Choosing an Appropriate Firearm for Your Ranch or Homestead

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Having firearms is a matter of personal choice and never a decision to be taken lightly. We have firearms at our ranch but we are uniquely qualified to have them because my husband is a retired police officer. I’m not going to go into firearms for hunting. That is the subject of another blog. We have firearms to deal with predators like coyotes and rattlesnakes. We also want to be prepared for larger predators like bears and mountain lions, although encounters with these are few and far between. However, we have coyote and rattlesnake encounters on a regular basis. We also use the firearms to control ground squirrels because they eat our chicken feed, dig holes for our horses to step in and attract the rattlesnakes and coyotes that I mentioned before. In addition to that, we live far from law enforcement so we feel we need firearms for security.

You don’t have to be a retired police officer to safely have and use firearms but there are a few important things to know before you get them. If you’re not already familiar, we recommend that you attend a firearms safety class. A lot of shooting ranges have them and will also have firearms for you to try out. This is one suggestion. You shouldn’t even touch a gun until you’ve had a safety class if you don’t know anything about them.

Why do you want them? Have a good reason. Firearms are very dangerous. They are also very useful. So have a good reason and then do it right. It’s also very important to consider them carefully if you have children in the house or expect children to visit. If you do then securing the guns is of utmost importance.

If you take the course and have a plan for how to safely store the guns then here are some suggestions about the types of firearms you might find useful on your ranch or homestead. There aren’t any guns that are all purpose. You’re going to have to expect to get more than one if you want to cover more than one base.

For poisonous snakes, we suggest a gun that uses shot. You can get a shotgun, hand gun or rifle that uses cartridges that have shot in them. A poisonous snake is a small target and you don’t want to get close to it. Plus you don’t want to miss and have them get away. Shot is best. If you don’t already know, shot is a bunch of little pellets that spray out in a wide area as opposed to a bullet that is one object and goes to a small point. You have to have extremely good aim to hit a snake with a bullet. We’re not going to recommend any particular brand of shotgun, hand gun or rifle but we don’t recommend buying the cheapest models. This is because they can be defective which can be a danger to you and the people around you.

For small varmints like ground squirrels we recommend a .22 rifle. Practice, practice, practice. We don’t recommend going out and shooting without being reasonably assured that you can hit to kill. We aren’t in favor of any critter, no matter how pesky, to suffer. Sometimes a scope can help but you have to know how to calibrate and keep it aiming true. Otherwise the ordinary sight is effective. Again, practice, practice, practice.

And as long as we’re on the subject of practice … this may seem like a no-brainer, but please set up your practice range away from the house and so the bullets go into a big earthen berm or hill. Put all your pets and children inside the house before you start. A .22-caliber round has a 1 mile range. Larger calibers can go much farther. So if you can find a practice range over a couple hills away so much the better. Never shoot straight up in the air for fun.

Medium-size predators like coyotes are best dealt with a medium caliber gun. There are a lot of possibilities. We have a 30-30 lever action rifle. You’d be surprised how smart coyotes are about the sound of a gun shot. They’ll take off and never be seen or heard from again if you simply shoot in their general direction. We’re not going to go into how to bring down an animal of this size. This is also the subject for another blog.

One thing we want to say is that if you need to shoot a bear, you need a large caliber with a lot of power like a .338 Win Mag rifle. If you shoot a bear with anything too small, you’re probably just going to make it mad. And we don’t want this, do we? And let’s just be clear here. We are talking about the average black bear. Not a Kodiak Island Brown bear. That’s a whole other kettle of fish.

For personal security a medium to large caliber pistol or rifle is best. It takes more than just shot or a .22 bullet to stop a person. A person is sort of like a bear. Hopefully you will never have to use it ,but if you’re concerned about trespassers, consider getting a pistol. However, you should know that a pistol is really only good for close up. Close up is 50 feet or less.

To conclude, non-gun people don’t usually understand why a gun user has so many guns, but the truth is that there is not one type of gun that works effectively in every situation. We’re giving you an overview of what we’ve found works for us in our situation which is a remote ranch on the edge of national forest. You might find that the class at the gun range will be an excellent resource. Tell them why you think you want a gun and what you would like to do with it. Many of them will be able to recommend equipment for your particular situation.

Photo: iStockphoto.com/zorandimzr