Woman Hiker Hiking Walking Trail Woods
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By David Liberman

The woods are, for the most part, pretty darn safe. You can spend every weekend hiking through areas “infested” with dangerous wildlife, and see nothing more than a snowshoe hare or a mule deer. But Lady Luck is a fickle wench and there’s always at least a small chance that you’ll run into something — or someone — that wants to take a peek inside you.

This is the time a lot of people are getting out There are as many strategies for deep woods self-protection as there are pic-a-nic baskets in Jellystone Park, so the first order of the day is to know your adversary.

This is a discussion about hiking and camping, not hunting. Where you choose to commune with nature defines the short list of the “bad guys” you’ll need to concern yourself with. If you aren’t in the northern Rockies, things get much easier since you don’t have to worry about grizzly bears or northwest Canada’s brown bears.

Mountain lions are likewise mostly limited to the western US, but have been spotted in the east as well. Eastern adventurers’ biggest worries are black bears, and to a lesser extent, tasty members of the porcine family but coyotes can be aggressive as well. Protecting yourself against an angry pig usually involves trying to steal his bacon to begin with. I’ll leave the mechanics of hog-defense to our Texas readers.

And no matter where you roam, two-legged predators have known to present problems, too.

Black bears are the wimps of the woods…usually. Most black bear encounters end with the bear showing asses and elbows. My only blackie encounter occurred in the woods of western Massachusetts in the Deerfield River area. I was lugging a 20-pound camera rig down a two-mile forest service road when I rounded the corner and came upon a large sow. I knew she was a sow because of the cute little cub nearby.

My first instinct was to film the encounter. My second was to run like hell. But long ago I learned you never run from a predator and my feet stayed planted. I raised the camera to my shoulder, and shouted, “HEY BEAR!” while trying to look as big (and, in hindsight, stupid) as possible.

It worked. Mama bear dashed into the woods and I never saw her again.

That doesn’t mean that they’re harmless though. Far from it. Virtually all black bear attacks are predatory in nature, the exception being sows protecting cubs. Bear experts recommend fighting for your life if you’re attacked by a black bear because it wants to eat you. What’s that? You don’t want to be eaten? Then you need to fight back and on this blog that means bringing firepower to bear.

black bear hunt hunting

Now let me contradict myself. Your primary weapon against any bear should be a can of bear spray. Not pepper spray, but the 2% Capsaicin stuff specifically for use on bears. Before you get all up in a huff screaming HERESY, consider your point of aim at a 200-pound black bear that just put his head down and is charging you from ten yards.

One second later, at about two yards, he’ll jump and knock you down. How’s your aim under duress? Will your round be strong enough to penetrate its skull? Can you find a heart shot and will the bear drop before it takes some good-sized chunks out of you? All in a couple of seconds?

With bear spray, you can instantly put a big orange cloud of pain between you and the bear which will almost always stop the charge. Any good brand of spray will be most effective between 10-30 feet. Use both hands to hold the can — the pressure is high and the can kicks up — and you want to aim low so the spray doesn’t go over the bear’s head.

What if that hungry black bear isn’t affected by the spray? Or what if it’s windy and raining, rendering the spray ineffective? That’s when you get your damned gun out and shoot the bear until it’s no longer a threat. Of course, you checked to be sure it was legal to carry in your particular area of the wilderness, right?

Now you’re thinking, what gun is the best for bear defense? Of course, one that will stop a bear in its tracks. A .375 H&H Magnum always at the ready will do the trick, but that’s not very practical on a Sunday hike. Let’s look at what features and functions are important in bear defense.

If you have never seen a free range bear up close, it can be hard to convey the power and speed the brutes have, especially grizzlies. I took my dad to Yellowstone recently, and we had the extremely rare opportunity to observe a big male grizzly up close. He was on the side of the road just outside of the park and we watched from the safety of the car while he grazed on the low shrubs.

Grizzly bear

Without warning, he took several steps toward the car. Just a drainage ditch separated us. Fingers went to the power window button. His next move revealed raw speed and power. The bear turned and bolted up the hill, easily covering thirty yards in about three leaps.

Imagine you’re in the woods and that griz is thirty yards away. What firearm can you bring to bear (pun intended) in less than two seconds? Forget long guns. Unless it’s an SBR, you won’t have time to swing it around and get on target. And who wants to hike while carrying a long gun anyway?

The logical conclusion is a handgun in as big a caliber as you can comfortably manage. Internet forum consensus seems to hold across the board that nothing less powerful than a .357 Magnum for black bears. For grizzlies, a .44 Magnum is the minimum, with .454 Casull or .500 S&W recommended if you can handle the large frame. When it comes to Canada’s brown bears, forget it. If you don’t have a big bore rifle, you’re probably on the menu. Accept it.

Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan
Josh Wayner for TTAG

Grizzlies are the assholes of the forest. It’s very rare for them to prey on humans, but most grizzlies won’t hesitate to b!tch slap you and let you know who’s boss. Their aggressive demeanor is readily apparent in their tactics. Grizzlies will bluff charge and possibly knock you down, frequently taking a bite. If you’re no longer a threat, the bear will usually leave.  But if you act like a scared little animal, it could return and eat you.

Just keep your spray at the ready when the line of sight is limited and you’re in grizzly country. If you have to shoot, put as many large bullets as you can in the area above the lowered skull and below the big, muscular hump.  As a last resort, if the bear is on you, shoot inside the mouth, in the eye if you can get to it, or in the chest under the neck.  If that’s your only strategy left, at least try not to be under the bear when it dies.

454 Casull bear ammunition loads
Josh Wayner for TTAG

The next consideration is your choice of bear ammunition. There are a few manufacturers that make rounds specifically for bear defense. They’re hard ball and non-expanding so they can punch through 8-12 inches of skin, muscle and fat in order to hit a vital.

Now that we’ve covered everyone’s scary nightmare animal, what about the rest? Wolves, mountain lions, rabid badgers…anything not a bear gets treated like a human, which for me means 20+1 rounds of 9mm Hydra Shok 124 grain in a Beretta 92FS. I will likely never have to shoot anything in the woods, but I know that my handgun and a couple of extra mags makes me a bit more prepared to handle the unexpected. Especially when the unexpected has teeth.

Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan Taurus Raging Bull

My recommendation for the trail is a three-tier approach. First, bear spray in a holster on your pack’s chest strap, strong-side. Any time DefCon bear ramps up, un-holster the can to reduce your draw time. Remember, the spray is also plenty useful against lesser mammals.

If the spray isn’t an option due to weather or other circumstances, or if you decide the threat requires lethal force, your favorite pistol open-carried in a retention holster is the way to go. I carry my 92FS at 2 o’clock, secured to my pack’s waist strap. It’s a bit worse for wear after a couple of trail spills, and I’ve only had to draw it once when the stench of cat urine filled the air while we were crossing through a tight spot.

The final line of defense is a large caliber revolver as a backup. Carry options are open, but my preference would be a Ruger Alaskan in good chest rig. Stay safe out there.

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  1. You better have a good excuse in Maryland, i.e. Dear season and you have a Dear tag. Maryland made it real safe hiking in the woods (no firearms allowed) at least that’s how I read the law (under wear & carry licensing).

    • “Maryland made it real safe hiking in the woods …” . Really?

      So Maryland now can predict when a two legged predator will show up?

      There is no such thing as a law that can keep someone from choosing to comitt a crime … thus, Maryland has not made it safe hiking in the woods. Its just pure chance if a criminal will show up or not, not law, ots a chance you do not control and neither dies the law. In short, Maryland made more defenseless people available for prey for the criminal who does not obey the law and can choose to show up anytime they choose.

      • correction for: “ots a chance you do not control and neither dies …”

        on phone today, traveling. fat fingers and rouge spell/Grammer check.

        it should have been..

        its a chance you do not control and neither does …

      • Sarcasm; with my ‘Maryland’ wear & carry (it’s only honored in Va, SC, NC, GA, and a few more, just not in Maryland).

        • ok. no offense intended. I’ve just had my fill of ‘stupid things’ for the day, someone tried to car jack us today so I’m a little numb to subtle sarcasm right now.

        • Surprised Delaware doesn’t honor it but guessing no mutual reciprocity…….then again you could technically open carry there if not for Karens and funky no open carry zones sprinkled throughout the state

  2. I have encountered predatory animals in the boonies. Thought I was going to have to shoot a mountain lion over a dispute that I accidentally started. Fortunately he backed off. Had to shoot an agressive dog that was part of a pack. Hated doing that. But my 16 yo self was not into being mauled by fido/s.

    By far the biggest threat in the boonies is the two legged kind. I have encountered some pretty sketchy looking characters out there and they always come in twos.

    There is no such thing as true isolation any more. Anything that is anywhere near a road is reachable.

    • “Had to shoot an agressive dog that was part of a pack. Hated doing that. But my 16 yo self was not into being mauled by fido/s.”

      Same here. 🙁

      My primary exercise is at night in the summer here in South Florida, and I’ve had an asshole sic his dog on me while I was riding past. I never knew I could pedal that fast.

      After my heart slowed down after the escape, I swore that will never happen to me again unarmed, and to date, it hasn’t, thank God.

      But I am now somewhat prepared…:(

      • The idea used to bother me but then most of the abandoned strays became pitbulls from questionable homes.

    • You were smart to be armed. The 2 and 4 legged predators never make appointments, and can show up any place.

  3. Around here(Illinois & Indiana)the biggest threats are 2 legged. Or rabid critters. Or? Bambi jumping in front of your vehicle🙄

    • I have a family story that took place in the 1930s in the state of Maine, where a moose totaled a model ‘A’ Ford when it wandered into the road.

      At highway speeds, a deer can total a car, and injure or kill you if it comes through the windshield.

      Mother nature doesn’t play… 🙁

      • An antler rack can impale you and your front seat passenger. I do NOT want to have to explain to my passenger’s family how they died by being skewered because I was too tired or not paying attention.

        • At least you and your kin can enjoy the carrion after… 😉

  4. Good article! I concur about the use of bear spray first, the Forest Service and NPS have done pretty rigourous studies, finding that it seldom fails to break off or prevent an attack.

    I prefer a larger caliber than 9mm, myself. My two trail guns are a 329PD S&W in .44 Mag, or a Springfield TRP Operator in 10mm. Both of those have sufficient oomph for black bears on down in the Central and North Cascades of Washington. The S&W is particularly light for packing around, but the TRP is convenient in a chest rig, even with a pack on.

    Interestingly, I’ve never seen a mountain lion, and only a few bears, out in the woods. Our home, situated in the Cascade foothills, is crawling with ’em, though! Had a cougar kill a racoon atop our hot tub (just outside the master bedroom) on two occasions. Bears knocked down our bird feeders with regularity before I rigged up a pulley system to elevate them beyond bear reach.

    • Defens,

      Interestingly, I’ve never seen a mountain lion … out in the woods.

      Odds are that MULTIPLE mountain lions have seen YOU out in the woods–and simply chose not to attack you.

      Mountain lions are–far and away–the most stealthy animals in the United States. They are the “ninjas” of the animal world.

      • Concur, years ago when hiking the trails in Arizona my Ridgeback would occasionally freeze and not budge while staring intently into the trees. There was something there and she didn’t like it. I never saw what she sensed.

    • My mountain lion encounter was strictly a one off accident. I was after quail and he was after deer. Unfortunately I stumbled onto his deer just as he was ready to rush them. I scared the deer out of his way and he was pissed. Only ever saw one other mountain lion and that was at a distance.

      Have seen black bears but each time I felt no threat from them and they moved off almost immediately.

    • I’m down here in SE WA, at the base of the Blue Mountains. Was checking a trail cam a few years ago that was set up to monitor a small pond. As I came around the corner, I looked at the far side of the pond (about 20 yards), and there were FOUR cougars drinking. Mom and three kittens. Maybe from the year before, as they were pretty good size. One by one, they looked up, saw me, and took off. As luck would have it, they went in the direction of my truck. I generally carry a S&W 686+ when in the woods, but that day has my old S&W 411 (.40 cal.).

      • A friend of ours and I were driving slowly up the road in Swakane Canyon (Eastern Washington) years ago, and as we drove around a corner, there was a cougar laying right middle of the road in a nice patch of warm sunlight feeding her kits. Wind was against us, and she didn’t hear or smell us until we came around the corner. BIG puff of dust as she took off and leapt into the brush, leaving two kitties looking around with the most confused look on their faces.. Grabbed the camera, and got a few pix through the windshield of them slowly moving up the road ahead of us. About that time I checked the rear view mirror, and mamma was about 10 yards behind us, and she was a pretty good sized cat. Nose to rear end spanned the single lane road, with the tail sticking out into the brush. Rolled up the windows QUICKLY. Got a few more pix of her and the kittens, and they eventually ran up the road and found an opening in the brush, which they immediately used to bail out.

        The friend of ours said he’d been coming up there for 40 years, including camping and hiking, and this was the FIRST cat he’d seen in all that time. Lots of sign, but hadn’t seen one in the flesh.

        My wife also used to work with a wildlife agent who was a VERY good woodsman, (unlike most of them,) and he knew a bunch of times cats were watching him, but other than paw prints IN his tracks, he never spotted them.

        He told us one day he’d stopped for lunch and had hiked quite aways up a hill to a spot where he could see the trail below, and started eating lunch. There was a large rock about 1/3 of the way back down to the trail below him, and he said a large cat came out and curled up on that rock. It was about a 100 yards or so from the trail up to the rock he said. There were quite a few people below on the trail, and the cat just stayed there, watching every one of them walk by. Not a one of them was aware that the cat was there. When he got up to leave, he must have made some noise or something and the cat turned around, looked up the hill, spotted him, and took off into the woods.

    • So. Md. a few years back at a restaurant ‘Cheeseburger in Paradise’, (not a fan of Jimmy Buffett music btw) the place was opened up for summer, and whoops a rabid beaver strolled in to the place.

      • I could not believe that Buffet actually had his lawyers go after that guy. I used to keep an airplane at Frederick airport and Cheeseburger in Paradise was one of the few places, nearby, to get something to eat. The guy was stealing nothing from anyone.

        That was the end of JB for me… not to mention the time at a Merriweather Post when they ran out of beer. You could not bring your own, the place sucked, like Buffet, and I’ve never been back.

  5. Your comments on bear spray seem silly – spraying a big cloud of capsaicin that doesn’t work just eats up time you could be drawing and firing.
    Hard to catch up if a bear charges …. And maybe you have a little pepper spray in your eyes and nose.
    No thanks – pepper spray is what they sell to dilletantes that won’t carry a gun.
    And I don’t believe pepper spray will stop a sow protecting cubs. They will charge even if YOU don’t see cubs.

    • Specialist38,

      My understanding is that bear spray is 100% effective at stopping a CURIOUS bear and close to 0% effective at stopping a bear which is dead serious about eating you.

      If I were in the woods a lot, I would carry a can of bear spray AND a .44 Magnum revolver. The bear’s actions would determine which one I would deploy.

    • Specialist, I’ve sprayed men with pepper spray with no effect. This may also come as a surprise to many. Teasers and firearms often do not work either. Have a plan B.

        • Gadsden Flag,

          This site also withheld my comment right above your comment (mentioning how bear spray can be 0% effective) pending review/moderation.

          In reference to your specific comment, I was at an NFL football game when a local cop sprayed some guy who was about one row behind me and three seats to my right. The spray did not affect that man (who did not seem to deserve that and, to his credit, rather politely and respectfully said to the cop, “Why did you do that?). On top of that surprise, I suddenly noticed how everyone around was sputtering and coughing EXCEPT FOR ME because the spray did not affect me, either. (I could clearly smell and see it and it did not even register with me as any kind of irritant at all, much less a debilitating irritant.)

        • All of mine Get moderated. I changed my name Specailist38 instead of Specialist38 and it cured the problem.

          Somebody doesn’t like me.

          And I agree….. less than lethal is less than reliable. I still remember a girl in college who said pepper spray was enough. She knocked the top off getting her checkbook at the grocery store. Fumed everyone in a 8 foot radius. Not funny…..but pretty funny.

      • Gasden Flag,
        As you probably know, there are lots of different types of pepper spray. For example Defense Technology (a popular police brand) makes water-based and oil-based (“stickier”) pepper spray in several concentrations, spray patterns, and sizes (up to a small fire-extinquisher size for crowds). Last time I checked, they’ve got a large table of all the types/concentrations/sizes in pdf on their website.

        There are lots of other “consumer brands” that are just the lowest concentration water-based spray, which is not as effective, particularly with suspects on certain drugs. I’ve been sprayed with a few kinds of pepper spray in several classes, and the high-concetration oil-based cone-pattern sprays from the high-quality companies like D.T. stopped every man in the class within a matter of a couple of seconds (and we were simulating aggressive attacks).

        For others not familiar, the initial sensation is like having very hot water water hit your face, followed immediately by a very painful burning sensation; then as you inhale it gets in your nose and throat causing nearly constant choking and coughing for a very long time if not washed off. Also immediate pain in your eyes, and you try to squeeze them shut to stop that pain (which does little good). Rubbing your eyes and face only makes it worse. The only relief in the classes was from application of baby shampoo and several minutes with water from a hose (or the professional decontamination wipes made by D.T. & others).

        Many departments however, spec low-concentration, water-based stream sprays to avoid hitting or badly affecting bystanders (The stream type to minimize blow-back.) These low-concentration stream sprays aren’t as effective at getting in the airway and eyes, especially if the person is wearing sunglasses or regular glasses and holds their breath, anticipating the spray. And as you probably know, if on certain drugs (or even if just drunk), people are less sensitive to the milder pain from the low concentration sprays. But in actual use I’ve nevver seen the high-concentration, oil-based, cone spray not take someone down within a few seconds if they are sprayed directly in the face. Even on drugs a person can’t avoid the respiratory effects and need to shut the eyes. (In contrast, Taser barbs can be blocked by clothes or even ripped out.)

        Per the article, bear spray in the big cannisters is a whole other world, with even higher concentrations than the highest-concentration defense sprays for humans (as well as a higher force blast that can go many yards). I once got some bear spray on my pant leg by mistake when hiking with it (carried in a round nylon belt holster), and as it penetrated through the fabric, it felt like being burned by BOILING water. Fortunately I was able to stand in a nearby creek to wash it off, even then my leg was red for days.

        So you can’t “test” bear spray on anyone like the other human defense sprays because it might cause constriction of the airway and inability to breathe. I also suspect it could cause at least temporary (weeks/months to heal) damage to the eyeball cornea. The companies that make it have tested it on captive bears and it works, though a large agressive bear has to be hit right in the face with the full force of the spray (some videos on their websites and elsewhere online ). Even then, there obviously is some risk. If I had a high-powered rifle or shotgun with slugs at the ready, that would be the obvious first choice. The article mentions 357 Magnum in a revolver, but that would be marginal, even for a black bear. So for a black bear (often less aggressive than others) bear spray might be a first choice with decent handgun as a backup.

        By the way, some of the Antifa/BLM rioters used bear spray on cops, and those without gas masks, or goggles and fae shields immediately had to leave the lines to get it washed off or use the decon wipes; even then they were out for several minutes. (Some very stupid departments run by leftist morons [like Chicago, I read] often wouldn’t even let their cops wear riot and protective gear; “de-escalation” they said.)

  6. I’m more worried about shark, pigs and gators than bears and panthers. Although, we have those too. My advice is have a rifle. Less convenient than a handgun, but you’ll be glad you did if you need it. Handguns are a convenient band aid.

    • Sharks and gators are definitely trending up in recent years. State and federal management appear geared to keep all habitat at absolute max carrying capacity – old ladies walking their dog and young folks in the water are paying a very high price.

      Don’t know about you, but it is really starting to piss me off. There is NO valid reason for it.

  7. While hunting elk, I carry a Ruger Redhawk 5.5″ .44 magnum in a chest rig, loaded with hard cast 300 gr, in addition to the .30-06 or .308 I’m carrying.

    As for hiking, a Ruger GP-100 .357 magnum in an OWB holster, concealed under a untucked shirt if needed.

    After 25 years I’ve never run into a bear in either case, but I’ve seen tracks, and yes, a bear does s* in the woods.

      • When my wife and I hike, we run into a lot of sh*tlibs, who tend to whine and carry on when they see a gun. The GP-100 is a little more concealable.

        I don’t hike trails when I’m hunting elk, and I tend to be much further in the back country, and more liable to run into bruins. Hasn’t happened yet, though.

        • “…we run into a lot of sh*tlibs, who tend to whine and carry on when they see a gun.”

          .44 mag in a chest rig, covered by a wind breaker. Problem solved.

          You’re welcome… 🙂

        • Johhny LeBlanc,

          Similar to what Geoff PR suggested above, a shoulder holster for a .44 Magnum hides really well under a windbreaker. And the bonus: you don’t even have to zip-up your windbreaker.

          Oh, come on TTaG! My simple comment above is in moderation limbo. There is no reason whatsoever for that.

        • Johnny LeBlanc,

          I recommend a shoulder holster for your .44 Magnum revolver while hiking. Shoulder holsters are surprisingly comfortable AND you can wear a thin/light cover garment (such as a windbreaker) unzipped. Of course this assumes that you are not wearing a back pack of any sort. If you were, then a should holster is probably out.

      • Plus, I recently purchased an S&W Model 29 .44 magnum with a 4″ barrel, so I can carry that one while hiking. The S&W is lighter and less bulky than the Redhawk, so it is easier to carry and a little more concealable.

        • I tried out a friend’s s&w 69 for snub nosed 44mag and was pleasantly surprised with the recoil. Way more than the other trail options I use in 10 and 357 but not at all brutal unless you cylinder dump one handed quickly and even then only a bit.

  8. In terms of woods defense I am thinking that a full-size semi-auto handgun chambered in 9mm Luger is the absolute minimum platform–and even then ammunition choice is absolutely critical. (Hint: popular 115 grain hollowpoints are NOT the right choice.)

    In my humble opinion a full-size handgun chambered in .40 S&W (and loaded with 180 grain hardcast “woods defense” cartridges) is the minimum. Of course a full-size semi-auto chambered in 10mm Auto and loaded with 180 grain or 200 grain hardcast “woods defense” cartridges is much better.

    If revolvers are your game, .357 Magnum loaded with 180 grain hardcast “woods defense” cartridges are the minimum (analogous to the .40 S&W above for semi-auto handguns). Of course .41 Magnum is better and .44 Magnum is ideal.*

    * Yes, even larger revolver calibers are superior to .44 Magnum for the tiny fraction of the population who can handle those giant platforms. For everyone else, .44 Magnum is the upper limit and very capable of promptly stopping all but the largest of moose and brown bears.

      • Mr. Nebby,

        Yes sir.

        That is the reason why I stated that a full-size semi-auto handgun chambered in .40 S&W (and with loads like that in mind) would be the minimum platform for woods defense. While that certainly is not the same as stout .357 Magnum or 10mm Auto loads with 180 to 200 grain hardcast flat nose cartridges, it is nevertheless a fair loading if that is all that you have or can handle.

      • I have some of those, but they would not chamber in my 411. BB says they are aware of the issue, but can’t do anything about it. The parameters of the round dictate the dimensions.

  9. Bear attack. Do you hike with the safety off? (None of my hand guns have manual safety switches).

    Shotgun loaded with slugs…but if it is on a shoulder strap, it may take too long to deploy.

    Hike with a companion…both appropriately armed.

    A guy I knew carried a steel spear as a walking stick. Always at hand, always ready. Never had to put it to the test.

  10. I learned the scary way that there are grizzly bears in Washington state. I had nothing but some 12 gauge turkey shells, a pocket knife and smile to fight off a bear when I came across one in the woods. Luckily, it ran away as soon as it realized I was there, but if he’d charged? My wife would be a widow.

    I carry bear spray and my .357 every spring now. I know .357 is not the best choice for grizzly, but it’s the largest caliber handgun I own…

    • That guy from Washington,

      Ensure that you carry stout .357 Magnum loads with 180 grain hardcast bullets when you are carrying that revolver in bear territory.

      I strongly recommend that you save up the cash to buy a .44 Magnum revolver. Note that Taurus makes perfectly fine revolvers for bear-defense at close range and they are about 1/2 to 2/3rds the price of Rugers and Smith-and-Wessons. And you might even be able to purchase a decent used Taurus .44 Magnum revolver for $500 if you keep looking.

  11. After watching the grizzly chase down that elk up and down over a large hillside, I gained an immense respect for the big beasts! Probably chased that elk for 10-15 minutes, determined as all get out.

    I went out and tried to run as fast as that elk did, and decided that 2nd place would be a terrible finish!

  12. I remember not that long ago when someone was gored to death by a mountain goat in the Olympic National Park. 9 mm probably would have put that down promptly, with good shot placement, but I have to say that a Glock 20 with 200 gr. HST goes with me pretty much anywhere in any “wildlife” area.

    These days that means anywhere in downtown Seattle, sadly

    If I were in Alaska that’s a hardcast round, the lower 48 I’m pretty happy with HST.

    Until cooler and saner heads prevail, I can’t actually go into any of the park buildings, since “Federal“ workers are there. You’re supposed to be able to go armed anywhere you want in a national park as part of a legitimate recreational activity, but I don’t want to be Case Alpha in the federal judiciary for carrying into a park building.

  13. Those HSM bear loads are no joke. I shoot them just for fun, but carry in the woods also. Have the 45 colt version along with 460 magnum and 45-70. Shooting 2 or 3 of any of them is enough for a day. The 45 is basically a 44 mag power level in my Blackhawk. That’s the only one I ever carry in the woods. The rest are just for fun when I want to blow something to smitherines in spectacular fashion.

  14. Since we have feral hogs around here, and do get the occasional Florida Panther or black bear, as well as coyotes and stray dogs, I usually have an old S&W model 25 in .45LC on a gunbelt. If I’ve seen recent evidence of or see hogs, I either switch up carry to a S&W 500 or if practical, a .308 rifle. When we take the grands and cousins camping, if possible I have the 500 in a shoulder rig, or the old 1911 concealed. Going into deeper woods, a rifle goes along and both bear spray and a side arm are easily to hand.
    Back up north I would run into black bear occasionally. Only 1 time did I have a large boar bear close in stalking. Had a S&W. Model 29 at the time. Since I’m more or less ambidextrous the revolver was in my left hand and the bear spray was deployed in my right hand. Had a large grizzly stroll out as we were riding away from a kill site hunting mule deer in Wyoming. No problem since he/she/? was more interested in the gut pile than in us or the horses. Still, I slipped the 45-70 out of the scabbard and had it across the saddle bows. If the horse had bolted or thrown me I didn’t want to be unarmed facing a 700 pound bear.
    Had a single close call with a mountain lion. Stopped to rest and sat down under a tree. Started to glass the slope below. Thought a squirrel was tossing bits of bark and didn’t pay much attention. When I stood up I looked up the tree. About 30 feet over me was a big cat looking down and clawing the limb he/she was on. Ears about half way back. it didn’t snarl or make any direct move, but didn’t seem to be too happy with my choice of resting spot. Smelled a dead deer about 100 yards down the slope, but didn’t go check it out. Likely the cats leftovers.
    An angry, or just startled hog can and just might attack rather than run. A couple hundred LBS of pissed pig is no joke.

  15. Newer evidence on bear spray shows it’s not all that. A more recent study showed a firearm was much more successful in resolving an attack – spray had more deaths. Of the few sporting goods stores who even spray locally, one is out of stock and the other is online only. Handguns and ammo, tho, have dozens of feet of counterspace vs the one spot on a shelf for spray.

    And, having certified with spray, which means getting sprayed with it, the results are some incapacity, but not completely, and certainly not enough to stop a decision to act. If it could, then firearms wouldn’t need to be carried by police – just spray. And, like firearms, being sprayed would result in most of us needing medical care after the incident, which is rare. Plenty of toxxed up perps ignore it due to the desensitization by drugs that prompts their misbehavior in the first place.

    I don’t see spray as an effective alternative and won’t endorse it.

  16. This article struck me as rather stupid. The author is seriously recommending carrying (1) a full size pistol Beretta 92 with a couple spare mags, (2) a can of bear spray, and (3) a revolver in 44 mag or more. That’s around ten pounds of weapons.

    That might work if you aren’t going very far, or were on horseback or riding an ATV. In which case, I’d prefer to have one handgun and a long gun.

    I have more the lightweight backpacker perspective. I don’t want to carry more than a pound or two of gun gear. I’m mainly concerned about feral people and a 9mm is decent for that.

    In his article “Trail and camp guns for animal defense in North America”,.Tim Sundles of Buffalo Bore fame writes that common self defense calibers (9mm, 40s&w, 45,acp .357 and .38sp) are normally sufficient for wolves, cougars, black bear etc assuming proper bullet construction.

    He recommends stepping things up if you are concerned about grizzlies, bison, and moose

    When I backpack (or even dayhike), I’ll just throw a small 9mm into a pocket holster and call it good. A couple years ago, I spent a week backpacking at over 10,000 ft elevation in the Wind River Range of Wyoming. There are grizzlies in Wyoming.. It’s also kinda hard to breathe, hiking for miles, at that altitude carrying a bunch of crap.

    A Kel-Tec P11 in the pocket with 12+1 of 9mm was the maximum amount of weight I wanted to waste on a firearm. Food, warmth, shelter, etc were higher priorities. Somehow I survived. 😉

    Maybe someday I’ll get a midsized .44mag (S&W model 69, 5 shot, 4.25″ barrel, and only 37 oz) for hiking in grizzly, bison, moose land.

  17. The best bear spray is a large can of Raid wasp and hornet killer. That shit makes bear spray look like a flavor enhancer.

    • It works pretty well on wasps too. You can shoot them out of the air with it. Rumor has it that it that it may also work on criminals.

    • Having accidentally sprayed myself with wasp spray it had no effect at all! Like water.

      I use an LCRx 3″ 38 special with plus P 170 hard cast for wolf country when I have a dog with. Weighs less than a lb empty. While spray may work for 1 animal, may run out trying to dissuade a pack looking to make my dog lunch.

      Bear Spray for Griz country when ultralight and in a group.

      Old 44 ruger flattop in Griz country when just one or two.

      • The 3″ LCRx makes a lot of sense. it is light, has a good trigger, and packs a reasonable pumch.

  18. “By far the biggest threat in the boonies is the two legged kind. I have encountered some pretty sketchy looking characters out there and they always come in twos.”

    Definitely this.

  19. Since I am in Texas I have a selection of what I can tote to the sticks (Crockett National Forrest!)

    Glock 29 10mm or even Glock 27 .40 S&W does fine. If you are a wheel gun fan then S&W or Ruger short barreled .357 (3 inch GP or say Smith snub L frame). Both are a bit heavier than the Glock route.

    I like ’em in a cross draw holster.

    And if you are a real Texican then maybe a S&W N frame .44 or .45 Snub (but THAT route is quite expensive!) Nuthen better than the S&W 629-1 ‘Backpacker’ .44 Magnum but they do cost a small fortune!

  20. When I lived in Alaska, I talked to a guide that harvested a brown bear and found .44 slugs embedded in his skull that he had received from a previous encounter.

    Thereafter, I carried a shotgun while hiking with alternating loads of 00 buckshot and rifled slugs.

    A pump shotgun isn’t that heavy.

    • Depends on range and powder charge as to what the bullet will penetrate – someone may have thought a 44 Spec was good enough. Or tried to kill a bear at longer range with a rifle. Any missing hikers? 🙂

      That said, Bella Twin had the record grizz for many years – .22 singleshot loaded with a .22 long was what she used. All 4’11” of her, lol…

  21. I would advise everyone including the author to head over to Ammoland and read ALL of Dean Weingarten’s bear defense articles.

    The TLDR is that bear spray is just seasoning for you and handguns in ANY caliber are 97% effective at stopping bear attacks.


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