May 11, 2005

Have Gun Will Travel

Always take a firearm into the woods that can bring down the biggest animal that lives there. ---Alaskan proverb

One concern about solo backpacking in the US of A is the presence of large land animals with a taste for human flesh---or at least the obvious ability to rend same. There are really only two such creatures about, bears and cats. Down south of the Rio Grande there are no bears worthy of the name and the cats will not attack a grown man with a pack on his back. I wrote about this while in Guatemala a year and some months ago. Some scary highlights:

The cat took him from behind, its classic killing method. His front claws ripped into the man's shoulder while his jaws clamped hard and tore across his throat. He was dead before he hit the ground. I like to think that he felt nothing, that he saw nothing, that death came upon him in an instant. The cat paused after the kill, then drug the corpse into the bush. He fed, and would return to the kill several times in the next few days. When only ragged tissue and bone remained the cat went after the marrow, crunching the human bones into jagged pieces.


An American man walking with a large pack on his back---me for example---would almost assuredly not be attacked. He simply appears too big for the cat, who would rather not fight his prey.

Truth be told I am not really worried about cats in the American wild. I am aware that they are there, and I will take precautions. They abound in the Southwest where I will be. They will see me---they might even track me---but attack me? Probably not.

Bears are an entirely different thing, of course. The Black variety can kill a man, but it is the Grizzly that concerns me. There are no Grizzlies where I will be hiking and backpacking this summer. Next year is another story. Then I would very much like to backpack Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. This is Grizzly country.

Pick up any book about these creatures and you are likely to find terrifying tales of attacks on humans. You are also likely to find ways of preventing these. Pepper spray, making noise, playing dead, yelling at the bear---all will be mentioned. The one tried and true method of protecting yourself while in Grizzly country is almost always given short shrift---firearms. The one book that deals adequately with the use of guns as protection in bear country is Stephen Herrero's Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance. Herrero writes that

...firearms are useful in several situations around bears. The first such situation involves a bear approaching a person considering him as prey...a firearm could save your life.

No kidding. Truth be told, a gun will work---meaning save you from being killed and eaten---when the other ways of dealing with a Grizzly fail. But who will take the time to yell, then use pepper spray, then play dead, when a gun---a good one, one that works---would quickly and efficiently end the threat to life and limb? When one is in a deadly situation with a Grizzly there is no time for reflection, only time for reaction. A bear can run at 42 feet per second, which means if he sees you from 100 feet away and charges then you have two seconds in which to react---to draw your firearm, aim and fire as many times as possible. This assumes of course that you see the bear before he charges. If you are having a bad day and only see the animal when he is a few feet away, well...


Next question: What type of gun will maximize your chances of survival in a close encounter with a charging bear? If you are a member of a hunting party then a .30-06 rifle will work, but a Magnum would be better if one could handle the recoil. Alas, I am a solo backpacker. My choices are extremely limited---actually there is only one choice, the Smith and Wesson 329 PD .44 Magnum revolver. It weighs the least among equally powerful pistols and will most assuredly bring down a Grizzly---it will bring down anything---assuming proper training and luck.

I ventured into a local gun dealer and handled the thing. Light and comfortable, this machine will provide the confidence I need to begin solo backpacking where Grizzlies roam. But first comes gun classes and hundreds of rounds of ammunition spent firing at targets. No gun will save my life if I cannot hit at what I aim.

More here and here.


May 8, 2005


Horace Greeley: "Go West young man!"

Me: "OK."

God has answered. Not this year will my boots again touch the soil of South America. But they will head out parts yonder---yonder being in my case New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Nevada. In other words, what we call the American Southwest. Why, you ask? Well...therein lies a tale.

A thousand years ago when I was a callow college kid I began the study of history. Ancient History in the main but also a smattering of US History. Even then that discipline was inhabited by pinkos, commies and a variety of socialists, most of whose dreary tomes had titles that began with, "The Social and Economic History of [fill in the blank]." Somehow I found some reasonable teachers. During one class I came across something called The Mexican-American War of 1846-48. I had not heard of it before. It seems that we had a splendid little war with Mexico and stole more than half of that benighted nation. What is now New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah,  California and parts of Colorado and Kansas---became US lands 'acquired' from Mexico.

But you can stop any wailing and gnashing of teeth about this clear American imperialism. The Mexicans had simply inherited the land from the Spanish, who had themselves stolen it from the Indian inhabitants. We got it fair and square the old fashioned way: we invaded the place and defeated those who came against us. (Actually, this is the method by which Americans got the entire continent save for a huge slab bought from Napoleon.) Huzzah!

The American Southwest is thus a cool mixture of Spanish, Mexican and Indian cultures, along with the purely American components of Interstates, Golden Arches and capitalism. All of this is of course smack dab in what is one of the most glorious parts of the globe: canyons grand, deserts sprawling and forests primeval---God's Holy Carpentry. He has demanded that I see His Handiwork. Deus lo volt.

And let me add to that hundreds of miles of purely four-wheel-drive trails. These things stretch all through the region and beg me to take my Jeep on them. To this end I will raise her suspension two inches and contemplate some halogen lights up front. I have already replaced the standard exhaust with a Flowmaster, the stock intake with a cold air variety, and stuck on a throttle body spacer. Here are two of the lovely things, the cold air intake on the left.

She screams loudly when accelerating, makes decibels of noise even at idle and jets down the road. Way cool, and ready for the badlands of the Southwest. There are thousands of miles of isolated backpacking trails there of course. But you knew this already.

Anyway, I load up the Jeep and head out for ten weeks and 6000 miles of travel on June 4. My first stop will be somewhere north of Tucumcari, New Mexico.

May God be my Co-pilot.



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