U.S.A. –-(AmmoLand.com)- Before I graduated from high school, I overheard the older brother of a close friend talking about shooting a bear. The bear had been discovered in a den, during the Wisconsin deer season. As I recall, in 1968, such a harvest would have been legal.
The older brother was a Vietnam veteran. He approached the den with another vet. The brother suggested the other vet poke into the den to see if the bear were still there.
The other veteran said no, he would not do it. The brother said, well, in Vietnam, you went into holes to get Charlie.
Whereupon, the other veteran said: yes, but I had a different rifle then. (speaking of the M16).
He considered the M16 a superior gun for close-range bear defense than the common 30-30, whether Winchester 94 or Marlin 336.
At the time, I thought it strange someone would prefer a .223 semi-automatic rifle to a 30-30 or larger caliber rifle.
50 years and considerable time investigating actual defensive shootings of bears later, my opinion has become less certain.
Of the defensive bear shootings I have found, four of them were with rifles reasonably characterized as semi-automatic civilian versions of popular military rifles.
All four defensive shootings were successful. Modern sporting rifles most commonly are AR15 or AK47 style semi-automatic rifles. They are the most popular rifles in today’s America. It is certain more bears will be shot with them in the future. Here are the four incidents:
From 2008, a polar bear in Alaska, from AmmoLand:
The .223 is more capable than many realize. One .223 round has more energy than most .44 magnum rounds. From alaskareport.com
According to a story in the Fairbanks News-Miner, the polar bear charged straight at Cadzow who didn’t have time to lift and sight his rifle.
“I shot from the hip, seven or eight times,” he said. “If I had gotten it to my shoulder, it (bear) would have been on top of me. It happened so quick, by the time it was down, it was about 10 feet from my feet,” according to the News-Miner.
The bear was in good condition. It was not starving.
In 2013, an Alaskan hiker encountered a 600 lb grizzly who charged him. Several 5.45×39 rounds from an AK74 (a later version of the AK47) were sufficient to stop the attack.
From alaskapublic.org: 28 July 2013 AK74 5.45×39 caliber. Two volleys, 13 shots total.
The incident took place between McHugh Creek and Rainbow along Turnagain Arm.
The man stayed at the scene and had a cellphone so he could report it.
He said he came upon the bear and made noise and the bear responded by charging him.
The weapon was an AK-74, a smaller caliber weapon than the AK-47.
The third incident occurred in Blount County, Tennessee, in October of 2019.
This correspondent was able to contact the game warden who investigated the incident. The warden said the defender used an AR15 style rifle. He believed it was chambered for the .223 cartridge. He said the defender fired several shots to put down the bear. The bear had shown no fear of humans and was threatening the shooter’s dog.
Here is a Youtube video of the bear before it was shot:
The fourth incident happened in Galena, Nevada, a bit south of Reno, in June of 2020. From the AmmoLand story:
On June 19, at about 2:30 a.m., a homeowner in Galena, Nevada, just south of Reno, head noises as if someone were attempting to break into his house. He exited the house with an AR15 style rifle chambered in 6.8 SPC.
A large black bear challenged him and started coming toward him. He shot the bear once, then as the bear appeared to be suffering, shot it again. After an extended investigation, the Nevada Department of Wildlife, NDOW reported no charges would be filed, as the shooting appeared to be self-defense.
It is a small sample. One polar bear, one grizzly bear, two black bears.
The stories illustrate one of the major reasons the M16 was adopted by the US military: the ability to accurately and rapidly place multiple shots on target. A .223 cartridge has about the same energy as a .44 magnum. The 5.45×39 is very close. The 6.8 SPC is a bit more energetic. Applied rapidly to an aggressive bear, they all can be very effective in stopping an attack.
I would not recommend a .223 as the best choice to hunt bears. There is a large difference between hunting bears and defending against bears.
Defense against bears is going to take place at close range. In that scenario, the modern sporting rifle seems to work well.
About Dean Weingarten:
Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of Constitutional Carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.