For every bit as beautiful overlanding the United States can be, it can also be surprisingly treacherous. A knowledgeable overlander should already be well-versed in communication, mechanical repair, and basic survival skills.
However, those skills typically account for addressing common environmental threats to mortality. Spend just a day in the rugged outback deserts and you might quickly realize that larger threats can also be lurking in the sandy washes and prowling tabled mesas. Bears and mountain lions remain a threat to vulnerable soft targets, while your sidekick and man’s-best-friend presents a tasty lure for bobcats and coyote packs. Meanwhile, other darker threats may lurk in the land of perpetual mining claim battles, anti-socials, and squatting-parcels far from civilization.
Although encounters are relatively uncommon, preparing to address a situation with a defensive firearm can mean the difference between life and death. Situations which may lead overlanders to choose something with a bit more kinetic energy than a can of bear repellent and a plastic rape whistle. However, introducing defensive firepower into a proper gear loadout should be well thought out, just like any other tool in your bag. Making proper judgments on the what, where, and how to carry begins with realistically addressing your philosophy of use for the trip ahead. Any firearm planning mistakes could leave you in a position of vulnerability in a multitude of ways.
DISCLAIMER: This information is in no way intended to provide legal advice. Consult your local, state, and federal laws. If you are unsure, contact a local firearms legal advisor. This article only pertains to ground travel within the continental United States. There have been numerous interpretations by world travelers who all come to the same conclusion – carrying a firearm in a foreign country can be nothing but an invitation for trouble. While the laws from state to state are varied and sometimes confusing, it’s a foregone conclusion that you have the right to lawfully own, possess, and carry a firearm.
While throwing the trusty 10mm on the dash when you’re 20 miles into the backcountry may seem harmless, failure to understand the implications of securing and transporting a firearm can land you in a position to deal with another threat to personal longevity; the long arm of the law. Understanding firearm transportation laws correlated with vehicle placement can define the precious time required to engage a threat.
As any dedicated overlander will tell you, “it’s not just about the destination, but also the journey”. This means the preparation and transport of any firearms should be approached from the entire journey, not just the destination.
Let’s first get through basic terminology for when it’s relevant later in the article:
CCW – Concealed carry (carrying a concealed weapon) refers to the practice of carrying a handgun or other weapon in public in a concealed or hidden manner, either on one’s person or in close proximity. The terms Concealed Pistol License (CPL), Concealed Handgun License (CHL), and others may closely approximate the definition of CCW but will be defined by your state if applicable.
Open Carry – Open carry refers to the practice of “openly carrying a firearm in public”, as distinguished from concealed carry, whereby firearms cannot be seen by the casual observer. To “carry” in this context indicates that the firearm is kept readily accessible on the person, within a holster or attached to a sling.
Constitutional Carry – The term constitutional carry, also called permit-less carry, unrestricted carry, or Vermont carry, refers to the legal carrying of a handgun, either openly or concealed, without a license or permit. The scope and applicability of constitutional carry vary by state.
Reciprocity – Reciprocity can be defined as states which mutually and bidirectionally accept another state’s permit requirements for concealed carry.
Brandishing – “Carrying” a firearm directly in the hands, particularly in a firing position or combat stance, is also known as “brandishing” and may constitute a serious crime depending upon state law.
Without understanding the definition of these terms, it will be impossible to properly interpret the basic rules of the road when overlanding with a firearm.
And now to the good stuff:
Let’s assume that you have made the decision to carry a firearm on your next journey. Utilizing proper information, protocols, and best practices, for overlanding with a defensive firearm is rather simple if distilled into key points to understand and address. Screwing this stuff up isn’t an option.
Take firearm safety, transportation, and storage SERIOUSLY – This is life and death, ladies & gentlemen. The 4 rules of firearm safety are (MEMORIZE THEM):
- Treat every gun as if it’s loaded.
- Never point the gun at anything you are not willing to destroy.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target and you have made the decision to shoot.
- Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.
Know your state and federal laws – Wanderlust travel can expose you to checkpoints, routine traffic stops, interaction with state land officials and game wardens. Point of contact situations are not the time to second guess firearms laws. Planning ahead for firearm storage requirements can mean the difference between finishing out the epic loop of your lifetime or finishing out the remainder of your sentence. An excellent resource for up to date state laws can be found at the NRA-ILA’s website on State Gun Laws. Simply select your state from the list for comprehensive and up to date details on your state’s current regulation.
Incorporate state regulations and reciprocity maps into route planning – There are great resources available to quickly access state-level requirements, open carry vs concealed carry, secured storage & transportation, and reciprocity maps to overlay your route. As with state laws, selecting your state on NRA-ILA’s website on State Gun Laws and scrolling down to CONCEALED CARRY RECIPROCITY will help you understand which states may or may not accept your CCW. Traveling across states which do not recognize reciprocity may mean changing storage locations and safety devices required to satisfy the state’s requirements. Also, plan for route deviation if your routes are adjacent to bordering states. Finding yourself forced into another state due to travel restrictions or a mechanical issue may necessitate reassessing your entire storage and security plan before entering a different state. Failure to recognize these dynamics can lead to a very uncomfortable situation for the naïve traveler unwittingly committing a felony.
Know your environment – Because you are carrying a firearm does not imply you are safe. In fact, failure to identify a threat situation may quickly make you a victim. And worse yet, may result in your firearm being used against you if you’re caught off guard. Situational awareness is key to security. Stay ready and in the proper mental state by utilizing Cooper’s Colors to maximize your mental preparedness for any situation. In addition to mental awareness, respect your environment when deciding to carry openly or concealed (if applicable). Although schools of thought vary, I personally prefer to maintain the element of surprise by concealing in urban environments versus making myself an active target by exposing a firearm; this is defensive carry, after all.
Firearms presentation is the LAST option – Diffuse the situation with all possible methods, even if it means running away. Egotism and firearms are a toxic combination which can have a multitude of deadly or legal repercussions. Understand your local, state, and federal laws as it pertains to presenting a firearm. Brandishing a weapon can quickly end your overlanding with a trip to jail, seizure, and/or fines. On several occasions traveling across the country, I’ve been cornered by threatening situations and keeping my cool always provided me the confidence to intelligently diffuse the situation and move on without risk to legality and mortality.
Maximize firearm storage for compliance while optimizing accessibility – Your trusty peacekeeper is meaningless if it can’t be rapidly deployed for threat engagement. Movie-typical glovebox storage? Think again; literally. Every split second can count. Just as with any survival prep, running practical fire drills will surface planning and gear placement issues. Running unarmed drills from within and around your rig (carrier side/tailgate//trailer/perimeter) will begin to reveal optimized and ergonomic placement to maximize access. Never forget to consider (and possibly notify) the passengers who may be in and around the vehicle, so properly securing and limiting access by any 3rd parties. Designate firearm placement locations as close to your body as physically, ergonomically, safely, and legally as possible. Theft prevention should also be considered and never underestimated. The concealed-carry, open-carry, and vehicle-carry market is exploding with innovative products that can be incorporated within your specific needs for placement, concealment, and security; some of which can provide multivehicle flexibility.
Training – As with any tool, competency should be established prior to fielding a defensive firearm. Without establishing proper muscle memory and mechanics followed by routine training, firearms competency decreases. With decreased competency begets decreased likelihood of mitigating a deadly situation. Setting time aside for monthly visits to your local range will have a surprisingly positive impact on your mechanical skills, and most importantly, your confidence. But trigger training is only one component of overall competency. The practice of cleaning a firearm following range trips not only keeps your firearm in top mechanical shape but also establishes familiarity with the mechanics of the firearm system. Knowing how to rapidly clear a malfunction in the field will avoid leaving you with an ineffective paperweight and scary situation. And although being well versed in platforms and calibers is also a valuable skill, focus foremost on training with what you carry and carry what you train with.
In closing, the decision to carry a defensive firearm when overlanding is a very personal decision. Understand that others may be critical of your decision even though it’s our Second Amendment right. However, be considerate of other opinions and remember that this decision is private and not a public acknowledgment. Maintaining current legal information, proper training, environmental awareness, and safety will establish the competency, knowledge, and confidence to safely carry a defensive firearm during overlanding adventures.
About the Author:
Over the past few years, I have had the pleasure of meeting and discussing overland travel with many folks. Sometimes I’m fortunate enough to meet them on the road, more often it’s at gatherings like local club meetings or in camp at Expo. One question that I’ve been asked several times in hushed tones is ‘do I regularly carry a firearm when I am traveling’? Personally, I do not. However, since this topic seems to rise repeatedly it seems worth discussing. I am no expert in the jurisdictional promulgation of gun law, so I reached out to a colleague who is immensely educated on the issue to share some insight
This subject is likely to stir some impassioned criticism, so here’s our disclaimer:
We at Wildwood Expedition do not encourage nor discourage the ownership and possession of firearms in the United States. We respect and support every individual’s personal decision to freely choose their own lifestyle. The purpose of this article is to share factual information openly such that the reader may find the content helpful in their own informed decision.
Regardless of this particular topic, we always recommend that individuals conduct themselves in a safe and ethical manner in accordance with all federal, state, and local laws while traveling in the United States or abroad.