Most important to note: This is titled “Companion Sidearms For The Great Outdoors”. I am not suggesting that handguns are the end all be all for carrying a gun for protection when in the wilderness. I happen to like my long guns too (and we’ll discuss a few of those as appropriate below), but for hiking, backpacking, camping, fishing, etc. it’s often good to have a “companion” along that is more comfortable to carry, less obtrusive, and better than trying to spit on that unfriendly critter or potential food source. This article is a review on some of the handguns that I feel are quite serviceable as outdoor companion sidearms.
Having made those qualifying statements, let’s think for a minute: if you know you’re going out into the wilds and you’re taking a long a firearm for protection, or for hunting a food source, what would your first choices be? I can almost hear some of you thinking… “.308 bolt action”… “Marlin .444″… Personally I have two choices: a Remington 870 and a Winchester 94 .30-.30 lever action. While both are exceptional weapons that have been around for decades, neither is what I’d pick to carry if I was trying to carry something for the following purposes:
1) Emergency protection. In other words, I’m not planning on needing a gun, but I want to have one just in case.
2) Food provision. I don’t plan on having to hunt, but it’s better to have it and not need it…
If those are my only two reasons, then comfort and portability become major deciding factors – hence the handgun instead of rifle or shotgun. But we don’t want just any old handgun: we want a reliable weapon that is relatively accurate and rugged. I know that “reliable” and “rugged” mean entirely different things to different people, so I’ll put out a few parameters:
1) Reliable: you pull the trigger on this clean firearm and it goes bang. I don’t even want to say “99% of the time” because I’ve heard the argument, “What about that 1% if it happens at a bad time?”
2) Rugged: It will still shoot after being dropped ten or fifteen feet. It won’t rust within the eight hours of rainfall. Parts don’t snap off easily when handled, drawn, holstered, dropped, etc.
3) Accurate: Let’s be realistic – it’s a handgun with a barrel length of no more than six inches (remember that portability requirement?). Sure, there are custom six-inch revolvers out there that will print you two-inch groups at 50 yards. But you’d better be careful how you handle them. How about, for our purposes here, we settle for a handgun that will print sub-three-inch groups at 25 yards or closer?
Now, what about caliber? Big arguments start among knowledgeable people when you bring up caliber and stopping power. Let’s start with asking this: what might we have to protect ourselves against?
I live in Maryland and the biggest threat I might face in my immediate area is a wild dog. Against that threat I’m perfectly happy with a handgun in .357 Magnum, .41 Magnum (if you can find one), .44 Magnum, .357Sig, .40S&W, .45ACP, .45GAP or 10mm. I’d say “sure” to the 9mm, but I’ve seen a German Shephard take four 9mm rounds before falling nearly a quarter mile away from where he was shot. That said, let me quote a friend of mine: “The .25ACP in your pocket is better than the .45 you left in your glove compartment.” Meaning? If what you have is a 9mm, that’s better than carrying nothing – and that’s not meant as a disparaging remark.
Do you expect to have to defend yourself from people? Bears? Big cats? What you’re going to try to stop has to be taken into consideration as you select your caliber. To some extent, your choice of caliber will control your choice of weapon. If you want to carry a .357, .41 or .44 Magnum, your choices are limited (within reason) to revolvers. Barrel length? My preference would be four-inches, but you might want more if you like handgun hunting, or less if you’re focusing on comfort in carry. Either way I’d recommend that you keep at least one speedloader of extra ammo handy.
What about in (primarily) semi-auto calibers? Because of the popularity of the .357Sig, .45ACP and .40S&W calibers, there is a plethora of weapon choices. With the 10mm and the .45GAP your choices get a little more restricted, but you can still pick and choose among them. In Ted Nugent’s book, “God, Guns and Rock-n-Roll” he states his preference for the Glock 20 in 10mm. I believe he is right: it’s hard to beat 16 rounds of 10mm in a portable package that is reliable and rugged.
Now that the cat is out of the bag, yes I like Glock pistols even in the backwoods. The Glock 36 with +1 magazine floor plates, and accompanied by the Zambezi Timberline knife (shown right), makes a fine Companion Sidearm for the outdoors. Before I owned a Glock I carried a Colt Commander Stainless Steel .45ACP with one backup magazine. In fact, on the last camping trip that I carried that gun, I ended up with it in hand at about three a.m. along the Appalachian Trail. Some, ah, partiers had decided to take their ATVs out along the trail in the early predawn hours… and based on their behavior, driving ability and mannerisms, I think they were just up late and drunk rather than up early and hunting. As they rode into my camp they were loud, rowdy and abusive in their language. In fact, prior to realizing they were facing an armed “victim”, they offered to relieve me of any money, food or drinks I might have. When they saw that I was armed they decided to be on their way down the trail. The point is that sometimes the simple presence of a handgun can deter an ugly situation.
Numerous manufacturers make quality handguns that you could take under consideration if you’re thinking about picking up an outdoors companion weapon.
Beretta makes several fine pistols in 9mm or .40S&W, and their new PX4 is pretty rugged from what I’ve heard. The Stampede single-action revolver is available in .357 Magnum with a barrel length up to 7.5 inches if that’s your thing.
Browning’s Hi-Power or Pro-40, either one in .40S&W would be good to have.
Colt makes plenty of variations of the government model .45ACP. Additionally, you can still get Colt revolvers in .357 Magnum, .44 Special or .45 Colt. The .44 Special and .45 Colt aren’t what I consider “main stream” outdoor defensive rounds, but they would certainly serve well.
EAA makes the Witness in .40S&W, 10mm and .45ACP. It’s kind of reminiscent of the old Bren Ten 10mm in style. EAA also makes a couple of revolvers in .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum or .45 Colt.
Glock makes four different sizes of pistols in the following calibers: .357Sig, .40S&W, 10mm, .45ACP and .45GAP. If you really want something small for last ditch emergencies, choose from their models 27, 33, and 39. In the mid-size range you could take the 23, 29, 30, 32 or 38. For full size guns you get plenty of choices: 20, 21, 22, 31, or 37. And if you want those longer barrels, for whatever reason, you can have the 24L or 35.
Heckler & Koch make several fine semi-autos in .357Sig, .40S&W, and .45ACP. I’m a little surprised that they’ve never developed a 10mm model, but maybe one day.
Kahr Arms makes some nicely compact .40S&W and .45ACP weapons, now even producing the Auto-Ordnance 1911 pistol.
Kimber makes a colleciton of 1911 style pistols available in .40S&W, 10mm, or .45ACP.
Magnum Research is one of the few companies that offers you the ability to carry .357 or .44 Magnum in a semi-auto. They are neither small or nor inexpensive, but if that’s what you have your heart set on, it’s available. They also have models available in .40S&W and .45ACP.
Para-Ordnance makes a host of pistols available in .40S&W, or .45ACP.
Ruger makes some fine pistols in .40S&W and .45ACP. Of course, Ruger is well known for their super-strong revolvers in monster calibers to include .454 Casull and .480 Ruger. I think those are a bit much unless you actually need to protect yourself from a Grizzly, and I submit that if you’re in Grizzly country intentionally armed with a handgun and without a rifle, the gene pool might be better off without you. Thankfully, Ruger also makes revolvers in .357 Magnum, .41 Magnum, and .44 Magnum.
Sig Sauer gives you choices of .357Sig (go figure), .40S&W, or .45ACP.
Smith & Wesson probably has one of the widest varieties of pistols and revolvers available today. In semi-auto format you can get pistols in .40S&W, 10mm or .45ACP. On the revolver side you can get a Smith & Wesson revolver in any of the preferred calibers listed as well as in .500S&W Magnum or .460 Magnum. Smith & Wesson even makes a revolver for .45ACP if you have the half-moon clips to load it.
Taurus offers .40S&W, but I was surprised to find no current manufacture of .45ACP in their lineup in my research materials. On the revolver side you can find Taurus offering .357 Magnum, .44 Special, .44 Magnum, .454 Casull, .45 Colt and .44-40.
As you can easily see, the choices are plenty – you just have to figure out which best suits your need and then be sure to carry it anytime you can (legally) in the backwoods.
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