If you’re planning a bowhunting trip in a state that allows you to carry a backup gun or you’re going camping in bear territory, you’re going to want a sidearm. From bears to coyotes to even the occasional mountain lion, there are always scenarios in which having a powerful handgun at your side could very well save your life. While a rifle is preferable in almost any scenario in which you find yourself facing down a wild animal, that is not always possible or practical. In some situations, you need a firearm compact enough to carry around for miles, but also powerful enough to do the job when it’s called upon.
When it comes to large predators like bears or large cats, you’re going to need one of these. Below are five excellent choices for a handguns in “big” calibers. Essentially, any quality-built handgun in these calibers would be an adequate choice for wilderness defense. In addition, avoiding confrontations and knowing how to handle encounters with a wild animal is always preferable to using a firearm.
Having some bear spray would also be advisable.
1. Taurus Tracker Model 627 in .357 Magnum
The Taurus Tracker series is a rugged family of revolvers designed specifically for wilderness survival. While some might say that .357 Magnum is on the lower end of what they would want in their hands against a bear or even an aggressive moose, a well-placed shot would bring down even the largest of bruins. An advantage of the .357 Magnum over more powerful rounds is that it generally is easier to handle and fire accurately, not to mention that revolver chambered in the caliber are also usually lighter. At around 28 ounces unloaded, the Taurus Tracker Model 627SS4 is the lightest handgun on this list—even beating out the polymer Glock 20.
For most predators and wildlife, the .357 is more than adequate. If you’re expecting to run into grizzlies on a consistent basis, however, you might want to keep reading.
You can learn more about the Tracker in the video review below:
2. Glock 20 in 10mm
You either hate it or love it. The Glock 20 is the only semiautomatic on this list, but it packs a massive capacity advantage over the revolvers. Capable of holding up to 15+1 rounds of 10mm, this handgun is designed with hunter protection in mind. However, like the .357 Magnum, the 10mm is often the subject of debate when it comes to terminal ballistics.
If you do decide to take up the Glock 20 for wilderness protection, you might be interested to know that you aren’t the only one. In fact, due to the Glock 20’s relatively low price, light weight, and yes, even because of the Glock name, it remains one of the most popular handguns on this list. The Glock 20 is also used commonly by handgun hunters, especially when it comes to pursuing animals like feral pigs.
Learn more about the Glock 10 in the video review below:
3. S&W Model 57 in .41 Magnum
Now we’re getting into the bigger calibers. Developed initially as a service revolver for law enforcement agencies, the Model 57 ended up being much more popular with hunters and outdoorsmen instead. This is due partly to the poor reception from police departments (due to the revolver’s “Magnum” status) and the guns’s lackluster sales after the release of the much more popular Model 29 in .44 Magnum (of Dirty Harry fame).
So instead, the revolver and the .41 Magnum found a purpose away from the streets and in the woods.
A quick overview of the Model 57 can be seen below:
4. Ruger Redhawk/Blackhawk in .44 Magnum
Large, unwieldy, and often hard to shoot accurately, the .44 Magnum is nonetheless a great round for predator defense. If a round from one of these revolvers isn’t enough to change a charging bear’s mind, then almost no other handgun will. Ruger’s revolvers are made from high-grade steel and constructed to handle extra stress, making them popular with handloaders using hot rounds. Both the Redhawk and Blackhawk series have been used successfully in the wild, and perhaps most famously by legendary explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes when he drew one of the magnum revolvers against charging polar bear and shot it in the foot in the North Pole.
“I knew I had to shoot it,” Fiennes told National Geographic. “I aimed at its chest, but I must have been nervous, as I hit it in the foot. It stopped in its advance, about 10 yards from us, and thought something was wrong.”
In truth, Fiennes had only grazed the bear, but the loud crack of the shot and the thud of the impact was enough to make the bear stop in its tracks and turn around.
You can see a Redhawk Hunter being shot below:
5. S&W500 in .500 S&W Magnum
The S&W500 is quite simply one of the most powerful production handguns you can purchase today. Although used only sparingly, the S&W500 has a legendary reputation due to the ridiculous size of its .500 S&W Magnum cartridge. The prevailing opinion is that if you fire this hand cannon at something and don’t miss by a mile, that thing will die. While this reputation is mostly just anecdotal, it should be noted that the revolver is quite powerful—as is the recoil. And despite how much we build them up, even 1,500-pound animals like Kodiak bears are not immortal. They are made of flesh, blood, and large vital organs that, if punctured, will usually result in death. If you’re okay with carrying around a 56-ounce to 82-ounce revolver on your hip, you can rest easy in the fact that you’re basically lugging around a cannon.
It should also be noted that the S&W 500 has been used to successfully take cape buffalo, one of the toughest animals in the world and often reputed as the biggest challenge for hunters in Africa.
See it in action below:
Featured image is public domain.