"I saw fire coming from his hand."
July 9, 2008 9:34 AM   Subscribe

Blood on the Mountain; part 2. In 1981 Randall Smith killed two hikers along the Appalachian Trail and served 15 years for second-degree murder. Two months ago Scott Johnston and Sean Farmer were camping along the trail when a man walked into their campsite. It was Randall Smith. And he was carrying a .22.

Interactive timeline, photo gallery, Q&A with the journalist.

SPOILERS: Johnston survived gunshot wounds to the neck and back; Farmer survived a gunshot wound to the chest; Smith died in prison.
posted by kirkaracha (76 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Man, the photo comparison of Smith in 2005 and 2008 [from the interactive timeline, middle marker in the 2008 set] makes it look like he had a meth addiction.
posted by sciurus at 9:44 AM on July 9, 2008


Damn that story for being so interesting that I had to read the whole thing, because the writing was atrocious:

And, though terribly injured, the two men had each other -- Farmer with his strength, Johnston with his exacting will. Half of each man made nearly a whole to get them down the mountain.

Oh, come on.
posted by gurple at 9:48 AM on July 9, 2008 [5 favorites]


That is a very interesting and grim story, it's too bad the author of the article is such a hack:

All manner of animals feast in the deep woods along this lovely stretch of mountains. There are bear and deer. Poisonous snakes and fish shimmering in the creeks. Dreams are hatched beside campfires and the stars seem almost close enough to grasp.

But sometimes, man feasts here as well.

And the killer was hungry.


Yuck.
posted by Divine_Wino at 9:50 AM on July 9, 2008


I think it's awesome that you and I both chose the same format for our condemnation, D_W. Condemn, quote, react.

"Lovely, isn't it?" Johnston says, curving around mountains that once were open and inviting before turning dark and hungry.

Retch.
posted by gurple at 9:54 AM on July 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


Thanks kirkaracha. Wow.
posted by halonine at 9:56 AM on July 9, 2008


I agree, I had to stop reading after the first page because of the 'trying too hard to impress my HS English teacher' pros.
posted by Mick at 9:56 AM on July 9, 2008


Poisonous snakes and fish shimmering in the creeks.

Poisonous Snakes in the creek... Tough fucking country...
posted by Lord_Pall at 9:57 AM on July 9, 2008


Great writing and researching (the author took the time to return to the scene with the guys who had been shot)- bad editing. A good editor could have cut the fluff out and turned this into a real gem.

I bitch, but really it's a nice story.
posted by Patapsco Mike at 9:59 AM on July 9, 2008


When did Jim Theis start writing for the Washington Post?

(obscure?)
posted by Justinian at 10:01 AM on July 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


I was going to say the same thing, only with Jayson Stark.
posted by notmydesk at 10:06 AM on July 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Poisonous snakes and fish shimmering in the creeks.

Poisonous Snakes in the creek... Tough fucking country...


It's worse than that -- poisonous shimmering fish in the creeks!
posted by gurple at 10:09 AM on July 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


How do you get out on parole after 15 years for murdering two people?
posted by fnerg at 10:11 AM on July 9, 2008 [5 favorites]


From part one:

For the first few years of his life, Loretta Smith dressed her son in girls' clothing. She never explained why.

Good thing nothing bad came of it!

From part two:

But sometimes, man feasts here as well.

And the killer was hungry.


Well that's some crap writing!

Still, thanks a bunch for the links. I've hiked pretty much every mile of the AT from the NY/VT border Northeastward, and it ran all of 500 feet from my childhood home. Terrifying to think of things like this happening.

On preview: Divine_Wino beat me to it, but I'll leave it for emphasis. Crap, crap, crap writing.
posted by SpiffyRob at 10:12 AM on July 9, 2008


I read the comments before I went up to check the article. Based on the writing examples, I expected a Crimelibrary link. Didn't expect that kind of prose to be in the Washington Post.
posted by Spatch at 10:12 AM on July 9, 2008


Heh, just noticed that the first page of part two features a link to "related articles" to Smith's alias, "Ricky Williams"

Not particularly helpful, Post.
posted by SpiffyRob at 10:15 AM on July 9, 2008


Huh, I recognize that writer's name, he spoiled a really good story about George Wallace with his ham-handed hackery, too. That was a while back; it might have been for the Boston Globe.
posted by ibmcginty at 10:20 AM on July 9, 2008


Why did I read that whole story expecting something about the anti-abortion/Millennium Park bomber guy in the mountains? Different guy, similar name?

Also, I don't care if you put "spoiler" in front of it, kirkaracha. Giving away the ending in the FPP is a bush move.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 10:21 AM on July 9, 2008


The writing is laughably bad. The story itself is fascinating. Thanks for the post.
posted by tiger yang at 10:22 AM on July 9, 2008


"squeal like a pig boy"sorry
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:38 AM on July 9, 2008


How do you get out on parole after 15 years for murdering two people?

And then get a gun......
posted by lumpenprole at 10:39 AM on July 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


Wow. Nthing the amazing story/bad writing comments.

Adding that the photo of the Wapiti Shelter (#6 in the photo gallery link) is the photographic equivalent of the prose style.
posted by snofoam at 10:41 AM on July 9, 2008


Interesting story. The writer should be flogged. You'd think he was writing for the Penny Dreadfuls. "Even Varney was better than that, you hack!" Okay well maybe not, but still...
posted by elendil71 at 10:43 AM on July 9, 2008


Adding that the photo of the Wapiti Shelter (#6 in the photo gallery link) is the photographic equivalent of the prose style.

Wow. I'm so glad you pointed those out, I had missed them. They're all pretty over the top. I've never seen trail signs look so menacing. Or a guy on a phone. Or a house.
posted by gurple at 10:45 AM on July 9, 2008


"Random House had better accept my True Crime Non-Fiction Novel Manuscript" drips off this thing like sweat.

The sweat not of vigorous exercise, the kind of exercise one engages in to improve oneself, like jogging down a country trail, the gentle thup-thup-thup of the whipporwill's wings in the air behind you as the sun gleams through the emerald leaves with the promise of another dawn; no, the flophouse sweat of the dead-eyed killer, the sweat that comes from dark deeds done in darkness, stealing the light from the emerald leaves and casting it upon a cave where only twisted lichen might grow, the sweat of digging graves and sinister acts that chase the light of goodness from the light-filled eyes of decent men.

There are good exercises, yes, and good sweats; the sweats that purify, the sweats that clean, like the sweat of a sweat lodge, the noble ritual of those who were once custodians of these verdant mountains, but there are also bad sweats, the sickly-sweet tang of the transpiration of the heroin addict; the sweat that drips in your eyes as you commit cold-blooded murder by using some sort of heavy implement that requires a great deal of exertion, therefore the sweat.

Sweat was sweated that day, when murder visited the dappled trails of the mountain, and little did the sweating campers who sweated lugging their camping gear know that their sweat would mingle with the wild-tinged sweat of madness, the sweat of a man who had killed and would kill again, causing blood to mix with sweat, forming a reddish pool on the ground whose chief characteristics would be salt.

Salt, yes, and also evil.
posted by Shepherd at 10:50 AM on July 9, 2008 [49 favorites]


(#6 in the photo gallery link)

Damn, that cabin sure is moving fast...
posted by quin at 10:54 AM on July 9, 2008


Killings for money, I can understand. Furies which leave people dead, I get that too.

I don't get this. It's weak to have to resort to "evil," but when no one knows a man except as a liar and a killer, there's not a lot else you can do.
posted by klangklangston at 11:00 AM on July 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


I started reading this yesterday. I was a little surprised that he didn't reference two of the more notorious murders on the AT, that of Julianne Williams and Lollie Winans, in 1996.

Agreed that the writing is blech.
posted by rtha at 11:02 AM on July 9, 2008


stupidsexyFlanders, I think you mean the Olympic Park/abortion bomber, and I swear I saw him in the Smoky Mountains during my through hike of 2001. Hearing the descriptions of this Smith guy made me shudder a little, recalling how creeped out I was when I passed the other twice on the trail. The description more or less fit, and he wouldn't wave or return greetings, but instead glared at you like he hated your guts. Did they ever catch him? Generally one feels so safe out there with so many other people looking out for you, but when you think you've encountered someone like that, the isolation can start to seem scary.
By the way, I was holding a flashlight underneath my face while typing that. BOO!
posted by SixteenTons at 11:06 AM on July 9, 2008


Crap writing aside, it's impressive that these two guys kept their wits about them enough to drive for help, with their thumbs pressed into bullet wounds like little Dutch boys.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 11:06 AM on July 9, 2008


And then get a gun......

Are you seriously asking how to get a gun after you get out of jail? This is one of the easiest things in the world to do (which is why gun laws are ridiculous).
posted by tadellin at 11:11 AM on July 9, 2008


Man, that bit about getting him to sign his name on the "consent form" was pure balls law enforcement awesomeness.
posted by docpops at 11:14 AM on July 9, 2008


Also, I love the spoiler - the fact it's in small print with an extra link all the moreso. I can't get through all this in the next couple hours. Knowing they survived makes me less depressed and more interested to read the article.
posted by docpops at 11:16 AM on July 9, 2008


I poked through the comments on the WaPo article, to see if they were raking this writer over the coals as much as we are. There's some of that, but a lot of the posts are about how crazy you'd have to be to go hiking without a gun. The implication seems to be that everyone who heads up into the mountains, or perhaps even out their front door, should be armed at all times.

I'm not sure how that would have helped in either of the incidents described (would you have your gun on your lap during dinner? I guess maybe that would help in that no one would eat with you), but it sure would make me afraid to go into the mountains if everyone went up there armed for "protection".
posted by gurple at 11:17 AM on July 9, 2008


And then get a gun......

Remember, guns don't kill people. The bullets in guns given to crazed murderers out on parole kill people.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:24 AM on July 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Can we stop mocking the writings of the mentally ill? Oh -- wait, wrong thread.
posted by skammer at 11:27 AM on July 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


...bullets in guns given to crazed murderers out on parole kill people, yes, and also evil.
posted by rusty at 12:15 PM on July 9, 2008


That's Eric Rudolph you're thinking about, SixteenTons, they caught him going through a dumpster in Murphy, NC five years ago. Chances are that wasn't him you saw in the Smokies if you were over on the TN side. The media circus when he was first on the lam and then when he was caught was something to behold. Hearsay has it that the FBI commandeered a suite at the Grove Park Inn (super luxury resort) for about six months during the first manhunt. Even with all the growth around here, you can still hide for a long time in these mountains.
posted by mygothlaundry at 12:25 PM on July 9, 2008


I'm not sure how that would have helped in either of the incidents described (would you have your gun on your lap during dinner? I guess maybe that would help in that no one would eat with you)

Assuming you had a gun with you on the trail, then yes, you'd probably have it with you at dinner, carried in its holster. In the first incident (in which Smith stabbed a woman after a protracted struggle) being armed might have saved her. In the second, not so much, because both victims were shot from behind.

As for "no one would eat with you if you were armed", if "no one" includes "the guy who is out to randomly shoot and/or stab people in the woods", that's actually a plus.

it sure would make me afraid to go into the mountains if everyone went up there armed for "protection".

This attitude always blows my mind. Many people already go into the mountains armed for protection, to the extent where it's a reasonably common practice. Hell, if you learn a bit about handgun concealment and then keep your eyes open around town, you'll be surprised at how many people carry on a daily basis. Yet we don't have constant concealed-carry shootouts at the O.K. Supermarket... this one is the only one I know of here in New Mexico, and I'm afraid I'm not going to weep for poor Mr. Stabs His Ex-Wife At The Wal-Mart Deli Counter.

If you're going to be afraid of guns, be afraid of the ones people carry for crime, not for protection... and even then, be reasonable about assessing the risk. Yes, guns do sometimes kill people, but the likelihood of being killed by one is rather small. An American is more likely to die of falling than of gunshot, either in suicide (which is the most common form of gun death, by the way) or assault; lethal accidents involving machinery, choking on food, and drowning are all more likely than dying due to accidental discharge of a firearm, yet I don't see anybody who is afraid to go into the woods because everyone goes up there with food for "eating".
posted by vorfeed at 12:37 PM on July 9, 2008 [5 favorites]


"Coldest eyes...ever!"

Heh. But a great story, mystifying and sad.

Looking at the timeline, how does a guy age like that in three years? Damn.
posted by peachfuzz at 12:46 PM on July 9, 2008


Are you seriously asking how to get a gun after you get out of jail? This is one of the easiest things in the world to do (which is why gun laws are ridiculous).

Why gun laws in general are ridiculous or why the current gun laws are ridiculous?

Are you suggesting there shouldn't be at least some real effort to regulate firearm possession on the part of those convicted of violent crimes involving firearms?
posted by namespan at 12:48 PM on July 9, 2008


Many people already go into the mountains armed for protection

I'm sure you'll tell me that I'm being naive, but I very seriously doubt that that's true in my neck of the woods. I'm quite sure it is true in Utah, where I used to live. There are a lot of reasons I don't still live there, and the gun culture is one of them. I knew some seriously messed-up people with concealed-weapon permits in that place.
posted by gurple at 12:50 PM on July 9, 2008


If your neck of the woods is Washington, you're being naive.
posted by Tenuki at 1:00 PM on July 9, 2008


Happy end: Bo was adopted.
posted by Dr-Baa at 1:13 PM on July 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


I have to agree with Tenuki on that one, gurple.
posted by Seamus at 1:16 PM on July 9, 2008


Was I the only one glad the dog got adopted, hopefully by someone with the ability to feed it. Poor thing, having a homicidal maniac owner...
posted by shoesietart at 1:16 PM on July 9, 2008


Well, at least me and Dr-Baa.
posted by shoesietart at 1:17 PM on July 9, 2008


Well it would be foolish to deny that there's /anybody/ in the mountains with guns around here, and in sheer numbers I suppose it probably is /many/ people. But it would take some convincing for me to believe that more than 5% or so of hikers/backpackers are packing heat. And it would be very depressing.
posted by gurple at 1:18 PM on July 9, 2008


Are you suggesting there shouldn't be at least some real effort to regulate firearm possession on the part of those convicted of violent crimes involving firearms?

uh-oh, no wendell
posted by msalt at 1:19 PM on July 9, 2008


Yay! Let's talk about gun control!
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:30 PM on July 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


One of the other links suggests the killer may have hid the original gun, and retrieved it after getting out of prison. Pretty hard for legislation to do much of anything about that.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 1:47 PM on July 9, 2008


I'm sure you'll tell me that I'm being naive, but I very seriously doubt that that's true in my neck of the woods.

Washington is the fifth state on the list when you examine the percentage of adults with concealed-carry permits. There's a full percentage point more people with CCW permits in Washington than in Utah.

But it would take some convincing for me to believe that more than 5% or so of hikers/backpackers are packing heat. And it would be very depressing.

Care to explain why? I don't see what's depressing about going armed, especially in a place where (thanks to Bush's funding cuts) there are often all of two rangers to patrol a park comprising millions of acres. As a result, drug running, poaching, theft, and similar crimes are on the rise in our parks... not to mention the wild animals, off-leash dogs, drunks, and other occasional hazards of the woods. Also, in an emergency situation, getting some food will be a lot easier if you have something you can kill it with, and attracting help will be a lot easier if you have something you can signal with.

To me, taking a gun with you on a hike is a lot like taking a first-aid or survival kit; sure, on 99 hikes out of 100 you'll never even touch it, but you'll be very glad it's there if you ever need it. Obviously, it's a personal choice, and if you don't like guns, by all means, don't carry one... but very depressing? I don't get that.
posted by vorfeed at 2:01 PM on July 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


I saw an interesting statistic recently: that more than half of all gun fatalities in the US are from suicide attempts. And the odds of a suicide occurring in a home with a gun are like 5 times the odds of a suicide occurring in a home without a gun. It's as if the very 'gunness' of the gun in the house makes some people more seriously consider killing themselves than they would have otherwise. I have to wonder whether the increased odds of a suicide in the home because the gun is there are counterbalanced by the odds that you will need to use the gun for self-defense (and will do so successfully). In other words, are guns a net good or a net evil. I'm guessing it's a net evil. Not that there's anything we can do about it, with a billion guns in circulation.

For the record, I'm a former soldier, and an expert marksman. I like the physics of bullet trajectories and the like, the raw math involved with distance shooting in particular. Nevertheless, I don't own a gun, nor do I see much need to own one...unless everyone else is arming themselves, which appears to be the case in this country. I predict a rise in gun suicides following the recent SCOTUS decision. Get back to me in a couple of years and let me know if I was right, and how many more people died.
posted by jamstigator at 2:07 PM on July 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


If this is the kind of writer the Washington Post is hiring, I'm going to apply for a job there. Here's my rewrite of the article:
The sun fought its way though the clouds like a desperate Chinese man trying to get off a crowded bus, and golden droplets of light spattered the ground like warm liquid. The campers loved the mountain in a way only two men could, and the mountain loved them with a quiet and stoic fatherly silence, only murmuring with the sounds of running trout and leaping deer and owls and mosquitos and chipmunks and birds and bears and marmots and rabbits and woodpeckers. Deep in the woods, a killer lurked, blocking the light with his golf umbrella of death.

The killer was hungry, and the hunger gnawed at him like a beaver gnawing at a tree until the hunger fell over into the pit of his stomach. And as the poisonous fish shimmered in the water, the dam inside the killer's stomach burst and the hungry anger surged through him like a wave of mashed potato gravy flooding into a town of peas and carrots.
posted by optovox at 2:16 PM on July 9, 2008 [10 favorites]


For some reason, this story reminded me of this. Yes, I did first find it on Fark. So sue me.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:24 PM on July 9, 2008


I thought what happened in the story--like two badly wounded guys careening down a mountain road trying to reach a hospital 30 miles away before they pass out from shock or blood loss or swerve off the road without knowing whether or not the guy who shot them was chasing them--was so compelling I either didn't notice or didn't mind the writing. Kind of like The Da Vinci Code. I also liked the bit about the consent form; kinda like the photocopier/lie detector in Homicide/The Wire el al.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:32 PM on July 9, 2008


Yeah, that writing was pretty terrible. I almost didn't read it. In fact, only the couple of sentences from the FPP here kept me reading to see how the hell such a thing could happen. The story, at least, was interesting.
posted by Nattie at 2:33 PM on July 9, 2008


I predict a rise in gun suicides following the recent SCOTUS decision. Get back to me in a couple of years and let me know if I was right, and how many more people died.

You predict a rise in gun suicides (of which there are only about 15,000 per year, nationwide) because of a Supreme Court decision which directly affects fewer than 250,000 households at most -- and that's assuming all of them buy guns? Those numbers don't suggest a significant rise to me, at least not without significantly impacting the total population of D.C., which seems unlikely to say the least.

Besides, suicide rates have been decreasing for decades, while the number of guns in America has increased.

Here's some debunking on the researcher who came up with that "5x more likely" statistic. A more recent study did not find a significant correlation between gun possession and suicide odds. Gun ownership did make people more likely to choose a gun as their suicide method, but its effect on the overall odds of suicide was not significant.
posted by vorfeed at 3:16 PM on July 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


Looking at the timeline, how does a guy age like that in three years?

meth?
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:16 PM on July 9, 2008


damn, that was said in the very first comment.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:18 PM on July 9, 2008


Obviously, it's a personal choice, and if you don't like guns, by all means, don't carry one... but very depressing? I don't get that.

I find it a depressing idea because, if all these people up in the mountains are carrying guns, it implies that they buy into the same picture of the wilderness that you described: "drug running, poaching, theft, and similar crimes... not to mention the wild animals, off-leash dogs, drunks, and other occasional hazards of the woods". None of these things (except generally well-behaved off-leash dogs and some varmints, and my own self as a drunk) have been part of my hiking experience so far. If I expected those things to be a significant part of my experience of the wilderness, then the wilderness would not be a place where I would spend so much time.

Now, your point is about preparedness, and I suppose I can respect someone who feels like they need a gun to go to the woods in the same way that I can respect someone that feels that they need a safe room or bomb shelter in their house -- not my choice, but their right. But if people are lugging guns to the woods en masse, it implies a general perception of the wilderness that is, in fact, very depressing.
posted by gurple at 3:27 PM on July 9, 2008


I'm pretty sure the second picture was taken in the hospital where he was recovering from the car accident. I expect that is a good portion of the 'aging'.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:32 PM on July 9, 2008


Gurpleā€”I think it depends on what kind of woods you're expecting. My uncle definitely carried a .22 rifle with him when he went to the boundary waters, but he also didn't pack in more than emergency rations, and fed himself by hunting and fishing. And I will also note that park rangers are the law enforcement agents most likely to be killed in the line of duty, so there is some risk there. But for a weekend stroll in the woods with maybe some tenting? I'm much more likely to want that splint or fresh pair of shoes, and damn, firearms are generally pretty damn heavy for their expected use, y'know? I realize that a .22 pistol is barely a couple of pounds, but a couple of pounds becomes fairly significant when it's going to be on your back the whole day. (And since I'm a vegetarian, I pack in more food and would get less use out of shooting stuff to eat).
posted by klangklangston at 3:53 PM on July 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


(And since I'm a vegetarian, I pack in more food and would get less use out of shooting stuff to eat)

Well, you could always shoot the tips off of fiddlehead ferns. It gives them a nice smoky flavor.
posted by gurple at 3:56 PM on July 9, 2008


None of these things (except generally well-behaved off-leash dogs and some varmints, and my own self as a drunk) have been part of my hiking experience so far. If I expected those things to be a significant part of my experience of the wilderness, then the wilderness would not be a place where I would spend so much time.

I'm not claiming that these things are "a significant part of my experience of the wilderness". They're an occasional hazard of the wilderness. Just like poison ivy, insect stings, sprains, cuts, serious blisters, getting lost after dark, running out of water, etc. If I expected those things to be a significant part of my experience of the wilderness, then the wilderness would not be a place where I would spend so much time... and yet these things do exist, and it's worth at least thinking about how to prepare for them.

Would you tell someone who liked to carry emergency food, a medikit, a firestarter, warm clothes, and a flashlight on their small day hikes that they were "depressing", just because the likelihood of needing any of that stuff on a day hike was low? Would you really dismiss them because falling down or getting stuck after dark "haven't been part of my hiking experience so far"? I don't get it.

But if people are lugging guns to the woods en masse, it implies a general perception of the wilderness that is, in fact, very depressing.

IMHO, it implies a general perception of the wilderness as a place where one is often isolated and exposed to the elements, and where things occasionally go seriously wrong. I think that's a pretty accurate perception; anybody who has ever been lost or hurt in the woods can tell you as much. People get killed during minor day hikes every year, sometimes even within a few miles of a city... the wilderness is not always a safe place for the unprepared.
posted by vorfeed at 4:42 PM on July 9, 2008


I think it's just about comfort level with firearms. I am uncomfortable with firearms, so a situation in which I would feel obliged to carry one is, for me, a very unpleasant situation that I would avoid. If I were more comfortable with firearms in general, I might think nothing of bringing one into the woods.

That is to say, I am /also/ not the kind of person who would carry a gun to the grocery store, or to a crappy neighborhood, in case something bad happened there (which I still believe is far more likely than something requiring a gun happening in the woods); if I were, I would presumably feel entirely differently about guns in the woods.
posted by gurple at 4:54 PM on July 9, 2008


ibmcginty, the author did, in fact, write for the Globe in the '90s.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:20 PM on July 9, 2008


It's very amusing that some people carry guns when backpacking "in case of a bear attack." Amusing because (a) they'll never have time to retrieve the gun; (b) if they happen to have the gun at hand they'll almost certainly not make an on-target shot due to their being scared shitless, not to mention tossed around like a rag doll; (c) and if it's a grizzly, an on-target shot is no guarantee: those fuckers have skulls damn near impervious to bullets and have enough rage to continue attacking even if their heart has been exploded. Plus (d) it means they've increased their pack weight by a third, for no good at all.

Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance by Stephan Herraro is the go-to book for information about bear safety. Just don't read it the weekend before you head out, like I did, or you won't get any sleep at all.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:28 PM on July 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


> Are you suggesting there shouldn't be at least some real effort to regulate firearm possession on the part of those convicted of violent crimes involving firearms?

This article makes me think that what we need is more regulation of those convicted of violent crimes, not their implements of choice.

The only way this guy should have gotten out of prison is in a body bag. There's your systemic failure right there.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:29 PM on July 9, 2008


Reading that article makes me wish that Bob Costas would guest host "Forensic Files."

The rich pageantry of the Olympics is only weeks away. Tune in as modern gladiators compete in the land of ancient terra cotta warriors as they try to break barriers of human endurance that seem as formidable as the Great Wall.... etc.
posted by Frank Grimes at 5:59 PM on July 9, 2008


No backpacker outside of grizzly country carries a gun. Campers, yes. Backpackers, no. (In grizzly country, a Smith & Wesson Model 500 is the only way to fly. Ain't nothing else gonna stop a grizzly.) I own a few guns. I'm as comfortable around firearms as anybody ought to be. Hell, I hiked with one of the suspects in the 1996 killings. That's why I carry a big knife. But a gun is heavy. My summer pack weight is 18#, plus food. Ain't no way I'm adding a pound or two for something that will never do me a lick of good. Also, it's illegal to pack heat in federal parks and in parks in many states, and it's hardly worth getting arrested over.

I only hiked with one guy who carried a handgun. He was a bit sketchy, though maybe it was the handgun that made everybody figure that, and nobody wanted to sleep in a shelter with him. Last I saw him was in Trail Days, in Damascus, VA, which he'd hitchhiked up to from ~100 miles south, in North Carolina. If he ever made it any farther up the trail, I don't know about it. I never heard his name again. And it figures...the damned fool was carrying two pounds of dead weight.
posted by waldo at 7:02 PM on July 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


I can't believe that S&W 500. It weighs almost as much (empty) as an M1A1 carbine. I remember endless usenet threads in rec.guns about the "best gun to stop a grizzly". The consensus seemed to be either large caliber hunting rifle or running away.

I agree that it is just shy of crazy to carry a gun backpacking, but the victims were car camping right?
posted by BrotherCaine at 7:23 PM on July 9, 2008


Believe it or not, waldo, I've had sincere arguments with backpackers about the carrying of firearms. Some crazy sonsabitches do carry a pistol or longarm into the back country despite the excessive weight and minimum security.

Running away will not help with a bear. That only confirms their belief that you are food. And read the Bear Attack book: it's filled with analysis of bear attacks. In most cases, having a firearm made not a lick of difference for the victim.

Bear bells are another amusing placebo. My wife and I were trekking down a switchback trail and caught up to a couple with bear bells. We did not hear the bells until we were within tackling range. They did not hear us until we said "Excuse us."

Bear bells are how you tell the difference between black bear scat and grizzly scat. That, and the whiff of pepper spray. Black bears might respond to spray. Grizzly bears consider it a seasoning.

I'm perfectly happy that I've seen bears only a few times in the couple decades we backpacked. In all honesty, the less wildlife I see, the better: rodents eat my gear, elk are unpredictable, and bears think we're food. Ducks are okay, I guess.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:34 PM on July 9, 2008


Black bears might respond to spray. Grizzly bears consider it a seasoning.


fff, I'm not sure if the various bits of dangerous disinformation like the one above are a reflection of the book that you reference or just a little hyperbole. Bear spray does work and there are many documented cases of people repelling grizzly bears with it (I usually carry this guys stuff).
The various scenarios that make up bear attacks are complicated and would definitely take a book to explore. But quickly, black bears and grizzly bears are very different; black bears almost never attack out fear, even for their cubs (I've seen video of black bear researchers hauling cubs out of a den in the presence of the mother). If a black bear attacks you, it wants to eat you and you need to fight back (same with mountain lions). Grizzly bears are just the opposite, unless they are starving, they will only attack if they feel threatened. Unless trained to approach humans for food (hunters gut piles, yellowstone), making some noise while hiking is a good idea in grizzly country. Because their attacks are defensive, it is advised that you play dead during an attack.

In all honesty, the less wildlife I see, the better:
Now that's really sad.
posted by 445supermag at 6:58 AM on July 10, 2008


Sorry, it was hyperbole. I shouldn't have mixed it in with reality.

What wildlife do you wish to see when out in the backcountry?
posted by five fresh fish at 7:44 AM on July 10, 2008


What wildlife do you wish to see when out in the backcountry?
1. Otters. One of the most magical wildlife moments for me was walking along the Madison river (Bear trap canyon) before dawn and hearing a strange grunting noise. I paused, looked around and an otter hopped out of the water onto a rock and looked at me with a puzzled look. Then another, and another, and another (with a fish in its mouth). And everyone loves to see sea otters when walking a pacific beach.
2. Weasels (and mink). Something you don't see in zoos. I've only seen them twice, but they way they move is amazing, very much like the way Chuck Jones portrayed the mongoose in "Riki tiki tavi".
3. Moose. Potentially more dangerous than bears, but I'll always remember the strange sound of an enraged bellow of female moose (no baby, just a bad attitude). And time I sidled by a very calm mom and baby (a narrow draw). Or the time I saw a big bull standing in the middle of a shallow river at dusk.
4. Birds. Its nice to walk up on the various chicken-like wild birds (grouse or what-not) and observing their antics. As a small child,I distinctly remember walking out into a fog covered meadow, early in the morning, and seeing a a great blue heron fly right in front of me. It was like getting buzzed by a pteradactyl. Or being scared half to death by a huge owl taking off after I walked under the branch it was roosting on (once as a child and once as an adult).
5. Snakes. Sometimes shocking, even non-poisonous ones can get your heart racing, but it's good to be reminded that you're alive.
By the way, just about all of these encounters occurred while I had a gun with me...
posted by 445supermag at 8:36 AM on July 10, 2008


Regarding backpacking with a firearm: It's actually pretty common with lightweight guns and only enough ammo for 1 reload. Under two pounds. It's nothing when I'm carrying 25# of tarp and food and fuel and bear lines and first aid kit for a week or two. Doesn't concern me in the slightest. And I agree with vorfeed, I still take first aid kit even though I rarely have to use it. It's just one of those things that when I need it, I need it.

Rarely are these carried for the bears.
I carry for the rednecks. Liberal city boys seem to make good targets for the rural trash. There's nothing like hiking through the forest only to be met by three dudes on four wheelers who stop to drawl out threatening questions like "Whatcha doin' hyeer?"
Fuck you and your foul mechanical beast, I'm here doin' what I wanna do."
Yes firearms are illegal in National Parks, but carrying in National Forests, National Grasslands and BLM land (of which there is much more than National Parkland) it is legal. There are rules on where you can discharge. The unfortunate thing about the Land of Many AbUses is that anyone can use them, not just cool people like me.

It's been a long while since I spent any time on the AT. Back in the '80s and Early '90s I lived in GA and spent every other weekend hiking bits of it. It was always filled with the sketchiest people imaginable. And that's not counting the fucking obnoxious thru-hikers with trailnames like Butterfly and Sparklebear. Appalachia is a weird place. One of my favorites, but really freaking weird. I miss boiled peanuts.

Also, I wouldn't think about pulling a pistol on a bear. I wouldn't need to. I generally don't hike in grizzly territory and blackies are just too damn cuddly.
Last month, when I saw the sow with cubs a hundred feet away, I was too mesmerized to pull out my camera, much less my pistol.

As for other animals I want to see when I am out. I want to see bears and bison and elk and deer and ground squirrels and prairie dogs and coyotes and rattlesnakes and trout and wolves and stellars jays and any other animal there might possibly be out there. Their unpredictability is one of the attractions. I don't want to hug 'em, but I do want to see 'em. The only time I ever had a problem with wildlife chewing on my gear was on the beach in Mexico. Damn crabs ate any natural fibers you left lying around. Even blended fabrics. Now crabs I hate.
posted by Seamus at 11:35 AM on July 10, 2008


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