Free grazers were not welcome on the range where Robert Duvall aka Bluebonnet “Boss” Spearman and his cattle herd sidekick Charley (Postel) Waite played by Kevin Costner held camp with their cows on open range grass. The local cattle baron and landowner did not take kindly to Boss feeding his cows on local grass, even though it was perfectly legal in those days before private lands were fenced. And so the drama unfolded in my all-time favorite movie I have now seen at least 20 times. The story line behind Open Range was really about the “invasion” upon seemingly private held grasslands (presumably “owned” by adverse possession) by an outsider with no vested interest in the property.
By Dr. John J. Woods, a contributing author
The local cattle baron felt he owned the land, because his cattle had been grazing on it for years. Thus he argued that the grass freely growing there belonged to him for his cows to use exclusively, though in reality it was public land at the time. Still viral hostilities resulted from outsiders coming into another’s domain. But Boss Spearman and his gunslinger cow punching partner defended their grazing rights to the death of the cattle baron and his collection of enforcers. Open Range was an epic tale of outsiders using public lands when the locals wanted to secure the property only for their use.
The story line portrayed in Open Range continues to play itself out even today. Just a few years ago I did some web site research on a National Wildlife Refuge I was interested in hunting for wild turkey. I got the open season dates and drove the 60 miles to survey the open public lands (though under Federal control) for a hunt.
As I drove down the main property access road, I stopped to read a regulations board at one of the parking areas. I was a bit amazed there were no other vehicles parked. Within a few minutes the federal ranger or whatever they call the game wardens on federal lands drove into the lot. I inquired about the turkey hunting and was promptly told there was no open season that year. He summarily dismissed my having found the information on the NWR web site.
I left dismayed that I could not hunt. A few miles down the road I stopped to take some photos of the refuge signs when a state wildlife truck pulled up. I told the guy the story and he just laughed that the “ranger” was at it again, telling people there was no season when there was in fact an open season. Turns out the local ranger ran everybody off, because he felt like the federal land was his own personal place to hunt and he didn’t want anybody else there.
I filed a report with the nearby federal lands office. A year later I revisited the property and met a very friendly young man who told me the previous guy had been relieved of his duties. This ranger offered to show me around and spent over an hour with me, mainly I think because I was an outdoor writer that could tell a positive story on the place. I did.
So the local guy just like the cattle baron in the movie felt like I was invading his space. He wanted me out of there, because the property was “his”. There are a lot of lessons to be learned here by preppers searching for a hideaway place to Bug Out. It’s easier said than done.
Picking a Bug Out Location
I have a suspicion that many preppers of modest income levels are not financially able to go out into the rural areas of their state or region to purchase Bug Out land or a property with housing available. They may be looking for public land options to squat or camp out during a SHTF event. However, the flip side is that some would be able to do this. Regardless you just have to be careful in the selection process to make sure you don’t “invade” other’s space or that you get labeled as an outsider. You want to give time to assimilate into the area to become as a local even though you may only stay or visit periodically.
You will want to make some neighbors there. Buy some stuff locally, and generally be seen in the community. Eat at a local restaurant, hire a local plumber, etc. Maybe attend church in the area or participate in local festivals, town activities or whatever to blend in. You may discover other families that just come to the area on weekends as a getaway. Ideally you can initiate this planning soon to start the welcoming process so you fit in if and when a SHTF event does hit.
I am also guessing there are a certain amount of preppers that are thinking about holding out at some secret locale on a state land or federal national park, refuge or maybe some BLM land somewhere. Make darn sure you research these areas so you have some profile of the local population of citizens. Remember what happened to the family in Alaska that was building a home in a new area. They were shot at and run off by the locals.
For example, I have had a gun pointed at my head by out-of-state hunters in a national forest in my home state. They informed me I was hunting in their woods. Who was I to argue with 10 hunters, some carrying 30-round magazine AR-15s? Sure as heck, I got out of there. I sure would have hated to be camping there and have that bunch walk in on me. See my point? If your Bug Out plan is to utilize public lands, then make sure you try out your plan on as many occasions as possible to see how it all works out. This is not only a good time to test your camping skills and Bug Out practice execution, but also learn more about the area, local traffic, visitors, and resources that might contribute to a long(er) term SHTF.
If you get harassed, then you will know up front that the area might not be a good choice. You have to be wise enough to know in this day and age that nothing private is sacred any longer. Campers all the time encounter thieves of their gear, vehicle break-ins, and unannounced visits. It can be unsettling to say the least.
Just keep in perspective what things could be like if a real SHTF event was unfolding. Those unprepared are going to be looking for easy prey. And caution has to be used with any kind of an armed defense just shy of a full bore assault on you or your family. These will be dicey times. And so goes the argument for teaming up with other people as well.
So, an “open range” might not be so open even today with so-called public access. The best option would be to secure some Bug Out location on private property even if you have to lease something. If you can’t do that, then you just have extra homework to do to locate a secure place to Bug Out.