In my earlier years, I was a fishing fanatic and fished at every opportunity. Among the mountains of gear I always carried with me was a .22 revolver. The first chamber of my .22 was loaded with birdshot, in case I suddenly happened upon a coiled rattler. I would draw and fire as a reflex action, without even a conscious thought. At a range of 10 feet, you don’t even need to aim — you instinctively hit the snake every time.
Birdshot at close range will vaporize a deadly rattler instantly. That little .22 probably sent a dozen rattlers to meet their maker.
Of course, not everybody is crazy enough to tramp along lonely streams in search of trout almost every waking hour. As years passed, I began to hunt more and eventually ended up chasing bears through the woods.
My brother-in law was a professional bear guide and had introduced me to bear hunting with hounds. There are no fat bear hunters — nor are there any sane bear hunters. These guys are truly crazy and care more about their hounds than they do about their own lives. I have seen numerous houndsmen wade into the middle of a fight and reach in to grab their dogs off an enraged bear.
Most serious bear hunters carry a handgun rather than a rifle. A handgun is lighter to carry and easier to use at close range. Shooting a bear is simple — you stick your handgun in the bear’s ear and pull the trigger. No kidding! That’s really how it’s done. Up close and personal. In tight quarters like that, a rifle just gets in the way.
Getting close enough to an angry bear to put the gun in his ear is neither wise nor good for your health. Almost all real bear fanatics will begin to roll up their sleeves or pant legs or take out their glass eye to show you their scars. The solution for sane people is to not get in that close. You can still take a bear from 50 feet or so, just be sure not to get caught up in the excitement of the moment.
What kind of handgun do you use for bears? Almost any revolver from a .38 special on up to the big .50 caliber monsters will work for bears. Personally, I prefer a .357 magnum built by Dan Wesson.
It’s my belief that in hunting, a revolver is superior to an automatic. If you have a dud or a misfire, you simply pull the trigger once more and a new cartridge rotates into place. An automatic can get you killed when you’re 2 feet from an angry bear or when a 300-pound hog comes charging out of the brush.
The old revolver works every time and will never let you down.
Fortunately, I have never had to fire a gun at another human being, and I hope I never do. Unfortunately, there are antisocial people out there who can and do harm their fellow humans. Some occupations are dangerous, and so are some neighborhoods, and there can be times when you need a handgun for self-defense.
If that’s the case and you feel you must carry a gun with you, that’s where the automatic pistol earns its keep. They are convenient to carry and, with proper training and lots of practice, a most effective self-defense weapon.
What caliber to use? Whatever caliber you feel most comfortable with.
I am a large guy with big hands and feel perfectly at home shooting a .45 auto. A woman with a slight build might feel more comfortable using a .38 auto that’s smaller and fits her hand better. Heck, there’s even a reasonably good argument that a .22 automatic purse gun is well-suited for personal defense.
Whatever caliber you choose and whichever style gun you shoot, the most important factor is practice, practice, practice. Join a shooting club like the Manteca Sportsmen, for example. They even have free classes for beginners and are very reasonable to join. Most towns have a range of some sort. Just check under “gun ranges” in Google — you’ll find one.
Handguns can be fun, convenient and maybe even a lifesaver. Check them out.
Until next week, tight lines.
• Don Moyer is president and CEO of a consulting firm and has more than 20 years’ experience working with the outdoor recreation community, including anglers, hunters, backpackers, environmental groups and the public. He can be reached at email@example.com.