Criminal Activity

1:24 a.m. on June 11, 2009 (EDT)
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Hey All,

Posing a question for the group. I routinely camp in the Red River Gorge area. Several of my law enforcement friends (state and federal) strongly recommend that I carry a firearm with me for self defense reasons. In KY it is of particular concern due to the marijuana farmers (the 2d largest economy behind tobacco).

I am a former Army Ranger, so firearms safety and common-sense issues are not a concern for me or other hikers (i.e., I wouldn't shoot at the first noise I heard in the woods). The issue is whether the danger is perceived or real.

Has anyone ever had run-ins with "unseemly" people on the trail or in the wilderness? Please share your stories.


2:17 a.m. on June 11, 2009 (EDT)
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Well ill have to say when I lived in TN and I was on a search & Rescue operation about 15 years ago I did encounter a couple of moonshiners. But they posed no treat to us as long as we stayed away from there operation and they searched there own area for us. But I have heard of less savory caricatures in the the hills of W.V. & K.Y. that don't play well with others so to say. I also have a friend that moved to here (Central New York) from W.V. and he tells me that marijuana farmers are very much real and you really don't want to stumble across them in the woods because they do get nasty. On that note I'm sure you can handle your self as you are a Ranger and a weapon my make you feel more at ease. But I would think that in the off chance you do encounter a pot farm, digging your pistol out of your pack unless you hike for recreation looking like John Wane with a pistol strapped to your hip. Your Escape & Evasion Training would kick into high gear knowing the following opposing force Unknown, your in an unfamiliar area and possibly with people that are untrained ect ect. Besides your a Ranger and your most likely more of a treat to them with that combat knife that I know you have packed in your gear.

10:18 a.m. on June 11, 2009 (EDT)
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Trust me, turning around, if possible, is always the best policy! Besides, I would rather have a nice enjoyable day of eating snakes than getting shot. LOL

Your mention of moonshiners reminds me of mountain phase of Ranger school. Every now and then, the mountain men come of out hiding in the hills of Dahlonega, GA all liquored up. They liked to harass and beat up the students. We were issued three live rounds for self defense. I never personally had an issue nor knew of anybody who got whooped by a mountain man, but it makes for a good story.

12:13 p.m. on June 11, 2009 (EDT)
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Here in California, where it is said (at least by the folks trying to promote the legalization of drugs with the argument that enough could be collected in taxes to pull the state out of its deficit - HAH! the pols would find a way to throw the money away in a heartbeat!) that marijuana farming is the state's largest cash crop, we have an astounding number of sophisticated automated farming operations in the Santa Cruz mountains that run down the spine of the San Francisco Peninsula, up north in the Trinity Alps, throughout the Sierra, all through Big Sur and the Ventana Wilderness, and so on all the way down to the Mexican border. Supposedly, much of the operation has been taken over by the Latin American drug cartels. There are shootouts reported in the evening news fairly frequently, including one in the canyon just above Hidden Villa Youth Hostel near the boundary with Montebello Open Space Reserve (in that case, one of the "guards" was killed and his AK47 recovered, while the other two got away. This area falls within the city limits of Palo Alto and Los Altos Hills, but is pretty much wilderness.

The camp ranger for one of our Scout camp properties that borders the town of Boulder Creek encountered a large farm with an automated irrigation system on the camp property a few years ago. When the sheriff's office traced the pipes, they were tapped into a city water line just outside the water meter for a house in a neighboring housing tract. Some of the farms have solar pv panels to power the water pumps - rather sophisticated, high tech operations.

In several of the state parks with extensive wilderness, visitors are warned to stay on trail because of incidents involving encountering the "farmers", many of whom are armed with heavy weapons (the AK47 variety usually).

So yes, at least out here on the Left Coast, the danger is very real. The advice from law enforcement, though, is because these folk use booby traps as well as having assault weapons, the best policy is to stay from their areas, and when you encounter something that looks suspicious, retreat and notify the local rangers or sheriff's office.

5:23 p.m. on June 11, 2009 (EDT)
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Mike068... What part of TN did you S&R in?

Usersatch, I think this is one of those topics we (hikers) should be informed on, but not stress too much about it. In the Southern Appalachians where I backpack, outdoor pot growing is a huge cash crop, so is methamphetamine manufacture, and to some degree moon shining.

In 2006 the state of Tennessee seized marijuana with a street value three times that of the next largest legal crop, tobacco.

I think the danger is real IF you are in an area prone to that type of activity, and IF you are bushwhacking in the more remote sections there. The outlaws do not wish to encounter hikers any more than you wish to encounter them, and so you are safe on trails and areas close to trails or roads I think.

I have personally had two run-ins with this stuff in the back country. The first time I was backpacking on the Cumberland Plateau in Grundy County TN. I was following a stream up current late in the day and was looking for a place to camp, after spotting a small clearing I made my way over and took of my pack and was getting a snack out when I noticed all the pot plants around me. Most of them were stripped clean with lots of deer tracks around them.

I got up and retraced my steps for about a half mile, crossed the stream, and found a new location about 2 miles away. I just stealth camped and moved on in the morning.

The second time was while I was camped in the Cherokee National Forest on the Hiwassee River. I was using a campground run by the river rafting outfitter there, I guess that was really front country. There was a large group of rafters there that were very rowdy and just being a real pain for everyone else there, they stayed up all night drinking and playing music, and best of all trying to entertain themselves with their own rendition of Pro Wrestling. Yea!

Several of us talked to them but they were really tuned out to anything other than what they were doing, and you could not reason with them! This went on until the next day and they showed no signs of letting up so I found somewhere else to camp. I am convinced they were using methamphetamine as I have been around it's use some with a neighbor and a couple co-workers.

As far as carrying a weapon I don't feel the need on established trails or near established trails. I don't always stay on the trails.

5:53 p.m. on June 11, 2009 (EDT)
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I lived in the southern end of Sullivan Co. I was in the Fire dept & EMS I mostly did Sullivan & Carter County's areas.


Hay trouthunter if you think you know me don't tell my ex wife lol

6:44 p.m. on June 11, 2009 (EDT)
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My goodness, would that include Sevierville?

How about the Northern section of the Cherokee National Forest?

7:54 p.m. on June 11, 2009 (EDT)
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Yes I have been there.

10:21 p.m. on June 11, 2009 (EDT)
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Make sure you're carrying legally. State laws now covers the legality of carrying on fed parks so check you state laws to be sure. As a Ranger I'm sure you know it'll do you no good to have it in your pack while you're hiking.

4:41 p.m. on June 12, 2009 (EDT)
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I routinely camp in the Red River Gorge area.

Has anyone ever had run-ins with "unseemly" people on the trail or in the wilderness? Please share your stories.

Only been to the Red a couple of times, but, nope.

Car break-ins are an issue there from time-to-time, I hear tell.

My experience in the Red is as a climber, though, so may be different than someone who's backpacking or hiking.


-Brian in SLC

8:54 p.m. on June 12, 2009 (EDT)
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A few years ago I was hunting along some old strip mines near the KY/TN border and came across a pot plantation. It was February, so nothing was growing, but the fencing and cut stalks told the story. There was also evidence someone had already been clearing more ground to expand the plantation. I just moved along without lingering.

I knew a head ranger at a TN state park not far from my home who told me he finds such things often, and he anonymously tips off police. He also said the plantations are often booby trapped - like hanging fish hooks at eye level.

9:23 p.m. on June 12, 2009 (EDT)
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Chumango, Were you in the Cumberland Gap/Plateau area by any chance?

3:03 a.m. on June 13, 2009 (EDT)
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Another good reason to legalize the stuff.


It will get it out of our national parks and away from the criminal underground. it will take the money away from criminals and boost tax roles. It will allow government regulation....I could go on and on about this and my views but I will save you.


No, I am not a pot smoker.

10:52 a.m. on June 13, 2009 (EDT)
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Trouthunter - yes, somewhere between Lafollette and Cumberland Gap, near the border, but on the TN side. My boss was driving, so I did not pay particular attention to exactly where. The plantation was a long way up a 4-wheel track, well off the track, i.e. in the middle of nowhere.

4:58 p.m. on June 13, 2009 (EDT)
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Tons of plantations in canada too! The main concern in my opinion would be booby traps. A guy tripped a wire and got a shotgun blast in the legs a few years ago in Quebec. Stay on the trails, especially in October, and you shouldn't have any problems.

8:44 p.m. on June 17, 2009 (EDT)
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Make sure you're carrying legally. State laws now covers the legality of carrying on fed parks so check you state laws to be sure. As a Ranger I'm sure you know it'll do you no good to have it in your pack while you're hiking.


Be vewy vewy careful! The bill he's talking about DID pass, but it doesn't go into effect until February of next year. It is NOT ok to carry on NPS land right now, no matter what state you're in or what permits you may have.

Forest service land is ok if your state allows carry and you have a permit.


To the OP: On a trip not too far gone I was accosted by 4 guys way off the beaten path. They were really on edge, and I think they were probably doing some meth, but I might have disturbed them trying to do something else unsavory (like burying the last hiker who stumbled on them).

They straight out told me they intended to kill me. Luckily, it was Forest Service land and I was armed. They changed their minds.

If you're looking for a good holster for backpacking, I use the Wilderness Safepacker. The belt loop can be adjusted to fit over the hip belt of most packs, or you can use a strap and carry it like a manbag (which is what I do).

11:21 p.m. on June 17, 2009 (EDT)
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I'm new here, but not new to the outdoors, or to firearms for that matter. I rarely carry a handgun when backpacking, but do usually keep one in the truck when I'm in the desert southwest. I spend most of my time in southern California, especially in and around Death Valley National Park and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. I've run into a few weirdos in my 52 years and while I've never even had the threaten someone with a gun (well, that's not completely true, but it wasn't while camping), it's nice to know I can if I have to! :-)

One thing to remember is if you own a gun it's worthless if it's not loaded, worthless if you can't get to it, and worthless if you won't actually use it.

12:18 a.m. on June 18, 2009 (EDT)
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Thanks for the input!

I have a CCW, but I carry in a tactical thigh rig, which is perfectly legal (and accessible) as long as you don't incite "panic". I only camp in the NF and rules allow for open carry as long as you stay away from populated areas, which I do. I prefer camping in the remote areas. Which is what led me to my question about pot farmers and Kentucky Mountain Dew (meth) makers.

I, in no way, desire a confrontation. I've been there and want to live a long peaceful life now. But, sometimes you can't help the situation you get thrown into. I seem to be a magnet for weirdos, probably because I am too nice, so I just want to be prepared and not too paranoid.

3:27 a.m. on June 18, 2009 (EDT)
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Ok my take on the whole firearm & camping (camping, backpacking & hiking) issue Heck firearms period.

I'm a firm believer in gun control = Hitting what you aim at.

I rather be judged by 12 than be carried by 6 or worse be left in the backcountry.

It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.

If you aren’t 150% repaired to use it lethally don't pull it.

Know how to use & operate you weapon effectively.

When it's in use (on your person) Always keep it Loaded, Clean, Dry, & Safe - well as safe as a loaded weapon can be.

Keep in mind that when & if you encounter a situation some people that see your weapon it will defuse a situation before it even starts on the other hand some people it will make them more aggressive right off the bat. Stupid I know but it happens and these are the people that you need to be weary of.

Every situation is different don't jump the gun (pardon the pun)

IMO this discussion has bled in and out of a few different treads and if it going to continue it should have its own topic, I know I have contributed to them as well. Also some statements have been mistakenly taken out of context.

Furthermore for those of us here that have had formal training with weapons weather it have been military, law enforcement, security ect have a bit of a different outlook and know I do. But these people are going to react differently so don’t watch a movie and think you have been trained. And just because you’re a hunter don’t think you’re prepared for human to human conflict. I recommend that if you are going to carry for protection weather it be in the backcountry or going to the corner store you go take a basic self defense & safety class that deals with the weapons that you have. I am not trying to say anyone is stupid or doesn’t know what they are doing, more of just being properly prepared. You can never take a bullet back and in most cases avoidance is the best way to avoid a situation.

I hope no one takes offense to this its just my opinion.

2:03 p.m. on June 18, 2009 (EDT)
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The issue is whether the danger is perceived or real.

Has anyone ever had run-ins with "unseemly" people on the trail or in the wilderness? Please share your stories.

Back to the original question, I think the danger (like many "dangers" nowadays) is far more perceived than real. Assuming you're not hiking off-trail in areas that are known for criminal activity and disregarding any signs of trouble, I think it's highly unlikely that you'll come into contact with criminal activity like this. As has been said already, criminals generally don't want to be found.

Not to say that it's impossible, but still pretty unlikely and not something I would worry about without just cause. And if I had reason to believe a place was unsafe, I simply wouldn't go there.

So, here's my story. Two years ago we "hiked" the short distance (maybe a half mile tops) to the highest spot on St. John, USVI. The "trail" we used was not well-traveled or marked and off a very bumpy, back dirt road. We found our way to the top and after seeing some wild donkeys started back down, but got a little off course.

We knew we weren't far from the "trail" and were headed in the right direction, but as we angled back we stumbled into a spot with big canisters, equipment and things. Then I noticed a guard dog. There were no houses anywhere nearby, so we weren't sure what was going on, but we quickly backtracked and found our way to the trail and back to the car.

I would have guessed meth lab or something else at the time, but according to what I read later, that doesn't happen in the USVI. So, again, it's an issue of perception versus reality. Was it some sort of illegal drug activity setup in the middle of the forest? Or maybe just a spot to put your junk and hang out with the dog? I don't know. At the time we both would have said, it just didn't feel right.

Back at the car I noticed adult entertainment DVD's on the ground, not illegal, but it added to the sketchiness. And a few days later, as we waited for our ferry, a ton of government and military vehicles, many with blacked out windows, arrived at the port and quietly amassed in the parking lot behing the National Park office where we were. It was bizarre and looked like something very serious was going down, but we never found out what.

Other than that little adventure, St. John is beautiful!

4:02 p.m. on June 20, 2009 (EDT)
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usersatch said:

The issue is whether the danger is perceived or real.

Has anyone ever had run-ins with "unseemly" people on the trail or in the wilderness? Please share your stories.

I think it's highly unlikely that you'll come into contact with criminal activity like this.


And if I had reason to believe a place was unsafe, I simply wouldn't go there.

To #1 I say: It's highly unlikely that I'll get into a car accident on the way to the store later today, but you can bet I'll be wearing my seatbelt anyway.


To #2: Excellent point.

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