Less-Lethal Defense Options

When A Firearm Isn't The Answer
; .

The Umarex T4E HDP 50 pepper pistol is powered by a 12g CO2 capsule.

I still remember the feeling of helplessness. I was an 18-year-old college freshman in Cleveland, Ohio, fewer than 180 yards from my dorm. A man approached me as I walked back from class. His gait was strange and his eyes red, beckoning me to come closer. My heart quickened, and I began walking faster. The area, normally flush with students, was eerily quiet.

I didn’t know what to do. My mom had taught me to be situationally aware, so I noticed his interest in me when he was a dozen yards away. If I turned back the way I came, I might encounter more people, but I also would be turning my back to the man. He was clearly under the influence of something, if not unstable. I considered the possibility he had a firearm. If I angered him and turned my back, I was putting myself at considerable risk.

A hotel was the only potentially open building I could duck into. He was in front of it. I planned to cut through the parking lot, and to begin running when out of his sight. All this time, I pretended I didn’t see or hear him. Keeping an eye on the man in my peripheral vision, I nonchalantly reached into my purse to pull out my flip phone. It didn’t support the campus security apps, leaving me with the option of calling the emergency number or my parents. Around this time, a couple driving by pulled their vehicle between me and the stranger. While the man yelled at him to leave, the woman in the car urged me to go. I didn’t need another word. I ran as fast as I could to my dorm building, fumbled with my key card and didn’t rest until I was safely inside and out of sight with the door locked.

Physically shaking, the adrenaline wore off and the tears came. I finally reached my parents and I just remember repeating over and over again: “I want a concealed carry.” I meant a license to carry concealed, something I was forbidden from obtaining until I reached 21 years of age. Firearms were also strictly prohibited on campus. In that moment, I vowed to never feel helpless again.


Serena’s friend has a scar from testing the PepperBall MOBILE,
which stings far more than a paintball.

First Steps

Soon after the incident, my parents gave me a small pepper spray keychain to keep in my purse. It was clumsy and not intuitive to use. Having it did provide some sense of security, but I never practiced with it or used it. Why didn’t I carry it in the first place? I assumed it wasn’t permitted. Pocketknives were not allowed on campus. The school safety and security fair gave out little plastic beepers as safeguards. Pressing a large, round button activated a tiny LED strobe light and a piercing beeping. It was certainly unpleasant, but the light was not strong enough to do anything unless shone within inches of someone’s eyes; the noise was only a deterrent. Setting off the alarm didn’t alert anyone out of earshot.

What I didn’t know at the time is there is an entire industry built around personal defense and less-lethal defense. Some may argue non-lethal, but there is a chance of casualty with any force. For example, someone may have an allergic reaction to pepper spray.

A handheld pepper spray isn’t the only way to combat a threat. I was especially uncomfortable because mine required close proximity to be effective, and I didn’t really know if it worked. Using it meant I’d have less, if any, to use in case of an emergency.


The PepperBall MOBILE is a bit hefty, but has a six-round
capacity and a launch velocity of 250 fps.

Discreet but Powerful

Ideal for college students, women or anyone looking to hide something discreetly, the COMPACT launcher boasts an effective range of 30′. This product not only nearly doubled the effective range of the pepper spray I previously carried, but had familiar and intuitive operation. Aim, flip off the safety and press the button.

Among the COMPACT’s benefits is a launch velocity of 190 fps, quite impressive for a unit the size of a travel toothbrush holder. The COMPACT only stores one shot, so it’s important to practice with it. The “barrel” of the unit comes with a PepperBall ready to go and is easily swapped out. The N2 gas cartridge must also be replaced after firing. Inert rounds are also available for practice.

What I did not expect was the strength it takes to launch the PepperBall. I found myself jerking the unit in my attempt to press the button, which could present a problem in an open area. In a place where walls and hard surfaces are plenty, the ball would burst and perform as intended. So, as with any defensive tool, spend the little bit of extra time and money to practice until you can use the tool effectively. The cost of a few practice rounds and gas cylinders is money well spent.


PepperBalls burst upon impact, creating a large cloud. Live PepperBalls
are used for self-defense while inert powder capsules provide a realistic training experience.

Powder practice rounds for the Umarex T4E. Image: Max Crotser

The Umarex T4E features high-visibility fiber optic sights.

“Hot” Firepower

I also experimented with the PepperBall MOBILE, a larger CO2-powered option with a six-round capacity. Though larger and bulkier than the COMPACT, the semi-auto MOBILE offers more power with an effective range of 40′ and a launch velocity of 250 fps. Designed for home protection, camping, travel and walking, the MOBILE comes equipped with a flashlight and laser. I appreciated the greater round capacity, though the flashlight and laser were not of much value to me. The strobe feature could be used to disorient a person, but at 350 lumens, the light was strong enough to be usable, but not as effective as it could be.

Here’s one takeaway: I would not want to be hit by a PepperBall. In a controlled environment with inert rounds and proper safety precautions, I fired one round at a volunteer. He was as surprised as I was. The projectile not only stung, but it also knocked the wind out of him. The inert capsule did not burst as anticipated, but the close range and soft human target likely contributed to this. Just as with real ammo, it’s prudent not to rely on a single shot. If for some reason the projectile doesn’t burst, shoot again. This capability is definitely an advantage of the MOBILE model. It certainly was effective though, leaving a nasty bruise that later turned into scar tissue. The same unit and an inert round also put a dent in the vents on my sister’s barn …

Lining up the laser was difficult and actually stole some of my focus. In a daytime defense situation, I wouldn’t waste time trying to see the laser — I suspect it’s there for lower light usage where the laser can make all the difference.

Both the COMPACT and MOBILE are strong, less-lethal options for those who are uncomfortable carrying a firearm or in situations where firearms are prohibited.


Modeled after a traditional semi-automatic pistol, it was easy to adjust to using the T4E.

The integrated magazine was easy to load.

The handgun-like form factor offered a benefit of easy and effective aiming from standoff distances. Image: Max Crotser

More Pepper Tests

People are not always the aggressors; dogs and other animals can pose a threat. In these cases, you often don’t want to kill the animal, but scare and deter it. The T4E Prepared 2 Protect HDP 50 pepper pistol developed by Umarex quickly became my favorite. Modeled after a typical semi-automatic pistol, it is comfortable, easy to use and can be carried in a holster. Fiber optic sights make target acquisition swift while a six-round integrated magazine shows how many shots remain. The .50-caliber pistol accepts pepper rounds, powder balls and rubber balls and is powered by a 12g CO2 capsule. The integrated magazine is simple to lock open, load and unload. The CO2 cartridge remains unpunctured until ready to use. Tap the piercing screw on the bottom of the grip to puncture the cartridge. While it may be tempting to keep an open CO2 cartridge inside, it can contribute to future leaks. You may also not have any left when it is time to use it.

Shooting this pistol was addicting. Quiet with no recoil, I was hooked. I chose a nearby tree as my test subject, eagerly watching the burst of powder as each ball struck it at 375 fps. The cloud has a 12′ radius, which I was lucky enough to get caught in. I began with powder rounds, then decided to transition to the real stuff. I noted the direction of the wind so the cloud would blow away from me. As I fired the last round, the wind switched. I caught only the tail end of it, but immediately started feeling the effects. My skin burned, eyes watered and I started coughing — laughing at the same time.


Note the highly focused beam of the EXUDE light. The effect is most certainly disorienting if not blinding.

Umarex EXUDE lights project light without reflecting. Though missing a strobe,
the OD40 Predator Illuminator (left) and OD25 Predator Gun Light (right)
offer a powerful beam in a small package.

Let There be Light

One thing I never truly gave enough merit to is the power of light. Though not marketed as self-defense lights and absent a strobe feature, I am incredibly impressed with Umarex EXUDE Illuminators. They carve an intense beam that cuts through darkness. As a test, I closed my eyes and had my dad wave the light over my eyes. Everything turned white. If I had opened my eyes, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to see, much less maintain a semblance of coordination. The OD25 Predator Gun Light produces 1,050 lumens and is just the right size and weight for a purse or backpack.

I wish I had considered some of the more creative less-lethal options when I was a student. I would have felt so much safer and better prepared. Do consult local laws about the carry and use of various non-lethal tools in your area.

Many people discount less-lethal defense, assuming having a concealed carry license will solve everything. There are times and places where carrying a firearm is not an option. It’s best to be prepared. 

For more info: PepperBall.com, UmarexUSA.com

Subscribe To GUNS Magazine

Get More Carry Options content!

Sign up for the newsletter here: