A decade ago, it was illegal in many states for a bowhunter to carry a handgun to the stand. The rationale was that if a deer walked by, we couldn’t be trusted not to shoot it with a pistol and then stick an arrow into it to cover our tracks. Times have changed.
Fish and wildlife agencies have realized that broadhead holes and hollow-point holes look different—and people inclined to poach are probably going to poach regardless. Legal carrying of concealed, defensive firearms has gained massive acceptance in general over the last decade, too, with all 50 states now allowing it in some form. It makes sense that a person who packs heat to Walmart would also carry to the deer stand.
There are plenty of reasons to carry a handgun afield—but in this context, we’re not talking about bear protection or plinking around camp. These guns are not backup for dispatching wounded game (that’s usually illegal); nor are they suitable for actual handgun hunting.
The guns here serve one purpose: protection against a small, but real, set of dangerous people you could encounter in the woods just as easily as in a dark alley. These three models are compact enough for everyday carry but especially practical for the woods—each is exceptionally reliable, weather resistant, substantial enough for the job, and equipped with good sights.
1. Kimber K6s
$899 | kimberamerica.com The Voorhes
A stainless-steel wheel gun still makes sense for many outdoorsmen. This one weighs 23 ounces and holds six rounds of .357 magnum. Despite being the lightest .357 six-shooter available, it is remarkably easy to shoot and about the most capable snub-nosed revolver on the market.
2. Glock 26 Gen4
$649 | us.glock.com The Voorhes
Introduced in 1994, this 10-round 9mm is still one of the most popular concealed-carry guns out there. Mine goes with me everywhere legally allowed. I’ve carried it on hunts from the Rocky Mountains to south Florida and put thousands of rounds through it without a single malfunction.
3. Sig Sauer P239 SAS Gen2
The .357 SIG caliber is only modestly popular, but those who use it love it. It’s revered for its accuracy, and it throws a 125-grain bullet to 1400-plus fps, which is pretty hot for an autoloading handgun. The P239 takes a seven-round single-stack magazine and is a traditional double/single-action semiauto.
What to Know If You Pack
Kevin Michalowski, executive editor of the U.S. Concealed Carry Association’s Concealed Carry magazine, certified pistol instructor, and active-duty law enforcement officer, recommends carrying the same gun, in the same way, every day—whether you’re in the woods or in town. “We suggest people carry their defensive firearm on their strong-side hip,” he says. “It’s easiest to access there, and it’s the safest draw stroke. Shoulder and cross-draw holsters require you to draw across your body, and when you’re in a hurry, it’s easy to forget trigger-finger discipline.”
Just as crucial as picking the right gun or holster is understanding the implications that come with armed self-defense. Self-defense laws differ from one state to the next, and you need to know them if you’re traveling for a hunt. And seek training. “Many people who’ve been around firearms their entire life have no concept of what it means to fight for your life with a gun,” Michalowski says. “Defensive skills, like other shooting skills, are perishable. If you don’t practice, you will lose them.” —W.B.