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The Forty-Five Auto ON THE TRAIL.

An experienced outdoorsman tells of how and why he selected a semi-auto companion.

Not long ago in this country, a sportsman who voiced concerns about getting "et up" on the trail was considered to be a desk-bound dude. Today, that same person is seen as a sharp thinker who knows the score.

Wild animals may not have changed, but factors such as shrinking habitat and restrictions on predator hunting have caused an alarming increase in aggressive animal encounters. As a result, listing 100 close encounters of the worst kind would be no challenge. Examples range from Arizona Boy Dragged from Back Yard by Coyote to Mother Dies from Cougar Attack Following Defense of Her Child. And while the odds of an animal attack remain minuscule today, they aren't as remote as they were a decade ago.

On a dense western Wyoming mountainside a light bulb flicked on over my head after my bowhunting partner and I caught sight of a coyote. Wait a second, two. Four. Six. There were eight, maybe more. We never got an accurate count, but those wild dogs were working together.

"Is the hair crawling on your arms?" Mike asked me.

Walk Softly, And Carry A .45

This doesn't mean that you should start shooting at die sight of a threatening animal. If faced with a mountain lion in the path, don't turn or run. Look big, avoid direct eye contact, and don't cower. If a bear crosses your path, stop dead in your tracks and make noise. If it comes any closer, shoot pepper spray - not bullets. But when a wild animal continues to behave aggressively - and escape is not an option- you must be ready with firepower.

Carrying a handgun on the trail has nothing to do with offense and everything to do with defense. The handgun you would choose to hunt with, despite its great power and accuracy, may not be the best choice for an unexpected defensive need. In such instances, no handgun will seem powerful enough. But to be of any value, your trailgun must be with you. The problem with packing a sidearm is its bulk and weight, and that too heavy .454 whopper that you left at camp will not do you much good on the trail when seconds count.

For me, the solution is the .45 auto. It is flat and compact, and I can carry it all day. It may not be a powerhouse - but it's big enough to do the job.

I have lived in Grizzly Country and still walk where Old Ephraim roams. On the Alaskan Peninsula, my size-12 bootprint looked baby-like next to fresh bear tracks. If I knew that an altercation with a bear was around the corner, a pistol would not be my choice of armament, A .45 ACP bullet is a pesky gnat on the hide of a big bear. I know that. I also know myself. Chances are that I wouldn't tolerate the bother of carrying a rifle or a heavy-magnum handgun while fishing or hiking.

But my flat-sided .45 will always be with me. With luck, a shot into a nearby tree might convince a bear to play somewhere else. If that fails, however, I'd much rather tackle that bruin with a puny .45 than fight him off with a fly rod.

A friend had a run-in with a coastal grizzly a year ago, the species we used to call brown bear and still should. George survived, although it took a few hundred stitches to repair the damage. He had left his big handgun back at the camp. I bet he would have welcomed an easily carried little .45 ACP with a full magazine!

Of course, there are less hair-raising uses for a compact .45-caliber companion. The hunter knows that an opportunity to collect tender delicacies for the cooking fire may arise at any time - a quiet pistol shot saves expensive rifle ammo and does not make a mess of small game. A hiker or fisherman knows that a pistol can be carefully used as a signaling device in the event of severe injury.

.45 Ammo From A Trail Perspective

So, having settled on a trim .45 auto as our trail-gun, what type of ammunition should be selected? Today's factory ammo is the best the world has ever known, not only in quality but also in the variety of loadings available. The .45 ACP is a great example of this. Federal, Winchester, Remington, Speer Lawman, Cor-Bon, CCI Blazer - you name it - all are excellent and offer a wide choice of ballistics. Select from FMJ hardball, light hollow-point, heavy hollow-point for deeper penetration, or target wadcutter for mountain grouse and cottontails.

For proof of this abundance, a quick look through the current Shooter's Bible shows seven loads from Hornady ranging from the 185-grain JHP to the 230-grain FMJ. Magtech offers three, all with 230grain bullets. Federal also has three, including the highly regarded 230-grain Hydra-Shock. Remington and Winchester were well represented with a variety of loads. I found no .45 ACP shot cartridges listed. For the record, however, Remington has offered shot loads carrying number 12 shot, the same shot size found in .22 rimfire shot cartridges, while CCI's .45 ACP shot cartridge is loaded with number 9s. I've never tried .45 ACP shot cartridges, but there are those who have found them useful.

Good handloads are another option for the trail-gun, although each should be checked in the sportsman's personal .45 to ensure perfect feeding. The selection of bullets and powders suitable for handloading the .45 ACP is incredibly vast, and it would take volumes to list the various possible combinations. I can, however, report good results with the 200-grain Hornady XTP JHP, driven by 9.0 grains of SR 4756. This load is good for approximately 1,000 fps from a 5-inch barrel. The heavier 230-grain XTP hollow-point will clock right at 900 fps with 8.0 grains of the same propellant.

Nosler's 230-grain FMJ, another good bullet, is propelled to well over 800 fps with 8.5 grains of AA number 5 powder. I'm also fond of Oregon Trail's 225-grain truncated-cone Laser-Cast bullet. This bullet has provided top accuracy with a variety of loads found in the Laser-Cast reloading manual. All of the above loads are listed as maximum.

If The Moment Comes

On the trail, I load my .45 magazines with any one of the excellent hollow-point bullets first, followed by two rounds of hardball, and the remainder of the cargo heavy hollow-points. For the latter, I like CorBon's 230-grain +P JHP, which promises 950 for from a 5-inch barrel.

In the hopes of avoiding the necessity of having to shoot an aggressive animal, I'm willing to sacrifice the first round fired as a warning shot.

My theory behind this mixed load is that if noise-making and pepper spray (used with the off-hand) haven't solved the problem, then the bruin, cougar or coyote will probably only be a few feet away. If the warning shot doesn't work, a hollowpoint bullet will deliver a heavy initial blow, followed by two FMJs for maximum penetration, and with additional expanding projectiles in reserve,

This barrage may not instantly stop a dedicated bear in its tracks, but such bullets, if well-placed, should do the job. A cat or coyote won't make it beyond a couple of well-placed rounds. It's simply a matter of the portable gun in your hand being worth a lot more than the big gun back at camp - no matter the size of the beast encountered.

Just as loaded ammunition and components for the .45 ACP are plentiful, so are the pistols themselves. After considering the staggering array of makes and models available, I selected two .45 trail guns: a Ruger P9ODC, because of its rugged and reliable nature, and a Kimber Ultra Carry, for compactness and flawless function.

How to carry your .45 is important. It must be out of the way but easy to get to. I tried several shoulder holsters and belt holsters before settling on a simple hip holster with a retention strap, plus two extra loaded magazines, one with a strap and the other open.

Now It's Up To You

No pistol, even a carefully chosen one, will suffice for the trail if it is not used with practiced skill. I enlisted the help of Ron Cox, a former SWAT Team officer, to help me brush up on my pistol skills. And I was soon shooting better than I had thought possible.

The first, and perhaps most important, lesson Cox imparted was astonishingly simple and effective: "Concentrate on the front sight," he said.

By strictly adhering to this instruction, I began hitting 25-yard targets that I had normally missed. While easy enough to do on the practice range, it will take a supreme effort of will to focus on the front sight rather than the target in a life-threatening encounter. After a simple reminder from Cox to concentrate on trigger squeeze, my practice program left me confident that my .45 caliber pistol would do the job in my hands.

I embarrassed myself when Cox advised that I carry the Kimber in "condition one," with hammer fully cocked and the thumb safety engaged.

"Is that really safe?" I blurted out.

He assured me that it was and reminded me that most common sporting guns are carried in just that way - cocked. The only difference is that you don't see the hammer eared back and ready.

Examples? How about a Remington Model 870 shotgun; if a round has been chambered, the hammer is cocked. The same can be said for any bolt-action rifle, along with a host of other familiar firearms. For additional peace of mind, the Kimber has two external safeties. Squeeze the grip to kick one off. Flick a lever to turn off the second.

Familiar now with my two trail-guns, I was confident that whether wandering the back country, sitting in a tree stand (several bears have climbed stands to get hunters), or fishing some lonely trout stream, that the .45 auto-pistol at my side would be up to all tasks. While I'm counting on it for that one-in-a-million grim encounter with an aggravated wild animal on the trail, I know that I will appreciate the company of the flat-sided little pistol -- even if all I ever call upon it for is to add a little food to the camp pot.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Publishers' Development Corporation
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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Fadala, Sam
Publication:Guns Magazine
Date:Nov 1, 2001
Previous Article:It's The Bullet!
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