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Armed And Responsible: Including Handguns As Part Of Your Outdoor Experience

When you picture hunters, you probably imagine long guns or bows. Similarly, when you think about hiking or camping, your mind likely envisions good boots and tents, not guns. In reality, whether you’re a hunter, hiker, or other outdoor aficionado, it’s wise to consider making handguns part of your defensive toolbox.

It’s all too easy to get caught in the notion that you’re immune from harm while you’re in the mountains and woods, but that’s not an accurate picture. We might think the outdoors is our playground, but animals call it home, and it’s entirely possible to anger the wrong predator when you’re in the woods. Bears, mountain lions, and even coyotes are a few of the potentially dangerous game threats you might be faced with while hiking to the summit of your next mountainous goal. As a hunter, you can also easily end up face-to-face with a predator that beats you to reach the body of an animal you shot just minutes before.

Wild animals aren’t likely to react to yelling or whistles by running off (neither are humans, for that matter). Bear spray—pepper spray—might seem like a viable option, but it isn’t ideal. Yes, it can work as intended, but there are no guarantees and a lot of possible problems. An attacking animal who is sprayed might either be further enraged by the spray’s burning sensation, or perhaps unaffected entirely. The spray canister could malfunction. The wind could blow the spray back into your own face. All these thoughts aren’t meant to discourage you from carrying bear spray or pepper spray in general, but to remind you to be fully aware of the pros and cons of your chosen self-defense method.

Handguns not only work in such instances, they’re legal in most areas as a defense against charging animals. Be aware that when you’re traveling, certain places (such as state parks) might have ordinances barring the carrying of handguns.

The 10mm is popular among handgun hunters for good reason: it’s a manageable, accurate option to defend against charging bears and to make ethical shots on deer, among other things. (Photo credit: Kat Stevens)

Two-Legged Threats

Both recent and past history serve as reminders that there are threats to hikers and hunters in the woods and on lakes. You have no way of knowing who or what you’ll come across in the middle of nowhere. There’s not much worse a situation than finding yourself faced with a violent threat and being utterly defenseless. You may not ever think of yourself as the possible victim of an attack, but criminals and unstable people are out there. As the late Dr. William Aprill reminds us, “Your understanding and consent are not required for someone to take your life, kill your loved ones, and destroy all you hold dear.”

This might seem a bit heavy on the doom and gloom side, but try to think of it as a dose of reality. Owning and becoming proficient with a handgun is a good way to arm yourself against the dangers in the world, whether human or animal.

Handgun Hunting

Now, here’s my favorite part: handgun hunting. Using your handgun to hunt is legal for various game in many states. Why use your handgun to hunt? Partly because it’s fun, but also because it’s a great way to broaden your shooting and hunting skills.

In states like Texas, it’s legal to shoot all manner of game and predators with handguns, including deer and turkeys. Before you completely discount that idea, look into the regulations to find out all the possibilities where you plan to hunt.

There are many reasons to recommend handgun hunting. One great aspect is the portability of handguns. You can easily carry a holstered handgun on your hip, which is simpler than carrying a rifle, even if using a sling. Using handguns also requires you to get closer to your prey, so you’re forced to draw on skills you might not otherwise utilize. It’s also a great way to keep your handgun shooting skills sharp and to learn to handle an adrenaline dump while using a much smaller platform. And, of course, handgun hunting is enjoyable, and it brings a new layer of experience to your time in the woods.

Accuracy and reliability
Accuracy and reliability are two things you should demand from your handgun and also from yourself. (Photo credit: Kat Stevens)

Knowing the Law

First and foremost, it’s your responsibility as a gun owner to know and follow the law. Claiming ignorance of the law is never a valid legal argument, so make sure to familiarize yourself with the laws where you live, where you hunt or hike, and in any area you travel through to reach your destination.

In addition, laws on carrying handguns while hunting vary by location. It isn’t always legal to carry a handgun— even for self-defense—when you’re hunting. In some areas, you must have a concealed carry permit to do so. In others, it is prohibited if it overlaps with archery season.

The easiest solution might seem to call your local Department of Natural Resources (or in Texas, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department), or even the non- emergency number for the local police or sheriff. After all, they should know the laws, correct? Not necessarily. I highly suggest doing your own legwork to track down handgun regulations. That goes for hunting with handguns, as well. Take the time to find the guidelines and statutes for yourself. Once you find them, keep an eye out for changes each year.

Long slide 1911s like the gun pictured here are good options for handgun hunting. (Photo credit: Kat Stevens)

Responsible Carry

Hunting with rifles doesn’t automatically qualify you as a skilled enough shooter to hunt with handguns. The reverse is true, too. Handguns aren’t magical talismans that allow you to get into dangerous situations (more on that in the future). Before you start hunting with or carrying handguns for defensive use while enjoying nature, get some training. Know and adhere to the safety rules. Be a proficient shooter, because it’s your job as a hunter to make an ethical, one-shot kill. As for the defensive side, it’s vital to remember you are responsible for every shot fired.

Handguns are fantastic tools whether for hunting or self-defense. If you haven’t ventured into the world of handgun hunting yet, I highly recommend it. And if you feel you’re untouchable when it comes to outside threats, I’d suggest you reconsider that line of thinking. So, consider adding a handgun—or two, or 10—to your gun collection. They have myriad uses and come in a wide array of sizes, calibers, and colors. The options are practically endless. But whatever else you do, get outside and spend time in nature. It’s far better than being stuck in the confines of your home staring at the television.

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