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”.