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The Great Outdoors: Danger Comes in Many Forms

In a recent column, I opined that “everyday carry” is just good sense. My focus in that piece was on urban threats, where simply going to a movie theater or a nightclub can become an exercise in survival.

Nature also has its hazards. Here in Florida, we have signs warning of alligators, wild hogs and even bears. As a result, more than a few folks carry a gun or, if they don’t, pepper spray. And regardless of where you live, your state probably has wilderness areas inhabited by critters capable of causing serious harm.

But there is another danger in enjoying “Mother Nature” that a great many people fail to recognize. I’m talking about the predators with two legs. And these are exactly the kind a new concealed carry student of mine recently encountered.

About a month ago, she had been hiking a typical Florida “nature trail” — a semi-paved path with an occasional wood-plank walkway through marshy wetlands. As it was August, she was wearing hiking shorts and a top, along with a lightweight backpack containing her cellphone, water bottle, some snacks and her pepper spray.

The trail was relatively empty, and she saw only a few other hikers. But when she rounded a bend into a particularly dense area of forest, she noticed that two men were standing just off the trail. Something about the way they looked at her gave her an uneasy feeling, so she picked up her pace just a bit.

As she passed the two men, one of them smiled and asked, “Where ya goin’, sweetheart?” That bothered her, but as he spoke he started to reach out his hand, while the other man began to approach from behind her. Since her pepper spray was tucked away in her backpack, she immediately broke into a full-on run. The men quickly gave chase.

Fortunately for her, and unbeknownst to the two men, this particular 26-year-old woman is a serious athlete. She’s not only a hiker, she’s a long-distance runner and was a competitive sprinter in college. As a result, she soon left her pursuers behind, and her last glance back revealed them bent over, panting and coughing. Close call.

Literally the day after the incident, she called me about getting a Florida Concealed Weapons License. I explained the process, and agreed to do a private class on short notice. She can now legally defend herself.

The point of this story is that being out in quiet, peaceful settings, far away from urban noise and chaos, can lull you into a dangerously false sense of security. But the truth is, many sexual predators target nature trails precisely because that’s where they can find young women, often alone and seldom armed.

And we men need to be aware that more than a few serial killers have found (and killed) their male victims in similar wilderness areas, including national parks, campgrounds and hiking trails.

A few tips: Whenever possible, follow the “buddy system” rather than going solo. A dog, especially a big one, can also be a great deterrent. And of course, carry a firearm. Advise your friends and loved ones to do the same. And if they aren’t comfortable with guns, suggest they carry “bear-caliber” pepper spray (on a belt, not buried in a backpack!), a collapsible baton or even a walking stick.

No matter what, be alert … and be fully prepared to defend yourself.

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