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Thread: Bear Medicine In A Handgun

  1. #1
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    Default Bear Medicine In A Handgun

    I'm new here, but I'm thoroughly enjoying this website. You folks are very knowledgeable and, just as important, you are willing to share your experience and wisdom with others.

    The last thing I want to do here is begin yet another discussion of which handgun/caliber is suitable for bear in an emergency. After reviewing numerous threads on the subject the universally correct answer seems to be that one should choose and carry the largest caliber handgun one can shoot well. "Shooting well" defind as being able to bring a large caliber, heavy, handgun up quickly and consistently placing the shot(s) where one wants them to go. I would add - under enormous pressure and fear - but, none of us really knows how that will effect our use of a handgun (or even rifle) until we are in such a situation. I'm sure there are a few that can consistently shoot a large caliber handgun well under the most adverse emergency conditions, but VERY few. And, I am definitely not one of the few.

    Before I bring up my own dilemma and ask for advice, there is another point I would like to offer up, and it is a point taken from reviewing hundreds of posts/replies on the subject of relying on handguns in bear country. The point is this: I have yet to read about anyone deliberately going out to hunt Griz/Browns with a handgun in any caliber without someone along carrying a rifle chambered for 338 or larger. I'm sure there are a few brave (foolish?) souls out there who have done this, but frankly, I think it would make a great situational question on a psychiatric assessments test. The point being, that even seasoned handgun hunters understand they are, even under ideal conditions (they are the stalkor, not the stalkee) marginally gunned, at the very best.

    Now, carrying a handgun in bear country as a last resort weapon makes perfect sense and I would highly recommend it. However, as to the answer to the question, is, say, a 500 S&W enough gun, I think the answer must be, maybe yes - if you're "proficiently" lucky enough to place a good round or two in the bear's "boiler room" as you're soiling your drawers!!

    In any event - I cannot shoot a handgun worth a "dam". Oh, I've practiced, and practiced, and practiced some more - I've taken lessons, etc. I'm lousy with a handgun. And that's with a .38 spcl and under no emotional duress!!! Based on what I've seen at the range, I think a lot more people than would like to admit it are not very good with, say, a 460 S&W. A friend has a 460 - I've fired it about 10 times. Way too much gun for me. If not for gravity, I wouldn't be able to hit dirt with it, EVER!!! If I were to have a 460 strapped across my chest and a bear charged out of the brush. I'd probably have a better chance deterring the charge by unzipping my fly and peeing toward the critter than hauling out the 460 and shooting myself in the foot.

    Now, rifles? Yep, I can flat shoot a rifle up to and including the old "flinchmaker", the .416 Rigby. But, I rarely hunt anymore - prefer flyfishing. Yeah, in bear country, where else??!! And, yes, my head's "on a swivel" while I'm fishing.

    So, now my question (finally). Because I'm no good with one, carrying a handgun would not make me fell safer than not carrying one; and since I am not proficient, my guess is, I'm probably not appreciably safer if I should carry one.

    It seems to me a compromise solution that makes sense for me, is to carry a "light" rifle - a lever action? The only lever action I have ever shot has been a Marlin 30-30 and a Marlin 39A. Great guns, both. The new 450 Marlin SS laminate with the barrel cut down from 24" to, say, 20" or 21" (not sure I would like the 18.5" barrel that is also offered) would seem to be a good choice. Yes, I'm sure I would set it down next to me on the bank - it is not practical to have it slung to my back while fishing. And, yes, I'm certain I would NOT go off downstream leaving the rifle on the bank. And, yes, I understand I could likely not get to it in time should I be stalked and identified as lunch or dinner. However, a handgun seems less a viable option - for me - given my self-confessed limitations.

    I'm curious what you guys think of what I refer to as my 450 Marlin Plan.

    Thank you.

  2. #2

    Default Go with it.

    If it makes you more comfortable than use that method. There is never a perfect situation anyway if a bear comes around while you are fishing. Hopefully you would have time to get to your gun when you needed it. Most real fast bear attacks happen when you are walking along the trail or through the brush not out in the water fishing. You would have your gun in your hand then.

    I think we all spend more time than we need to, talking and thinking about the what-ifs.
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  3. #3

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    I'll count myself an expert handgunner without blushing or looking over my shoulder, and I'm talking about shooting big magnums rapidfire in double action while actually hitting what I'm aiming at.

    Saying that, a handgun is for me a last-resort, worst-choice arm for bear protection. Period. I'm not willing to kid myself that a handgun, any handgun, is a reliable bear stopper. Haven't shot a bear with one, but have killed a truckload of deer plus moose and elk, some at very close range. None of the moose or elk dropped at the shot with anything but a hit in the CNS, and they're nowhere near as tough as bears. I think that even a very good shot making center-of-mass hits with any handgun on a bear- but not disrupting the CNS- can count on being chewed, clawed and otherwise defaced before a dying bear kicks its last.

    A handgun is a matter of convenience when nothing else will fit my activities, and resorting to one is an admission to me that I'm really not very likely to get in trouble with a bear in that particular situation. If the chances of trouble are higher, but I can't carry a more suitable arm than a hangun, it's a pretty good sign that I shouldn't go there, or at least should modify my activities to allow carrying a longarm.

    Even though I'm a few steps beyond merely competent with heavy handguns, I'd pick your 450 lever any day over any handgun. Period.

    Carrying a longarm is sometimes- maybe often- a hassle. But even laying out of reach on the ground, it's at least as effective as a miss with a handgun.

    In my experience carrying longarms while fly fishing, shorter is definitely better. You'll also have to contend with its propensity to slide around and get in your way or fall in the water at just the wrong moment- usually in the middle of a cast or while landing a fish. Back to my point of it lying on the ground when you need it most. You're going to lay it down at times, and that's a fact of life.

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    LOL...funny stuff........I carry a 45-70 with handloads when i go fishing and brush busting. Also i have a Ruger in s.a. shooting 250 grain cast core bullets,thats on my hip. If this isnt enough gun or guns, then what is.Some people seem to think theres a bear behind every bush.If your fishing and so worried about bears make some noise. I fish in areas where nobody goes,and ive never seen a bear,,just sign.Like i said ,carry a gun and make plenty of noise.

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    Default Thanks BrownBear and Martyv

    I really appreciate the responses. You both make perfect sense to me. Traveling on trails, of course, I do carry my rifle in my hands - even so, it is far from being a suitable "emergency" weapon - it is heavy, long and scoped (.375 H&H). I should remove the scope - then I'd only have to deal with the heavy and the long part if ever called upon to use the gun in close quarters - self defense.

    As I write this, I'm thinking I'm talking myself into the relatively light, open sight, point and shoot, Marlin 450 lever action. Perhaps I could live with the 18.5" barrel, but it only comes in walnut/blued as far as I can tell and I prefer stainless, which only comes in wood laminate and 24" barrel in the 450. Do you guys see any problem with cutting this gun's barrel down to say, 20/21 inches?

    Thanks again,
    Mike

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    Default Thanks, danthedewman1,

    I try to be entertaining. LOL!! And I agree (and do) make a point to make noise on the trail when making my way to my favorite fishing haunts in bear country, whether that be in northern Montana near Glacier NP, northern Idaho in the Cabinet Mountains, or in Canada and Alaska. Avoiding a problem is key. But, still, a few over the years have been unable to avoid a run-in despite their best efforts. I just want to take reasonable precautions. I'm not frightened in the woods, but I'm no fool.

    I had a zoology professor at Stanford who was an avid outdoorsman - a knowledgeale, bright guy prone to exercising caution, at least he claimed to be. Despite using "woodsman's rules" in bear country, as he called them, he was attacked, badly mauled and left for dead by a grizzly while hiking in Glacier. He lost nearly all his scalp, the left side of his face, including an eye, ear, cheek - even his jawbone required near complete reconstructive surgery. In addition, he walked with a decided limp due to the bear's removal and devouring of a substantial amount of the thigh muscle on one leg.

    You only have to see this kind of damage once for it to stay with you.

  7. #7

    Arrow Short and handy 20 inch barrels

    Mike a 20 inch barrel is real handy and not quite as loud as the 18 incher I kept a old Remington model 660 in 350 magnum with a 20 inch barrel and plain old open sights with me up there when I was fishing or brush busting and felt pretty good about being able to ruin anythings day with those 250 grain corelokts if I had to and am very glad I didn't have to but there were times I was really glad to have it.The 44 ruger or s&w I always had on my hip was there too but that was more or less for as they say last resort but worked good for taking the heads off fools hens for supper.The only way the old 660 could have been any better was if it was stainless so I think your stainless 450 marlin cut to 20 inches would be just about perfect.Just my 2 cents and good luck...Ronnie

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    Default Bear repellant, i.e.,450 Marlin

    MD Mike....
    I'm not sure why you are settled on the 450 Marlin. The 45/70 is far more widely available and can be had in far more bullet/power combos than the 450 Marlin....which is actually more of a corporate lawyer's round. It doesn't do anything that the modern +P 45/70 rounds will do. Like you, I prefer SS rifles with synthetic stocks. However, I bought a Winchester M86 EL - walnut and blued steel and like it quite a bit. I don't mind the little extra attention that it requires and have no rust, corrosion or damage wood after 3 years of comforting carry in the woods. Sometimes we forget that SS/synthetics are a very new to firearms necessity....and our ancesters did just fine with blued steel and wood. I think that the Marlin Guide Gun is available in 45/70 and stainless....if I were after a Marlin, that would be my choice.

    There is a tricked out SS 45/70 Guide Gun for sale in the classifieds on this site. I think that the 450 Marlin cartridge will go out of production 'fore too long. 45/70 has been around for over 130 years. Check out ammo from Corbon, Garrett, and, my favorite, Buffalo Bore.

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    Default Thanks Ronnie and Rick

    for your response and insightful comments. Ronnie, I agree with you - I think a 20" barrel in the 450 would be just about right - long enough to maintain decent downrange (defind as 200 yds) ballistics, yet compact enough to be used should self defense ever become an issue. Actually, Rick, I have and continue to be giving some thought to the 45-70 for precisely the reasons you bring up - although I would be surprised if the Marlin/Hornady relationship regarding the 450 is likely to end anytime soon, as you seem to think. But, really, who knows? In my younger days I handloaded a great deal. I'm not really interested in doing that at this point. To get an equivalent round (to the Hornady 450) in 45-70 I wonder if it isn't necessary to handload? I'll check out the ammo sources you listed. One point you made I certainly can't argue with you over; 45-70 is no doubt the more common round of the two - ammo should be easy to come by under most circumstances.

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    Default 45/70 handloading....

    MD Mike....

    There are a number of companies making exceptional high performance ammunition for the 45/70. I handload...357, 38, 44spl. 44mag, 30/06, 300Dakota, 339Win, 330Dak and 45/70....but recently I've come to realize that some factory ammo is so good these days that I am unable to equal it, if it shoots well in my rifles and handguns.

    So, I almost exclusively use Federal High Energy 180gr Nosler loads in both my 30/06's and get groups of +/- 1". Likewise I use Buffalo Bore's 44Spl 250gr hardcast GC load (970fps) in my woods pistol. It's as powerful as I need for that handgun, and uses non-canister powder (lower pressure) unavailable to reloaders...so that's another I no longer load for. I do load for both my 300Dakota and 330Dakota. They were built to be my toys and for handloading.

    For my M86 in 45/70, I've been using Buffalo Bore's 350grain (JFP-bonded) @ 2150fps +P load that shoots well in my rifle. That's fully the equal of the Hornaday/Marlin .450 load with a tougher bullet. And if you want heavier bullets/loads, they are available in factory loaded ammo for the 45/70. The 450Marlin is pretty limited by comparison. And offers no advantages to you.

    Go to buffalobore.com and see for yourself. You can find a wealth of options in loaded ammo from the companies I listed, and others, for the 45/70. I know quite a few guys that have and use 45/70's, but not one that owns a .450Marlin.

    Now, I'm goin' fishin'. Good luck

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    There's a good article on 45-70 loads in the current Handloader mag. Shows the Cor-Bon(commercial) load that the author put through 2 Cape Buff, that's one bullet!

    The problem I've found with my Marlins is that I tend to put them on the ground instead of carrying them. I've been looking at the Puma lever guns, there's a .454 model with a 16" barrel that is very light. I've been looking for this model in .480 Ruger. Gotta love them 400 grainers!

  12. #12

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    That little Puma has caught my eye, too. If the 454 or 480 are adequate for bear as the pistol pushers claim, imagine how much better it will be with more velocity from a long barrel and even easier sighting and accurate shooting! The small size and short barrel will be distinct pluses over a bigger gun, provided you add the sling mounts. It's still going to get in the way while fly fishing, but intuitively I have to believe it will be "less" in the way, however that translates into wet feet and the smell of rotting pink salmon on your waders.

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    Default Excellent info, Rick - thanks

    As for the 16" barrel Puma in either 454 Casull or 480 Ruger VS the 18.5" barrel Marlin 45-70 for emergency use in bear country:

    Let me be the 1st to point out I'm not really qualified to speak with authority on this subject, as I have no real experience with any of the 3 cartridges or the Puma rifle - but, of course, I won't let that fact stop me! LOL

    Let's assume both rifles will be carried in the hands while walking the trails to the stream or river to fish. Now, true, the Puma is lighter and thus, more carrier friendly. But, I'm not sure I'm willing to assign a lot of credit for a 1+ lb difference in rifle weight, when the heavier rifle only weighs 71/2 lbs to begin with. As for the "handy" 16 barrel of the Puma - I guess one could make a case there is some value in the Puma's favor here, but in real life, probably not much. Now, if we were comparing the 24" barrel in the Marlin with that of the 16" Puma . . .

    But, let's get on down to the stream or river and do a little fishing.

    1st - Knowing something of human anatomy, it seems clear to me that both rigs are of sufficient size that neither will be strapped on at the hip or across the chest or slung over the shoulder while fishing.

    2nd - If my 1st statement is true, then it seems both will be located on the bank (hopefully nearby) should the need arise for their use.

    So, for me at least, I think it boils down to this question:

    As a practical matter, would I rather be reaching for the Puma 480 Ruger or 454 Casull loaded with a bullet in the low 300gr range, or the Marlin 45-70 loaded with the Garret 420gr or 500+gr solid?

    The common sense answer would seem to me to be the 45-70/Garret combo. Am I wrong?

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    i have been using a S&W 460 mag down here in texas mosting on hogs i can change the loads from 45lc to 454 or 460 depending on what i want to do, around home i keep it loaded with the first 2 45 colt next 2 454 and 1 460 just in case it gets bad ..
    but 454 are not bad to fire at all in it (5 inch with a comp) it will fit in my chest pack fine..

  15. #15

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    Your points are on the money as far as they go, but I'm still trying to keep the gun on your shoulder (or mine) while fishing. A pound less weight and an inch or two in length will make a big difference while bouncing around on your shoulder for hours at a time, much less each time it slides off your shoulder and you have to grab for it in the middle of a cast. I'm hoping too, that it would also have less of a tendency to move around.

    I have no qualms about the round being less powerful than a 45-70, so my fascination with the Puma boils down to portability and ease of carry. And before anyone hikes their leg to advance on my fire hydrant, yes I own a guide gun, as well as a short custom Marlin in a wildcat caliber and a bunch of other lever actions, as well as a short shotgun and no end of handguns. I've tried fly fishing with all of them, and none, no matter how sacred the 45-70, are ideal for carry while fishing. Too long and they tangle. Too short and you compromise your ability to use them in a crisis. Lengthen the sling for cross-carry and they're always sliding down into the water. Too heavy, and they're going to end up on the bank or you'll spend a lot less time fishing.

    Like I said, the Puma interests me because of its potential for better incorporation into my fishing routine, while I feel the caliber is adequate and a fair compromise for more portability. YMMV. On second thought, make that YMWACV- "Your Mileage Will Almost Certainly Vary"

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    Default Bear medicine portability....Safari Sling.

    My moose hunting adventures have frequently included swamps....hipboots, a hiking pole, and difficulty with my slung rifle. As BrownBear notes slung rifles tend to migrate and are constantly needing to be adjusted. My solution has been the so-called "Safari Sling." It keeps my rifle horizontal with the sights up, and ready to be shouldered, if need be. You can keep the rifle in front of you or push it around to the rear. My hands are basically free. I haven't tried to carry a rifle while fishing - and I do carry a .44 - but a "Safari Sling" has been an improvement for me while wading in the Tanana Flats. Just a thought.

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    Default BrownBear, I have read many

    of your posts in other areas of this site, and your knowledge and experience is obviously come by the hard way and deserves respect. You'll certainly get no argument regarding lever guns out of a relative "greenhorn" such as myself - or any other aspect of guns for dealing with large critters, for that matter.

    I think to a large extent it boils down to what we each have confidence in. I don't doubt your reasoning regarding the Puma and the handgun loads, but I don't know if the rifle/caliber meets my personal required "confidence" threshold. In short, all things considered, I do not personally possess the body of knowledge necessary to know which is preferable - a lighter gun/caliber I might be able attach to my person while fishing; or the heavier rifle/caliber that I know for certain would be nearby. It may be for that reason alone that I am psychologically prone to go with the heavier cartridge. I have done enough hunting though, to know which gun I personally would have the most confidence in, and therefore, which one I would prefer carrying in my hands on the trail - the 45-70.

    I can also say that I feel, but do not know, that the need for a gun in a split-second, surprise emergency is probably more likely on the wooded trail than while fishing a stream or river where visibility is usually greater. Not certain why I think that, and of course, I'm probably full of *****.

    So, I think I'll give the Marlin (probably in 45-70) a shot, no pun intended. Place a limbsaver pad on it, along with some decent after-market sights, and then commence with familiarizing myself with how it shoots with various loads.

    Anyway, I want to thank you and Rick, and everyone else who responded. I learned a lot.

    GREAT WEBSITE!!!

  18. #18

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    No complaints about the Marlin here MD- You're just getting my rumination in search of an excuse to buy and play with the Puma. This is my pick of ideal sights for the Marlin.

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    Default Thanks BrownBear

    Hey, thanks for all the great insight you've provided - also, there seems to be a number of folks, including yourself, that like the ghost ring sights. I've never used them, but I am somewhat familiar with the iron sights that come standard so I plan on going ahead and changing out the standard sights when I purchase the gun.

    Question: Do you recommend with or without the wings?

    By the way - have a good time with the Puma. After all, that's what it's all about!!!

    Thank you,
    MD Mike

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    Brown Bear and I seem to be thinking along the same lines. I have 2 Marlins at present and have only handled the 16" Puma. I don't know what the weight of the two guns are supposed to be, but it certainly feels like the Puma is more than 1lb lighter! Anyhoo, I'm keeping my Marlins for now.

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