For the most part, bowhunters are no strangers to firearms. Many of us got our start in the hunting woods with a deer rifle before selecting a bow as our weapon of choice. And I’d venture to guess that we make up a good portion of the six percent of Americans who are concealed carry permit holders.
Lions and Traffickers and Bears, Oh My
Any bowhunter who has spent much time afield has likely experienced a run-in with an intimidating critter or two. Mountain lions, bears and other predators are ever-present in the areas we hang our stands. And according to the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, a rise in drug labs and narcotics trafficking on public land — including national parks — also poses a threat to backcountry bowhunters.
If you do encounter an aggressive animal or criminal, chances aren’t good that you’ll be able to nock an arrow in time — or connect with your moving target.
State of Affairs
According to the National Rifle Association, archers in 37 states can legally carry a handgun for self-defense while bowhunting. Thanks in part to organizations like the NRA and the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, more and more states are recognizing the right of bowhunters to protect themselves in the field.
From the Expert
I recently participated in a firearms training course with Rick Vasquez Firearms at Echo Valley Training Center in West Virginia. A former Marine and ATF officer, Rick now uses his decades of experience to instruct everyone from first-time shooters to law enforcement on firearms safety and best practices.
While the training focused on everyday self-defense, Rick provided me with some additional tips for carrying a handgun while bowhunting.
• On Your Hip
An angry sow won’t wait for you to rifle through gear in search of your pistol. So, rather than stowing your handgun in a backpack, keep it readily accessible in a field holster – with an active-retention device such as a thumb break — on your hip. This style of holster will also protect your piece and keep it securely locked in place while you climb into your treestand.
• Caliber Matters
What handgun should you carry while you’re bowhunting? Well, that all depends on your purpose — what’s the threat? If bears are a significant concern where you’re hunting, Rick recommends a higher caliber handgun, like a .357 Magnum. While a larger pistol might weigh you down slightly, you’ll need stopping power if you encounter a big ol’ boar.
If your hunting site is generally safe and you just want some insurance on your hip, a 9mm should do the trick. Regardless of which caliber you choose, Rick says it’s important to try before you buy — just like you should when investing in a new bowhunting rig. See how comfortable you are with the grip, trigger pull and recoil of the handgun before dropping the cash.
• Practice Makes Protected
I’ve fired hundreds of close-range rounds at a single target from a stationary position. But as I previously mentioned, a predator — whether it’s a half-ton grizzly or a busted drug trafficker — won’t sit still and wait for you to draw. Practice drawing from your holster. Practice shooting on the move. Practice hitting multiple targets. Consider investing in a training course with a trained professional like Rick Vasquez to ensure you’re prepared for any situation. You wouldn’t climb into a treestand without flinging arrows all year, and you shouldn’t venture into the wilderness without firing your handgun, either.
• Keep It Legal
Check regulations in your state and the specific areas you’re hunting before packing a pistol on your next hunt, especially if you’ll be crossing state lines. Nuances in legislation among the 37 states that allow bowhunters to carry handguns make doing your research ahead of time critical.
• Girls with Guns
As a female bowhunter who frequents public land solo, I recognize that I’m taking an even great risk than my male counterparts each time I step into the woods. While women are flocking to the sport in droves, the perception that we are less than capable still exists. Ne’er-do-wells can see us as easier targets, especially in the great outdoors. And sometimes, with our traditionally smaller frames, we are. Nationwide, women are realizing the importance of arming themselves for protection.
According to the Crime Prevention Research Center, the number of women who hold permits is soaring — at a rate twice that of men between 2012 and 2016. While all bowhunters in regions that permit them to carry handguns should strongly consider arming themselves, female bowhunters stand to benefit most from entering the field prepared.
Like all responsible concealed carry permit holders, I hope I never even have to consider drawing my handgun — whether in my home or en route to my treestand. But legitimate threats exist; better safe than sorry.