You’re taking a gun, right?

Most folks who announce their intentions to thru hike the AT get asked the same series of questions.  But I keep getting one in particular. It’s typically some variation of the following: What are you carrying for protection?  What kind of gun are you carrying?  Or you’re carrying a gun, right?

Please understand I’m giving my own humble opinion, feelings and responses to the question about carrying a firearm. I represent only myself and cannot speak for anyone else.

The topic of carrying a gun on the AT is warmly debated at best.  Most folks avoid discussing it like the plague, which is all the more reason for this post.  As a resident of PA, I hold a license to concealed carry firearms.  I’m an avid sportsman, shooter and enjoyer of all things firearm related. I am trained in proper firearms safety, use and care.  I am a Safety Professional by education and occupation. Well to be honest, a temporarily an unemployed one but that’s by choice.   But beyond having a license to carry a firearm and owning them, I actually carry one.  Many folks who write about carrying a gun on the AT will say they have their conceal carry permit or have guns.  I have yet to see one that admits they carry a firearm regularly.  Conversely, I often carry in my everyday life.

I have introduced many of my friends and family to the joys of firearms and hunting.  Firearms safety is priority number 1, without fail or exception. Firearms safety is priority number 1 in my home, while I am hunting or while at the gun range.  I have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to gun safety.

I won’t get into the legal aspects(read: nightmare) of trying to carry a firearm through 14 states.  I’m not an attorney and can’t give any legal advice.  That being said I believe that a persons moral obligation and compass supersede legal obligation.  For those of you that may not make complete stops, speed while driving, drink alcohol before driving, drive distracted, park in a fire lane with 4 ways on or even jay walk. Not to mention enjoy recreational cannabis in most states.  These are all illegal acts by folks following their own moral compass.

Now that you know my background let us both take down our internal filters and be honest with each other and ourselves.

Most people ask the question about firearms on the trail based on two things.  Their genuine care and concern for the hikers’ safety, and their own sense of insecurity or fear – be it for or against carrying a firearm.  Many people express concerns of bears or violence by “some shady person.” Hikers can easily be confused for shady people due to unkempt hair and clothing, overall appearance, sleeping anywhere they can, hitch hiking and the ever present aroma of a submarine sandwich.  Unfortunately most times when the question is posed the person posing the question has already made a snap and staunch decision for or against carrying a firearm.  They made a snap decision then put up a filter and closed their mind before the hiker could respond.

Hikers worry about their safety more than anyone, even their loved ones at home.  Be it sprained ankles, hypothermia, Lyme disease, Norovirus or Beaver Fever(not to be confused with Beiber Fever which is the scariest of them all). These concerns are more valid as they are commonplace on the trail.  These fears become reality very frequently every year like clockwork – unlike murder and bear attacks.

Since 1974 there have been 11 murders and 2 attempted murders(ref.)  or around 1 every 4 years.  Now lets compare that to Baltimore, and Washignton DC.  Both are places I have worked since graduating college.  In 2015 Baltimore had 344 homicides and Washington DC had 105 homicides. In 2015 a 16 year old boy was attacked by a bear in the Smokies and survived.  That was the 9th bear related incident(not attack) for the year.  With the estimated 2-3 million people using the trail annually the odds are in favor of not having any bear related issue.  Let alone being killed by some so called shady person.

With the frequency of murder and bear attacks it’s a wonder why no one asked if anyone is carrying DEET, ankle wraps, Imodium AD as frequently.  This goes right back to the fear and insecurities of the person asking the question.

Every day we are each faced with risk management choices.  Literally every choice we make is based on our knowledge and experience.  So when deciding to take a firearm or not take a firearm we must evaluate the likelihood of that event vs. other events.  History tells us that the likelihood of being brutally attack while on the Appalachian Trial is very low.  Be it by a bear or a human, it is miniscule compared to other injuries and other areas of the country people frequent.  It’s more likely that we will be injured or get sick by slip trip or fall, or a deer tick.  Let’s focus on the true hazards of the trail and understand that in the grand scheme of things we will be safest by using good judgment and safe hiking practices.

I feel like the reasons to carry a firearm on the trail are far outweighed by the reasons not to carry one.  Even as a proud owner and carrier of firearms, I for one would rather carry 19 ounces of Fireball whiskey than a 19 ounce firearm.  Bottoms up!



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Comments 5

  • Matti : Mar 22nd

    THANK YOU — this is the most intelligent, well-reasoned, thought-through, and thorough answer I’ve seen to this question. I am sending this link to the dozens of people who have asked me the same question!

  • TBR : Mar 22nd

    The need for a lethal weapon on the trail (AT or other trail) is … remote, in the extreme.

    And … firearms are rich in ounces!

  • Michael Dickinson "TOP" : Mar 23rd

    Dylan and others. I am a Retired Army Ranger with Concealed Carry. I have battled with the gun issue as well. I hiked the Amacolola Approach Trail round trip with full pack on February 19th / 20th this year. I carried concealed in a chest vest. I came to the decision on the 19th that I am able to defend myself and others without the weapon.

    Thus When every ounce counts,
    Gun stays home with the wife.

    There are other imposing issues such as Airline Security, Train Security and weight. Besides it will take too long to make Bear Jerky on the Trail.

    Great post

  • Bob D : Mar 23rd

    Interesting take. I feel fairly similarly. Wrote about this topic awhile back, and it remains a popular post.

  • BillB : Mar 25th

    I remember encountering a woman at a pass in the West Elks. My hiking partner at the moment was an 11 yr old male Husky. I said hello and the woman smiled and nodded but kept her distance and looked nervous. At the time I assumed that she did not like dogs but since he was a handsome devil, and very well behaved, she may very well have simply been very nervous around strange men when alone in the back country. Easy for me to say that she had nothing to fear with the perfect clarity of hindsight. But it will NEVER be my place to decide for her what precautions she needs to take to feel safe


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