Skip to main content

Personal-Defense Guns for Outdoorsmen

Personal-Defense Guns for Outdoorsmen

A lot has been written about personal defense in the home, but little has been done about defending life and limb in the outdoors. Enjoying the outdoors is a lot more pleasurable when you have the peace of mind that comes with always having the right self-defense option close at hand.

Pepper sprays come in two basic strengths: extremely potent for stopping the charge of a bear and milder for protection against humans and dogs. Both are quite effective when used properly.

Due to a passion for hiking, Jack and Irene Bryant had left their boot tracks on trails all over the world. One of their favorite places was the Pisgah National Forest of North Carolina. Often described as a hiker's paradise, Pisgah has thousands of miles of scenic trails. It was the last place the Bryant's enjoyed a day in the woods together. On an autumn day in 2007, Irene's body was found a short distance from the area where the couple had parked their car. She had been bludgeoned to death. Jack's skeletal remains would not be found until many months later. An autopsy revealed that he too had died of blunt force trauma.

A drifter by the name of Gary Michael Hilton remains a suspect in the Bryant slayings, and he should be--he is presently serving a life sentence for the similar grisly murders of two other hikers. Soon after his arrest, Hilton led police into a Georgia forest where he had abandoned the decapitated body of Meredith Emerson after holding her captive for three days. According to a statement made by Hilton to authorities, Emerson, who had training in martial arts, put up a good fight. Hilton was also charged with the murder of Florida hiker Cheryl Dunlap.

Reams have been written about personal defense in the home, but we see very little emphasis placed on defending life and limb in the outdoors. No doubt there are a number of reasons for this, and one is the attitude of those who bury their heads in the sand while ignoring the uglier facts of life. A good example is the opinion expressed by a hiking columnist for a local newspaper who wrote about the slayings of Jack and Irene Bryant, and I quote: "What should Jack have done when faced with the armed mugger? Carry a gun? That's crazy. Don't even think about it!"

Based on those statements, one can only assume that the author of that piece would rather die at the hands of someone like Gary Michael Hilton than carry a nasty old gun. Talk about crazy! Had the Bryants been carrying more protection than their backpacks and known how to use it, they might very well be enjoying their favorite trails today, and their assailant might be under ground where he should be rather than watching TV and eating three squares a day at taxpayer's expense.

Another reason personal protection in the form of firearms is not carried in a big chunk of the outdoors is due to the illegality of doing so in national parks and national wildlife refuges. But the situation may be improving. A ruling initiated by the Bush administration and passed by the U.S. Department of the Interior became effective on January 9, 2009, allowing individuals to carry concealed firearms for personal defense in parks and refuges located in states that allow the carrying of concealed firearms. As might be expected, an injunction has been filed by the antigunners to block the ruling, and the final outcome is up in the air as this is written, but hopefully the rights of American citizens will prevail, and you and I can legally carry firearms on lands supported by the taxes we pay.

When it comes to self-defense for the outdoors, every firearm is a compromise. This Remington Model 600 in .350 Magnum is a much better trouble stopper than the Ruger Blackhawk in .41 Magnum, but the handiness and lighter weight of the handgun encourage its owner to keep it close at hand at all times.
The author considers the S&W Model 342 AirLite Ti sitting atop the seat of his 17-pound carbon-fiber racing bike ideal for personal defense when compactness and lightness of weight in a handgun are important.

Bear Stoppers
Lucky for those of us who spend a lot of time in the outdoors, there is an alternative self-defense option that is easily carried where firearms are not allowed or where their use is impractical. Commonly called pepper spray, it is a liquid containing oleoresin capsaicin, which is extracted from extremely hot peppers. The waxlike resin is mixed with an emulsifier that causes it to suspend in water, and it comes packaged in aerosol containers of various sizes. Companies that make pepper sprays recommend a mild mix for use on humans, while the extremely strong version--such as Guard Alaska from TBO-TECH, Inc. ( intended for use on bears, mountain lions, and other critters. Be that as it may, I'll give you one guess as to which of the two I would want to have in my hand if confronted on the trail by a Gary Michael Hilton.


I should mention that unlike pepper sprays formulated specifically for use on humans, only those approved by the EPA as having met specific requirements can be legally sold as deterrents against bears. Also, a really good bear spray has no expiration date stamped on the container because it will not lose its effectiveness over time. A bear spray should have an effective range of at least 20 feet.

I am convinced that pepper spray formulated for the job is more effective at stopping a charging bear than a firearm. A bear that charges at extremely close range is difficult to stop with any firearm, and for this reason the chance of it doing some damage before expiring is quite good. In contrast, a face full of pepper spray will immediately stop the charge of a bear, and I have seen it happen on two separate occasions.

Still, whether I am fishing, hiking, camping, or cycling in bear country, I prefer to increase my odds of making it back home by backing up the pepper spray with a firearm in areas where doing so is legal. I have carried big-bore revolvers in bear country, and while they are better than no backup protection, I consider all--including the .500 S&W Magnum--poor choices for actually stopping a bear. This especially holds true for the coastal grizzly of Alaska.

A handgun will kill the biggest of bears with proper bullet placement, but if the animal is heading your way from a short distance when shot, it will likely live just long enough to leave a few serious marks on your body. In other words, while

a handgun chambered for a powerful cartridge might be adequate for killing a bear, it leaves a lot to be desired as a bear stopper.

When all is said and done, I believe a slide-action shotgun with its magazine loaded alternately with double-ought buck and slug loads is better for stopping a close-range argument with a bear than any handgun. A big-bore rifle might be even better. A bolt-action carbine weighing no more than 7 pounds with a stainless-steel barreled action, synthetic stock, open sights, and a 20-inch barrel in .416 Remington Magnum or .458 Winchester Magnum would be just the ticket. The old Remington 600 in .350 Magnum is also an excellent choice, but good luck finding one. Either rifle is light enough and compact enough to encourage the fly fisherman, or anyone else for that matter, to keep it close at hand at all times, and while it is too light for a lot of paper-punching, its recoil would go totally unnoticed when an enraged bruin explodes from an alder thicket at full speed from 10 short paces away.

A plastic dry box is an excellent way to carry a handgun on a float trip or when kayaking to camp; its rubber-gasketed lid keeps items inside dry, and a good box will float even when the contents inside are quite heavy.

The Ideal Cycler's Protection
Quite sometime ago I got into bicycling for exercise, and what started as casual trips around the neighborhood grew to the point where single-day rides exceeding 100 miles are now quite common. I usually average over 6,000 miles on my road bike per year, most of it solo riding, and while those miles often take me into remote areas, they are not as remote as the miles I put on my mountain bike. In other words, on both bikes, I venture alone where only a fool would go without some type of personal protection. My road bike--one of those modern-day wonders with a carbon-fiber frame--weighs a mere 17 pounds, so to keep everything else as light as possible for long-distance riding, the two self-defense options I take along weigh only a few ounces.

The handgun I carry in a back pocket of my cycling jersey is a Smith & Wesson Model 342 AirLite Ti in .38 Special. Rated at just over 11 ounces empty, mine weighs precisely 13.2 ounces with five rounds of Federal 129-grain Hydra-Shok JHP +P ammo and Crimson Trace grip panels. It doesn't rust when I sweat on it, and it's so light I seldom ever notice its presence.

All long-distance cyclists carry a spare tube and other emergency items in a bag attached beneath the saddle of the bike, and mine also contains a copy of my concealed-carry permit along with five additional rounds of ammo for the revolver. I am also into long-distance backpacking where everything--including food, tent, sleeping bag, stove, and other gear--is carried on my back, and since where I hike there are no mountain lions and bear encounters are rare, I carry the Model 342 AirLite for protection against two-legged predators.

Bears are also scarce on the roads of my favorite cycling routes, but I do encounter the occasional dog that is intent on removing big chunks from my hide. While there are times when I would love to stop the attacker permanently with a round from my Model 342, doing so would be frowned on by one and all, so I reserve it for defense against the two-legged attack I hope will never happen and blast pooches in the face with a mild form of pepper spray.

A product I first used soon after it was introduced--to stop an enraged boxer bulldog in its tracks--is the Pepper Blaster from Kimber. It is also what I carry for two-legged predators when mountain-biking in parks where carrying a firearm is illegal. I have also used a product called "Halt" on dogs with great success. Often carried by walking postal carriers, it costs less than five bucks, weighs only a couple of ounces, and is usually available at bicycle shops.

Capable of firing .45 Colt and the 3-inch .410 shotshell, the extremely versatile Judge built by Taurus is an excellent choice for self-defense against two-legged predators and for the four-legged type up to the size of mountain lion.

Cougar Medicine
Moving back to firearms, the characteristics that make my lightweight .38 Special ideal for use where size and weight are issues make it difficult to shoot accurately except at extremely close range, so other conditions and circumstances call for other types of handguns. In some areas of the country, mountain lions are becoming a problem, and not long back a mountain-biker in a western state was killed by one. A canister of bear spray might have prevented that tragedy, and the same goes for a good handgun. A cat treed by hounds is easy to kill with a properly placed bullet from a .22 Long Rifle, but in a sudden confrontation with a moving target, proper bullet placement can be less than certain.

As the autoloader goes, I believe a 10mm Magnum would be the best choice in cougar medicine with .45 ACP and .40 S&W virtually tied in second place. Regardless of which cartridge is chosen, hollowpoint bullets in the medium-weight range for the caliber would be more effective than those of full metal jacket design. As for revolver cartridges, the .357 Magnum would be a sensible minimum, and the .44 Magnum is a good maximum for those who can handle its recoil. My custom Ruger Super Blackhawk from Mag-Na-Port is an excellent example of the latter. Everything--including recoil and power--considered, the sadly neglected .41 Magnum might be the ideal cat stopper. I have carried a 4…-inch-barreled Blackhawk so chambered in lion country on more than one occasion.

Other Handguns For The Wilds
I don't consider my .38-caliber snubbie the best choice for other applications outside the home. The gun stowed in the console of my truck is a 1911-style autoloader once available from Kimber. Called the Kimber High Capacity Polymer, it holds 15 rounds of .45 ACP. When my wife and I are on a camping trip on private land, that gun goes from the truck to beside my sleeping bag at night. Then when we take a hike, it hangs from my belt and is concealed by the tail of my shirt. Even when fully loaded, it is light enough to carry all day long without stress or strain.

A good shoulder holster is an excellent way to carry a handgun in the wilds because the weight is on the shoulder rather than the waist and also because it is easily protected from rain by a jacket. But since it interferes with the shoulder strap of a backpack, I usually stick with a belt holster when hiking or backpacking.

One of the best ideas in wilderness guns to come along lately is the Judge built by Taurus. Capable of shooting .45 Colt ammo as well as 3-inch .410 shotshells, it is an excellent choice for close-range defense against two-legged predators and also for taking small game for the pot, the latter an important consideration in a survival situa


Regardless of whether you choose revolver or autoloader, it will likely be exposed to the elements, so stainless steel is not a bad idea. A good way to carry a handgun while floating down the river to the old campsite via kayak, canoe, or rubber raft is inside a plastic dry box. The lid is sealed by a rubber gasket, and in addition to keeping its contents high and dry, a good box will float even with heavy items inside.

It is impossible for me to touch on all the personal defense bases within the confines of a single report, and even if I did, everyone would not agree with what I have to say. But regardless, my message should ring clear--any protection is better than no protection at all, and enjoying the outdoors is made more enjoyable by the peace of mind that comes with always having the right self-defense option close at hand.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

Shooting Times Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Shooting Times App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Shooting Times stories delivered right to your inbox.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Shooting Times subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now