Trail Insurance

Find the right handgun and load for better protection in the wild.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

From a statistical standpoint, you have a far greater chance of being killed by a car, a house fire, a slip in the bathtub or even lightning than by a wild animal. That fact, however, will be of little comfort if you suddenly find yourself faced with claws, fangs, antlers or tusks.

Animal attacks do happen, and if media accounts are any indication, they seem to be occurring with greater frequency. Mountain lions regularly make the news. Burgeoning black bear populations in many states are a growing threat. These animals could be hungry, defending their territory or their young, unexpectedly startled or just having a bad day. The same applies to wild boars and alligators. During the rut, moose and elk can also get belligerent and are certainly capable of doing you harm. Toss in feral dogs and the occasional rabid fox, raccoon or coyote (none of which are likely to kill you, although after undergoing a series of rabies shots you might wish they had), and the expression "it's a jungle out there" doesn't sound quite so trite.

Animal behaviorists have a long list of body postures, actions and responses they claim will keep you safe in an attack. Sometimes they even work. But it's worth remembering the story of Timothy Treadwell.

Treadwell spent 12 summers living with Alaskan brown bears and had videotape that actually showed him petting them. He was considered by some to be one of the foremost "bear experts" in the country.

In the summer of 2003 a bear walked into his camp, killed him and his friend and ate them. In this case, a comprehensive knowledge of bear behavior was of minimal value; a firearm could have saved his life. And while a handgun will always play second fiddle to a heavy-caliber rifle or a slug-loaded 12-gauge, handguns are the protection most likely to be with you and within reach. Fortunately, there are a number of handgun cartridges that have the capability to stop even the most dangerous attacks.

**THE STOPPERS **
That list would include the .500 S&W;, the recently introduced .460 S&W;, the .454 Casull, the .480 Ruger, the .475 Linebaugh, the .44 Magnum and the .41 Magnum. Unless your local threat includes nothing larger than feral dogs or smaller rabid animals, the .357 Magnum is marginal at best. But the 10mm semi-auto is an overlooked option that can be quite effective. With the proper loads it can produce the same penetration as a .44 Magnum, and its reduced recoil allows more control in rapid-fire situations.

I've taken a number of large boars with a 10mm, and after a careful analysis of the bullet performance, I've come to the conclusion that in a short-range, shoot-fast situation, I'd rather have a properly loaded 15-shot Glock 10mm in my hand than a six-shot .44 Magnum revolver.

[pagebreak] The key to using the 10mm is making sure it's properly loaded, as many popular bullet designs just aren't sufficient.

You won't stop a determined attack with a handgun using expanding bullets to the chest cavity. They may ultimately prove fatal, but the animal will have time to finish its business with you before it wanders off to die. When things are happening fast and close you need to immediately disrupt the animal's central nervous system by shooting for the head and neck to hit the brain or break the spine. Failing that, break a shoulder or hip to slow down the animal long enough for you to get in a brain or spine shot.

This requires a slug tough enough to punch through muscle and heavy enough to break bones. In my opinion, the popular JHP hunting loads are not designed for that, but ammo makers have loads that are.

LOADING UP
One design that has proven itself in this regard is the Cor-Bon Bonded Core Soft Point (BCSP). Available in maximum-velocity loads in 10mm (180 gr.), .44 Magnum (280 gr.), .454 Casull (285 gr.) and .460 S&W; (325 gr.), their heavy jacket and bondedd core ensure both penetration and weight retention, while the soft-nose delivers some expansion. (corbon.com)

Hard-cast lead bullets are another excellent choice. One of the best is the newer flat-point (FP) design. With an almost full-caliber flat tip, it looks like a flying beer keg, but the energy transfer upon impact is tremendous.

Buffalo Bore offers a selection that includes .41 Magnum (265 gr.), .44 Magnum (305 gr.), .454 Casull (325 gr.), .480 Ruger (370 gr.), .475 Linebaugh (420 gr.) and .500 S&W; (440 gr.). All are loaded to maximum velocity, although the Linebaugh and the .500 S&W; are available in potent mid-velocity loads. (buffalobore.com)

Federal offers two FP loads, a 250-grain .41 Magnum and a 300-grain .44 Magnum. (federal.com) Cor-Bon FPs come in .41 Magnum (250 gr.), .44 Magnum (305 gr.), .454 Casull (335 gr.), .460 S&W; (395 gr.) and .500 S&W; (440 gr.).

Although many hollowpoint designs are not top choices, a few are tough enough for the job. Winchester offers the Partition Gold in .44 Magnum (250 gr.) and .454 Casull (260 gr.). This is a dual-core slug with the rear portion fully jacketed. (winchester.com)

Hornady's XTP JHP is another deep-penetrating design in its heavier weights. It is available in 10mm (200 gr.), .44 Magnum (300 gr.), .454 Casull (300 gr.), .475 Linebaugh (400 gr.), .480 Ruger (325 gr.) and .500 S&W; (350 gr.), plus a brand-new 500-grain XTP FP. (hornady.com)

Statistics are one of those things that many people find comforting, but no one really wants to become one. A handgun might not be as effective as a long arm, but the right gun and load-combined with the ability to use it quickly and decisively-can provide solid insurance on the trail.