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Big Game Backup Weapons

Hunting big game can provide the thrill of a lifetime. Part of the thrill is the danger of the hunt, knowing that the animal could actually be dangerous to you as well. Remember, the animal doesn’t necessarily need to be a dangerous carnivore to be dangerous to you. While most people will readily agree upon the fact that a grizzly bear, black bear, mountain lion, polar bear, Kodiak bear, and other large carnivores are dangerous, many people forget the fact that moose, elk, caribou, and some deer can be just as dangerous if not more so! What turns a normally docile moose into a dangerous creature? Many things potentially could. They are particularly volatile during mating season and are extremely aggressive. Also, any big game animal could potentially charge you if it detects you as the source of the gunshot that wounded it. Finally, you could simply stumble upon a big game animal unawares and put yourself dangerously close to said animal. In any of these cases, you need a backup weapon, and fast.

The Need For A Backup Weapon

Most big game hunters will be adequately equipped with a suitable rifle for hunting said game. Needless to say, anything that is considered to be “big” or “dangerous” game should be hunted with a rifle of .30 caliber and above. This includes .30-06, .300 WinMag, .338 WinMag, or even .308 Winchester. Realize that for most African hunts, these calibers are on the inadequate side. Calibers such as .416 Rigby and .375 H&H are extremely popular, as are even larger calibers. So who needs a backup weapon with this sort of firepower at their disposal? The problem arises when the first shot either misses its intended target or only wounds the beast. Even the act of missing completely could spook the animal and send him charging towards your position. Occasionally, the wounded animal rapidly spots the hunter and makes a beeline for him as its last act of self-defense. Follow up shots on a bolt-action rifle aren’t very fast – most big game rifles suffer from massive recoil, which means you will get off exactly one shot before you need to reacquire the charging target. This is an extremely challenging maneuver when you have a 1000+ pound animal charging you. The best thing to do is switch to a backup weapon!

Learn the secrets of a veteran hunter as he shows you how to quickly and efficiently field-dress your game

Other Rifles As A Backup

If you have multiple people in your hunting party, they can all engage the animal with their rifles if need be. If you are hunting alone or with a single friend, you more or less have the same problem. Ideally, a semi-automatic backup rifle is the solution. Such a rifle wouldn’t have long-range sights but would rather be set up for short-range use. An excellent way to go if you already own an AR-15 patter rifle is to swap out the upper receiver with something like a .458 SOCOM, .50 Beowulf, or .450 Bushmaster upper. These hard-hitting, short-range rounds are massive and powerful, and they come in magazine-fed weapons with a ten-round capacity, meaning you can fire off ten continuous rounds at a charging target – more than enough for backup. While these rounds don’t have the range or accuracy of your hunting rifle (nor would you really want to use them for hunting in the first place), they offer bone-crushing stopping power inside of 100 yards—enough to stop any animal that roams North America in its tracks if need be. The downside, of course, is the weight of carrying around a whole other rifle and its associated ammunition. If you hunt via an all-terrain vehicle or expedition vehicle, this might still be an option for you.

Handguns As A Backup

A large-caliber handguns has traditionally been a hunting-rifle backup for decades. Calibers like .357 magnum and .44 magnum have been traditional backup weapons for nasty beasts that just won’t die. For North American hunting, .357 magnum is really lacking in stopping power. While it is formidable when used on a human, it just doesn’t have the power needed to stop a 500+ pound animal. The .44 magnum should be considered the minimum caliber required for use when stopping a big game animal. Newer calibers such as the .500 Smith and Wesson magnum also bear some looking at – the .500S&W is a magnificent caliber with plenty of stopping power, albeit at the cost of weight and expensive bullets.

When hunting, shot placement is everything. You expect and strive to make that perfect one-shot kill through the heart or lungs. Sometimes, however, things don’t go as planned, and you need to have a fast firing backup gun to keep you and those around you safe. Remember, nothing reloads as fast as grabbing another weapon!

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  1. What’s your opinion about the effectiveness of .40 cal self-defense rounds against black bear or moose?

  2. Jehoener, To compare ballistics on any caliber go to They have an extensive list of all ammo. When I lived in Alaska I would not acrry less than a 44 mag with hand loads set to max pressure as recommended by Ruger ARMS. I shot 2 caribou with it , and it was deadly.

  3. Jehoener,

    Self defense rounds designed to expand in the human body will generally come up short when used on tougher big game animals.
    An excellent article was written a few years ago (can’t find it) pointing out that for large game the use of FMJ in defense type handguns was the way to go.
    This is not to say to use them as hunting rounds…but if you are carrying something like a .40 or even 9mm a FMJ bullet will have better penetration on large game than an expanding self defense round that may use up it’s energy before it gets to a vital area of the animal.
    Once again FMJ are not for hunting just self defense in dangerous animal country if you are going to carry a mid sized Auto.

  4. The number one poacher of moose of all time,,, killed them with a 22 rifle….

  5. 10mm, > 180grain FMJ @ >1,000fps+, 45ACP >180 grain +P rounds @ >1,000fps, .44 magnum 180grain +, or 500 revolver with 180 grain+.
    Any pistol or revolver used on large game may require mutiple rounds of heavy fmj rounds at 1,000fps or greater to effectively stop or disable large game. Shot placement is vital with handguns. Self defense rounds unless very heavy and very fast are often under powered and lack needed penetration. 10mm / 180 grain+ rounds at 1,350fps, fmj very effective on large wild boar, medium black bear. I prefer 6″ barreled, .44 magnum, 200 grain fmj rounds in Desert Eagle when taking any large game. D.E. is weighty gun but can offer large heavy bullets in semi-auto format. Distance to target is paramount as charging dangerous game offer little time for mistakes. Large game require large heavy fast bullets…most of time. I killed a 726lb. moose with an F-150 Ford truck only doing 50mph, it ran right out in front of me, the exception to rule.

    • @ diodeman: What happened to the truck?

      • Reply to collinsm; truck front end damage was extensive, both the critter and the truck: DOA. I got a fat lip from the air bag whopping me in the face. State police donated the critter carcass to a native Alaskan tribe.
        No kidding guys, I lived in Alaska for quite awhile and used a; BAR .300 Win mag loaded with 180 grain fmj for large critter hunting. Carried two handguns for back-up: 10mm Glock model 20 loaded with 16 / 180 grain fmj’s to deal with moderate sized ill tempered; bears – wolf packs – large cats – smaller moose -badgers. Desert Eagle .44 magnum / 200+ grain fmj’s as last resort gun for large brown / Kodiak / black bears and moose. Multiple large firearms assure that if one malfunctions you have instant back-up. Anything over 200+lbs. that can run 30mph and is within 50 yards of you needs to be dealt with swiftly and efficiently with large fast rounds or you get eaten and at the least badly bitten – mauled or gutted. State police use rifled 10 or 12 guage slugs from shotguns to deal with large criters. You can use your little self-defense hollow-point round to end your own misery before the predator calls in its friends, providing you still have arms and hands.

  6. Revolver rifles with 3-6 shot cylinders chambered for the elephant cartridges would be better and cheaper than the double rifles.

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