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Bear spray is a proven bear deterrent. And a bear banger or a pistol, where permitted, can both be effective as well—but neither packs the lethal stopping power of a reliable 12-gauge shotgun. I find that a pump-action is the best option, because it’s less prone to jamming than a semiauto, it can be more easily field-stripped, and it holds more shots than a double barrel.

When it comes to the best ammo for a bear-defense gun, either use only slugs or stagger your shells with buckshot and rifled slugs—just make sure the buckshot fires first. The reason for this is because if a bear is charging, you might be pretty darn scared so your first shot with the buckshot doesn’t have to be dead-on accurate. Stun the bear with the buckshot, then follow up with a hard-hitting slug.

Now that we’ve covered the best gun and ammo to use in bear country for protection, here are some tips on how to keep your gun safe and ready to be into action quickly.

How to Keep Your Bear Gun Ready If You Are…

In a Canoe, Kayak, or Raft: It can be dangerous having your gun loaded with just the safety on in your canoe, particularly if you’re loading and unloading the boat often. Your best bet here is to load the magazine and leave the action closed with the safety off. To fire, hold the action release down and pump once to chamber a round before firing.

Inside a Tent at Night: Load the magazine and leave one shell in the pipe with the action open and the safety off. If you need to fire, simply pull the pump forward to close the action and fire.

Around Camp: Leave your shotgun fully loaded with a shell in the pipe and the safety on. Make sure it’s in an accessible position—because what’s the point in lugging it around if you can’t grab it when you need it?

The Bear-Charge Gun Drill

No matter what method of deterrent you’re going to bring into bear country, it’s absolutely important to practice ahead of time. For example, if you’re going to carry bear spray, try spraying it in a controlled environment to get a feel for its range and accuracy. Or, if you’re going to bring a firearm, simulate the act of firing at a charging bear with this shooting drill.

You’ll Need

  • 60 feet of cable
  • 1 pulley
  • 60 feet of parachute cord
  • 1 target, such as a split log
  • Roll of baling wire
  • Permanent marker


  1. Go to a safe shooting area and secure one end of the cable to a tree in the direction you’ll be shooting toward. It should be tied off at about 8 feet from the ground. Slide the pulley onto the cable.
  2. Secure the other end of the cable to a tree about 50 feet from the first tree, and in the opposite direction from where you’ll be shooting. (You want the pulley to be able to travel along the cable in a straight path.) Secure the cable to the tree about 4 feet lower than the opposite end.
  3. Secure your target (I like to use a split log of firewood) to the pulley with the wire. You might have to saw grooves into the log so you can rig the wire in a way that allows for a stronger grip.
  4. Draw a target on the wood with the permanent marker.
  5. Tie one end of the parachute cord to the pulley. Then pull the target all the way to the higher end of the cable, and tie it off to the tree or to a stake in the ground using a quick-release knot.
  6. Walk about 50 feet, and have your gun ready. Pull the parachute cord to release the target. Fire off as many shots as you can. Keep practicing until you can consistently hit the moving target three times on every attempt.