A lot of this information has been gathered from other sources (including my own interview with grizzly attack survivor Todd Orr), some from experience (I’ve had some bear encounters) and some of it is just my own opinion. Though we’ve yet to run into a bear while hiking here, we routinely see tracks and scat.
Currently though, our biggest four-legged threat by a huge margin is the regular of’ black bear by a long shot. Black bear, photo courtesy cs:User:Dabbler, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commonplace and brown bears represent the biggest threats to hikers, hunters, and other outdoors people in the lower 48.
Likewise, wolves certainly have the capability but are still pretty damn rare outside carefully managed areas (and are totally absent from most of the United States). Brown bear, photo courtesy Robert F. Nobler, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons would be remiss if I didn’t mention human threats.
They certainly do exist in the wild, and I began thinking about them more strongly after our most recent hike, when I thought we were about to encounter a poacher on a low-traffic trail in a wilderness area. Mountain lion, photo courtesy CindyLouPhotos, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia CommonsGenerally this article will focus on defending yourself from bear and lion attacks, with some consideration given to human predators here and there.
I have spent tens of thousands of hours and hundreds of nights in the outdoors. It’s hard to read an article about a “trail-gun,” “kit gun,” or general-purpose revolver without pistol-caliber shot shells being mentioned as a means to “deal with snakes.” There seems to be a fascination with shooting snakes and outfitting guns specifically for the purpose.
If chose to shoot I would use extreme caution to avoid hurting myself, another member of my party, and ensure I understood the ricochet potential…yes, even with shot shells. As with snakes I enjoy seeing the bear from a distance and give a wide berth.
There are some key ways to avoid contact with bears and (to some extent) mountain lions. Bears have good hearing, but the woods have a way of dampening sounds.
Foliage, tree trunks, terrain, and even fog can absorb sounds and inhibit their transmission. I began thinking about this article because of a tunnel-like trail through a dense thicket we were walking through the other day.
Unless they are extremely (and overly) acclimated to human contact, are protecting cubs, or are starving, they will clear out upon hearing you coming. As we move through the woods I am constantly giving a hail and hearty, “Yo bear!” Sometimes I bump into a hiker who has no clue what I’m doing, but only rarely (we try our best to avoid crowded trails).
I used to be a bit shy about this…until I spent a lot of time in British Columbia where bears are extremely common, and everyone knows it. If you’re with a group you can just keep a loud conversation going, or you can specifically yell things into the forest.
It’s easy to forget to shout, but your bear bell will keep ringing. Bear bells are also an excellent way to let other hikers know you’re coming up behind them.
Even if it means pausing for a couple seconds, pick your head up and look around. Mountain lions tend to circle behind prey and attack from the rear, so check your six occasionally, too.
Creeks and rivers are a great example: the rushing of the water covers a lot of other sounds. Heavy brush and thickets dampen sound with a similar result.
Should you have the good fortune of seeing a bear at close range there are some things you want to do to keep the interaction, um, hands-off? They basically all revolve around letting the bear know (or maybe “tricking it into thinking”) you aren’t afraid and making yourself look big.
Generally it is recommended that you stand your ground and face the animal, whether bear or mountain lion. Mountain lions specifically attack from the rear, so turning your back provides their ideal opportunity.
As was the case with Todd Orr (an acquaintance of mine) they bear may leave, but only after inflicting serious injuries to you. A lot of gun guys scoff at it but bear spray is powerful stuff.
Bears have a sense of smell hundreds of times more powerful than humans, meaning a much more sensitive snout to attack with pepper spray. I’ll worry about the effects of the spray later since they are far less deadly than bear bites and claw wounds.
Bear spray can also be carried openly, making it fast and easy to access under stress. It’s produced by the same people that make Sabre Red pepper spray.
I’m not going to presume to tell you what to do, but I’ll throw out a few things to think about that may help drive your decision. However, I wouldn’t choose them on the basis of “ultimate reliability.” Revolvers do have a couple other potential advantages, however.
Either of these would be right at home in bear country, assuming you’re willing to tote their weight. First, revolvers can often be chambered for more powerful cartridges than semi-auto handguns. Sure, you can find feather-weight J-Frames in .357 Magnum, but I would contend that accuracy and speed will likely be comprised in such a package and would recommend against them.
It is unlikely you will be in intimate contact with a bear, but charges are fast and attacks sometimes begin at very close range. Ammunition selection : again, I don’t know if it makes all that much difference, but if I were loading up a gun specifically for bear country, I think I’d generally favor deeper-penetrating bullets.
Heavy hard-cast lead bullets from the likes of Double Tap Ammo and Buffalo Bore probably offer the best bet in this regard. These pack some punch…on both ends. My most important criteria in regard to ammunition selection would be reliability in my chosen firearm.
Next, I would choose a combination that I could shoot well by objective standards of accuracy and time, as measured by scoring targets and the use of a shot timer. Rather than my normal AIB holster, I carry in a Kramer OWB when hiking.
They are a brilliant option in a tiny percentage of interpersonal confrontations, but completely useless in all others. I’ve written ad nauseam about pepper spray before, but just in case here’s the link again.
If you need some help, Lucky Gunner recently offered a tutorial on getting better at shooting at longer distances. If you don’t have bear spray, a gun, or one or both fail (both sometimes do) you’re down to the tools of nature.
If you are found completely unarmed (as, again, Todd Orr was, or became) you will have to use what you’ve got, for better or worse. The most important tool you have is your brain, and this is where the “black fight back and brown get down” get down really comes into play.
I interviewed Todd Orr a couple of years ago, and he told me that being completely still was the key to his survival. He knew if he moved the bear would view him as a threat and visit further injury upon him.
But as I’ve learned from months of reading survival books people overcome insurmountable odds all the time. He didn’t deploy the spray on time/the grizzly sow ran through it too quickly, and his 10 mm pistol became dislodged from its holster.
Top 3 Weapons for Wilderness Survival Skip to content Disclosure: When you buy through links on our site we may earn a commission. One of the main reasons that people don’t go into the wilderness is because they are too afraid of things like getting eaten by a bear.
Most of these fears are completely irrational and, statistically, you are a lot safer in the wilderness than in a big city. Note that a weapon is useless against some dangerous wild animals (like snakes or poisonous spiders).
Bears Wolves Coyotes Cougars Mountain lions Moose My neighbors are constantly saying that they won’t go into the wild because there might be thieves, rapists, murderers, jail escapees, or other creepy weirdos lurking about.
In a SHF situation where you’ve got to Bug Out in the wilderness, then I’d definitely want a weapon against starving masses of people you might encounter. But, in general, the wilderness is a lot safer than the city in terms of crime rates.
Consider that the Appalachian Trail has over 4 million users yearly, and you start to realize how much safer the wilderness is than cities. Most people do not die in the wild from bear attacks (there were only 5 fatal cases in all the 2000s), or even from snake bites.
Most people die because they overestimate their abilities, push their limits too far, or are just straight-up unprepared. In my experienced opinion, this is the absolute best weapon for survival in the wilderness.
Pepper spray is also very lightweight and can be carried on the side of your pack, so it is easily accessible. Bear spray is also effective against most other dangerous wild animals, and against people too.
When every ounce matters, I don’t have room in my pack for a gun. It isn’t easy to hit a bear, moose, wild boar, etc.