Homesteaders and farmers know the value of having the right tool for the job.
Sometimes that tool is a hammer or an ax. But there can be other times when you need something with a bit more power.
Guns can serve a number of uses, such as scaring off predators, slaughtering meat animals or for personal defense. The kind of gun — or guns — you keep on your homestead really comes down to what you plan to do with it.
There is a dizzying array of options for firearms that can be broken down into three general categories: handguns, rifles and shotguns.
Handguns — or pistols — are short-barrelled firearms designed to be held and shot using one hand.
Rifles are also called “long guns” because they have long barrels that are designed to cause a bullet to spin when fired. That spinning increases accuracy and the distance a bullet can travel.
A shotgun also has a long barrel but it does not create that spinning action so they tend to have shorter range and less accuracy. Instead of using a solid bullet, shotguns often use shells that are filled with small pellets that spray out of the barrel when fired.
Every firearm is designed for a specific size bullet or shell. That size is the gun’s caliber and can range from smaller .22 caliber up to the powerful .50 caliber capable of shooting at distances of more than 2,000 yards.
While there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all when it comes to choosing a firearm, if Daniel Bell, a homesteader and Maine hunter safety instructor with close to 50 years of hunting experience, had to choose just one gun for his homestead, it would be a .22 caliber rifle or handgun.
“When you are talking about dispatching an animal like a goat, pig or larger four-legged animal, you probably want to look at something like a .22,” Bell said. “Anything else is overkill.”
The .22 is also a good choice for predator control, according to Bell.
“This is really a type of firearm that serves a multiple role from typical rat control up to dealing with a coyote,” Bell said. “I’m not promoting blasting away at wildlife, but folks do have a right to deal with nuisance animals harassing their livestock.”
There is a vast difference between a predator going about its normal daily activities and a nuisance animal, Bell said.
“Typically most of these four-legged predators like fox or coyotes are generally satisfied with what they get and eat in the wild,” he said. “But when you are in a homestead setting and all of a sudden you have this menacing four-legged predator that just seems intent on making a meal of your animals, that is when you have a nuisance animal.”
Maine law allows people to shoot nuisance animals that are causing problems, but Bell recommends contacting a game warden for guidance before doing so.
Used properly, a .22 firearm is a good choice when it comes time to slaughter meat animals other than poultry, according to Bell.
“Anybody who uses a firearm to dispatch their animals needs to understand the anatomy of that animal to make sure they place that one shot that turns the animal off instantly,” he said. “The last thing we want is any animal suffering.”
Bell recommends using a so-called “kill pen,” which is a structure designed to contain an animal in place for slaughter. It should be set up in a safe spot on the homestead where nothing is in the line of fire.
“Bullets can ricochet and go in any direction it wants once it leaves the gun,” he said.
Bell’s firearm of choice is a .22 handgun that he said allows him to get very close to an animal before killing it. That means he can be sure of shooting it the exact right spot. He can also select the specific type of .22 round for the job.
Shotguns are also handy to have on a homestead, Bell said, largely for home protection.
“With a shotgun you are limiting how far the shell is going to travel,” he said. “There is less chance of it going where you don’t want it to go.”
Bell’s go-to shotgun is a .20-gauge, which he said is also good for hunting.
Before purchasing any firearm, it’s important to talk to experts like gun dealers or firearm instructors about what you will use it for. Bell also recommends taking a firearm or hunter safety course to learn not only how to use your gun, but how to care for and store it properly.
Those courses also cover Maine’s gun laws.
“The last thing we want is to have someone not knowing how their firearm operates,” he said. “We see it all too often when someone is unfamiliar with their firearm and injuries happen, usually personal injuries.”