Backing Up the Bow: Carrying a Sidearm When Bowhunting

By Bridget Fabel
Posted in #Hunting
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Backing Up the Bow: Carrying a Sidearm When Bowhunting

April 10th, 2023

9 minute read

Editor’s Note: Be sure to check your local and state laws regarding carrying a firearm while bowhunting.

Archery hunting is my favorite way to pursue game. I first picked up archery equipment during a 6th grade gym class and have been interested ever since.

bridget fabel carrying a pistol while bow hunting
Does bow hunting preclude self-defense with a pistol? The author highlights a number of important things to consider when deciding on carrying a handgun into the field.

I love a good challenge, so archery hunting has always been my pride and joy. When using a bow and arrow, you need to get closer than ever to the game you’re hunting. You must mask every sound and every scent that you hold to outsmart the wild animals you wish to put in the freezer.

You must practice with your archery equipment endlessly, as it’s finicky. Everything needs to be measured and exact, from the type of broadhead to the arrow, to the yardage of the shot. If I have an archery tag, the only way I’d trust in my shot and skill is to practice daily, sometimes multiple times a day, for months leading up to that hunt. 

Greatest. Hunt. Ever.

My hard work over the years has been rewarded, and I’ve taken some amazing animals with my bow. In 2017 I harvested my largest mule deer to date, scoring 177 7/8 inches. I found, watched, patterned, and killed that buck all by myself from start to finish. That was a task I wanted to complete on a big deer, but I would have never imagined succeeding on such a giant buck! 

bow hunting with a 1911 pistol
The author, shown above, frequently hunts in remote locations where dialing 911 is not feasible.

To harvest that smart buck, I had to live in a blind in the desert for six nights and five days. The deer were in and out of the area frequently using this wash to travel, so I had to literally live in the blind. Doing this eliminated the possibility of spooking the buck out of the area while entering or leaving the blind for your typical morning and evening hunts.

This particular August was colder than ever. I was hunting just below 9,000 feet in elevation, and the nights were getting down to 18 degrees. Because I was worried about my scent, I had the minimal gear to keep me warm. The days were cloudy and cold, and it hailed sporadically.

On the fifth day of the hunt, with less than 30 minutes of legal hunting light left, I made the perfect 22-yard shot and sealed the deal on my dream buck. To this day, this is one of my greatest memories, and I’m still very proud and blessed for this accomplishment. 

Keyboard Warriors Chime In

I’ll never forget the response I received to a particular photo after this hunt. I posted a pic of me in camo hiking to my blind with my bow in hand and my sidearm on my hip. The typical keyboard warriors and haters attacked my post and commented about how I shouldn’t be archery hunting with a sidearm. They even tried to claim it was illegal, tagged all their buddies, and had a field day putting me down for archery hunting with a sidearm on my hip. It sparked a fire in me to raise awareness to the more educated people of the world about the reasoning behind, and the importance of archery hunting with a sidearm. 

can you carry a pistol while bow hunting
Carried on the belt, a 1911 pistol can be an excellent tool for defense against all kinds of threats someone may face in the wild.

Bow Hunting While Carrying a Pistol

I can only speak for the states I’ve hunted and their laws that I’ve investigated, but for many of the states in the country, it is entirely legal to carry a sidearm while hunting with your archery equipment.

If you believe in carrying a sidearm, you likely believe in protecting yourself from all forms of predators. If a mountain lion were to approach me and I only had my bow on me, who would win?

As an archer, I’d have to remove an arrow from my quiver, load it into my bow, range the lion or guess the range of the lion, draw back, use the appropriate pin on my sight, release my arrow and hope that I found my mark in the heat of the moment. If I didn’t find my mark, or I needed a back-up shot, I’d have to do it all over again.

What if the predator was a human instead of a mountain lion? What if he was armed, larger and stronger than me? For this malevolent threat to my safety, should I rely on my bow and arrow? 

We all know the answer here. No one should have to rely only on a bow to protect or defend themselves. Using a bow to hunt game is not a life-or-death situation; it’s a primitive method of getting close to a non-dangerous animal and making an ethical shot. If you believe in carrying a sidearm, you know that the day you leave it home will be the day you need it, so don’t leave it home if you can legally carry! 

My Story

Let’s use the 2017 deer hunt as an example. I’m a 5’2” 110-pound female living in a blind by myself with no telephone service in the middle of the desert. You better believe I slept in arms reach of that pistol every single night.

author bow hunting with her springfield armory pistol
Sadly, bears and boars are not the only dangers a hunter can face on the trail. Criminals can use remote hunting locations to launch an attack on an unwary hunter.

Unfortunately, I had two men find my blind and cause problems. To this day I do not know why they would try and take advantage of me or pick on me, but there are good and bad people out there, and the same goes for hunters.

These guys stole an SD card to my trail camera and noticed the big bucks I was hunting. They decided that my hard work made it easy for them and they often sat right on top of my blind: joking, laughing and scaring the deer off for fun.

They even approached me in my blind once. How would I have felt if I was out there with just a bow and no sidearm? Honestly, I would have been petrified. Despite not having to use it, I always felt safe and protected because my pistol was always on me, giving me peace of mind in an unfortunate situation. 

woman bow hunting on her own
Carrying a pistol while on a bow hunt may be regulated by game regs and the laws of your state. Be sure to check before heading out.

I’ve been stalked by a mountain lion before. I’ve bumped into bears, rattlesnakes, moose and more while hunting or fishing by myself. You’ve now heard the story of two strange men causing issues against me in the middle of the desert. How could anyone not understand always having a sidearm on their hip whether archery hunting or not! 

Irrational Fear?

I think the drama behind carrying a pistol while archery hunting comes from the fact that people assume you could kill the animal with that pistol rather than the bow.

headed out bowhunting with a handgun
A pistol can be used to dispatch a venomous snake, stop a dangerous predator or defend against a criminal attack.

Personally, and I hate to admit this, but I practice way more with my bow than my sidearm. When I have an archery tag in my pocket, I practice with my bow once or twice daily for months leading up to the hunt!

Besides, if I wanted to hunt animals with a gun, I’d simply put in for a muzzleloader or rifle tag. I can accurately shoot farther with my bow than a pistol, and as mentioned, I love the challenge of succeeding with a bow. Let’s be honest, no one goes through the hardships and struggles of an archery hunt to want to hunt that animal with a pistol. Good archers would never do that. I think many archery hunters would agree on all of the above. 

How I Carry When Bowhunting

I’ve seen a variety of great carry options for archery hunters, but I personally choose what I’m used to: that’s an outside-the-waistband holster on my hip.

author carrying her 1911 in a owb rig mounted on the waist strap of her pack
Having a gun is only part of the issue. You need to carry it securely in a manner that keeps it readily accessible and protected from the hardships of the outdoors.

If I’m hunting in a blind, it is on my hip or in arms reach at all times. I’ve seen many archers have success carrying their sidearm on a holster attached just below their bino harness. Any carry method that is comfortable for you and easy to access will work. Just keep in mind that as an archery hunter, you’ll have to access your binoculars and rangefinder fast as well. 

Luckily, not everyone has to deal with the keyboard warriors and haters that want to make fun of you for carrying a sidearm while archery hunting. If they bother you, educate them. Call me a gun fanatic, but I don’t go anywhere without a pistol, and archery hunts are no exception. That pistol is there as a sign of force for emergencies and a last resort piece of protection against any form of predator. 

What I Carry for Bowhunting

My personal favorite sidearms to carry is an older Springfield Armory Range Officer Elite Operator chambered in 10mm or the Springfield Armory Emissary chambered in .45 ACP. Both of these sidearms are 1911s, and people have varying opinions about having 1911s as an EDC. Because I open carry my 1911s, their size is not an issue. I have always preferred a bigger, heavier gun to be honest. When it comes time to pull the trigger, I tend to be substantially more accurate with a 1911 than other pistols.

woman bow hunting deer
One of the goals of a successful bow hunt is safety. Carrying a handgun can give you a tool to ensure a safe hunt.

A proper holster makes it easy to carry a larger sidearm. I personally always lean towards my leather Bianchi Minimalist holster. It doesn’t surround the gun entirely with leather, which allows for the gun to get more airflow which can be important in damp, humid places like Alaska. It’s also comfortable on my hip. It moves so well with me that I don’t even realize that it’s there!

I’ve had other holsters in the past that bounce while you’re hiking with a heavy 1911, and that makes for a really uncomfortable experience. While moving through thick country with those holsters, I’ve actually been bruised because the 1911 would bounce back and hit my thigh!

When I’m choosing between my 10mm and .45 ACP 1911s, I decide based on where I’m going and what threats may be there. For larger, more dangerous predators that exist in Alaska, I choose my 10mm every time. The 10mm is actually my favorite bear load for a sidearm after lots of research, and I feel more comfortable in grizzly country with it on my hip.

bridget fabel bow hunting with 1911
Your gear can influence how you carry. Belt carry, for example, works well in many instances — especially if you are using a chest rig for your binos.

I use the Emissary chambered in .45 ACP mainly in the western states. It’s extremely comfortable to carry and really accurate downrange. The best advice I could give when picking your own sidearm for your hunts is to lean towards being overpowered rather than underpowered. Let’s be honest, you don’t want to bump into a grizzly bear with a 9mm on your hip. 


As always, please check your local and state laws before making this decision. In Utah’s hunting proclamation, it mentions that archery hunters are allowed to carry a sidearm. There are regulations for every different season and hunt in Utah, but it is the hunter’s duty to educate themselves and stay current on each year’s proclamation release. Do your research and if your state allows it, you can practice your 2nd Amendment rights, protect yourself, and carry that gun on your hip for your next bow hunt! 

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Bridget Fabel

Bridget Fabel

Bridget Fabel is an avid fly fisherwoman, bow hunter, and 2nd Amendment advocate originally from the small town of Stillwater, New Jersey. She grew up on a farm loving the great outdoors and decided to move west by herself at the age of 20 to the beautiful state of Utah where she now resides. Moving west and exploring the desolate mountains alone for hunting and fishing can be a rare and intimidating undertaking for some women, but Bridget learned to embrace her independence and freedom through her ability to carry firearms and protect herself everywhere she goes. Now a proud concealed carry permit holder for five years, Bridget likes to conceal carry and open carry daily. Bridget’s biggest passion is sharing her love and confidence in the outdoors with the young men and women of America.

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