Letterboxing Code of Conduct
Safety: Part II
About the author
Don, a security expert in a past life, is happily retired but still can’t stop himself from providing suggestions to ensure the personal safety of others.
In the interest of educating letterboxers on personal safety, Don wrote this article with a different perspective than I provided in Part I.
This list of security reminders is not meant to scare off the new letterboxer. Many new to letterboxing are city folk with very little experience in the woods. While this is generally directed at new letterboxers, it may be worthy of a look by those already addicted to our hobby. I have spent the majority of my life running a security business providing physical security to corporations, small businesses, and individuals. During the same period I also conducted private investigations. My hobbies prior to letterboxing have been hunting, fishing, white water river rafting and various other outdoor activities. This experience, both vocational as well as recreational lends itself to a unique perspective on one’s approach to personal security while letterboxing. You may not agree with all of it, but certainly many areas have merit for those that are less experienced.
Most of the following information is common sense. Letterboxing can put you in areas that are special to the planter and sometimes into unfamiliar turf for the finder. Security concerns in your city life should be carried over to pursuits in the country and areas in the wilderness where many letterboxes may be hidden. While trails are generally well marked, they may be traveled by critters of all kinds. If you lock your doors at home, why let down your guard when looking for a letterbox?
The typical location for an auto burglary in the city might be the local mall parking area, while the typical location in the woods might be the trailhead. Don’t let your guard down just because you are on a search for a letterbox, just change your focus, and stay alert.
What should I put in clues, letterboxes, hitchhikers, and posts on the talk lists?
Let’s focus on what not to put in such public places. Personal information of any kind does not belong in your clue sheets, letterboxes, and hitchhikers. No addresses, including PO Boxes, phone numbers, cell or hard line. Just use your trail name. Rely on “Contact Planter” system to make or receive reports on letterboxes. Use the talk lists, either the main list, regional lists, or Atlas Quest if the contact placer system isn’t functioning or you want more input from other letterboxers. When posting on the talk list you must realize that the post is open to anyone that wishes to read it regardless of his or her reason for reading it.
What should I carry with me while letterboxing?
This topic has been rehashed time and again on the main list, and usually the first thing I carry is never mentioned, which is a very reliable handgun. Since my background is in protection I have had sufficient training, and I’m a certified firearms instructor so I would feel very uncomfortable without a firearm. That being said, I certainly would not advise anyone to carry a weapon unless they have received proper instruction and carry the weapon legally. For the mundane stuff Gwen & I generally use a fairly large day pack, and carry more water than we think we will need, a few granola bars, matches, flashlight, cell phone, bandages, extra baggies, extra log books, two or three pens, two compasses, our multitude of stamping paraphernalia, some money (paper as well as change), Leatherman type of tool, a supply of Tums (I get leg cramps), and probably most important today is insect repellent due to West Nile Disease. Some other letterboxers would add first-aid kits, sunscreen, lip balm and various products for comfort or personal safety, which might include pepper spray or mace. Bear spray should be considered when hiking in bear habitat as well as bear bells. Basically bear spray is a very concentrated pepper spray, and these products have a limited shelf life. Before setting out, go through a gear list and determine what you think you will need and after a few letterboxing searches you can modify your gear to your needs.
What should I do before looking for a letterbox?
Obviously print out the clue sheet. More importantly print out two sheets. You should never letterbox alone particularly in a secluded area. Why two sheets? That way you never fight over who gets to read it. Use “Contact the Placer” system to get first hand knowledge from the placer. If the placer doesn’t respond, then maybe you should consider looking for another letterbox. Check out the various topo maps for the area, either online or paper copies, and trail maps of the area. If you are still concerned about information included in the clue sheet put a note out on the chat lists, regional or main for anyone that has information about the letterbox. When in doubt try another letterbox.
How should I search?
I approach our search by thinking stealth. Not only are we extremely careful not to divulge letterbox locations to anyone passing by, but also I like to remain unseen to the hiker who just is out for an afternoon’s walk. You don’t have to wear camo to blend in. White shirts, and blue shirts stand out, while grays, browns, and green blend in particularly in some of the Hawaiian shirts. I like to size up someone coming down the trail before they know I’m there. Sometimes I let folks walk right by my nearby location and never make contact. Many letterboxers in their zeal to increase their F count, set out for a letterboxing junket that consists of searching for many letterboxes in one day of hiking. While most of us are guilty of this, it is a fool’s errand. Sometimes hikes become longer than expected, more drinking water is needed than carried and the weather is either too hot or too cold. Most placers are not interested in your F count! Placers want to take you to a place that they think is really neat or have special meaning to them. When placing a letterbox they probably took most of the day to hide the letterbox, figure out clues, recheck clues, and then spend some time enjoying the location themselves. Now not counting the time to carve the stamp, make the logbook, and write and post the clues on the LBNA site it seems as though you should take the time to enjoy their gift to you.
How should I handle animal confrontations?
- Bears: Black bears really do not like dogs, so we hike as much as we can with our two Brittanies. Black Bears, unless it is momma with cubs will probably run from you when you yell and look real big. When yelling, back off slowly, but do not run (unless your letterboxing partner is a slower runner than you)
Grizzlies will eat dogs for hors d’oeuvres prior to the main course. Best not to letterbox in their turf. Most words of wisdom tell us not to run, but to yell and back off slowly. If that doesn’t work then to get into a fetal position and protect the back of your neck with your clasped hands. The only grizzles I have seen were on a riverbank in Canada as we were rafting by, and seeing their size, I was happy we were rafting by.
- Cougars: Why they were protected in California is beyond me. Fish & Game could have limited their kill numbers by limiting tags, but maybe that may change in the future. These cats have become bolder and less afraid since the ban on their hunting occurred. Their numbers have exploded and the deer population and man have suffered for their increased numbers. Don’t letterbox alone, even in the suburbs close to the Southern California foothills.
You will probably never see this cat even when he is watching you. When confronted look big, yell, throw rocks, sticks while you are backing off. If attacked don’t be passive, fight like hell. Cougars don’t like dogs either, but they may attack the dog first.
- Rattlesnakes: Most rattlesnake bites occur when someone is trying to kill or capture the snake. Before you put your hand into the letterbox hidey-hole, put a stick in first. If bitten, an adult has a long time before the venom becomes fatal, and in some cases the snake injects little or no venom. The information that I received from a snakebite specialist doctor was to stay calm, and go to the hospital for observation and anti-venom. If you can kill the snake bring it with you to the hospital, but be careful in handling the dead snake. Don’t cut and suck, don’t tourniquet, just go and get medical help. There is a new vaccine that your can get for your dogs, the cost is about $17 plus the vet visit. Yearly inoculations would reduce the costly treatment for dogs that get snake bit.
How should I handle human confrontations?
- Trust the stranger in the woods as you would trust them in the city. Maybe it should be stated “distrust the stranger in the woods as you would distrust them in the city.” Here is another reason to hike, letterbox with a buddy and your dogs. Most bad folks want easy targets and you should make yourself a difficult target. When passing another hiker make eye contact, victims tend not to make eye contact.
- As stated earlier trailheads, and campgrounds can make cars easy targets. Don’t leave cameras, binoculars, radios and other goodies showing in your car, put them in your trunk. Be aware of your surroundings and try not to stick your nose into the clue sheet so far that you are oblivious to what is going on around you. Know when to give up the search, and return another day. Use stealth in your searching as well as in your finds, and always replace the letterbox better than you found it.
Hopefully this hasn’t turned you into a “virtual letterboxer” as it is meant to remind you that your security is your responsibility. Now let’s Letterbox!
- Code of Conduct Introduction
- Leave No Trace
- Safety: Part I
- Safety: Part II