Taking along guns while camping in the woods is a tradition as old as America. Looking at photographs of camps with old canvas tents and men and women in flannel standing by a fire, there are almost always a few firearms leaned against the tent pole. These “camp guns” are a tradition passed to us.
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What is a Camp Gun?
Simply put, a camp gun is a gun (or guns) you prefer to take to camp. It is a general-purpose tool for whatever needs you may have, from gathering meat for the pot to plinking, or defense. There is no wrong answer to the question of what is a proper camp gun, and we will look at some of the varied answers to the question then and now. Note: I am not necessarily talking about deer or elk camp, in those cases, you already have a weapon for the task.
Types of Camp Guns
The humble shotgun has always been a favorite of wilderness campers for three reasons: they are inexpensive, effective, and versatile. Many old photographs of wilderness camps feature double-barrel and single-shot shotguns. For many sportsmen, this was the one gun they owned.
A shotgun can put meat on the table from both small and large game and fend off predators. By carrying a variety of ammunition, the shotgun-equipped outdoorsman can address almost any situation. A caveat to this is that shotguns smaller than 20-gauge are not very effective against larger predators like a bear.
Several outdoorsmen whom I respect favor the single-shot 12 gauge shotgun as their preferred camp gun. Dave Canterbury has many good videos out on his YouTube channel talking about the versatility of the 12-gauge single shot. I especially like his inclusion of a rifled .22 adapter in his kit to conserve shotgun shells or, if you carry a .22 revolver, you can use the ammunition in both weapons.
If you live in an area with bears or other predators, the 12-gauge shotgun offers stopping power rivaled only by some larger rifles and provides some peace of mind.
Whenever my family went camping on my grandparent’s hunting land, the .22 rifles always seemed to come along. We fired boxes and boxes of rimfire shells downrange at targets set up in a makeshift range near our campsite. We took these weapons on our walks around the acreage and kept them close at hand for targets of opportunity. For us small game season was closed, so our only worry was a rabid coyote or raccoon and a .22 rifle sufficed for that.
Many old-time trappers carried only a .22 rifle at their winter camps. They could carry a sizable quantity of ammunition and dispatch animals with little pelt damage.
If you live in the land of grizzly bears, a .45-70 lever-action rifle is a nice companion. If you don’t, the rifle moves from a defensive tool to a target weapon and small-game getter outside of deer season. Squirrel season is open all summer in Missouri, so a good .22 rifle will keep you fed well at camp in the Ozarks.
If your state has feral hogs and allows their take year-round, any rifle of moderate caliber is welcome in camp. .223 and 7.62×39 will both dispatch a hog nicely, making the SKS, AK, or AR-type rifle a handy camp gun in hog country.
I remember a vintage Colt advertisement that showed a man in a flannel shirt walking into camp carrying a small doe over his left shoulder and holding a 6-inch barreled New Service double-action revolver in his right hand. While potting a doe for camp meat during the warmer months in the north woods is generally frowned upon these days, I cannot find fault with the man’s choice of camp gun. The Colt New Service was chambered in heavy calibers from .38 Special up through .44 Special and was plenty accurate and powerful enough to kill deer or other game.
The handgun is my personal favorite for a camp gun. They weigh less than a long gun, and your hands are free while moving through the woods. The weapon is always on you. I prefer to carry my Ruger Single Six when camping. I can pot a squirrel with it and plink without disturbing the neighborhood. High Standard made a revolver named the Camp Gun marketed for this task. It had interchangeable cylinders for .22 LR and .22 Magnum. A good autoloader like the Ruger Mk I – IV series or a Browning Buckmark would also be an excellent choice here and give a boost in firepower over the single-action revolver.
If you are less concerned with filling your stomach and more concerned with staying out of someone else’s then a quality semi-auto pistol is your best friend. A Glock in 10mm will cover you for anything you may encounter in North America, and a decent 9mm, .40 S&W or .45 Auto will cover most other defensive needs.
If camping with a group and want to save space or weight, consider splitting up the weapon load. If one person brings a 9mm handgun, the next a 12-gauge shotgun, and the last a .22 rifle, this group can eat well and handle almost any defensive situation.
Combination guns can be the ultimate camp guns. The ability to handle more than one task with a single weapon saves space and weight. Combination guns can be found in almost any caliber and gauge configuration, and while not cheap, are versatile.
The most prevalent model of combination gun in the US is the over-under Savage model 24 and its variants. Chambered primarily in .22 LR over 20 gauge, this weapon was also made in .410 bore and 12 gauge. Rifle calibers included .22 LR, .22 Magnum, .222, .223, .357 Magnum, and .30-30. Baikal of Russia imported several models chambered in .22 over .410 and 12 gauge over .223, .308, 7×57, and .30-06.
TPS Arms produces a clone of the old Springfield Armory M6 Scout. This rifle-shotgun combo is another favorite of Dave Canterbury. These compact weapons can be had with a .22, .22 Hornet, or .357 Mag Rifle Barrel over a .410 shotgun barrel and fold nearly in half for storage in a backpack. The buttstock is configurable for ammo storage, so you always have rounds on hand.
Firearms and camping have gone together since people started going to the woods to relax. The reasons why and types of weapons carried vary as much as the people venturing out. But one thing remains the same, the gun transitions an individual from observer to participant in the lifecycle of their surroundings. So, what is your favorite camp gun? Let me know in the comments below. See you out there!