On Bringing Guns to the Backcountry

This entry is stemming from a Facebook discussion I had a while back.  Now, I don’t write this blog to be edgy or controversial.  The world has too much of that.  However, since guns are such a polarizing subject, I’m afraid that what I’m going to say is going to be lost or misconstrued.  On the one hand, there are people who believe that guns have absolutely no place in a civilized society.  Those people are out there.  On the flip side though are individuals who believe that we should all be armed at all times so that we can be constantly  vigilant and always at the ready to defend our rights and liberties.  With many issues, you tend to get nuances and a spectrum of belief.  Guns, on the other hand, cleanly divide people.  Understanding that I may alienate some fundamentalists, I’d like to make the argument that firearms in the backcountry are an individual’s decision and should always be dictated by circumstances.

Here’s my bias.  I’m a gun guy.  I own lots of guns.  I own guns that are illegal in some states and many countries.  I have a firearm for every occasion, from a Communist invasion to a re-enactment of an 18th century moose hunt.  I sometimes exercise my right to open carry while I mow my lawn.  What can I say?  I like guns.  And being an Anarchist, I’m pretty uncompromising on my gun rights.  I know I have a right to property and a right to defend myself.  No matter how you’ve decided to interpret the Constitution, those rights are inalienable.  They are inherent to my being, not gifts from government, and any attempt to deny them is an aggression against me.

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And generally, when I go fishing or canoeing, I do indeed carry a firearm.  Usually, it’s a .357 revolver that I keep secure and holstered at my hip.  I’m not an overall paranoid guy, but it does help me sleep at night.  I’m mostly concerned about a tragic misunderstanding with a bear, knowing full well that the chances of it happening are slim and that it hasn’t happened yet.  Furthermore, if Jason Voorhees should come across my camp, I can put up a fight there too.  As soon as that music plays, I’m aiming center mass and unloading.  Honestly though, sometimes I forget I have it on me.  Rather than playing tough guy soldier, I’m usually out there to mostly fish and contemplate nature.  I’m not your hardened survivalist, and my gun isn’t a macho thing.  But I’d hate to have my life in peril, the whole time thinking about my gun in my safe at home.

I’m thinking in particular about a time I canoed with my family on a stream running through town.  Picture that the area was wooded and secluded, but still slightly urban and populated.  I remember coming under an overpass and seeing some rough looking teenagers hanging out on the bank.  They looked at us, whispered to each other, and then took off into the bushes.  It was absolutely analogous to an encounter in a dark alley, and I did not have my gun on me at that time.  Now, nothing happened.  We were not ambushed or jumped.  We paddled on safely on our way.  But can you forgive me for thinking that getting attacked was a real and valid concern?  And could you imagine that a firearm would be a handy if you, your wife, and your kid were suddenly accosted.  It was tense.  I otherwise had fun on that trip.  I’d do it again.  But forgetting my firearm was an oversight.  Next time, I’ll take it.

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Now, is a gun necessary for every context of outdoor activity?  Understanding that this will alienate some people, I’m going to say no.  There are times when carrying a firearm into the backcountry absolutely does not make sense.  A gun is a tool with a specific and limited use, and the backcountry presents a situation of finite and limited resources.  When deciding to bring any tool, you have to think about space, weight, and your real, actual need.

Consider backpacking.  Anyone who has done any serious backpacking will understand that weight becomes really important, really fast.  Every ounce you bring is an ounce you have to carry, and you’ll see what you need and what you don’t pretty quick.  For many people, some things that you’d think are important just don’t make the cut.  An Appalachian Trail through hiker, for instance, will rarely carry a map.  Experienced woodsmen may drop their jaw at that, but you’ll blow through a map pretty quickly at 15 miles a day, and carrying them is often more trouble than they’re worth.  You bushcraft practitioners are proud of your big knife?  The most common knife I saw on the trail was a Swiss Army Pioneer X.  It’s one of Victorinox’s smaller, medium sized knives, chosen for it’s utility.  These guys won’t be batoning wood.  I’m sure some will say that these are idiots who have no business in the outdoors.  They don’t know what they’re doing and are clearly unprepared.  But these guys are walking 2000 miles.  One in ten make it.  Could it be that they have valid reasons for what they’re doing and have given it more than just a little thought?

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It’s not even a matter of picking a smaller gun or bringing one designed for concealed carry.  These guys are sawing the handles off their toothbrushes.  They’re ripping the manufacturing tags off their sleeping bags.  If they don’t need it, if they can get along without it, they don’t bring it.  It’s not politics.  Guns simply hinder what they’re doing.

Again, it’s ultimately a personal decision.  This being an blog about Anarchy, far be it from me to say that this is the way it should be.  I just wanted to make the point that the issue is more gray than black and white.  People who don’t like guns?  I disagree.  People who always carry guns?  I won’t tell you what to do.  But, If you’re day three in the woods and you’re struggling, can you consider that your Glock may be extra?

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