You may have seen a photo-meme posted on the All For Gun Blog Facebook page of a fellow in a tree with a huge bear climbing toward him. (See below) The bear has teeth bared and appears very angry. The drawing is captioned “Firearms – More useful than a camera.” While humorous, it’s serious at the same time. Over the years I’ve read of several accounts of folks finding themselves in exactly that place, saving themselves with a sidearm. One such account described how numerous shots from a .357 Magnum at near point-blank range failed to discourage an angry bear, but did apparently back it off by the time all shots were fired. I believe it was told that the bear walked away after the encounter. The person writing of his near-death experience with that bear said he purchased a .44 Magnum Redhawk as soon as he got back to civilization.
Hopefully you will never find yourself in such a predicament. But the story illustrates that it takes quite a lot of power, delivered as shock and physical damage to vital organs, for a bullet to quickly stop an angry critter that’s high on adrenalin. If you read my article, “.22’s and Monster Stew,” you saw that even a squirrel can become aggressive and hard to stop when it’s riled. That is, hard to stop if your weapon is not devastating enough for the size animal you may be confronting.
Another situation that is probably more likely here in the South than being treed by a bear is being treed by wild hogs. A friend of mine in South Carolina was deer hunting alone when he was suddenly attacked by a large hog, probably a sow with young. Make no mistake that those things can kill you and have you for lunch. It surprised him, coming from his blind side and, with no time to shoot, he scampered into the tree that he had been resting against. In his haste he left his gun on the ground. That hog took its anger out on his shotgun, chewing its stock into splinters and damaging the action. Having no sidearm, he could only watch as the big hog destroyed his expensive shotgun. Due to his agility, he had escaped the close encounter, but it was still an expensive lesson for him. He always carried a sidearm in the woods after that.
Well, I hunted in those same swamps and woods. His account of the hog attack got my attention. And I saw that pitiful looking, chewed-up gun. Since I could not afford a sidearm at that time, I did the next best thing I could think of: I added a sling to my shotgun so I could more easily climb with it. And later that same season I had occasion to climb a tree to avoid a group of wild hogs that were approaching me through dense undergrowth. The sling allowed me to take my shotgun up that tree, which would not have been possible without it. But you get the idea. I too, when I could afford it, bought a sidearm to carry while hunting – a Ruger Super Blackhawk .44 Magnum revolver.
It has been documented again and again that large animals and people can be very difficult to stop when using some of the most commonly used calibers and guns. Here are a couple of examples that I know of personally:
During the late 1930’s, my dad witnessed a shooting involving a security guard, who was armed with a .38 Special, 6” revolver. My dad heard shouting, “Stop! Stop!” and looked to see what was happening. A uniformed railroad guard was backing away from a very large fellow in a rail yard. The guy held a steel pipe and appeared determined to bash-in the guard’s head. The man kept coming and the guard shot the man in the chest from a distance of about 10 feet. But that didn’t stop him and he continued slowly moving toward the guard, still holding the pipe, ready to strike. The guard shot again and again, until the 6-shot revolver was empty. The would-be assailant had closed the distance to about 3 feet. As the guard drew back to hit the man with his empty revolver, the man just sat down on the ground between the rails. He had been shot six times in the chest at close range before stopping. He was still sitting up in that spot when the police arrived about 15-minutes later. What if he had a gun instead of a pipe?
What I learned from this next experience may shock you. Several years back, I served as a juror on the murder trial of a fellow who had been attacked by a man with far superior strength – a muscle-bound ex-con who had been lifting weights for the prior 5-years while in prison. The person on trial had been able to escape the initial attack and retreat to his home where he kept a .38 S&W caliber*, 5-shot, snub nose revolver. The attacker followed and broke in, to continue his attack. Defending himself, the man shot the attacker again and again as he continued to retreat. The final shot, the last bullet in the gun, was fired as they fought in the back room. That bullet hit the attacker in the skull behind an ear, killing the man. The dead man’s girlfriend paid for a special prosecutor to prosecute the man for murder to “get justice for her man.” I didn’t know that was possible to do before that. The jurors all agreed that it was a case of self-defense and never should have been brought to trial. Now, what is significant to you about this incident is this: Except for the fatal shot, all the bullets recovered during the autopsy were found just under the skin, embedded in the man’s dense muscles. One bullet even fell out by itself when the body was placed on the autopsy table. All were fired at close range.
*Note: The .38S&W is not a .38special. It is a now mostly extinct revolver cartridge that was an inferior predecessor to the .38S&W Special. Ballistics were more comparable to a modern .380acp. See the .38 Smith and Wesson Wiki page here.
Today there are several highly refined self-defense bullet designs available. They could have changed the way those incidents unfolded, but maybe not. Short of a brain shot, it appears that it takes a lot of power to stop a large animal or person bent on doing harm.
Doc, an old friend of mine, was an avid hunter and a pathologist. He had definite views on the choice of bullets for hunting, which were based largely upon his own observations. He had performed many, many autopsies involving gunshot wounds. His simple advice to me was: Bigger is better.
His experience doing autopsies revealed, in virtually all cases, much more physical damage was delivered by any large diameter bullet than that done by smaller calibers. The stopping power, he said, came as much from the shock of the bullet hitting its target as from the actual tissue and bone destruction. When your life may depend on stopping someone or something quickly, you want it done that instant, not later.
Doc’s personal choice of handgun was, like “Dirty Harry”, a .44 Magnum S&W Model 29. He hunted with a .50 caliber old-style black powder rifle, which he even used for hunting bears in Canada. His collection of old guns included a .69 caliber musket that he especially liked – for its history and its stopping power, which he just called “awesome.”
I’m no doctor and have no experience performing autopsies, but I’ll take the word of someone who is and has. He’s someone who walks the walk. Every since that talk with Doc, I’ve leaned toward big-bore guns as my choice for self-defense and deer hunting. For small game hunting, I often choose my .22 Mag scoped rifle paired with my .44 Mag sidearm – with one or two CCI Shotshell snake rounds positioned to fire first from that big bore magnum.