This past summer was frenzy of unwanted bear behaviour. Western/northern Canada and Alaska saw a high number of maulings and close encounters with both black and grizzly bears. In many bear encounters the likely cause can be traced back to mistakes – or at least poor judgement – by the involved human.
A “bear gun” in camp or at the cabin is very common in the Yukon. It’s primary function is for protection of the humans in camp.
The first hope is that the bear gun can be used to scare the bear away, with the follow-up, if necessary, being a possible change of camp location.
The secondary function, where there is no other choice, is to kill the bear. Killing the bear should not be taken lightly as the bear was just doing what bears do and it is us who came into the bear’s territory.
Also, killing the bear creates a situation where you have to report to the Yukon Department of Environment, explain and justify the killing and you must remove and care for the hide.
Pump shotguns are generally accepted as a fairly inexpensive, best-choice for a bear gun. They are simple to operate, easy to learn how to use, very dependable and, loaded with slugs, they are extremely lethal.
Shotgun ammunition – at least for the most common 12 gauge – comes in a variety of loads intended to scare the bear away. These are bear bangers and rubber bullets, among others.
These can loaded to shoot first followed up by lead slugs if killing the bear becomes necessary. These non-lethal shells can, if time is available, be quickly dumped out of the gun and replaced with slugs to fill the magazine.
Recoil is heavy with a 12 gauge, but reduced recoil slugs are also available for practice or for general use by those people who find the regular recoil too severe. Another advantage of a shotgun shooting slugs is that the slugs the are soft lead have a low chance of ricochet and if the shot is a clean miss the slug does not travel as far as a modern rifle bullet.
Rifles of adequate calibre are certainly high enough energy to deal with a bear in camp, but rifle ammunition is bullets only, and there are no bangers or rubber bullets to scare the bear away.
Rifle ammunition is all very powerful and at the very close range in dealing with a bear, the rifle bullet will very likely come out the far side of the bear, going in an unknown direction and still be lethal for as much as mile away.
Rifles are usually equipped with a scope – which is useless at very short range or in the dark.
Another safety advantage of the pump shotgun over a double barrel or single barrel break action gun is that the pump can have shells in the magazine and none in the chamber, whereas the break action guns are either empty – which is the safest choice, but have to be loaded to be ready – or they are loaded, ready to shoot – which is not a safe choice.