44 Magnum For Bear-What you Should Know

Clint Eastwood made the 44-magnum cartridge famous with his words “It’s the most powerful handgun in the world.” 

That may no longer be entirely true, but the 44-mag cartridge is still a formidable piece of kit. For many backwoods trekkers, hunters, and homesteaders the 44 mag is the mainstay of their bear defense.

Is the 44 Magnum a Good Bear Defense Firearm?

If you live and work in bear country, you know the importance of being prepared for that chance encounter with a bear who has malintent and you for a target.

Almost any rifle or handgun cartridge can stop even the largest grizzly provided the shot placement is correct.

However, most bear encounters are under less than perfect conditions.

Stopping Power is Critical

44 Magnum For Bears

Of absolute importance when you choose a handgun caliber for bear defense, stopping power is at the top of the list. Stopping power in a handgun cartridge is measured in numerous ways.

Delivered energy at a given distance, usually measured in ft-lbs. is the standard most American hunters use.

Looking at delivered energy gives us a better idea of how the 44 magnum stacks up against other popular handgun cartridges suitable for bear defense.

The Other Factors to Consider

Along with delivered energy, we must also consider bullet weight and velocity. These two not only affect the delivered energy of your bullet but also the weight and felt recoil that you will experience.

These are all factors that need to be considered when choosing a caliber for a serious and serviceable bear defense firearm.

So How Does the 44 Magnum Stack Up?

If we consider only delivered energy, the 44-magnum cartridge resides in the middle of the range that is considered adequate for a bear defense handgun.

You can easily see in this chart how the different calibers using standard factory loads compare in delivered energy down range.

Pistol CaliberBullet WeightMuzzle VelocityMuzzle Energy
.45 Colt300-grain HCGC960 fps460 ft-lbs.
.44 Magnum34- grain HC-FN1425 fps1530 ft-lbs.
.454 Casull335-grain WFNGC1600 fps1800 ft-lbs.
.460 S&W300-grain FNHC2060 fps2820 ft-lbs.

It is easy to see that the 44 Magnum is far from being the most powerful handgun in the world. However, as far as stopping power on even the largest grizzly bear, it delivers enough energy to get the job done.

When you consider the other factors involved, the 44-magnum may even be a better choice for some than the larger and more powerful calibers.

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The Worst-Case Scenario

Probably the worst-case scenario that anyone spending time in bear country can face is a charging grizzly bear. The Griz, as he is often called, is actually the North American Brown Bear.

Biologically, grizzly bears are omnivores and will eat almost anything they come across. Since grizzlies tend to be more aggressive than black bears, more problem encounters occur with grizzlies than other bear species.

A charging grizzly bear can reach speeds of 35 mph an hour for short distances and their acceleration rate is phenomenal. Grizzlies may become aggressive for a number of reasons.

A female grizzly will do almost anything to protect her cubs. Male grizzlies will defend their territory to the death. Startled bears can be extremely volatile as can those with a fresh kill if they perceive that you are threatening to take their dinner.

Consider that at full speed, a grizzly can cover 50 yards in less than 4.5 seconds. Since the bear usually knows where you are long before you are aware of the bear, your reaction time may be considerably less than 4.5 seconds.

It is imperative that your bear defense gun is readily available, quick to deploy and that you can place a shot on target under extreme stress.

The Advantages of the 44 Magnum as a Bear Defense Handgun

There are other handguns in larger calibers that deliver more energy on target. However, bigger is not always better in my opinion.

Far more important, in my book, is the ability to draw and accurately fire your bear defense weapon in a very short period of time. 

There are other downsides to carrying larger firearms that may not pose as big a problem for some people. However, if we are considering the average person on an outdoor adventure, we need to look at the best fit option.

The 44 Magnum Pros

44 Magnum For Bears

Having shot a 44 magnum numerous times, I can tell you that it is not one of my favorite range guns. The 44-magnum pistol that I occasionally shoot is a Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan model.

The Ruger Red Hawk Alaskan owned by a friend who regularly hunts in Montana is his bear defense weapon. This gun has a 2.5-inch barrel and is fitted with Hogue grips.

The Pros of Carrying a 44 Magnum in Bear Country

Having gone on several backcountry hunts in bear territory, I am well aware of the need to carry a pistol that can be effective against grizzly bears.

All of the guides I have hunted with insist that everyone have a bear defense firearm on their person almost at all times. The 44 Magnum offers several advantages over the bigger calibers especially if you pick the right firearm.

Weight

Overall, the 44 magnum revolvers are lighter weight than the larger caliber handguns.

This weight advantage may amount to only a few ounces on a fully loaded pistol, but after eight hours of up and down mountains on foot tracking an elk or mountain goat, even a few ounces can make a difference.

Accuracy

I am not so much concerned with how well the revolver will shoot as I am about how well I can shoot the revolver.

In the event that I need to get off a second shot at a charging grizzly bear, I want a pistol I can handle comfortably, re-acquire a sight picture, and get off an accurate shot in the quickest possible time.

My hunting friend swears by his Ruger Red Hawk Alaskan. The short barrel makes this pistol quick and easy to draw and maneuver, it is lighter than most other 44 magnum revolvers.

At the ranges that most bear attacks occur, you don’t need a longer barrel to deliver accuracy out to distant ranges. 

It isn’t pleasant but I can shoot the 44 Magnum one-handed and manage a reasonable follow-up shot. I am not sure I can perform this feat with a 450 Casull or a .460 S&W. I come back again to accuracy rather than bullet size. 

Cost

Let’s face it. Large caliber handgun ammunition is expensive. I know hunters who routinely carry a bear defense pistol that they have never shot. It is loaded with the best bear ammo that their internet research recommends.

Yet, they have no idea what it feels like to pull the trigger much less shoot that pistol. The major reason is that they don’t want to “waste” expensive ammo on the range.

In this case, 44 magnum ammo tends to be much less expensive than the other large specialty calibers of ammunition suitable for bear defense.

Comparatively, the 44-magnum ammunition I prefer to carry for bear defense is much cheaper than some. I prefer to carry a flat nose jacketed bullet.

A bear is not a human and self-defense rounds are not as effective on a bear as you might expect.

Comparative Ammunition Cost 

AmmunitionCaliberBullet Weight Avg Cost
Grizzly 300 Grain Cast lead bullet wide flat nose44 magnum300 grain1.82 per round
Buffalo Bore 300-grain hard cast flat nose bullet454 Casull300 grain2.75 per round
Buffalo Bore 300 grain jacketed flat nose460 S&W Magnum300 grain4.45 per round

A sold core flat nose bullet has a better chance of penetrating a grizzly bear’s heavy skin, thick coat, and large bones than a hollow point that is designed to expand as rapidly as possible. AT 1.82 per round, I can afford to go to the range to hone my skills.

The Cons of the 44 Magnum

You can’t speak of the pros without also talking about the cons in any situation. The 44 Mag does have its downsides. For me, the pros outweigh the cons enough to make a 44 magnum my choice of bear country pistols.

Recoil

Any large caliber pistol is going to deliver often punishing recoil. The 44 magnum is no exception. Of course, your choice of which gun to carry can mitigate some of the recoil issues.

The larger the gun, and to some extent, the longer the barrel, the less felt recoil and muzzle flip you will experience.

The 44 magnum when compared with the other large-caliber bear defense cartridges is rather lightweight in the recoil department. The comparative recoil data shows the difference between our chosen calibers.

Caliber and LoadPistol WeightRecoil Energy in Ft-Lbs.Recoil Velocity in fps
44 magnum 300-grain bullets3.0 lbs.22.6 ft-lbs.22.0 fps
.454 Casull 300-grain bullet3.2 lbs.38.6 ft-lbs.27.9 fps
460 S&W Magnum 300-grain bullet4.5 lbs.32.1 ft-lbs.21.4 fps

Less felt recoil means a delf defense pistol that many small frame shooters can handle. 

Less Energy on Target

The 44 magnum does deliver less energy on target than the other calibers in our comparison tables.

However, if you are reasonably accurate, a single strike on a vital area of a grizzly bear such as the head, shoulder, or internal vitals will generally produce a quick and humane kill.

The 44 Magnum as A Bear Defense Cartridge

There is no doubt in my mind that the .44 magnum cartridge is a viable choice as a bear defense gun.

The cartridge, when loaded properly, delivers more than enough energy to stop even the largest grizzly bear. Of course, being familiar with your gun and practiced with its use is as important as the cartridge selection.

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