Friday, December 26, 2008

Four Easy to Make Emergency Fire Starters

Anyone who has ever tried to start a fire when everything in the woods is soaking wet knows the value of a good fire starter. An experienced woodsman can usually locate a pitch pine stump to get a fire started with, but it sure is a lot easier to reach in your pocket and pull out a ready-made emergency fire starter. I have experimented with several different fire starters over the years and have settled on four that I consider the best.

A super simple way to make a fire starter is to take a regular cotton ball and rub petroleum jelly (Vaseline) into it. The cotton ball acts as a wick, and the petroleum jelly is what actually burns, so keep rubbing and pressing until you get the absolute maximum amount of jelly worked into the cotton. I've nick-named these jelly balls, and they really work. I timed one of these little beauties to see just how long it would burn. It burned with a flame for 6 1/2 minutes, and then the cotton continued to burn without a flame for several additional minutes. Six and a half minutes of flame could give you a good edge when it comes to igniting some damp tinder, like shredded cedar bark or very small sticks. I keep six of these jelly balls in a plastic 35mm film can, and drop the can in my pocket every time I head out into the woods.

Another of my favorite fire starters is the paraffin/sawdust fire starter. The paraffin/sawdust starter is more difficult to make than the jelly ball starter, but it burns hotter and longer. In fact, the paraffin/sawdust starter could almost be called a fuel tablet. One of these starters will actually burn long enough and hot enough to boil two cups of water, or you could use it to heat up a dehydrated meal. To make a paraffin/sawdust starter you will need the following materials:
· 1 cardboard toilet paper tube
· 1 sheet of cardboard (tag board, index card, or something of similar
· Several inches of masking tape
· 1 cup of sawdust (hardwood is best, pine will do, never use sawdust from
treated lumber)
· 2 cups melted paraffin or candle wax
· Scissors
· A pencil
· A coffee can or old bowl
· A spoon
· A double-boiler

1. Cut the toilet paper tube into 4 smaller tubes each about 1" long
2. Set one of the tubes down on the sheet of cardboard and trace a circle
around the outside of the toilet paper tube. Repeat this three more times
until you have traced out four circles on the sheet of cardboard. Use the
scissors to cut out these four circles.
3. Use 4 short pieces of masking tape to tape one cardboard circle to the
bottom of each tube
4. Place the sawdust into a bowl. Put water in the bottom pan of your double-
boiler and place the paraffin in the top pan of your double boiler. Melt
the paraffin.
5. Slowly pour part of the melted paraffin into the bowl of sawdust. Stir the
sawdust as you add the paraffin. The idea is to saturate the sawdust with
paraffin until it is the consistency of very thick oatmeal.
6. Spoon the sawdust/paraffin mixture into the cardboard tubes until it is even
with the top of each tube. You may want to use the bottom of the spoon to
press the mixture down into the tubes. This helps eliminate air bubbles in
the mixture.
7. Set the filled tubes aside and let them harden for a few minutes.
8. When the mixture in the tubes is fairly firm, dip each tube into the
remaining melted paraffin to coat the outside and bottom of the tube. Dip
them fairly quickly. If they sit in the melted paraffin for too long it can
re-melt the sawdust mixture, and you end up with a big mess. I dip each
tube several times to build up a good layer of wax on the outside.
9. Set the finished tubes aside to dry over-night

Your fire starters are now ready to use. To light one all you need to do is peal back part of the outer cardboard tube and set match or lighter to it. I carry three of these in my backpack when camping, and I keep a couple in the glove box of my truck.

You can make a quick and easy fire starter out of corrugated cardboard, cotton string, and paraffin. Cut strips of corrugated cardboard about 1 1/2" wide by 9" long. Roll the cardboard up into a fairly tight cylinder and tie cotton string around it to hold it in place. Hold the end of the string and dip the cardboard cylinder into melted paraffin. Hang the cylinder up to dry for a minute, then dip again. Repeat this process until the cardboard is well coated with wax. I usually leave about an inch of paraffin covered string attached to the fire starter as a wick.

The last fire starter that I want to tell you about is a variation of the corrugated cardboard/paraffin fire starter. This is my own little invention that I call the self-lighting fire starter. To make this fire starter, begin by cutting several squares of corrugated cardboard that are 2 1/4" by 2 1/4". Roll each square into a fairly tight cylinder and tie with string, as above. Take one cylinder and dip it into melted paraffin. Hold it in the paraffin for several second so that it is thoroughly soaked. Now lift it out of the paraffin; and, while the paraffin is still soft, push a strike-anywhere kitchen match down into the center of the cylinder. Leave just the head of the match exposed above the top of the cylinder. Now dip the cylinder along with the match head end back into the melted paraffin. Remove quickly. You don't want a heavy coat of paraffin over the match head; just enough to waterproof it. Dip several more times to coat the cylinder thoroughly, but try not to get too much more wax on the match head. Make several of these and store them in an old metal band-aid box. To use these fire starters, just take one out of the box and strike it like a giant match. One SAFETY WARNING: Don't store these fire starters loose in a pack, your clothing, a glove box, or etc. You don't want one of these to rub against something and accidentally ignite.

Well, there you have it. Four simple to make and highly effective fire starters. There's no excuse not to get that fire started now, so go out and enjoy your time in the woods.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Survival Hunting and Home Defense - The Venerable Shotgun

Back in the early days of our country, when the fur trade was flourishing, one of the most sought after trade items by Native Americans was the Northwest Trade Gun. The trade gun was not a custom built Pennsylvania rifle; it was a mass produced smoothbore, usually in 20 gauge. The reason Native American hunters wanted the Trade Gun was that it was a far more versatile weapon than the rifle. It could be loaded with a solid .62 caliber ball and used to hunt deer, elk, black bears, and buffalo. Loaded with shot it was good for turkeys, ducks, rabbits, or squirrels. I have even read tales of Native Americans shooting gravel out of these guns when they ran out of lead ammo. The Trade Gun was truly a gun for all occasions, much like the shotgun is today. That’s right we’re talking about that old 12 gauge you’ve had since you were a just a lad. If you stop and think about it, what gun in your gun closet can do as much as your shotgun? You can load it with slugs and take down a deer or elk at 40 yards with no problem. Loaded with No. 4 shot you can take turkeys, ducks and geese. With No. 6 shot you’re good for rabbits, squirrels, coons, and other small game, and with No. 7’s you can take doves and quail (although they don’t have enough meat to justify a spent shell in my book). And from a home defense standpoint I’d rather be holding a 12 gauge loaded with 00 buckshot than any gun I can think of. You can be shaking like a leaf and still hit your target no matter which side of the door he’s on.

Shotguns come in basically 5 different styles; the single barrel break action, the double barrel break action, the bolt action, the pump, and the auto-loader. Each of these has its advantages and dis-advantages. The single barrel break action forces you to think about your shot since you only get one. The disadvantage is you only get one. Also you have to preload your shell and hope you picked the right one, or you have to carry it empty and hope you can load it with the appropriate ammo before your quarry gets away. I’d hate to be loaded with No. 6 shot and jump a nice fat doe. The double barrel break action is really the only shotgun that does not suffer from this handicap. You can have one barrel loaded with a slug or 00, and the other barrel loaded with No. 6 shot and then it’s just a matter of shooting the correct barrel. Of course if you’re in a home defense situation it would be nice to have more than 2 shots without reloading. I have a bolt-action slug gun but I don’t think I would use it for home defense. Bolt actions can be a little cranky and I’d hate to hang up a shell in the middle of a critical situation. My personal preference is a double for hunting and a pump for home defense. I had an auto-loader at one time, but I really didn’t like it that well. I found myself taking shots I should have passed on and then blasting away with a second and third shot; but that’s just me. An auto-loader may be just the ticket for you.

There’s always the question of what gauge you should choose. The .410 requires some seriously good shooting skills and the ammo is expensive. The 16 gauge and 28 gauge are almost obsolete. Ammo is very hard to find. The 20 gauge and the 12 gauge are the most common sizes in use today. You can find shells for these at almost any country hardware store and at all of the big box and sporting goods stores. I prefer the 12 gauge because of the slightly heavier load, but many people swear by the 20. I wouldn’t waste the extra money on a 3 inch magnum unless you are in bear country or you are a serious goose hunter. Of course you can always buy a 3 inch magnum gun and then just shoot the cheaper 2 ¾” shells except on special occasions when you need more knock-down power.

Whichever style and gauge of gun you choose, the important thing is to learn to use it well. There’s no substitute for practice. I went to a sporting clays event recently and was embarrassed at how out of practice I was. Of course, I was using a borrowed gun, or that was my excuse anyway. Guess I’ll have to get the old skeet thrower out this weekend and burn through a couple of boxes of shells trying to get my edge back.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Common Sense Food Storage Program

A good food storage program is a must for anyone who is preparing for a possible disaster in the future. But what sort of program should you adopt? There are companies that will gladly sell you cases of nitrogen packed, freeze-dried foods that will keep for 10 years. Another option is to stock up on MRE's so that you have a supply of pre-packed individual meals.

I took a different route when I started my food storage program. I had noticed that several of my friends who purchased freeze-dried storage programs never use the food that they bought. They just leave the food in storage and presumably will replace it all before it expires. I consider this wasteful, but I also think it's not a good idea for another reason. If you are suddenly thrown into a survival situation, I feel that a sudden and complete change in diet will only add to your stress level. Being able to have a little continuity from your former life, even if it's only the food that you eat, might make life a little more bearable. For this reason I developed a storage program based on the foods that my family already eats. Granted we had to make a few changes in products and storage methods; but for the most part, I could live off of my stored food and not change my diet much at all.

Here is how my program works. I have a kitchen pantry in which I keep cans of fruits and vegetables, jars of grains and dried beans, jars of rice and pasta, bags of dried fruit, canned nuts, canned meat, spices and condiments, vinegar, cans of soup, dried soup, large jars of flour and cornmeal, large jars of sugar and salt, cooking oil, powdered milk, cake mixes, boxes of pudding, canned baking powder, baking soda, yeast, tea, coffee, pickles, olives, home canned cheese, home canned hamburger, home dried fruits and vegetables, and canned juices. This pantry is not huge, so there are rarely more than one or two cans of any one item.

In another part of the house is a walk-in-closet that we refer to as the "grocery store." This closet is equipped with industrial steel storage shelves, shallow wooden shelves, and stackable plastic storage units with pull out drawers. In the "grocery store" we keep the same items that we have in the kitchen pantry but in much larger quantities. Where I have two cans of stewed tomatoes in the kitchen pantry, I may have sixteen cans in the "grocery store." Where there are two cans of tuna in the kitchen pantry, there might be twenty cans in the "grocery store." Dried beans, flour, cornmeal, sugar, and salt are stored in plastic bags that are sealed inside of food-grade 5 gallon plastic buckets.

Now one of the most important aspects of the "grocery store" is the grocery list. This is a computer-generated list of all the items in the "grocery store" and a par level of how many of each item we like to keep on hand. When we remove an item from the "grocery store" we put a hash mark next to that item on the list. Every week or two we take the list to town and buy all the items necessary to bring our storage up to par. When we get the items home, we use a permanent marking pen to write the date of purchase on each item. We then place these items on the shelf, pulling the older dates to the front and putting the new purchases at the back. This way we keep constantly rotating our stock. Nearly any grocery item that you buy these days has a "use by" date on it, and these dates are very conservative. Most canned goods are stamped as being good for a year, but they are actually good for a lot longer than that. The food doesn't automatically go bad at the end of a year. Instead, it gradually loses its nutritional value. Most canned goods lose about 20% of their nutritional value in a year's time, so if you have a canned good that is two years old, it will still be edible and will have about 60% of its originally listed nutritional value. We find that most of our canned items rotate through in eight to ten months. Dried goods like pasta, rice and beans move much slower, but if they are kept dry, air tight, cool, and dark they will last for several years. Heck, I read about some archeologists that sprouted some 4000-year-old wheat that they found in an Egyptian pyramid. Now that's long-term storage.

We have found that using this food storage program makes the best use of our food dollars. Nothing gets thrown out, and we are eating the same basic foods as always. Of course we still buy fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy products, but we know that we can get by without them if we have to, and we won't have to make any major changes in our diet.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Putting Together a Bug-Out Bag

The Bug-Out Bag or 72 Hour Pack is something that ever truly prepared individual should have. For those of you who don't already know, a Bug-Out Bag is a compact survival kit that hopefully contains everything that you would need to survive for 72 hours. It is intended to be something that you can keep in your vehicle, or grab as you head out the door. It is packed, ready, and near at hand at all times. There is no hard and set rule as to the size of a Bug-Out Bag or what its contents should be. For some people it is a full-size backpack; for others it is a daypack, or a fanny pack, or a large purse. I personally use a 35mm camera bag. It is comfortable to carry, lightweight, rigid (so things don't shift around), it has several side pockets, and it does not attract much attention.

What you carry in your Bug-Out Bag is a matter of personal choice, but some things are common to nearly every bag. Fire making tools, a compass, a knife, a few medical items, water and/or water purification tools, and an emergency solar blanket are fairly common to all Bug-Outs. Some people include much more.

Here is a list of items that I keep in my personal Bug-Out Bag:

· disposable lighter
· metal match fire striker
· 3 emergency fire starters
· compass
· multi tool knife
· emergency solar blanket
· disposable plastic poncho
· 50' of parachute cord
· collapsible metal cup
· 1 bottle Halazone tablets
· small sponge
· hand crank LED flashlight
· fishing kit containing 5 hooks, 5 sinkers, 20'line, and 3 small floats
· first aid kit containing band aids, Tylenol tablets, Benadryl tablets,
Imodium tablets, tincture of iodine, a needle, and a small mirror
· compact snake-bite kit
· 10' of snare wire
· .22 cal. semi-auto pistol
· 100 rounds .22 LR hollow point ammo

Monday, December 15, 2008

Should You Be Buying Gold?

Over the course of the centuries coins made of common metals, and currencies of many denominations have come and gone. Over all of these same centuries, in fact over millennia, gold has been universally recognized as a medium of exchange. Does gold have any intrinsic value? Not really. It is very malleable, it has an attractive luster, and it is one of the best non-corrosive conductors of electricity on Earth; but it is, in essence, just another metal. Gold's real value lies in the fact that we have all agreed over thousands of years that it is valuable. Let's face it; if you were on a sinking ship would you rather have a bar of gold or a life raft?

The argument is often made that the value of gold remains the same; it is the value of currency that changes; and hence gold is the perfect hedge against inflation. This is true to a certain extent, but the price of gold is also driven by the same supply and demand dynamic that affects any other commodity. The price of gold in July of 2001 was $265.00 U.S. per ounce. By May of 2006 the price had risen to $720.00 U.S. per ounce. This is an increase of nearly 172%. In the same time period, the overall rate of inflation in the U.S. was about 19%. Common sense tells us that the price of gold is driven by more factors than the value of currency.

Let's look at what other factors might have affected the price of gold in this time period. First, we have the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Although this event alone had little effect on the gold market it does seem to mark the beginning of a gradual but steady climb in prices. Following this event we have the war in Afghanistan, worsening relations between Israel and the Palestinians, the war in Iraqi, civil war and genocide in Africa, the rise of the Iraqi insurgency, skyrocketing oil prices, Iran beginning a uranium enrichment program, North Korea developing a nuclear weapon, Israel's invasion of Lebanon, continued involvement in Iraqi in what many believe has become a civil war, and finally the specter of war with Iran and/or Syria. When people are afraid, they turn to gold. In these unsettling times it is no wonder that the price of gold has skyrocketed.

But the question remains, should you be buying gold? Is it a good investment? I would have to answer that in the negative, for now. I feel that the price of gold is artificially over-inflated at this time. If you bought gold when it was below $300.00 U.S., you made a wise investment. Those who are old enough will remember in the late 1970's when everyone was buying gold. It was touted as the perfect investment, and the price rose to over $750.00 U.S. If those investors have held onto their gold for 28 years, they are almost back to the break-even point.

If you have not already bought gold, use your dollars for other things right now. Pay off any outstanding debt, invest in a good food storage program, stockpile vital medical supplies, and look to your home security. If you live in the city, think about buying a rural get-away where you can spend weekends, and buy a good vehicle to get you there. If you have already covered all of these bases, or if you are one of the financially advantaged, then you can start thinking about protecting your money by investing in gold and/or silver.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Staying Under the Radar

In the event of a widespread, long-term disaster, I think it's safe to say that the highways and byways of American will be teeming with people looking for food, water, shelter, medical help, and safety. It is a sad but true fact that these people are ignoring the opportunity, right now, to prepare for these coming events. It is also a sad but true fact that they will think that we who have prepared should provide for them. It's just another product of a society that has completely forgotten what personal responsibility is. So accept the fact that others will want, indeed they will think that they have a right to, what is yours. You must protect what you have.

It is my opinion that the best way to protect what you have is to not let other people know that you have it. They can't take away what they don't know you have, so your first line of defense is to keep quiet about your preparations. For now, while all is well, don't advertise the fact that you are prepared for disaster. Don't show off your stored food, your guns, your ammo, your fuel supply, etc. Don't tell your best friend. Don't tell your children. If you do, the word will get out; and when disaster strikes, people will remember and expect their old buddy to take them in.

But if a disaster should occur, what do you do about the wandering masses that have fled from the cities and are scouring the countryside in search of supplies and refuge? The most important thing is to avoid attracting their attention. You want to limit, or better yet eliminate, anything that they can see, hear, or smell.

Hopefully you already live in the country, and hopefully you live out of site from highways and roads. If you don't, even if you live in the middle of the city, you can do things to lower your visual profile. Blackout curtains are one simple, inexpensive thing that you can do to lower your visual profile. The light from candles, propane or oil lamps, or generator-powered lights is like a beacon telling strangers that you are there. I recommend blackout curtains even if you live in a secluded location. A lighted window is visible for miles on a dark night.

That wood stove or fireplace that you are planning on using for heat might not be such a good idea either. After all, what did the Indians use to signal to their comrades from miles away? The smoke would be less visible at night, and if I had to use a wood fire, that is the only time I would use it. Even at night the smell of the smoke will carry a long way. You would be far better off to use propane and/or kerosene to heat and cook with, at least for the first couple of months. A two-burner propane camp stove and a 20lb. bottle of propane will cook all of your meals for a month or more. Better yet, buy a propane kitchen stove. I installed one at my house, drilled a little hole through the wall, hooked on a metal flex line and regulator, and hooked it to a 20 lb. propane bottle. I keep half-a-dozen bottles in my fuel shed, and I use one about every 2 or 3 months. By the way, any modern gas range comes with an orifice for conversion to propane. You can do it yourself in about 5 minutes.

I do most of my heating with wood, but at the first sign of trouble I will switch over to my kerosene heater. These modern heaters are very efficient, but you must use K-1 grade kerosene in them, and you must make sure that your room is ventilated. I buy K-1 kerosene in five-gallon drums and keep about 20 gallons in my fuel shed. It burns clean with hardly any odor.

Sound is the final thing that you must watch out for. If you are going to use an electrical generator, make sure that it is well muffled. The factory-installed mufflers on most generators are not adequate. Leave the chainsaw and axe in the tool shed for the first couple of months. If you must cut wood, use a crosscut saw. It will be much quieter. Try not to discharge any firearms. If you have to hunt, try to stick with a .22 rifle loaded with .22 shorts or CB’s. They have a very low signature, but still have enough power to take squirrels, rabbits, and other small game. If you must shoot, use the old poacher's trick and only fire one shot. Most people cannot tell where a single shot has come from. It is the second shot, the one that they are already listening for, that gives away your location. This may sound extreme, but keep your voice down. When conditions are right I can hear my neighbors talking on their front porch, and they live 1/2 mile away. It's hard for city people to believe this, but in the country, the ambient sound level is so low that even a human voice carries for a long way.

Finally, keep good radio discipline. Monitor all that you want, but don't broadcast unless it's a dire emergency. If you must broadcast try to avoid using any language that would reveal your location. You never know who's listening.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Emergency Communications

When the power is out it's easy to feel cut off from the outside world. In these modern times we are used to being in touch all the time. Cell phones, Blackberries, the Internet, radio, television; we have to stay connected all the time or we start to feel a sense of panic. I've seen this in my own kids and you've probably seen it with kids and adults also. They actually start having a physical reaction, kin to a panic attack, when they can't communicate. Well, that's a bit much in my book; a little too much dependence on communication technology; but there are times when it's nice to be able to know what's going on. For example, when the power is out and you'd really like to know if a tornado is headed in your direction. As with most other things, I try to have communications equipment that will deal with different levels of crisis; anything from a simple power outage to a full blown national emergency.


When the power goes out, the phone lines are often still in service. I guess this is because a lot of phone lines are underground. Notice that I said that the phone lines are still in service. I learned the hard way that if you have a nice cordless phone/answering machine you will not be able to use it when the electricity goes out. I guess it should have been pretty obvious since you have to plug it into the wall, but I didn't even think about it until the power went off and I tried to call the power company to report it. Guess what - - - Dead Phone! The next day I went out and bought a phone that just plugs into one of my phone jacks; no bells or whistles. Now when the power goes out I have at least one phone that usually still works.

My old-time dial telephone usually works even

when the power is out.

Of course everyone in the world, except me, has a cell phone. My wife has one, and each of my kids have one. They are really quiet handy; I've just never gotten into the habit. There are two main problems with cell phones. For one thing, they depend on a functioning cell tower to relay their signal, for another thing they depend on a charged battery in order to send a signal. A day or maybe two is about the limit on a cell phone battery without being recharged, but how do you recharge your cell phone if the power is out? There are several options for recharging cell phones. One of the easiest is to charge them up when you have your home generator running. In a recent 5-day power outage I ran my generator for about 4 hours a day to keep food from spoiling in my refrigerator and freezer. It didn't really add any strain to the system to go ahead and charge my wife's cell phone and laptop as well as our rechargeable flashlights. I wouldn't run the generator just to charge these items, but since it was running anyway, why not take advantage of the available power. Another way I can charge a cell phone is by using my hand cranked radio (see more about this radio below). The radio that I use has a USB port on the back. All you need is a short length of wire with a male USB plug on one end and a male fitting for your cell phone on the other end. Plug the cell phone into the radio, turn the generator crank, and presto, you're charging your cell phone. If it's an emergency and you don't have time to wait for the phone to charge, you can have someone crank the generator handle while you talk on the phone. It works kind of like the old army field telephones.

There are several different kinds of solar cell phone rechargers available on the market today. I may get one of these, but I don't have one right now. Of course if you use one of these devises it has to be daytime, the weather has to be clear, and you have to have some patience. They do not recharge a phone very fast. I will probably end up installing a large solar panel that is dedicated to recharging cell phones, walkie-talkies, laptops, flashlights, and etc; but this will be later on. I have other things to do that I consider more of a priority.

Citizen's Band Radios

A big advantage of radios over cell phones is that you don't have to depend on any outside infrastructure. No matter what's happened to the rest of the world, if I have a charged up radio and you have a charged up radio and we're within range of each other, we can talk. Range is the main problem. A good CB base station radio with a 15' antenna will have a maximum range of 10 to 12 miles. A good handheld CB (walkie-talkie) will have a range of about a mile. I know that it says different on the box; I'm just telling you what I have experienced. With that said, CBs are still very handy. We can communicate with people at farms throughout our neighborhood on CB. When one of the family goes out in the woods, they always take a CB. And to tell you the truth, if there's some kind of major social breakdown I don't plan to travel more than ten miles from the farm anyway.

These Midland hand-held CB's are rechargable and include

a weather band along with the communication channels

Shortwave Radio

Shortwave radio is very different from CB. The range is phenomenal. If you catch a signal on what's called "the skip" you may find yourself listening to broadcasts from England, Egypt, or anyplace else in the world. Most people think that you have to have a special license to have a shortwave radio. This is only true if you want to broadcast on shortwave. Anyone can buy a shortwave receiver, and they are surprisingly inexpensive. My wife bought me one for a birthday present from Radio Shack. This is a great little radio. It has AM and FM bands, and two shortwave bands. You can plug it into the wall, put regular batteries in it, run it on the rechargable ni-cad batteries that it comes with, or run it by cranking the generator handle on the side. Cranking the generator will actually recharge the ni-cad batteries; and, as mentioned above, you can plug your cell phone into it and use the generator handle to recharge your phone. The generator handle does not seem flimsy. The whole radio seems to be well built, and the reception is good. You can use the built in extendable antenna, or hook up an exterior antenna to improve range and reception. About the only draw-back is that it doesn't have a weather band, but I am told that similar radios are available that do have weather band. This doesn't really bother me because I have weather band on my walkie-talkies. The Radio Shack radio that I have costs under $40; quiet a bargain. By the way, it also has a built in flashlight that works off of the same rechargeable batteries. I would highly recommend that you get one of these radios for you emergency kit. If you are interested in broadcasting on short wave, you should get in touch with you local HAM operators club. They have information on testing and licensing, and they can set you up with a sponsor that will guide you through the process.

This Radio Shack shortwave radio can be recharged by turning the

hand-cranked internal generator. Generator can also be used to

recharge a cell phone.

The Old Fashion Way

People were able to have local communication long before the invention of the telephone or radio. In colonial America, the tolling church bell was used to call settlers in from their farms to fort up in the local blockhouse during Indian raids. We have a kind of informal communication network in our rural community using car horns. Three evenly spaced honks repeated over and over is a call for help. Even better than a car horn is one of those portable air horns, the kind that they use to start boat races or that some people take to football games. You can hear those things for a couple of miles.

When I was a kid, mama had a big "U" shaped piece of iron hanging from a cord on the back porch. I think it was some kind of part off of an old disc plow. Hanging next to it she had an iron bar. When it was time for us kids to come in she would take the iron bar and beat on that old plow part. We could hear it all over the farm, and we knew it was time to come in. Imaginative people can always find a way to communicate.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Home Heating

Like many people, I have central air and heat in my house. When the power goes out, the option of electric heat goes with it. Even if you have a generator, electric heat draws more wattage than the typical home generator can provide. So, you are down to about three options for heating your home. These are: (1) gas, (2) wood, and (3) kerosene.

Heating with Gas

If you have natural gas lines running to your house you may be in good shape or you may not. I remember about 25 years ago when I was living in Dallas, Texas, there was a big ice storm that knocked out power to a large portion of the city. The problem was that it got so cold that the above ground gas meters began to blow up. This left people without electricity or gas; quiet a problem. At this point, propane heaters and Coleman camp stoves where worth their weight in gold. So what I'm saying is, even if you have natural gas, make some kind of a back-up plan. The gas may not be there when you need it most. Some of the farms in my area are plumbed for gas, with gas heaters, gas stoves and gas hot water heaters. The gas is provided by large propane tanks that must be refilled a couple of times a year. This was not a bad system when propane was less expensive. If you decide to go with a home propane system, I would suggest that you go with a dual tank system. In other words, instead of having a 200 gallon propane tank, you would have two 100 gallon tanks with a switch-over valve. This way when one tank runs out, you can switch over to the other tank and have the empty refilled. Using this system you will always have at least a 100 gallons of propane on hand. I personally find propane a little pricey for such general use. I do have a propane cook stove which I run off of a 20 lb. outside bottle. I also have a small propane camp heater that will take the chill off of a room long enough for me to jump out of a warm bed and get dressed in the morning. This little heater runs off of the same size propane bottles as my propane lantern.

This small propane heater is perfect
for taking the chill off in the morning.

Heating with Wood

Wood is my main source of heating whether the power is working or not. Electric heat is just too expensive, and since I live on a farm that has lots of trees, heating with wood just makes sense for me. Now heating with wood may not work for you. Your house may not be laid out in a way that can make efficient use of wood heating, or you may live in town and not have access to cheap firewood, or you may live in a town that has a local ordinance against burning firewood. If that's the case just skip this section;otherwise, read on.

A good wood burning stove is the only way to go when heating with wood. A fireplace is pretty to look at, but most of your heat goes out the chimney. Some fireplaces have attempted to overcome this problem by including blowers that blow the heat out into the room. It's a good plan but guess what? The blowers run on electricity, so right when you really need them, they don't work. Like I say, I prefer a good wood stove and here is how my wood stove is set up. I had a friend who's a brick mason make a 4' x 4' brick pad on top of my concrete slab floor. The stove sits on this slab. He also laid a 4' wide strip of brick from floor to ceiling in back of the stove. This brick serves two purposes; (1) it serves as an insulating barrier between the hot stove, and the floor and wall, and (2) it acts as a heat sink, storing some of the heat from the stove and radiating it back into the room. The stove itself is made of 5/16" welded boiler plate and is lined with fire brick. It has double doors on the front with asbestos seals around them, and each door has an adjustable damper in it. It can be left open with a fire screen on the front if you want to watch the flames, or it can be closed airtight. The top of the stove is flat and can be used as a cook surface. We usually keep a kettle of water on it to help keep some humidity in the room and to make tea and coffee.

Our Wood Burning Stove

My wood stove heats the living room, dining room, kitchen, bedroom, and sewing room. On an average winter day it takes about eight to ten pieces of stove length wood to keep the house comfortable; a little more on cold days. We usually let the fire die down at night and sleep under blankets, then in the morning we'll throw some kindling on the coals and build the fire back up. Some words of caution: make sure you know what you're doing when you install a wood stove or get professional help; and, once you start using your stove get it cleaned every year. Creosote build-up in the stove pipe can lead to a fire. Also, keep a fire extinguisher close to your stove.

Heating with Kerosene

I love my wood stove, and for everyday use, or when the power goes out, I think wood is the way to go; but there is one instance in which I would not use wood to heat. If that sad day ever came when some disaster caused society as we know it to start breaking down, I would not burn my wood stove for a good while. Here's why, you can smell the smoke from a wood stove for at least a mile, maybe more if the wind is right; and you can see a plume of smoke from farther than that. Remember, staying under the radar is your best defense. Smoke says, "there are people here." You don't want uninvited company. This is where my kerosene heater comes in. A kerosene heater will do a good job of warming a room up. It emits no smoke and has no smell. One big drawback to a kerosene stove is that you should only burn the super clean K-1 kerosene in it, and K-1 is expensive. Last time I bought any it was 5 bucks a gallon. I checked a couple of days ago and it is now over 8 bucks a gallon. My only advice is to buy what you can afford and then use it sparingly. It may cost a lot, and you may not be as warm as you like; but it beats having the starving hoards show up on you door step.

After an appropriate interval, when things have calmed down some and the worst of the craziness is hopefully over, you can go back to burning wood; but I would make it a point to burn the driest, most seasoned hardwood I could find. This will produce less smoke than unseasoned or soft woods. No sense taking a chance if it can be avoided.

Save the Heat You've Got

A final word about heating. Save the heat you already have. Put on a sweater in the house. Wear wool socks. Wear a hat (40% of your body heat is radiated out by your head). I don't know where we came up with the idea that the world should be 72 degrees year round, but it's crazy. You can be very comfortable at much lower temperatures. I remember once being on a little hunting trip with some friends of mine. We had walked back into the bottoms behind my farm and planned to spend some time in the woods with squirrel hunting as our excuse. We had only a tarp for shelter and two wool blankets each for bedding. We piled up a thick bed of dead pine needles to insulate us from the ground and slept cool but bearable the first night. That night it snowed, not heavy, but it was definitely cool. The next day we went about our business dressed in coats, hats, and gloves. We spent another night in our blankets and slept quiet comfortable. The next day, even though there was still snow on the ground, we found ourselves shedding coats and going around in shirt sleeves. That evening we walked back up to the house and when we went into the living room it felt like we had stepped into a blast furnace. I couldn't imagine what had possessed my wife to heat the house up so much. I walked over and checked the thermometer on my thermostat and it was 65 degrees in the room. Moral: It takes very little time for the human body to acclimate to changes in temperature. It's all what you get used to.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Survival Hunting - The .22 Rifle

To many people the word survivalist conjures up visions of a camo clad individual equipped with an AK-47 and a bandolier of 30 round magazines. I hate to disappoint these folks, but my idea of the primary survival weapon is the .22 rifle. Why the .22 you ask. Well there are several good reasons. First, it is capable of killing small game like rabbits, squirrels, possums, etc. I don't know about where you live, but around my place I see 100 rabbits and squirrels for every deer or wild hog I see. It is not legal to bird hunt with a .22, but in a survival situation you're going to anyway; and you won't feel bad about using a 2 cent .22 cartridge to kill one. Shells for a .30-06 are a dollar each and I'd hate to think about what would be left of a bird after a .30-06 hits it. Second, which was just addressed, the ammo is cheap; and it is the most commonly available ammunition in the United States. Every sporting goods store, gun shop, Wal-Mart, and practically every hardware store in the U.S. carries .22 ammo. Also, .22 ammo takes up virtually no space. You can put 1500 rounds in a shoebox, and carry 50 rounds in your pocket. The third virtue of the .22 is its low signature. That is to say, it doesn't make much noise. Remember, if the world as we know it has fallen into chaos, and the unprepared hoards are scouring the countryside in search of food, your best defense is to stay under the radar. You don't want to make a lot of noise that draws attention to your presence. Even a standard .22 longrifle cartridge will probably not be heard from 1/2 a mile away; a .22 short will carry even less. But if you really want to stay under the radar, buy yourself a few boxes of .22 CB's. These little sub-sonic cartridges are the size of a .22 short but they have even less powder in them than a short. I have fired one of these from a rifle on my back porch; and my wife, sitting in the living room 30 feet away, never heard a thing. But don't think that these little cartridges are toys. I shot one into a phone book and it penetrated 300 pages. They are less powerful than regular .22's though, so I would recommend that you re-site your rifle when using CB's and use them at fairly close range (30 yards or so). One drawback of CB's is that they are not powerful enough to cycle the bolt on a semi-auto. I always shoot them in a single-shot bolt action that I have.

From left to right: .22 Longrifle, .22 Short, .22 CB Short

I have two favorite .22's. One of them is the venerable Ruger 10-22, a very reliable semi-auto that comes with a 10 round magazine. I ditched the puny scope that was on it and replaced it with an inexpensive Bushnell variable power scope. You can buy all kinds of accessories for the 10-22, but it's hard to beat the basic gun as is. My second .22 is a little thing called the Crickett. I bought this gun from Wal-Mart for my son when he was younger. It is a tiny thing; about 30 inches long and weighs about 2 1/2 lbs. It is a single shot bolt action. I put a pretty good scope on it, attached a sling, and added a little cartridge holder to the stock that holds an extra six rounds. You can throw this little beauty over your shoulder, carry it all day, and never even know it's there.

My favorite .22's
Top: Ruger 10-22 Bottom: K.S.A. Crickett

I won't go into any long involved spiel on how to hunt. It's something that you really have to learn on your own, and it involves a lot of woods time. I will say that survival hunting is nothing like modern day deer hunting. Knowing how to sit in a stand over a feeder will not help you much in doing some cost effective survival hunting. For one thing if you have a 40 lb. bag of corn, you can bet that you're going to eat it, not feed it to Bambi. To survival hunt you're going to have to learn about the habits of animals. Where they feed, what they feed on, where they nest or bed, where they go for water, and what paths they use to move through the woods. As I say, learning to survival hunt involves a lot of woods time, just a little walking, and a lot of sitting and looking. Not a bad way to spend some time if you think about it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Water Water Everywhere

I find it ironic that water is one of the necessities that is in short supply after a hurricane. I mean you look at the news videos and there's water everywhere, but of course it's unusable. The answer, of course, is to keep a supply of drinkable water on hand for the short term and to have a way of purifying water for the long term. Clean drinking water is something that we pretty much take for granted is the USA, but let our public water purification facilities break down, and many of the age old enemies of mankind spring to life overnight. Dysentery, Typhoid, Yellow Fever, Cholera, and other diseases nearly always accompany a disaster that contaminates our water supply. That's why it's so important to store water.

Storing Water

It's part of my survival philosophy to never buy anything just for the sake of storing it. I only buy what I use and use what I buy. Food, water, gasoline, propane, medicine; I don't care what it is; I rotate my inventory using the old and replacing it with new. This is the same approach that I take toward water storage. We have one of those upright water dispensers in our kitchen, the kind that holds a 5 gallon bottle of water. We use this water as our everyday drinking water, even though our well water is clear, cold, and clean. In addition to the bottle that is in the dispenser I keep 4 more bottles is a storage closet on the porch. When the bottle in the dispenser runs dry, we replace it with one from storage and get the empty refilled. Although you can survive on a quart of water a day, a half-gallon is more realistic for drinking and cooking; so I figure my 25 gallon back-up is good for 10 or 12 days anyway. By the way, don't waste your money turning in the empty bottle for a full one. I did this at first and found myself paying 7 dollars a bottle after the trade in. Then I discovered that a nearby grocery store had a refill dispenser that runs local water through all kinds of filters and then squirts it out into your empty 5 gallon bottle. Since it only costs $1.75 to fill a 5 gallon bottle, I consider this the only way to go. If you live in the city and are happy with the public water supply, you can just take your bottles out in the back yard and fill them from the water hose.

If you don't have a water dispenser, or if you don't have room to store 5 gallon water jugs; buy three or four cases of gallon jugs and store them under the bed or in the back of your closet. The only drawback to this method is that you have to make a conscious effort to use the water and keep rotating your stock.

Even if you don't have a formal water storage program, you probably have 20 to 30 gallons of water available in your house at all times. Your hot water tank will have about 20 gallons in it that can be drained out of the bottom faucet, and each of your toilet tanks will have about 5 gallons in the back reservoir (not the bowl). Don't use the toilet water if you have put toilet cleaner tablets in the reservoir. If you feel uneasy about using water from the toilet reservoir, you can always siphon it out into a pan and boil it on the stove or use a chemical purification method (see below) to make sure that it is safe to drink.

Making Water Safe to Drink

If you have any doubt at all about the safety of your drinking water it is best to take the time to purify it. Making water safe to drink consists of two processes: (1) filtration, to remove particulate matter from the water, and (2) purification to kill off any biological contaminates. Please note that neither one of these processes will remove chemical contaminants from water, so it is imperative that you start out with water that has not been contaminated by some kind of chemical spill. This is particularly problematic after events like a hurricane or widespread flooding where who knows what kinds of hydro-carbons, inorganic solvents, pesticides, heavy metals, etc. may have been washed into the water supply. So, we are assuming here that we are starting off with water that is free of chemical contamination.

Water Filtration

Filtration is a mechanical process for removing particles from water. The finer the filter medium, the smaller the particles that can be removed. No improvised filter will remove bacteria size particles, but it will remove most dirt, algae, leaves, etc. If you are at home you may have a filter system that you didn't even think about; your coffee maker. If you have a coffee machine or a drip coffee maker you probably have a box of paper coffee filters. You can run muddy water through 2 or 3 of these filters and it will clean it up quiet a bit.

If you want to make a larger scale filter you can do so with the following materials:

  • two clean 5 gallon plastic buckets (nothing that has been used to store paint, or other chemicals)
  • a cotton towel
  • some clean gravel
  • some very fine, clean sand
  • a window screen
  • two stout sticks or pieces of lumber about 18 inches long
  • a container to pour the dirty water from

Take one of the buckets and drill or punch about a dozen holes in the center of the bottom. Set this bucket (the filter bucket) on top of the other bucket (the catch bucket) using the two sticks or boards to keep the filter bucket from dropping down into the catch bucket. Place about 2 inches of clean gravel in the bottom of the filter bucket. Try to use gravel that is composed of rocks about 1/2 inch in size. Cut a piece of cotton towel that will fit into the bucket and cover the gravel. Cut the towel a little bigger than the bucket so that it completely covers the gravel and turns up the sides of the bucket a little. Now put about a foot of the cleanest and finest sand that you can find over the toweling. Try to find sand that has no humus or other organic matter in it. Now cut another piece of towel and place it on top of the sand. Finally, lay a window screen on top of the bucket. See the diagram below for a visual of how to set up this filter system.

Now you are ready to filter water. Pour the dirty water into the top of the filter bucket. The window screen will remove leaves and twigs and pre-filter the water that goes into the bucket. As the water works its way through the sand, most of the solid materials will be filtered out. The relatively clean water will drip out of the holes in the bottom of the filter bucket and fall into the catch bucket. The first water that goes through your filter may be cloudy due to dirt in the sand and rocks, but this should clear up fairly quickly as you continue pouring water through the filter. CAUTION: YOUR WATER IS NOW FILTERED, BUT IT IS NOT PURIFIED. DO NOT DRINK THE WATER UNTIL IT HAS BEEN PURIFIED.

Water Purification

We purify water to remove biological contaminants, like bacteria and amoebas, that can make us sick. There are three basic ways to purify water. These are: (1) boiling, (2) chemical purification, and (3) distillation. Of these three methods, boiling and chemical purification are the quickest and easiest. Distillation requires more time and more equipment and will be the subject of another post.

Boiling water requires a fire proof container to hold the water and a source of heat. Simply bring the water to a boil for ten minutes then allow it to cool. Once the water has cooled you can pour it back and forth several times between two containers to re-oxygenate the water and improve its taste. If you are at a high elevation water will boil at a lower temperature, so you will have to boil it for a longer period of time to be sure that it is purified.

There are several different chemicals that you can use to purify water. Commercial water purification tablets, like Halazone, are cheap to buy and easy to use. I keep a bottle of them in my truck, and another bottle in my pocket survival kit. Regular household bleach can also be used to purify water. Use about 16 drops of bleach (about 1/4 teaspoon) to a gallon of water, shake well, and let stand for thirty minutes. Tincture of Iodine can also be used to purify water by adding 8 drops per quart. Shake well and let stand for 20 minutes. Iodine is not recommended for long-term use and should never be used by pregnant women or persons with a thyroid condition.