“Seriously Dude, You’re Over-Thinking This.”

I admit it, I am. I’ve put an inordinate amount of thought into a scenario even less likely than being involved in a self-defense shooting. I’ve spent a great deal of time putting together a ‘Pooping-In-The-Woods-Oh-My-God-Is-That-a-Bear?’ gun.

Taurus Model 415 .41 Magnum with subdued, tasteful over-sized grips.

Here’s the scenario: I’m out in the woods with no rifle or shotgun within reach, and some hostile wildlife comes by to have a look. I want to have a gun on hand to discourage their curiosity.

Locally we have Black Bears, which are inquisitive creatures. We also have cougars (oh grow up) that are known to wander deep into cities to gaze hungrily through the fences around elementary schools. In The Scablands it is not un-heard of for these critters to contest the ownership of a fresh-shot Mule Deer. It seems prudent to have a potent sidearm handy.

All of which is, of course, just a cheesy way of justifying getting a big-bore snubby. Which I did, and have written about here before.

Selection Criteria

Black Bears aren’t Grizzlies, but they can get up to 200-300 lbs. and are extremely strong. They generally aren’t aggressive and will often flee an approaching human. But Black Bears, well, they’re notional. Most likely they’ll make themselves scarce, but they might decide to join you in your tent for a little snack, or decide to play with you until you break. Or just eat you. A momma bear can decide you’re too close to her cubs when you had no idea they were within a mile of you, so it’s not totally ridiculous to be prepared.

People have defended themselves from bears of all kinds with all sorts of handguns, but the smart money has traditionally been on a magnum that begins with ‘4.’ Whatever people choose, penetration is a must, and I mean a lot more penetration than self-defense ammunition offers. A heavy bullet stepping out fast is the ticket; something that will blast through heavy bone and still have enough penetration to reach the important stuff.

S&Ws Model 29 and 629 .44 Magnum ‘Mountain Gun’ was specifically designed as a defense against dangerous game animals

The long-running favorite for the role is the .44 Magnum, and it suits the bill, but they are expensive (for my budget) and you have a choice between ‘really heavy’ and ‘really brutal to shoot.’ The first is undesirable because I’m old and fat, and the second is so unpleasant that follow-up shots may be too slow, and a gun that hurts is a gun few people will practice with.

The Ruger Alaskan .454 Casull is the King Daddy of this sort of gun, but despite weighing approximately 4-1/2 tons it is still unpleasant to shoot with full-power loads.

So, high penetration, not too heavy but not excessively painful to shoot, easily packable, fast follow-up shots and launching a heavy bullet at reasonable speed… sounds like a perfect reason to buy that Taurus Model 415 .41 magnum I’ve always wanted but could never justify. “But honey, you don’t want me eaten by a bear, do you?”

The Taurus Model 415

In 1999 Taurus decided that what the world really needed was a compact, stainless, snub-nosed 5-shot double-action .41 Magnum based on their Tracker series. This was offered with a 2-1/2″ ported barrel, fixed sights and a ribbed rubber grip to help take the sting out of the not-insignificant recoil. The steel version of the gun weighs in at 30 oz. and is sized like a slightly beefy K-frame. For comparison my 3″ pencil-barrel .38 Special K-Frame weighs in at 28 oz. (Taurus also offered a Titanium version for people that hate themselves that was a full 9 oz. lighter.)

The 415 in stock trim, with a matte stainless finish and ribbed rubber grips.

The smallish, relatively light magnum was not, as it turns out, what the world was looking for at that time and production was discontinued in 2003. These guns can still be had, however, though if you don’t want to search around you might wind up paying a premium for it.

The rubber grips do a fair job of managing the recoil, but they don’t make this a pleasant gun to shoot with full-power ammo. I also don’t like the way they can snag on cover-garments. I tried some home-made grips, and while they offered excellent control and fast follow-up shots they hurt. I needed a better solution. This came in the form of a pair of fancy grips I got for Christmas one year. They are quite large, and are covered in black enamel with inlays of abalone and mother-of-pearl. Subtle they are not, but they tame the recoil better than even the factory grips.

Seven-yard rapid-fire with .41 Magnum Silvertip hollow-points. These custom grips did the job, but my hand hurt for days after a practice-session.

Further Foolery

Of course that matte stainless finish just looked wrong with those fancy grips, so I polished the gun to a ‘bright’ finish, stopping short of a full mirror-polish. Much better.

With a need to get off an accurate shot fast I relieved the right-side of the trigger-guard, as I do on most of my carry revolvers. This lets me get my trigger-finger from safely on the side of the frame to a proper position on the trigger without interference.

The trigger guard is partially cut away on the right to allow faster access to the trigger while retaining decent safety. As a bonus the bright finish shows every tiny speck or fingerprint. It’s a feature!

The stainless ramp sight was sub-optimal, so I coated it with my mix of enamel and lacquer to make it bright orange. This is great; highly visible, quick to acquire… and black after the first shot because of the three ports running along each side of the sight. No problem if I want to wipe off the front sight between shots. Yeah, no.

OK, I figured, if the sight is going to be black anyway make it black. I cut a step in the sight and carefully filed it to shape, then covered the sight and rear sight-notch with a mixture of soot and lacquer, which I have found holds up quite well.

The newly-reshaped front sight, complete with gunk from the barrel vents.

OK, this works pretty well. The grip works, the sights are better. The DA trigger, while not awesome, is good enough. A proper holster, and it’s time to consider what to shoot out of it.

The Ammunition

Usually when contemplating defensive ammo I have concerns about over-penetration. Not this time; a I want all the pen I can get while remaining manageable. Factory ammo tends to be less-than-common in this caliber at the best of times, but since I reload I can tailor it to what I want.

I opted for J&J’s 210gr. copper-washed hard-cast LSWC as a staring point, and after consulting the reloading data opted for a charge of 9gr. of Unique with a Federal large pistol primer as a starting point. The Taurus launches this bullet at 1085 fps. for 549 ft./lbs. of energy at the muzzle. Not a screamer, but decently potent and relatively easy to shoot.

This turned out to be a pretty good choice; recoil is manageable and not unpleasant, and penetration? Yeah, it does that.

Zipped through 25 inches of gel and nailed the back-plate hard enough to leave a significant dent.
After exiting the gel the bullet hit sideways and produced a dent deeper than the bullet is long. The bullet shown is unfired and is included for size comparison.

The bullet zipped through 25″ of Clear Ballistics 10% ordinance gel, just missed the final block of gel and smashed into the steel backstop hard enough to dent the hell out of it. It’s hard to tell in the picture, but the dent is deeper than the bullet is long. I’m guessing that will do the job if push comes shove, as long as I can actually put lead on the target.

Pretty impressive wound-track for a non-expanding bullet, and it didn’t streamline in 16″…

Bears Beware!

Last fall it turned out a bear or two had moved onto the property I hunt, but they stayed well away from me. Obviously they was skeered of mah gun. I mean sure, I was also packing a 7-1/2″ .44 Magnum for deer, but I’m convinced it was this gun that kept me safe. *Nods earnestly*

But seriously, between a stout gun belt and a good holster I never even noticed I was packing the Taurus, and that’s what I really want. Out of sight, out of mind… but there if I need it.

Hmmm… now what kind of cheesy rationalization can I come up with for the next cool gun I have no use for?

Stay safe, and take care.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 9 May 2021

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3 thoughts on ““Seriously Dude, You’re Over-Thinking This.”

  1. Brett

    I’ve had the same concern about bears for decades. All of my attempts to solve this issue finally evolved into my purchase of a S&W 69 some 5 years ago. Full house magnums are pretty brutal so I opted to hand load 44 Special with 240 gr SWC cast bullets loaded to 950 FPS (the Skeeter load). I carry the revolver in a chest rig while in my jeep and tent camping in the mountains around my home. I also throw a ‘92 Winchester clone in the jeep with full house .44 Mags. I am very satisfied with this set up.

    Reply

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