I've mentioned that I have encountered two black bears while riding in the hinterlands. In two minutes. Yes, the two were within 100 yards of one another. A wee bit unnerving.
While black bear attacks are fairly rare, they can and do happen. According to these statistics, sixteen fatal encounters with black bears occurred in the last decade. I wasn't able to drum up stats for non-fatal attacks, but they do happen. Grizzlies are also starting to migrate south from Canada into the Pasayten Wilderness area of Washington, an area I hope to ride in someday. Fatal encounters with grizzlies seem to be few and far between, but I have no desire to be one of the unfortunate souls who do comprise the statistics.
Mountain Lions are also present in this area. I know of two experienced outdoorsmen who have been stalked by mountain lions, an experience neither cares to repeat.
Many hikers, backpackers, and trail riders carry bear bells and/or bear spray to ward off Ursus arctos horriblis, ursus americanus, and puma concolor, which is all fine and dandy, I suppose. As for me, should an encounter with one of these predators turn sideways, I want to know that there is more between than an aerosol can, harsh words, and sleigh bells standing between me and death by mauling. But that's just me. Therefore, I pack a sidearm.
Revolvers are my weapon of choice. They do not jam, and should a misfire occur, simply move to the next chamber. Up til now, I have carried a S&W Model 19 chambered in .357. This is a wonderful, well balanced revolver.
I tend to spend a great deal of time doing research on activities that I participate in. I like to be well educated. In the area of wilderness defense, said research led me to the realization that my .357 would be adequate against a two legged varmint, and passable against a mountain lion. Against a bear, however, it would likely serve only to further anger the aggressor.
Bear defense is best performed with a big bore, short barreled rife. Think Marlin Guide Gun chambered in 45-70. A portable cannon, which is not for the faint of heart. Realizing the impracticality of that option, most experts agree that the next best choice is a large caliber revolver chambered in .44 magnum, .45 Long Colt, or larger, if you dare. Semi-automatic pistols, such as the .45, are not preferable due to the slower velocities of these rounds.
When reading about the .44 magnum, I kept finding the statement "for those who can manage the recoil". This makes it sound a tad fearsome for the handler, no? Since I'm not the biggest fella on the block, I though perhaps this wasn't the round for me. But, proof is better than speculation, so I borrowed my Brother-in-Laws Ruger Blackhawk, purchased a box of ammo, and headed to the range. Fifty rounds later, I left saying "I gotta have one of these." Very manageable recoil.
I am now the proud owner of this beauty:
Ruger New Model Blackhawk in .44 magnum. I chose the stainless steel, since, well, it rains in these parts once in awhile (read: most of the time). It's single action, meaning one has to cock the hammer before firing, but I did that on my double action revolver too. It makes for less trigger pull, and greater accuracy. I admit I was initially skeptical about the "cowboy" style handle, but this pistol feels absolutely perfect in my hand.
There is one other reason for horse riders to carry a firearm, which I have mentioned before. Should a horse break a leg out in the boonies, there are few practical options available. None of us ever want to be in that situation, but it can, and does happen. I have heard one gruesome story o how this was dealt with when no gun was available. I'll spare you, but suffice it to say that the teller of this tale has never ridden unarmed since.