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Black Bears & Bullets?


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#1 Sandy

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Posted 11 June 2012 - 12:33 PM

I am living in the beautiful Sacramento Mountains in New Mexico. I have been going hiking in the mountains, and recently there have been several black bear sightings in the area. The Forestry Service assured me they will not bother or harm humans, unless they think their cubs are in danger. I certainly do not plan on harming ANY bear, ANY where....but how is Momma Bear gonna know this!?!?

From my research, I have found that the average black bear weighs 300-600 pounds. I carry my S&W 640 with .38 Special ammo. My questions to you "experts" out there are: Can a .38 take down a bear that size, and what is proper shot placement to make it happen?

Thank you!
~Sandy~

#2 Jeff

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Posted 11 June 2012 - 02:04 PM

Bears...even smaller ones have a fairly good layer of fat under their hide. That fat eats up velocity and energy pretty quick. Bear skulls are thick boned too.

If I really thought I was going to see bear on a regular basis... I'd be looking 44 Special, 44 mag or 357 mag (minimum) all loaded with a Keith style hard cast lead bullet. Keep in mind- Bears can sprint like Carl Lewis for about 50 yards and they knock down logs and stuff don't slow them down much... so a handgun is a last resort as it is. If your standing flatfooted aiming at a charging bear...you get the Buffalo Bill Award from me.

Most folks make enough noise that they should never see a bear. I used to bell my horse when riding in bear country...not a bad idea.
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#3 Sandy

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Posted 11 June 2012 - 03:09 PM

Thanks Jeff! I appreciate the info. Investing in another firearm was not in my plan, but I'm not surprised that's what it would take.
I figure if I ever do meet a bear on the mountain, my scream may be enough to paralyze all living things within a 10 mile radias. LOL

Does anyone have suggestions on shot placement? Just curious...

#4 Burk Cornelius

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Posted 11 June 2012 - 03:20 PM

Tie a bell around your neck Sandy.............and get a bigger gun












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#5 TroyF

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Posted 11 June 2012 - 03:35 PM

With 38 Special, ideal shot placement would be in the temple. Your temple that is.....

Hate to be blunt, but I don't think that round will get it done (in sufficient time) to shut down a bear.
it's all about Switches and Timers......

Timers shut stuff down after a period of time (thru blood loss).
Switches turn stuff of immediately (like a CNS hit). On an animal that big, with that much bone mass, the timers are gonna be buried so deep that the common defensive handgun calibers ain't gonna get it done.


I could be wrong, knowing nothing about bear anatomy, but I do know people are hard enough to neutralize. And we are small boned and weak in comparison.
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#6 TroyF

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Posted 11 June 2012 - 03:39 PM

With 38 Special, ideal shot placement would be in the temple. Your temple that is.....

Hate to be blunt, but I don't think that round will get it done (in sufficient time) to shut down a bear.
it's all about Switches and Timers......

Timers shut stuff down after a period of time (thru blood loss).
Switches turn stuff of immediately (like a CNS hit). On an animal that big, with that much bone mass, the timers are gonna be buried so deep that the common defensive handgun calibers ain't gonna get it done.


I could be wrong, knowing nothing about bear anatomy, but I do know people are hard enough to neutralize. And we are small boned and weak in comparison.


Typo. Shoulda read
Switches turn stuff of immediately (like a CNS hit). On an animal that big, with that much bone mass, the SWITCHES are gonna be buried so deep that the common defensive handgun calibers ain't gonna get it done.

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#7 technetium-99m

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Posted 11 June 2012 - 03:46 PM

Oh Troy I think both of em' are gonna be buried pretty far in the critter.

I've seen 2 bears close enough that I was uncomfortable. One of them looked over and then went back to eating the tree. The other took off pretty quickly when he finally saw my wife and I.

That being said, the noise and blast from most any handgun round is probably going to help you more than the bullet if the bear actually wants a piece of you.
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#8 poopgiggle

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Posted 11 June 2012 - 04:16 PM

A gun is like the 4th thing you should be using to ward off bears. Making noise (bells, singing), sealing food containers, and bear spray are much higher-percentage.
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#9 Kirk Smith (ksmirk)

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Posted 11 June 2012 - 04:54 PM

I learned first hand what I thought was a bad ass round that when miss piggy wanted to eat me a well placed 40SW 180gr JHP didn't do the trick! took 4 or however many can't really recall to make that sucker stop. I have been rethinking my carry in the woods round and while the 357Mag an 44Mag are good all around calibers I like the 41Mag, not as harsh on the paws when you touch one off and I would think that it SHOULD dispatch about anything walking around that might want to get me. I could be totally wrong with my thinking so like normal take what I say for what it's worth.

My thinking is cardio, bells and whistle through the woods so they can know your there, carry some bear spray as I think that would be a touch more effective than the 38 the 20ga with a couple of boxes of slugs loaded up in the tube if cubbies are wondering around as I hear momma bears are a touch protective of thier cubs. Later,

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#10 Jeff

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Posted 11 June 2012 - 05:12 PM

I knew a few people who hunt black bear back east... they were using 30-30's, 303 Brit and most of the other common deer calibers.

Hunting over bait is one thing... aimed shooting with a heavy hitter from a stand it's easy enough to place a shot behind the ear or heart/lung.

On the ground... your gonna get a 'face' shot...not a high percentage situation when a bear is running to you.

Old Bill Cody was supposed to have unloaded a Winchester 44/40 into a charging Brownie. The bear collapsed dead at his feet in a pile after charging a long way. It took the whole tube full to drop that bear.

Bells and good sense.
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#11 KurtM

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Posted 11 June 2012 - 06:01 PM

Beautiful area Sandy, I grew up right at the top of La Luz canyon and we used to go up there quite often, just a short 30 minute trip on the back forest service roads. Go have a drink at the "tunnel bar" for me. I used to ride my horse over there and get a drink or two. As for the bears in the area, a few were dispatched with .357 magnums when I was a kid and though we saw them many times they were timid. I never saw one much over 350 in that area, but up towards White Oaks they can get bigger. I would think a good .357 with a stout load would be fine. It was what my Dad carried, me I was more cowboy and I carried a Colt .single action in .45 L.C. and that would be great on bears as well, but I never had to try it out on a bear.
What takes you to Cloudcroft? If it is still there there is an old fire watcher tower on Sacramento peak and the view from up there is phenominal. Down by La Luz, on Marcus Quick's old place is an action shooting range and if you go to any of the monthly matches down there try to meet up with Don Bednorz who is a good amigo of mine. tell him I said hi. Have a blast you are truely in god's country there. Kurt

#12 Wall

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Posted 11 June 2012 - 08:44 PM

try to meet up with Don Bednorz who is a good amigo of mine. tell him I said hi.


I squadded with Don at last year's High Plains match........great guy.

#13 Sandy

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Posted 13 June 2012 - 06:48 PM

Thank you everyone for your suggestions & comments! I really appreciate it!

Burk, I miss you guys too!
Troy, your middle name IS "Blunt".
Thanks for the info, Jeff!
Kirk, I remembered your piggy story; that's why I asked about shot placement.
Tony & Kurt, I have already talked with Don Bednorz on the phone! He apparently heads up the monthly IPSC match which is on the last Sunday of the month at the Sydney Paul Gordon Shooting Range in La Luz. I have been down there a couple of times. That range is funded & maintained by Otera county; they have 2 full time range masters/supervisors. http://co.otero.nm.u...ept/shootrg.htm It's a nice facility, it's just HOT down there on the desert!
Kurt, "The Tunnel" is no longer a bar...it's a tourist/eclectic/collectible "stop"...but they do have a pop machine... :yes:

#14 aeropb

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Posted 13 June 2012 - 07:22 PM

I can picture a 38/44 load utilizing a 158gr Keith bullet and 12 grains of 2400 that will do the trick but you'd better shoot it out of something like a 6" N frame.

#15 dennishoddy

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Posted 13 June 2012 - 09:16 PM

I'm going to be be blunt like Troy.The 38 caliber in anything but a CF Rifle is going to be inadiquate. .44 mag would be my minimum.
People have been mauled and killed by black bears after having been shot with large caliber guns. Getting a "kill" shot on a charging bear is almost impossible. Their gait makes the head bounce up and down. Pull the trigger on a head shot, and its likely the head will be in a different position by the time the bullet gets there. Factor in fear, nerves, poor shooting position, and you can see the scenerio.
Death comes instantly with a shot to the central nervous system, or brain. Shots to the lungs will result in the animal staying alive until blood flow ceases to the brain. In that length of time the bear can cover 20-60 yds, and cause a lot of damage before they expire.
I've read reports that said Bear Spray is the best thing to have for defense. I've never investigated that report, so cannot offer an opinion.
Black bears have a low incidence of attacking humans. 99% of the time, you will see them, even with cubs, and as long as one goes the other direction you will be OK.
If one wants to charge, the thing to do is yell loudly, open your jacket, spread it out to make you look bigger and stand your ground. If attacked and you can't get away, roll up into the fetal position, and wrap your hands around the back of your neck. Play dead. I know thats tough advice but a lot of people are still alive to day, abeit not as pretty by doing that.
NEVER RUN! It will provoke a charge.

Grizzly's are moving into Colorado. Totally different animal. I'm not familiar with your location, but they are in the Northern part of the state, but moving south.
Very dangerous. They can outrun a horse and kill it with a single swipe of a paw.

In Montana, and other states that have the Griz, the bears have learned that a gun shot may result in a gut pile, and move to feed on it.
There are numerous reports of Elk hunters being attacked. while gutting an elk with their guns nearby. The Griz is so fast, they can't get to their guns.

Google is your friend, so type in black bear attacks or Griz attacks, and you will see what I'm talking about.

#16 Shane P

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Posted 14 June 2012 - 07:37 AM

I got this in an email from my Dad awhile back, talks about the ideal carry gun could be relevant since it talks about a bear attack...

"My personal favorite gun has always been a Beretta Jetfire in 22 short. I’ve carried it for many years including while hiking. I never leave without it in my pocket. Of course the first rule when hiking in the wilderness is to use the “Buddy System”. This means you NEVER hike alone, you bring a friend, companion, or even a family member because if something happens, there’s someone to go get help.

I remember one time while hiking with my girlfriend in northern Alberta out of nowhere came this huge brown bear charging us and was she mad. We must have been near one of her cubs. Anyway, if I had not had my little Jetfire, I wouldn’t be here today. Just one quick shot to my girlfriend’s knee cap and I was able to escape by just walking away at a brisk pace. It’s one of the best pistols in my collection."

#17 dennishoddy

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Posted 14 June 2012 - 08:29 AM

HaHaHa!!! Great advice!

#18 WillR

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Posted 14 June 2012 - 08:30 AM

What about a Glock in 10 mm auto? The full size one has 15 round mags. So lots of shots and fast reloads. The 10 mm puts a lot of energy on target. About 750 ftlbs.

#19 poopgiggle

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Posted 14 June 2012 - 08:47 AM

I can picture a 38/44 load utilizing a 158gr Keith bullet and 12 grains of 2400 that will do the trick but you'd better shoot it out of something like a 6" N frame.


I thought 357 Magnum had more juice than 38/44. Also if you can find 38/44 ammunition you're some kind of ammunition archaeologist.

Bears are rampaging godless killing machines. Most handgun rounds will barely rustle their jimmies.
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#20 Adam Striegel

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Posted 14 June 2012 - 09:20 AM

Screw that ... I'd just start packing an AK or similar. Lots of bullets real fast would stop him. :P
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