Less-Lethal Self-Defense Options

One gun writer's take on the "less-lethal" self-defense choices on the market.

posted on May 26, 2023
Can you see the mountain lion? Because she can see you ...

I used to have a very rigid idea of self-defense: I figured that if someone or something alarmed me enough to warrant self-defense, I should use lethal force. And so I’ve always carried a gun with the intention of only pulling it if I had to use it. But since then, my views have changed. Options are a good thing, because self-defense scenarios are not a one-tool-fits-all affair.

Fact is, there are non-lethal options available, and some scenarios could be handled with less than lethal force. While I always recommend carrying a firearm as your first and last line of defense in a true life-or-death emergency, over the years I’ve witnessed some instances where I wish I’d had a less-permanent option.

For example, a few years ago in Colorado’s backcountry while bowhunting elk, I was sitting motionless, mewing like a lost cow. Suddenly I saw movement in a clump of sage in front of me. A few seconds later, a mountain lion materialized, its belly on the ground, obviously stalking me. I knew that in the vast majority of attack cases, bears and mountain lions are not looking to eat a human; they’re either defending their young or they think you are one of their natural prey animal. That said, that knowledge did me little good as in this case the lion thought I was a cow elk.

In this scenario, if I’d shot the mountain lion before it actually attacked me, not only would my hunt have been ruined, but I would’ve had some serious explaining to do, and it’s possible I would’ve been fined or even lost my hunting privileges. But had I waited until it attacked me to fire my revolver, it might have been too late. Turns out, I jumped up and screamed, and that was enough to scare the cat, which immediately bounded away. I consider myself lucky; the cat could have chosen to attack instead. I wished I would’ve had a non-lethal option to diffuse the situation before going to lethal force.  

And how many times have you been accosted by a neighborhood dog? You don’t want to kill it and start WWIII with your neighbor, but you really don’t want to get your leg ripped open, either. 

While there are several products available as less-lethal options, most do have a downside. A flashlight or a whistle, for example, may or may not dissuade an attacker at all. If it’s daytime or the thug wears his shades at night, for example, a flashlight is worthless. There's also a worrying tendency for less-lethal options to instill a false sense of security.

In my view, the best less-than-lethal device that you can depend on is pepper spray. It can be used at a distance to ward off an attack before it happens, and it can stop an attack by physically debilitating the attacker as well as dissuading him or her mentally. It’s legal in most jurisdictions (of course, you should always check your local laws!), and it’s easy to use. It can buy time for you to get away, because, as anyone who has ever been blasted in the eyes with it knows, it’s debilitating to the average person.  

And while there are dozens of pepper spray products available, I only recommend one device: Kimber’s Pepper Blaster II. It is designed to be holstered and carried just like your sidearm, rather than carried on a keychain or strapped to a backpack like other pepper spray products. A holster and a pouch are available for it, that, when worn on the hip or carried in a purse, allows you to find and draw it with one hand even while under duress. It handles similarly to a firearm--not like a can of spray paint--so transitioning from your carry gun to the Pepper Blaster doesn’t require additional skills. And unlike aerosols that can lose their potency after a year, the Pepper Blaster’s concentrated solution is not under pressure. Still, it blasts a jet of “get-back-jack!” up to 13 feet that can debilitate an attacker for up to 45 minutes. What’s more, it has two reservoirs, so, like a double-barreled shotgun, you’ll always get two shots. It can be worn discreetly, because it’s thin, light and made of plastic. I wear mine all the time, and it’s incredibly useful.

Whatever nonlethal alternative you choose, however, you should practice with it. Seeing just how far the spray stream travels and how it’s best aimed in order to hit the face of your target is not something you should find out during an actual emergency. However, consumers are reluctant to waste a can of pepper spray for practice. And this is another reason why I like the Pepper Blaster. Kimber offers a non-potent trainer unit so you can get a feel for using it without saturating the area with pepper spray.

In sum, a non-lethal device is just one more self-defense tactic that should be added to your repertoire. And when carried in tandem with a firearm, it may allow you to avoid using a pyle driver when all you really needed was a tack hammer.

Pepper Spray vs. Mace: An Important Note
Chemical Mace is the brand name for the first type of defensive spray that was bottled in an aerosol can and commercialized in the 1960s. It’s a chemical compound that contains phenacyl chloride (CN), better known as tear gas. But tear gas is toxic to some people, and later it was found that pepper spray [oleoresin capsicum (OC)] is non-toxic and more potent as a temporary debilitator. So, while people commonly refer to pepper spray as “mace,” the term is inaccurate.


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