Packin' in the Field
September 24, 2010
The outdoor handgun can be called upon to do things a city gun would not. Here are some options to consider for your field gun.
Packing a handgun in the field is not for everyone. Some may think it too Rambo-esque, while others just don't want to bother lugging a heavy handgun around on their hip all day. However, smart outdoorsmen know a good handgun on the hip beats a rifle in the cabin any day.
Some of the Rodriguez's favorite field guns are (from left) S&W Model 629, Freedom Arms' Model 97 and a Mag-na-ported Ruger Blackhawk.
As a hunting outfitter, I have some special reasons for keeping a handgun close--number one being that I'm sometimes called upon to put down wounded game. But not everyone who reads this magazine hunts. Whether it's hiking, biking, camping, fishing or ranch work, many of us spend time afield, where the potential for danger of the two- or four-legged variety is always present. A reliable, accurate handgun of adequate caliber, in a comfortable holster, is a good way to make sure you're able to stop those pests in their tracks when the need arises.
The most important factor to consider when deciding which handgun to carry is what sort of threat you are most likely to face. Across the country, bears are a big concern, with grizzlies making up an increasingly larger percentage of the problem in the West and have always been a factor in Alaska.
The author likes light-rail guns like these from (left to right) Kimber, Wilson Combat and Springfield Armory when tooling around his ranch at night.
In wild lands close to cities and towns, coyotes, feral dogs and even mountain lions can present a four-legged threat.
Smaller animals can pose their own problems. Last year my friend's boss, a South Texas ranch owner (a true rancher wouldn't have let this happen), took his kids out arrowhead hunting on the ranch. When they entered an old Indian cave, a little fox came out to greet them.
The fox seemed playful and curious, jumping up and down at the kids and running in circles around them. Its antics entertained them greatly. In fact, the boys tried several times to pet the fox. Fortunately, it was still a bit too timid to bite. It wasn't too scared, however, to follow them down the road nipping at their heels.
Blackhawk's SERPA lock holsters have an immediate lock-in system that secures a pistol but allows speedy access.
Back at the truck, the fox went and laid down in the shade of a bush and seemed to doze off. The man's youngest son walked over, sat by the fox and began to scratch its ears. Instead of reciprocating, the fox bit him on the leg. It didn't occur to the father until later that the fox's odd behavior could only be attributed to one thing: rabies.
Readers of this magazine are probably not stupid or naÃ¯ve enough to let the situation get that far, but it does prove that rabid animals are a threat. Having a gun handy--along with the proper mindset--could have prevented that boy from undergoing a painful series of rabies shots.
Two-legged vermin are another concern for outdoorsmen. Down on the border, illegal aliens are the primary danger as increasing numbers of violent criminals smuggle drugs, arms or people. Ranch-gate carjackings, home invasions, robbery, rape and murder are all too common now in my neck of the woods.
In Alaska and most of the wide-open west, the danger of running into criminals or societal drop-outs looking for targets of opportunity is very real. After all, with no witnesses and little chance of getting caught, gear-rich campers, hikers, and fishermen can be irresistible targets for those on society's fringes.
If people are your main concern, a quality revolver or semiautomatic of adequate caliber is all the gun you need. I submit the .38 Special or 9mm (depending on whether you prefer a revolver or semiautomatic) as practical minimum calibers.
Three-inch K-frames such as these Smith & Wesson Performance Center .357 Magnums are perfect for self-defense and general outdoor carry.
When my wife walks around the ranch, she carries a full-size Kimber Aegis 9mm on her hip. She stokes it with Winchester's 127-grain +P+ Ranger SXT load, which will easily stop a rabid fox or bad guy in his tracks, yet it barely kicks at all in a full-size 1911.
Alternatively, a three- or four-inch K-frame revolver in .38 Special or .357 Magnum will work just as well and has a simpler manual of arms more suited to inexperienced shooters.
Since I use my handgun to hunt and to dispatch clients' wounded animals, I gravitate toward a good revolver chambered for a powerful cartridge during hunting season. Some of my favorites include a Crimson Trace laser grip-equipped Smith & Wesson Model 629 and a Mag-na-ported custom Ruger Super Blackhawk--both in .44 Magnum. I am also quite fond of my Freedom Arms Model 97 in .45 Colt.
The author's wife, Lisa, is partial to her Kimber Aegis 9mm for ranch wear. Her +P loads are tamed by the weight of the gun.
All of my carry revolvers have barrels in the 45⁄8- to 51⁄2-inch range, which is the perfect size range for daily wear in a hip holster. I load them hot and sight them in to hit on top of the front sight at 25 yards, but I know where they hit at 100. They are reliable, powerful enough to ventilate bad guys or put venison on the table, and accurate enough to reach out to hunting distances.
When hunting season closes, I usually switch to a semiautomatic, and my autoloader of choice is whichever 1911 I
am sweet on at the moment. Lately, I've been partial to my Rock River 1911 for daily carry, but I opt for light rail-equipped models from Wilson Combat, Kimber or Springfield Armory when tooling around the ranch at night.
My semiauto carry guns are almost always chambered in .45 ACP, but I've become quite fond of the 10mm lately. Some may consider it a bit hot for daily carry in urban environments, but the hard-hitting, flat-shooting 10mm cartridge is just the ticket for handling a variety of targets in wide-open spaces.
Bear Country Options
In bear country, something bigger is in order. The .454 Casull, .460 S&W and .500 S&W are ideal choices if you can handle them. Long-barreled revolvers are tempting because they help tame the tremendous recoil of those powerful cartridges, but the snub-nosed specialty guns are ideal for bear defense.
I must admit that shooting Smith & Wesson's new snub-nosed Emergency Survival revolvers chambered in .460 or .500 S&W isn't fun. But those big, heavy bullets are the best medicine for dealing with a determined bear at close range.
Selecting a holster for daily, open carry is a bit easier than choosing a concealed-carry holster. Because you'll wear it for long periods of time, comfort is essential. I lean toward wide belts for ranch wear because they distribute the weight over a wider area and don't dig into my side as much as a thinner belt.
Snub-nosed, big-bore revolvers such as Smith & Wesson's 500 ES are no fun to shoot but are handy in bear country.
When wearing an auto pistol, I prefer a 13⁄4-inch belt, instead of the 11⁄4- or 11⁄2-inch belt I wear with my concealed-carry holsters. In leather, I like standard belt scabbards from Galco, Milt Sparks, Wild Bill and Kirkpatrick Leather Company.
I am also quite fond of Wilson Combat's P1 Practical, which is comfortable enough for extended carry and has a retention screw so I can make sure my pistol stays put. In inclement weather, I prefer Kydex holsters from Blade-Tech and Blackhawk.
I particularly like the added security of Blackhawk's SERPA lock-equipped holsters when I am climbing or riding four-wheelers. I have yet to lose a gun, but I have several friends who took off their rigs at the end of the day and discovered that their pistol was long gone.
My buddy Mike Sellitti lost his handgun in what is probably
the most unusual fashion possible. A few years ago, he was burning brush piles when he heard rounds cooking off in the fire. He looked down to check his shoulder holster, which was, of course, empty. When he fished the revolver out of the ashes a few weeks later, he found his beloved Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum burned beyond salvation.
Revolvers just beg to be carried afield in classic, cowboy-style rigs like those from Thad Rybka, El Paso Saddlery and Kirkpatrick Leather. One of my favorites is Kirkpatrick's Long Hunter model, a simple, attractive rig. It is made from high quality leather and comes with a hammer thong to keep your shootin' iron in place. It also comes with a wide, comfortable gun belt with a cartridge slide.
I broke in my first Long Hunter on a horseback mountain lion hunt in Arizona. It kept my gun in place and was extremely comfortable throughout seven long, hard days in the saddle. I've been sold on this comfortable, secure rig for daily ranch wear and horseback hunting ever since.
I just ordered a similar rig from El Paso Saddlery for my Freedom Arms Model 97. The company's No. 44 Outfit is the same holster it made for John Wayne in the movie "The Shootist." The lined cowboy rig comes with a hammer thong and a 21⁄2-inch belt with cartridge loops on the back. I expect it will prove comfortable to wear while I fix feeders, mend fences, and trail deer this coming season.
Whether it is tracking wounded game, discouraging aggressive wildlife, or dispatching vermin of the two-legged variety, a handgun is the most portable and effective means of handling a problem.