Camping and traveling to Colorado.
June 20, 2008 7:30 AM   Subscribe

Tx to Colorado trip/camping/firearm/bear filter: I am taking my wife and child tent camping in Aspen, CO. I have a few questions that i need some answers to. 1. Can i travel with a firearm(Pistol) in my car for the trip? Not 100% on our route yet but i will be going thru Tx, OK, and Co..Maybe Kansas but not sure yet. 2. Can i bring the firearm to the campsite (Difficult Campground-Near Aspen)? Cant find any documentation on this thats why im asking. 3. Are black bears and mountain lions a big threat in Colorado? Ive heard there are all over near Aspen. What caliber pistol would be effective against a black bear but easy enough to take on this trip? Thanks....And any other tips about camping in the Rockies would be appreciated.
posted by flipmiester99 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (33 answers total)
If you're so concerned about the dangers "out there" that you feel the need to pack heat, perhaps you shouldn't be anywhere but holed up in your home. I've spent a cumulative three or four months in the Mountain West, both near and far from civilization, and only come across one cougar. I puffed up, waved my arms (like you're supposed to), and it was gone.

More to the question tho, you should look into carry laws in each state. Those notwithstanding, most state troopers will not look kindly on your having a weapon in the car; the cops I know (in MO - a concealed-carry permit state) will, upon finding a gun, even if it's licensed, go over the vehicle with a fine-toothed comb. The exception is if you're travelling safe - gun in glove box, bullets in trunk. Of course, in your case, that kinda defeats your purpose.
posted by notsnot at 7:53 AM on June 20, 2008

The black bears are probably more afraid of you than you are of them. Really.
posted by at 7:56 AM on June 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't have the book with me right now, but Dr. Steve Wilkerson in "Medicine for Mountaineering" says something along the lines of:

"Only a large caliber round aimed in minimal time at a vulnerable point will stop a charging bear. Wounding the bear only makes it angry."
posted by Comrade_robot at 8:01 AM on June 20, 2008

If you are legal to possess the firearm at your origin and destination locations, the federal Firearms Owners Protection Act of 1986 contains a safe passage provision, however it requires that the firearm is unloaded and secured in an inaccessable location in your vehicle (i.e. trunk).
posted by dcjd at 8:08 AM on June 20, 2008

Don't go to bed with food smells on your clothes or body. That includes toothpaste.

I'm with Comrade_robot. You probably won't be ready with your weapon when the bear comes in the middle of the night, and you'd probably just piss it off.
posted by powpow at 8:10 AM on June 20, 2008

Difficult campground is part of the the White River National Forest. I imagine they would frown upon firearms in a developed campground like this, but you might as well call them to find out:

US Forest Service
White River National Forest
900 Grand Ave.
P.O. Box 948
Glenwood Springs CO 81602

While you're on the phone, as them whether they have any trouble with bears in that area. If there are problem bears, they will know about it and be able to suggest ways to stay safe. If not, hopefully they will ease your mind.

I'm a pretty avid outdoors-person, backpacker, and hiker, and I've NEVER heard guns recommended for protection from bears or mountain lions. In the extremely rare chance that you do get attacked by an animal, you will not be likely to have time or presence-of-mind to pull out your gun and aim it well enough to be effective. Instead, focus on not meeting any bears to begin with: keep your food sealed up in the trunk of your car, dispose of your trash in the designated dumpsters in the campground, and make plenty of noise when you're hiking (more than those stupid jingle-bell bracelets, please).

If you do see a bear or mountain lion, which I should repeat is extremely unlikely, group everyone together and wave your arms (hold your jacket like wings, if you've got one). This will make you look bigger and meaner (that is to say, too much trouble to be worth eating). Don't run, because then you look like prey (and they can run faster than you). Yell in a low voice, and throw rocks if necessary.

Google around for bear-safe camping tips and you'll find plenty of other tips.
posted by vytae at 8:11 AM on June 20, 2008

Black bears and mountain lions are very, very shy. Make noise while you hike and you will never see one. Make sure everyone carries a whistle around their neck, and a tambourine if you're really that worried about it.

A pistol will be entirely ineffective. If you shoot a bear or a mountain lion you will end up with one seriously pissed-off predator, thereby endangering your family unecessarily. Just shout and wave your arms and they will go away. It would probably help your confidence to look into some basic wildlife safety manuals and they will tell you better methods of coping. Google "If you meet a bear" or some such thing.

I also believe it is illegal to shoot bears.

One thing you DO need to be careful of if you're camping way out in the boonies is food. Bears *will* come into your campground and scavenge for food if they smell it (though they are entirely and utterly uninterested in you and will ignore you completely while they gobble your grub. Unless you shoot at them, in which case they will maul you). So make sure to pack up all leftovers nice and tight - I think REI has special no-smelll bags for this - and keep them in your car. Wash your pots before you go to bed, and store everything associated with food on the other side of the campground. Ixnay on the taking some peanuts to bed with you.
posted by GardenGal at 8:19 AM on June 20, 2008

Thanks for the replies...Im mainly traveling with the gun for safety reason during the trip and not so much for the presence of Bears or mountain lions however it does help ease the mind a little bit. I have traveled with a pistol many tiimes during trips within the state of tx just never carried it out of state. Thanks for all the tips about the bears i really appreciate it.
posted by flipmiester99 at 8:21 AM on June 20, 2008

No...You just never know what or who you may encounter out there on the open road.
posted by flipmiester99 at 8:26 AM on June 20, 2008

If you do not know enough about guns to know the answers to some of these questions already, then you might want to reconsider the idea of taking a gun; learning to use it while facing down a bear or mountain lion is a recipe for problems. If you do go ahead and get a gun, a reputable gun dealer can answer all your questions as well as set you up with some training and practice sessions. What gun is best for your purpose can vary widely; for example I have a Glock 31 that I can shoot comfortably but will practically knock my wife down; there is no one pistol that is best for every shooter for a given use. You don't mention the age of your child, but it will also be hard to secure the gun enough to prevent a child from getting it and still have it readily available to fend off wildlife.
posted by TedW at 8:32 AM on June 20, 2008

I'm sure you're aware that you've asked a gun question on a site whose members are typically very anxious about guns.

You are allowed to bring your pistol, locked in the trunk and unloaded, through any state in the country, provided that you are legally allowed to have it in your destination state. Federal law guarantees this. However, you are not allowed to bring a firearm into a protected wildlife area.

You will most likely not get into a violent encounter with a black bear. If you do, it's probably your fault, i.e. you left food at your campsite while you were sleeping. Finally, if you encounter a bear, your handgun will probably not be too useful. I don't think even a .45 cal pistol will easily subdue a bear. It will not instantly kill the bear, and, being a wild animal, it will probably continue to maul you before it bleeds to death. If you survive the encounter, killing a bear will generally get you in hot water.

There are a lot of tactics for dealing with black bears. In general, they're not out to kill you, they just want your food. Don't leave any interesting scents near where you plan to sleep. If you think there's a bear in the area, talk loudly and it will probably scare off. This is one of those common concerns, where google is your friend.
posted by knave at 9:04 AM on June 20, 2008

If you want to defend yourself against bears, buy a can of pepper spray that is intended for that purpose. The chances that there would be any need to use it, though, are very low.
posted by ssg at 9:05 AM on June 20, 2008

[a few comments removed - take all gun derails immediately to metatalk, thanks]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:07 AM on June 20, 2008

According to this, discharging firearms in campgrounds is not allowed (this is for national forest campgrounds in AK; it might be different in CO, but if they don't allow you to shoot guns in a campground in AK, I'm wondering if it can be that different in a more-people/fewer-bears state like CO).

And this (pdf) seems to apply specifically to National Forest lands:

"First, the primary laws governing possession of firearms and other weapons on National Forest are State Laws. These laws were developed by the states following establishment of our Cooperative Wildlife Management Agreements. Most notable of the state laws concerns controlling firearms on the National Forest are “cased gun laws”.

Cased Gun Laws: As the name implies, this law requires that all firearms on National Forest be unloaded and kept in a case. Virginia and West Virginia have similar “cased gun laws”. In order to allow hunting, these laws make an exception.
• It is legal to have loaded firearms on National Forest during the authorized general firearms and muzzle loading gun seasons for bear, deer, grouse, pheasant, quail, rabbit, raccoon, squirrel, turkey, or waterfowl. This exception is very specific and applies only during the period when it is legal to take these listed species and doesn’t include carrying the loaded weapons in a vehicle.
• Because hunting on Sunday is prohibited, carrying a loaded gun on National Forest is not legal on Sunday even if it is the Sunday in the middle of the general firearms deer season.
• The second exception to this law allows people with a concealed weapon
to carry a loaded, concealed, handgun either on their person or in their vehicle while on National Forest. This does not apply if the person is engaged in a primitive weapons season or chase only season.
• People muzzle loading or bow hunting may carry a concealed weapon as long they possess a concealed weapon permit.

Discharging a firearm, crossbow, or bow and arrow in or across a road or within the right-of-way of any road is prohibited by both State and Federal Law."
(emphasis in the original)
posted by rtha at 9:08 AM on June 20, 2008

I'm not going to touch the bear question, please listen to the advice here.

Going ahead and beating you over the head with what's been said: Any weapons expert will tell you that in the interests of gun safety (as already been mentioned) you must keep your weapon unloaded in the trunk of your car. If you do not have a trunk, then a lockbox, where it will be absolutely useless in the event of such an emergency.

You do not keep a weapon for use in personal defense situations unless you are absolutely prepared to use it. That means WOULD and COULD. Would is a mental state, and could is a skill state. Both require training and development. I know nothing about you, but your question implies that you have neither.

Flip, I am a woman who has spent a great deal of time driving around, by myself, in some of the most isolated and rural parts of the American west, where a mechanical problem might mean a 3 day walk. I do not carry a weapon for the above reasons, and I've grown up with weapons and feel pretty comfortable with them. You are not driving through such places. Your most dangerous adversary is going to be other drivers who don't know how to drive on mountain roads, or who do know and drive way too fast anyway. Relax! Enjoy your vacation.
posted by barchan at 9:32 AM on June 20, 2008

Biologist here- I frequently have to carry a weapon for bear "defense". The ideal weapon of choice for bears is a 12 gauge loaded with slugs. I do know of people who carry a .45 but I think they are fooling themselves. Neither of these is in any way appropriate for your intended usage: ie developed campground and well-hiked trails.

Far better than a gun is bear spray (this has been proven by reviews of bear encounters, I am not making it up). I would always choose bear spray over a gun any day of the week, it's more effective, easier to use and very convenient to carry. However it is not always legal so check it out.

You can buy it at REI.

You're not going to see a mountain lion, don't worry about it.
posted by fshgrl at 9:48 AM on June 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

seconding ssg

Buy some Bear Spray. This shit is seriously wicked, mean, horrifically painful, bad-thing juice.

On the off chance that you should run into big mammals that want to harm you (be they human, bear or mountain lion), bear spray will utterly destroy them (for a few hours).
posted by terpia at 9:56 AM on June 20, 2008

This is a little off topic, but when in Colorado, you can buy a search and rescue card at many locations, including a lot a convenience stores (so you shouldn't have to hunt too much for one.) IIRC, they're 3 bucks per person and they're good for a year. You're not required to carry one, but if you get lost and they have to send out the S&R teams to find you then you won't be charged the cost of the rescue. Which is guaranteed to be EXTREMELY expensive.

On, and n-thing the "careful with food" thing. A cooler does not constitute safe food storage. Bears know what is inside coolers and they are very proficient at opening them. Every time I've gone camping, other people in the campgrounds have left their coolers out on the table and are utterly shocked to see them pretty well destroyed come morning. I've seen bear tracks near my tent every morning, but I'm always left alone. One camper who watched a bear get into a cooler said, "He looked like he knew exactly what he was doing." That's because he did. Keep things in your car and keep them out of sight. Keep trash picked up. Don't keep food on your person while in your tent. Or sweet smelling things such as chapstick or toothpaste. Don't give the bears a reason to come around and they won't.
posted by azpenguin at 10:18 AM on June 20, 2008

Handguns need to be unloaded and in a locked compartment in the vehicle when traveling nearly everywhere; if ammunition is also carried, it needs to be in a separate locked compartment. As stated this is usually trunk and glovebox. This is the law in the vast majority of places; in a few places, like NY City, you can't legally transport the gun at all in any way. used to keep a list of these laws by state but that site has gone away.

There should never be any need to shoot a cougar or a bear. Cougars are not aggressive unless they're rabid; whether they are or not, it is fairly easy to avoid confrontation with them.

No handgun can reliably stop a bear. There are stories of bear kills with .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum handguns; there are a lot more stories along the lines of "I put 2 .44 Magnum bullets into the thick skull bone between the bear's eyes and he kept coming and mauled me anyway." Bears are almost never aggressive; again the trick is to avoid them, walk the other direction if you see one, and not get between the bear and its cub.

You are thousands of times more likely to die in a traffic accident during your trip than you are to be intentionally injured by another human, a cougar or a bear. What precautions are you taking against that?
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:20 AM on June 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you do use bear spray, please be aware of the breeze. If the spray blows back into your eyes instead of into the bear's, you will have made your situation exponentially worse. Also, bear spray is meant as an immediate mucous-membrane-irritant, not a repellent. In fact, after a couple hours the scent of bear spray actually attracts bears, because the pepper smells tasty to them. So, don't spray it on anything ahead of time in hopes of keeping the bears away, and if you do end up using it, you should get out of the woods that day and go wash your clothes and body.
posted by vytae at 10:27 AM on June 20, 2008 has replaced Go HERE, click on the state, and keep scrolling down until you find the "Automobile carry" section that contains the info you seek.
posted by jluce50 at 11:06 AM on June 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've camped/hiked in bear/mountain-lion country for years and never met one, nor have any of my camping buddies met one except once briefly (the bear stuck its head out of a bush and then both bear and human decided to get lost).

Bears are after your food, and the food-scent protection advice you got here will shield you both from them and from an array of less dangerous, more likely problems (raccoon, skunk, chipmunk, grayjay). Cougars/mountain lions may actually show interest in humans as prey, although they generally find adults too much trouble.

The pre-attack advice you got for bears (make noise, be large) mostly applies to cougars too. Big exception: Make eye contact with a cougar. Do not make eye contact with a bear. A cougar is uncomfortable knowing that its prey is aware of it and intends to resist. A bear takes eye contact more like a canine does, as personal aggression. Little exception: In the unlikely event you are attacked, curl up and outwait a bear, but fight a cougar tooth and nail. An attacking cougar is Ted Bundy: It has decided to kill and eat you, and it needs things like a stick in the eye to get it to reverse that decision. An attacking black bear is more like a mugger: Give him what he wants and don't cause him trouble, and you'll probably be OK.
posted by eritain at 11:53 AM on June 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

I had a friend who was killed by a grizzly in Alaska years ago. He was carrying a .357 Magnum at the time. It didn't do him much good.

Which reminds me that the rangers say that the way to recognize bear scat is that it has tiny little bells in it and smells like pepper.
posted by JackFlash at 12:04 PM on June 20, 2008

Not a lot of people here are really answering your questions - there might be a good reason for that, or there might not - this isn't the most gun friendly site.

If you have a CCW in Texas then driving with the gun in the glove box through other states mostly depends on whether those states honor your permit too (reciprocity). For example, enough other states recognized our VA permits that we were able to drive from VA to AZ on the I-40 route without having to lock the gun in the trunk. And I believe that some states (like VA, where open carry is legal but stupid) don't actually consider the glove box to be concealed carry, but most do.

You can get a start on the internet, but I seriously recommend that you call state police and the attorney general's office in each state you're traveling through. If a website is wrong, that's not a defense you can use! We made the calls and everyone we spoke to was very helpful (and did not say we were stupid to consider driving with a gun, many people think that's normal). Of course, if you do this you need to be prepared to deal with cops if you get pulled over etc, but there's lots of information out there on that, and it sounds like you're used to dealing with the issues in TX.
posted by crabintheocean at 12:22 PM on June 20, 2008

A .357 is probably your best bet. Good stopping power, reasonable form factor and if you want to target shoot you can use .38 specials in it.
posted by electroboy at 12:31 PM on June 20, 2008

Agree with crabintheocean that what you really want to look up is CCW reciprocity, and then beyond that you probably want to contact someone at the campsite or park where you're staying and inquire if they have any regulations that are more strict than the state law.

The NRA has a Reciprocity Guide (PDF), but you should only use it as a starting point, not a definitive reference.

Also, I agree with many other suggestions in this thread re wildlife. A firearm is not the most useful nor appropriate defense against bears and other wild mammals -- pepper spray is. If that's your main reason for bringing a handgun, I wouldn't bother. (And I have a CCW and wouldn't hesitate to suggest firearms if I thought it was a good defensive choice. Unless you're expecting some serious Deliverance-style action, it's just going to be a lot of extra weight to carry around.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:03 PM on June 20, 2008

Would you consider driving to CO through NM instead of OK? I think it would probably add only an hour or two to the trip, and the part north of Santa Fe is a lovely drive. Here in New Mexico, one's car is considered an extension of one's home, which means that you can carry a concealed and loaded gun in the car without a permit or CCW license.

"Question: I will be traveling through New Mexico in a private automobile, are there any laws that address the issue of having a gun in my automobile?
Answer: New Mexico law allows a person to have a concealed loaded firearm in his/her vehicle (including motorcycles and bicycles). If you are not licensed to carry concealed in this State, you may not have the weapon concealed on your person when you exit your vehicle or motorcycle."

If you have a Texas concealed carry permit, NM has reciprocity with Texas, so the part about not having it concealed on your person outside the vehicle would not apply to you.

I'm not sure about Colorado; best to call the police there and ask ahead of time. Same with the National Forest -- I have heard that National Forests (though not National Parks) are OK for open carry, but it's a good idea to call and make sure.
posted by vorfeed at 1:46 PM on June 20, 2008

And regarding keeping food in your car - don't. Even in a cooler. Bears are smart, and determined, and they can and will break into your car to get the food (the break-in starts around 3:20). Yes, they can smell it even if it's inside a cooler. If they're in an area where parked cars have yielded food, they'll remember that.

Call the ranger station where you'll be camping and ask if you need a bear can (they may rent them, or provide bear-proof storage lockers). Anything with a scent - deodorant, toothpaste, the m&ms for your midnight snack - should go in the bear can.
posted by rtha at 1:54 PM on June 20, 2008

First off, always check with the ranger regarding bear encounters in the park you will be visiting. Most campgrounds will post a warning. Not getting into an encounter with a bear or cougar is generally the best idea. Bears in Aspen are I suspect over-reported slightly, as there are lots of people, and probably only one or two bears. This could lead one to think that Aspen is rife with them.

If you are camping in a campground, then any critters you meet are well acclimatized to people. In that case, putting food into a safe place (your car's trunk) and not wearing any smelly stuff is an excellent idea. You don't need cologne out in the mountains anyways. Bear spray is ur friend in this case but as a LAST RESORT.

If you are camping and hiking in a remote location, then the chances are that the bears will be more scared of you than you are of them. They will take every opportunity to run away. Bear bells, talking and just general noisiness of people will make them scram. Bear spray is ur friend in this case also as a last resort.

Surprising a momma bear on the other hand, with cublets, is a very bad thing. Bear spray won't help. Thus the best defence is a noisy offense. (However, the blaring ipod boom box is a spectacularly bad idea in the mountains.) Because you are asking this question, I suspect that you, like me, will stumble along making sufficient noise for any beasty to trundle off long before you ever see them. You encounter them mostly in close brush situations, or near their kills.

One last piece of advice; as the strongest in the group, put yourself first, then your child, and then mom. Talk. Have fun and help your kid see hiking as the fun thing it can be. Good on ya to be asking questions about how to protect your little one outdoors.

I have camped, hiked and gold panned through Montana and the West Cdn rockies, and never had a single encounter with a creature that wanted to hurt me other than my partner when I accidentally dropped the backpack with the brandy in it.
posted by fox_terrier_guy at 3:13 PM on June 20, 2008

Don't worry about making eye contact with a bear, in fact, it's best to keep an eye on it. They mostly don't make eye contact with you but they are not territorial and take very little as a sign of aggression, short of you poking them with a stick or getting close to their cubs or food. Bears are actually pretty mellow on the whole. Signs of the bear being upset or aggressive include huffing, clacking the jaws, stomping the front feet and laying the ears back. Standing up is just curiosity

've been within a few feet of wild bears on several occasions and nothing very exciting ever happened.
posted by fshgrl at 4:59 PM on June 20, 2008

Regarding mountain lions, I was amused to see that the mountain lion advice given by the NPS can be summarized as:
  • <various advices as to how to avoid a physical confrontation>
  • If the mountain lion actually attacks you, you start beating the shit out of it with your fists, sticks, and rocks (hell, I'd bite the damn thing too).
So think about what a badass you'd feel like if you beat up a mountain lion in hand-to-hand combat.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 7:09 PM on June 20, 2008

All I know about it is what I read here, but everything I've seen here says if you have to use pepper spray, beat a hasty retreat, because it smells good to eat to a bear after it's gotten on foliage in the area. I didn't see that mentioned much, but it sounds like good advice, from others who know more than I do.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 5:11 PM on June 21, 2008

Nthing everyone else. I've lived and backpacked/hiked and climbed all over Colorado for many years--including the Aspen area. The chances of you seeing a bear or a mountain lion are extremely, extremely remote. If you were to see either they would more than likely be running away from you. Difficult campground is supposed to be very nice--have a great time.
posted by fieldtrip at 5:21 PM on June 21, 2008

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