Going shooting in the wilderness? Be safe!

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Instead of belonging to a gun club or using a commercial range, many gun owners enjoy heading out into the countryside to shoot.

In my area of the world, this is often an old gravel pit out in the woods. There are lots of such locations scattered around the Pacific Northwest, as they’re used to provide the materials to build and maintain the logging and access roads that criss-cross the mountains.

Being outdoors, where the air is fresh and clear, with nothing but the sounds of birds and bees for miles around, is attractive to a lot of people. I’ve met many shooters who wouldn’t dream of going to a crowded, noisy range just to do a little plinking. 

Unfortunately, we often equate those idyllic surroundings with safety. It’s very easy to think that nothing bad could happen in such a nice setting. 

That’s not always a good assumption. Unlike fishing holes, no one keeps a good shooting spot to themselves. They like to take their friends, who then tell their friends about it, who tell their friends, and so on.

Sooner or later, people who aren’t friendly know about those places too.

Bad things happen in good places

A recent news story illustrates the danger with going to a secluded area that everyone knows about. I’ve been to that specific spot with friends, and it’s a perfect place to stage an attack. There’s only one way in, and if you’re in the pit you can’t see the road or an approaching vehicle.

This is not the first time I’ve read about an attack of this specific nature. It’s not even the first time I’ve heard of such an attack in my part of the state. And, sadly, it’s not the first killing that’s occurred in one of these attacks.

If we’re to remain safe, we need to understand and acknowledge the reality of shooting in the wilderness. It’s not always a pleasant one.

What’s their motivation?

A firearm is very attractive to a criminal because it has value, and in more than one way.

First, it has intrinsic value; a stolen firearm can quickly and easily be sold on the streets, because every criminal wants one. We know that guns used in crimes are very often stolen, and that a crook who wants one doesn’t need to go to a gun store. All he needs is a street contact.

This leads us to the second value, which is as a tool of their trade. Criminals use guns to commit the crimes that support them; to intimidate others in their subculture; or — in the case of a gang member — to protect themselves from other gang members.

Other than drugs and cash, it’s hard to think of any item that’s as valuable to a criminal. And a gun can be used to get drugs and cash.

Some small subset of the criminal world knows that, on a regular basis, people load up their vehicles with these valuable objects to go to a secluded place where they can be easily surprised — and where it’s unlikely that anyone will hear or see an attack.

Of course a killing is always concerning, but I’ve also seen many accounts of firearms being stolen from under the noses of shooters at these places. They think they’re all alone out there, so they leave their guns on the ground (or in a vehicle) as they go downrange to check targets.

In the meantime, someone slips in, grabs the guns, and by the time the rightful owners discover their guns are missing the crooks are long gone.

What to do?

I’m not suggesting that everyone rush out to join their local gun club just because bad things happen to good people in nice places, any more than I suggest people avoid concert halls or outdoor art shows because attacks have happened. I am going to suggest that, if you’re a frequent user of informal shooting spots, use caution.

  • First, avoid going alone. Take another person with you to help keep an eye on things. Tell a friend or loved one exactly where you’re going and when you expect to return.
  • Always have a loaded handgun on your person. If that’s the gun you’re shooting, always make sure you have a full magazine (or speedloader) that doesn’t get used during the practice session. Never re-holster an empty pistol or revolver; use the dedicated spare, if necessary, to make sure that gun is always loaded.
  • Never leave a firearm unsecured and unattended. If you’re shooting rifles, take them with you when you go downrange to change or inspect targets. At first it might seem silly to do so when no one else seems to be around, but you’ll get over it.
  • Keep your vehicle(s) locked, and don’t leave firearms in ready view. Park facing the exit, so that you aren’t forced to back up or turn around to leave.
  • When possible, orient your shooting direction so that you can easily check the entrance; try not to have your back to it. Naturally you don’t want to shoot AT the entrance, but shooting at a right angle to the point where people come in will allow you to easily and frequently check for intruders. If possible, pick a shooting spot where you can see the road.
  • If anyone else shows up, I recommend packing quickly and leaving. No matter how friendly they seem, if you don’t know them they’re automatically suspect. If you’re with a group, have one person keep watch while the others pack. Don’t assume that because you’re with another person (or small group), you’re automatically safe.
  • Don’t antagonize new arrivals by pointing guns at them. Be wary but non-confrontational. Pay particular attention to their demeanor; this is where understanding body language and pre-assault cues it especially valuable. If they’re obviously under the influence, be especially cautious.
  • Finally, report any suspicious activity to the police or rangers who have jurisdiction in that area.

Preparation, not paranoia

Again, I don’t want anyone to be unreasonably fearful, but understand that shooting in secluded places carries with it some additional and unique dangers.

By planning ahead, being careful about how you conduct yourself and making contingency arrangements, you can dramatically lower your risk and enjoy your time in the woods (or desert, as the case may be.)

-=[ Grant ]=-

P.S.: My Threat-Centered Revolver course Arizona this November won’t be out in the boonies — we’ll be at the wonderful Ben Avery shooting complex just north of Phoenix! It’s a great place to shoot. This is my last open-enrollment course of 2019 and filling fast, but there are still a few openings. You can learn more (and sign up) at this link.

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About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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