While I wait on my new case trimmers for the 358 Hoosier project, I will squeeze in this blog on what calibers and rifles to hunt bear with. There are two distinct categories of bears here in the US and Canada that are night and day when selecting shooting gear. There are the big Black Bears that can be somewhat dangerous if approach to close or are wounded and the Grizzly and Browns of Canada and Alaska that will gladly invite you to dinner as the main course! Black Bear blog today then Grizzly and Brown Bear blog tomorrow.
There are three different ways that black bears are hunted in the US and Canada. The first is by chasing the boars and sows with bear hounds. This has been a tradition and common practice in places like Michigan for a good many years. The woods of Northern Michigan are loaded with bears and just as many older traditional bear rifles. There are some real collectables that have hunted bear in the woods of the north for decades. The old Winchester model 71 lever action in 348 Win comes to mind. Developed in 1936, it’s been around a while. Want one? I can find you one for around 1200-1500 bucks. More of a nostalgia thing, but they will still put the hurt on a bear. There are a lot of lever action, slide action and autoloaders that have been around for 40+ years that can still give a boar a permanent nap. The Marlin 336C lever gun in 35 Rem is a favorite as is the Remington 742 Woodmaster (Autoloader), the Remington 760 Gamemaster (slide action) in 30-06 or 308 Win and Winchester model 94 in 30-30 and 32 Winchester Special. These old rifles work quite well chasing after a treed bear or hunting close over bait. The Marlin 444 and 45-70 are also popular choices that launch big bullets with a little attitude attached! Since most shots are relatively close when hunting bear over bait or with hounds, most traditional deer rifles will work with this type of hunting. So there is plenty of room for Grandpa’s good old Savage model 99 in 300 Savage. One of my favorite traditional rounds….hey, I own all of the mentioned rifles. So you can say they are all of my favorites!
The spot and stalk style of black bear hunting that you will discover in the western side of Montana requires a different rifle configuration. Since you will be humping the terrain (Military term for your going to be worn out at the end of the day) till dusk, your rifle should be easy to carry, yet scoped for longer shots across canyons and zooming out for closer shots around the corners of fire break and logging roads where bears will be eager to dine on young grass shoots after awakening from their long winter slumber. A few years back my Indiana buddy shot his 6’ black boar at 275 yards while he was feeding on a clear cut. I shot my cinnamon phase bear at about 45 yards on a logging road while it fed on a winter kill. Mountain type rifles are awesome choices here. The newer short action magnums really shine. The 270 WSM (Winchester Short Magnums), 300 WSM and 325WSM or Remington Short Ultra mags in a synthetic stock configuration were made for this work. Of course the solid performance of the full length action 30-06, 300 Win Mag and 338 Win Mag have probably killed more bears out west than any others. Actually with todays advanced bullets, the 270 Winchester is a stone cold killer. The Nosler Partition, Swift A Frame, Trophy Bonded and Barnes bullets turn sub caliber (under 30 cal) rifles into Hot Rods! Remember a well placed shot trumps caliber all day long. So worry more about the balance and accuracy of the rifle, optics, and how well you can carry your bullet slinger all day long. Practice and preparation are key elements to a successful and satisfying bear hunt!