So, You’re In The Market For A Bear Gun…
Personal Bias and OPINION
The first thing to say here, will be acknowledging all the hate mail I will receive for bashing the 7mm Rem Mag and .243Win. Every year hundreds of people shoot bears with .243win and do it cleanly. My opinion on the matter comes from my personal experience and is absolutely a bias, fair or not. The .243, can kill a bear, and kill a bear quickly, I personally do believe it can not do so reliably. Take that with a teaspoon of salt. This webpage will be a living article and will be in a constant state of modification. As I hear your opinions and as my own experiences change my beliefs, they will be reflected here.
What makes a good bait site gun?
Ideally all of the same qualities that make a firearm a good camp gun, make it a good bait site gun. They should be short, quick handling, and a bonus of being able to provide a quick follow up shot. Firearms such a saddle carbine lever action, or semi-auto black rifle are in my opinion, the best. They have short barrels which is a great strength when maneuvering the rifle inside a blind or tree stand. The speed of which a follow up shot can be sent down range is also a bonus, as thick foliage often shrouds bears within meters of entering the bait site.
The optic on a bait site rifle should have fairly low magnification, a large field of view, with good light gathering and illumination. Most often bait sites are tucked into already dark forest, and picking out a black bear in the black shadows of last light can be very difficult.
Selecting a Cartridge For A bait gun
While specific bullet construction is always more important then selecting chamber, the .308 and .45-70 case should be viewed as the starting ground. 7.62x39 and 30-30 win are still acceptable because of their “large for case volume” bore diameter which efficiently push projectiles out of the tube. The ideal bullet for bait site hunting should have a lower “sectional density”, and gain their energy by employing heavy weight, instead of high velocity. A bullet of this construction will promote a hydraulic shock wave which produces a “bang-flop” situation. This also reduces meat damage, and reduces the chance of a large gaping exit wound in the fur. Personally, I advise against cartridges such as .243win, 7mmRemMag, and try to steer clients to .45-70govt. and .338Federal. Shotguns should also not be overlooked!
Caution should be used when selecting full size or magnum cartridges, as meat and hide damage can be a considerable. Bullet detonation can also occur at extremely high velocities, resulting in limited penetration. Hunters employing magnum cartridges should select bullets branded for “dangerous game”. These bullets are usually constructed as “partition jacket” and “monolithic solid”, and retain their weight and shape. These bullets should not separate or detonate on impact, and will almost always pass through the bear. Wound channel size, and hydraulic shock can be increased by aiming these bullets through the shoulder, as heavy muscle and bone will help to deform the bullet, increasing surface area, and thus, the rate of energy transfer.
What makes a good spot and stalk rifle?
Ideally, a spot and stalk rifle should be light weight, flat shooting, wear an optic that is in the 3-9x40 to 4-16x50 range, and be chambered in an intermediate or magnum cartridge. Most hunting rifles manufactured on the market, and most cartridges work very well in this role. Any bolt action rifle such as the Tikka T3, Savage Axis, or Remington 700 will make great rifles for this purpose. One of the most important parts of a "Spot and stalk" rifle over looked by hunters is a quality sling. For a couple decades, the military has been constantly improving sling designs, and a two point sling from Grey Ghost Gear, or Tactical Tailor are game changers. Placing the sling studs on the side of the rifle increase ergonomics and accuracy of the shooter greatly.
Selecting a cartridge for spot and stalk hunting
The .308 case is once again the starting point in my opinion. I do still try to deter clients away from the .243win, but the 7mm-08 all the way up to the 300winmag are all great choices. More velocity in this situation results in more forgiveness with errors in range estimation. Bullet construction is also less important, as long as your point of aim reflects it. This means ensuring that bullets designed for White Tail hunting (fast expansion with jacket-core separation), do not impact the shoulder and do hit their target broadside, or slightly quartering away. Bullets designed for large game, such a moose or elk should have a more traditional point of aim, with consideration to the distance of target. At closer ranges, an impact through the shoulder facilitates projectile deformation, and energy transfer, while at longer ranges placing a shot just behind the shoulder increases the odds of a “pass through” which helps create a blood trail. This is important as bears have long, thick fur that soaks up a considerable amount of blood, and soft pads on their feet, making tracking very, difficult.