Smith & Wesson N Frame
Regardless of what Clint Eastwood tells you, the Model 29 .44 Magnum is more gun than you need as a peace officer, but S&W’s big N Frame makes a fine bear gun. Capable of handling powerful cartridges, yet much easier to carry than a rifle or shotgun, Smith & Wesson’s large-frame revolvers have served dutifully in bear country for decades. There are a number of N Frame offerings, but the most popular in bear country are the various .44 Magnum iterations. Over the years, the 29 and 629 have been a staple sidearm for those living and working around grizzlies. Portable, reliable, affordable and sufficiently powerful for bruins, the Smith & Wesson is a natural choice for our bear gun list. Plus, today’s hot new .44 factory loads with hard cast bullets are better at stopping angry grizzlies than any .44 load before.
While I was hunting elk in the Madison Range of Montana last October, a brief snow storm rushed over the mountains and dropped about an inch of fresh powder. The sudden burst limited visibility and made crossing the boulders on the base of the mountain a slippery challenge, so my hunting partner and I sat out the storm under a clump of trees overlooking a river valley. When the brief storm ebbed and the first streaks of sunlight filtered through the firs and pines of the Madison Forest, we started down into the valley below to pick up the trail of the elk herd. That’s when we came upon the grizzly tracks.
Best Starter Kit for Concealed Carry:
Disclosure: Some of these links are affiliate links. Caribou Media Group may earn a commission from qualifying purchases. Thank you!
The prints were unmistakably large, round and very fresh. The bear had crossed the trail no more than 10 minutes before we arrived. Being a born and bred Midwesterner, I was caught totally unawares; no one had mentioned the word “grizzly,” and this late in the season I imagined all the bears would be in dens. The crisp prints on the fresh snow were a clear indicator that I was wrong.
Every close encounter I’ve had with grizzlies has been a hackle-raising experience similar to that one. In Alberta in 2014, I had to abandon a productive black bear bait because a large male grizzly decided to claim the food for himself. While hiking the Russian River in Alaska in 2012, two terrified tourists broke out of the timber ahead of me in a hurry to get back to their rental car because they’d stumbled upon a pair of grizzly cubs at the water’s edge and knew the sow was close by. Thankfully, though, that’s been the extent of my encounters with bears, and even though they were a bit frightening at the time, each of those experiences has made my time in the wilderness richer. Still, if that unlikely moment arrives when I must defend myself from North America’s greatest land predator, I fully understand that my only hope of survival might be resting in my holster or on my shoulder.
The shotguns, rifles and handguns listed here come recommended by people who live alongside bears, from fishing and hunting guides to scientists, hikers and helicopter pilots. Before you head into grizzly country, it’s essential to be prepared; having the right defensive firearm should be a top priority.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the April 2016 Issue of Gun Digest the Magazine