rifle. The other part of the 12-gauge’s prominence is its impressive stopping power when paired with a slug.
When you want a higher round count, Mossberg’s 590M can carry between 5-20 rounds, and in terms of energy on target, the 12-gauge shotgun is quite formidable, sending a 602-grain Brenneke Black Magic slug at 3,000 ft.-lbs. of energy and 1,500 fps from the muzzle. Great for the first shot or a pivotal follow-up, the Mossberg 500 and 590A1 also gives shooters 12-gauge stopping power with the kind of reliability you want when your life depends on it. The Mossberg 590A1 can be used with a close-range piece of glass or red dot, while fiber-optic sights serve as close-range backup.
.338 Win. Mag.
Consistently voted on as an Alaskan guide’s first choice for bear backup, the .338 Win. Mag. was first introduced in 1958 and is based on the .458 Win. necked down to accept the smaller bullet. Incredibly flat shooting and capable of sending a 250-grain projectile at over 4,000 ft.-lbs. and 2,700 fps, the .338 is great for moose, bear, and everything in between. The .338 is available in Mossberg’s Patriot rifle, which features a 22-inch barrel and overall length of 42.75 inches. At just 6.5 pounds (without scope), the Patriot is great for all-day hunting in thick brush and open country. As a powder-burning workhorse, the .338 is also capable of taking much longer shots, making it ideal for hunting game species in bear country.