With decades of experience as a Police Officer and Park Ranger, Bryan Appleby shares expertise on carrying firearms and non-lethal self-defense tools while truck camping.
Let’s get right to the question most of us have asked ourselves at one point of another.
Should I carry a firearm for my own protection while truck camping?
The quick answer is, “Well, maybe”. There will always be a debate of whether or not one should carry a gun. As with my new bride’s comment, thirty-five years ago, it has to be in your comfort zone. The majority of people really have no business carrying a firearm, even though it is their right in the United States. Let’s break this down, without getting into a big debate.
With my long history of growing up hunting and working in law enforcement, I have very distinct opinions of firearms. The important point is, are you willing to take another person’s life with a firearm? If not, there are other means you should consider so you don’t become a victim with your own firearm.
As a police officer, we spent considerable time training with ex-convicts on techniques of weapon retention. Criminals have trained, often in prisons, on how to disarm individuals, specifically police officers. So yes, think about that.
When a choice has been made to carry a firearm, just remember you have the responsibility to decide if it is worth destroying two lives by using one; the person you possibly kill or injure, and your own life too. Is it worth this over a material possession? For me the answer is no in almost all circumstances.
Are you prepared to defend your actions in a lengthy investigation and trial? If not, consider other alternatives.
Protecting oneself and/or a loved one over an otherwise insurmountable force is always another argument for possessing a firearm. In a life threatening situation for another person, or myself, I would not hesitate in using a firearm. But that type of situation is rare.
If I am to carry a firearm, should I have a handgun, or a long gun (shotgun or rifle)?
Which type of firearm you take with you is dependent on what you are comfortable using. You should have frequent practice and training (and re-training) with your chosen firearm.
Another factor is how far away the threat is. Anything over four car lengths is generally ineffective with a handgun, for most individuals. Anything over four car lengths is also, possibly, not as much of a threat. Using long guns allow your projectile to travel a distance that could impact other unintended victims.
Are there any considerations for bringing firearms across state borders?
There are many responsible gun owners who prefer to carry firearms with them while they travel. Often times there are no restrictions for them to do just that.
The rule of thumb is to be prepared for the regulations of the states you might visit. It is important for the firearm owners to know what the rules and regulations are for each particular state.
To be safe, have a lockable hard-sided case for your firearm. This case should allow the firearm to be trigger locked and/or cabled. In some situations, the lockable hard-sided case and firearm needs to be stored in a location that is not occupied by a person. The ammunition also needs to be stored in a separate location.
For those who are carrying firearms for Concealed Carry, USACarry.com provides updated information about which states you will be allowed to carry a concealed firearm, defaulted by the state which issued your permit..
OpenCarry.org provides information about states that allow open carry, and the open carry restrictions. Be informed and follow the requirements upon entering each state.
When contacted by a police officer, respect his or her need for personal and officer safety, as well as yours, and share that you have a firearm if you are carrying one or have one within your reach. Do not reach for the firearm, just inform them that you have one. Respecting each other’s boundaries will result in a good experience.
What about bringing firearms into Canada and Mexico?
Truck camper enthusiasts are often very outdoors oriented and many enjoy hunting and fishing. For those who enjoy hunting, it would seem fairly normal to have firearms with them as they travel. Truck campers are even used as mobile hunting accommodations for expeditions to Canada or Alaska.
For this reason, the necessity for transporting firearms into and through Canada is not unique. There are restrictions for this and Canada has forms, fees, and requirements to be met before this is allowed. Once again, a hard-sided lockable case, locked and rendered safe by a trigger lock and/or cable, is required. The following link has a form and information about carrying firearms into Canada.
Be aware that guns with barrels shorter than four inches will not be permitted. This is their way of prohibiting hand guns. Long Guns, such as shotguns and rifles, are permitted. There is a growing list of long guns that are not permitted. Be sure to research this prior to arriving at a border station.
If you are traveling into Canada, you might consider storing your firearms in a nearby location available for the temporary storage of weapons. The firearms will be ready for you upon your return. Or consider shipping your firearms to your Alaskan destination, if you are just traveling through Canada.
Bringing firearms in Mexico is a very different situation. Firearms and ammunition are prohibited. Some knives are also prohibited. Be sure your vehicle and belongings are free from any ammunition, even on a key fob or a bullet stuck between your seat cushions. Mexico treats any indiscretions to their laws very severely.
If I choose not to carry a firearm, what other self-defense tools are available?
Above: Bear spray and a fire extinguisher can also be used as deterrents
Other effective self-defense tools include a baseball bat, a fire extinguisher, mace, and my favorite; bear spray. Many of these deterrents are effective at a safe distance and allow you to flee from a threat. Being able to keep, carry, and store these items is also a plus.
Note: Pepper Spray and Mace are prohibited Canada and Mexico. In Canada, it is only allowed if it is intended and labeled as bear deterrent. Before visiting any foreign countries, visit their customs websites to see the most up to date allowed and not allowed items.
Sound devices are excellent, such as air horns and a simple whistle. Try to avoid scenerios and devices that allow you to be reached out and grabbed, such as Tasers. One of my biggest objectives, as a police officer, was not to allow someone into my personal space, where they could grab a hold of me.
When one has concerns about personal space issues, a good class on personal safety is recommended. Finding out critical locations to affect your defenses is a great tool, no matter what your gender.
Let me suggest your two best weapons to carry; your sense of confidence, and the ability to check your ego and drive or walk away.
A simple smile, thank you, and leaving an escalating situation might be a life saver. The ability to communicate, calmly and deliberately, is often the most effective way of defending yourself.
Do you have a plan if there is an emergency or break down?
Above: Examples of Personal Location Beacons, or PLBs
While repelling bad people is an important portion of personal safety, so is your health and mobility. The most informed person about your personal health is typically yourself. With many health issues plaguing us in our later years, it is often imperative to remain in areas that enable one to contact emergency services and receive a reasonable response time. That often dictates how far one is able to roam.
Another increasingly popular device, that is being used by individuals, is a PLB (personal location beacon), such as a SPOT Satellite Messenger. With recent advances, these devices are becoming more and more sophisticated in what they are able to send and receive. They now leave “virtual breadcrumbs” for software to track one’s direction and path. This enables those assigned as recipients, to track a PBL equipped person’s whereabouts, including in remote locations.
Above: The ResQLink is a buoyant, GPS-enabled personal rescue beacon
Above: In Reach Iridium by DeLorme is a satellite messenger with delivery confirmation, interactive SOS, GPS position tracking, and 100 percent global coverage
In the past, a simple itinerary left on the kitchen table, with the approximate return time, was the norm. Fast forward to the new century and the norm is cellular phone or PLB devices.
More than 90% of my hiking, backpacking, kayaking, motorcycling, mountain biking, and full-timing is done solo. What I have is a small note, wrapped around my driver’s license, with details of what I am doing, an emergency contact name and number, as well as an updated location of where my truck is parked and instructions on how to reach my dog inside.
This small note is for any EMS personnel that would come in contact with me, conscious or unconscious. Also, I keep specific people updated where I will be traveling, as well as times I will be out of phone and internet range.
With my emergency contact person, I have placed a contact list of people to contact. Specific contacts have instructions to call additional people. Basically, it’s a phone tree system. This is especially important when I am out on my motorcycle, hiking, and kayaking; essentially whenever I am away from my truck and camper.
While I never intended for this emergency list to go into action, it did during the Fall of 2013. I was in an accident, unconscious, transported, and subsequently hospitalized. Many of the people on my list were happy to receive news and updates on my condition and recovery.
This information comes from years of being on the EMS side and having an unconscious person, with no identification, and no one to contact. Do yourself a favor and your loved ones too; carry something on your person to notify EMS where you are camped and whom to call, if needed.
During my travels, my emergency contact person receives a notification, mostly email, of where I am camped, even if I am out of range. That way there is at least one person who always knows where I am camped. Yes, there are multiple apps for this, on Smartphones.
One more thing I recommend, and something I started as a park ranger; I never carry my main keys with me. If I am driving the truck/car to a trailhead, I have always left a key where anyone in our party is able to reach the car and drive it. Just in case.
That way the only key has not been dropped or literally gone off a cliff. Whenever I leave for a hike, motorcycle ride, and/or paddle down a river/lake, I leave my keys at home (near my truck camper) in a safe and secure location. I only take the key to use for the motorcycle, if needed. That way there is nothing to lose in the lake, river, or on the trail.
Practice Personal Safety
Above: Boondock camping in Valley of the Gods, Utah
Fear can be paralyzing, but that feeling can be repelled by doing one thing; get out there and practice being on your own and growing your confidence.
Now get out there, even if it is at the end of a dirt road, with no one in sight. You will feel it that first night you close the door behind you, as you climb in for the night.
But, trust me that initial fear will eventually turn into you becoming cautious and comfortable with your solitude, as well with your new skills of boondocking and camping off the grid. With time, my wife became an expert with being in the backcountry too, it just took time, practice and confidence.
I hope you have enjoyed this article and wish to thank Truck Camper Magazine, and editors, for an opportunity for sharing tips, ideas and just a few stories, from my continuing adventures. Until the next time, be safe my friends.
Click here for Personal Safety for Truck Campers – Part 1 where Bryan addresses the topics of potential threats, camping security, and dangerous animals.