Campground Intruders

Though I’ve never been a hunter, I’ve been around hunters most of my life, both as a landowner and as a walker and camper. I’ll venture a guess that eighty percent of hunters are responsible folks who respect other peoples’ rights and follow the game laws. That other twenty percent, though, are troublesome to deal with at times. These heedless folks are almost all men.

Hunting is seen by these borderline sociopaths as a way of escaping society’s strictures. Away from the onerous presence of wives and neighbors these hunters tend to drink excessively and indulge in their proclivities, one of which is a love of guns in all their mechanical glory. Many of them have accomplished a feat of mental gymnastics: riding around on a gun-equipped ATV, usually a four-wheeler, comes to be considered the height of coolness and masculinity rather than as a craven relinquishment of one of humanity’s finer activities, which is walking while carefully regarding the landscape and its inhabitants. Henry Thoreau liked to use the word “sauntering”.

You can imagine that my having opinions and attitudes such as these results in some odd encounters. I try to be civil and focus on signs of humanity in the renegade hunters I meet, but this does involve some effort. It’s like bridging an inter-species gulf.

A few weeks ago Bev and I were heading south from Utah, looking for warmer weather and killing time before the house in Bisbee was vacant and ready for us. We decided to spend a couple of days in the Dragoon Mountains, a favorite locality of ours. The Dragoons are about an hour’s drive southeast of Tucson. Here are a few photos from our stay.

Typically jumbled granitic rocks of the Dragoons; I’d hate to be there during a major earthquake!


An Arizona Rainbow Cactus growing within a bed of moss; I’m still not accustomed to seeing cacti growing with ferns and mosses!


A Gulf Fritillary butterfly taking its ease in the sun:


Whorled and contorted grain of a recumbent oak trunk. Notice how cattle have burnished the surface by rubbing against the surface for many years:


But back to our hunter encounters. I’d really rather write about subjects more congruent with my interests, but sometimes stories demand to be told.

We knew that deer-hunting season had begun, but with our usual optimism we thought that the Dragoons was a large enough area to mitigate against unwanted interactions with hunters. Not so, evidently!

One chill evening, after the sun had set, Bev and I had retreated to the van. Bev was checking her e-mail and reading Facebook posts on her cell phone while I was engrossed in a book. An LED lamp provided sufficient illumination.

Sage, the guardian collie, began to growl softly. Bev managed to get my attention, not always an easy task, and said, “Larry, there’s someone standing out there!”

I looked out of the window and saw a man standing about twenty feet from the van. “Oh, hell!”, I thought, “What could this guy be doing?”

It seemed odd that the man would be just standing there without calling out, especially during hunting season. He risked being shot. I reluctantly exited the van and approached the man. “Hey, what’s up?”, I asked him in a neutral tone.

I felt myself at a disadvantage, being barefoot and all. I was curious, though, and wanted to know why the man was standing there. He was in his sixties and seemed to be a bit “off”. We had seen him earlier trying to turn around a long airstream trailer hitched to an SUV. We thought he had seen that we were camped at the last site on the road and decided to check out another site. I looked over his shoulder and saw that his vehicle and trailer were parked down the road a ways.

He said, “Oh, I was supposed to meet a friend here and thought maybe this was his van.”

Rather unlikely, I thought! He doesn’t know what his friend’s van looks like? His story sounded vague and improvised.

I replied, perhaps in unfriendly tones, “I guess you’re mistaken.”

“So what are you doing here,” he asked. “Rock-climbin’ or something like that?”

By this time the dog had started barking and though I was still curious about the guy, I answered him tersely: “Yeah, something like that.” I wanted this encounter to be over with. He got the message and said, “Well, I guess I’ll be going on my way.”

The man walked back towards his SUV and turned it and the trailer around. As his headlights disappeared down the twisting dirt road I got back into the van.

I told Bev about the odd conversation and she told me that before we had seen the man standing in our camp-site she had seen him peeking through the van’s rear window.

Now that was even creepier and stranger than my encounter! Most people are careful to follow an unwritten code of campground etiquette. Peeking into vehicle windows is certainly something I would never do!

The mystery surrounding this man increased the following morning. I was out for an early walk down the road. About a mile from our camp-site the man’s SUV and trailer were pulled over to the side of the road. The SUV’s engine was running and the man sat alone in the vehicle. I walked on by without acknowledging the man’s presence; as soon as I had passed the man pulled out into the road and passed me.

So odd! Why was he wandering around the back roads during hunting season? Why was he bothering to pull a thirty-foot trailer when he seemed to be by himself?

While I was out walking that morning Bev was sitting at the campsite playing her mandolin. A pickup truck pulled up into the site and two hunters mimicked for her the act of bowing a fiddle. They grinned foolishly. This seemed to Bev to be an obvious attempt to intimidate her. These hunters must have seen her playing the fiddle from a distance, perhaps using a spotting scope or binoculars.

I returned from my walk and Bev told me about this latest intrusive encounter. We decided to leave. Life’s too short to put up with such people!




Filed under Arizona, Stories

10 responses to “Campground Intruders

  1. Anyone who lives in the rural areas, camps or goes into wilderness has had such with or without a gun on the other people. My daughter said when she (before babies) would be in the campsite and her husband and their friend were out hunting or fishing, there was a wilderness guy who would come by and he was intimidating to her. He invaded their campsite and made her uneasy when alone. He was living out there to avoid people and yet there he was. Well my daughter is a beautiful woman with a very good figure and it’s hard to say if he was just enjoying her beauty but she made sure the next time they did it, she had a gun on a shoulder holster so that when alone,he saw she was armed. He quit coming around, hard to say if he kept watching from a distance.

    Mostly my advice in such situations is to do what you did and leave when it’s possible to do so. There are a lot of odd people everywhere but when you are out by yourself, it’s more at risk that they don’t mean well and unfortunately too many people have learned that the hard way. It’s frustrating that it would be that way but follow your instincts in my belief.

    Because our little ranch is on the edge of society, we see more of the outlaw types than most would run across. We have taken the view that carrying a handgun on a belt is a good thing where it’s quite visible. It just stops the random opportunist (lots of drug dealers out our way) from thinking we’d be easy pickings. I know lately with the mentality that guns are all bad, that’s something a lot won’t want to read but it’s a reality some places that guns are a life factor– whether they have them or not.

    I should add that for those who would never shoot someone– in self-defense, carrying a gun is a big mistake. Also for anybody who is afraid of them or not trained in their use, not smart. Pepper spray is good in that case and not a bad thing to have when going into the back country. It’s easily available at outdoor stores– bear spray.

  2. oh and on that pepper spray– be sure the wind is in the right direction 😉

  3. We recently had a discussion of weird interactions with folks met during biological field work in Ontario – they’re not frequent but they do occur. One thing is to be careful in what you say initially – I once reminded a fellow who yelled at me from his house, urging me to desist from picking up frogs from a public road, that my frog transect had been here long before his house had been, and he subsequently came out with some low-level death threats, maybe as a result of my come-back, maybe not (it turns out that his attitude towards the world in general was known to the police).

  4. Rain, I was recently talking with a woman who travels alone and she likes her pepper-spray (hers is actually a foam). She said, “A gun dealer sold me the stuff when I went into a gun shop thinking of buying a pistol. He told me that the pepper sprays make more sense than a gun in a confined space such as an RV or a trailer.”

    Fred, there have been several occasions when I’ve held my tongue at the last minute when confronted by a fool far from civilization. A self-preservation instinct, I suppose!

  5. Wow, that trunk is really cool.

  6. i had not heard of the foam but that’s an excellent idea. I’ll check it out as the spray does have a risk of burning your own eyes also. The bear sprays have the advantage of going farther but i have heard of some users getting their own eyes hurt but it did stop the grizzly…

  7. I live in a very rural area…every fall we are overrun with redneck hunters…they have no respect for the fact that we LIVE here they make a lot of noise, they shoot at night, they litter, and they drive loud noisey trucks and atv’s. Ive had many encounters with them, but mostly I try to stay as far away as possible during hunting season. I go by adage of “trust no one” just in case.

  8. Joan

    I’d hoped there were camping grounds that totally barred hunters. Since the horrible event at the school in Connecticut, the news reports that sales of the particular automatic rifle the shooter used, have gone through the roof, as well as the 30 and 60 round clips. Some sportsmen. I don’t think deer hunters need these and I’m seriously wondered about the motives of those who think they do.

    They might have been looking for something to steal when they were checking out the van. Glad you left. Good that you have ‘barky’ Sage with you also.

    P.S. Those pictures are just gorgeous! (envy envy)

    • Darrell

      I too suspect some sort of drug deal a la “No Country for Old Men”? Who knows, he might have been an aging “Anton Chigurh”. Maybe the Dragoons are “No Country for Old/Middle Ageed/Young Campers” ?? You were wise to leave before his associates showed up!

  9. Could have been, Darrell, but the guy I confronted seemed more confused than anything, and not threatening in the least. If I’d seen that sinister Anton Chigurh smile, though…

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