Sunday, October 7, 2012

Packing Heat in the Backcountry

Imagine: You are hiking in the backcountry, where very few people go, when you stumble upon a camp. Unlike a hiker’s temporary campsite, there is evidence that someone is actually living there. There is a make-shift shelter, enough food to live on for a few weeks, and enough trash and clutter to tell you that whoever lives there has been there for months. Getting the creeps, you move on, longing for the isolation you had just moments before coming across the bizarre scene. As you push forward though, you remember hearing about marijuana farms being harvested on public lands, isolated enough that no one would come across it. These “farmers” would not just allow someone to come across their camp, especially since the hiker would be able to point out exactly where the camp was on a map.

Is this what you just stumbled upon? Your senses immediately heighten, and you listen for anything in the woods which would tell you that someone is watching you. You saw a trail leading into a valley just beyond the camp, but have no intention of going exploring at this point. Were you seen? You are two days into your hike, and have another two days to go, so there is no turning back…

An example of what a lone hiker could stumble upon when in the backcountry
(Taken from The Yakima Herald)
There is a never-ceasing debate about whether firearms belong in the backcountry or not. Doing a search online will show you that passions for gun rights run just as deep as passions to keep guns locked up - the same is true when it comes to having guns in nature. Some feel that there is no place in nature for guns, and that they don’t belong; such is the case for Backpacking Magazine’s gear editor Kristin Hostetter. At the same time, others feel that having a gun while in nature is a good defense from wild animals. No matter which side of the argument you favor, both sides have valid points.

Is it contradictory to go to a place for solace, yet feel the need to carry a gun?
Check out this report from Chattanooga about the AT murder/rape statistics
Personally, I like to go into the backcountry to get away from the hustle and bustle of life, so the idea of taking a gun with me on a day hike seems contradictory. A gun would make me feel like I was bringing protection, not like I was hiking into freedom. For backcountry trips however I have a different opinion. I’m not talking about hiking in designated backcountry within a national park, I’m referring to the thousands of square miles of public land within my state. Just this year the top DEA agent in Utah, Frank Smith, warned Utahans who venture into the backcountry to be cautious. Mexican drug cartels have used land in southern Utah for enormous marijuana farms, and are protected by armed guards.
NBC’s Dateline was reporting about this very phenomenon in Utah last March. Dateline's reporter expressed my own thoughts perfectly when he said “what’s going to happen when a family of hikers stumbles across one of these grows? With $20 million to $40 million on the line, do you think these growers are just going to let these people go?” Doubtful...

Although this scenario seems very extreme and far-fetched, there are still many other horrifically possible situations. Take, for instance, the incident which happened just off of the Appalachian Trail last March. Two buddies are camping in the middle of nowhere when a stranger comes across their camp. They are all friendly with each other (even have dinner together) when, for no apparent reason, the stranger shoots both men several times. They are able to drive themselves to safety and survive, but it’s just one example of what can happen when you are in the middle of nowhere. By the way, this same shooter served half of a 30 year sentence 10 years before this incident for killing two other hikers on the same trail in the 80’s.
So, to pack heat or to not? It’s ultimately your decision. Personally I would rather not come across a hiker who is visibly carrying a handgun on the trail, so if I choose to carry then it will be concealed. Will I carry at all when hiking on a busy trail? Nope. Will I carry if I am within a national park? Nope (in some parks it’s illegal anyway). If I decide to hike on a long trail, such as The Great Western Trail  or the Pacific Crest Trail, I most likely will though – even if does add a few pounds to my pack. Want to pack heat in order to defend yourself from wild animals? Read this research study from Brigham Young University before you decide to try shooting a bear to defend yourself.

Had to share this ridiculous photo I found. While it does offer  an interesting contrast, the
 medical gloves and the gun pointing at Yosemite Falls is just too much.
While searching the latest reports of marijuana farms in Utah, I came across this interesting website which shows you what to look for when identifying a marijuana farm, and this article which is only one month old, and shows video footage of an abandoned camp where DEA agents ceased 3,600 plants in southern Utah, and which agents feel belonged to the Mexican Cartel.
Opinions? Feel free to share below.