The bear, a big boar with a thick coat fresh from hibernation, eased from a tangle of spruce and approached the bait station. Paul, my guide, had not even left the area after delivering me via ATV to the site, and I was still on the ground making preparation to climb into a tree stand for a long evening wait. My climb and Paul’s departure were both interrupted by the boar’s sudden presence.
“He’s a good one,” Paul whispered. “I think he is what you are looking for.” Not being terribly familiar with bears at that time, I was a bit reticent. I wanted a bear and was equipped to take one, but I wanted a good bear. This one looked big to be certain, but I had concluded early on that any bear would look good to a novice. I hesitated. The bear moved closer.
When the boar realized that he had the company of a hunter and guide, he reacted in an unnerving fashion. He popped his teeth and postured about, giving no indication that he was about to flee.
“You’re going to have to take this bear; he could be trouble,” Paul said, this time with a tone of urgency in his voice. The bear bounced forward a few steps and stopped, his small eyes burning through the brush and into our very beings. The rifle I was toting was a Marlin 1895 in .45-70 loaded with Garrett Hammerheads and wearing a Leupold scope. The rig came to my shoulder smoothly and I had my first bear.
Bears can be strange critters. They are all cunning and secretive, capable of easing up to a given location in near silence. They can be comical and playful and may appear from time to time quite docile. They are entertaining to watch. But one thing that is universal in all big bears is that they are stoutly built animals and easily capable of dealing grief should the occasion call for such. In a hunting situation they must be put down quickly. For this reason a great deal of thought should go into selecting a proper load for the project.
One of the easiest ways to begin an argument is to become adamant in regards to the perfect rifle and load combination for any game. One hunter’s favorite will be omitted and that hunter will take the opinion giver to task. That is not the intent of this writing. The purpose is to give some solid guidelines when selecting a workable unit for bear hunting.
If we explore history, it is reasonable that we would find instances where bears have been taken with just about any caliber known. It certainly stands to reason that in the days of rifles such as the Winchester 73 and 92, these in calibers of .38-40, .44-40 and even smaller, bears were collected quite handily. But again, that is not the focus here. What we are considering in this are loads readily available today that will serve well in the bear woods.
Big bears have heavy muscle and bone, and penetration coupled with a well-placed shot is needed. This leads the hunter to consider larger calibers, generally beginning with the .30s. If black bears are the target, those solid standbys of .308 Winchester and .30-06 Govt. are viable choices when these are loaded with heavy, well-constructed bullets. Bullet weights in the 165- to 200-grain class will get the job done. If on the other hand the game is the grizzly or coastal brown, these rounds must be viewed as suspect. Yes, they will work, but they probably should not be the first choice. The nod in .30-caliber would go to the magnum rigs for this heavier work. The .300 Remington Ultra Mag or something similar fits the duty far better than the smaller .30s.
Frontal area of a bullet should be considered when selecting something for game like big bears. All things considered, the bigger the diameter of the bullet the better. Calibers of .33 and larger do a fine job, and the .338 Winchester Magnum fills a need in that category. There are other newer cartridges in the.33 range now available as well; these deserve a solid look.
And there are the .35s. Only marginally popular with American hunters, the .35 calibers have a great deal to offer. The frontal area is quite large, and bullets can be had up to 250 grains or so. Three good choices in .35 are the .358 Winchester, .35 Whelen, and .350 Remington Magnum. The latter in a handy little Remington Model 673 is my pick when there is the possibility of things getting out of hand, which can happen while bear hunting.
Something bigger? Sure. Don’t discount the venerable .375 H&H. It is a jewel, and recoil is surprisingly well mannered for a round offering so much authority. And there is the .375 Remington Ultra Mag. This is a stellar performer.
I mentioned at the beginning of this piece that I took my first bear with a .45-70, my second as well. Excellent round when loaded properly. Check out the Garrett loads for this caliber. There are offerings from this company that will handle anything, including Africa’s most dangerous.
For big bears, go big. You won’t regret the decision to do so.
Garrett Cartridges: www.garrettcartridges.com