Every so often, we hear stories of folks who had to defend themselves against the four-legged predators most of us do not think about for our everyday carry gun options. People often have a skewed thought process of what is acceptable for defense against an angry animal, like a bear, moose, elk, and others.
My personal experience:
Before we move on, I want to tell you a true story of a time when I was closer to a big black bear than I should have been about 17 years ago.
I had just gotten out of my beloved Marine Corps and was still relatively in shape. I spent my last year in Okinawa, and the stories you've heard about there only being many things to do are valid. Everyone either turns into a bodybuilder, a drunk, or a diver.
I found myself at the gym twice a day, and I ran there from the barracks. Working out in the gym afforded me massive muscles with enough stamina to pass the physical fitness test and its 3-mile run. I don't remember most of my measurements, but the 54″ chest stands out in my memory for bragging rights.
The point to me telling you all of this is because after I got out and made it back home to crusty old New Jersey, I still wanted to be in shape.
When I say “New Jersey,” I'm not talking about what everyone thinks about with skyscrapers and traffic. I grew up in the middle of the woods in NW Jersey on a dirt road. There was wildlife everywhere, including big black bears.
They got enormous because, when I lived there, you couldn't hunt them, and there were no natural predators and plenty of food.
One day I went on a run on a local trail we called the railroad bed. After exiting the woods and coming up to the main road from the trailhead, I saw a big black bear standing in the middle of the road.
I saw the bear and froze.
The bear was probably 350-400 pounds, and on all four feet. He was facing away from me to the other side of the road and heading into the woods.
It turned around and looked at me as I stood there trying to work out what I would do to protect myself if needed. I had nothing on me. Being stronger and faster than most people was great, but perhaps not enough against an angry bear.
Thankfully I didn't see any cubs, and he was NOT angry, or this would have ended a little different. We made eye contact for what seemed an eternity (likely just a few seconds, but I had tunnel vision). Suddenly the bear let out a loud puff of air, turned its head back in line with its body pointed away from me, and lumbered up into the woods on the other side of the road.
Standing there for what seemed like a few minutes, I collected my thoughts. In case the bear was still watching me, I was careful not to run again. I was still about a mile from where I lived.
Even after reaching home, I was still in flight or fight mode. I'm not sure what I did first, but I suspect it included checking the cleanliness of my underpants.
While a black bear is generally not aggressive toward people unless it feels threatened, these things can happen, and black bears are just one of the big animals capable of ruining your day.
Of course, you may not need to worry about animals in your area, but you'll want to be able to defend yourself properly if you do.
Here's a podcast about defending yourself against a bear:
Animal Defense Options —
You'll want to give this much thought if you find yourself outside in an area where there are big animals who might want to eat you or at least protect their young or territory.
Bear spray is an option for those of you who value the animal's life more than your own.
I'm not a big fan of bear spray for a couple of reasons. While I think it can stop an angry bear, I think it can also do the exact opposite. It could piss the bear off, even more, ensuring your exit from this life.
To make matters worse, you could also take yourself out of the fight if things escalate even more and any of that stuff lingers, or the wind changes direction.
I've never felt the effects of bear spray. However, I have gone through the gas chamber in the Marine Corps. Additionally, exposure to pepper spray is something I've experienced. I'd take the gas chamber over the pepper spray any day, and if the bear spray is going to work on a bear, it has to be strong.
Because it has to be strong, if it does end up on your face, it's going to suck—big time.
So, I'd rather have a gun. Shocker, I know, considering I work for this fine publication that has to do with guns.
This choice is tricky, however. I am a fan of big caliber, fast-moving, hard-cast bullets meant to get deep into whatever wants to eat me. It's tough because most people don't have this type of gun on hand.
The key here is that any handgun in whatever caliber, and whatever cartridge, may work. But some work better than others.
I mean, don't give up or anything, but don't expect victory at this point, either.
If an angry animal is charging you, you want to stop it as far away from you as possible, within reason (I mean, you want to be able to hit the thing).
Additional handgun considerations:
The number one thing to remember here is that using hollow points as we recommend on two-legged predators is not the best idea. You don't want to use hollow points against a bear because, while they might work, they don't penetrate deep enough into the animal-like ball ammo does, and preferably hard cast.
Don't get me wrong, here. If my only options were to shoot the bear with the 13 hollow points in my 365XL or poke it with my walking stick, I'd take my chance with the gun.
However, what if you have to defend yourself against a human OR a bear in the woods?
There are a couple of options here. The first is to carry two guns when you go on a hike. I do this depending on a few other circumstances that aren't important to discuss right now. I'll carry one of the handguns in a chest or shoulder rig and the other on my hip.
I dedicate one of the guns, filled with hollow points, to human attackers. The other is for black bears with hard casts. One is a 9mm, and the other is a 357 or 44 magnum.
I live in bear country in the Blue Ridge mountains, and the bear population here is massive. When hiking, you have just as much opportunity to see a bear as you do other humans.
My idea is to be prepared to address both situations.
Another option is to carry a gun with ammo you hope will take care of both. You have to weigh your circumstances here. Do you think you're more likely to encounter a bad guy or an angry animal?
If you're more likely to encounter one over the other, carry the one you think will work best.
I like the two-gun option better because you never know.
Other people I know will alternate rounds. The first shot will be a hollow point, and the next will be a hard cast, so on and so forth.
I don't have many thoughts about this, only that this can become quite confusing in a high-stress situation. If you have anything more to add, the comments section is where to do it.
Of course, it's possible to carry both bear spray and a gun. Having both gives you multiple options. It may be more appropriate to use one or the other, but certainly, there are situations where using both made a difference.
Finally, if you happen to be an undercover superhero, use a pocket-knife like this guy! Just kidding, while this incident turned out okay, it is not the recommended response.
Only you know the circumstances you're likely to encounter. If you want to carry bear spray, it's ultimately your choice. I don't use it, personally, but to each their own.
What is your setup for when you're in the woods? Let us know in the comments below.