The Incredible Responsibility of Being
by Ron Spomer
A reader heading to Alaska for work (lucky guy!) is properly concerned about grizzly/brown bear “encroachment” and how best to prepare to defend against it. We pack Deet against mosquitos, Gore-Tex against rain, compass against getting lost — it’s common sense to pack something that can defend against tooth and claw. Bear attacks in Alaska aren’t all that common, but if there’s just one every century and the victim is you, that’s enough!
A reader writes:
“I’m a paleontology student who will be conducting field work in Western Alaska right in big bear country. I am looking at rifles to take with me, but being a southpaw, the options are limited. Right now the Ruger-African and the Ruger-Alaskan seem to be great, controlled feed rifles in hard hitting 375 Ruger. Which ever of these rifles I choose, I would like to also bring with me to Africa in a few years time. My question would be to seek your advice on which model would be most effective for my intended uses. Is a 20” barrel handier, or will it just increase muzzle blast? Thanks for your help.
I have really enjoyed your writing and videos; keep up the good work!”
And the answer is…
Thanks for the kind remarks. Flattery will get you a prompt, if somewhat rambling, answer, and here it is:
Big, heavy bullets are key for discouraging bears. You won’t be shooting until he’s darn near on you, so don’t worry about maximizing muzzle velocity or downrange performance. The bigger the bullet the better, but you must compromise with gun weight and bulk, so consider all that. You don’t want to find yourself defenseless because you left the heavy gun behind one day.
The controlled-round-feed Ruger bolt-actions are rugged, reliable rifles, but may not offer the convenient size and recycling speed you want. Yes, a 20″ barrel is much handier than anything longer, and an 18″ is better yet, but neither is exactly what you want for Africa. Consider also how easily you can whip the gun into action and operate it. Many AK guides like lever actions in 45-70 or 450 Marlin for this reason. Check out the Marlin Guide Guns. Heavy, but short and fast. A pump 12 ga. might not be a bad option, but strive to find a strong slug. Pure lead is probably too soft for adequate penetration. I’m thinking the heaviest Barnes X bullets of Hornady monolithic MonoFlex in a sabot load. If you already have a 12 ga., this could save you $ for getting that proper Africa bolt-action.
Also consider bear spray. It’s been proven effective many, many times, but you must practice in order to operate the device quickly and accurately — and even then I’d want a firearm backup. If it works, the spray eliminates the red tape hassle you’ll get with a bear carcass. If it doesn’t, a gun backup might prevent you from becoming the carcass at the conclusion of the fracas. But, having chosen to try the spray, you might need a partner to run the gun.
Good news. Of the many months I’ve spent hiking, fishing, photographing and hunting in AK, I’ve never had an aggressive grizzly encounter, although one did almost climb into our boat once…
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