Editors Note: The following article has been kindly contributed by Jonathan Hollerman, a former USAF SERE Instructor and an expert on prepping and survival. Working as an Emergency Preparedness Consultant through his website GridDownConsulting.com, Jonathan helps his clients prepare for the hard times ahead. Jonathan will also be releasing a full-length prepping on a budget manual this Christmas.
Lots of “experts” have covered this subject and depending on which survival forum you frequent the most, it will result in completely different and sometimes opposite advice. In my opinion, some of the advice will prove deadly to most preppers. So if the SHTF, the easy answer for what to do and where to go is…. there is no easy answer and there are too many variables to give you a definite, “hey, go do this!” What I am going to try to do is to get you thinking and to show you what NOT to do. You will have to come up with your own game plan for your family depending on where you live. I am also going to address some ideas for those of you with minimal preparations. Now, remember, every family’s situation is different and there is no one size fits all advice or recommendation.
The first thing that you need to realize is that your plan of action will be different depending on what type of SHTF scenario you encounter. As preppers, we know that things in this country are not as they seem. We know that the stock market hitting
So what should you do and where should you go if there is a long-term SHTF scenario? First off I’m going to tell you what not to do. The #1, absolutely, positively, you’re going to die mistake, is to take the “Lone Wolf” approach. You know who I’m talking about. The guy on the prepping forum that plans to move out to the national forest and “live off the land” like the Legend of Mick Dodge. I would estimate that only 30% of those individuals actually believe they have the necessary skills to pull it off, while the other 70% are too lazy to actually make, preparations and they’ve just convinced themselves that if Rambo can do it, then they can too. Either way, none of them have ever stopped to actually consider what surviving in the wild looks like AFTER YOU FACTOR IN A SHTF SCENARIO. While a small percentage of the 30% might make it through the winter in normal times, only a small fraction could do it during the SHTF scenario.
First off, I’m speaking from experience. I’ve actually done it. I’ve spent an entire month in the mountains of Washington State during January with six feet of snow, almost no food, and very limited supplies during my training to become a SERE Instructor. During that month I lost over fifteen pounds of muscle (for a 6′ 4″, 190lb, 19 year old in peak physical shape, that is a lot!). I can make a solid prediction that 99% of people that go this route will not make it through the first winter. I can already see those of you who disagree. You are your sharpening your hypothetical knives and getting ready to crucify me in the comments section telling me about your amazing prowess as a half-man and half wildling creature that was raised by a pack of wolves in the forest. Please read through my rational before you keyboard commandos comment.
To begin with, living in the wild during peak conditions is hard enough. Very few Lone Wolf types have actually done it during the dead of winter for an extended period of time. Hiking-in your Mountain House freeze-dried food doesn’t count and won’t get you far. I’m talking about actually foraging for your food when two feet of snow on the ground. There are no berries to save the day and no dandelion salads to be scavenged. During my training to become a SERE Instructor, we literally spent as much time during the day chopping and splitting firewood as we did training and instruction. It takes an incredible amount of time, energy, and calories to maintain a fire in the winter. It’s not like you can take a chainsaw with you. Where are you going to get more gas? Besides, using a chainsaw will bring in other hungry Lone Wolfs from miles around. Even an
All this talk of procuring firewood doesn’t really matter
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That is the number one thing I hear from the Lone Wolf’s on how they will survive: by hunting. What they don’t understand is that with thousands of other Lone Wolf’s roaming the forests combined with all the other locals who are also going to be hunting for their family’s sustenance, THERE WON’T BE A SINGLE DEER OR OTHER BIG GAME ALIVE within a month of the SHTF. You might be able to survive off the game during normal times, but not during an SHTF scenario. You’ll be lucky to shoot a squirrel or a rabbit a month. There are hunting seasons for a reason: to maintain the big game populations. You figure in 350 million starving Americans and no game wardens; you’re going to find a hunter behind every tree and in every small patch of woods throughout this country during the first couple months following the collapse. Let’s say you get lucky and shoot a deer. Guess what, you’re more than likely to have a dozen starving hunters that heard your shot and show up while you’re gutting it out. I hope you intend to share your prize or be ready to kill a fellow human being to keep what’s yours.
I could go on for ten more pages on the reasons why you don’t want to Lone Wolf your way through an SHTF scenario. But for now, I will add one more reason, and it’s the biggest one… desperate, starving people! A very small percentage of you reading this MIGHT be able to convince me of your wilderness scavenging skills. However, what you will never convince me of is the other 99% of Lone Wolfs who don’t have our skill sets. Even though you might be able to survive the cold, the hunger, and the depression, you’ll never convince me that you’ll survive the desperate and hungry Lone Wolf’s who are not making it: the ones who have decided they’d rather kill you for your food then die of starvation on their own. It only takes one starving Lone Wolf to creep up on you at night (don’t forget you are a Lone Wolf so nighttime security details don’t exist) and shoot you from 100 yards away with their Pappy’s 30-06. I don’t care about your security measures or your hidden trip lines… it’s just a matter of time till someone pops you off from distance on the hope you “might” have something in your pack that they can eat. Every second of every day in the forest, you run the risk of being shot from a distance. All the tactical training in the world won’t save you from stumbling upon a hunter who is in a tree-stand or hidden in some brush. If you Lone Wolf it through the SHTF, you will almost assuredly die!
The next type of survival strategy I would shy away from would be the “Taker” or “Looter” theology. These are the types of survivalists I hate the most. They are too lazy to prepare ahead of time and they plan to just take what they need from those of us planning for hard times. Do not under-estimate these types of people. This is another reason why it is so critical to keep your preparations private. Even when sharing information with your closest friend, you can’t be sure who he is talking to about your plans. Even in an innocent conversation, it only takes one looter to hear your name and the fact that you have plans laid out. They will eventually show up to take your food when the SHTF. These types of survival scum will become ruthless, and with no moral compass and no police to stop them, they will be the ones committing some of the greatest atrocities. If you are a prepper, steer clear of these types on the forums and message boards and especially in real life. Don’t engage them or try to change their thinking. You want them to know as little about yourself and your plans as possible. Matthew 26:52 (the Voice) clearly spells out a warning to these types, “People who live by the sword will die by the sword.” Even if you aren’t into “religion” there’s still karma that is going to catch up to you. Again, don’t under-estimate these types. The “looters” who survive the first couple of months without getting shot, will have figured out a pretty good game plan on how to assault a retreat.
The next segment of preppers would be what I call the “Roamers”. These are the people who plan to pack up their RV and hit the open road headed for some campsite or trying to drive to some remote area of Canada hundreds of miles away. First off, if we are hit by a Super EMP, there is a good chance your RV may not even run. Assuming it does, there are going to be traffic jams of people running out of gas all over this country you are going to have to bypass. Unless you have a custom built 4WD rig with a winch and reinforced bumper, you may be driving hundreds of extra miles out of your way which takes extra gas (which you have to haul) and extra time (which you don’t have). Again, during a grid down scenario, it is vital that you leave town immediately and you’ll only have two to three days before total panic develops in the bigger cities and four to five days before things fall apart in the small towns. The last place you want to be is out on the open road with tens of millions of people fleeing the big cities. If you are driving around in a big vehicle laden with food and supplies, you are a target. I hope your vehicle is protected with AR500 steel panels because you are now a bullet magnet.
Another bad idea is typically by rich people who want to build bunkers in their back-yards in suburbia. Now, I am not against bunkers in general, just the ones in town. Let me be clear here: cabin fever is a real thing. While it may not be as crazy as “Here’s Johnny!” from The Shining, it will still make you go crazy. This is compounded if you have multiple family members and small children cooped up in a small space underground. Humans were never meant to live underground. While a good bunker is a great short-term fall back plan or storage location for your supplies, don’t plan to live there long-term. You will get claustrophobic and start coming up more and more often for sunshine, fresh air and to grow your garden. Eventually, you’ll get caught. Living in a bunker isn’t living, it’s marinating.
The next group I want to discuss is what I call the “Pacifists”. These are the Mother Earth News types (don’t get me wrong, I love that magazine). These are the preppers you often see on Doomsday Preppers who are building a sustainable off grid homestead in conjunction with the small town they live in. They are the ones who actually have the skills in place beforehand and you would think they would have the best chance of survival. Similar to the Amish, they grow their own food and operate a small farm stand in town selling and trading free-range eggs and grass fed beef. The problem is, MOST of these types suffer from two fatal flaws.
- They operate out in the open and the typically the entire town knows where they operate from. Unfortunately, once those townspeople who absolutely loved you beforehand start to starve to death, THEY ARE COMING FOR YOUR FOOD. You can’t keep everyone fed no matter how large your homestead is and how badly you want to help people. They will either consume all your winter stores from your charity or eventually they will take them by force. Either way, you don’t make it through the first winter.
- “Pacifists” are typically the hippie types who don’t believe in guns and believe in the overall goodness of man’s human nature. They are the ones you see on Doomsday Preppers running around with Super Soakers filled with pepper spray… clown shoes! If you are faced with a starving and desperate mob of locals or transients and you bust out your Super Soaker, you are going to get shot and killed at some point in time. You can’t bring a knife to a gunfight and expect to live. You can have all the skills and preparations in place, but if you are unwilling or unable to defend them with force when necessary, you will lose everything… guaranteed! The “everyone works together attitude” ONLY WORKS if everyone has enough food to eat. Once people start to starve to death, there is no such thing as sharing.
SURVIVE IN PLACE
Okay, I’m taking a big breath here and exhaling slowly. For all those Lone Wolfs who are going to react negatively to what I’ve said, there are going to be ten times more people that disagree with my next section. I am probably speaking to the largest segment of preppers out there… the “Bug-in” or “Survive in Place” preppers. These are the honorable middle class people who live in cities and small towns across the country and can’t afford to build a remote off grid retreat to bug out to. I get it! I was actually one of you at one point myself. Most of the people that fall into this category are there because they don’t see another reasonable way out. You know the city around you is going to explode, but what else can you do and where else can you go? This is the most frustrating part for most preppers, and to some, it makes the point of prepping almost hopeless. I know there are a lot of people who are storing up hundreds of gallons of water and hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds of survival gear and food in their basement in downtown suburbia. Now, I am going to throw you “Survive in Placers” a bone here. If your only fear is a short term disaster, hurricane, or small financial collapse then you will likely be okay. For anything long-term where we lose the electric grid or there is a total collapse and mass panic for a long period of time, you are screwed.
Unfortunately, instead of thinking and planning your way through it, there are tons of “experts” out there that stroke your hopelessness and write books and articles explaining how to take the easy road and “hide in plain sight”. They teach you things like “build a tall fence around your backyard”. Yeah… like your next door neighbor isn’t going to hear you hoeing and digging up your backyard for a garden. Also, the looters and raiders roaming around are going to notice a high fence right off the bat. You might as well hang a sign on your fence that reads “Garden Full of Food”. They teach you how to turn your suburban home into a “fortress”. Please, catch me while I fall over laughing. Your average home CAN NOT be made into a fortress. Regardless of the action movies you’ve seen, walls do not stop bullets! Your house is not fire-proof! You are not Rambo! And boarding up your windows or installing steel grates or shutters over them will only draw attention to your home. These groups of looters and raiders are going to become really proficient, really fast at assaulting homes. If they can’t force you out because every family member in the house was
FORTIFY MY STREET
The same philosophy of the “Survive in Place” crowd also spills into what I call the “Fortify My Street” preppers similar to the book Lights Out by David Crawford. While it is an entertaining read with a few hidden gems of wisdom, for the most part, they never
The overwhelming truth in all these scenarios, once again, comes down to a single focus. It’s not the EMP, the cyber attack, or the solar flare that is going to kill you. Your plans MUST include staying as far away from the starving masses as possible. Aside from the resurgence of long-forgotten diseases like cholera and dysentery from poor sanitation and hygiene, the starving and desperate masses (even the everyday Joes) are going to be the real killers. So maybe I’ve convinced you to second guess some of your plans. Now what? Back to square one? Not quite. All the supplies and food you’ve already attained is still needed. You just need to stage them far away from the population centers and you can actually do this on a budget. Don’t bank on the fact that you are going to have a running vehicle or clear roads to load up all your gear and bug out of town. Regardless, you must get out of town which means bugging out. To do so requires a pre-organized plan of action though. Here are my recommendations.
Some would say to find an existing survival group on a prepping forum, especially if you have some sort of skill or expertise to bring to the table. That may work out for you if you’re a doctor or surgeon and I am not discounting the idea. Just be careful. The TV show Doomsday Preppers is a perfect example of how bats**t crazy some preppers are. By the way, if you are getting the bulk of your prepping advice from the aforementioned TV show… you are doing it wrong!
If you can’t afford a bug out retreat location, I would first point you to family members (even extended family) that live well away from the city. If you think discussing the whole prepping idea with them will make you the “crazy nephew” at family get-togethers, then just rent a storage unit close to where they live and cache your supplies there. Once the SHTF is in full effect and you show up at their doorstep with food, your former preparations will make you out to be a genius and a forward thinker. If you don’t have rural relatives, then I would suggest you take up renting cabins in the mountains for weekend getaways pre-SHTF. Do your research and make sure the cabins fit within the retreat location parameters. Also, try to find rentals that are corporate owned and not a cabin that some family rents when they are not using it. A carefully worded casual conversation with the management company or the person renting you the cabin can go a long way to getting an answer to that question. Don’t get me wrong, this is a time-consuming process and it may take you multiple weekends to find the right cabin, but it is a lot better option than staying in town. Again, cache your supplies in a storage unit near that cabin. On a side note, you are not taking that cabin from someone else, you are hoping it will stay abandoned. If the owners do show up, please realize that YOU are the intruder, not them. If you have any savvy whatsoever, you should be able to explain the SHTF scenario to the owners and explain the benefits of joining forces with them for security purposes and extra manpower growing a large garden.
Last bit of advice
Knowledge is power, and if you can articulate well what the future holds after a grid down situation, you WILL EVENTUALLY be able to find a rural farmer to take you in. The key here is having something to trade for room and board, and it doesn’t have to cost a lot. You need to have a pre-planned bug-out strategy with paper maps of the rural area you are headed for. Your area should be away from a major city by at least 100 miles. If you live in New Jersey or Washington DC, you may have to travel much further to get away from the sprawling cities and population centers. Locate a rural, preferably elderly farmer or couple. Explain to him what is going on in the world and persuade him that he needs you and your family’s help to survive the coming apocalypse. The best way to get room and board from him is to have something he needs in trade. This goes back to your basic survival gear, having weapons and ammo to help protect his farm and hunt, offering you and your family’s younger muscles to plant and harvest (this will need to be done by hand, because a tractor will attract too much attention after the SHTF), offering to help keep 24-hour surveillance over the farm and crops, and most importantly having seed to plant the next harvest. I grew up on a small farm and every farmer I know buys his seed two days before planting. If you did have a stash of food in a storage unit down the road, it will make this conversation MUCH easier (but keep this information as a last resort, your ace card). Also, this recommendation is ideally for the first week after the SHTF. After that, people will be really on edge and approaching multiple farms and knocking on doors will be a far more dangerous of a
All the recommendations I have laid out in this article are still SITUATIONAL dependent. Every person’s location and circumstances are different. If you live in Las Vegas and you’re surrounded by desert for hundreds of miles, Bugging-out by foot would be extremely difficult: almost impossible without caches of water and supplies along your route (hint hint). Having a classic 4WD pickup to get of the city in this scenario would be almost vital and at the top of the list for your survival needs. Maybe you do have an old RV that will get you where you need to go… great, then utilize it. Maybe you’re a “Pacifist Homesteaderinto” but at the same time, you’ve negotiated with a “security team” to come to help you protect your farm after the SHTF… well, that may work for you (make sure they’re trustworthy people). What I’m saying is to stay adaptable and flexible, but at the same time, never underestimate the starving masses or what your next-door neighbor is capable of once his children start starving to death. Regardless of your circumstances, please don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can “hide in plain sight” in a big city. You can’t! It’s just a matter of time till they find you and your food!
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