I’ve lived in relatively rural areas for the past 10 years of my life. Most wildlife doesn’t bother me, but a rogue black bear with a bad attitude can ruin a perfectly good day. Therefore, I’ve compiled a list of the best handguns for bear defense along with ammo considerations for others who live in bear country. So, here is everything you need to know about selecting the right caliber handgun to protect yourself from a bear attack.

Recently, a neighbors dog was attacked by a bear less than 200 yards from my property. Fortunately, the pup will live. However, the danger of a bear attack is very real when you live in bear country. Trail cams and security camera footage show bears within meters of both my and my neighbors houses.

Unfortunately, simple human habits like taking out the trash often attract hungry bears. But even hiking can sometimes result in a chance encounter. Therefore, you should be able to defend yourself and loved ones if a bear decides to charge. The right caliber handgun will depend on whether black bears or brown bears are native to your region.

Handgun Caliber Breakdown For Bear Protection

best caliber for bear defense - black vs grizzly bear

Based upon my research, the three most important factors when selecting a handgun for bear defense are; caliber, bullet penetration, and stopping power. Caliber refers to the diameter of the handgun barrel and thus the size of the bullet. Bullet penetration references the ability to achieve maximum depth on target before stopping or fracturing. Stopping power refers to the foot pounds of energy at impact.

According to Foggy Mountain, a bullet that is a minimum 200 grains, and travels at 1000 ft per second is sufficient to stop a bear. Thus, a projectile with these specs will impact with 444 ft/lbs of energy. We’ll use these 3 data points as the baseline measurement for successfully defending against a bear attack.

9 x 19 (9mm)

Can a 9mm Kill A Black Bear?

Technically, a 9mm bullet is capable of killing a black bear but it may not stop an attack immediately. However, shot placement, bullet type, shot distance, the bears size and demeanor all play a vital role in whether a 9mm can kill a black bear.

Because bears have a high threshold for pain, and the 9mm cartridge is considered a small caliber bullet it may not stop a bear attack rapidly enough to avoid injury. Additionally, bears are known to move with great speed decreasing the likelihood of follow up shots on target.

Although a traditional 9mm round is capable of penetrating the hide, muscle, and organs of a bear hard cast bullets offer more energy at impact. Furthermore, hard cast 9mm rounds are less likely to fragment or deflect. Therefore, these types of bullets provided the greatest opportunity to incapacitate or kill a black bear.

Can a 9mm Kill A Grizzly Bear?

Although there is anecdotal evidence that a 9mm can kill a grizzly bear, the 9mm round is widely considered insufficient for grizzly bear defense.

Brown bears, like the Grizzly, are larger animals which have a thicker hide, more muscle mass, and larger bones. Therefore, smaller caliber rounds like the 9mm lack the ability to kill a Grizzly bear reliably because they lack sufficient stopping and penetrating power.

Is A 9mm Good For Bear Defense?

Because most 9mm rounds are incapable of sufficient penetration, and lack enough stopping power, the 9mm cartridge is not good for bear defense particularly against larger bear breeds such as Grizzlies.

However, hard cast bullets are better suited to bear defense. Additionally, these specialized rounds more expensive and less widely available. Furthermore, general personal defense ammunition, like most jacketed hollow points (JHP), can fail to achieve proper penetration to stop a black or brown bear attack succinctly.

9mm Ballistics vs. A Bear

The heaviest hard cast 9mm round offered by Buffalo Bore was 147 grains which claims a muzzle velocity of 1000 ft/sec and utilizes flat nose bullets. Thus, the energy created at impact is only 326 ft/lbs which is far less than the suggested 444 fpe.

Alternatively, the 124 gr JHP round claims a velocity of 1225 ft/sec which equates to 413 fpe. Although this comes closer to the energy required to stop a bear, the JHP is less likely to achieve sufficient penetration due to bullet impact characteristics.

Best 9mm Ammunition vs. Bears

If you prefer to carry a 9mm pistol, or it’s your only option, the best overall cartridge is the Buffalo Bore 147 grain. The hard cast bullets are less likely to deviate on impact or shatter, compared to standard round nose FMJ or JHP ammunition.

Alternatively, +P or +P+ (overpressure) 9mm cartridges can add to the stopping and penetration power of a 9mm round. However, some handguns are not rated for this type of ammunition and may result in serious injury, damage to the firearm, or both.

.40 Caliber

Can .40 Cal Kill A Black Bear?

Because the .40 caliber round was created using ballistic specs from a 10mm hand load, it shares many of the same characteristics. Additionally, this round is larger and usually heavier than the 9mm and consequently offers better penetration and stopping power.

However, standard .40 S&W loads may be inadequate even for black bear protection. Therefore, specialized .40 caliber cartridges are recommended for black bear defense. Similar to the 9mm, a hard cast bullet that is heavier, like a 180gr, is more effective for killing a black bear quickly.

Can .40 Cal Kill A Grizzly Bear?

Whether a .40 cal bullet is capable of taking down a Grizzly bear is a coin toss. With the appropriate load, a .40 caliber bullet just crests the threshold of taking down a Grizzly. However, most consider the .40 S&W less than optimal for Grizzly bear defense.

Although the .40 caliber round is heavier and capable of higher muzzle velocity the mass of a Grizzly bear is grater than that of a black bear. Therefore, a 40 caliber cartridge must be tailored to the job of Grizzly bear defense. Moreover standard ball ammo (FMJ) or even personal defense ammunition (such as JHP) lacks the qualities to effectively kill a Grizzly bear.

Is .40 Cal Good For Bear Defense?

Because the 40 S&W cartridge is loosely based on the 10mm round you could definitely do worse when it comes to bear protection. However, your best bet is to use a hard cast bullet to reliably and quickly take down a bear. Personally, I’d rather have too much instead of just enough when it comes to bear defense. If there is even a chance of encountering a Grizzly, I would opt for a big bore round.

But, if you choose to carry a .40 caliber handgun for bear defense you have a couple options for good ammunition. Either the Underwood Ammunition or Buffalo Bore offer hard cast flat nose .40 S&W loads with similar ballistic performance.

.45 Caliber

Can a .45 Kill A Black Bear?

Although the 45 ACP round shoots a heavier bullet, the powder charge results in less than optimal velocity to kill a black bear quickly and reliably. Although the 45 ACP cartridge is widely accepted as an adequate personal defense round, it falls short when it comes to the foot pounds of energy required to kill a black bear.

However, Buffalo Bore offers a 255 grain (gr) flat nose hard cast bullet that produces enough energy to be effective against a black bear. But, this .45 ACP cartridge is only offered in a +P configuration and still produces inadequate muzzle velocity. Therefore, the bullet may hit with enough force, but may fail to achieve proper penetration of hide, muscle, and bone.

Can a .45 Kill A Grizzly Bear?

Because the 45 Auto cartridge is bigger it is also slower, and therefore cannot reliably kill a Grizzly bear in a defensive situation. As a result, the bullets slower velocity coupled with the bulkier build of a Grizzly means you’re simply going to make an angry bear even angrier.

Even the aforementioned ammunition is likely to be ineffective against a Grizzly for the same reason the performance is questionable against black bears.

Is .45 Good For Bear Defense?

Unfortunately, almost every type of 45 ACP ammunition is ineffective for bear defense. Depending on the type of round, it can be plagued by any number of problems. Either it lacks the velocity necessary to penetrate a bears body, lacks the ability to deliver enough force, is prone to fragmentation and deflection, or any combination thereof.


Can a 10mm Kill A Black Bear?

Most factory FMJ 10mm ammunition offers sufficient penetration and power to kill a black bear. However, 10mm bullet weight varies from 165 gr on the low end to greater than 200 gr, so proper ammo selection is critical for bear defense. Ideally, you’d use a bullet that weighs at least 200gr and rated for larger game to kill a black bear.

Looking at the ballistics of Federal 10mm flat nose FMJ ammunition the weight is 180gr with a velocity of 1030 fps which translates to 424 ft/lbs of energy. Although these fall short of the proposed ballistic numbers necessary to kill a bear, the Federal cartridge is not advertised as a defense round. However, this speaks to the power of the 10mm caliber bullet.

Can a 10mm Kill A Grizzly Bear?

Unlike black bear defense, 10mm ammo is only capable of killing a Grizzly when using heavier bullets. However, due to the increased size over a black bear, the 10mm is considered on the low end of effective rounds against a Grizzly bear.

Due to the bulk of a Grizzly a cartridge such as the Winchester Big Bore 10mm ammo is highly recommended. Weighing in at 200 gr with a muzzle velocity of 1175 fps, a charging Grizzly is met with over 600 fpe.

Is 10mm Good For Bear Defense?

With the proper ammunition, the 10mm can be a good round for bear defense. However, standard loads are only sufficient for black bear protection.

For Grizzly protection, you’ll need specialized 10mm loads which utilize a 200+ gr bullet. However, I’d recommend a larger caliber round to ensure you are able to quickly neutralize a Grizzly in the event of an attack.

.357 Magnum

Can a .357 Kill A Black Bear?

Similar to the 10mm rounds, the .357 magnum bullet is heavy enough and produces sufficient velocity to reliably kill a black bear. Even standard FMJ loads at moderate weights are capable of penetrating a black bears body and wreaking havoc amidst the vital organs.

Can a .357 Kill A Grizzly Bear?

With the proper ammo selection, a .357 magnum round is capable of killing a Grizzly bear and doing it more efficiently than other smaller rounds. Although standard loads are effective against a black bear, Grizzly bears require specialized ammunition rated for taking down larger game. Additionally, either a hard cast FMJ or semi-jacketed hollow point (SJHP) are going to be your best option for ensuring maximum damage and full penetration on a Grizzly bear.

Is .357 Good For Bear Defense? – Ballistic Data

The .357 magnum round is considered adequate for both black and Grizzly bear protection, but other larger rounds such as the 44 magnum are optimal. Comparatively, the .357 is a more powerful round than the 10mm when it comes to stopping power. If we take the Buffalo Bore 180 gr hard cast .357 cartridge and use the slowest velocity (1302 fps) the resulting force is 667 foot pounds of energy.

.44 Magnum

Can a .44 Magnum Kill A Black Bear?

The 44 magnum round is more than capable of killing a black bear, and is considered overkill by many. Because black bears are smaller, penetration is not a concern for this larger, heavier, and oftentimes faster bullet. If your only concern is black bear defense, you can likely rely on either the 10mm or .357 magnum in place of the .44 magnum.

Can a .44 Magnum Kill A Grizzly Bear?

A .44 magnum bullet is capable of taking down a Grizzly bear and with the optimum ammunition is also suitable for bear defense against other brown bear breeds. The heavier bullet coupled with adequate velocity results in proper penetration through most bone and tissue of a Grizzly. Similar to the .357 a hard cast FMJ or SJHP is ideal for Grizzly bear defense.

Is .44 Mag Good For Bear Defense?

Although it may be a point of contention, the .44 magnum round is the best all around cartridge for bear defense based on the metrics. The velocity of the round allows for sufficient penetration to ensure maximum damage to vital internal organs. Additionally, the energy created at impact is more than capable of bringing down either a black bear or Grizzly, and doing it efficiently.

.44 Magnum Ballistics vs. A Bear

Next, lets talk about the ballistics of the 44 magnum. The heaviest bullet I was able to locate was a 340 grain bullet which well exceeds the 200 grain minimum. Additionally, the magnum velocities range from 1150 to 1500 fps depending on the load. All of the velocities surpass the baseline requirements for sufficient bear defense.

Even taking a moderate round like the Magtech 240 gr FMJ which has a velocity of 1180 results in a whopping 741 ft/lbs. of energy. However, if you take the HSM Bear load numbers of 305 gr and a velocity of 1260 ft/sec. the resulting energy is over 1000 fpe complete with a wide flat nose suited to bear defense penetration.

Best .44 Mag Ammunition vs. Bears

If I’m choosing a round built to ensure I can stop a Grizzly, it would be the HSM Bear Load. With a massive 305 gr bullet and an unparalleled muzzle velocity, if you can get off a round it should stop any sized black or brown bear with no problem.

Choosing a Handgun For Black Bear Defense

Compared to their brown counterparts, black bears are relatively small. However, according to PBS, adult male black bears can weigh up to 500 lbs while females are significantly smaller and weigh up to 300 lbs. Surely, we can all agree based on weight alone black bears can be intimidating. Therefore, you need a handgun of sufficient caliber and a cartridge with adequate penetration to protect yourself.

Minimum Handgun Caliber For Black Bear Defense

According to my research, the minimum caliber necessary to reliably take down a black bear would be a handgun chambered in 10mm. Additionally, you’ll want a round that is suited to deep penetration due to the layers of fur, muscle, and fat protecting vital organs. However, there is evidence that smaller cartridges, such as the 9mm, are capable of taking down a bear.

The video above is one such example. However, several factors indicate why a 9mm may be insufficient for black bear protection. First, the bear was not charging, nor even facing the hunter. In the event of an attack, this scenario is unlikely.

Second, the bear ran off after being hit with the shot. And although this black bear eventually expired, the time spent tracking the bear afterwards shows the bear was still capable of functioning for a long period of time. This is a recipe for disaster during a black bear attack.

Finally, although the 9mm is generally accepted as a handgun round, the hunter used a carbine platform with a scope. Thus, he was able to achieve better shot placement over using a handgun with iron sights.

Best Handgun For Black Bear Defense

1. Glock 20 (15+1 Rounds)

glock 20 beast gun for black bear defense

Because the Glock 20 is chambered in 10mm it is the ideal semi-auto pistol for black bear defense. If you are concerned about having adequate ammunition for stopping a bear attack, then just squeeze the trigger until the magazine runs dry.

2. Smith & Wesson 610

smith and wesson 610 - best revolver for bear defense

Chambered in 10mm, the Smith and Wesson model 610 is a good choice for bear defense. Not only is this handgun capable of firing a 10mm round, but is also adaptable to the 40 caliber cartridge. Additionally, this handgun comes in both 4 inch and 6.5 inch barrel configurations.

Choosing A Handgun For Brown Bear Defense

juvenile grizzly bear strength playing with frozen waterlogged wood

Unlike black bears, brown bears are significantly larger. However, the size of a brown bear varies by the species. For instance, according to the US Fish & Wildlife Service adult male Grizzly bears weigh up to 600 lbs. But, according to the Alaska Fish & Wildlife Service an adult male Kodiak bears can weigh up to 1500 lbs. Thus the reason why bullet penetration and stopping power are vital for brown bear defense.

Minimum Handgun Caliber For Grizzly Bear Protection

Unlike black bears, the minimum caliber for Grizzly bear protection is a handgun chambered in 44 magnum. Similar to black bears, there are stories of brown bears being taken down by smaller rounds. However, with my life or loved ones lives on the line, I prefer to trust the probabilities and science. Big bore rounds deliver far more foot pounds of energy during impact than their smaller counterparts.

Best Handgun For Brown Bear Defense

1. Desert Eagle Mark XIX 44 Magnum (8+1 Rounds)

best semi-auto handgun for grizzly defense - desert eagle mark xix

If you’re like me then you prefer semi-auto handguns over revolvers. I’m not knocking wheel guns, it really is a preference. However, if you prefer a semi-auto then the Desert Eagle Mark XIX which is chambered in 44 Rem Mag is the ideal candidate for Grizzly bear defense. With 9 rounds of big bore bear stopping power this handgun is my top choice!

How To Defend Against A Bear Attack

Now that you’re equipped with the right tool to fend off a bear attack, lets talk about how to shoot. First, the quickest way to bring down a bear is a blow to the central nervous system such as the spine or brain. Unfortunately, a bears skull is strong and thick. Additionally, those shots will require no small measure of marksmanship. Therefore, this may prove a difficult shot especially when the bear is charging at you.

Alternatively, you can aim to inflict maximum damage to internal organs specifically the lungs, liver, and heart. If the bear is on all fours, aim between the head and shoulder. Similarly, if the bear is upright aim lower on the center mass of the torso. For a more thorough description check out this article for more bear anatomy. Beware that even a mortally wounded bear may have energy to continue its assault.

Parting Shots

Well there you have it, a by the numbers evaluation of the best handgun for bear defense. Although there are multiple calibers that will work in theory, the reality is your odds are better with a big bore cartridge. If you live in a region where black bears are the primary concern you can probably get away with a 10mm or .40 caliber round. However, for those living in brown bear country the minimum cartridge for taking down a grizzly would be a 44 magnum.

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