How to Choose the Perfect Bear Rifle

How to Choose the Perfect Bear Rifle

Are you more likely to shoot a black bear over bait from a treestand hung halfway up a giant old ponderosa, a bear trundling across a far ridge in search of berries, or a steam-snorting bear you've just called to within spitting distance with a predator call?

More to the point of this article: Is your bear rifle up to the task, given all the vastly different scenarios in which black bears are commonly shot?

bear_guns_f

Black bears (their black-tie name is Ursus americanus) are found from Mexico to Alaska, from Maine to Southern California. Only a few unlucky states can't boast a population of at least a few bears. It's said that black bears are second only to whitetail deer in big-game popularity in the Lower 48 states (wild hogs are not considered big game in most areas).


The admirable adaptability of black bears means that they can be found — and often hunted — in vastly varying habitat types. Hunting methods vary as widely as any other type of big game. Black bears can be baited in most areas, successfully spotted and stalked in appropriate terrain, hunted with hounds where legal, and effectively lured in with predator calls.


Dedicated bear hunters, who travel and hunt differing bear demographics in varying types of terrain and habitat, often own two or more firearms to meet the demands of the different areas. And for some of us, owning and shooting different hunting tools is half the fun. But some guys would rather have one trusty rifle perfectly suited for all types of bear hunting — and yes, such a setup is possible, though it may cost a bit to put it together.

It's not that necessary for this gun to be pinpoint accurate for hunting over bait or for bears treed by hounds. However, it's of prime value when spot-and-stalk hunting wide-open canyons and berry-rich slopes.

Let's take a look at the characteristics (other than the obvious MOA accuracy thresholds) that make for an all-around bear-hunting rifle.

Maneuverability


At first blush, it would seem that maneuverability and accuracy are somewhat at odds — the very quick-handling, responsive rifles so effective for bait hunting, hound hunting, and such are often a bit too light and short for precision accuracy. However, the gap can be spanned. Most bolt actions with 22- or even 20-inch barrels balance beautifully and — granted good quality — can be very accurate. Add to that an ergonomic stock design that handles like an extension of the hunter, and you've just bridged the gap.

Downrange authority

This is all about the cartridge, and unfortunately, it leaves out much-loved close-range bear medicine, such as the legendary .45-70 Gov't. I know, it's one of my favorites, too. But such cartridges just doesn't have the flat trajectory and projectile aerodynamics necessary for consistent across-canyon shooting you're likely to encounter while spot-and-stalk hunting.


Better choices are the fast 7mm, .30, and .338 calibers — anything that throws a heavy-for-caliber bullet at around 2,700 fps or more. The modern crop of short magnums excel.

riflescope_f

Black bears are not particularly hard to kill, but due to their hairy coat and unusual shape, they can be hard to shoot properly through the vitals. Plus, that heavy fur soaks up blood, and the loose-skinned nature of the animal's hide often allows the skin to shift and cover bullet holes, in essence plugging them and making for difficult blood trailing.

I much prefer deep-penetrating bullet designs in a cartridge big enough to punch them clear through a bear, making two holes that bleed. As we all know, tracking a bear through rolling hills or rough brush country can be particularly frustrating if you're working with instinct alone.

Versatile optics

It goes without saying that you'll need a dependable optic capable of zooming way in for long shots while spot-and-stalk hunting and zooming way out for close over-bait shots and the fast action often encountered while predator-calling bears. The classic, common 3-9X variable magnification range works very well, as does anything in 2-7X or 2.5-8X. A simple duplex reticle works well — you don't want too much cluttering up your view on close, fast opportunities — but a simple ballistic reticle is OK, too.

I like a scope with a tiny illuminated spot in the center. Why? Because reticles are black, and black bears are, well, black, too, for the most part. Throw in late-evening conditions and thick timber, such as bait hunters encounter so often, and having a glowing spot to plaster over a bear's vitals is a real help. Several different makers build scopes that work, but my favorite for the job — and the one you'll see chosen here — is Trijicon's AccuPoint. It's battery free, it's as durable as a chunk of petrified wood, and it's nice and clear.

Iron sights

Call me old-fashioned, but my favorite bear guns will always wear iron sights, and my scope will be mounted in quick-detach rings — good ones that return to zero when the scope is removed and then replaced. Sure, for shooting even at 20 yards a scope set on 3X works just fine. But what about wading into a willow-choked creek bottom with a wounded bear laying up somewhere ahead?

eichler_bear

You might get a moving shot at 20 feet — and for that, iron sights are superior to anything but a non-magnified optic. It's no skin off your back to pop the levers on a set of good QD rings and pocket the scope while you go in and recover your bear — hopefully already dead — and then reattach that good glass when finished.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

2018 Petersen

2018 Petersen's Hunting Episode 13: Forest Buffalo

Craig Boddington returns to Mozambique's fame Coutada 10 for a shot a forest buffalo that's eluded him for 10 years.

2018 Petersen

2018 Petersen's Hunting Episode 12: High Plains Elk

David Draper teams up with Fred Eichler to hunt elk on the high plains of southern Colorado.

2018 Petersen

2018 Petersen's Hunting Episode 10: Snowbound Chamois

Host Brittany Boddington gets more than she bargained for on what turned out to be a grueling, snowbound and extremely physical hunt for chamois in Romania's Carpathian mountains.

2018 Petersen

2018 Petersen's Hunting Episode 9: Aloha Axis Deer

Host Mike Schoby joins his buddies Jon Dubin and Jeff Johnston on the island of Lanai for a deer hunt Hawaiian style!

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

A new wave of allergies threatens to turn hunters into vegetarians. News

The Ticks Making Hunters Allergic to Meat

David Hart

A new wave of allergies threatens to turn hunters into vegetarians.

Which are the best states to hunt for black bears? I have compiled a list of several great black North America

Best States To Hunt For Black Bears

Joseph von Benedikt

Which are the best states to hunt for black bears? I have compiled a list of several great...

From trajectory to penetration to recoil, we evaluate this cartridge for the big-game use case. Ammo

Is the .308 the Perfect North American Big Game Cartridge?

Richard Mann

From trajectory to penetration to recoil, we evaluate this cartridge for the big-game use case.

What's The Best Coyote Cartridge? .22-250 Versus .223 Ammo

What's The Best Coyote Cartridge? .22-250 Versus .223

Joseph von Benedikt & David Faubion

What's The Best Coyote Cartridge? .22-250 Versus .223

See More Trending Articles

More How-To

Don't let the excuse monster eat you up and leave you deer-less. Whitetail

The Reality of Hunting Public-Land Whitetails

Tony J. Peterson

Don't let the excuse monster eat you up and leave you deer-less.

August is the perfect time to ensure your deer stands are secure and ready. Whitetail

September Is Coming: Now Is the Time to Check Your Treestands

Jeff Johnston

August is the perfect time to ensure your deer stands are secure and ready.

If you're a serious bowhunter but have only taken spring gobblers with the scattergun, these tips are for you.  How-To

How to Successfully Bowhunt Turkeys

Darron McDougal

If you're a serious bowhunter but have only taken spring gobblers with the scattergun, these...

Your next great adventure is only as good as your hunting rifle. Brush up on your field fixes. Guns

Field Fixes: Rifle First Aid

Joseph von Benedikt

Your next great adventure is only as good as your hunting rifle. Brush up on your field fixes.

See More How-To

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save.

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All Petersen's Hunting subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now