Those that grouse hunt in northern states have likely run into wolves at one point, or will in the future. Most of these occurrences pass without incident, but they also leave hunters thinking about “what if” scenarios for both them & their dogs.
A shotgun loaded with bird shot can make some noise, but it isn’t going to be very effective beyond that. If a wolf is threatening or even attacking your dog & you take a shot with your shotgun, you’re just as likely to hit your dog as you are the wolf. This is why many hunters have considered carrying a sidearm for self defense while grouse hunting.
Having run into wolves on more than one occasion myself, I can say it is one of the eeriest feelings in the world. I know where the wolf in front of me is, but I also know that wolves are obviously pack animals. The wolf that I can see is purposely coming out of cover to get us to hold up so the rest of the pack can get into position. At this point my dog Trigger is typically at my feet, and all I can think about is to keep my head on a swivel looking for any other wolves in the area.
I carry a 12 gauge Browning Citori over/under shotgun that was handed down to me by my dad, and it’s always loaded up with size 7 1/2 bird shot. When I get into a situation like this, I typically fire a shot over the head of the wolf that I can see. At that point the wolf runs off, and I’m left with one of the most paranoid walks back to the truck ever. My shotgun did about all it was effectively going to do to that wolf by scaring it off, but what if that didn’t work? Statistically speaking wolves are rarely going to come after you personally, but each year a rising number of bird dogs are killed by them.
For the sake of argument, lets ignore the fact that different states have different laws regarding carrying a sidearm for self-defense while grouse hunting. That’s a known variable, and it’s up to you to decide whether you’re going to abide by the laws in your state. If you’re unsure whether it’s legal or not, don’t hesitate to give your local game warden or DNR office a call to ask.
What I’m talking about here is whether or not it’s worth it to carry a sidearm for self-defense while grouse hunting. You’re going to be looking at the added weight of the pistol, your holster, & probably an extra clip or two. You’re already working through some of the toughest cover there is, and the likelihood that you’re actually going to need to use it is very slim.
But what if you would need it? In my scenario all I had was an over/under shotgun with bird shot & a Zero Tolerance Sinkevich knife. If a wolf did get to my dog, there is virtually nothing I could do to save him – especially without putting myself in extreme danger of being pulled into the fight. You hear hunters talk about carrying a few slugs in their upland vest while they’re hunting. The problem with that scenario is that it is almost always illegal, and the chances that you’re going to locate your slugs in time to save your dog is slim to none.
If you’re shooting at something like a wolf, the lethal range of my Browning Citori with 7 1/2 size bird shot is going to be about 2-5 yards. I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to do is have to be that close to a wolf to save my dog. As far as being able to deter a wolf with bird shot goes, you’re pretty much relegated to hoping you scare them off.
A pistol, on the other hand, is going to be far more effective at greater distances. This obviously depends a lot on the person shooting, but lets call it a 40 yard lethal range. This might seem short, but 40 yards in a grouse woods is about all you’re going to get.
In short, a pistol is going to outperform your shotgun by a lot in the range category.
When it comes to draw speed with your shotgun we could really be talking about two different things. If we’re simply talking about cracking off a shot with the existing bird shot in your gun, your shotgun is going to win every time. However fumbling around for slugs in your vest, unloading your bird shot, loading your slugs, and getting your gun up is a very different story. At this point the battle is likely already over.
A sidearm for self-defense while grouse hunting on the other hand is going to give you a better draw speed with actual effective shots. If you wanted to you could still crack off a few shots with your shotgun, then switch to your pistol. Unless you almost never wear your holster, you’re likely going to have plenty of experience practicing your draw. A pistol is going to win the draw speed battle here.
This is a bit of a no-brainer, but still worth mentioning. Even if you’re carrying a semi-auto shotgun you’re still only going to have 3 shots max. Considering the short effective range of bird shot, you’re at a serious disadvantage here with your shotgun.
A pistol on the other hand is going to have a significantly higher shot capacity. Even without an extended magazine, most .40 caliber pistols are going to have a 7+1 capacity. This is going to give you more chances to hit a target that is likely moving quickly. Combined with the fact that your reload time is considerably shorter, and a sidearm for self-defense while grouse hunting wins again.
Convenience is going to be the biggest hang-up keeping most hunters from wanting to carry a pistol while grouse hunting. It’s something that I myself struggle with, and it’s not the easiest decision to make. A typical grouse hunt for me typically consists of 8-10 miles of hiking through some pretty brutal grouse habitat. With so much hiking, I’m always looking to cut down on weight that I’m carrying.
This is going to vary quite a bit depending on your setup, but lets say you have a full size loaded .40 cal, extra loaded magazine, and a holster. For estimation purposes we’ll call it 5 pounds of extra weight that you’re carrying. I don’t know about you, but it’s hard to justify an extra 5 pounds on something that I’m likely not going to need.
About the Author
This post was contributed by Joe Scott, an avid outdoorsman and hunter. Growing up he was always out shooting sporting clays, chasing upland birds & deer, and simply enjoying shooting sports in general. As the owner of Alpha Dog Nutrition he has a passion for bird dogs, and as a hobby he also helps operate The Upland Hunter & The Waterfowl Hunter.
One of Joe’s primary objectives in his work is to be an example for younger generations that want to enjoy the outdoors. Looking around his local trap club each Tuesday, it’s very clear that places that he has enjoyed for years will be gone forever in 5-10 years if we don’t get younger generations interested in the sport. To him, this involves both generating interest in younger generations as well as acceptance from the older generations.