Preparedness Groups and Community

Preparedness Groups and CommunityFrom my angle, not suffering the myopia of many, the prepper movement seems to be rekindling. After the siesta many seemed to take after November 2016, a large number are waking up to the reality that no, your problems are not solved by simply voting and that no, they won’t be any time after. We can easily see that all of the same issues which motivated the many are still omnipresent- the shaky basis of our economy, the very real threat of domestic discord, and the increasing likelihood of terrorism or even a possible nuclear exchange. I can’t help but wonder if this is what the early 80s felt like. Coming of age in the 90s survivalists were far more concerned with the rise of globalism and the threat of domestic tyranny, listening to William Cooper on our Sony Shortwave receivers that we bought at Radio Shack. Those threats haven’t gone away, but what has changed for the good is the approach many are adopting to preparedness and survival compared to the past- embracing a small group and community model versus the inefficient and socially obtuse ‘lone wolf’ stereotype. Before anyone hisses at their screen while reading this, take a moment to reflect on some of the things that have been either written, filmed, or observed in the past few years. Look at the growth of all things survival, primitive living, or just asking for a simpler and more resilient lifestyle. What was once a fringe notion among social outsiders is now mainstream. Look at the resurgence of the ways of yore and the reembracing of simpler, more resilient and less wasteful lifestyles. The age of tradition is coming back, fueled in part by a need to reawaken those bonds with our past meanwhile recognizing the need for community. The days of the large family gatherings and community get-togethers seems to be returning, and its a welcome sight.

gummer.jpgRugged Individualism doesn’t negate the need for others. I think of myself as a fairly well rounded individual. I can build anything from a lean-to shelter to a radio shack. I can keep a person alive from trauma long enough to get them to a higher tier of care. I can communicate around the world with basic equipment, I can make accurate shots with a 7.62×51 past 1k meters, lead a combat patrol, fix my diesel truck, brew my own beer, hunt any game out there, and can make it into the best smoked sausage you’d want to eat. But those skills at a basic level only serve me. What of my family? What of yours? I have to sleep sometime. Who watches over you when the body or mind shuts down?

And that’s where the confusion comes in. The idea of the well rounded man, rugged individual, or as I like to call self starter, doesn’t mean you don’t need anyone else. Could I live like that, alone, in total isolation? Maybe for a little while, but it wouldn’t be much fun. Without others to share a good laugh, food, drink or the human experience with, what’s the point of ‘surviving’? Many of the libertarian mindset pride themselves on personal liberty, not being reliant on anyone else for anything and accountable to the self alone. While I share those views it cannot negate the reality that I cannot do all things alone nor would I want to. Specialization may be for insects, but we do all have our talents. Groups tend to coalesce around skills that add to the whole. And that brings us to how we stand up communities of preppers.

The first thing to recognize is that prepper groups are voluntary and should be based on respect and friendship. People must have some compulsion to dedicate their precious time and resources to the larger group, and in many cases that begins with a need for protection. For this reason a lot of groups turn into a type of militia and end there. Image result for hog hunting clubThe better bet if defense is your only goal would be to join a local hunting club to at least get used to moving in the woods with a group of armed people while being quiet and still putting meat on the table, but I digress. A disproportionate focus gets put on weapons, ammo, and gear to carry it. This turns into group defined standards wanting a military look and for many this is isn’t natural. It can actually make you and yours worse in a number of ways- just do what comes natural and you’ll be fine- if that’s Mossy Oak and a 30-30, then have at it. I’ve seen small, nearly insignificant issues like brands of rifle or camo patterns lead to larger group conflicts and at its worst, people losing interest. Since that’s the last thing we want, more of an open standard is better; the gear really doesn’t matter much if at all, and the weapons do only for ammo and magazine commonality to make stocking supplies easier. Another point to make here is remembering to stay humble; check your ego at the door. There’s always something we can learn from another and everyone brings a skill to the table. So rather than argue over things that ain’t that important in the big scheme, just calm down and accept the minor differences.

Every group needs to realize you’ll be managing far more mundane tasks day to day than trigger pulling or playing with cool-guy gear. Of the many points of view I get to hear as a trainer and consultant to the prepping and survivalist community, one of the most common is the fact that homesteading is hard and has a steep learning curve. The more you master now, before times get rough, the easier the transition will be later on- you will not be learning this easily on the fly. I wrote long ago that the mark of a true survivalist is the person who “doesn’t even notice the lights going off” and that’s still something I agree with. Start small; grow some crops, meet your neighbors, find out what resources you have locally. Image result for homestead gardenBecause its them that will make the difference in the end. Start planning your calendars around the growing seasons. Growing small crops and herbs as well as animal husbandry should be next on the list. Chickens and goats are very hardy animals and fairly simple to get started with. With herbs, I strongly suggest Rosemary Gladstar and the Peterson’s guides to the wild flora and fauna in your area as top notch references. Another great collection of books that have served me well are the Foxfire series for all things primitive living as well as Appalachian and Foothills culture. But remember that people are the best asset: the more people you have the easier the farm life becomes, and we end up wasting less and getting closer while sharing the bonding experiences of hard work.

Never stop adding tools, especially quality hand tools. Don’t forget the skills to back them up. Simple items like a splitting maul, framing hammer and wheelbarrow make life tremendously easier- and are a challenge to replace in a down-grid world. But having a set of tools is one thing; learning to use them is quite another. But this gets back to the necessity of community. Image result for offgrid blacksmithThere’s always that blacksmith in a rural town, that welder or shade tee mechanic, who’s skills may be undervalued now but will become highly sought after in the coming years. While it might seem mundane, even picking up a few of those skills yourself will become a huge deal and bring a high amount of value to your community. It’s even an economic asset- you can trade and barter with skills long after you run out of material goods. The craftsman never goes hungry- the community protects and provides for what it values the most. Realize you can’t learn everything. There’s a reason why the guild system of apprenticeship developed over time- mastering a trade is a lifelong ordeal. So this gets back to the need to build a community. The more diverse the skillsets you find and foster, the stronger your preparedness is going to be.

And how do you find all this? It’s actually a lot easier than you think. With the booming popularity of primitive skills, there’s few places out there that doesn’t have some sort of gathering, rendezvous or expo, and there’s normally special skill classes at many local community colleges- take advantage of it. Hit up the local Farmer’s Market or organic Co-Op. Take every opportunity to meet people in your community and remember, loyalty is to people; not ideas. You don’t have to see eye to eye on every issue to build good community. You don’t have to run around wearing every opinion on your sleeve. You do, however, need to go along to get along on your part and that usually includes keeping your mouth shut. Sometimes the only difference between a prepper, a libertarian and a organic farmer hippie-type is their opinion about the world’s problems, but in the end the solutions are similar and we can learn quite a bit together. The more skills you bring to the table the better your group will be, and the more people you bring into the group the more diverse the skills will become. The old ‘lone wolf’ model is only held by misfits and outcasts- it’s nothing more than a dead end- true preparedness starts with building community. I don’t think it’s ever been a better time to be into survivalism and preparedness, and the future only looks to get brighter.

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The Mountain Man as a Rifleman: An Analysis of a Better Survivalist Strategy

mtn-menWhen it comes to survivalism, prepping and general self reliance, an overtone of a militant nature flows through the veins of many. Rightfully so. The ability to skillfully protect what is near and dear to a community is the backbone of why one would prepare. Often enough this necessitates a high focus on military weapons and tactics in an effort to mirror that same capability. Its not that such a focus is wrong- it is not, entirely- but rather a modification of Light Infantry method, or a rejection of such in lieu of a better approach, may be far more effective while keeping you and yours alive.

Take the historical Mountain Man from the fur trapper era. Rarely were they the lone wilderness dweller types as romanticized, but rather were usually private contractors that served dual roles as both trappers and scouts for the US Army. While hunting or scouting in small groups, these men were constantly on guard for everything from combat with hostile native tribes and predators to natural disaster to flat out bad luck. By necessity they had to be a jack of all trades, and a master of quite a few just to survive. This should sound familiar to many. Their requirement to live is your goal, whether you realize this or not.

mtn-men2Another glaring fact to coincide with this reality is that the furtrappers of yore were not Infantrymen of any type; in many cases the men of those groups had served in various uniforms during wars of their respective eras, some were criminals running from a rough past, and others just misfits or all of the above, but at this point they were hunters and most importantly, scouts. There existed no support for them in any immediate sense. Outposts were usually days away at best, with material usually being sparse as-is even when it arrived. Their only assets were their wit, their marksmanship, their teamwork, and their ability to remain hidden and sustained through healthy knowledge of their terrain. They were Survivalists of the strongest type. It is necessary then that their experiences serve as a lesson and guidelines to how a mutual assistance group or militia would work in a grid-down world versus attempting to mirror a disciplined and predictable Light Infantry model with limited or no required assets.

Haweye.jpgFollowing a man’s best asset, his wit, skill as a marksman often was the measure of quality and made their  reputation. James Fenimore Cooper’s Natty Bumppo (also known as Hawkeye) was the perfect illustration of this, being a mixture of many of the legendary frontiersmen of the day.  In every case be it fiction, woodslore, or real, the ability to streamline and perfect practical marksmanship is the most critical skill a man at arms can have and in a practical sense should be one of the benchmarks of your own training. You should be able to estimate range, know the approximate trajectory of your own rifle, and be competent enough to know at what range you can make a clean kill- and more importantly- when you can’t.

In stating this, it must be recognized that merely shooting from a bench or under controlled conditions cannot equate skill in the field. Shooting fast at stationary targets, alone, cannot achieve such skills either. The former does not push the shooter beyond a comfort zone, the latter only wastes resources and assumes a reactionary stance, reflective of police and military tactics during peacekeeping occupations. Having done the later overseas, it is no model anyone should adopt as their own on these shores. Neither work for any sort of effective defensive plan. The mountain man, knowing that every round must count, and every round will give you away, worked diligently to know where those rounds were going before they were sent. Marksmanship was every bit as much about making a clean kill with that one shot as it was conserving their own resources.

mountain man horsesIn the small unit sense, mountain men were team hunters. Each man in the team knew how to move quickly and quietly while assessing terrain. All the skills of team movement, such as knowing where each man in the group is in the hunting party, having an experienced pathfinder and tracker taking lead, and the others watching for any and all signs of danger, all being well versed in land navigation, were exactly the model of small unit prowess that many seek today. Further, they knew when and where to make an effective ambush, whether it was to kill game or getting the better of a team of hostiles.  The ability to see the game first meant the difference between them living another day or dying a very, very miserable death. In that sense their hunting party is synonymous to a type of Light Infantry, where one is hunting and only concerned with winning and withdrawing versus taking and holding terrain for follow on forces.

mountain man blanketWhere this leaves you, the soul concerned only with protecting his own God-given liberty and posterity, is to view your skills, training, and equipment in a different way than some in the contemporary sense may. The mountain man of yore had no illusion of their place in the world- they were not Infantrymen of any standing army and had no desire to be, had no supply line aside from what was on their backs or could be procured, and above all else, knew wholeheartedly the very fine line they tread between life and death. For some, perhaps that was all part of the thrill of living. But all of the above was and is predicated upon their skill with a rifle; the ability to make the shot under any condition while tired and cold. Simple and effective kit, a good rifle, and the skills to make it all work was, and remains, the most effective model of survival and personal defense versus training to be exactly the opposite. The traditional mountain man scout, both individually and as a team, serves as an effective example of what the survivalist should strive to be. The jack of all trades and master of quite a few, including expert proficiency with his chosen weapon. They were not Infantrymen nor troops of any real kind; simply hard, stubborn, self reliant and skilled men. And you should be also.

Survival Knives

One thing that I’ve found is pretty much universal to all cultures is the love of the knife; aside from Dogs, they’re Man’s best friend. Particularly to Americans, we have a certain myth behind what a knife should be. We all know it too- the Bowie. The reality is, like normal, a little different.

For this reason, we seem to have skewered view of what a “survival” or Field knife is and should be. Most folks, when you ask them what a survival knife is, will give you something like this:

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The Rambo Knife- a big, thick, clumsy blade with a useless saw and a hollow handle. While it may look nice in the movies, it’s junk in reality. Knives are first a tool, not a symbol of macho manhood. They must-

  • Last under hard use
  • Stay sharp to continue to cut stuff
  • Be easy to resharpen to continue to cut stuff
  • Be inexpensive enough so that you don’t cry if you lose it

When I say last under hard use, I definitely don’t mean abuse. There’s some out there, especially newcomers in the bushcraft/naturist community that seem to believe a knife should double as an axe, a wedge, a prybar, etc. A knife cuts. That’s its purpose. If you need a wedge, learn to fabricate one from your environment, and if you need an axe, carry one. A knife will not serve these needs as well as dedicated tools will.

There’s also a big difference between tasks- some knives are designed to be weapons, most are tools, and there’s a bunch that try to be somewhere between both. From spending most of my life in agriculture in one way or another, and my years as an Infantryman, my knives have been much more of a dedicated tool in my kit than a weapon.

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There’s been times I’ve carried the Gerber Mk II pictured at right on dedicated Long Range Patrols or night snatches. Daggers have one purpose- and really suck at anything but that purpose.

Most often knives in my kit, whether doing farm work, preparing food, or on routine Patrols overseas, are general purpose working tools, simple in design and lacking any frills.

This being said, for the beginner choosing a knife can become a daunting task. There’s a design and a steel for everyone, normally each with a purpose behind the design and an idea based on what the designer likes.

Knife Steel

Knife steels come in two very broad categories- High Carbon Steel and Stainless Steel. High Carbon, or HC, is a very common steel used in working tools which as the name implies has a good amount of carbon in the alloy. Stainless on the other hand, has less carbon and more chrome, adding a measure of corrosion resistance. Any decent knife maker will tell you up front what type of steel they’re using. If they don’t, don’t buy it. It’s that simple.

Stainless is found in knives that are meant to be used near salt water, such as fillet knives.

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My Fallkniven S1, an excellent, if expensive, all purpose knife

Many, many knives on the market will be made of Stainless, from Sandvik to 440 to 420, AUS-8, to some of the newer Chinese steels such as 14Cr32 appearing in budget priced knives. They range as you’d guess from piles of crap to very nice, depending largely on the manufacturer. Lots of Scandinavian and Japanese manufacturers use great grades of Stainless steel for their blades, normally all with an intended purpose and environment behind it’s design. One attractive feature is that they’re easy to care for and does well around salt water. Moras, in particular, are very popular due to the ease of maintenance and simplicity of design. One large drawback is that the metal is usually more brittle, having less flex, and is harder to sharpen. They do however generally maintain an edge for a bit longer, and are relatively maintenance free.

High Carbon is the older of the two categories; as the name implies they contain a higher amount of carbon for certain desirable qualities to the steel, such as more flexibility.

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A couple Old Hickory Knives from my kitchen

You’ll find tool steel in pretty much all old knives, sawmills, presses, Axes, Mauls, and anywhere steel was used to work. HC steel usually can be found in flavors such as 1075, 1095, A2, D2, etc, and in my opinion, are much better suited to field work in the long run.

One major drawback to HC steels is that they rust much faster than their Stainless counterparts; but one counter to this is adding what’s known as a patina to the blade. A patina is the discoloration of the steel itself, developing a sort of skin on the blade and preventing oxydation(rust). To do this, use the knife a lot like I do, or soak it in vinegar and lime juice for a while. You’ll not have to worry much about rust. Folks in Central and South America make daily use of Machetes made of carbon steel and have no problems in their humid environments; you shouldn’t have too many problems either.

HC steel, particularly 1075/1095, is an excellent choice for a field knife due to it’s ease of sharpening, and when heat treated properly, can hold an edge for a long time between sharpenings. Stainless Steel has a tendency to chip, especially in cheaper blades, where HC will usually simply roll and can be sharpened back out. On axes and machetes softer grades of HC steel are the norm due to the ability for the blade to roll if it hits rocks, knots or nails in wood, or anything else you can think of that might damage the blade edge. A stainless blade would break or chip; Carbon steel can be repaired with a file, stone, or anything that has a good amount of grit. You can repair a working edge on a carbon steel knife with just about anything that has grit.

Blade Types

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A random assortment of different working knives; a couple Old Hickorys, a Condor general Purpose blade, Condor’s Bushcraft knife and my most-used blade, and two Ontario Airman Survival knives, well known to any Paratrooper or Pilot, along with a magnesium firstarter.

Blade designs, prior to the modern industrial revolution, lacked the ability to be frivolous or gimmicky. They were all business and had a use. The Old Hickory Butcher Knife pictured above one was such example; it’s still the most common knife you’ll find in a kitchen in the rural South. It’s thin, easy to sharpen, and holds an edge for a good long while.

Another knife that’s quickly gaining popularity is the Bushcraft design.

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They’re frequently a spear type blade, full tang(meaning the blade is one continuous piece visibly running through the handle) and ground with a very shallow scandinavian grind making them easy to sharpen. I highly recommend one as a beginner knife.

The most frequent blade design most confuse with a “survival blade” is a tactical knife; or one that has some tactical use implied. The reality is that 99.9999% of the time, you’re not going to be stabbing, cutting the throats, or any other hollywood badassery to envisioned badguys. It’s just not happening.

Avoid spine saws, serrations on the belly of the blade(where you’ll actually do most of your cutting) or not being able to see the full tang running through the handle(Moras are the one exception I make to this rule).

blade grinds

While on the topic of spine saws- the original idea came from the need for aviators to cut through cockpit glass in the event of a crash- blade serrations were for cutting through seatbelts. Similarly, the Pilot’s survival knife caught on with the Airborne crowd for these same reasons. The problem is that blade spine saws are useless for really anything else, and blade serrations are impossible to sharpen without a round file. I’ve used them to make notches for traps before, but simply cutting the notch with a sharp blade is more efficient. Rat tail tangs(hidden in the handle) are weaker in design than full tang and can break under hard use. Ka-Bars, Moras, Ontario Pilot’s knives, and most Bowies have rat tail tangs, and while the first three(being a specific Brand and known quantity) are usually well suited to many field tasks, they can and do sometimes break. There’s certainly nothing wrong with choosing one as a general purpose knife in a combat oriented-kit setup, but in my experience, I greatly prefer a simple general purpose, bomb proof design.

Blade Size

sandbarfight

When talking about combat knives, every American envisions the knife from Sandbar Fight, today known as the Bowie, named after its user, Jim, and his brother the designer, Rezin. Regardless, since its build it has become the American standard in the minds of most reinforced by many a Hollywood myth.

The design took off from the earlier beefed-up butcher knives that were the fur trader standard.

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Knives were in the 6-8in range, and used for everything from digging roots to cleaning game to cutting fuses for muskets(look up the origin of the French “Cartouche” knife or the Kentucky Rifleman’s knife) to fighting once the shot smoke had cleared. These were men whose survival depended on every tool- what worked for them probably will for you too. For me, I have a few knives that fit into this range, like the one pictured at top, above, which serves as my primary meat cutting knife and sees use at least twice a week. A couple of them are for serious use like the ones pictured, but most are simply for display being decorative Bowies(I have a lot of Frontier stuff-it’s the essence of who we are). Personally, I think that a knife much over 8in is too clumsy to use for cutting meat, skinning game or doing finer tasks, but paired with a smaller knife usually make a great option(in lieu of a much larger machete or axe) in the Summer around the Southeast where I live, and since I don’t plan on getting into a knife fight with blue blooded Southern Crooners anytime soon, my larger tools are more oriented to cutting vines, making trails, clearing brush, or breaking briskets on venison in the Fall.

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A knife between 4-8in serves a multitude of tasks very, very well in multiple environments; for a general purpose blade, that’s where your head needs to be thinking.

As I stated earlier, there’s nothing wrong with large knives but understand that they fill a niche. They’ll be good for large cutting and chopping, but clumsy at finer tasks. For a great single tool option, something in the 4.5-6in range should be what’s sought after.

Some final conclusions

Knives are a very personal topic– and one that generates heated debates, sometimes worse than gun arguments. The bottom line is that they’re tools first and everything else second, with a couple very specific exceptions. The examples I’ve given here, with he exception of the Gerber and Fallkniven, are all reasonably inexpensive. The Old Hickorys can normally be found at any yard sale or thrift shop for next to nothing. Quality doesn’t have to cost a bunch if you know what to look for. My most used tools definitely look the part; while I religiously care for them, they show wear from use and frequent sharpenings. While you can never have too many, you’ll find yourself returning to what works best with the more experience you gain using them.

To the Survivalist, knives should be viewed not from what looks cool in the store but from what’s lasted the longest on Grandpa’s farm, and that’ll give you a good idea of what quality truly is. Every tool has a purpose, and every tool should be of superior quality. Ruggedness and simplicity should always be the aim, avoiding fads or innovations that most often lead to premature failures. If folks are wondering why it looks like you’re using Grandma’s kitchen knife to skin a rabbit, you just might be doing it right. And like everything else Survivalist related- use it daily, and you’ll already have a big leg up on the competition.

Oil Lamps

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As Matt Bracken pointed out the other day in his interview, and a position I completely concur with, is that we won’t have a mass upheaval and the lights stay on. It’s just not happening. Our grid is the most fragile part of our infrastructure, aside from our just-in-time supply system. And since everything is so interconnected and interdependent, just one plant going down due to workers not being able to get there could cause a serious ripple that may take a long time to fix(if ever). This is not even factoring in safety issues.

But let’s take a step back. So the power doesn’t go off where you live. There’s little risk of social shock in your location (unlikely) and you don’t experience weather disruptions every winter or summer(also very unlikely). Your power is supplemented from somewhere. And that somewhere is indeed likely to experience significant disruptions should the US’ creditors say “no more debt Sam…” or better yet, the election yields marxists running amok.

Woman on a Cell Phone in a Snow Storm

Or maybe, none of that happens but you end up having the hundred year blizzard and the lights go out for an extended period of time. What are you going to do then? Simply huddle up and pray? Every year on the east coast we risk hurricanes, the midwest  and deep south has tornadoes, and the west coast the menace of earthquakes. Over dependence on the grid is a foolish and bad thing.

Each of these are likely scenarios; you’re absolutely blind if you don’t see it, and haven’t lived long enough if you haven’t experienced at least one extended power outage. A look at Venezuela is a snapshot of days to come, and anyone who lived outside the wire in Iraq or Afghanistan knows full well the power rationing that goes on there. Those folks live just fine, and so can you. When Hurricanes Fran and later Floyd hit the NC coast, we lost power inland all the way to Winston Salem, and for my area in the central part of the state, it stayed off for over a week and a half. We still had light, and we cooked on our charcoal grill.

This stuff used to not be as big of a deal as it is today. This is where a lot of folks will point to generators or solar, which are great options but expensive and labor intensive. If you don’t have the money to get into that, having oil lamps for light are an excellent supplement to any Survivalist’s plan.

oillampOil lamps are relatively cheap, can be found anywhere, and like the other tools from my last couple posts, are generally idiot-proof providing generations of use with a bit of care and common sense.

A Survivalist should have at least one for each room, if not more, and plenty of spare wicks and lamp oil. generally they put out much more light than candles, are fairly efficient on fuel, and are relatively safe to use. While they put out less candle power than Coleman camping lanterns, they’re easily refillable and much simpler in use.

There’s two types commonly encountered. The basic indoor type, like the one pictured left, which work well pretty much anywhere indoors but do not handle breezes or wind. oillamp5.jpegThe second type, pictured right, is often called a Hurricane Lantern, and as the name implies work very well outdoors but also are perfectly fine to use inside.

oillamp2If you have kids or clumsy people in your fold, and everyone does, you may want to consider a few wall mounted lamps, which not only are functional but add a good amount of character to a house.

A frequently overlooked issue with oil lamps is the storage of fuel. Lamp oil is simply refined kerosene. In fact, K-1 will work just fine in your lamp but it will emit odors. For homes built since the 1950s, low ceilings might make this an issue. Do not use any other kind of fuel in these, especially not gasoline or camp fuel. You will have a fire. A second and much more serious problem with lamp fuel is the actual storage. Often lamp oil is sold in thin plastic bottles, folks buy it, and set it in a corner for long periods of time. The problem is that the plastic gets brittle form the oil itself and can crack, spilling your fuel and creating a serious fire hazard. Get a kerosene rated container, which are most often blue in color, and store the fuel in bulk in that.

With several extra fuses and a few gallons of fuel (or more) stashed away, you’ll have an alternative light source which will last a very long time when the lights finally do go out. If you start thinking of ways to live without the grid as Michael Landon demonstrates up top, the impact of losing modernity are going to be far lessened. If you can be the guy who shrugs when the power goes off and simply charlie mikes (continues movement) on with his life, then the problems of the world will be no big cause for panic.

Do yourself a favor and pick up a few. They’ll be worth their weight one day.

A Few Items to Invest In…NOW

It’s no secret that arms and ammo get the bulk of attention in survivalist circles. The reality is, as usual, different from perception. The first reality is that while arms and cool guy stuff may be a fun fantasy, being able to eat is a genuine force multiplier.

Growing food is tough business and if you’re new to it, will take a couple seasons to get right. It’s not certain we have a few seasons for newbies to learn; and we’re well into the current growing season. If you’re behind the power curve or are still camped out in suburbia, there’s a few items you may want to invest in and become familiar with soon.

Even if you’re not actively raising your own food, having the ability to process resources from others is critically important. The ability to do it off the grid is even better, and largely a lost art.

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The Universal Food Chopper is an extremely versatile item, found in every kitchen pre-electricity era, and still common all the way up to the early 90’s in some areas. With this, one can grind up all kinds of items for salads, crushing items for easier storage or carrying snacks on the go, and simply taking fresh foods and making a more workable form.

I use one for grinding fresh coffee. Mine was found at one of the local thrift stores for $10. After re-seasoning it the same way I would cast iron, it works well, outlived its previous owners and will likely outlive me as well. I listed it first because it is the most versatile of the hand crank grinders, being able to grind both meat, grains, and veggies, and also is the easiest and cheapest to find second hand due to many not really knowing what they’re for.

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The Corona Grain Mill. Like the food chopper, the grain mill used to have a place on every farm, grinding both corn and wheat into flour to be made into bread. As we’ve become more dependant on the grid, the utility of these have fallen by the wayside, but those with them will once more learn their utility in the future.

These can be as cheap or as expensive as you want them to be, with varying levels of quality and features. The lower end models are less than $40 online, maybe just a tad more at any local Ag supply store. The higher end models have stone grinders and more precise grain grinding settings, but the cheaper models work with a few trail runs to work the kinks out, like you should do with all of your equipment.

meatgrinder The Hand Powered Meat Grinder. Making your own sausage is more than just a pastime- in the old days, it was an easy way of processing tougher cuts and making meat easier to smoke, thereby preserving it for long periods of time. Lots of people, myself included, make deer sausage every winter using cow or pig fat from the local butcher. If you can find one used, get it, wash it thoroughly, and re-season it for use. I have one that was inherited and another I purchased, along with the food chopper. They’re not expensive and although having a messy learning curve, can become a fun and very rewarding activity.

sheller.jpeg The Hand Crank Corn Sheller. These are invaluable especially in the South, where most farmers grow abundances of corn every summer. Allowing the ears to dry out then shelling with this machine, you’ll be able to always efficiently shell large numbers of corn kernels for corn meal.

These used to be found on every rural farm, but seem to have disappeared faster than the other tools listed. A couple of companies make them currently, and while imported, they work.

There you have it. Four items that collectively, even if bought new, will cost less than $250. So even if you’re behind the power curve or just now woke up, instead of going into full blown panic mode and buying freeze dried junk, make friends with the folks at the local farmer’s market and invest in these items, letting them know you have them and have a common interest. You may make a friend and at the same time grow your network. These items are completely off grid and if cared for will last forever. It doesn’t get more “Survivalist” than that.

Local, Local, Local.

Caring for Cast Iron

kitchen1Stemming from a couple important questions related to my last post, I need to point out a few basics of care for cast iron that may be lost these days. Cast Iron is not plug and play; it takes a bit of care and preparations in order to gain the best results and in the case of grinders, not damage the tools themselves.

These are things that used to be common knowledge. In my relatively brief life, luckily I learned the value of great living that I would later come to know as Survivalism early on. Sadly those Depression-era vessels of knowledge are dying off, and only a fraction of our current population seem to retain what’s being lost. Regardless, let’s do our part to spread the knowledge.

Cast Iron requires a decent amount of attention before being used, but once done properly, will last your lifetime and most likely that of your kids, probably longer. I’m not a fan of “non-stick” junk or tools that otherwise are meant to be used for a while then thrown away. To me, it’s a waste of resources. Cast Iron in many places is considered a family heirloom- often times at least one generation old. Today’s households are having to often buy new as they’re rediscovering the value of Cast Iron cookware. Every family should have at a minimum one Large Pan, one Small Pan and a Dutch Oven. The Large Pan for general purpose frying, the Small for smaller meals or making cornbread, and the Dutch Oven for deep frying, cooking chicken, pot roasts, etc, or making huge pots of chili or stew in the winter.

If buying new- buy American! Lodge still makes products in the US, and is the only one that I know of that does. One annoying thing that they do is ship their pieces with a non-stick coating, which in my experience turns into a sticky mess after a while. Remove this by soaking the pan in hot soapy water and scrubbing, then allowing to air dry. Once done, get a can of Crisco or even better, Lard, and liberally coat the pan. Set the oven to the self clean mode if you have it, or 450 deg, and bake the pan upside down for an hour. Put a drip rack underneath the pan to stop any drippings from falling on the heating element. This process will stink. Make sure you open a window.

rusty.jpegIf finding one used, sometimes a great bargain can be found if not in a good condition, such as a rusty one seen here. The easiest way to clean them, as I did two very old belted kettles I inherited, is to first  rough the rust up with course sand paper, then soak them in a cola and lime juice mix. The acidity of the liquid will remove the rust after a few days. Allow it to dry, then go through the seasoning process I detailed above. You’ll have a perfectly serviceable piece of cast iron made new once again to last a lifetime.

While using, keep in mind that cast iron is different from modern pans; they heat up slow, and hold that heat for a long time. You also don’t need as much heat in order to fry. Most of the time medium heat works just fine. Regular maintenance is pretty simple; rub it down with vegetable oil every once in a while, and the seasoning will stay fresh. Do not wash the pans. Wipe them down to clean them.

The same needs to be done to your grinding tools. They’re made of cast iron too. Often, when looking at reviews online, many get bad reviews stating that metal shavings get ground into the food. This happens because like all metal machines, the moving parts need lubricant. Since each of them I named in the last post are cast iron, the same process for caring for your kitchen tools should be done to protect them from premature wear or risk of food contamination. The only other caveat to this is when cleaning meat grinders, use hot water and rubbing alcohol, and your seasoning should be good to go.

Again, the underlying points of these posts are gaining items to process and cook food that will last a lifetime and are perfectly serviceable off the grid. None of these items are super expensive compared to the ridiculous amounts of money  some spend on frivolous items. The cornerstone of a successful Survivalist model should be sustainability, which these tools are. Further, with good sets of tools, good communities can be rebuilt. You should be able to bring as much to the table as possible, and a warm meal when people are starving is a great way to build loyalty, post-collapse, pre-collapse, or any time in between.

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