There are clear divisions in the gun industry, but perhaps none is more pronounced than the line between hunters and, well, everyone else. Truth is, the mindset that hunting is an entirely separate firearms-related pastime is one that should have come to an end long ago. Here are some hard truths about the worlds of hunting and self-defense, how they intersect and why you need both in your gun life.
Why We Hunt
The majority of hunters hit the fields and woods for one reason: meat. Sure, there are a variety of side benefits like spending time in the peace and quiet of nature (unless you’re on public land on opening day) and family time. But when it comes right down to it, most of us hunt for free-range, untouched food. As someone who hunts with handguns even more than long guns, I have to say I also hunt to keep my handgun skills sharp and for the challenge of being silent and getting close. If you’ve never hunted, try it. Deer hunting may bore some people thanks to the hours spent sitting still in blinds or against trees, but there are a lot of other options out there — like chasing feral hogs and shotgunning ducks. The options are endless.
Why We Carry
Here’s the thing: I’ve been carrying for self-defense for a very long time. In fact, I carry during hunts too. (Check out your local laws to be confident in the legalities attached to handgun carry during different hunting seasons.) We carry to defend our lives and the lives of our loved ones. It’s simple, really. But do you put effort into your training? Do you attend classes and keep your totally perishable self-defense skills sharp and ready? Or do you think holstering up every so often and carrying is good enough?
More than 15 years ago, in the frozen state of Wisconsin, a self-proclaimed shaman by the name of Chai Soua Vang willfully trespassed during whitetail season and sat in the property owner’s blind. When the individuals rightfully hunting the land realized someone was trespassing — and attempting to poach — one of them went out, unarmed, to ask him to leave.
Long story short, Vang did exit the hunting blind. But when he got partway down the path, he popped the scope off his SKS, turned around and opened fire on the man who had asked him to leave and the others who had been concerned and gone out to back the man up. Unfortunately, out of the half-dozen people murdered that day, only one had a gun readily available. The rest had left their guns back at the cabin or on their ATVs. We’ll never know why they thought confronting an armed stranger trespassing on private property when they themselves were unarmed and unprepared was a good idea. It wasn’t, and they paid the ultimate price. When Vang was later captured, he told the sheriff the hunters deserved to die.
Still think you’re untouchable while hunting? That isn’t the only time that has happened.
Why Not Both?
If you’re a hunter, you should be trained in self-defense. If you’re someone who carries a gun for self-defense, you should try hunting. Hunting is a stellar way to learn about adrenaline rushes: how to master them and how to make a good shot while you’re overexcited, overstimulated and jittery. The more you hunt, the more chill you get about it.
Owning a gun isn’t just about having grandpa’s old lever-action and going out for whitetail once in a while. It’s a major responsibility, and there is an overwhelming attitude of “I’ve been around guns all my life; I know what I’m doing” among hunters. I’ve got news for you: A vast number of hunters do not know what they are doing — and the same goes for an awful lot of folks who carry a gun for self-defense. We all need proper training. Neither hunter’s education nor basic pistol to get your carry permit is good enough. You need more. A lot more.
Why can’t you do both? Why does it have to be one or the other?
All firearms platforms are not the same. Taking the time to get trained on all of them is ideal, but if you’re stuck choosing one, go for handguns. It’s going to be a handgun that potentially saves your life or the lives of your loved ones someday. It’s a handgun that is easily portable. A friend of mine who both hunts and trains for self-defense, David Werner, made the comment that it’s pretty hard to conceal his Remington 700, and he is right in more ways than one. Not only is it impossible to conceal a rifle, they are also not terribly portable, and your point of aim versus point of impact changes drastically with distance. If you think you can use your rifle for close-range self-defense without practice, you’re wrong. And if you think your hunting rifle is ideal for home defense, you’re misinformed.
Take a class, but be specific. Find a class that caters to your needs and skill set. For most shooters who are new to training, that means starting with a basic handgun class and then working their way up through the levels of intermediate and advanced defensive handgun. Once you have those skills nailed, consider taking handgun retention and force-on-force classes. You’ll be pleased how those abilities translate to hunting too. The two areas of interest complement one another nicely, especially when you’re serious about putting in the work.
Maybe you, as a hunter, have never stopped to consider the fact that you’re wandering in the woods and are not magically safe from harm. Perhaps it never occurred to you that someone may well trespass on your property or that an anti-hunter might take it upon himself to threaten you in person (it happens). And maybe you’ve always felt your one-shot, one-kill hunting skills will somehow translate to an ability to defend your life against a human attack. They don’t.
Learn your local laws about self-defense while hunting and act accordingly. If you cannot carry a handgun while hunting due to legal restrictions in your area, learn how to use your long gun for more than 150-yard shots on deer. Take a close-quarters rifle class. Spend time at the range getting familiar with where your shots will land if you’re using an optic zeroed at 100 yards at a distance of, say, 20 yards or closer. Find out what happens if you have to take an extremely up-close shot with your rifle in defense of your life. Do not assume you know, and do not think you are protected simply because you’re a hunter (and who would want to hurt you in the woods?).
My teenage daughter was not allowed to sit alone in a hunting blind until her handgun skills were up to the task of self-defense. Do yourself the service of getting proper self-defense training. Training goes beyond pulling triggers too. Training includes learning about the criminal mindset, reading body language and responding accordingly. Oh … and carry a tourniquet. You should already have one, but if you do not, get one. Learn to use it.
This life is 100 percent your responsibility. No one is coming to save you. When you’re in the woods, that becomes even more true. No person is only one thing — hunter or concealed carrier. You can learn a lot and enjoy the benefits of every aspect of the gun world. Don’t shortchange yourself. There’s a wide world of firearms out there, and you should enjoy all of it.
About Kat Ainsworth
Outdoor writer Kat Ainsworth has been carrying concealed for 15 years and hunting for more than 20 years. She writes for a variety of industry publications, covering hunting, ballistics and self-defense, though she has a background in K9 Search-and-Rescue and emergency veterinary medicine. Kat enjoys traveling as part of her gun-related lifestyle. She has yet to find a firearm she didn’t want to fire.