If you haven’t already solidified a proper bug out plan, chances are your basic backup plan is something along the lines of hoofing it into the backwoods and enjoying the classic mountain man life of being a hermit and living off the land.
The thought of bugging out into the unknown wilderness may sound like a brilliant idea, but it’s more likely the worst decision you can make in a serious survival situation.
You are not alone…
Armchair survivalists of all kinds are roaming internet forums and preparedness chat rooms touting wonderful plans to find that little place in the backwoods and survive indefinitely in hasty debris huts, living off the bounty of nature – particularly on apparent roving bands of (apparently stupid or just plain extra friendly) game that will magically walk into snares like clockwork. It’s almost as if their plan is a life of abundance and indulgence on all the free and easily available food just waiting for the opportunity to become the next dinner.
And they’re not alone either. Everyone pretty much knows that when SHTF – the cities are going to be missing one major resource: Food. There will be the prepared few, the ones with small gardens hidden nicely behind a neighborly fence, or growing on rooftops or balconies. But what of the millions of others looking for food when the grocery store shelves are cleared, pantries are empty, and dogs and cats are running in fear of being hunted for food (and no, I’m not talking about Chinese take-out)?
The facts are pretty simple – you want to go where there are resources available to survive…and so does everyone else. There is increasing likelihood of running into more and more people in what you thought was a beautiful, secluded glen rich with ripe berries and deer just waiting to be shot. And as soon as you take that shot, the hungry unprepared begin to swarm in like zombies moaning “meeeeeeeat” and salivating at the thought of one decent meal.
Beware the obstacles in your path…
Getting to “the wilderness” may end up being one of the toughest points of your journey. Back to our scene comes the armchair prepper…the guy who has a brand new F-150 (waxed and ready for bug out) loaded with thousands of pounds of gear and food just assuming they’re going to monster truck it through the debris lined streets, slip it into 4 wheel drive and master that long abandoned logging road and manage to get to that ONE place where nobody else thought of.
Is it really likely to be that easy? As if nobody is going to notice that fully loaded truck overflowing with supplies and just let everyone sneak on out without a second look…
Then there’s that other guy. You know him, the one that’s packed enough snares and traps in his bug out bag to take down a family of rabbits in one afternoon. The one who has nothing but a few granola bars to last him until he reaches his wilderness shang-ri-la where he will dine like a king on the bounty of his surroundings. That’s right – he’s going to walk the 140 miles (in maybe 3-4 days he says) with no fatigue. He will be hidden from all as he bushwhacks the hard way, avoiding all trails and keeping to the difficult terrain that “no noob prepper” would bother taking.
Of course, this is the guy who can’t walk the trash can down to the street without wheezing.
You really are not skilled enough…
I’ve spent a lot of my time in the woods hunting and fishing, but the reality is – I’ve never really been more than 15 or so miles from my car or hunting cabin. Hell, what’s the point of having a hunting cabin if you’re going to hike or drive much further than that? Even if you’ve spent a few days on a nice long hike away from anything – I’d bet you packed in almost all the food you ate that weekend, except for maybe that one trout that took most of the day to catch.
Most subsistence hunters and trappers don’t have internet. They’re out living the life every day, using the skills they developed over a decade in the bush. The rest of us are lucky to get a few mornings out to hunt every season and maybe get a few hours a weekend to fish a local stream. But that isn’t going to cut the mustard long term.
Surviving in the wilderness for extended periods of time takes a level of effort 90% of Americans just don’t have.
Gear? I don’t need gear…
There are 2 types of “extreme” survivalists I love to see talk about their plans. The first is the guy who takes pretty much nothing. A tarp, a knife, and a fire starter – and he’s going to survive forever. He’s read tons of books and blogs, and knowledge is the only tool you really need. Maybe he was smart enough to bring a wool blanket. But the clothes on his back are for early fall, and he’s not prepared for the coming winter. The first 15 inch snowfall (yes, we get those once in a while in even the mid-Atlantic states) and that guy is dead.
Then there’s the over-packer. He’s got more gear on his back than most soldiers. Minimum 100 rounds of ammo for every gun he’s carrying – and he’s got at least 4, all in different calibers. He’s got GPS, HAM radio, and his iPad loaded with downloaded survival manuals. He has to pull a wagon behind him just to carry the amount of batteries he needs for a 3 day excursion. At least he also managed to pack 3 pairs of thermal underwear and one of those $500 sleeping bags rated to -30F, even if it’s overkill. 2 miles in, and he’s already shedding pounds. Not just because he’s losing weight and sweating it out, he’s dropping useless gear at every rest point.
The reality of wilderness survival is that it takes the right combination of knowledge (particularly experience) and gear to survive anything more than week or two. Going out with only what you can carry in a backpack is quite foolish. And the thought of being able to pack up a truck full of gear and get anywhere safe and alone is even more.
Plan ahead and survive…
Enough with the negative talk. Sure, walking into the unknown with just a backpack is more likely to lead to your own premature death – but things change when you’re really prepared. Even the pioneers that built America knew you weren’t going to survive without bringing tools and food with you. Since a wagon train full of supplies is probably not in your bug out plan – you have to start your journey BEFORE you have to bug out.
Know your location
There’s nothing more important than knowing where you are going, and how to get there safely. Just plodding along in the woods until you hope to find an abandoned shack sitting on a fully stocked lake is like playing the lottery. Scout potential locations well in advance so you know where the game trails go, where decent water can be found, and where the wild edibles are during each season.
Make backup plans
The location you have been scouting may be on someone else’s list too, and you have to be prepared for the possibility that someone else will get there first. Survival is no time to get into a voluntary firefight over your location (unless you own it) if that can be avoided at all costs.
You aren’t likely to be able to carry things that make long term survival doable. An axe on your back is great – 2 more in the tool shed at your location waiting for you is better. If you own your wilderness location, start the infrastructure you need to survive today. Make sure if you have a spring that it’s tapped and ready. Dig a well now so you have water later. If you live in an area where heat is a concern – have some wood cut, dried, and ready.
Practice Practice Practice
Make trial runs to your bug out location noting potential hazards along the way. Park a ways out and hoof it in a few times to get a feel for trails to get to your location. You shouldn’t have to rely on a map if you can avoid it. Find good stopping points on your route in case you need to rest for the night. Look for places that can be well hidden from other travelers and is close to water in case you need to resupply on the way.
Are you prepared?
Don’t just think that walking into the woods is a “good plan” to survive if you don’t have the skills, tools, and experience to make it work. Surviving in the wilderness isn’t quite as easy as reality TV makes it out to be.
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