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Choose your firearm and your shot with care, and do the same when choosing bear deterrents

  • Author: John Schandelmeier
    | Alaska Outdoors
  • Updated: September 11, 2019
  • Published September 9, 2019

A couple of weeks back I wrote about bears, guns and pepper spray. I am a gun advocate. Some disagree about the effectiveness of firearms vs. bear spray. I won’t argue the point, but ask only that anyone taking an extended hike into the woods check in with themselves. Would you, personally, rather have an aerosol can or a shotgun in the face of a charging animal? Make your choice and take your chances.

Meanwhile, it is hunting season and the majority of us who hunt are carrying some type of firearm. I am not a gun expert. Most hunters, me included, sight in our rifles and can generally hit what we aim at.

Few hunters are expert marksmen. I have shot a couple of moose at 600 yards, but shots should not be attempted at those distances except as a last resort to stop a wounded animal from escaping. Fortunately for moose, antler restrictions dictate close looks before a hunter decides to pull the trigger.

A week or so ago I forbore a shot at a small moose. Normally I hunt with a .300 Winchester but I was carrying my dad’s .264 Winchester Magnum. The .264 works for caribou, but it is light for moose.

One might ask why. The .264 was developed as an American alternative to the 6.5mm popular in Europe. The .264 is effective with a 140 gr bullet. The muzzle velocity is similar to that of the .300 and it carries at distance quite well. The foot-pounds of energy at 300 yards is 20% less for the .264 than that of the .300 Winchester.

I have shot moose with both rifles. One finds a considerable difference, even though on paper the statistics look similar.

What the numbers don’t explain is the size of the entry wound and the opportunity of the target to bleed. The .264 will kill, but your projected winter food may run a bit first.

The moose I chose not to shoot at was about 400 yards out. There was a good vantage point and a rest. The moose was in the willows. A short run and he was going to be out of sight, and I did not have the confidence in my rifle for that shot. (Remember, the guy shooting is not an expert marksman.)

Pick your firearm wisely and do the same with your shot. It is better to pass up an animal than have a wounded one get away.

When my dad homesteaded, he didn’t have the options we have today. His only gun was a 12-gauge shotgun. He hunted moose with slugs and was pretty successful.

I started hunting with a .30-.30, because it was all I could handle. When I was 7, the time came for me to take over hunting chores. Dad and I went to our gravel pit, where he set up a 4x8 piece of plywood with a target in the center. “You need more gun for moose,” Dad said, and he handed me his .300 H&H. “Take three shots.”

My first shot was almost dead center — of course, I had to get up from the ground to see if I hit anything. The next two shots hit the plywood, but barely.

“Good enough,” Dad said. “You will forget about the kick when you shoot at a moose.” He was right.

Today, almost no one would advocate handing a 7-year-old a .300 and tell them to go get a moose. Sixty years ago I wasn’t the only kid doing that.

Sixty years in the woods is a long time. Some guy can show me on a piece of paper how pepper can stop a bear. I believe him. However, how many are going to be able to hold the canister until the charging grizzly is close enough? Even a relative neophyte may be able to turn a bear with a shotgun. And yeah, we might end up with a needlessly dead bear.

Paper studies and reality are two totally different critters. You can’t quantify the fear factor in a study.

John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives with his family near Paxson. He is a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and a two-time winner of the Yukon Quest.