Whenever the possible uses for a firearm are discussed, defense against wild creatures is mentioned seemingly without fail. Indeed, I have carried firearms in wilderness areas ever since I was old enough to handle and control them. I continue to do so. However, I do not relish the thought of shooting animals unnecessarily, and I take many steps to avoid confrontations with wild animals and reptiles. Here's why.
Most of the time, wild animals will leave you alone if you leave them alone. I have encountered bears, big cats, wolves, coyotes, rattlesnakes, gila monsters, and other creatures which may be feared by some people. With very few exceptions, they have shown little interest in doing anything other than moving away from me - or at the very least staying where they are and mostly ignoring me. I did run into an aggressive rattlesnake that showed a remarkable interest in chasing me once, but once I moved about fifty feet away, it left me alone.
Many animals, including large predators, play a very important role in the ecosystem. Some of these roles are beneficial to humans. For example, rats eat the wiring in my cars. Rattlesnakes eat rats. Therefore, by chasing rattlesnakes off the road in the middle of the night, I may be saving myself from having to deal with major damage to one of my vehicles.
Killing non-aggressive animals serves no purpose, and may not be legally justified. I may be getting a little too patchouli here for some people, but I'm pretty big on the principle of "live and let live." Yes, a large bear is a dangerous creature. Yes, it is intimidating to be near a large bear. No, it is not legal to shoot a bear just because you came across one while you were hiking and it didn't immediately run away from you. While I do not equate human life with animal life, I see no need for the unnecessary elimination of animal life (as an aside, I have no issue with hunters or managed hunting and see it as an essential part of managing the ecosystem).
I grew up in Alaska and carried a 12 gauge shotgun loaded with slugs. Had I needed to shoot a bear, it would have been justified only if I didn't provoke the bear's attack and I had no alternatives. In other words, if the bear isn't about to attack you, you can't shoot it. Oh, and you also have to pack out many of the "bear parts" such as the skull and hide.
In Arizona, there is no open season on gila monsters, for example. Not that they're especially dangerous to humans, as they move at about half a mile per hour on a good day.
I can't cover all of the possible encounters, but you should understand the laws regarding use of force and wild animals before you set off into the woods - or move to a place where development is replacing the habitat of wild animals.
Being a stupid hippie, or a clueless city slicker, and getting killed by wildlife is worse than just shooting it. When a bear kills a human in Alaska, not only is the human quite obviously dead, but state wildlife officials have to track down and kill the bear. Same goes for other forms of wildlife in other states. This latest "bear attack" resulted after an outsider took photos from as close as 50 yards of a bear that was "grazing and not acting aggressively." The man pushed his luck and ended up getting eaten. The bear is now dead too. Hooray- not.
When I saw Timothy Treadwell's interview with David Letterman in 2001, I knew Treadwell would die at the claws and teeth of a bear. Sure enough, he and his girlfriend were killed and eaten by a bear in 2003. Park rangers killed both the "killer" bear and a second bear which showed aggression towards them as they approached the campsite.
Who cares for bears and wildlife more - someone who respects bears but is willing to kill an aggressive one, or someone who forces others to kill multiple bears after voluntarily putting themselves and others in a situation which resulted in their being eaten by a single bear?
It is sometimes necessary to kill wild animals, and I recognize this. There are truly aggressive wild animals out there. They do not form a majority of any one population, in my opinion, but they do exist. Killing them in self defense is perfectly reasonable.
For those with pets or small children, killing a wild animal may be necessary. The actions of pets and young children may not be as rational and logical as those of adults (this depends on the adult), which might result in a choice between killing a wild animal or watching a child or treasured family pet die. In these examples, there is really only one logical choice.
I would advise taking precautions, however. Simply having a gun does not guarantee the safety of everyone in your party. There are "snake avoidance" classes for dogs, for example. Also, you should tell your kids what to do if they encounter wildlife - if they aren't old enough or smart enough to understand and follow directions, you might not want to let them out of your sight too often. I don't know, I don't have kids, but this seems like a good idea.
The bottom line is that if you understand the wildlife in your area and are not a total idiot, you should be able to avoid the unnecessary killing of wild animals or reptiles. You should also be capable and ready to kill aggressive wildlife when necessary.