The Best Ammo Cartridge and Handgun Combo for Bears

From Pennsylvania to California, when you go hiking, camping, or plan a trip to explore with your loved ones, you’re going to come across a bear. The most important thing to remember is not to panic or run, bear attacks are rare according to NPS, so keep your cool.  And that has double meaning if you’re in Alaska or just north of Duluth and find a Polar Bear!

If you find yourself in the one-off occasion where self-defense is needed, here are the recommendations for an ammo cartridge and hand gun combination that in our opinion work best on most bears.  But please note that no handgun is a match on its own.  The goal is to neutralize and stop the threat.

To make our recommendation we considered:

  • Average size of continental north American bears including black and grizzly which both inhabit all 48 states, although the populations have been decimated in some.
  • Lethal range
  • Accuracy at 100 yards
  • Ease of access for active lifestyles (fits in a chest holster)
  • Animal weight and size
  • Recoil
  • Ease of loading
  • Capacity

Fun fact: Did you know that the popular Kenai chest holster was designed specifically because of a run in with a black bear while the founder was mountain biking?

Remember, you’re on a trail or a hike, you won’t have your hunting rifles, a hand gun is your option.  So here’s our top choices with the reasons why.  

Top Choice for Continental North American Bears

  • Handgun: Glock 20 for pros and 40 for people with less experience
  • Ammo: Buffalo Bore Heavy 10mm Outdoors
  • Holster: Kenai chest

This combination should be universally effective with a bit of training.  The Glock 40 has less recoil than the 20 due to the 20’s shorter nose, making the 40 the best for people that have less experience in intense situations so they can re-aim more easily.  And adversely the Glock 20 is best for people that remain calm and can handle large recoil.  

The 10mm cartridge has an effective range of roughly 100 yards allowing you to protect yourself from a bear if it comes within a football field length.  The outdoorsman line has a flat nose allowing it to penetrate deeper through tissue and bone up to 3ft helping to neutralize the bear in an effective and more humane way.

Best for Black Bears

  • Handgun: XD-M® ELITE 4.5″ OSP™
  • Ammo: Underwood 10MM auto 200 grain flat nose, cherry coated, hard cast ammo
  • Holster: Crossbreed Chest Rig Holster – XD-M / XD-M Elite 4.5″

With charging speeds of 25 – 30 mph, and weighing up to 400lbs at 5 – 7 feet tall, you’re going to need speed, control, and accuracy.  That’s why we choose the Springfield Armory Elite 3.8 Compact OSP™ for the handgun combined with Underwood 10mm auto at 200 grain.  

Bears are big and a single bullet won’t stop them, especially if you’re caught off guard.  With a capacity of 16 and ammo designed specifically for wild boar and for black bear defense, you’re going to have enough firepower to neutralize the threat.  And both come at a reasonable price.  And who better to make the perfect chest harness for the firearm than the manufacturer.

Designed specifically for being on the trails, out hunting, or enjoying the wilds for hiking and photography, you’ll hardly notice it’s there.   

Best for Grizzly Bears

  • Handgun: Springfield XD-M Elite 3.8-inch Compact OSP
  • Ammo: Solid Core 10mm Auto 200 Grain
  • Holster: The chest rig by crossbreed holsters

Coming in at 400 – 800 lbs depending on male or female, and 7 feet tall when standing according to the Idaho state department, and up to 10 feet according to the Detroit Zoo, you’re going to need accuracy and a second shot faster as a single bullet likely will not neutralize the target. 

Speed is key as these animals can run up to 35 miles per hour.  That’s why our pick is the Springfield XD-M Elite 3.8-inch Compact OSP with a 10mm.

With the manageable recoil, your ability to re-aim and fire your second round becomes easier.  The compact design won’t get in the way as it’s holstered letting you enjoy your time in the wilds.  If a grizzly is charging and you need to take multiple shots, your wrist and life will thank you for the extra seconds.  

It has an 11+1 capacity for ammo with a six inch barrel giving you plenty of accuracy and flexibility to render your target with a 10mm auto cartridge.  The reason for solid core with this firearm is because the 10mm auto with 200 grain is designed to penetrate and break through bone.  It is designed specifically for bears, and grizzlies are some of the biggest in North America.  

Did you find this guide to the best handguns and ammo for defense against bears helpful?  Great because we enjoyed writing it. 

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