Many conscientious folk are concerned about their safety in a time when it seems crime and lawlessness is on the rise. But, depending on where you live and frequent, the predators you need to worry about might not be of the human variety. It's not as if North America were a jungle, but there are multiple critters here that can harm you. Being prepared to deal with them only makes sense.
Between 30,000 and 60,000 Americans are vaccinated for rabies each year due to interactions with "rabies reservoir" species (e.g., animals that commonly carry the disease). Though contraction of the disease is rare, it is lethal and mind-numbingly scary. Raccoons, bats, foxes, skunks and coyotes are the most common carriers, and these species are prevalent from coast to coast. In the span of two years we had two foxes infected with rabies in our yard in West Virginia.
Fortunately, common firearms are capable of dealing with wildlife suspected of carrying the disease. A good .22 rifle will easily dispatch any these animals; just make sure you load it with suitable ammunition like CCI Stinger, Velocitor or another good hollow point. We keep a Smith & Wesson M&P 15-22 behind the door. A .22 Magnum will even provide more assurance. Your everyday shotgun can be just as effective, but lacks the reach of even a rimfire rifle. If you go with a shotgun, number 4 shot is ideal for any gauge.
Venomous snakes are another potentially life-threatening critter, and in some locations they’re even protected. In reality, snakes are not nearly as aggressive as a rabid animal, but that does not make them less dangerous. My grandfather generally dealt with timber rattlers and copperheads with a stick or his artificial leg (he’d use it to stomp their heads). I, on the other hand, don’t like getting that close. A .22 rifle will work on a snake, but you must hit them in the head, and that is a relatively small target if it’s moving.
For snakes, my preference is a handgun, like you might already own and/or carry for protection, loaded with CCI shot shells. One or two of these directed at snake’s head from about 8 feet will solve the problem. And these low-velocity, low-capacity, shotshells substantially reduce the chances of ricochet or collateral damage. At Gunsite Academy in Paulden, Arizona, there are hordes of Mohave rattlesnakes. Almost every instructor carries a spare magazine loaded with CCI shotshells. Keep in mind, this ammo may not cycle the slide of semi-automatic handguns. That’s not a big deal; you can do it manually.
Bears are another thing altogether. It has been suggested that you are much more likely to be struck by lightening than attacked by a bear. This is probably true, but is of little comfort when you’re face-to-face with a 300-pound black bear in your back yard or a grizzly on your Alaskan fishing trip. Even in these instances bear attacks are extremely rare (most of the time, your best bet is to simply back away slowly), but that does not mean you should not at least be prepared. You might thwart a bear attack with that .22 rifle you keep behind the door for skunks and such, but I’d not recommend trying it.
If a bear of any kind attacks you, you’ll need a gun that can deliver deep penetration, with possibly enough power to bust through the bear’s thick skull. Most any big-game rifle loaded with premium ammunition can fill this role. (I just set up a Ruger Gunsite Scout Rifle with GMX ammunition from Hornady for a friend who runs the Baptist Mission on Kodiak Island.) But a rifle is not your only viable option. A shotgun loaded with slugs can work, but don’t try to take on a bear with buckshot.
In fact, even that handgun you might use for snakes can get the job done. Recently, an Alaskan guide stopped a charging grizzly with a 9mm handgun. Two things helped him accomplish this. First, he did not panic and he shot well. Secondly, his 9mm was loaded with the right ammunition. Buffalo Bore, a boutique ammunition company in Idaho, offers hardcast Outdoorsman loads for most defensive handgun cartridges. The hardened-lead bullets loaded in this ammunition will penetrate on par with hunting rifle loads from a .30-06! Doubletap is another source for hardcast handgun loads.
In any of these potentially bad encounters, avoidance is the best answer. But once things go rodeo, chaos can take control and that’s never good. If evasion is not an option, being prepared will feel better than winning the lottery. If you’re a gun owner, chances are you already have the firearm/s at your disposal to take care of anything nature can throw at you. Just make sure it’s loaded with the right ammo, keep a cool head and shoot straight!