Even if you’re not actually hunting bears, you may well need to know how to most effectively shoot one. In fact, you’re most likely to have a bear encounter of the violent kind when you’re after something else. If you’re hunting caribou or moose you’ll be thinking about caribou or moose and not watching for bears.

Bear Rifles

Shot placement is always critical, but especially with dangerous game, so is using enough gun.

Your .30/06 may kill a moose just fine, but when you approach the downed animal and see a grizzly already helping himself, you’ll want a much bigger rifle.

In addition, some bears have learned that the sound of a gunshot means dinner, and all they have to do is run the humans off a carcass. If so, you have to stand your ground and shoot very fast at very close range.

In most of North America, what you’ll encounter is going to be either a grizzly or a brown bear. These are essentially the same animal; however, brown bears are coastal, fish-fed for part of the year, and much bigger. A decent-sized grizzly bear will scale 600 pounds, but a well-fed male brown bear can double that weight.

Both animals share eyesight that ranges from mediocre to poor, excellent hearing, and a supernatural sense of smell. They have crushing bites, paws that can kill or cripple a man with a single swat, and catlike quickness.

Bear rifles are bolt-actions. Nothing else is as reliable or can handle the powerful cartridges that you need. The best cartridges are, starting at the low end of the power scale, the .338 Winchester Magnum, .340 Weatherby Magnum, .338 Remington Ultra Magnum, and .375 H&H. Of these, the .338 kicks the least and may be the best choice if bears are not your primary game. The .340 and .338 RUM also use .338 bullets, but at much higher velocity, and have a lot more recoil. The .375 H&H shoots even heavier bullets and is a huge favorite among Alaskan guides because it’s a stopper.

To go with your rifle, you need strong bullets. The best of these, I believe, is the Swift A-Frame. I’ve used them in Alaska and Africa, on all sorts of large, tough beasts, and they deserve every bit of their peerless reputation.

You also want a good, low-powered scope. If you hunt bears you need a wide field of view combined with a heavy reticle that centers your eye instantly. I think that the ideal scope is a 1X–4X, a 1.5X–5X, or something in that power range. And bring scope caps because it will rain on you. Heavily. I guarantee that.