Safety in Rural Environments

Image of a crop field for hiding space

Crop fields provide plenty of hiding places. It can be almost impossible to locate threats in them.

I’ve talked to numerous friends, coworkers, students, family, and others about their perception of security in rural environments. The majority assume that living outside of heavily urban or suburban areas decreases the likelihood of their encountering a situation in which they would have to defend themselves or their loved ones from a lethal threat. I personally have found reason to believe quite the opposite. Let me share a couple of incidents that happened in my area that will hopefully cause you to rethink that position.

It Can Happen Anywhere

A 34-year-old male stole a vehicle and attempted to steal an ATM from the front of a convenience store. When confronted by a deputy who had responded to the ATM alarm call, the subject attempted to ram the deputy with the vehicle, which caused the stolen vehicle to become disabled. The subject then fled on foot, found an unlocked vehicle with keys in it (small town — again, rethink the security perception), stole that vehicle, and took off. The second stolen vehicle belonged to a local HVAC servicing company and was equipped with a GPS locator. The dispatcher for the company that owned the vehicle was able to track the vehicle and relay location, direction of travel, and speed to pursuing law enforcement officers. Sheriff’s deputies from a neighboring county disabled the vehicle with tire spikes, and the subject fled the vehicle and ran into a corn field. Air, canine, and foot patrol units pursued him until they apprehended him two miles away from his abandoned vehicle. The suspect was not armed but was considered dangerous because he had attempted to ram a deputy with his vehicle.

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The above incident hit very close to home for me, as it all happened across the road from the property I live on. The suspect ditched his second stolen vehicle at our neighbor’s place that is closest to us to the north, and he was apprehended on our neighbor’s property that is closest to us to the south. We live on a 36-acre horse ranch, and our closest neighbor is ¾ mile to the east as the crow flies. The guy literally ran through my yard while being pursued, and he may have tried to gain access to our house. There were dead cornstalks by the entry door (which was locked), no wind to blow them there, and no stalks by the door the night before.

Another incident that helped change my thinking:

While backing out of our driveway on the way to work on a cold and rainy March morning, my wife and I saw a female subject in our headlights (memories of Night of the Living Dead flashed through my mind). We pulled up, opened the window slightly, and asked the individual if we could help. She related that she thought she had lost her cell phone in the ditch. We agreed to help look for it, and I asked my wife to call the sheriff and relay the situation to the dispatcher. They sent a deputy out, to which the girl objected vehemently. While helping find her phone, I noticed that she smelled strongly of alcohol. The deputy arrived, and we found out that the girl had been very intoxicated and run off from a party at about midnight the night before, and they had been looking for her since then. The deputy also informed me that this individual had a history of violence while intoxicated, especially toward law enforcement. The deputy convinced the girl to go with him at that point.

I was never of the opinion that because we live in a rural setting with no close neighbors we were less likely to have something happen that might require us to defend ourselves. Nevertheless, these two incidents reinforced to me the importance of getting solid personal-defense training and maintaining good situational awareness. In a rural setting, neighbors who might hear you hollering for help are much farther away. And in fact, no one may hear you at all.

Personal-Defense Preparedness for Rural Residents

My recommendations for personal-defense preparedness while living in a rural environment are:

Man practicing his shooting skills

Along with good situational awareness, skill development with your firearm(s) is essential.

Train

Get good training. And make sure you receive training on all firearms platforms that you have available, within reason. Most people can’t afford to go to a ton of classes that cost many thousands of dollars. A training program that allows you to use the skills you learn in a multitude of contexts is ideal. The Combat Focus® Shooting program is an outstanding training program that gives you intuitive shooting skills that you will be able to incorporate into many different circumstances. Your training should include use of cover and how to engage threats from around cover. It is also important to note that competition shooting is not a substitute for defensive shooting training. There are some excellent articles and videos here on the Personal Defense Network that address these issues.

Communicate with Law Enforcement

Learn to communicate efficiently and effectively with law enforcement. If you ever have to report a threatening person on your property, the more information you can give the 911 dispatcher, the better. Make sure you give accurate descriptions of yourself and your location on the property, to make sure the responding officers do not mistake you for the bad guy.

Home Security

Practice good home and property security measures. When leaving the house to work at other locations on the property (e.g., fence work, baling hay), lock the doors and take a key. Many people who live in rural environments are very lax on home and property security due to the aforementioned (mis)perception of safety. Locking doors, windows, vehicles, and buildings could be the deterrent that causes a bad guy to leave you and your place alone and go looking for an easier target.

Arm Yourself

Carry your firearm on your person whenever practical while on your property. Make sure it is carried in accordance with the laws of the area you live in, and remember that the reason to carry a defensive firearm is to defend yourself or others if you need to — not to show off, make a political statement, or just exercise your right to do so. Sometimes I carry openly while working on my property, and other times I carry concealed. It depends on the work I’m doing and the time of year.

Know Your Neighbors

Having a good relationship with your neighbors can be invaluable, as well as allow you to recognize people who more than likely are not coming to spoil your goods. I have great relationships with my neighbors, and they all know where I stand on personal defense issues. I have had several in classes with me and have helped them become more capable with their defensive firearms.

Image of a horse

Recognizing alert signals from livestock can help you recognize if something is amiss.

Situational Awareness

Be aware of your surroundings and practice good situational awareness. If you have livestock on your property, get to know their alarm signals and keep an eye on your stock when it is practical. I’m obviously not going to be watching my horses in the pasture if I have my head stuck under the tractor doing an oil change, but visual as well as aural signs that livestock give can tip you off to something that potentially needs your attention. Horses will raise their head and snort at things that are unusual for them. Cattle will stop eating and look intently at things that are different. Cats might run away, and dogs may go nuts. Use those signals to your advantage in being situationally aware.

Safety First

This article is not meant to instill paranoia in those who live in rural settings. Country living is some of the best on planet Earth. But this article is meant to dispel the myth that living outside of urban areas means you don’t need to think about defending yourself and/or protecting your property. Maintain stringent personal and property security measures, and get some good training to become more effective at defending yourself.

Discussion
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32 Responses to “Safety in Rural Environments”
  1. Rick_in_VA

    A good reminder.
    What started out as a rural area 25 years ago has unfortunately become much less so.
    Like everything else, training has to adjust to change.

    Reply
    • John

      I moved from NJ to a very rural area in South Central VA. One of the first things I noticed were all the little family stores had bars on the windows and doors. Something I didn’t see much in NJ. I suppose thieves have more time and warning when they hear a car coming, so it is much easier to break into a store in a rural area then an urban one.

      Reply
  2. praybeck

    in November 1959, Holcomb, Kansas, was a sleepy little town 7 miles West of my hometown until two men visited the Clutter family (members of my home church) and “In Cold Blood” changed our lives forever. It was said that 1 week after the murders, there was not a lock to be bought in Western Kansas, Western Nebraska, Eastern Colorado, or the Panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma–They were sold out. I wonder if the same could be told today. I well remember having my mother trying find keys to the locks to the doors to our house in Garden City. We were scared! What will happen when….

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  3. reno92

    Great article. rural America is unfortunately not as safe as it used to be. there have been quite a few meth labs going up in the sticks, also. great work, Mike!

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  4. southdakota

    Thanks for the great comments, guys!! I have heard many similar comments from folks in living situations similar to ours. Again, not trying to instill paranoia, just the concept that we really need not let our training and situational awareness lapse just because we are in the sticks.

    Reply
  5. Alaskan Bob

    Good advise. I live in a rural setting and have had two home invasions down the street and one break in across the street from my home. I have now put cameras up around the home, a door bell camera and make sure I know who is at the door before answering, made sure my wife has training with our firearms and we carry while around the home. Too bad things have come to this. Never thought it would here in Alaska but it is what it is. Prepare, be ready and don’t become a victim.

    Reply
  6. FlashBack

    Great article, we’re 9-10 miles from any town and 25 from the nearest “big town”…it can happen anywhere….words to live by.

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  7. drake

    i would like to add know your area and terrain . not just your property. i live in a large national forest and i back up against several wood lines .i have gone out to explore and learn what is behind my house and on all sides .so if i hear something i know the environment the noise is coming from .

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  8. Bill

    Excellent article! Because we live in the country it sometimes gives the bad guys an opportunity to do harm because there are usually no witnesses and noise discipline does not have to be practiced. Most of us country folk have guns. Tempting targets for residential burglars. A burglary to an unoccupied house is one thing, a burglary at an occupied house it is an entirely a far more dangerous, crime. A burglar caught in the act becomes a very panicked and a very dangerous person.

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  9. Mark

    I worked for several years in a rural county in TN until recently. Some of my clients told me that reprobates would set up scenarios like a female in a disabled vehicle on the side of the road or a stroller with a baby left in it abandoned. When the good Samaitan would stop, two or three armed hombres would come out of the ditch or from behind trees and do their worst. Don’t stop except for far enough away and call the sheriff.

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  10. Doug Hungerford

    He’s 100% right on!! I live on a rural secluded 135 acre ranch. My wife works from home so there is someone home about 95% of the time. Anytime I’m out doing chores I carry and the house is locked. Even if I’m out in the barn which is only 40ft from the house. We’ve had our fair share of incidents but NO one has been hurt. We have had to call the law on more than one occasion. We both train with the numerous firearms here. With our neighbors we watch over each other’s property. I’m in the process of installing security cameras around in both house and barn. Mike is right it’s not like it used to be and not as safe as it used to be.Great article!!

    Reply
  11. Greg

    I’m a retired “big city cop” and moved with my wife from the city to a country setting. Within a few months of relocating and getting to know neighbors I learned that the guy next door (150 yards away) is on disability and now a pain med abuser. Shortly thereafter I saw his picture on the second page of the local newspaper and learned he had robbed a pizza delivery guy “delivering his pizza” at gunpoint in his own home! We have no local police or fire protection, and the sheriff response is generally 45 minutes to an hour. I installed an alarm system and always carry while outside on my property. Weapons are strategically placed through the house and locked up in a safe when were gone. We love the country setting and refuse to become paranoid, but if you can’t or won’t defend your family and property you may lose one or the other.

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  12. Mike_in_TX

    We also live in a rural area where everything is nice and quiet 99% of the time. However, a few years back, a couple of men had been following the mail truck and taking packages from the mail boxes after they were delivered. This was reported to the sheriff and once they arrived, a high speed chase ensued. Our north field is at the end of a T-junction (which is also a school bus stop) and instead of the criminals attempting to make the sharp corner, they just kept going straight. They, and the two police cars following them, hit our fence doing about 90 mph, and continued through about 30 more acres of pastureland and 6 other fences, before going back onto the next road. They were eventually caught some 5 miles down that road. Fortunately, the school bus was not dropping off kids and the none of the animals affected were hurt.

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  13. Tom Dotson

    In 2007 we bought a home in Carson City, NV that butted up to BLM. Great house and my wife could ride her horse to Utah if she wanted. What could go wrong? We found out that BLM was a meth lab haven and that some of the local gangs thought that it was a safe dumping ground for their murder victims. That’s when we both started learning about guns!

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  14. Carry Tennessee

    Excellent article. I was a deputy sheriff in the 70’s and 80’s in what was then a very rural county in Virginia. The misconception that rural areas are safer than urban areas is a myth! Urban areas may have MORE crime, but crimes committed in “country” areas are every bit as violent, if not more so. As you mentioned in your article, there are often no witnesses to violent crimes committed in rural areas. I could tell you story after story of heinous crimes that took place in our county, some that started with an abduction from the much more “metropolitan” county on our eastern border, and ended very violently in isolated parts of our county. Needless to say, no matter how much the victim(s) screamed, there was no one close enough to hear them. I now live in a rural part of Tennessee and teach defensive shooting and personal security… And I often have students who tell me how much safer they feel living in the country! They don’t lock their doors, they leave keys and valuables in their vehicles, and they often DON’T CARRY their firearms (until they take my class and find out how misinformed they are). We country-dwellers don’t have the built-in backup of close neighbors and police departments with very short response times; we are basically on our own while waiting for deputies to travel the 10 or 20 or more miles to get to us. Thus, we need to be just as vigilant, if not more vigilant, than our suburban or city-dwelling friends. This information is valuable to residents as well as those traveling through isolated areas. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  15. Harry DeFreesettacked

    I learned a long time ago to always take a “yard pistol” with me when I get out & roam my property . Right after I moved here 26 years ago , I had a neighbor attacted after she was approached her house from the barn . She was very lucky to get away from him & run away . Another neighbor surprised someone in his driveway after returning from the store , so yes I’m always armed !!!!

    Reply
  16. Will

    there has been an ongoing meth epidemic going on in n.c montana with a highened threat caused by an influx of “sudden money”. At a community meeting held some time ago a characterist of people having no sense of right and wrong was identified. many of these are also diagnosed or identified as having brain damage from being exposed to drugs and alcohol in the womb. these are not the child victims so commonly envisioned but full grown adults of all ages. law enforcement jurisdiction is confusing as well. we now have taken to carrying handguns in the home and during our daily activities out here. it should be noted these people are hellishly active from about midnight til 3am.

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