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Thread: Why semi-auto handguns, with one exception, are inadequate bear defense weapons

  1. #1
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    Default Why semi-auto handguns, with one exception, are inadequate bear defense weapons

    I have been on this website almost since it's inception. I have recieved an invaluable education in backcountry hunting from the impressive collective knowledge of the members of this board. I have followed the bear defense discussion first with ammusment and now with consternation. Consequently, I now feel compelled to offer my opinion on what I have observed concerning the bear defense topic.
    Let me begin by relating my experience in this area. Please understand that this is not presented in a boastful manner or as bluster. Rather, it is presented so that the reader might judge the validity of my statements. I spend 7 days a month June, July and August fishing in Alaska and have for a number of years (brown bears). I fish Hudson Bay for brook trout (polar bears), hunted the Brooks Range (grizzly) and canoed the Boundry Waters (human habituated black bear) and bear hunted on Admirilty, Kuiu, north of Cordova and the Kenai Peninsula. I have been trained in the modern technique of the pistol at Gunsite. I have never shot a bear in defense of life or property but I have killed them. I have been"charged" more than once.
    The posters I have seen on this subject include combat pistol instructors, military personal, hunters and fisherman. While all these gentleman are experts in their fields, the first question I would ask anyone offering bear defense advice is: How many bears have you dissassembled? I measured the 2 black bear skulls and 1 brown bear skull I have in my posession. The brain cavities of the black bear skulls are 3" wide by 5" long. The brown bear brain cavity is slightly larger, 3.25" by 5.25".
    My thoughts on the subject of bear defense. Bear attacks are not firefights, magazine capacity is irrelevent. The difference between a bluff charge and a real charge is the last 10 feet. Go read the Alaska Game Regulations. You better know the difference between bluffing and real because the Sourdoughs take a dim view of Pilgrims unneccessarily ventilating their bears outside of hunting season and especially without a non-resident bear tag (big bucks) and a guide (bigger bucks). Bears are fast. Their heads are not only coming at you quickly but they move side to side. Bears have big bones and bigger muscles, thats why penetration is paramount and hollow points are a mistake. Bears are hard to kill when adrenalized but die fairly easy if you shoot them in the right place before they get pissed. However, if you shoot a bear that won't get you shackled when the fish cop comes to investigate, he's gonna be pissed off. Bears are scary when they are mad. They pop their teeth and drool comes out of their mouth. That is why I would trade the weight of a double stack magazine for a clean pair of skivvy shorts. If it is a bluff charge you are going to need to change the ones you are wearing. If it is a real charge and you shoot him before he gets to you, a costume change is still in your future. If the bear gets to you, you can use the clean shorts to tie your scalp back on and your dirty shorts are the least of you worries. I believe that is what Patrick refers to as dual use.
    Semi auto rounds, with the exception of the 460 Rowland, are only useful for shooting a bear in the brain because they do not have the penetration or the permanent wound cavity to be effective otherwise. It is a mistake to trade penetration for wound cavity by using hollow points. If you crank up the 45 Super to where it equals the 460 Rowland but don't put a compensator on the pistol you will crack the frame. When? Who knows but if you practice like you should, it might be when you need your sidearm the most. The 10 mm is not the equivilent of the 41 magnum. I've got the chrono data to prove it. If a revolver in an effective cartridge is too heavy, carry bear spray instead.
    Some general firearm observations. Pay attention to revolver cylinder length. A longer cylinder allows a longer bullet which equates to better sectional density resulting in greater penetration. You can also seat the bullet out to the next driving band and get a little more velocity at equal pressure by using a little more powder. Single action revolvers handle heavy recoil better than double action revolvers. Double action revolvers come back with a straighter impulse and even rubber grips do not completely attenuate this characterisic but make sure you use a grip that covers the backstrap. In adequate cartridges with heavy for the caliber bullets, you can cock a single action as quickly as you can return a double action to battery and pull the trigger. Splits on a timer prove this. Reloading is not much of an issue because other than a 41 or a 44 nobody makes a speedloader. You are probably only going to get 2 rounds off. If 5 or six rounds has not done the trick and the bear is chomping on you, I don't see a speed reload in your future, regardless of the type of sidearm you are carrying. If you are not the one being eaten, after 5 or six rounds you have probably ventilated your buddy some and he can ponder whether you or the bear has caused more damage while you reload. Never heard of a multiple bear attack so an "Attack of the Zombies" scenario is probably not realistic.
    Specific recommendations. Minimum in black bear country 357 magnum with 180 graind flat nose. Minimum in brown bear country 460 Rowland with the heaviest bullet or 44 magnum with 300 grain wfn. I believe the 41 magnum tauraus ti tracker with 250 grain wfn is equal to the 44 mag with 240 grain Keith. I carry a 475 Linebaugh with 425 lfn in brown bear country. If you can't afford a Freedoom Arms, the Magnum Research BFR is just as good except it is a little heavier and slightly more bulky but it has a longer cylinder. I use an El Paso Saddlery 1942 Tanker holster because it is compatable with backpacks and flyrods. Best book "Bear Encounter Survival Guide" by James Gary Shelton. ISBN 0-9698099-0-5
    Disclaimers. Your mileage may vary. Patrick disagrees with me about semiautos. Phil Shoemaker disagrees with me and he has taken apart way more bears than I have (see his article about pistols and bears he wrote for Wolfe). My parents never worked for the RCMP. I have never cruised timber nor have I ever fought a forest fire. I only cut down trees for firewood, not for a living. I have never been in a firefight.
    Last edited by bobmn; 08-16-2009 at 08:21 PM. Reason: spelling

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Why semi-auto handguns, with one exception, are inadequate bear defense weapons

    Thanks for the well reasoned post. Perhaps you could answer this question I posed in the other thread and have yet to receive an opinion on:

    presumably "underpower" loads such as 10mm and .45 super have a specific zone that they must hit in order to be effective. presumably the more authoritative loads have a larger zone that they can hit and still be effective. how much bigger is that larger zone?

    ...

    Moho mentioned an 18x24" zone with a "heavy duty revolver" as one datapoint. What was heavy duty? .44 or bigger? .357 or bigger?

    Anybody have any idea how much higher the standard of accuracy needs to be with the 10mm and .45 super loads? Will they also do the job anywhere in that 18x24 zone, or do you have to shoot them in a 9x12" zone?
    Based on your post, the range that you need to be able to hit at is 10 feet.

    I'm also guessing you would consider the "zone of effectiveness" of a 45 super or 10mm as 3"x5" (and a moving 3x5 at that).

    Any thought on what the "zone of effectiveness" of the larger calibers you mention might be?

    edit: and if you care to break it down even further, that would be interesting (like .41 250grn 10x10", .44 300grn 15x15", .475 425grn 18x24", etc)
    Last edited by evanhill; 08-16-2009 at 01:07 PM.
    We are fortunate in this matter that your conduct will be your marker and, thus, your reputation. The conduct of others on this forum has been, and will continue to be, their marker, and thus, their reputation. In the west, a person invests in one's reputation carefully. - 112Papa

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Why semi-auto handguns, with one exception, are inadequate bear defense weapons

    Evenhill: your post inspired me to finally reply with some unemotional data which is what I believe you are looking for. I honestly believe that the brain is the only hit that the semi-auto cartridge is effective enough to stop in time before doing damage to you. So a 3 by 5 moving cylinder is correct. All I can say about the more powerful revolver cartridges is that it is somewhat larger. The difference is it opens up the possibility of a spinal hit or possibly turning the bear with a shoulder hit so you can hit him with a few more rounds. A fall bear can have a couple of inches of fat to penetrate plus the hide is very elastic. I know a hollow point semi auto bullet is not going very deep into that. A 400 pound black bear I shot in early Sept. had 5 five gallon pails of fat on him when we skinned him out. If you look at the Linebaugh penetration data linked in another post be forewarned that bullet meplat size has an enormous effect on penetration depth. Someone quoted a 45 colt load with the bullet specified as LBT but not Long Flat Nose or Wide Flat Nose. That data is worthless without that detail. Veral Smith covers that subject in detail in "Jacketed Performance With Cast Bullets"

  4. #4
    kutenay Guest

    Default Re: Why semi-auto handguns, with one exception, are inadequate bear defense weapons

    A very interesting and informative post, however, the book, "Bear Encounter Survival Guide" was written by James Gary SHELTON, not, ...Shackleton...; it is the most useful advice on this topic I know of.

    The specific recommendations seem pretty sound to me, however, Phil S.'s point in his article that I read (many times) seemed to be more directed to the average guy, who does not have your level of training and expertise...I am NOT being sarcastic here. So, for most guys, who do not shoot their pistols as often as they probably should, his suggestions seem very practical to me.

    My Redhawk .44M. with my handloads fits your parameters and is not "hard" to shoot as well as the fact that we CANNOT obtain permits here in Canada FOR any other handguns, EXCEPT large-bore revolvers and even these are VERY hard to come by.

    My friends that have Glock 10s are now packing their .44s and when handguns are banned in Canada, as I am certain they will soon be, they will have to carry what I choose to, a custom CRF rifle in an appropriate caliber.

    I like your opinions, I would be only TOO happy to have access to training of the quality that you have had and, as it happens, a "bear watching" guide service where a guy I met works at Hudson's Bay, has often invited me to go hunting and fishing there and I hope to visit there within a couple of years....toting "Thumper", my 20" Old Mod. 70, .375H&H.

    Good post, do more of them,

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Why semi-auto handguns, with one exception, are inadequate bear defense weapons

    Excellent post Bobmn. I don't often give much creedence to gun rag articles but some years ago I read about the exploits of a bona fiday Government hunter in Colorado whose sole mission was the control of problem Black bears. I was impressed with his knowledge and expertise and hair raising stories with him, his hounds, his customized single action Ruger .45's and Linebaugh .475's and the bears. Simply put, heavy for caliber, hard cast bullets get the job done. This has been put to bed many times now, Hard cast bullets out of handguns simply out penetrate and maintain weight better than jacketed bullets. And while the Rowland makes a fun project if you have an extra steel framed .45 laying around to tinker with and I'd carry it in Blackie country if i had to, but again, why? The single actions are better in all respects, except firepower, which is irrelevant under those conditions as you aptly pointed out.
    Last edited by elmbow; 08-16-2009 at 01:38 PM.

  6. #6
    kutenay Guest

    Default Re: Why semi-auto handguns, with one exception, are inadequate bear defense weapons

    I think that I vaguely remember the article you mention and I have often thought that a guy like me, would be best served by buying a "Vaquero" in .45LC sts-4.75" and learning that gun like his heartbeat; I would tend toward 320 HC at roughly 1000 fps.

    I have seen more than a few bears killed and it iS penetration that is crucial, I would never use a HP bullet and would not carry an autoloader by choice.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Why semi-auto handguns, with one exception, are inadequate bear defense weapons

    I don't think anyone on the forums here has advocated anything other than high quality cast bullets for this application, but I could be wrong.

    Regarding penetration, did you see Bushcraft's post on 10mm penetration on steers perhaps a year ago now?

    To repeat myself in the interests of clarity, The "how much larger is the zone" question is crucial, IMHO. 10 feet is considerably less than I typically practice with a handgun, so I don't have a feel for what my hits are like at that range. Next range day, I'll certainly be working on it with semi-auto and revolver. However, the point remains that hits with a semi-auto count considerably more than misses with a big bore revolver (true?).

    There is no doubt in my mind that you have more of a margin of error with the big bore. Is that margin of error greater or less than my personal accuracy difference between semi-auto and revolver? I need to know both to know which handgun I'm better off carrying for the purpose of bear defence.

    A couple of related arguments that come to mind --

    - At contact range (inside a sleeping bag, or mauling underway), the accuracy question goes away completely.

    - semi-auto calibers are so inadequate against bears that your worst performance with a big bore is still better than your best performance with a semi-auto.

    Not saying I agree with the above, just that they are reasonable arguments you could make.
    We are fortunate in this matter that your conduct will be your marker and, thus, your reputation. The conduct of others on this forum has been, and will continue to be, their marker, and thus, their reputation. In the west, a person invests in one's reputation carefully. - 112Papa

  8. #8
    Join Date
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    Default Re: Why semi-auto handguns, with one exception, are inadequate bear defense weapons

    Quote Originally Posted by bobmn View Post
    The posters I have seen on this subject include combat pistol instructors, military personal, hunters and fisherman. While all these gentleman are experts in their fields, the first question I would ask anyone offering bear defense advice is: How many bears have you dissassembled? ... Bear attacks are not firefights, magazine capacity is irrelevent. .
    Well, that pretty much summarizes me, though I don't consider myself an expert on any subject! In fact, ANYTHING I write regarding big bears is nothing more than conjecture, as I live in Indiana and we don't have any bears! In the last ten years the only times I've been west of the Mississippi was for business purposes, not recreation. I have only seen two grizzly bears in my life and they were in Glacier National Park and several hundred yards away at that, so my opinions are nothing more than armchair commando speculation.

    Any comments I make are purely from my own limited background which has been focused on self defense against human predators, and has nothing to do with bear defense. Back when Anthracitic posted on this forum he sent me some tapes on bear attacks and my wife and I concluded after watching them that we would not be able to differentiate between a bluff or real attack and the awesome speed of the bear would make any defense highly unlikely. We concluded the bear would surely get one of us and the other might be lucky enough to get one rifle round into it before they too went down. Those tapes and a book Jules also included were my sole source of information on actual grizzly bear confrontations. In other words, I'm one of the most ignorant people regarding big bears on this forum. I have never spent any time in any of the areas you note above and, good Lord willing, plan to spend my retirement, if I ever get one, in eastern Tennessee, so my chances of ever encountering a big bear are slim at best.

    In truth, I should never post anything when this discussion comes up, but it interests me and I write only from my extremely limited perspective.

    I sincerely hope that none of my posts have been offensive to you, as that would never be my intent. I write purely because I like "sitting around the Kifaru campfire" and chatting with friends. I will say in all honesty your post was not only informative, but very refreshing. I learned much from it and have concluded this tenderfoot would be best to stay here in the flatlands and not venture into your neck of the woods without someone of your or Kutenay's experience along as a guide, as I would either end up as a mobile hamburger for a big bear, or sitting in a jail after doing something stupid.

    Thank you much for your insightful post, as it was much appreciated.
    Last edited by Steelworker; 08-16-2009 at 06:51 PM.

  9. #9
    kutenay Guest

    Default Re: Why semi-auto handguns, with one exception, are inadequate bear defense weapons

    I have owned handguns for 41+ years and taken a weeklong defensive pistol course from the BC Justice Institute trainer, who trains most L.E.O.s here, other than the "Queen's Cowboys". BUT, I consider myself a NOVICE with ANY handgun, seldom shoot mine and could not be bothered with getting the permit to carry while working.

    So, my humble comments are based on field bear experience and a tiny bit of pistol experience and I certainly defer to those here with greater pistol vs. bear experience than mine.

    I'm thinkin' "frag grenade".......

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Why semi-auto handguns, with one exception, are inadequate bear defense weapons

    You sure seem sure that anyone in a bear charge situation will ruin his shorts. I'll have to disagree with that. Gun writers say the same thing about man to man gunfights too. Never happened to me or anyone I served with. After being shot at about 6 feet with an AK my trousers were as clean as they could be after sleeping in the dirt for a month.

    If in brown bear country I'll pack a large, but mild revolver to help speed up follow up shots(250-300 grains at 9-1000fps). But for blackies most autos will penatrate enough. 9mm fmj will penatrate more than 2 feet of muscle.

    I think most of us who head to the hills with marginal autos do so because 1. We are more likely to run into a problem with a homo sapien than yogi, and are more likely use the side arm to pot small game. Any hand gun is a poor bear defense weapon compared to a rifle.
    Fire without movement is a waste, movement without fire is suicide.

    Please excuse all grammar and punctuation mistakes. I'm posting from my phone.

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