Spring is upon us, and as much as I thought this winter would never end, when spring arrives, my thoughts turn to bear season. Whether its black bears over bait or glassing for grizzlies, bear hunting excites me. Armed with tooth and claw, with an attitude to match when needed, bear hunting demands a well-placed shot, and a sturdily designed bullet of suitable caliber. While there are many potential cartridge choices that may work well when pursuing bruins, I have been asked to choose my top five picks, and I’ve done just that. I personally feel that the best bear loads start with the 7mms (I know lesser calibers may work, but I like to end the argument quickly), and move up in size and weight from there. Here goes:
1. .280 Rem., 160-grain Nosler Partition
The .280 is one of my favorite 7mm cartridges, giving velocities not far behind the 7mm Rem. Mag., and having proved itself a very accurate cartridge. Nosler Custom Ammunition loads the 160-grain Partition bullet, at a muzzle velocity of 2,775 fps, for 2,736 ft.-lbs. of energy. The Partition’s construction gives good expansion in the front end of the bullet, while the rear core will drive deep, breaking the tough shoulder bones and still getting through to the vitals. At 160 grains, the bullet gives enough Sectional Density for that deep penetration, yet still obtains decent velocity.
2. .30-’06 Sprg., 180-grain Norma Oryx
To say that the .30-’06 belongs on this list is obvious, but I really like it paired up with the Norma Oryx bullet. The engineers at Norma have created a hybrid bullet, in that the rear half of the bullet has the core chemically bonded to the core, but the front half is free to give good expansion. Loaded in the American PH line of ammo, I’ve used this bullet on whitetail deer, and it penetrated the length of the deer and exited to who-knows-where. At 2,700 fps, it should tackle any bear shy of the Coastal Browns, providing that bullet is put in the proper place.
3. .300 Win. Mag., 200-grain Trophy Bonded Bear Claw
Now you’re in my wheelhouse. I’ve used a .300 Winchester on many different hunts, on different continents, and it has never let me down. The Trophy Bonded Bear Claw in the Federal Vital-Shok line features a lead core in the front half of the bullet, but the rear shank is solid copper, and the core is bonded to the jacket. At 200 grains, with a muzzle velocity of 2,700 fps, this will handle even the biggest bears. The .300 Winchester is an inherently accurate cartridge, which will carry its kinetic energy well across a reasonable trajectory, so the .300 Winnie makes a great choice for spot-and-stalk bear hunts where distances are a variable. And the bullets are Bear Claws. Seems fitting.
4. .338 Win. Mag., 250-grain Nosler Partition
Again from the Federal Premium Vital-Shok line, America’s classic elk cartridge is a wonderful choice for bruins. The Nosler Partition has earned its stripes, in just about every caliber, but for a blend of speed, trajectory and striking power, it’s hard to overlook a 250-grain .338” caliber bullet at 2,660 fps, irrespective of the size of the bear hunted. The larger frontal diameter gives a larger wound channel than does the .30 calibers, and the heavier throw weight approaches almost two tons of energy at the muzzle. This combination is serious bear medicine.
5. .375 Holland & Holland Mag., 270-grain Hornady InterLock
Yes, that’s what I said. The .375 H&H usually generates images of safari, elephants on the African plain, or lions roaring in the pre-dawn darkness. But, it makes one helluva bear round, be the bear black, brown or white. The .375 H&H is surprisingly easy to shoot, is very accurate, and hits like a freight train. The Hornady Dangerous Game load featuring the 270-grain InterLock bullet, makes a decent choice for any bear hunting situation, leaving the muzzle at an even 2,700 fps, giving 4,370 bone-crushing ft.-lbs. of energy and a trajectory comparable to the .30-’06 Springfield with 180-grain bullets. The .375 is one of my favorite bear guns, irrespective of distance or species.
There you have it, now grab your bug dope, a good head net, and get out after a bear-skin rug. Best of hunting luck!