One time I made a pretty good shot on a big cinnamon bear. The 150-grain bullet from my .270 smacked him in the shoulder and he rumbled off into a ravine choked with alders, dead on his pads, I thought. I crept in there and found the bear rolling and flipping like a VW Beetle gone out of control. As the bear's teeth popped, the hairs frizzed on my neck! I put a finisher bullet in his lungs and it worked out, but I learned some lessons that day. Foremost, a pretty good shot on a bear is not good enough; you want that first bullet to be pretty much perfect. Here's how to do that.
The .270 is minimum, but I go bigger now. The old .30-06 with a 180-grain bullet is fine. Canadian guides I know swear by a .300 Win. Mag. loaded with a 180- or 200-grain bullet. Two good recent choices are the .325 WSM (with 180- or 200-grain bullets) and the .300 Rem. Ultra Mag. (with a 180-grain bullet). There is some recoil with these cartridges, but you are going after an animal that has the capacity to chew on you. If you want to be a bear hunter, buck up and practice until you can shoot a powerful rifle well.
This is the time to pay $50 or more for a box of top-grade ammunition with Swift-A Frame, Barnes TSX, Nosler Partition or Hornady InterBond bullets. You need a premium pill that hits hard, smashes bone, holds together and expands well. If it blows out a bear's off side, fine-a big exit hole is your only hope for a spoor to follow, because a bear's fat tissue and long hair soak up a lot of blood, further complicating a tense tracking job.
If you're sitting 40 to 60 yards away from a bait pile, there's no issue. But if you're spotting and stalking, play the wind and sneak within 200 yards of an animal ... 150 yards is better, 100 is best and achievable, since a bear doesn't have stellar sight. The closer you get for the shot, the better your odds are of placing that first bullet perfectly.
Where to Hit Them
A bear feeding his face is not in a hurry to go anywhere. Stay patient until he turns broadside or quarters slightly away. If you are using an adequate caliber and load, one good option is to place your scope's crosshair for a shoulder shot. A bear so hit and shocked will drop like a rock. If your bullet breaks both shoulders, he is not going anywhere.
Western bear guide Scott Denny (tablemountainoutfitters.com) is okay with the shoulder shot, but for first-time bear hunters recommends the good, old lung shot, especially when a critter is quartering away. "Most people are used to aiming behind a deer's leg and at its lungs, so they're comfortable aiming there on a bear, rather than trying to take out the shoulders," he says. Tuck the crosshair behind the top of the shoulder and halfway up the animal's side. A critical thing to remember is don't aim low for a heart shot. "A big bear has long hair that sweeps the ground, so it's easy to aim and shoot too low if you're not careful," notes Denny.
I read somewhere that American hunters love to kick back and admire their first shot. That is a good observation. We stalk well, aim pretty well, press the trigger, drop our rifle and watch the critter crumple. Generally it works out, but it is a bad habit we need to break, especially when shooting bears. After you hit a bear, bolt in another cartridge and lock your scope on the bear. If the critter tries to scramble away or so much as quivers, hit him again with another bullet ... and again to stop him for good. Now you can relax and go check the hide, no tracking required.
Is the Bear in Your Binocular Big Enough?
1. A mature boar has big, thick shoulders and, in the fall, a roly-poly belly that sags low to the ground; the belly hair drags, or appears to. If you can see a lot of clean air between the bottom of the belly and the ground, he's likely a young, lightweight animal.
2. An old boar looks old-he has a big, wide, blocky, rough head with small ears that appear wide apart. An immature bear has a smaller noggin, a young-looking face and big, tall ears that look closer together.