Letter Re: An Outward Bound Prepper’s Perspective

Hi Jim,
I’m new to your site and books but not to the concepts and precepts. My dad had a survivalist/self-sufficient mindset with a cool mix of Native American philosophy and know-how. I didn’t eat store bought meat or baked goods until I was 10 or 12 and thought processing shoulders of venison in the kitchen was the norm. We had a huge garden and fruit tree orchard. My mom was a master at canning; although I think it should be called “jarring” because you’re putting it in jars, not cans. He collected, traded, and rebuilt guns and amassed quite a collection. I grew up reloading cartridges and sanding/staining stocks and thought nothing of it at the time. He taught us to hunt, fish, camp, garden, live off the land and many other things that I took for granted at the time. He passed away last year but his lessons and way of being in the world still guide me to this day. From reading your novel I now know why he left us a 25 pound bag of really, really old silver coins.

As I have been reading your book and the blogs posts, I keep jotting notes to myself of things that have expanded my knowledge or ones that I would “pipe-in” on. I keep thinking I should read the entire archive of blogs first before piping in but realize that might take a very long time. I get bogged down in all the heavy duty technical talk and find myself putting it down or signing off for awhile. I feel very simplistic compared to a lot of the bloggers and find that I’m beginning to questions my own philosophies and preparedness. I’ve been stashing stuff for 20+ years but it has always been with the mindset of whether it can fit in a backpack or the back of my truck. I’m more of the Doug Carlton type. I can fill a backpack and disappear into the woods for many, many months and live very comfortably. And yes, shock-shock, I am a woman of small/lean stature.

I spent 10 years working for Outward Bound and 25 years backpacking/exploring North America . I’ve extensively scoped out where I would head and have created some caches along the way. I lived the majority of two years “out” and was amazed when I returned to “civilization” how much I appreciated instant fire, instant hot water, instant heat, real beds, not camping in snow, and not having to sleep with my boots in my sleeping bag to keep them from freezing overnight. Still, with all my experience and skill, the more I read of your book and blogs the more I’m wondering: Did I miss something?

I was reading through the Retreat Owner Profiles and kinda felt inadequate until some thoughts started hitting me. Could these people live/survive without the majority of all this stuff? If they had to choose 10 items, other than what they were wearing, to survive what would they be? (Hint: one of mine is heavy duty paper clips). If they had to choose three items what would they be? Do they know how to find dry wood and start a fire when it has been raining nonstop for two days? Could they curl up under a Ponderosa Pine without a tent and sleep a rainy night away? How would they react around bears, mountain lions, and the sorts? What if they got hurt out in the woods, could they handle it? How “tough” are they without their guns? The questions just kept coming and I started feeling less inadequate.

Since discovering your web site and starting all the reading my thoughts are definitely evolving. At my house I have been stashing for years what I call “luxury” stuff that would be part of a stable retreat. Within a year I will be getting a healthy inheritance and you now have me seriously considering creating a retreat at one of my “finds” from all the years of exploration. Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Washington and British Columbia have been my playgrounds for years. Over the last 20+ years of “playing” I have been honing in on where my bit of wilderness would be.

Also, thanks to you and your web site, I am now going to go back and take my brother up on some of his recent offers. One of which pertained to my dads extensive gun collection. I was home a couple of months ago and my brother took me into the “secret” room that housed a lot of my dad’s “toys”. We grew up calling them “toys” because my dad was somewhat adamant about people outside the family knowing anything about his extensive collection of guns, knives, arrowheads, old coins, et. cetera. I was staring at a room full of guns (amongst other things) and he told me take whatever I wanted. All I took was one small handgun because most of them are what I call “guy guns”. They were big, beefy, heavy, etc. Now I am thinking even if I can’t use them, I can trade them for something more my size. Without having me ingest an encyclopedia on guns, what would you suggest? I’m 5’5″, 110 pounds, with small bones. I have access to most any new gun at cost or below cost. My brother would tell me not to by new but to go with unregistered older models, but some of the newer ones are seriously slick.

I have lots of thoughts and tips about living/surviving in the woods but it seems a lot of your web site is devoted to established retreats and I’m not there yet. So, I will keep reading and evolving my thoughts. You got me digging out all my old topo maps of the western states and going back through my experiences there. I am going to Oregon in a week, Utah in three weeks, and northern Montana in a couple of months. I had planned on just doing more re-exploration but will now have a more focused approach. So, thanks! Take care and keep your socks dry, – Sharon

JWR Replies: It is a pleasure hearing from a reader with extensive backwoods experience. You will find that invaluable. I often say that there is no substitute for hard-earned practical experience. It comes with some years, and with putting one foot in front the other, over hill and dale–chalking up considerable mileage off of pavement.

As for your firearms question: My wife is 5’4″ and is under 100 pounds. Her primary rifle is a Valmet Hunter .308 semi-auto, which is a rifle generally carried by much larger shooters. The trick was having both the stock and barrel shortened, so that the rifle would fit her properly. She also had a Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad installed. That rifle has taken a lot of deer in the past 15 years, since it has also been used by our teenagers, while growing up. Don’t miss some of the letters in the SurvivalBlog archives about gun choice for smaller shooters. Just type “small-statured and shooters” into the “Search Posts on SurvivalBlog:” search box at the top of the right hand bar.

Good luck with your search for a suitable retreat. For my selection rationale, and some detailed locales suggestions, see my book Rawles on Retreats and Relocation.