A few months ago while hiking in the Smokies, we got up close and personal with some black bears including a sow with cubs. Neither encounter was planned of course. We were about half to three fourths of the way back to the parking area from Laurel Falls and it was near dusk when my daughter rounded the bend of the trail and shouted out “bear”. Not what I was expecting.
I went to the front of the line and saw a juvenile just as startled as we were about 50 feet ahead. I had drawn my 9mm SIG P365 that was loaded with Critical Duty +P ammo but also knew it was woefully under-powered and was literally praying that I would not need it even though Critical Duty is supposed to have some degree of barrier penetration. I was telling the bear firmly to go away and we made a bunch of noise. The bear really had a “oh crap it’s humans look on its face”, immediately looked for an exit in the brush and left the trail. No drama at all. I think the foliage and all the turns in the trail had muffled the noise of our six person group. As we left the area I kept checking behind us just to be sure it wasn’t following us.
You can’t make this stuff up – we had hiked Laurel Falls during the day so many times and never seen bears. However, 10 minutes later we saw two cubs in a tree maybe 25 yards off the trail and down a slope and the sow was at the bottom looking at us. What worried me was that she stood up and walked parallel making sure we were not a threat. We stayed as far away as we could on the trail and I was talking to the bear as we all walked down the trail. She made sure we were leaving and watched until she sat down and started eating berries. When she did that, I knew we were okay and we walked the remaining 15-or-so minutes to the parking lot.
Okay, I did a lot wrong in hindsight. We did not think we would encounter bears on this trail that we’d walked many times before without seeing anything and then we had two encounters. Walking at dusk likely played a role. I didn’t have my bear spray with me and a 9mm would not be my first choice of a backup pistol. We were lucky in that the bears were genuinely not interested in us at all. These things went through my head as we went back to the hotel that night and during our drive home.
Thinking About What To Carry Next Time
When we go back, we will be carrying bear spray – no ifs, ands or buts. Bear spray works 90+% of the time to deter a bear and there is research to support it. Also, a bear can cover a ton of ground astonishingly fast. I read 44 feet in 2-3 seconds and that also means you aren’t going to have a ton of time plus you may have a moving target to try and hit. A fog of pepper spray deployed in front of the bear is a good first line of defense … but what if the next bear is part of the 10% that doesn’t stop?
The more I thought about it, the more I wish I had not sold my 10mm Dan Wesson Bruin. At the time, I needed the money more than I did the pistol even though it was amazing. I’d read plenty about guys carrying 10s in bear country with heavy hard cast loads for penetration of a bear’s skull — by the way, you shoot for the head because all the layers of fat, muscle and bone in a big bear are liable to work against you.
After a lot of thinking, I decided to get another 10mm along with some stout loads with hard cast bullets before our next trip. My good friend Scott Igert of Michigan Gun Exchange has long told me how impressed he is with the Springfield Armory TRP Operator pistols. As a retired police officer with tons of firearms experience, I put a lot of faith in his opinion. I told him my story and he recommended the 10mm TRP Operator.
Enter The TRP Operator
Scott and I both like 1911 style pistols and how they feel. My one quirk is that I like long slides so I told him to order me the 6″ version. I like how the longer pistols feel and also how they absorb some of the recoil. The downside is that finding holsters usually requires custom work and I knew that up front.
After waiting about a week, Scott messaged me that the PC9610L18 TRP Operator Longslide had arrived. Needless to say, I went right over to get it.
The TRP operators are just wicked. The slide and frame are forged steel and sport a massive forged stainless steel match bull barrel with a 1:16 twist. It’s a “fully supported” barrel in that the feed rap is part of the barrel and no part of the cartridge case is left dangling once chambered. It also has a small notch at the rear to let you see if there is a round in the chamber.
The sights are adjustable and use tritium for illumination. They work very well.
The pistol weighs 45 oz (2.81 pounds) empty with a nice balance. It’s 9.6″ long overall and about 5.5″ tall. The grip angle really works for me and feels way better to me than a Glock’s angle. The one thing I didn’t care for were the grip panels. SA puts these “VZ Alien G10” grips on the pistols and they are very nicely done. It just so happens that I really prefer rubber Hogue grips on my 1911s so that is a personal preference thing.
All in all, it was a functional piece of art. It did feel gritty and dry but I tend to expect that with most firearms these days.
This gives you and overview of the pistol. In the next post I will talk about the ammo and magazines.
Sources For the 10mm TRP Operator and Ammo
Here are some reputable vendors you can order either the 5″ or 6″ TRP Operator plus ammo:
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