I am an animal lover and would only shoot at a bear as an absolute last resort

Assume I have done everything possible to avoid contact with a bear, and after encountering one have followed the best advice I can remember, I am faced with a choice of my family or an attacking bear.

The bear spray doesn't stop it, and as it closes I draw a (legally owned and carried) handgun out and fire shots in the air, but this doesn't deter the bear either. At point blank, how big does the handgun need to be to stop the bear (ideally, not fatally)?

My guess would be .50, say a desert eagle. But maybe even that would not enough.

  • Is this question answerable? Wouldn't it depend more importantly on where you hit the bear? Commented Jul 17, 2016 at 22:41
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    I suggest reading up on bears and forget the dual-fisted Indiana Jones fantasy. Very few handguns can stop a 600 lb. grizzly charging at 30 mph, but the .44 magnum or better it will require is going to give you exactly one chance in 2.5 seconds to hit that bear precisely in the heart or brain. If you can draw and fire a weapon like that one-handed, without notice, with pepper spray armed and ready to go in the other hand, and actually hit something, I will be highly impressed. Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 4:58
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    I would replace "shots in the air" with "a shot into the ground" and remove the "(ideally, not fatally)" part. Reason: both ideas go against the basic rules of gun safety.
    – requiem
    Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 6:36
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    Part of the reason bear spray is considered effective is that it has a wide spray pattern, no aiming involved. Guns have to be aimed accurately. If u miss, even a cannon is worthless. Aim needs time and calm, and you dont have time in your situation. The spray is used at 30ft or less (depends on brands too) and at that distance u wont have time to do all you wrote. I just suggest you to find training close to you for using the spray. As it is the question is just pointless Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 11:34
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    "(ideally, not fatally)"... Ideally it better be dead right away because the option of that animal wounded is not a good one for you. Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 11:50

1 Answer 1


Bryce Towsley has this story to tell us about a grizzly attack:

Shortly before I arrived in one northern Alaska camp, a couple of packers were rushing to beat the failing light. Covered with blood and loaded down with packs of caribou meat that doubled the weight pressing on their boots, they were tired and thinking mostly about a hot meal and a dry sleeping bag as they pressed toward camp. As the lead guy pushed through the thick brush along the river a very large grizzly bear stood up and took a swing at his head. Young reflexes saved him, as he ducked and the bear hit the pack, knocking him down. He rolled, drew the .44 Magnum pistol in his chest holster and emptied it into the bear, ending the encounter.

Bryce Towsley goes on to say this about handguns and bears in his article Packing Pistols In Bear Country.

The .44 Magnum is probably the bottom limit. I know, some guys claim the .41 Magnum or even the .357 Magnum is fine, but I do not agree. I have watched them both work on black bears and I was never impressed. The point here is not to prove you can stop a charging bear with a smaller, inadequate cartridge. The point is to survive. So, I think a .44 Magnum is the starting point.

It is also important to use a heavy bullet. The key is to penetrate through bone and through a lot of critter, and for that you need bullet weight: at least 300 grains for a .44 Magnum and that much or more for any of the .454 Casull or heavy .45 Colt loads. I use 400-grain bullets in my .500 Wyoming Express; with some bigger cartridges like the .500 S&W Magnum you can go up as high as 500 grains.

Part of the bullet-weight decision, though, should be based on your ability to shoot the cartridge. A 500-grain bullet at 1450 fps from a handgun is not a load most NPR listeners will want to shoot. I have passed my personal limits with some of the biggest cartridges when used in lightweight, carry-style handguns. For example, in my .500 Wyoming Express I had to back off from the full-power loads. A 400-grain bullet at 1600 fps proved too much for me (and everybody else who shot it) to handle well in a relatively light, 2-pound, 12-ounce Freedom Arms revolver. So I backed it down to about 1300 fps and found the load much more manageable, but still plenty bear-worthy.

Cartridge selection? Well, I really believe any handgun you bring to any fight should have a name that starts with at least a 4. That’s really important if you are fighting a bear! I think the rule of “4-3-1” should apply: a bullet diameter that starts with at least a 4, a bullet weight that starts with at least a 3 and a muzzle velocity of at least 1000 fps.

If you prefer to look into your particular needs check out these sites.

Cabela's 10 Best Bear Defense Guns by John McAdams

Handguns for Protection in the Field by Chuck Hawks

  • Your answer would be better if you added a couple of lines explaining how an animal lover who has no experience killing animals might gain the expertise to do what these Alaskan bush packers and guides do.
    – ab2
    Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 0:38

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