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Considerations For Self-Defense In The Great Outdoors

Every so often we hear stories of folks who had to defend themselves against the four-legged predators most of us don't think about for our everyday carry gun options. And oftentimes, people have a skewed thought process of what is acceptable for defense against an angry animal, like a bear, moose, elk, and others.

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. My last year was spent in Okinawa and the stories you've heard about there only being so many things to do there are absolutely true. 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. This afforded me with massive muscles with enough stamina to still 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 kind of wanted to be in shape.

I mean, I was single. You know?

When I say “New Jersey,” I'm not talking about what everyone thinks about with sky scrapers 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 bear.

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 trail head, I saw a big black bear standing in the middle of the road.

I froze.

It was probably 350-400 pounds, and on all four feet. It was pointed 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. I was strong and faster than most people, but certainly not an angry bear.

Thankfully I didn't see any cubs, and he clearly 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.

I stood there for a few minutes collecting my thoughts, careful not to run again in case it was still watching me. I was still about a mile from where I lived.

I don't remember much after I got home, but I suspect it included checking my pants to make sure I didn't drop any deuces during the ordeal.

While a black bear is generally not aggressive toward people unless it feels threatened, these things can happen, and black bears are really just one of the big animals that are capable of ruining your day.

Of course, you may not have need in your area, but if you do, you'll want to be able to defend yourself properly.

Here's a podcast about defending yourself against a bear:

Animal Defense Options —

You'll want to give this a lot of 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:

Bear spray is an option for those of you who value the animal's life more than your own.

I'm actually not a big fan of bear spray for a couple of reasons. While I think it can work to 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.

While I've never been sprayed with bear spray, I have been peppered and gone through the gas chamber in the Marines. I'd take the gas chamber over the pepper spray any day, and if 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, being that I'm the editor of this fine publication that has to do with guns.

Handgun:

This is tricky, though. I'm a fan of big caliber, fast moving, hard cast bullets meant to get deep into whatever wants to eat me. It's tricky 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, is better than nothing. The last thing you want is to try to defend yourself with a stick or knife. At that point in the fight, your life is basically over.

I mean, don't give up or anything, but don't expect victory at this point, either.

If you're being charged by an angry animal you want to stop it as far away from you as possible, within reason (I mean, you actually want to be able to hit the thing).

The number one thing to remember here, is that using hollow points like 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.

But what if you have to defend yourself against a human OR a bear in the woods?

There are a couple of options here. First, is to carry two guns when you go on a hike. This is what I do 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 one on my hip.

One of the guns is dedicated to human attackers with hollow points, the other dedicated to black bear with hard casts. One is a 9mm, 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 of an opportunity to see a bear as you do other humans.

I'm prepared for both.

Another option is to just 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 where you're at?

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 just never know.

Other people I know will alternate rounds. The first shot will be a hollow point, the next will be a hard cast, so on and so forth.

I don't really have many thoughts about this. If you have anything to say, the comments section is where to do it.

Conclusion:

At the end of the day only you really know your circumstances. If you want to carry bear spray, it's ultimately your choice. I wouldn't carry 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.

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9 Responses to Considerations For Self-Defense In The Great Outdoors

  1. Jared September 8, 2020 at 5:12 pm #

    If you are equally likely to run into 2 or 4 legged animals my suggestion would be to run a quality hunting bullet. It will still expand some but retains its weight and is designed for greater penetration than typical defensive rounds. Out in the woods over penetration is a lower risk than in an urban setting so if your hunting bullet routinely penetrates 24 inches or more in ballistics gel it is lower worry. To be honest the Critical duty bullet from Hornady, run at full power 10mm loadings would be an excellent choice. Hornady down loads it to minimize overpenetration issues. 180 grain bullets at 1250fps are easily attainable in the 10 mm. Where Hornady only loads the 175 to 1070.
    If I knew it was bears and not humans 44 mag would be the gun of choice for a pistol but to be honest I would be carrying a short rifle in a large caliber shooting 250 plus grain bullets

  2. Tyrone Slothrop September 8, 2020 at 11:25 pm #

    My carry gun for defense against Alaska brownies, grizzlies and black bears, Winchester Defender topped with a SIG Romeo 5, loaded with Fiocchi Brenneke slugs.

  3. Matthew Carberry September 9, 2020 at 12:49 pm #

    Black bears and cougars aren’t heavy bodied or boned enough to require hardcast. Any round with suitable penetration for a person will do just fine.

    For brown bears you’ll want the extra pen of hardcast, but even they are regularly killed defensively with “inadequate” ammo.

    Here in Anchorage, where we have local populations of moose, and brown and black bear, I already carry both OC spray and my pistol. If I am planning to recreate on the “wilder” local trails I add a bear fogger and put in a mag of hardcast. When I go into the backcountry is when I actually upgun.

  4. Michael Banton September 9, 2020 at 1:09 pm #

    When I hike in Kern county California I don’t carry my fn 9-9mm with self dense rounds, I carry my Ruger 45 ACP also with self defense rounds however after reading this article I will change my ammo to hard cased. Thanks for the tip from a former Marine.

  5. Mike September 14, 2020 at 4:08 am #

    Here in the Colorado Rockies, I carry a 357 with JHP loads. We have black bears, cougars, and coyotes to contend with. I also have a Winchester 98 carbine in 357 that I carry if I’m on wheels instead of my feet. The only animal I’ve had to use my guns on so far has been a pack of dogs running loose. They threatened one of our group and most quickly left after the first one died.

  6. Jim Boorman September 14, 2020 at 6:59 am #

    I carry two bear spray canisters … one going out and one coming back. I also carry a Glock 20 with a 5 1/2” barrel made for hardcast. It is loaded alternately with Lehigh 220 gr. TC hardcast at 1250 FPS and Lehigh Extreme Penetrators 140 gr. at 1480 FPS. I figure a charging bear can cross a football field in about 2 1/2 seconds … I want the most impact I can get in about 2 shots … that’s about all I’m going to get in. I also carry an air horn to try to change their mind if they seem in doubt.

  7. Steve September 14, 2020 at 7:23 am #

    One other consideration is revolver vs semi-auto. If you end up with any type of animal on you, and are forced to do a barrel pressed to body shot, a semi-auto slide will lock up after the first shot. A revolver can still cycle. A 45 long colt configuration can be loaded alternating cylinders with 410 shotgun and 45 long colt ammo. Placed against a body cavity, a 410 shotgun shell explosive gasses entry would be devastating.

  8. Charles Closz September 14, 2020 at 8:39 am #

    I live in east TN. and black bear and wild boar are the largest thing I might run into. I carry a 1911 in 45 acp with JHP . I also have a 45 long colt revolver and after reading your article I may start carrying both. Black bear are thin skinned but boar are tough as nails and hard cast bullets in the revolver might be best for them.

  9. Gregory C Wagner September 14, 2020 at 11:51 pm #

    We have enough of a Black Bear population Here in Missouri that a “Black Bear” hunt is being planned for the 2021 season.
    I have personally interacted with one by blocking traffic so it could safely cross a highway.
    I carry a SA Hellcat with Hornady Critical Defense 9mm for EDC. I also carry an AR pistol in .223/5.56 in my vehicle. I don’t walk around out here in the country much, but I do on my farm, and I carry BOTH.
    The AR pistol has Winchester Ballistic Silvertip .223. I don’t know how the Silvertip would perform against a black bear, but we have Coyotes, bobcats, raccoons, and wild boar, so that is what and why I carry.
    BUT I never want to have to protect myself against a BEAR, hunting one is one thing, crapping my pants as I have to trust a varmint round against one is another.

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