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Critter Defense

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In cities and towns all across this nation, people use shotguns for home defense against human invasion. But, much more frequently in rural America, folks use them against unwelcome critters.

Where I grew up in the country, we had bird dogs, house cats, horses, rattlesnakes, calves, wild boar, coyotes and skunks. Skunks are hell on mice and bugs, so I don’t mind them doing their nocturnal duty, but any one of them that staggers across the yard in broad daylight, foaming at the mouth and looking to bite something, must immediately visit skunk heaven. Fact is, skunks are frequent carriers of rabies, and if that zombie-like critter sinks a fang into a pet or a person it’s no bueno.

My father was quite proud of me on several occasions when he came home from work to find that I’d dusted a rabid skunk with my 20 gauge as it taunted the dogs in the kennel. I found that my squirrel loads—high-brass No. 6s—were the perfect medicine.

Indeed, critter defense in rural America is a way of life, and as I learned, is often best served with a shotgun. For skunk-size vermin, a 12 gauge with No. 6 shot is tops. For unruly foxes, No. 4s are fine, and for coyotes and bobcats at backyard distances (50 yards and closer) a batch of BBs or Ts works wonders.

But, then we get into bigger beasts such as bears and cougars. Of course, there are myriad laws on the books dealing with these animals and under what conditions they may be shot, but in general, life or in some cases property (livestock, etc.) must be in imminent danger before they can be killed. Even so, in certain jurisdictions they’ll treat the dispatching of any bear, wolf or cougar like a homicide, so familiarize yourself with your area’s laws before you begin barking fire from your second-story window. Self-defense laws apply to animals, too, so if your safety or that of your friends and family is endangered by a wild beast that has lost its fear of man, almost every jurisdiction will allow you to use lethal force to protect life and limb. Just be aware that there will be an investigation afterward.

My defensive weapon of choice for bears, wolves and cougars? Here’s a hint: It’s not an AR-15. Rather, it’s a 12-gauge pump shotgun loaded with 00 buck.

Reality is, most adult black bears weigh from 100 to 200 pounds; cougars around 100. Double-aught buck is plenty powerful enough for them. Energy aside, a shotgun lends one huge advantage over a rifle, and that is its spread. Most predators including bears, cats and canines can cover 50 yards in just a few seconds, so the shotgun’s pattern can increase the odds of you hitting and stopping it before it finds your neck. Are the odds low of a cougar or a bear attacking you? Yes they are, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. It happens each and every year.

If you are in an area notorious for bears, consider going to a magnum buckshot load, such as a 3-inch, 12-pellet 00 buck load fired at 1,425 fps or more. This load produces 3,295 ft.-lbs. of muzzle energy, twice the energy of a regular, 9-pellet, 1,200 fps load. Of course, recoil is substantial, but that will be your last worry in the face of fangs.

For the biggest grizzly and brown bears—beasts that can weigh 1,000 pounds or more—consider full-power slug loads. It worked for retired Coast Guardsman Kris Heilman when he was called by his neighbor, Aaron Olsen, after a giant brown bear wandered into Olsen’s house on Kodiak Island, where his pregnant wife and five kids were sleeping. Olsen put four .45 Colt rounds into the bear, but the pistol rounds didn’t have much effect other than to enrage it. Minutes later, Heilman arrived with his Remington 870 stoked with Winchester XP slugs. He fired through a glass-paned wooden door and struck the bear under the jaw before the slug penetrated to the bruin’s brain, killing it instantly.

Maybe there are no marauding bears in your neck of the woods, but that’s the point. Because you never know what might invade, a shotgun offers all levels of fast, powerful and effective home defense against critters and criminals alike.


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