Camp Guns for Bear Country

As I write this I am about to get away for a few days of camping. In this case, fishing will be the primary focus of the trip. When shooting or hunting is the primary focus, it’s pretty obvious what gun(s) you’ll take. But when shooting isn’t the objective, what should you take to camp?

I try to tailor my choices by answering a couple of questions. What are the potential threats I may encounter? Will there be some recreational shooting opportunities? If I am heading into grizzly country—as I am today—a powerful revolver is a given, though not as powerful as you might imagine. One of my “go-to” handguns is a 4-inch Smith & Wesson Model 24 in .44 Spl. My reasons are simple: It’s easy to carry; has enough power to handle the job; and I shoot it relatively well.

Why not a .44 Mag.? For one thing I haven’t found a vintage 4-inch Model 29 in my price range. Besides, I handload some .44 Spl. loads to nearly 1,200 fps with a hard-cast 245-grain semi-wadcutter—pretty close to .44 Mag. performance—and the Model 24 is a shade lighter to carry.

Personally, I am not a big fan of the ultra-powerful, short-barreled revolvers for self-defense from bears. They are more difficult to carry and shoot, and the increase in power is marginal. What saves your bacon in a self-defense shooting scenario is accurate fire delivered quickly. If you can dump five rounds of .500 S&W Magnums into a coffee cup at 25 feet in five seconds or less, God bless you. You’re a better shot than I am. But I can do it with my .44 Spl., and a pair of those chunky semi-wadcutters in the face of any but a rabid bear will more than likely change his attitude toward me—as well as his behavior.

My other “must-go” gun will be a tactical shotgun that stays in the trailer. In the event that ol’ Ursus horribilis decides to pay a nighttime visit to my camp, an 18-inch barreled Remington 870 with a synthetic stock and a SureFire flashlight is a far better choice. Five rounds of 3-inch magnum 00 buck and a set of ghost-ring sights complete the outfit—nothing fancy, just a good self-defense shotgun.

For this kind of camping I think a rifle is somewhat redundant. However, if having a major-caliber rifle—say, .30-06 or better—makes you feel more secure, I say have at it. Me, I’ll probably have a rimfire just in case I get a sudden urge to get in some plinking.

As they say, “Your mileage may vary,” and your choices may be different as well. Ultra-modern shooters/campers might continue to cling to a high-capacity semi-auto pistol and carbine, and if that’s what works for you, fine. Confidence in one’s equipment is a critical component of the self-defense equation.


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1 Response to Camp Guns for Bear Country

Duray wrote:
January 25, 2011

Buckshot against a bear? I'd say go with slugs. Which will penetrate deeper through heavy bone and muscle: a 1oz slug, or the 55 grain round ball that is OO buck? (And yes, I grew up in an Alaskan fishing town, so I do have some experience.) I'd say save the buckshot for light-skinned targets.