Friday, December 17, 2010

Trapped In the Wild

Have you ever given any though to what it would be like to be alone in a remote place, trapped by a fallen tree or shifting boulder, unable to free yourself and too far into the backcountry to call for help?  Though most of us don't give this much thought when hiking, camping or paddling through wild areas, such unfortunate circumstances have befallen quite a few individuals in recent times - some who made it out alive and others who did not.  And one can only imagine how many such victims there have been in the course of human history when even more people traveled alone and in truly wild country.

This possibility was on my mind again the past two days as I received the finalized page lay-outs of my new book,  Could You Survive?: 13 Deadly Scenarios and How Others Got Out Alive from my publisher and had to do a final read-through to make any last minute changes before it is sent off to be printed.  As it happens, this "trapped in the wild" scenario is the subject of the first chapter, the title of which is "Cutting Your Losses."    In this chapter I describe a situation in which you are pinned down by an immovable object, while hiking alone well off of a designated trail in a mountain wilderness area.  The only food you have are the items you carried in a day pack for a hike of a few hours.  You're too far from any road to get a cell phone signal.  You didn't tell anyone exactly where you were headed or when you expected to be back, and now your ankle is crushed under a massive boulder, leaving you exposed to the frigid night air with inadequate protection and barely enough water to last until the next day.  No one is coming for you, and no one is likely to find you by accident.  What would you do?  You have a multitool with several sharp blades in your daypack.  The only way to freedom is to cut off your leg at the knee.  Could you do it?  If not, death is certain, it's just a matter of time, and the vultures are already circling, awaiting their opportunity.

You've probably read of some of the individuals who had to make just such a choice - like Aron Ralston,who was rock climbing in a remote slot canyon when a boulder shifted and pinned his hand to the cliff wall.  Ralston ended up cutting off his own arm at the elbow to escape, and later wrote a book about the ordeal:  Between a Rock and a Hard Place.  Now several years later, his story is about to get much more widespread attention with the release of a new movie: 127 Hours  (see trailer below).

You might think that such nightmarish circumstances only befall dare-devil  adrenaline junkies like Ralston, who was obviously engaged in a high-risk activity to begin with and who foolishly told no one where he was going.

But consider what happened to Mike Turner, a 48-year-old, experienced backpacker who was hiking in a Wyoming wilderness area when a he was trapped by shifting rocks while crossing a boulder field.  After more than a week, in which he could not free himself, he died of exposure and dehydration and was not found until more than 2 weeks later.  Others have been trapped by fallen trees while cutting timber or firewood.  One whose story was on all the prime time new channels a few years ago was Donald Wyman, who had to cut his leg off at the knee and make a tourniquet from the starter cord of his chainsaw.  He then crawled to his bulldozer, drove it to his pickup, and then drove the truck to the nearest farm using a metal file to depress the clutch when he needed to shift gears. He knew it was either give up his lower leg and foot or die, and he made the choice with little hesitation.

Such a choice is not something anyone wants to contemplate for long.  The key to avoiding it is to turn up your awareness level to the max anytime you stray off the beaten path, and especially if you do so alone.  As I mentioned in a previous post, Watch Your Step

Another key element to safety when traveling alone in a wild, unfamiliar place is to know your environment.  Even if you don't know the area from first-hand experience, research at home before you go can turn up lots of good information and alert you to dangers you might not have known about without prior reading.  An example of this that I turned up in my research for this same chapter on getting trapped in the wild are the many tragic stories I read of people trapped in the mud flats of Alaska's tidal rivers.  Had they known the dangers, they would not have ventured out onto this treacherous silt that can hold a person's leg as surely as cement until the returning tide comes in to drown them under several feet of frigid seawater.

The conclusion to this is that in planning your bug-out locations or just recreational trips into places new to you, try to learn everything you possibly can about the local conditions there before you go.

Regarding the movie: 127 Hours, I have not seen it yet but I definitely plan to check it out. I remember first reading about Ralston's ordeal in Outside magazine right after it happened and thought then that it was an incredible story of survival.  Here's the trailer from YouTube:

Friday, December 10, 2010

More on Survival Hunting and Food Gathering

I spent most of the day last Saturday canoeing with my long-time camping and adventure-travel buddy, Ernest Herndon.  We went to a large national forest lake here in south Mississippi mainly just to get out on the water for a few hours, but also because I wanted to shoot some footage for a video I plan to post here soon, in which Ernest demonstrates a simple paddling technique that makes long-distance travel in a canoe much more feasible and less exhausting.  I'll have that video live here as soon as I have time to edit it.

Out on the lake, as we explored the hidden coves that reach like fingers into the wooded hills of the surrounding national forest, we saw a wide array of waterfowl coming and going, as well as deer and squirrel activity within sight of the water.  Our conversation turned to survival hunting, as Ernest had read my last post here and we talked then about the different methods so many people use to achieve the same end, namely putting meat in the freezer

With over 30 years experience as a newspaper reporter in south Mississippi, including covering the local hunting and fishing reports and writing a weekly outdoor page for the Sunday Edition, Ernest has seen about every technique imaginable and has spend lots of time in the woods, swamps and fields with some incredibly skilled outdoorsmen.   Most of these guys he knows are the kind I mentioned before that probably never read survival books yet have a knack for finding and getting their game when most everyone else comes up empty handed.  They range from some local backwoodsmen who probably don't read any books at all to the highly-educated, like Ernest's own son, who is a doctor but also one of the most avid and skilled hunters I've ever met.  Anyone who has done a lot of hunting and fishing has seen the type.  The conversation reminded me of a hard-drinking surveyor I used to work with who each day after work would walk the banks of a lake near the job with a rod and reel and one specific artificial lure, and come back near dark with a plastic garbage bag full of bass.  This in the same lake where my brother and I rarely got a strike.  The same guy was equally proficient with getting deer during hunting season.

Discussing characters like this, especially the ones Ernest has accompanied and interviewed over the years, led us to more conversation about alternative methods of game and fish gathering that are rarely discussed in a survival context.  Take hand-grabbing for instance:  This involves wading along the shores of a creek or lake and reaching into holes to grab catfish that are laying up there.  People who are good at this can get far more fish than they can eat in a very short time, but again, there's a knack to it that some have while most of us would have to work a lot harder at it.  It's all about knowing how and where to look.  The same goes for setting out drop hooks in the local creek, building fish weirs or rigging snares and traps.  We also talked about frog-gigging, shining beavers, alligator, rabbit and deer at night, and even killing armadillos with a stick, if you were desperate and couldn't find anything else.  

When the conversation turned to the optimum firearms to take in a survival situation, as these discussions always seem to do, Ernest expressed his thoughts on shotguns, which would be his first choice because of versatility with a variety of loads.  He said the weight and bulk issues of the ammunition could be mitigated somewhat by choosing a smaller bore, like a 20 gauge, and that he would prefer the simplicity of a single or double-barrel over a pump or automatic.  Knowing that if Ernest actually had to bug out someday he would do so in a canoe along a local stream, I could find no fault with his choice of weapon because in a canoe he could carry all the ammo he wanted and in the thick cover around here, the shotgun would sure make it easier to harvest squirrels and most other game.  I grew up learning to hunt with a Savage singe-shot 20 gauge myself, and later switched to a .22 for small game before acquiring a variety of rifles in different calibers.

As a result of this conversation, Ernest decided to poll some local experienced hunters regarding their choice of a survival firearm and got a variety of answers, with many favoring 12-gauge shotguns, and few opting for a 20-gauge, a .22 rifle, a .22 revolver with interchangeable .22 Magnum cylinder, and one preferring a .17 HMR rifle. 

Another interesting topic of this conversation we had regarding survival hunting concerned what we have seen in our travels in various parts of the world.  Ernest went on two expeditions into the interior of New Guinea back in the 1980's, including visiting a village in the mountainous jungles there where the people still hunted with bows and arrows and wore bones through their noses. He wrote a book about it called In The Hearts Of Wild Men.  In New Guinea at that time, he also encountered various subsistence hunters that used shotguns, while crocodile hunters were still using spears.  Later, in the 1990's, we traveled together in both the jungle areas and drier mountain areas of Honduras and encountered both Miskito Indians and campesinos who hunted every kind of animal in the region with .22 rifles.  Lucio, our host at a remote ranch near the El Salvador border even used his .22 to shoot fish when we approached a stream and claimed to have killed over 200 deer with his well-worn and rusty Marlin Model 60.

The conclusion we came to is that you use what you have and what you feel comfortable with.  When we stopped for lunch and Ernest broke out his banjo to pick some blues, I decided maybe he won't have to hunt after all in a post-apocalyptic world!  People are still going to need entertainment after the lights go out, and what could be better than some banjo blues by a campfire out in the backwoods?  I recorded one of his tunes for YouTube and thought I would share it here too:  

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Some Thoughts on Hunting Season

Deer season is in full swing here in Mississippi and naturally, in a state blessed with an abundance of woods and game, hunting is a big deal here.  The woods are full of folks out to fill their freezers with venison or seek a trophy rack to hang on the wall.  As I've mentioned here before, I believe that plenty of the backwoodsmen who grew up in places like this learning to hunt and fish from childhood could feed themselves just fine if forced into a bug-out situation after the SHTF. Although they may not read survival blogs on the Internet, own any books on the subject, or even give it any thought, many would know where and how to to find game and have the skills to do so.  This is especially true of the older generation around here, such as those who grew up in impoverished rural areas where hunting was a supplement to the everyday food supply back when many people still grew most of what they ate and raised livestock for the same purpose.

Today, despite all the concrete and the cities and roads and the ever-growing human population, deer are more abundant in the South than they were at the time of De Soto's expedition in the 1540's.  Wildlife management programs are largely responsible for this.  Another major factor is a lack of natural predators, such as mountain lions (usually called panthers down here) that were long since wiped out but may be coming back.  Finally, one of the biggest factors is the reversion of most farmland back to woods or pine tree plantations, creating more natural habitat.  This explosion of the deer population is evident everywhere, especially along the highways and backroads where they are frequently hit by vehicles and are especially a menace to those of us who sometimes ride motorcycles.  Large numbers of deer are often seen wandering into suburban neighborhoods and down city streets at night, something that was unheard of here when I was growing up. 

This abundance should make deer hunting easier than ever, and it has, but few "hunters" that I know of anymore practice anything that really resembles hunting.  Instead, today it has become all about ease and comfort, with so much reliance on technology and expensive equipment that skills and woodsmanship are rarely considered.

I don't know how widespread this practice is in other regions of the country, but here the concept of climbing a tree to get a better view and to get out of the deer's line of sight and normal zone of awareness has evolved in just my lifetime to something completely different.  When deer hunters first took to the trees to get above their game, it was by either climbing a tree with well-spaced branches and perching in a fork or building some simple wooden platform in the fork with perhaps a few 2 x 4 rungs nailed to the trunk for easier access.  Then, the portable climbing tree stand was introduced, allowing hunters to carry the stand most anywhere and use it on straight, limbless trees to get an unobstructed shooting platform.  I remember buying one of the earliest ones on the market - a dangerous contraption with a flexible steel band that wrapped around the tree and held the lightweight plywood platform in place - as long as your weight was properly centered on it.  Climbing tree stands got better over the years, with more security aloft and better methods of attaching and climbing the tree, such as this one: Summit Viper SS 81066 Climbing Stand

Then the portable climbing tree stand fell out of favor with most hunters and was replaced with a variety of ladder-stands, with the platform and ladder all built into one.  These were heavier and bulkier, of course, not something you could backpack into the wilderness to set up in a new location on every hunt.  But this didn't seem to bother most hunters, who then decided to skip the tree part of the "tree" stand altogether and erect free-standing shooting towers, much like those you see guarding the perimeter walls of a prison or garrison.  No longer simple platforms, these stands featured "shooting houses" atop them, complete with comfortable chairs, shooting ports and heaters.  Some of these were home-built on site, but a new industry sprung up to provide a variety of such tower stands with built-in shooting houses.  Now these are all the rage around here, and they can be seen from the highways and backroads overlooking cut-overs, pipeline and powerline right of ways, and food plots.  The portability is gone, except of course for the initial set-up, which in the case of the biggest ones requires equipment like a tractor with a forklift.

Because this new type of hunting from a fixed location eliminated the possibility of scouting recent deer trails and setting up ambush sites based on the current movements of the deer being sought, shooting house hunters had to either bait their quarry with a planted food plot or set up over an open space like a pipeline and hope for the best.  The food plot option has of course, become the most popular.  It is without doubt an effective means of killing deer, but will those young hunters growing up using nothing but these methods be able to effectively hunt if cast out into a survival situation in trackless swamp or mountain forest?  Will they know how and where to look for deer signs, and how to take advantage of available cover to still hunt from the ground, and to get within effective range of an open-sighted rifle or more primitive weapon such as a traditional bow?  It seems apparent to me that many hunting skills are being lost, even by those who are growing up in the country and raised in a hunting tradition - not to mention the vast majority of more urban youth who have no interest in it or access to it at all.

I don't have a problem with anyone's choice of hunting methods and I'm all for anything that thins the herd some, since there are no predators other than human hunters and speeding vehicles on the highway to do this.  But the point I want to make is that such methods do not prepare one for real survival hunting while on the move and in the deep woods and swamps where shooting houses and food plots are non-existent.  If you want to be prepared to hunt for your food in a bug-out situation, you're going to have to get off the 4-wheeler, leave the comfort of the shooting house, and forget about the carefully-planted food plots.  You need to know what the natural foods are that your quarry depends on  in your region, and what seasons they are available and where to find them.  You have to think about water sources and look for well-used trails to and from them.  You need to be aware of wind direction and natural techniques for masking your human scent.  You need to know how to move quietly and slowly when in your hunting territory, and how to stalk with excruciatingly slow deliberation when necessary to get closer for a shot.  You need to be an expert with your hunting weapon of choice as one shot may be the difference between going to bed hungry or well-fed.

Another factor to consider is that hunting the old way can be more fun and certainly more challenging.  You may not get a deer as often, but when you do, it will be more rewarding and you will know what it feels like to be a hunter.  Getting your game on its own terms and at the same level will give you the confidence you need to know that you can survive.  If this is something you are already doing, then take it to the next level by using more primitive hunting weapons.  In a future post I will show some examples of the traditional and primitive archery equipment that I have made to give you some ideas about how you can get into this too if you find it interesting.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Second Bug Out Book

For the past few weeks, I have been busy completing the final revisions and material such as the bibliography for my latest book: Could You Survive?: 13 Deadly Scenarios and How Others Got Out Alive.  This is now complete and is in my publisher's hands for the final layout and production.  It is still scheduled for publication in February and I will post updates regarding the availability of it here.  I think many readers of Bug Out Survival will find the book entertaining and informative, but it is also aimed at the armchair reader who simply enjoys reading about how people have gotten out of some incredibly tight spots. 

Many of my readers here and readers of my book, Bug Out: The Complete Plan for Escaping a Catastrophic Disaster Before It's Too Late, have expressed an interest in more detailed information regarding the material presented in Part One of that book.  Since my primary goal in Bug Out was to present an overview of the many possibilities for bug out locations in the Lower 48 states, the material in Part One necessarily had to be condensed to fit into the format of a 300-page book while still allowing me to cover the locations in the eight regions detailed in Part Two. 

To address this I have now signed a contract for another book that will be a follow-up to Bug Out and will expand on one particular part of Part One.  I will announce the specific details of the contents at a later date. I will say that it covers one aspect of preparation that is lots of fun and I am really looking forward to writing it.  In addition, there may be a third related book in the works beyond that, which will allow me to greatly expand on certain aspects of survival preparedness that are usually overlooked. 

For the success of Bug Out, I am grateful to all the readers who have purchased the book and the many reviewers who have given it favorable mention on various blogs, websites, and on Amazon.  Bug Out has sold out of its first print run and my publisher has ordered more.  If you are looking for it, there are still many copies in various stores and online retailers and more are on the way if your favorite retailer is temporarily sold out.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Demonstrating the Green Sapling Tripod Cooking Method

I've posted here before about one of my favorite methods of cooking or boiling water using an open fire - the simple green sapling tripod support.  This was also described and illustrated in my book, Bug Out.  

Since I find the method so useful in that it allows you to carry nothing but one simple metal pot in the bug-out bag, I thought I would give you a better look at it in this video below.  I plan to do more video demonstrations of various techniques and reviews of gear in the future, and will soon have some better equipment for this.  If you can overlook the poor video quality of this footage, perhaps you can still benefit from the method. When I get set up with a better camera, I'll probably shoot this again in more favorable lighting and replace it here. This was done on a creek bank here in south Mississippi.

This method of cooking is well worth trying on your next overnight stay in the woods.  I've been using it for over 20 years myself, since first seeing it done by some native coconut growers in a remote coastal area of the Dominican Republic.  And although I say that one pot is all you need for the bug out bag, it also works as well when you're better equipped with skillets, coffee pot, etc.  I've cooked many hundreds of pancakes this way and it's easy to regulate the heat by adjusting the amount of fuel you feed into the small fire.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Winchester Trapper in .357 Magnum

Whether considering a rifle for the bug out bag or for other purposes, I have a strong preference for short, handy carbines, and few rifles can meet that description better than the Winchester Model 1894 Trapper.  I've owned one chambered in .30-.30 in the past, but my current favorite is this one in .357 Magnum.  This is the pistol caliber carbine I mentioned in Bug Out that goes along so well with a revolver chambered for the same round.  While I would still choose a compact .22 if I could only take one firearm for wilderness survival purposes, if at all possible, this handy little levergun will go along as well. 

This slim lever-action rifle carries easily in the field, with or without a sling, and weighing only 6 lbs., it would be no great burden considering it's capabilities.  The .357 Magnum version is more than adequate for deer at reasonable ranges and can do the job for protection against dangerous animals, although I would choose the .44 Magnum or .30-.30 version if I were in big bear country.  The nice thing about the .357 Magnum is that it can also handle .38 Specials for smaller game and cheap plinking.  The only hitch with these rifles chambered in pistol caliber is that you have to experiment a bit with different brands of ammunition to find the ones that feed reliably.  This was never an issue with the .30-.30 I had. 

Here, you can see just how compact this rifle really is, with an overall length of just 34 and a quarter inches. 

Here it is compared to a Saiga AK-47 with an ACE folding stock.  Overall length is very similar, but the AK is much bulkier and heavier.  Of course they have different purposes, but there is some crossover in the utility of each.  The Winchester is more refined in every way, with regards to fit and finish and within it's effective range it is more accurate, making it more suitable for survival hunting.  I love how quick it is to handle and how it comes to the shoulder and points naturally.  The AK is more of a beast, but with a whole lot more firepower potential with its 30-round mags, of course.  The Trapper in .357 Magnum holds 9 rounds in the tube plus one in the chamber. In .30-.30, this capacity is reduced to 5 in the tube.  But, one thing nice about a lever gun is that you can top off the magazine at any time between the shooting, adding rounds as soon as they are expended.  In a modern combat role, the lever action rifle that won the West is sometimes referred to as a "CAR" (Cowboy Assault Rifle)!

The Trapper version of this Winchester is short enough to fit in some large backpacks fully assembled.  I used to carry my .30-.30 that way, with the butt down and just a couple of inches of barrel protruding from under the backpack flap on my large external frame pack.  I would simply put a nylon tent pole bag over the end and when hiking in places where I might encounter some park ranger or game warden, they would never guess I had a rifle in there.  But if you really want to make it disappear, you can remove one screw and slide the butt stock right off, as shown below.  This leaves the longest part at 24 inches.  So many of the best bug out firearms options break down to 24 inches that I would never consider a backpack that didn't have a 24-inch deep compartment to be a valid choice for a serious bug out bag.

Keep in mind that this rifle was not intended to be taken down this way and I wouldn't do it all the time.  For bugging out purposes all you would have to do is break it down once to pack it and then put it together once you're out in the boonies.  By threading the screw back into the receiver you won't lose anything and you can carefully wrap and pad the receiver with spare clothing in the bag.  This is the same concept as packing the Ruger 10/22 the way I described it in a previous post

Here is another view of the Trapper and the AK, with the Trapper broken down and the AK's stock folded and magazine removed.  The AK is still bulkier, but it has the advantage that it can be fired in the folded position if necessary. 

Now for the bad news.  Winchester stopped production on the Trapper several years ago, so what was once a $300 rifle has now soared in value as a collector's item.  I found the one pictured on Gun Broker last year in brand new condition for a reasonable price.  I've seen them going for as much as $1K, but if you look around, you might come across a used one at a gun show or in a pawn shop.  Other options that are similar and still in production are the Rossi Model 1892 and the Puma.  Marlin has also made limited runs of their lever carbines with a 16-inch barrel. 

To explore the possibilities of the lever-action rifle as an alternative to semi-automatics like the AK-47 and the AR-15, I highly recommend you visit Gabe Suarez' Warrior Talk Forums.  Although Gabe is a guru of the modern AK-47 in a combat role, there is a sub-forum on Warrior Talk called "Fighting Lever Guns" that any fan of these rifles will find of interest, as there is lots of discussion on calibers and makes, as well as applicable tactics.  Gabe is also offering classes on gunfighting with lever guns. See below:

Monday, October 18, 2010

Short-term Bug Out Scenarios

Keep This in Mind: Bugging Out Does Not Always Imply a Long Stay in the Woods:

Not all bug-out situations will involve long-term escape and evasion in a remote stretch of wilderness or other uninhabited area.  Some people may get the impression that bugging out means an "all or nothing" strategy of backwoods survival, when in fact the chances of having to implement such a serious bug-out plan are much less than the possibilities of a short term bug-out escape. My philosophy has always been to be over-prepared for any given endeavor, whether a long-distance sea kayak trip, a backpacking trip or an offshore sailboat passage.  If you feel confident you are ready for an experience of much greater duration and difficulty than what you will likely run into, then everything else will seem easy by comparison.

With regards to the self-sufficient bug-out bag, the idea is that if you are prepared and equipped to survive as long as necessary while on the move in a remote area, you will thus by default be equally or more so prepared for events of shorter duration.  You may not need to hunker down in the nearest river bottom swamp or retreat to a mountain wilderness at all.  Perhaps you simply need the gear to travel cross-country to reach your own pre-stocked cabin, or the home of a friend or relative in an area unaffected by the event that forces you to leave.  By having the gear and having a plan of action that includes knowing where you can go and how you will get there, you have taken the necessary steps to look out for your own evacuation and security and you will not become a refugee as so many who bash the bug-out option would have you believe.  Refugees are the unprepared who are waiting to be rescued or herded in buses or other means to a safe area, leaving their fate in the hands of the authorities and others.  If your bug-out bag includes everything you need to survive an extended stay in an uninhabited area and you have the skills and knowledge to do so, then any thing less will be that much easier.

Having a well-thought out bug-out plan prepares you for the worst-case scenario.  That doesn’t mean such an all-out SHTF total breakdown scenario is bound to happen, and the plan or parts of the plan can serve you well in a lesser event.  You may simply need to get out of the danger zone of a terror attack, or retreat from an approaching hurricane, or leave a city that has broken out in riots.  The bug-out bag can also serve as a get home bag in certain situations where you may be traveling and some event happens that would make it difficult to reach your family and get them to safety if not for the gear you are carrying. 

With this in mind, the well-stocked bug-out bag will have everything you need to meet the essentials of survival: proper clothing, shelter and the means to make fire, as well as food and water for the first 3 days.  But it should go beyond what is often called a “72-hour bag” and include essential survival tools to include a hunting weapon and other tools to procure more food, purify the water you will have to use when you exhaust your supply, and construct more substantial shelters if needed.   With this sort of bug-out bag and the skills to use what it contains that you should practice in advance, you will be prepared three days and much more if necessary. 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Guest Post: The Survival Sewing Kit

Julie Eason, of Serious wrote to suggest a guest post on what to include in a well-stocked survival sewing kit.  As some of you may know, I included sewing needles and heavy-duty Dacron thread in the checklist at the back of my book, Bug Out.  I've also mentioned needles and thread as part of the components of an ultra compact, minimal EDC bug out kit.

Knowing how to make simple repairs with a needle and thread is essential to maintain your gear and clothing.  You can progress way beyond that if you take an interest in it and learn to make your own gear, probably better than most of what you can buy.  Among other things, I've made my own buckskin moccasins, archery quivers, hats, rifle slings and cases, water bottle holders, canvas bags and even the sails for my boats, including the one I'm building now.

In the following article, Julie Eason goes into detail about what to include in a minimum survival sewing kit and why.  This is cheap to put together, weighs almost nothing and will take up little space in your bug out bag, so I think it's very good advice:

The Well-Stocked Survival Sewing Kit

Guest Post by Julie Anne Eason of Serious

When most people think of things they need to survive an emergency, a sewing kit isn't usually at the top of the list. But whether you're in a long-term TEOTWAWKI or a short-term natural disaster, things are going to need sewing. Obviously, your clothes need to stay in good repair. But don't forget about other fabric or leather based items as well--tents, sails, shoes, water skins. Some form of rudimentary sewing skill is necessary for a comfortable existence, and you're going to need supplies. Here's what you should have on hand in a survival situation.

Several sizes and styles of needles: Not every needle is suitable for every purpose. Fortunately, needles are cheap and small, so stock up on a package of different sized sharps and ball-points. Sharps are used to sew woven fabrics (the kind that don't stretch) and ball-points are used for knits (stretchy fabrics.)

You'll also want leather needles (called glover's needles.) These have a special point shaped like a triangle. It slices easily through leather (and skin-so be careful!) Speaking of skin, a few suture needles are a good idea, too, in case you need to perform medical stitching.

Curved needles, sail needles and large-eye harness and tapestry needles will also come in handy for all kinds of projects.

Several sizes and types of thread: Now is not the time to buy wimpy thread. Invest in several large spools of thick mercerized cotton thread, called "hand-quilting" thread. Also, you'll want several thicknesses of waxed linen thread for sewing heavy-duty items in canvas or leather. Some silk thread is also advisable for suture sewing.

Sharpening stone: Needles may be difficult to find, so you'll need to take good care of the ones you have. You should have a sharpening stone on hand anyway for honing knives and axes. The same one can be used for keeping needles in good working condition.

Scissors: Yes, you could use a knife to cut thread. But cutting fabric and leather is much easier with a pair of scissors. These can do double duty in the kitchen, too.

An awl: An awl makes a hole without cutting the fibers. This is especially important for repairing broken grommets in canvas or anytime you need to sew leather.

Small containers of beeswax and pine pitch: Run your sewing thread through a cake of beeswax a few times before sewing and your seams will last much longer. The wax conditions the thread and makes it less vulnerable to light damage and abrasion. Also, the wax will spread out a bit and fill your sewing holes, making a more water resistant (not water proof) seam.

Pine pitch is great for sealing a patch on shoes or anyplace a repair won't have to bend. It's flexible when warm, but will crack in cold weather if you bend it. You can make water-bearing bags and cups with pitch-sealed leather as they did in Europe 600 years ago.

Straight pins and small spring clamps: Pins hold your fabric together while you're stitching. But sometimes you need to work on a thick seam. That's when the spring clamps come in handy. Just a couple will do.

1/4 to 1/2 yard pieces of fabric: If you're not on the move, you can stockpile larger quantities of wool, linen, cotton, canvas and leather for making clothing and household items. But for an emergency kit, just roll up a few pieces of canvas and linen. Not only will these serve as patch material, but you can also strain liquids through them and even use them for bandages if necessary.

Small container of strong shoe glue like Barge cement: Your shoes and boots are going to wear out and need patching at some point. Barge cement is designed to hold shoes together without nails or stitching. Have a small tube on hand; it's useful for all kinds of repairs.

If you're not on the move and there's room in your kit you can add things like zippers, buttons, hooks & eyes, grommets and elastic. But usually these items can be recycled from other cast-offs. One pair of worn-out blue jeans can be a gold mine of recycled materials--fabric, buttons, zippers, pockets--just cut 'em up and reuse the parts.

Obviously a heavy-duty sewing machine and serger overlock machine are great to have on hand if you have the room and have electricity. But be prepared and learn some basic hand sewing stitches, too.

As with any survival kit--pack what you need and can carry. You never know when your skills with a needle will come in handy. They could even save a life.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Active Shooter Scenario

Not all the survival scenarios I'm writing about in my new book are of the traditional man vs. the wilderness category.  Although there will be several chapters on those kinds of situations in different environments, there are also scenarios that are only possible because of the high-tech, civilized world most of us live in.  For example, what would you do if you are in a crowded shopping mall on a Saturday morning and you hear gunfire, followed by people screaming?  Supposed you are an experienced shooter yourself and you just so happen to have a concealed-carry permit and you are armed that day?  Do you run for the nearest exit or do you rush toward the sound of the shots to see if you can intervene?  With the frequency of random shootings that take place in a given year, I'd be willing to bet that if you carry a gun this has crossed your mind before.

Every situation is different, of course, and in some cases you might be able to help and in others it may be too late.  But armed citizens have successfully intervened in such scenarios and stopped deranged shooters - often too late for some of the victims, but who knows how many more would have died if not for their brave actions?  One example of this happened right here in Mississippi in 1997, when Coach Joel Myrick went to his truck to get his .45 after Pearl High School student Luke Woodham started a rampage with a 30-30 lever action carbine.  After shooting of his fellow several students, Woodham was attempting to reach his car so he could go to the Jr. High School and shoot more.  The armed coach confronted him, and like most active shooters, Woodham put up no resistance and surrendered before Myrick had to fire a shot.

Something to think about if you ever find yourself in this situation is how the first responding police officers to arrive on the scene will perceive you, the armed citizen.  These officers are going to be pumped full of adrenalin and on the ready.  If they see you with a gun, it may not end well for you if you don't take the appropriate action and do exactly as they say.  So how do you avoid getting shot by the police?  For one thing, don't brandish your weapon and especially don't point it towards the officers.  Firearms instructor Gabe Suarez teaches an active shooter interdiction class and has posted several photos on Warrior Talk News explaining how to present yourself to officers if you ever find yourself in such a tense and dangerous situation. 

Suarez has written much about this type of scenario, as he feels that there is a very good likelihood that a CCW permit holder could end up in such a situation given the ever-changing threats that are out there.  Taking it a step farther, he also writes about responding to a terror attack, such as the one in Mumbai where armed gunmen were able to massacre so many people before they were challenged simply because of the unarmed populace of that crowded city.  Because of such threats, a series of "sneaky bags" have been developed to conceal the weapon of choice for Suarez and most of his instructors at Suarez International - the AK-47 with a folding stock.  Because a folding AK is only 26-30 inches long depending on the barrel and muzzle configuration, it is a very easy weapon to conceal while providing the potential for tremendous firepower with standard 30-round mags.  Suarez is now marketing a purpose-made concealment bag for this that he calls a Jihad Interdiction Bag.

The AK shown in the bag is a SBR (short-barreled rifle) that you can't own without a special NFA permit.  But any number of folding stock AK's will fit, like this Yugo M70AB2 underfolder:

 Such weapons also have their use in certain types of bug-out situations, particularly in an urban environment where the biggest threat may be armed rioters or looters and you may need more firepower than a handgun just to safely make  your exit.  New Orleans after Katrina comes to mind, of course.  Although I've written before about my preference for .22 rimfire rifles for a wilderness survival/foraging situation, there are times when you need a more serious weapon.  I like the 7.62 x 39 AK as it can do double-duty for close range hunting as the ballistics compare to the venerable 30-30, making it a good for anything up to deer-sized game. I would pick such an AK over an AR-15 (good way to start an argument, I know!) for a bug-out rifle because of the caliber, compact folding configuration, and unquestionable reliability in any environment.  I plan to post some more here soon on my personal favorite AK at the time - the Russian-manufactured Saiga Sporter rifle converted back to the standard AK-47 configuration.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Watch Your Step!

In the course of working on my new book, I keep uncovering more and more incredible stories of survival against seemingly impossible odds.  Most of these survival ordeals began because those involved put themselves in a dangerous environment, either purposefully seeking adventure or in the course of their work which required it.  Although some of these people ended up in a life-or-death struggle because of plain foolhardiness, lack of experience or ignorance of the dangers they faced, just as many made a simple mistake or two that any of us could make that led to unpleasant results.  Not surprisingly, in many cases the difference between getting out alive and not making it was determined by whether the person involved was alone or with one or more companions who could either assist or go for help. Without a doubt, it is unquestionably more dangerous to travel alone in an unpopulated environment, no matter whether in forest, desert, mountains, river, swamp or sea. 

The simple truth is that the smallest accident or slightest misjudgment can do you in if you are alone.  As I type this I'm sitting at the computer with my left leg elevated to keep the weight off of a broken foot.  Several days ago while working in the tight confines of the shed where I'm building my 26-foot catamaran, I stumbled over a Shop Vac hose that I had carelessly left in the pathway between the starboard hull and the end of the building.  Attempting to compensate with my hands full of tools, I twisted the other foot severely and took a nasty fall that sprained my ankle and fractured a couple of metatarsals.  It took awhile before I could get to my feet, but when I eventually did, it didn't seem too big a deal and later that day I was walking on it without realizing how bad it was hurt.  After enough time, however, the swelling began and it became nearly impossible to walk, although it is gradually feeling better after a couple days of keeping completely off of it. 

I mention this to make the point that when traveling in the wilderness, it only takes a single misstep to become incapacitated and unable to continue - especially if you are alone. I could have just as easily suffered this kind of injury from stepping on a loose stone, into a hole or onto some algae-covered river rock while hiking days away from a road, which of course could become a serious predicament, depending on the particular environment. But despite thousands of miles traveled solo in remote places by canoe, sea kayak and hiking with a backpack, I have never had a debilitating accident.  Certainly a big part of the reason is that when alone in a wild place, it's natural to have a heightened sense of awareness and to avoid taking chances that can result in accidents.  Two simple rules that I have always lived by in the wild are to never jump and never run (unless being chased!)  Jumping across streams, ditches and other obstacles is a good way to end up breaking a leg or something, as is running.  Instead, when far out in the wilds, it's best to move deliberately and to stop and think about the best way to get over or around obstacles.  Taking unnecessary risks is for adrenalin junkies, not survivalists.

Of course many would say that it's simply not prudent to travel alone at all, and there's truth to that, but limiting yourself to only doing things when you can find companions to accompany you will greatly decrease the number of good experiences you will have as well.  None of my long kayak journeys or many of my shorter trips would have been possible if I had refused go on alone.  And, the truth is, I love solo travel for the experience it provides that you can't get with a companion and the distractions of conversation and someone else's input on pace, when and where to stop for the night, etc.  I think it is the lack of these distractions that contributes to situational awareness when alone; I've noticed over the years that I've made more mistakes in the wild and on board boats when I was with others than when I was alone.  This doesn't imply that I think solo travel is safer, as it certainly isn't.  If you do get into a jam while alone, getting out will be much harder.  I just want to point out that traveling alone can be a good experience, and though it may make you nervous at first, it becomes more comfortable over time as you put your fears to rest while still remaining cautious and careful. 

Putting all this in the context of the blog, it's important to consider that if you ever find yourself in a situation that requires bugging out, you may be on your own and if you've never hiked alone or spent a night in the woods alone prior to the experience, this will greatly add to your overall anxiety.  I suggest starting small and trying a bit of solo camping to see how you like it. Just keep your guard up at all times, avoid jumping and running - and most of all - watch your step!  If you do this, you'll probably be safer than you would be at home, where statistics say that most accidents happen, just like the one I had earlier this week.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Guest Post: Airsoft Training for Simulated Bug Out Scenarios

If you have a topic for a guest post related to the subject matter of this blog that you would like to submit, by all means send me a message.  I'm always open to guest posts, but especially so now, when I don't have a lot of time to write here due to the work I have to do to finish my latest book project.  

The following is a guest post by John Durfee, who wrote to ask if I thought my readers might be interested in an article about simulated training with Airsoft weapons.  After reading the article, I thought sure, why not?  If nothing else, this kind of training gets you out into the environment and can add fun and excitement to what would otherwise be just routine camping and wilderness skills training.  I think training for evasion and escape with other like-minded individuals could serve you well in preparing for a real-life bug out situation.  Using Airsoft weapons to raise the stakes will make the bug out training more realistic and intense.  So if you can find some friends that are up for it, give it a try.  Here's John's engaging description of what such a simulation could be like: 

Real Life Survival Training: The Airsoft Milsim Experience

You've been giving them the slip for the third day. You're the last of your group, and the hunting party has been after you relentlessly. It doesn't matter you're just one man, they're out for blood. Most of them are former military, sticking together when things went sour with civilization. You're jagged from the adrenaline and little sleep. The cold seeps into your bones at night. You've been living off the land sticking close to streams and leaving little to no trail of yourself behind.

Your bag - your bugout bag - has proved invaluable to you. Your machete has helped you strip the bark off trees to eat, cut brush to make a shelter. You've had some luck with your line and hook and caught a fish, which you cooked and dried quickly for storage (You're thankful the hunting party doesn't have dogs). The last part of your kit, the one that's always been ready at a moments notice, your carbine rifle, rests on a sling around your shoulder. Today you're walking making your way slowly across a field of high brush a mile across, it's the only way to the base of the canyons and to safety. You're almost to the edge of the canyon when you stumble across one of the hunting party. You surprise him as much as he surprises you. They must have sent him ahead to block the way. It's a hundred yards to the border when he lets off a volley of shots wildly from a pistol, the adrenaline getting the better of him. You drop to the ground and hear him curse, he must be reloading. You pop up your head and see him reaching around for his radio. The shots would have alerted the rest, but a radio call would pinpoint his location, and yours. It's now or never, you didn't want to do this but there's no choice. You drop to a knee, simultaneously swinging your carbine in front. You line up the shot and…CRACK, CRACK, CRACK. You get him before he can radio in. You run past him as you make it towards the end goal and safety. “That was some good shooting” he says, “I was so close to calling you in”. You shake his hand as you cross the line. As you cross the line he stands up and radios your victory “He's made it to a safe zone, game over.”All in a good day's fun.

What I've described isn't an end of a world scenario, though it may have well could have been. It's the sport of airsoft, and while fun, gives people realistic scenarios to train for escape and evasion.

Airsoft is different from air rifles and pellet guns in that they use standardized airsoft 6mm plastic bb's that weigh far less than metal pellets or sabots, and are perfectly safe in a controlled play environment.

There are an increasing number of airsoft clubs and organizations establishing multiple day airsoft events that can be attended for a set fee. They're run on weekends, usually centered around military scenarios, and the core skills practiced are valuable to real world preparedness. There are varying degrees of immersion, ranging from "play and go back to the car for a snack" to full airsoft milsim, where one acts, functions, and performs like a real military force for the entire duration. These latter are great for putting survival skills to the test. Players have to make camp and spend one or two nights in the wilderness. Sleeping areas are usually made using local materials and a tarp. You will also have to bring your own food and water and manage it. If possible, research on local flora to gather and prepare it while immersed in the event is an excellent way to supplement your supply. These games are full immersion, so even at night, you have to be alert for surprises coming at a moment's notice. If there's local sources of water, like a stream, water filtration devices can also be tested for their true reliability.

On a recent excursion, we arranged night watch shifts; it is quite exhilarating to be the only one awake scouting for moving shadows – potentially the enemy. During the day you'll work with your group or squad and practice maneuvers such as stalking, advancing, assault, and defense.

Another invaluable skill reinforced is familiarizing yourself with firearms and learning to use them for self-defense in a quick thinking situation. Airsoft teaches proper weapon usage, maintenance, and safety precautions. Most airsoft guns in the mid-range price look, feel, and function as close to the real steel guns as possible. Some gas airsoft pistols even disassemble the same way as the real thing! Real firearms training is a great means to become accustomed to the physical feel of shooting a gun, and airsoft simulation events teach valuable self-defense tactics in actual firefights against other people.

Another often overlooked benefit is the physical fitness component. Running around all day with limited resources, a full pack, and adrenaline is fantastic exercise. Just make sure to stay hydrated! You'll be sweating a lot more than you think. It also trains your body to react well under stress and fight or flight situations.

The most important skill learned at these events is mindset. You can put all your survival gear through real world paces and determine what works, and lose what doesn't. You learn to distinguish between friend and foe. You'll hone your aiming and marksmanship skills on real targets who will react and move. All uses of a firearm should be defensive, not predatory, so you'll train yourself how to respond - rather than react – to surprises and potential threats. And if you're "killed" you can learn from your mistakes, so you survive next time!

If you are ready to get out there and try it Airsplat has a comprehensive listing of US airsoft fields.

John Durfee is a Gulf War veteran and the marketing manager for Airsplat, the nation’s largest retailer of Airsoft Guns and Apparel.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Interview on Modern Survival Online

I recently did interview answering questions about Bug Out and related topics for Rourke at  I like these interviews with other survival writers because the questions sometimes put a different angle on topics that I've discussed here and in my book, leading to answers that may cover something I've over-looked before.  You can read the full interview along with Rourke's comments on his latest post today, but I'm also publishing the questions and answers for my readers here:

  • Rourke: What do you think is the biggest myth associated with “bugging out”?
During the course of researching and writing my book I spent a lot of time on various survival forums, blogs and websites to get a feel for the survivalist/prepper community and see what others were doing and how they approach the subject.  I was surprised, to be honest, at how negative most of the discussions and articles were on the viability of bugging out as a survival strategy.  Although the term “bugging out” may be relatively new in common usage, people have been forced to flee their enemies and seek refuge in the countryside or the wilderness for as long as there has been any semblance of civilization.  In many cases it has come down to getting out fast or staying behind and dying.

There’s a difference in becoming a refuge at the mercy of everyone you encounter and having the skills, equipment and advance plans already worked out as to how and where you will bug out.  Bugging out is not the answer for every situation, but to answer the question, I think this is the biggest myth – that you can’t do it and that you can’t survive in the wilderness.  I am always amazed by those who say that a well-prepared and experienced person cannot survive on the land.  I know plenty who can, and they don’t even consider themselves to be survivalists in any shape or form.  Keep in mind that this does not always imply TEOTWAWKI, and in most cases you won’t have to live off the land for extended periods of time.  It’s just that knowing how to travel and live in the wild opens up a lot of options that you otherwise would not have, and it could save your life. 
  • Rourke: I have just started reading Bug Out, and was really taken with your background – specifically your immense traveling. What was your most difficult situation you found yourself in?
It’s kind of hard to pick one, as there have been a few.  Looking back at some of the things I’ve done, I’m amazed that I’m still here sometimes.  Most of my scariest mishaps have been on the water, simply from biting off more than I could chew for my skill level at the time.  But, that’s how you learn, if you don’t die in the process. 
  • Rourke: I see survival & preparedness more and more in mainstream media. From television shows such as Dual Survival, to news reports on urban families that are storing food “just in case”. Why do you think survival is becoming so popular?
I think here in the U.S. there is a lot of fear and uncertainty about stability of the economy and fear of more government control, and loss of individual rights, which in turn could lead to internal strife and disorder.  There is the increasing fear of more widespread terrorism and the possibility of larger-scale war.  All of these things are fueling the fire of interest in survival.  But I think another reason for the popularity of such books and television shows is the disconnect with nature and the basics so many people feel in this high-tech world of easy living, insulated as we are from much of the “real” world.  We have a craving to learn to do simple things, like build a fire, forage for food or navigate across trackless terrain.
  • Rourke: When considering a Bug Out Vehicle (BOV) - what are the top characteristics that should be considered in its selection?
 Whether the “vehicle” is a four-wheel-drive SUV, a motorcycle, bicycle, canoe, motorboat, or whatever – look for simplicity, no-nonsense rugged construction and ease of maintenance and repair in less than optimum circumstances.  My philosophy in choosing every piece of gear or any vehicle or boat is to pick the simplest and most basic one that will do the tasks I require of it. 
  • Rourke: One of the categories of survival & preparedness supplies that I think are often overlooked in survival planning is communication. What kind of equipment do you recommend for bugging out?
 I’ve mentioned marine-band VHF hand-held radios on my blog, as many people may not consider them.  These radios, while technically illegal to use on land during normal times, could be viable in a bug-out situation, because they give you a longer transmitting range than FRS radios or most other hand-held units.  Many of the better ones are also extremely rugged, and can withstand submersion in water and still function.  The best ones have the option of using rechargeable or disposable batteries, making them suitable for long-term off-the-grid use.  There are also many channels available on the VHF band, so finding one that’s not busy should be easy, especially the farther you are from navigable water.
  • Rourke: You favor a machete over a knife – can you explain the reasoning for this?
 Well, actually what I point out in my book is that I favor a machete over an axe or hatchet.  If possible, I would still have a knife, but yes, if I could have only one, I would take the machete because with care and skill it can do practically anything a knife can do, in addition to those much bigger jobs knives can’t do.  I could go on and on about the usefulness of a machete, and I have expanded on it some on my blog and will do so again in the future.  One thing I’ll mention here is that for the purpose of bugging out the machete offers tremendous cutting ability and versatility in a slim, easily carried and lightweight package.  You can slip a sheathed machete down in the bug out bag out of sight of others, and it’s so lightweight you’ll hardly know it’s there either until you need it.
  • Rourke: One of the most talked about aspects of survivalism are firearms with a tremendous amount of varying opinions – What role do firearms play in bugging out?
 The primary roles, of course, are hunting and self-defense – from both human and animal aggressors.  My philosophy of bugging out is to remain as low-key, unnoticed and invisible as possible.  For that reason I don’t plan to carry offensive weapons as there is a limit to the weight and bulk of ammo and all the other essential gear you can take with you in a bug-out situation.  The best firearms for this use should be usable for both hunting and defense.  That’s why I like a matched lever action rifle and revolver in a medium caliber like .357 Magnum.  Sure, a semi-auto battle rifle would be better in an all-out gunfight, but a good lever action is pretty fast to handle as well.  I mainly like the lever guns for the slim profile and light weight, which like machetes, make them easy to pack and easy to carry in hand all day.
  • Rourke: If you had to choose one firearm to Bug Out with – what would your choice be?
It would be hard to give up the short .357 Magnum lever action rifle, but, I would probably take a .22 rifle if I could have nothing else, simply because of the amount of ammo that could be easily carried and the huge variety of game of all sorts that can be taken with it.  I’ve taken various .22 rifles on a number of my trips and feel confident that a good one would be the best all-around firearm for wilderness survival if I couldn’t take a larger caliber rifle to go with it.  As for particular models, I like many of them, including the Ruger 10/22, the Marlin Papoose, the Henry Youth Lever (same length as my Winchester Trapper) and the Marlin Model 60.
  • Rourke: What are the Top 5 items that should be included in Bug Out supplies? 
  1. Clothing and shelter for the expected conditions in the region and the season.
  2. A reliable means of making fire, long-term, for example Fire Steel.
  3. A reliable means of carrying water and purifying water found, for example, sturdy Nalgene bottles and Polar Pure water treatment.
  4. A machete if no other cutting tool, but a  fixed blade knife, folder or multi-tool would be nice to have as well.
  5. A metal pot, as described in my book.  A metal pot that can withstand cooking in a fire will enable you to utilize all sorts of wild foods that must be boiled, for example, a variety of roots, inner bark, leafy greens, etc.
These are the top 5 considerations as far as what cannot be easily found or improvised in the wilderness in a hurry, when you are on the move and hiding out/evading.   
  • Rourke: Is there a particular part of the country that you consider vastly superior than others for bugging out?
 That’s a tough call, because every region has its advantages and disadvantages.  Of course, I’m comfortable with the South, having grown up here.  Some may not like the snakes, bugs and heat, but at least you don’t have to worry about freezing to death and edible plants and a huge variety of animal foods are abundant.  But I’ve spent quality wilderness time in every region and have enjoyed them all.  Part of what makes a region more suitable is the presence of natural features such as rivers, swamps, rugged mountains or deserts that have limited human habitation since the days of early settlement and left large tracts of roadless areas that remain wild to this day.
  • Rourke: From your viewpoint on the world today – what is the likelihood that there could be a major disaster that could create populations to be involved in a mass exodus from heavily populated areas? What might that disaster be in your estimation?
 When a civilization becomes as complex and interdependent as ours is today, there is always the chance of a major disruption, whether from natural causes or man-made causes.  I think war or major unrest from within would be one scenario that would make it unsafe to remain in heavily populated areas, as far as man-caused disasters.  Some kind of unprecedented natural event like solar flares that could take out the power grid would be a plausible natural disaster that could cause such an exodus, as large cities would be untenable in a long-term grid-down event, as we saw in a shorter duration event in  New Orleans after Katrina.
  • Rourke: I see you have a new book coming out – Would You Survive? Please tell us about it.
The new book is intended to be more of an entertaining read than anything else, but it will also get you thinking by putting the reader in each of 13 survival scenarios that each present their own challenges and difficulties.  Some of these scenarios are the kind that you could find yourself in simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, like an active shooter situation at a busy shopping mall.. Others could happen through over-confidence in one’s abilities or ignorance of the dangers of a given environment, for example, the desert, tropical rain forest or Alaskan bush.  It’s been an interesting project to work on, as my research has led me to read many books and dig up lots of survivor’s stories from all sorts of related situations. 
  • Rourke: Any other new projects on the horizon you would like to tell my readers?
 I am working on another possible project, but it’s much too early to announce yet until I have time to develop the idea.
  • Rourke: Thank you.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Current Book Project Now Listed on Amazon:

Now that the book I'm currently working on has a page on Amazon complete with the preliminary cover image, I can give you a hint as to what it's about:

There will be a subtle change to the title and sub-title, as discussed with my publisher, but this is close.  Unlike Bug Out, this book will not be a guide or how-to, but should be entertaining reading to anyone interested in the subject of survival.  The scenarios presented here will cover a wide range of predicaments that others have lived through and that you might find yourself in as well, especially if you are the adventurous sort.

Here's a brief description from the publisher:

During a catastrophic event, what separates those who survive from those who are never seen again? In 13 suspenseful adventures, each a story of overcoming impossible odds, the author reveals the three vital ways to cheat death when all seems lost—avoid panic, know your survival skills, and maintain a relentless determination to make it out alive.

A unique combination of fictional scenarios, true accounts, and instructive sidebars,
Would You Survive? educates as it entertains. Readers realize how important it is to suppress the natural panic response that produces bad decisions and often fatal outcomes.

Teaching by example, the characters use real-life survival tactics—including navigating, building shelters, finding water, and signaling for help. Scattered throughout the book, bonus profiles recount true survivor stories that illustrate how the determination to live in the bleakest and most devastating conditions has saved the lives of countless people.

The scenarios range from urban disasters to wilderness ordeals in many different environments.  And of course for the the readers of this blog and Bug Out, one of them will be a "bug-out" situation.  Needless to say, this is a big project and I'm working hard to get it done in time to meet the publication date.  I'll be posting more about it here as publication gets closer, as well as some posts about the types of predicaments that will be discussed in the book and how you could end up in one. 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Fitting the Ruger 10/22 in the Bug Out Bag

The Ruger 10/22 is an all-time favorite among many rimfire enthusiasts, and for good reason.  It's a reasonably priced, lightweight, reliable and infinitely customizable auto-loading carbine chambered for the .22 Long Rifle cartridge.  The 10/22 has long been one of my personal favorites when it comes to semi-auto .22 rifles, but in its standard configuration, it's not often marketed as a "survival rifle" in the way that purpose-made take down rifles such as the Henry AR-7 and the Marline Papoose are.  I've owned all these various survival rifles at one time or another, and all have gone with me on some of my long wilderness trips. But given the choice, I would take a 10/22 over any of them.  It was never a problem to slide a standard, wood-stocked 10/22 into one of the long storage compartments of my sea kayak or into a duffel bag in the canoe, but how do you fit one in a backpack or bug-out bag?

In my book I make the case for having a take-down .22 survival rifle inside the bug-out bag and away from the prying eyes of the authorities or others who may take an interest in it, especially in an urban bug-out situation, where firearms may be confiscated as they were in New Orleans after Katrina.  There are folding stock options available for the 10/22 that can solve this problem, and I've used them many times, but never really warmed up to them.  I really like the handling of this great little carbine in the standard wooden stock.  And the folding stocks are much heavier and add the bulk of a pistol grip that is really not necessary in a survival .22 rifle.  Once such stock that is still available is the Butler Creek Folding Stock Butler Creek also made a take-down folding stock for the 10/22 that was much more practical, but is no longer in production. 

To keep the look and feel of the carbine stock, I decided to customize mine for my own requirements.  The main criteria regarding fitting it easily in the bug-out bag for me was that the longest part had to be 24-inches or less.  To that end, I took a Ruger 10/22 Compact model, which comes with a 16-inch barrel, and mated it with a cut-down carbine stock from another 10/22 I have that is currently residing in a Butler Creek folder.  The entire barrel and receiver assembly for the 10/22 Compact is just 21 1/2 inches long.  The overall length of the Compact in the factory stock is 34 inches and it weighs just 4.5 lbs. - a good place to start.  Here's what is looks like in factory configuration, the other stock pictured will be explained next:

I didn't want to mess up the nice new stock that came on my new 10/22 Compact, in case I want to sell the rifle later, and besides, I like the traditional buttplate style of the carbine stock anyway.  If you don't have a spare carbine stock like this, you can pick one up on Ebay all day long for about 25 bucks, as so many people take these off to install all sorts of "tactical" stocks on the 10/22, as well as target and precision hunting stocks.  In this photo you can see the difference in the stock lengths, and the piece I cut off the carbine stock.  I cut it to a total length of 23.5 inches, which meets my requirements and still leaves plenty of forearm to grip when shooting.  After all, remember the Marline Papoose and the AR-7 have no forearm forward of the receiver at all, forcing you to grip the front of the receiver or rest the barrel on your hand.  This cut-down carbine stock is comfortable for me and I'm 6'-2" tall.  It's also extremely lightweight. 

After cutting it down, I reshaped the fore end and sanded away all the fake walnut finish on the birch stock.  I then coated it with clear epoxy resin to make it impervious to the elements.

Although the naturally-finished wood looks better than the fake stain (did I ever say how much I hate stained wood - being a professional boatbuilder and yacht carpenter?) I decided to spray a coat of green Krylon Fusion over it to keep in the spirit of a "survival" rifle.  I now have a handy 10/22 that fits within the 24-inch package, which is plenty short enough to disappear inside a decent sized backpack. 

The 10/22 is not meant to be a "take-down" rifle, but the fact is that there is only one screw attaching the receiver to the stock (the Compact model does not have the barrel band).  You can assemble this by tightening down this one screw with a screwdriver blade on your multitool just as fast as you can put together a Papoose or AR-7.  Sure, you have to be careful not to lose the screw, or the take-down pins that hold in the trigger assembly, but for bug-out purposes, the rifle is going to stay disassembled until you get out of Dodge, and then will likely stay assembled and in use for the duration of whatever SHTF event sent you packing in the first place.  I simply slide the receiver end into one of my spare socks inside the pack, the take-down screw threaded in place.  The stock and barrel can be protected inside a sleeve or pants leg of your spare clothing - or you can get fancy and make a custom case for the two parts. 

The main thing is that when you do need it for survival hunting, you'll have a well-made, reliable rifle that is easy to carry and handle in the field.

I'll be posting more about this set-up in the future, as well as some of the other Ruger 10/22 options and other .22 rifles you may not have considered for the bug-out bag. 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

GPS for the Bug Out Bag

I generally tend to stay away from electronic gadgets and other high-tech devices when it comes to gear for wilderness travel or the bug out bag.  Modern hand-held GPS receivers are a notable exception, however.  Although any electronic device can fail, some of the proven units on the market are tough as nails and not likely to let you down.  When I recently needed a handheld-unit that can handle both road, trail and marine navigation, I chose the well-proven Garmin GPSMAP 60Cx. This unit has all the features I need: waterproof, expandable memory via micro-SD cards, the ability to utilize a wide variety of both Garmin and free maps, and self-contained power via disposable AA batteries.  Although Garmin has recently released a newer version of this unit, called the Garmin GPSMAP 62, it is unproven, more expensive, and doesn't have any features I need that are not on the 60Cx.

For many years all of my handheld GPS needs have been met by the simple Garmin eTrex, and it will still go with me on any significant trips, especially as a back-up on the water.  When sailing or kayaking, I never leave the paper charts behind, and with a simple unit like the eTrex to give you accurate coordinates, you can navigate just fine with paper charts. Where they become a hassle is in bad weather, especially driving rain and high winds.  A chart-enabled GPS eliminates the need to have the paper charts out in the weather.  And in the bug out bag, a hand-held unit pre-loaded with detailed topo maps of the area eliminates a lot of unnecessary weight in maps, though I would still carry a large overview topo map of the main area I planned to bug out to.

As I've mentioned in my book, the real value of a GPS unit in the bug out bag is that it will enable you to go exactly to your pre-planned location or pre-loaded waypoints, even if you are forced to travel at night or under other unfavorable conditions for traditional navigation.  Although the battery life is limited and the number of spares you can carry is as well, used conservatively, the GPS receiver will likely run long enough to get you where you need to go and to move on to other locations if necessary.  Of course this is the reason I prefer a unit like the eTrex or 60Cx that can use disposable batteries, as some units for more civilized use, such as the Nuvi vehicle navigation units, have built-in rechargeable batteries that you won't last long in a bug out situation and will leave you with no way to recharge them.

I plan to use the 60Cx unit for overland navigation on foot, bicycle and on my dual-sport motorcycle, as well as for on-the-water navigation in my kayaks on aboard my catamaran once it's launched.  Garmin's Blue Chart software for all U.S. waters is now available on a single micro-SD card that will work in the unit and cost around $160 (less through some online retailers).  On the KLR 650, loaded with City Navigator and topo maps, it will facilitate exploring remote forest service roads and logging tracks without having to stop the bike and get out a paper map at every unknown intersection.

I'm expecting the 60Cx to arrive today, and after I have a chance to use it I will be posting more about the specifics of navigating with it, as well as sources for some of the free mapping software that is available for it.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Some Favorite Machetes

I've written both here and in my book about the utility of a good machete in the bug out bag, as well as for all types of wilderness travel and just work around the house or camp.  I thought I would post a few pictures of some of mine.  Here are the two I use most often.  Both are Latin American style blades, heavy in the tip for effortless trail clearing in the jungle, and made of good, springy steel that takes a razor edge.

I brought the shorter one back from my last trip to Honduras, and it has become an everyday favorite.  I bought it from a street vender in San Pedro Sula for the equivalent of about 7 bucks, if I remember right, including the handmade leather sheath you will see in the photos that follow.  It's just the right size and weight for a bug-out bag machete, and it goes with me every time I camp and most times I enter the woods.  It measures 23 1/2 inches overall and has an 18-inch blade.   The manufacturer's label on it says "Montero."  I've never found one like it here in the U.S., although I did find this reference on a similar one by the same company.  If I had known how good it would prove to be, I would have bought a dozen of them at that price.

The longer one is a "Collins" style machete made in Colombia.  This is the one I used off and on for years when I did some land surveying work with my brother all over the swamps and thickets of the South.  The longer and heavier blade is good for cutting sight lines all day, as the weight of the blade does most of the work if you use proper technique.  This machete can cut down small trees with no problem and has been a real workhorse.  Unfortunately, I can't find these anymore either.  I bought this one at Forestry Supply in Jackson for about 30 bucks, I think.  This one has a 22-inch blade, but they were available in longer and shorter lengths at the time.  It's in need of a new handle, but the blade is good to go for many more years.

In this next photo, you can see these two compared with a much longer blade.  This is a machete I bought off of one of our Miskito Indian guides on the Rio Patuca trip that I recently posted about.  All these fellows carried blades like this, even though most of them were well under six feet tall.  They preferred the long blades for cutting through the jungle all day and of course they used them for everything else that they needed a knife for as well.  This blade is worn down to this slender profile by repeated sharpening over the years.  It probably at one time had a heavier section near the tip, like the other two.  On that trip I saw many machetes that were sharpened to nearly a needle point and had only an inch or so of blade width remaining for most of their length.  This kind of machete may be too long for a bug out bag, but these guys didn't have bags at all and didn't even use sheaths.  The standard method of carry in the jungle when the blade is not in use (which is rare) is lying in crook of the arm, edge up, ready to come into play in an instant.  This method is also safe when negotiating muddy trails, since it keeps the blade away from you in a fall. 

Here's a couple more shots of the two Monteros from Honduras.  The well-used one is mine, and the new one is the second one I bought and gave to my dad, which he has used as a wall hanger and preserved in pristine condition.

These fancy leather sheaths go with the territory in many parts of Latin America, and though a lot of it is decoration, the tassels don't really get in the way and the leather of the sheath is heavy duty and very well put together.  The only wear mine has shown is the discoloration you see here that gives it character.  Both of my working machetes live in the tool box of my truck, requiring little thought in the way of care and only a few strokes of a mill file to keep them sharp.  If I'm sitting around a campfire with time on my hands, I might get out the diamond sharpener and hone them to a razor's edge after the filing, but it's not necessary for most tasks these blades are meant for. 

I've tried a few other machetes available locally and some have been quite good, while others were a disappointment.  One that served well on my long kayak trips was the Ontario Knife 1-18 Military Machete.  This one is basically the same dimensions as the Montero, though not quite so well balanced and a bit heavier.  Still, it's a tough machete that can take a lot of abuse and it's readily available and inexpensive, as well as the right size for a bug out bag machete.  


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