Staying Alive: Part Five

August 24, 2023
Panfish Palooza
August 24, 2023

Criminal Elements in the Great Outdoors: How to Avoid Them and Defend Yourself

Feature Story by CHESTER MOORE

LISTEN: (6 minutes, 48 seconds)

“You Need to Watch ‘Murder Mountain'”

SPOKEN SOMBERLY from a National Forest Service game warden, those words got my attention.

As we conversed at the National Wild Turkey Federation convention in Nashville, I asked if he ever worked Humboldt County, Ca.

And as I related a personal experience from there nearly 20 years ago, he recommended the six-part Netflix series.

“There are missing people, murders, and drug trafficking. You were lucky to get out,” he said.

After studying a map, I was probably 10 miles or so from the actual Murder Mountain documented in the series but deep in a county with many missing people, murders, and mayhem.

In 2002 my father and I set out on a mission to explore the Pacific Northwest after my great white shark cage dive adventure in San Francisco. I had heard a bit about pot growers in the area but nothing that seemed worse than where I live in East Texas.

Boy was I wrong.

One night on our trip we set out to try out our new night vision goggles and to record night wildlife sounds in the stunningly beautiful mountains in the Trinity 

Alps. When I tell you this was in the middle of nowhere it might be hard for you to imagine just how far unless you’ve been to that part of the world.

We pulled up a few minutes after the sunset and planned to stay through the night.

As Dad started taking out the equipment, I walked over to a good viewing spot to look down into the valley with the night vision goggles.

The moon was full, so visibility was high.

If anything came into the clearings below, we should get a glimpse, I thought.

Then I saw it.

A beam of light shot up toward our position.

“Dad, did you see that?” I asked as I pulled off the goggles.


“A light beam just shone toward us,” I replied.

“I didn’t see it,’ he said.

Neither did I know that the goggles were off. I put them back on, and a few seconds later I could see the light beam moving up toward us. I took them off and couldn’t see the light.

Immediately I knew that someone was below, traveling with night vision and using an infrared light only visible with night vision technology.

The drug activity warning hit me, and I readied to retreat. I knew whoever was down there was not listening for bugling elk like we were.

Just as I shouted for Dad to throw the gear back in the SUV, headlights of a vehicle came on about 3/4 mile ahead of us.

We were on one side of a logging road that cut across a mountain.

This was on the other side of the mountain road. Someone had been signaled.

We shoved our gear into the SUV and sped out of there, but by the time we hit the road so did the truck from the other side. They were headed straight for us. At one point I was going 80 down the mountain, and they were just a few feet away—literally an arm’s length from hitting us.

I knew that was their goal.

After what seemed like forever, we got to the base of the mountain on one of the main roads going toward Willow Creek. As soon as we turned back toward that little city, they turned back up the mountain.

Over the years I have learned a few things about staying safe in the woods from people with bad intentions. Please share this with others.

It could save their lives.

Bad Vibes: If you feel bad about going into an area don’t go. I believe sometimes this is the Lord telling me to stay away. You may not believe that, but just call it a “gut feeling” and go with it.

This historical photo of MIssouri’s infamous “Baldknobbers” shows strange and potentially dangerous people have always used the great outdoors as a place for their activities. They were supposedly vigilantes that helped carry out ‘justice” but would you like running into someone dressed like this?

This historical photo of MIssouri’s infamous “Baldknobbers” shows strange and potentially dangerous people have always used the great outdoors as a place for their activities. They were supposedly vigilantes that helped carry out ‘justice” but would you like running into someone dressed like this?
(Photo: Chester Moore)

Never Alone: As much as I love to be in the distant forest alone with my camera—don’t you do it. Always bring someone along. Preferably someone who is experienced in the woods. You are far more likely to get hurt by evil people if you are alone.

Pack Heat: If it’s legal where you are then use your Second Amendment right and carry a firearm. Make sure you are trained in its use and be prepared to do what is necessary.

Better you defend yourself against a maniac than become a statistic. Also, carry a large knife with you. In close quarters it could save your life.

Study the Area: The Internet is a great tool for studying areas. If you find out an area is a high drug trafficker area, for example, avoid it like the plague.

Stay away!

Hunters even when scouting should carry a weapon. You never know what or who you might run into.
(Photo: Derek York)

I have several areas I no longer frequent because of this issue.

Stay Calm: If you do encounter people in the woods who seem uneasy or a bit shifty, stay calm. Getting angry or showing fear is a good way to trigger someone who has violent tendencies.

Travel Plan: Leave your spouse or close friends a travel plan and let them know the points you plan to explore. Give them a time frame. Let them know to call for help if you have not returned by a certain time or day.

Strategic Parking: Always park your vehicle facing out of the area as you check out. In a tight spot, you don’t want to have to back up and turn around during a retreat. Also park in a spot in a clear area that you can see from a distance. If someone is waiting on you or has moved into the spot, it will give you a chance to assess the situation and prepare.

Don’t be a Hero: If you see strangers poaching in the woods at night for example, don’t be a hero and try to stop them. They are armed and probably will use their weapons on you if you try to stop them. Call and report activity to local game wardens and get out as quickly as possible.

Buy And Carry a Beacon: I carry a Spot-X beacon that will alert all rescue personnel at the touch of a button. Don’t rely just on a cell phone. Get a beacon of some kind too.

Talk To Locals: Not all information is on social media. Talking to locals in a gun shop or sporting goods store can give you good intel on the local region.

Seeking wildlife in the wild is one of the most exciting things a person can do, but it has its share of dangers. Keep these tips in mind and you should be able to avoid any serious trouble.

(TF&G Editor-in-Chief Chester Moore is also host of the award-winning podcast Dark Outdoors, available on all major podcasting platforms. Subscribe to this TF&G-sponsored podcast for many wild tales of danger in the great outdoors.)


Journey Into The Dark Outdoors

Take a trip with Chester Moore through encounters with dangerous people, wildlife and weather conditions in the great outdoors. This 2022 documentary covers Chester’s epic speech at the Fouke Monster Festival and ventures into locations of truly dark outdoors events.


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