There is only a difference of one between a 43 and 44 right? What about a G43 and a .44 magnum? That’s my thinking….just kidding! Over time, my bear guns have been getting smaller. From a 12 gauge pump, to a 30-30, to a .44 magnum revolver then to a 10mm, to a double stack 9mm Glock 26, and now to a single stack Glock 43. I’ve learned much over that time. While I’m not ready to consider a +P .22LR Glock 44 for bears, the progression has been both one of practicality and need, and actually makes sense. Sort of.
Over 99 percent of the time I’m headed out into the wilds with little more than a water bottle and pocket knife, and often without a water bottle. And that’s because I wander into the sticks almost every day. That said, I have had to make decisions about what to carry, and if minimalism is essential, then I need an essential bear gun option as well. Thus, the G43 Bear Essential.
Let me be very clear: I do not want to ever kill a bear unless I am deliberately hunting one. But the bear might have different ideas about me or the people I’m with. All that said, I do believe that bear spray is the first and best alternative. However, bear spray doesn’t last forever, and it has a limited range, is sensitive to wind, and can be hard to use for more than a few seconds. Therefore I have a go-to backup of a bear gun of some sort.
Also read: Survival Gear Review: UDAP Bear Spray
While bigger is better, especially when it comes to bears, bigger is also less convenient. Pardon the pun, but heavy weighs on your activities. Playing in the forest with five pounds of stainless .44, ammo and chest rig does get old. So once moving off the Dirty Harry platform, things become flexible. A .44 to a .41 is not too much of a jump. Nor is a .41 to a .357. And if a 10mm is like a .41ish, then a 9mm is like a sluggish .357ish. But then a plus-P 9mm really blurs the lines. Add some actual intel like the 9mm stopping a charging Alaska brown bear (aka grizzly), and the universe just expanded.
Having experience with bears, +P .44 Mag ammo, and +P 10mm, I can say through experience, that shooting a +P 9mm, even through a mouse-ish pistol like the G43 is nothing to fear. A 9mm just cannot pack enough oomph to recoil beyond expected gun activity. Follow-up shots are quick, and you could shoot 9mm +P all day long if you could afford it. The 10mm is snappy, and +P just makes it more shocking. The .44 mag +P, on the other hand, is like swinging an aluminium baseball bat into a brick wall six times in a row before reloading. It’s a gift that keeps giving through wrists and forearms. So in a nutshell, an advantage of a 9mm +P bear load is that you can rapid fire because the muzzle (in a trained hand) won’t move far off target during recoil.
Another issue with a bear gun is actually pulling it on a bear. I meet many folks new to the real woods that think they will have plenty of time to assess and react when a bear appears. That’s like a new driver thinking they can avoid a collision or a fresh faced motorcycle rider who doesn’t need a helmet because they don’t plan on crashing, and if so, they won’t hit their head. I have to bite my tongue when I see an old high school friend learning to walk again after a minor tumble off his Harley.
Since bears have a habit for appearing without warning, and behaving somewhat unpredictable, there is a very good chance that by the time you get to process and react to a bear encounter, you might be rolled up in a ball on the forest floor. For that reason, I have worked on what I call the “Fetal Carry.”
Imagine curled up in a ball with a bear breathing down your neck. In order to draw from a conventional holster, you would need to uncurl a little and reach around hard to the side. Bad idea if you are trying to convince a grizzly you are dead. Instead, imagine being able to pull your gun with your right hand from somewhere on your left, all while playing dead in a ball on the ground.
My solution was to head to Craft Holsters and get set up with a nice leather cross draw holster for my Glock 43 bear gun. The leather cross draw pancake from Craft Holsters is a wonderfully capable and versatile holster exactly for the purpose I need it for. Cross draw holsters are popular with those who might need to draw from a seated position or have some affinity reaching across one’s body rather than around. Cross draw holsters can mimic appendix carry, or weak hand hip holsters. And speaking of weak hand, while a weak hand draw from a strong hand mounted cross draw holster (sorry, I don’t know where to place all the hyphens), is possible, it takes a little practice to get the bends right. That said, I think you could figure it out with a disgruntled grizzly at bad breath distance.
To aid in the wearability of the Craft cross draw pancake holster is the use of a webbing strap or simple belt worn separately from the traditional belt. This strap belt allows for easy on/off of the holster, quick tightening and loosening, and massive adjustability in length allowing for wearing the holster on the outside of a bulky coat, or outside athletic shorts.
A second carry option for more civilized environs was also sourced from Craft Holsters with the Concealment Belt Pouch with internal holster. The G43 fits fine along with an extra magazine. The rip-open design allows for quick access, all while truly exhibiting world-class incognito. The Belt Pouch is also quite effective for all those outdoor pursuits where bulky clothing, specialized clothing, or even the lack of clothing limits carry options. And it is a fine general carry/storage option as well. The coup de grâce with the Belt Pouch, however, includes a SWAT-T tourniquet nestled into the small zippered front pocket. Remember, should the Bear Essential need to be pulled into service, there is a better than average chance that a tourniquet will be needed as well.
All that said, I also have a Blackhawk Serpa for the G43, as well as a Safariland active retention holster. So I’ve experimented with various options all through the lens of minimalism. For if I go outside the minimalist concept, I will move to a larger caliber without hesitation.
Since activity outdoors usually involves sweat, water, and their offspring, mud, I seriously encourage anyone considering this to install something on the pistol grip to improve grip. I use Talon Grips which are a simple stick-on tape-like solution that weighs nothing and will always work.
For 9mm bear ammo, I went to where I usually go: Buffalo Bore Ammo. Their 9mm Outdoorsman solid cast bullets are designed to penetrate, not expand. Rather than the largest wound channel, the solid casts are for penetration and breaking bones. The metabolism of a bear is slow enough that you personally can be shredded and dead long before the mortally injured bear collapses for good.
The Buffalo Bore Outdoorsman 147 grain hard cast bullets leave the G43 barrel at around 1050 feet per second. That’s about 395 foot/pounds of energy at the muzzle, with it dropping to about 365 ft/lbs at 25 yards. Sounds all fine and dandy until you compare it to something like the .44 mag +P+ hard cast rounds I use in my Ruger Alaskan. In that case, the 340-grain .44 Magnum bullet is leaving the muzzle at about 1300 feet per second, carrying around 1275 foot pounds of energy. Or in other words, the energy of the .44 +P+ out at around 700 yards is the same as of the G43 at the muzzle. Okay, not quite so comforting, but whoever said using a handgun to engage an agitated bear in the wild was comfortable? It certainly wasn’t Hugh Glass.
The modern 9mm is not your grandpa’s ballistics. The nine is a true performer, and with the explosion of pistol caliber carbines in 9mm, there is a resurgent interest in the overall capabilities of the nine even out to long distances. And shortly after that is the consideration of using the 9mm as an actual hunting round for critters up to deer-sizes.
In the end, however, bears, like sharks, have a unpredictability beyond most. They can appear without warning. Completely ignore you. Chase you down unprovoked. Or mount a bluff attack. While bear spray is a proven deterrent, sometimes another option is needed. And in my case right now, the G43 Bear Essential is what will be in my hand.