Sunday, August 30, 2009

Why I carry guns when I hike and camp

It was many years ago, probably around this time of year, when two friends and I decided to go camping at a remote National Forest campsite up in the Great North Woods. For whatever reason, We had it all to ourselves. No one else was there.

We'd had a good day hiking and fishing and as night fell, we'd just built a fire on which to cook dinner when three men walked into the campsite. They came right up to the fire and told us that we were on their land and had to leave. They were also armed, each having either a pistol or a long gun.

Of course we were nice, friendly city guys, so we politely told them that they were mistaken, as this was a National Forest site in a National Forest. And when one of the men repeated that this was their area, my friend even offered to get the map out and show them the no-doubt inadvertent error of their thinking.

That's when one of the men put his hand on his pistol and said that he didn't care what any map or campsite sign said, this was their territory, and it we weren't gone in half an hour, we wouldn't be leaving at all. With that pronouncement, the three of them turned and left.

We mulled that threat over for about seven seconds, then we doused the fire, loaded our gear back on the truck, and abandoned the campsite. After all, they had real guns and our only armament consisted of an old .22 rifle that one friend had brought along for casual plinking.

We ran into town and stopped at the local sheriff's office. Coincidentally, a deputy and the state DNR officer were both there. We told them what had just happened, and they looked none too surprised. This had apparently happened before. They told us that we'd likely run into either poachers or dope growers, that there were both in the area, and that we'd done the right thing by leaving quickly. We suggested that they go up and catch these guys, since we knew roughly where they were, and the officers told us--no doubt accurately--that they'd never be able to find those guys in the dark forest. They also told us that we were lucky that the bad guys had only decided to scare us off.

We drove all the way back home that night, aware of the fact that we were only alive because those three rednecks had decided not to kill us. And we swore "never again".

Immediately thereafter, I began carrying my Springfield Armory 1911 into the field with me. It gave me a bit more comfort, especially when camping alone at night, but it lacked range to engage targets a bit further out, and the seven-round magazines weren't exactly what I considered to be optimum at that time. So I did exactly what the US Army did in World War Two--I supplemented (or sometimes replaced) the 1911 with this M1 carbine made by General Motors' Inland Division.This little carbine gave me a bit more firepower and range, and at only 5.5 lbs., it wasn't much of a weight penalty on a backpacking trip. Of course back when I bought this little critter, they were only about $129.00 and you could get them at stores like Woolworth's. Yes, that was the good old days, pre-Bill Clinton. And I loved to hike the back country with that little carbine. I always carried plenty of ammo and had a lot of fun plinking at targets of opportunity in areas where I could legally fire it and when it was safe to do so.

Eventually the M1 carbine was itself replaced, this time by a lightweight Bushmaster AR-15 rifle that I personally built with a collapsible stock and 16" barrel. This was a custom job back then, as the M-4 rifle hadn't been adopted by the US military back then and the short carbines really hadn't caught on with law enforcement or civilian shooters yet. I carted this around for a bit, fully confident in it's ability to handle whatever needed handling, but never entirely comfortable with the image that it projected to others that I met on the trails. Firepower is nice, but I wasn't going to war. So eventually I switched again, this time to a lever-action .357 Magnum rifle, usually paired up with my Smith and Wesson .357 Model 66 revolver. I spent a whole summer hiking the Rockies in Colorado carrying this pair, and it was nice knowing that the compatibility between them allowed my to cheaply plink or shoot to save my life with either gun without having to worry about which rounds went to which one. The pistol was good for closer in, and the rifle's longer barrel gave me increased range, accuracy and knock-down power if and when I needed it.

I stupidly sold the rifle a few years back when I needed the money--and I've regretted it ever since--but I still have the revolver and it will never be sold. This one accompanies me on hikes regularly these days, or sometimes just into town when I have to go to the store. I know that I can trust it, and it packs sufficient punch to end almost any problem. And now when I go afield with a pack, I tend to tote a rather shopworn but trusty Winchester Model 94 .30-30...pre 1964, or course. It's light, compact, and reaches out just as well as any of the more modern-looking rifles, but without the "assault rifle" or "Rambo" image. This is a working rifle but one that non-gun people tend to associate with cowboys like John Wayne, Henry Fonda or Chuck Connors--it doesn't alarm people or make them uncomfortable. It's also a lot cheaper than an AR-15 is these days even though it fulfills the same role comparably. Like I said, I'm not looking to take on a whole band of terrorists--I'm more concerned these days with wild animals like mountain lions or bear. Of course if Bubba and his banjo-picking cousins want a go, or Juan and his illegal-alien dope-grower crew take issue with my presence, they're quite liable to learn that it's not the rifle that matters as much as it is the rifleman. I don't look for trouble when I hike the back country, but if it finds me, it'll find me ready and capable and equipped with the tools I need to do the job.

And of course Lagniappe says: "Don't forget your best hiking friend!"


  1. Anonymous3:37 PM

    Thanks for sharing your story.

  2. I like the 1911 for my secondary and a M-4gery for my primary, the lesson here is always be ready to be the good sheepdog and not the sheep. Great write here, great write

  3. Wow, you guys were really lucky there that it turned out okay.
    That's a scary thought and one I never considered, but will now. Thank goodness for the new National park carry. Apparently, a wild animal is only one of many potential threats.

    I imagine with your current armed status, thugs don't mess with you now. Too bad you didn't have Lagniappe at the time, I would bet those guys would have thought twice and maybe three times before their brutish approach.