While the vast majority of sportsmen will never need to protect themselves from a predator of any sort while afield, this is an area where it’s especially important to heed the Boy Scout motto and prepare for the worst. After all, while it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll ever need to use a weapon in self-defense, you’ll be really glad you were appropriately prepared if that time ever comes.

In order to ensure you’re prepared, you should analyze the overall situation first.

Are you going to be outdoors hunting? Or will you be doing something else like hiking, camping, or fishing? If you’re hunting, what weapon are you planning on using: a bow, a handgun, a shotgun, or a rifle? Are you going to be walking a long distance? Or will you be riding in a boat, ATV, or truck for long periods of time? Will the situation permit you to openly carry? Or will you need to carry concealed?

The answers to those questions will all dictate the best course of action.

Centerfire rifle cartridges like the 7mm Remington Magnum, .30-30 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield, or .45-70 Government are considerably more powerful than just about any handgun. A rifle also has a longer effective range and is easier to shoot accurately. So, using long gun is a great idea if possible. However, the situation doesn’t always permit their use.

For one thing, compared to a handgun, long guns are more difficult to maneuver in tight conditions for a fast shot at close range. Additionally, most hunters don’t always have their rifle immediately accessible.

At the same time, very few people carry a rifle while doing things like fishing, cutting firewood, camping, hiking, or bow hunting. So, handguns are a good personal protection option for all of those people, to include rifle hunters.

Handguns that are popular for concealed carry will absolutely work for protection while partaking in many outdoor activities. Indeed, this is the route most people take and there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that. Whether or not it’s the best tool for the job all depends on the person, the exact handgun, and the activity in question.

Larger framed handguns are generally easier to shoot more accurately and precisely than smaller pocket pistols. Unfortunately, they’re also larger, heavier, and more of a hassle to carry. They’re also more difficult to carry concealed.

With those things in mind, you should evaluate the threats you’re most likely to encounter while afield.

Are you recreating in bear country? If so, is this black bear country, or do grizzly bears or brown bears live there?

You have quite a bit more leeway if you’re in an area where you just need to be prepared to deal with things like coyotes, snakes, or even other people. On the other hand, the calculus changes quite a bit when you need to be appropriately armed to deal with bears of any sort, especially grizzly or brown bears.

A handgun chambered in something like .38 Special, 9mm Luger, .40 S&W, or .45 ACP will do just fine for most predators. You should consider carrying something more powerful if you’re likely to encounter a bear though. Something like a .357 Magnum or a 10mm Auto will work for black bears, but cartridges like the .44 Magnum and .454 Casull are more appropriate for brown or grizzly bear.

It doesn’t matter how great your firearm is if you don’t have it easily accessible when you need it. With that in mind, it’s better to carry something a little smaller and/or a bit less powerful than nothing at all.

At the same time, shot placement and bullet performance are both extremely important. So, regardless of what you plan on carrying for defense, take your preparations seriously, select high quality ammunition tailored for what you plan on using your firearm for, and diligently train with your chosen means of defense.

Practice getting your firearm into action under realistic conditions until you can quickly and unfailingly place your shots exactly where they need to go. If that means stepping down to a less powerful cartridge that you can handle a little better, then do it.

Remember: a firearm doesn’t do you any good if you can’t hit what you’re aiming at or if it’s in your gun safe when you need it.