Yes, you should always have a gun to protect yourself when boondocking. Not that boondocking is more dangerous, in fact it’s not. But, you should never take the attitude that you’re safe and don’t need protection. Boondocking on BLM lands also affords you the opportunity to practice shooting at your campsite.
Do I Need a Gun to Protect Myself When Boondocking
Most boondocking occurs on land where there is little to no law enforcement. And even if you can still call 911 on your cell phone, you may be looking at a full hour before help can arrive.
The fact is that it’s very rare a boondocker will ever need to point at gun at someone while camped on open, public lands. Yet at the same time, almost all boondockers carry firearms and weapons of other kinds.
How Many Guns Do I Need?
The average RV boondocker keeps one to two handguns, for each adult in the family. Most carry a 9mm or .22 caliber. Many people feel a .22 caliber gun to be too small to be effective, however .22 caliber rounds are the most plentiful and cheapest to buy. Even Walmart sells boxes of 22s in store. Just having a handgun holstered to your waist, and visible to others, is often all that’s needed to remind them not to mess with you.
Many boondockers will also keep a shotgun handy just to make sure they don’t miss.
Boondocking Is Still Very Safe
RV boondockers rarely invade other people’s rigs and commit acts of violence. Almost all of them are quiet people who love solitude. Most troublemakers don’t venture into the woods or the desert looking for opportunity, they stick to populated areas.
If anyone does decide to trespass into your space, it’s often because they are in need of help or just want to be friendly. There are actually a minority of campers who are afraid of boondocking alone and prefer to camp next to someone (how many times have you witnessed someone camping right next to you in the middle of the desert?).
It’s rare that you’ll ever need to point a gun at someone while boondocking. You’re more likely to reach for your gun when you see a carnivorous animal nearby.
Can I Shoot My Gun on Open, Public Land?
The Bureau of Land Management does not have any rules against discharging of firearms on open, public lands where dispersed camping is allowed. They do, however, ban the discharge of firearms on developed campgrounds. The BLM still has rules against creating a public nuisance or creating a danger to others.
For that matter, boondocking on BLM lands is a great opportunity for target practice. Just take great care to make sure there no people, roads, or buildings in the direction you are shooting.
The U.S. Forest Service allows for the discharge of firearms under very specific circumstances. Most forests do not permit target shooting, except at designated shooting ranges.
For more details on shooting guns on public lands see, “Can I Shoot My Gun on Public Lands?“
Can I Take My Guns Across State and Federal Borders?
Most states will allow you to carry weapons across their borders, but there several others that do not. Many states have “reciprocity laws” which recognize that you have carrying rights in your home state, and allow those rights to exist in their state.
For more information on this see, “Can I Have a Fireman in My Camper While Traveling Through Different States“.
Carrying guns into other countries…
- Mexico does not allow persons to carry weapons across its borders. However, you are allowed to purchase guns once you’ve crossed inside. Bringing them back into the United States is a different matter.
- To bring weapons back into the United States, you must first declare them at the customs office before leaving the US. Failure to do so will result in you losing your weapons.
- If you want to buy a weapon in Mexico or Canada and then bring it into the United States you will not be allowed to do so. You can only bring back weapons that you previously declared before leaving the US.
- Canada does not allow anyone to bring weapons into their country with the exception of going hunting or if you’re an exhibitor attending a gun show.
Note: the U.S. Customs and Border Protection has an article about declaring weapons and bringing them back into the country.
Can I Just Sneak My Gun Across the Border?
Many RV boondockers have attempted to do this. Some do it completely forgetting that they have a gun in the RV. Both US and Canadian border patrol officers will ask if you have weapons, and if you answer “no” there’s a good chance they’ll accept that answer if you don’t fit “the profile” of a smuggler.
Otherwise, they do keep dogs at the border, and will walk them around your vehicle sniffing for contraband. Most of the time they’re looking for drugs. It’s also dependent on the officer him/herself. At border crossings with low traffic volume, officers are more prone to running thorough checks. But at border crossings with high volume, they don’t want to waste time with the cute couple in the Minnie Winnie.
If you have a lot of weapons on board and a lot of ammunition, a dog may pick up that scent. You don’t want to put yourself on record as answering, “no” and then let them catch you in a lie.
Canada has downloadable paperwork one can fill out for their hunting rifle or shotgun. When I went Alaska in 2018, when asked, I declared my shotgun and handed them the paperwork. They processed it with a 25 dollar fee, inspected it in the RV and I was on my way. I gave up on taking a handgun, the level of paper increases significantly.May 26, 2020 at 2:23 am
The inspection stations at the Canadian border usually have full car x-ray capabilities, so they already know if you are lying about a gun. They have a particular interest in people trying to bring handguns across their borders.September 16, 2020 at 3:16 pm
Careful “Mexico does not have any restrictions on bringing weapons across their border” Mexico does have very strict laws on guns. NO guns or ammo are allowed across the border. Prison time is almost always the resultJune 19, 2022 at 7:34 pm