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Bullets For Bears at Cabela's

Bullets For Bears

Author: Ian McMurchy

For many years, my job with a game agency entailed killing black bears.

For many years my favorite bear-killer was a Remington 760 pump in .30-06.
Problem animals such as livestock killers and bee-yard wreckers simply had to be destroyed and as quickly as possible. I also reduced bear populations within northern parks as required. Some of these jobs involved destroying a lot of bears in a short period of time, usually at night when the public was unaware. I used a variety of methods to catch and kill the animals. Most snared or live-trapped bears were shot with a short-barreled 12-gauge slug gun.

Free-roaming bears were shot with scoped rifles. For many years my favorite bear-killer was a Remington 760 pump in .30-06. I usually shot factory loaded 180-grain ammo through this little rifle. Since I frequently got into multiple-animal situations I needed a fast handling rifle and easy magazine reloads. Unfortunately one of the reasons I needed the repeat shots was because the '06 was not putting really big bears down. After the first shot I usually only had rear-end shots on the other bears as they departed as fast as they could run. The 180-grain bullets were smashing pelvises but not penetrating deep enough to get to the heart/lung area. My notes indicated that I averaged just fewer than three shots per bear in such situations.

I found a supply of Winchester 220-grain Silvertip ammo in .30-06 and when I tried them on going-away shots they dumped the critter on the spot. The heavier bullets got through the diaphragm and the bears piled up and died much quicker. This ammo killed a lot of bears over the years until I moved up to the .338 Winchester magnum.

Interestingly, the exact opposite worked as far as bullet selection when I started killing bears with the .338 magnum. I found that the heavy 250 grain bullets were going right through, particularly on side shots and the bears frequently ran off to die or needed a second hit. When I went to the faster 200-grain Power Points or my favorites, the 210 Nosler Partition the bears died much quicker. I believe that the lighter, faster bullets delivered more shock and energy than the heavier constructed 250's. The 200/210 handled the going-away shots perfectly. I decided that the .338 was about as good a black bear killing tool as I could hope for.

This took place a long time ago, usually in locations where hunting was not permitted. Our bear population was extremely high, we had significant bear-related problems and bear hunting was not very popular at the time. Killing bears was the logical way to resolve or prevent problems. We also trapped, immobilized and relocated animals when feasible.

.210 nosler jacket.
The fully tapered .210 Nosler jacket ruptures instantly at the thin jacket mouth, yet the gradual thickening along the bullet's axis controls expansion and curls the jacket uniformly outward, at high or low velocities.
The point I wish to make with the above stories is that we should 6+9 match the bullet to the game whenever possible. When we need penetration we should go to slower, heavier bullets rather than faster ones. The reason for this is that penetration is directly related to the frontal diameter of the bullet. Fast bullets that upset into large mushrooms release their energy very quickly - too quickly in some cases. A bullet that opens slower and to a smaller frontal diameter will penetrate deeper. The difference might be compared to the penetration of a spear and a baseball thrown at the same velocity.

Most black bears killed by hunters weigh significantly less than the hunter would believe. For years we weighed hunter-killed bears on a large portable platform scale. Very few bears exceeded 300 pounds in the spring; as a matter of fact most went between 200 and 250 pounds. Granted, they all looked bigger but the scale told the truth.

Most black bears have a heavier skeleton and body mass than deer so deer killing bullets are not optimum bear killers. Optimum bear bullets should retain at least 70 percent of their initial weight and never allow their cores and jacket to separate. They should not expand too quickly and they must be capable of shattering bones - sometimes very big bones.

Fortunately for hunters the bullet manufacturers have developed a bullet design that is ideal for black bear - the bonded bullet. Bonding the core and jacket together insures weight retention and minimal fragmentation after impact. This results in a deadly combination of shock and penetration - exactly what is needed to kill bear quickly.

I mentioned my preference for the 210-grain Nosler partition in the .338 Winchester. Although this bullet is not bonded it offers the two primary qualities - 65% weight retention and no busting up after hitting something solid. Another successful bullet is the Speer Grand Slam. I have found that the Grand Slam holds together really well although it will occasionally allow the core to slip from the jacket if impact velocities are too high.

In my simplistic opinion there are three types of bullets. First is the basic hunting bullet - proven designs as offered by Hornady, Sierra, Speer, Winchester, Remington and Federal. These bullets are the biggest sellers. They are the most used for commercial ammo and by reloaders. These bullets retain at least 50% of their mass on most shots, although the core and jacket may separate if the impact velocities are too high.

The second type of hunting bullet is the bonded plastic-tipped boat-tail bullet. Bonding means chemically attaching the core and jacket together. Sharp points and boat-tails make for excellent ballistic characteristics. These bullets retain at least 65% and usually around 75%-80% of their initial weight, regardless of impact velocities. Examples of this group are the Swift Scirocco, Nosler Accubond and the Hornady Interbond. Norma also makes bonded bullets that are loaded into several popular cartridges. Although not bonded, the Nosler Partition and Speer Grand Slam usually fit nicely into this category on the basis of retained weight. All of these bullets are superb performers on black bears.

.338 ammunition.
Federal Premium .338 ammunition is available in a variety of configurations.
The third group of bullets is the deep penetrators. These bullets do not open up quickly and they do not create huge mushrooms. These bullets retain from 80% to 100% of their original weights, regardless of impact velocity. Examples of this group are the Swift A-Frame, the Trophy Bonded Bear Claw, Barnes X and its derivatives and the Winchester Failsafe. They are not optimum for black bears unless you are likely to shoot a very large animal or the fore-mentioned "Texas Heart Shot".

I mentioned that I dispatched a lot of black bears with a 12-guage shotgun. "A lot" is a nebulous term but in my situation it means in the hundreds. From that shooting I can make a couple of statements. First, 12-gauge shotgun slugs are reliable bear killers. This is not the case with other gauges, particularly the 20-gauge. Second, 12-gauge buckshot loads are not reliable for killing black bears. Buckshot does not penetrate or break bones unless you almost press the muzzle against the bear. I have point-blanked huge bears in the center of the neck and had them get back to their feet. That is not a good thing!

I have also killed a lot of bears over the years with muzzleloaders. I have over 75 muzzleloader bullets that have been recovered from kills, many of them from big black bears. Use the heaviest bullet and charge that your rifle will shoot accurately. I can recommend the Shockwave from T/C and the Barnes Expander as two particularly trusted bear killers. These bullets are available in 250 and 300 grain weights; either will kill any bear that walks the planet. You will only get one shot so you want it to do the job.

Shot placement is everything, particularly when you are dealing with a critter that can kill you. Regardless of what others might suggest, the optimum shot location for putting a black bear down is the scapula (shoulder blade). If you cannot hit the scapula then go for any major portion of the nervous system. The idea is to gain CONTROL of the animal. Immobilizing him will allow a lethal follow-up shot.

Bullets that break the spine cause paralysis back of the impact location. A bear that is paralyzed can be dispatched much easier than one that has run off with a bullet through the lungs. If a bear runs off he has not been hit correctly, simple as that. This is a strong statement but it is a fact. I want the bruin on the ground upon impact - period.

I have tracked my share of wounded bears at night and I would just as soon not do that anymore. Black bears are not difficult to kill if the shot placement is correct. Break them down, gain control and start planning where to put the rug!