It’s a sign of the times, and it saddens me.
It saddens me when, after donning my waders, shouldering my tackle pack and stringing up my fishing rod, I feel the need to clip a handgun holster to my belt.
Until recently, carrying a sidearm wasn’t something I did. Ever.
Oh, I’d owned a .22-caliber target pistol for more than a quarter-century. It wasn’t for self-defense, though. I bought it strictly for fun — for plinking and for bullseye target shooting.
Frankly, I never thought about self-defense. People generally don’t mess with guys who stand 6-foot-2 and weigh 240-plus pounds, and I figured I could handle just about anyone who did.
Then, a few years back, fishing buddies started telling me stories.
A couple of them had had their vehicles broken into. Others had had encounters with people they suspected were high on drugs. Two had had confrontations with people who appeared intent on robbing them.
They weren’t robbed, though, because they were able to show the erstwhile robbers that they were armed.
One was standing behind his vehicle, getting his gear ready, when a car with three people pulled in behind him. He says they stayed in the car, staring at him intently as he went through his preparations. The more they stared, the more uneasy he became.
He ultimately reached into his vehicle, pulled out a 9mm pistol, chambered a round and tucked the holster into his pants. As soon as he did, the car that had pulled in behind him backed away and drove off.
Another acquaintance was approached as he fished by two sketchy-looking characters who demanded he give them money. He turned toward them and lifted his arm so they could clearly see the grip of a handgun protruding from the waistband of his trousers. They beat a hasty retreat.
Their stories got me thinking.
Yes, I’m big. But I’m also old, with a body weakened by two bouts with cancer. The phrase, “too slow to run, too old to fight” started going through my head.
What’s more, I’d started fishing in parts of the state where drug-related crime was a very real concern. People desperate to purchase their next fixes of opioids, heroin or meth don’t much care where they get the money from, or how. Many resort to petty theft, but a few are willing to approach people and rob them.
Deciding to carry a firearm while fishing wasn’t easy. I thought about it for weeks, and finally broached the subject with my wife.
“Chances are I’ll never need to use it,” I told her. “But I’d rather have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.”
It pained us both to spend several hundred dollars for an item that might never be needed, but we agreed that a sidearm would be a prudent thing to have “just in case.”
So I bought one. I carry it only when fishing, and I don’t try to conceal it.
Sometimes — usually as I clip the holster to the waistband of my waders — I worry that I’m being too paranoid. After all, 99.999 percent of the West Virginians I encounter would never seek to harm anyone, let alone some big, friendly-looking dude with a fishing rod in his hand.
But then I realize that even fewer would seek to harm some big, friendly-looking dude who has a pistol strapped to his hip.
And I head to the stream, armed and somewhat saddened, but a little more secure — a sign of the times.