Surviving Animal Attacks: Get a Shotgun

posted on August 27, 2019

While Shooting Illustrated is devoted to personal- and home-defense, not all defensive situations arise from human actors. Every day in this wild world, deadly threats come from animals, too. In most cases there’s nothing better to diffuse them than a shotgun. But first, a disclaimer:

Neither Shooting Illustrated nor this writer advocate shooting non-aggressive, non-game animals, nor using deadly force in a non-life-threatening situation inside city limits where the use of a firearm is often only legally reserved for the direct defense of life. However, in rural settings where many NRA members live, animal-control professionals or 911 responders often can’t be there swiftly enough when a critter goes rogue and claws at your jugular. Here are a few instances where a shotgun can save the day.

Back in 2003, a man whom I’ll call Charlie was tinkering in his garage when he heard a terrible, snarling racket emanating from his yard. Charlie peeked around the corner of the door to see a wild-eyed German shepherd tearing into his family’s cocker spaniel. Charlie stepped back into the garage and grabbed his 12-gauge Remington 1187 that was close at hand, but as soon as he leveled it he realized he couldn’t shoot the attacking dog without hitting his own in the whirlwind of fur and fangs. (A rifle would have been even riskier due to pass-through.) So, he yelled at the rabid canine as he waited for an angle and contemplated options. But, just as the cocker spaniel went limp, the foamy-mouthed shepherd saw Charlie and charged. Only it didn’t clear the hedges before Charlie stopped it with a blast from a No. 4 turkey load.

The stray dog tested positive for rabies, but miraculously the cocker spaniel lived—minus an ear—because it had received a rabies vaccination. Why? One month prior, Charlie had shot a rabid skunk in his backyard. The point is, a shotgun is a valuable tool amid rural life, because sometimes animals aren’t always as adorable as Disney draws them.

Living in backwoods Oklahoma where coyotes, bobcats, wild hogs, rattlesnakes and other vermin abound, I interact with critters daily, but rarely experience dangerous situations. Indeed, I have a live-and-let-live philosophy, but every once in a blood moon I’ll cross paths with an animal that’s injured and aggressive, rabid or maybe just having a bad day. Fact is, if you see a skunk in the daytime—and it’s not acting scared of you—nine out of 10 times it’s as rabid as Ol’ Yeller. That critter needs to be put down for its own sake and yours. The shotgun is the best tool for the job, because it offers various levels of deadliness and a high degree of certainty of hitting what you shoot at without putting distant neighbors or your own property at risk.

With No. 4, 5 or 6 shot, you can kill a small animal even if it’s running, and your shot will not ricochet or pass-through the animal like a bullet. I know plenty of guys in bear country who keep a No. 8 bird load in the chamber followed by 00 buck. If they come out of their house to find a small critter’s gone berserk, the No. 8 at close range will simmer it down nicely. But, if the threat is not at bad-breath distance and time is not as critical, they can access the 00 load just by racking the action once. Of course, they can choose a slug for extreme situations and the largest beasts.

If you don’t think a shotgun can solve a particular coyote problem, think again. Professional coyote hunter Les Johnson’s go-to gun for chasing down the wily coyote is a shotgun loaded with magnum-power T-shot. Fact is, most coyotes only weigh about 35 pounds, are shy and are not the monsters most city folks think they are. Personally, I enjoy their howls—when they arise from the hillside and not the henhouse.

Then there are reptiles. I like alligators just fine, but I wouldn’t play cards with one, either. They’re fast, sneaky, unpredictable and an 8-footer can kill pets quicker than you can say, “Where’d Pookie go?” In the deep South they’re often found doing their best impression of a Venus cat trap in swimming pools, koi ponds and fairway water hazards. A shotgun with No. 4 buck increases the margin of error for hitting this prehistoric reptile’s tiny brain, yet individual pellets won’t ricochet over water like a heavier, faster-moving centerfire bullet can. Fishing-boat captains also keep shotguns on their boats for dispatching unruly sharks for the same reasons.

Snakes? Whenever I see a rattler, cottonmouth or copperhead near my house and acting aggressively, and I wish for my ears to ring as I watch the snake slither away unscathed, I try shooting at it with a 9 mm handgun. With a full-stocked shotgun, however, I’m batting 1.000 for my career.

Additionally, each year more instances of mountain lions tangling with humans get reported in the suburbs in the Pacific Northwest. I don’t blame the cats—they’re just doing what large felines do to survive amidst exurban sprawl—but I also don’t blame people who must protect their families, pets and livestock. While there are some folks who think a shotgun is too small for a large cat, that notion is nonsense. Even a big cougar only weighs 150 pounds, and they are not notoriously tenacious for life. A shotgun with 00 buck is more than enough oomph for protection. Obviously, this goes for pretty much any wild, predatory feline that might be encountered in the U.S. If only I could figure out how to carry one while jogging, I might jog more. But probably not.

Spiders? A 12 gauge might be a little bit of overkill, but that’s just my opinion. [Editor’s note: We’re not about to authorize shotgun testing on arachnids any time soon. Johnston’s on his own for that.]


Mesa tactical shotshell holder
Mesa tactical shotshell holder

First Look: Mesa Tactical Sureshell Carrier with RMR Mount

Mount a red dot to your shotgun and keep your spare shotgun ammo close at hand.

The Best of the Blowbacks: Mauser HSc and the Heckler & Koch Model 4

In the April 2022 issue of Shooting Illustrated, this column looked at my all-time favorite carry gun, the Colt Model M or 1903/1908. This month we look at my favorite European semi-automatic, the Mauser HSc and its cousin, the Heckler & Koch Model 4.

Wilson Acquires New Ultralight Arms

The bolt-action rifle manufacturer joins other companies such as Lehigh Defense and Chip McCormick Customs.

First Look: New FN 15 DMR Rifles from FN America

New Geissele triggers, SureFire muzzle devices and hybrid barrel profies are just some of the upgrades.

First Look: Bond Arms Grizzly

Packing the power of either .45 Colt or .410-bore shotshells in a pint-sized package.

Developing Good Shooting Habits

Consistency and repetition are the keys to building on-demand skills.


Get the best of Shooting Illustrated delivered to your inbox.