One of the most intelligently designed cartridges to come out in recent years is the .480 Ruger. A joint invention of Ruger and Hornady, it gives handgun hunters a round that packs considerably more wallop than the .44 magnum, but can still be used in a revolver that is smaller than a 105mm howitzer and does not cause your hand to feel like you stuck it in a drop forge when you pull the trigger. The .44 magnum, formidable though it is, and an excellent slayer of non-dangerous game, hath its limitations. For anything big and homicidal, it would be better to have a riot gun with Brenneke slugs, or a .45/70 Marlin Guide Gun with Buffalo Bore rounds, or a Ruger Guide Gun in .375 Ruger.
The one person I met who had first-hand experience with the .44 Magnum on bears was an Alaska guide whose client shot a caribou, was met at the carcass by a grizzly who wanted it, too. The grizzly came for the guide and his client with extreme speed (if you’ve seen the bear attack in The Revenant that gives you a good idea of how quickly they can get to you) and the guide opened fire with his .44 magnum, while the client, who had a .338, stood his ground and joined in the fun.
It was the guide’s distinct impression that his revolver did not make much of an impression, and that if it had not been for the sport’s rifle, the bear would have gotten one or both of them.
If you don’t want to carry a long gun, but would like something more sincere, you can go to the .454 Casull. I will not go with you, however. The Casull, which operates at rifle pressures, is a load of such surpassing violence that I can’t shoot it worth a damn, and I doubt that many other people can, either. My hunch is that most people who buy .454s fire a cylinder full and then, when their hand stops bleeding, switch to .45 Long Colt ammo and let it go at that.
The .460 S&W and the .500 S&W are clearly in rifle territory as far as ballistics are concerned, but the revolvers for which they’re chambered are so big and so heavy that they’re not practical to carry as backups. If you’re going to pack all that bulk and weight, might as well take a rifle.
This takes us to the .480, which is a distinct step above the .44 magnum in horsepower, yet much milder kicking than the Casull because it operates at much lower pressures, and is chambered in handguns that, while still on the large and hefty side, can still be carried without getting in the way.
If you have oodles of money, you can buy a Freedom Arms single-action in .475 Linebaugh and get an extra cylinder in .480. On second thought, if you have that kind of money, send me some of it.
Or, you can get a Ruger Super Redhawk double-action or a Super Blackhawk Bisley single-action in .480. Of the two, I’d go for the Redhawk. I owned one, and liked it a great deal, and I believe its Hogue rubber grips and grip shape soak up a lot more recoil than the Blackhawk with its hard grips. Mine had a very nice double- and single-action trigger pull, was very accurate, and was also horrendously strong, as are all Super Redhawks. John Blauvelt, who knows a lot more about handguns than I do, calls the Super Redhawk “a beast.” Ruger makes the .480 Super Redhawk in 2.5- and 7.5-inch-barrel models, the former being called the Alaskan. It’s much handier to carry (and draw) than the long version, but on the other hand, it’s very easy to miss with a short-barreled handgun, even when what you’re shooting at is very big and very close. I’d go with the 7.5-inch barrel. You’re probably not going to get more than one or two shots, and you want those to be good.
One other thing: If you shoot a bear and don’t have a bear license, it’s best if the animal is actually chewing on you when you shoot. Fish and game departments get very touchy about people blazing away at the bruins unless things get very, very serious and you can prove it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.