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Best Trailside Bear Medicine: Revolvers Vs. Semi-Autos



His droppings contain bells and smell of pepper spray.

Bears are basically the Juggernauts of the animal world, and they’re waking up hungry everywhere.

Ah, springtime, when a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of love, and not winding up in little piles of bear dung. All over the country, skinny bears are working hard to become fat bears–and some of them aren’t too terribly worried about where they source their protein. Even those bears that aren’t interested in human hors d’oeuvres are liable to be cranky about both their winter naps, and wondering where all these idiots came from. Personally, I don’t like hiking, camping, or backpacking this time of year without a sidearm….but the question of which one I’m going to use comes up fresh each spring just like the daisies. Will it be a revolver, or a semi-auto?

The Revolver School of Thought

As with any defensive firearm scenario, one of your first criteria has to be whether you are capable of rapidly and effectively deploying your firearm under what is sure to be extreme stress. Revolvers have some significant advantages here. Although, yes, some revolvers do have transfer-bar safeties, most of them just rely on a long, heavy trigger pull to keep the firearm from discharging inadvertently. Not having to worry about a safety mechanism is definitely a huge plus in a high-stress situation.

Furthermore, because revolvers don’t rely on recoil to advance the next round, they’re not particularly picky about ammunition. Whatever type of round you choose, as long as it’s the right caliber for the gun, that gun will go “bang” every time you pull the trigger…and that’s the best kind of comfort you can get when there’s 400 pounds of Mama Grizzly popping its jaw at you from 30 yards away.

Finally, there’s the fact that revolvers have been used as hunting handguns for much longer than semi-automatics. For that reason, you’ll find lots of revolvers on the market chambered in some very serious, bear-specific, heavy-hitting rounds like .454 Casull. Although those rounds are pure punishment to shoot from a revolver, I don’t imagine that anyone complains about a sore wrist after having dropped a charging grizzly.

Unless, that is, you have just fired five times and the bear is still coming. This brings us to…

The Semi-Auto School of Thought

The most important part of surviving any armed encounter is this: Have a gun. Therefore, the most important advantage semi-automatic handguns have as trailside companions is that because of their popularity as EDC and CCW guns, people are more likely to carry them. They’re just more convenient to pack along with you for so many reasons–they’re slimmer and easier to work into your on-body carry strategy than revolvers, for starters. There are also more and better holster rigs to keep them convenient.

However, the spot where semi-automatics really shine is that they can simply put more rounds on your target than a revolver. Most big-bore wheelguns don’t carry more than six rounds, usually five. And that long, heavy trigger pull that keeps your revolver from firing when you don’t want it to can absolutely cause an inexperienced shooter to pull the muzzle off-target…meaning a potential miss. A .454 Casull round that goes over the bear’s head is far less valuable than a 9mm that makes contact. (Especially if it makes contact 17 times.) What’s more, that whole manual safety vs. no manual safety debate is moot when you’re talking about a sidearm like a Glock or Springfield XD, since they use an intuitive grip safety.

The fact of the matter is that, semi-auto or revolver, the key to surviving an encounter with a charging bear is going to be your ability to place rounds on a moving target while under stress. There is no one gun that can give you that; that is something that is built through hours upon hours of repetitive practice until the motions of drawing, aiming, and firing are muscle memory. That way, your body will essentially have you 3/4 of the way there before your brain even finishes the phrase “OHHH SHIIII…”

Of course, I’d be remiss not to remind our readers that we’re currently running our Stay Home, Stay Safe 4.5K Guns & Gear Giveaway! It stars two of my top picks for trailside protection: the Taurus Judge and the Steyr Scout. The giveaway runs through May 8, so don’t miss out! Click on the photo below to enter!


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