Sunday, November 22, 2009

On the Subject of Guns in the Wilderness

For those of us who travel off the beaten path, whether on foot or horseback, the question arises as to whether to carry a firearm. Generally speaking, people fall into one of three camps on this topic:

1. Those who carry a firearm, either on their hip, or tucked into their pack.
2. Those who do not carry a firearm, but are not opposed to those who do.
3. Those who do not carry a firearm, and are militantly opposed to those of us who do.

For the record, when riding the trails, I carry my trusty Smith & Wesson Model 19, in .357. A bit venerable, and not particularly glamorous, but it is reliable, and frankly, my favorite sidearm.

So, the question of why one would carry a firearm into the wilderness needs to be addressed.

An oft cited purpose is for defense against unfriendly wildlife. While dangerous encounters with predators such as cougars , bears , and wolves in the wild are not particularly common, they do happen. In the summer of 2008, my nephew and I came across two black bears on the trail within 200 yards of each other. Once these poorly sighted creatures had us in their view, they made themselves scarce. I blogged some time ago about our horses being attacked on the night highline by what we now believe were wolves. While tactics such as the use of bear spray, bear bells, or “making yourself look as large as possible” are the preferable way to terminate such encounters with wildlife, I prefer to have a fallback position should it appear that I am losing the upper hand.

Another, albeit less likely, reason that is argued is for use in encounters with predators of the two legged variety. I don't have any personal experience in this area, although I have heard second and third hand stories along these lines. There is also anecdotal evidence that farms of the illicit variety are popping up in the wilds, some of them guarded. I would suspect that said guards would tend towards the “shoot first, don’t ask questions” variety.

Now those in the anti-gun crowd would argue that those carrying a weapon would tend to present a hazard to others. I declare that argument to be bunk. If you don’t threaten me, then I’m certainly not going to threaten you.

Those of us on horseback have a more compelling reason to carry a firearm. In fact, I would argue that we have a responsibility to carry a pistol when we ride on the trails. Why is that? Accidents on the trail involving horses can and do occur. A broken leg is nearly always a fatal injury for a horse, even if it happens at home. Fatal because the nature of this injury requires, that in most cases the horse be put down. It’s not a simple applying a cast and ordering bed rest. A horse cannot support its own weight on three legs for an extended period of time. Despite the fact that money was no object, and the best veterinary care in the world, the race horse Barbaro eventually had to be put to sleep due to the damage that was being incurred by the non-injured hooves.

What will you do if your horse breaks a leg while you are miles into the backcountry? There is no vet around the next bend in the trail.

One of the old mule jockeys recently related a story from his youth. He and a friend were pushing cattle out of the hills, when his friend’s horse stepped in a hole and fractured a leg. They were miles from help, and had not a gun between them. They were forced to euthanize the poor animal by slitting its throat with a pocketknife. The event bothers him to this day, and he has never ridden without a firearm since.

While no horseman (or horsewoman) ever wants to find themselves in this situation, we should all be prepared for it. Our horses our are friends, and it would be wrong to let them suffer because we failed to be prepared, thinking “it’ll never happen to me”.


Bag Blog said...

Carrying a gun is probably wise. My dad always had us carry some sort of pain medication - just in case someone got hurt. Pain-killers might come in handy if a person broke their leg.

Daphne said...

I take the gun when we go camping, it's the two legged predators that worry me.

Anonymous said...

I live in the city but I have a concealed weapon permit and will pack heat when my friends and I go shopping. This is just incase one of them falls down and breaks something. I'm not going to be missing a sale to call an ambulance for their clumsy, lame asses. And I hate to hear injured people whine and cry.

Rude1 said...

I always carry my .44 S&W Mountain Gun. In fact, just yesterday evening my wife and I were rinding in an area we hadn't ridden before, and it started getting dark, so we rode cross country up a pretty rocky hill to head home. It was pretty rough and my poor mare wasn't very happy. The one thought I kept having was if she spooked or slipped, and broke a leg, I'd have to put her down.

Funny that I had those thoughts and then you go and write about the very thing. weird

Ii also carry for the chance encounter with bears cats etc. A few months ago, my wife, our friend and I were riding a couple of mile from our house when my mare refused to go farther up the trail. I stayed behind and worked with her for about 30 mins while the two ladies went on ahead. well, about the 30 min mark, I happened to look up the trail a ways and there was a black bear coming out of the brush onto the trail. No wonder my mare didn't want to go up that trail!

Bottom line is, I always carry cause you never know. At least out here, 95% of the folks carry too; rarely do we run across any of the 3rd category folks.

Buck said...

Well said, BR... and I agree with you on all counts.

Buckskins Rule said...

Lou: I always keep first aid kits at hand also (both human & horse). The human one has come in handy, not for anyone in my party, but for another rider we encountered. Her husband was an EMT, but I had the kit.

Daphne: I'm more than a bit wary of the two legged varmints myself.

Laura: Good to hear you have your priorities straight. If they don't have the common decency to avoid injury, then they deserve what's coming.

Rude1: While we hope we never need it, we are always one step away from it. Sounds like your mare is a wise girl. Despite the fact that they will spook at boulders and other such inanimate objects, our horses are very keen to their surroundings. If Smokey goes on point, I take him seriously until proven otherwise. Good choice on the sidearm, by the way!

Buck: Thank you. Hope Happy Hour was a good one today!

Farmgirl said...

Hear Hear!

Stumbled across your blog while tripping my way across the net.

I couldn't agree more. If you own an animal you have a responsibility to put it down when and if the situation arises. No one wants to think about it, especially those of us who love our horses, but the plain fact is they don't all get lucky enough to die in their sleep of old age before the creaky bones and general breaking down make their lives more hell than happy.

For those who are inexperienced with guns or haven't a clue exactly how to go about such things, I recommend the old US Cavalry standby: Always have a piece of chalk.

Using your chalk, draw a line from the right ear to the left eye, and the left ear to the right eye. Where those lines cross is where you put the bullet, at need.

I haven't had to, yet, but I know how and wouldn't hesitate if the situation required it. I owe my four-legged children that much. Granted, I'd probably be bawling my eyes out, but they wouldn't suffer any longer than necessary.

Buckskins Rule said...

Welcome Farmgirl! The chalk method sounds like a good idea.

Like you, I've never had to resort to this, and pray that I never do. But I realize the necessity of being prepared.

I often find it to be a bit strange that we will put our beloved animals out of their misery, but can't seem to afford the same luxury to humans.

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