Thursday, January 28, 2010

Finding Bug Out Locations in Populated Areas Using Google Earth

A Google Earth view of a section of the Pearl River in rural Lawrence County, Mississippi:

Locating good bug-out locations is a large part of my upcoming book and of what I'll be discussing on this site. I see a lot of conversations on various survival forums that convey a hopeless feeling on this subject, and I think a lot of these folks don't get out enough and really look to see what's out there.  I'll be posting a lot here on the importance of such advance scouting, but there is a lot you can explore from the comfort of your own home, thanks to today's technology. 

Bug-out locations range from big national forest wilderness areas where you can travel for days on foot without crossing so much as a dirt road to small, forgotten corners of wildland scattered all over rural and semi-rural America.  In populated areas, you have to know where to look, but in most parts of the country there are neglected and little-used lands, whether private or owned by the state or federal government.  Where I live in Mississippi, as in much of the South, rivers and streams are the key to finding such places. 

Many of these rivers are too small for navigation by commercial traffic, but are just right for John boats, canoes, sea kayaks and similar small boats.  And though they flow through settled countryside dotted with small towns, farms and houses, most all of these rivers have long stretches of deserted woodlands.  I've spent weeks paddling such rivers, often going days at a time without seeing anyone except the occasional fisherman under a bridge or in a boat.  Landowners that have big tracts of property along some of these rivers usually only visit the parts of their property that they can drive to, and here in the South that's often not much as so much of the river bottom land is swampy. These days, even most hunters do little walking off the beaten path, preferring instead to ride to a deer stand on an ATV and sit in one spot all day.

But despite this, human use along rivers varies along the stream's course and it's hard to know what to expect if you don't know the river intimately. From your perspective on such a river in a small boat, looks can often be deceiving and you may think you're in a remote stretch of river only to come around a bend and find a house or camp on the bank.  Sometimes while camping along such rivers I've discovered ATV tracks on isolated sandbars and moved on to more inaccessible spots to keep from being surprised in the night.  This is where advance planning using tools like Google Earth can be invaluable.  In the example here, I'll show you what to look for along a river like this that gets some fishing boat traffic along its main course and passes through settled land with a few private roads going down to the river banks.  The Google Earth image at the top of the page shows a broad swath of the river and surrounding countryside from more than 40,000 feet.  If we zoom in closer, then start following the river downstream from the nearest highway bridge, we can look for places of interest, like this one below.

Note that even though there are roads and patches of open pasture not too far from the river, most of the banks are heavily wooded.  This is mostly southern hardwood bottomland forest - oak, sycamore, beech, cypress and tupelo gum.  The broad patches of white are fine sandbars that make great campsites for recreational camping, but are too exposed for a bug-out situation.  What caught my eye here during a Google "fly over" is the large oxbow lake you see in the middle of the image, the one inside the biggest loop in the river, that appears dark and is shrouded by green forest all around. 

If we look closer, you can see that within the loop of the oxbow lake there is an island of heavily-wooded high ground.  This is surrounded by the dead lake and you can see other sloughs and wet areas in the forest between the two loops of the main river, showing that no vehicles or ATVs can reach this area.  The dead lake itself is not open to easy access to the river by boat, except perhaps in times of flood when much of this area would be inundated.

This is the kind of place you could drag a small boat, especially a canoe, into the backwater off the river and set up a concealed bug-out camp in the inaccessible forest of the island or most anywhere along the dead lake shore. You would have a few hundred acres of prime hunting and good access to fishing, with little chance of being detected. These woods are full of deer, wild hog, squirrel, wild turkey, rabbits and other game. The river is alive with catfish, bass, bream, turtles and alligator. And this is just one of many such places along the 400-mile course of this one river in one southern state.

Here's an idea of what the woods and dead lakes along this river look like on the ground:


  1. Excellent article as you show what features to look for.

    I use Google Earth to scout sites for gold placer mining. Some other free aerial imagery sources I've found useful are:

    Google Maps - Same imagery as Google Earth but works with computers that don't have enough horsepower to run the latter application.

    Bing Maps - Different imagery than Google Maps.

    NASA World Wind - Similar to Google Earth but with topo map and USGS orthophoto overlays.

    USA PhotoMaps - Same topo maps and USGS orthophotos as World Wind but requires a fraction of the computer power.

    Earth Explorer - An enormous selection of aerial imagery.

    I hope the above information is useful.

  2. Thank you Tom.

    Useful information indeed. I have used some of these other resources, but was not familiar with all of them.

    Having this sort of imagery at your fingertips is amazingly valuable in so many ways.

  3. I see one flaw with using google to look for potential water sources. In most urban areas the rivers and streams are the natural low points. There is one thing engineers look for when they design gravity fed sewer lines... low points. Folks need to scout ahead because once the pump stations that lift that sewage stop running they will begin to over flow and flood the area. Now that clean water source is tainted and will probably experience a total fish kill. And for those that think it will clear up after a week or so beware. Sewage is full of heavy metals and toxins that are dumped daily by different industries. I still like the idea though. Scout it with google but put eyes on it as well.

  4. I live Central Eastern Florida near St. Johns River. My feeling is that I will have to leave this place. Too many snakes and alligators. And with idiots abandoning boas it is a pretty dangerous place. My husband does not believe we need to be prepared and I have no money of my own and he will not invest. Any suggestions where I should go to get out of this area for a better chance for someone who has never even camped. But I do have lots of medical experience, some holistic.

  5. I also worry about the quality of water. Looking on Google Maps may tell you where to find water, but not if it's drinkable. And perhaps considering different bug-out locations for each scenario/event you're planning for, might be a good idea.


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