By: Tom Claycomb

There are a quadrillion self-defense articles, books, and seminars on how to protect yourself in town, but once you leave the city limits….. it gets strangely quiet.

You can hear the Proverbial crickets chirping. Zilch, nada, no experts spouting off. And yet if you make a mistake on this one, you’re toast, or more than likely, you end up as bear poop.

To be an expert on the topic of self-defense in the outdoors, you’d have to have been a guide hunting dangerous game for 20-30 years. I don’t have that much experience, but let’s see if we can’t give you enough info so you can make it back home alive.

First off, don’t trust a “It worked one time in the history of the world” self-proclaimed expert.

Here’s what I mean by that: Sometime things work under perfect conditions, but you don’t want to bank your life on those odds. For instance, can the lowly .22 kill a charging cow? Yes, if you hit it perfectly. To drop a cow, draw an X from its eyes to the poll. Shoot in the middle of the X, and it’ll drop like a sack of potatoes. The kicker? You only have a spot about the size of a hockey puck to hit. That may be hard to hit if he/she is charging at 40 mph.

Most people don’t think of cows as dangerous, that is unless you’ve worked cattle. Sometimes one goes bat crap crazy. I’ve encountered quite a few over my life. Here are two for instances:

One time a buddy said a steer got loose and is going ape crazy. He’s going to kill someone. By the time I got there, the truck driver had put a clip of .32s in its head. It saw me and charged me. My buddy had thrown me a single shot .22. I was between two trailers. I held my ground as it charged and tried to hit it in the brain. At the shot, he kicked it up to fifth gear and I dove under the trailer or he’d have freight trained me. This kept on for a bit. By now he probably had 30 bullets in the head.

Finally, I caught up with it and right before he charged, I squeezed off one more round with the little .22 single shot and hit the sweet spot. He dropped like a rock.

Another time, a buddy said, “Tom, I need help fast. A crazy range cow got loose, and she is nuts; she’s going to kill someone.” Sound familiar? I grabbed a 9mm out of my truck and walked around the building. She saw me and a buddy, and here she came. We ducked in a door and got away.

I then went out back, and she saw me from 150 yards away, and here she came. I hit her a couple of times and dove under a trailer. She saw someone else and went after them. In a bit, she came back hunting me. Same scenario. Charge. I shot. Ducked. She went off. In a bit, here she came back hunting me again. She was dangerous. Finally, after three times I said, “That’s it. I’m going to stand here, and when she gets 20 yards out, I’m going to tap her between the eyes.”

She came around the corner. I took aim, and right before she charged, I shot, and here she came. I hit her twice more, and at the last second, I gave up the ship and ducked under a trailer again. By now (12 shots with a 9mm in the head), she finally circled and fell over. She was dangerous.

The moral of the above story is: a .22 in the perfect spot can kill a big animal, but don’t trust it in a charging situation. And I for sure lost all faith in a 9mm for anything other than for in-town use. Yes, I have a buddy, and his buddy killed a brown bear with a 9mm, but that was probably the only brown bear in the history of the world killed with a 9mm.


Let’s cover ammo, which is a BIG piece of the puzzle. In the above 9mm scenario, I was using Federal Hyda-Shok ammo. Great for use on humans, not on big animals. You’ll want good, top-quality hunting ammo that can penetrate thick muscles, break through bones, and hit the vitals. You don’t want it fragmenting when it hits heavy muscle.

In pistols, my buddies carry solid core hunting bullets so they will break shoulders and knock the wheels out from under them. I alternate good hunting hollow points and solid core hunting bullets.

For years I carried a .357 mag. One time I was bow hunting and knocked down a huge buck. I went up to it, and suddenly it jumped up and charged. We were in thigh-high grass. I went running backwards, emptying my .357 into it. It was like I was shooting wax bullets.

I tripped and fell over backwards. Luckily, he about ran over the top of me, but didn’t hook me. I jumped up and saw that he had fallen dead about 5-10 feet away. Moral to the story: carry the biggest pistol/gun that you can handle.

Buy a pistol that is comfortable to carry, or you won’t lug it around. It’s a major pain to shoot, but I now carry the Smith & Wesson 329PD titanium .44 mag pistol. It only weighs 25.1 ounces.

Buy a holster that allows for fast acquisition. When flyfishing, I wear a shoulder holster. A pistol in your waders is useless.

Shotguns with slugs are devastating. I’ve dropped charging cows and 2,000 lb. bulls like a sack of potatoes with a single shot 12 ga. shotgun loaded with slugs. When my brown bear ran off, I tracked it with a Mossberg 930 semi auto 12 ga. loaded with Federal slugs.

More than likely, you’ll be lucky to get one shot off. If you’re walking in the woods, you may be stumbling and not even get that.

When cleaning your big game in bear country, take pics fast, and then have someone stand guard. In some areas, a gunshot is like ringing a dinner bell for bears.


Pepper spray works 50 percent of the time. Here’s why I say this: if it’s windy, and he charges from upwind, not only do you get body slammed, but you’ll also pepper spray yourself! I’ve only had to use pepper spray once. I was walking, and two dogs charged me. I hit the big one with pepper spray.

It didn’t seem to affect him, but he left. I got 50 yards, and here he came again. This time I really hit him. He got agitated this time and left. I got 200 yards, and here he came again. I was now out of pepper spray and had to pull out the pistol. Luckily, at the last second, he went back to his front porch.

I do a lot of bear hunting and take a lot of kids. A wounded bear always heads towards thick brush. If you’re tracking him, and he charges, there’s a good chance that as you swing around your rifle, it’ll get hung on a limb, and you’ll never get a shot off. It is for this reason that I track with a .44 mag. I’ve had to finish off a couple of bears with it. I trust my .44 mag.

Well, we are way out of room, so I can’t cover the importance of wearing Sneaky Hunter Bootlamps, carrying a good flashlight, and using a Crimson Trace laser light. Be safe out there.

Tom Claycomb III is a product tester for outdoor manufacturers, hunter, and outdoor writer, writing from Idaho.

Lead photo: You want to hunt with professionals like Master Brown Bear Guide and owner of Knives of Alaska/DiamondBlade Knives Charles Allen.