The headwaters of the San Joaquin are a delightful contrast to the muddy river that flows into the San Joaquin - Sacramento Delta. From its source near Mammoth Lakes and Devil’s Postpile National Monument, to its first dam at Mammoth Pool, the upper San Joaquin is a wild and beautiful wilderness trout stream. It is completely unreachable by road and the only access is by horseback or by foot. The San Joaquin Canyon is several thousand feet deep and hiking both down in and back up is a serious hike. My wife Mary and I had spent several days camping and fishing in the canyon along with my Mom and Dad. As we always did on wilderness trips, we both carried handguns to chase off bears and dispatch rattlers.
On the hike out, Dad and I were a couple hours ahead of Mary and Mom who were to follow on horseback. We were wearing our backpacks and fortunately I had affixed the 357 Magnum I called “Old Roscoe” to my pack so that it was easily reached. As we rounded a switchback in the trail we surprised a large rattler, who was extremely aggressive. As soon as he saw us, the snake began heading straight toward us as fast as he could. My reaction to draw Old Roscoe and fire was instinctive and fortunately, I hit the snake in the head at a distance of 10 feet. Ordinarily I am not a great or even a good shot with a pistol, but the adrenalin rushing into my system must have made up for my average shooting skill. I could probably never make another shot like that again in my entire life, but when it really counted, Old Roscoe came through.
Numerous times readers have asked me for advice on what kind of gun they ought to purchase. The answer will vary depending on several factors, like, how familiar the prospective buyer is with guns in general, and what they need the gun for and how they intend to use it. Sometimes I advise them not to get a gun at all, but to get a dog, or pepper spray, or a burglar alarm. In some cases, however, there is no substitute for a gun. There is no way that pepper spray would have stopped that striking rattler on the San Joaquin. If you’re convinced you need a handgun for general outdoor protection, then I recommend a revolver in 357 magnum caliber. Once, they were common for police departments everywhere, but because automatics have much higher magazine capacity than revolvers, almost every law enforcement agency everywhere has shifted to using automatic handguns.
Outdoor enthusiasts, however, are highly unlikely to find themselves in a fire fight with terrorists using Uzis, or robbers equipped with AK-47s. If you’re camping, fishing, hiking, backpacking, or boating, a revolver will do the job for you just fine. The beauty of the 357 magnum is that while it is a very powerful handgun capable of stopping a bear or wild boar at close range, it is also capable of shooting the less powerful 38 Special cartridge, which is far cheaper, has less recoil and is ideal for target practice and recreational plinking of tin cans. You can get comfortable using your gun with the 38 ammo and not go bankrupt doing it. Once you are thoroughly familiar with your revolver shooting 38s, you can then graduate to practicing with the more powerful 357 ammo. Then you’ll have a gun that is both reliable and affordable and that may just save your life in that split second you need it.
For my money, there is no better all around handgun for the outdoorsman than a 357 revolver. Whether it comes to dealing with rattlers or bears, or just target practice on a Saturday afternoon, Old Roscoe has never let me down.
Until Next Week,