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USMC Mountain Survival Course- Part 3, by E.T.

Second Phase – Individual Survival in the USMC Mountain Survival Course (continued)

I was on the third day of my individual isolation survival of the USMC Mountain Survival course. By mid-afternoon I had improved my fuel (wood) situation, improved my shelter and signaling for rescue, and boiled enough water to fill my plastic bladder and two Nalgene bottles [1]. So I went scrounging for food.

Food for Day Three

I was five yards from a small running stream that provided just enough running water to scoop some out with a metal cup. Another 50 yards downhill from my shelter, the stream emptied into a larger stream several feet across. The stream was small. The fish in it were, at best, three or four inches long. I hooked some line to some low hanging branches, baited the smallest hooks from my fishing kit, and dropped them into the stream. Then I made a quick split point spear. It was easy enough. Find a straight stick, sharpen the point, and then split the point into two. Wedge a small piece of wood between the two points and wrap some fishing line around to hold the wedge in place.

Now you’ve got a simple fish spear. Then wander around the river banks and wade out. Stand still and look for fish. Put the tip in the water. Move slowly, and keep an eye on where your shadow falls. It will warn the fish that there is danger above. Keep your spear aimed slightly below the fish (water reflection), and use a quick thrust. I used to do this all the time as a kid. Like then, I’ve never actually got anything but frustrated.

After my fishing trip, I set about setting up snares on any potential game trails or burrowed dens in the ground. I spent more time on this. I believed I had the best chance at catching something to eat in this manner. Unfortunately, at the elevation where we were, there was not much game. I did see two mule deer later on during this phase and tried to get close enough to kill them. I have more on that later.

Basic Chores and Assignments

Evening was coming on, so I stripped down and washed my clothes and body in the stream. Then I went back to my shelter, read my Bible, and worked on my assignments.

For the next few days I gathered wood, continually improved my shelter and living area, checked lines and traps (moving them at times), and worked on our assignments. The assignments during this portion of the course included: making weapons, utensils, and a bowl. We were also assigned the task of tanning our rabbit hide for something useful.

Utensils and Bowl Made

For utensils, I carved out a spoon and fork from a flat piece of split wood shaped out with my knife. I never actually used them. It’s not like I had food. It was just a wood carving exercise for the most part. For the bowl, I used the folding saw and cut a length of dry fallen log about eight inches in diameter. Using my knife, I stabbed and pried into the center as best I could to make a hollow. Then using a pair of sticks, like pinchers, (Pro Tip: Carry a Multi-Tool with pliers!) I put a lump of coal into the indention and began to blow.

This started the slow process of burning a hollow core out for the bowl. The requirement was that your bowl was capable of holding an amount of water equal to your metal cup. If the bowl cracked, you could use sap to fill and keep the water in. I used some of the wax from the survival kit’s wax candle. It was worthless as an actual light. I helped the process with my knife whenever possible, as it was faster by digging with the tip of the blade then slow burning with a piece of coal.

Weapon Made

For a weapon, I made a war club. I found a dead tree with a large “turn”, at almost 90 degrees at the bottom. I cut the tree down below the turn and left about three feet of trunk above it. Then, I whittled a proper shape and handle. I seared it over the fire to harden the wood. It began to crack towards the end, but I wrapped some of my snare wire around it tightly to keep it together. Using an awl on the end of the U.S. Survival Knife, I made a hole in the end of the handle and ran a length of 550 cord through to make a loop. (Get a multi-tool [2]. (for this!) This thing was awesome. It’s what I used when I stalked the two mule deer that wandered by my camp.

My Mule Deer Attack

My plan was to sneak up as quickly as I could and try to brain one of the deer with a good throw of my handmade weapon. This didn’t work for a number of reasons. There wasn’t much cover, and I reeked of smoke from fire. Plus, I had never thrown my club, so I wasn’t sure how far I could throw it. The skittish animals never came in to what I thought was a good throwing distance.

Eventually they tired of me and ran off. (I carried the club through the entire course like BamBam from the Flintstones [3] and brought it home with me stuffed in my seabag on the plane. I put some polyurethane on it to keep it from splitting while it dried. Then I hung it up in the bedroom. A few years later, it still looks like it did the day I carried it out of the wilderness.) We weren’t told how long we would be on our own. After five days of eating a small piece of goat jerky and a few handfuls of wild onions a day, my energy was pretty low. I found myself taking a lot of rests I normally would not have taken.

Food On Day Five

On my regular diet, I hate most vegetables. I definitely hate all “leafy” plants. I have tried. Really. I don’t know how many dandelions or horse mane I tried to eat. The wild onions weren’t too bad, but trying to eat them with the stems made it rough. I managed. However, could I eat the bugs? No, thank you. During the first phase, when I was sheltering with the Corpsman, he was eating carpenter ants on day one. He swore they tasted like sweet tarts. I don’t know. I didn’t try them. Worms, grubs, all that food out there are, yeah, calories.

But do you know how many ants and worms you’d need to eat for it to matter? It works for some animals, but it wasn’t worth the effort in my situation. As a last resort, yes. They are better than nothing. But if you are down to eating bugs, you are in some serious trouble. I wasn’t there yet. (I knew my return flight date!) The wild edible plants around me didn’t have many calories either, by the way.

Their caloric count was nothing like a potato, carrot, or something with substance and starchy carbs. As for my snares and traps, I found a couple that showed signs of something moving them, but they had no catches. Nothing was on the fishing lines either. I had small hope for them. I did spear fish again, and again the minnows eluded me.

Moving On Again

The evening of our fifth day, the instructor showed up and checked my assignments. I was told to break camp in the morning. We were all told to tear down the shelters, scatter the materials used to the wind, and destroy all evidence we were ever there. We were to all meet at the ammo can with the log book for the next phase. The next morning I pulled the shelter down and made sure all my gear was packed and my water topped off. I threw the stones for the fire wall down the hill and dragged the branches and logs from my shelter into the woods.

I took down my signaling mirror and erased the arrows pointing to my site. The orange water bag was used to carefully put out the fire and I stirred the ashes until nothing smoked. I cleared the place out pretty well, except I forgot my wag bag, but that was okay. I only had to use it once the entire time and wouldn’t need it again.

Phase 3 – Group Survival

That morning, we trickled into the clearing. Everyone was filthy. Some had minor burns, scrapes, and cuts. That sniper with the fractured hand looked especially rough. Our dirty beards were starting to show up nicely on our soot-covered faces. The temperature had started to drop lower at night, even though it was mid-July. That morning we were all bundled up. I had my grid fleece on under my blouse with the neck zipped up.

The boonie cover [4] was on my head and shemagh [5] was wrapped around my neck covering most of my face. Still, I was shivering. We talked about our adventures. A couple of guys had seen each other from a distance, but no one admitted any contact. I personally hadn’t seen anyone but the instructor. A couple of guys managed to snare a couple of ground squirrels to eat. Most of us had eaten more onions than we cared to ever eat again. I don’t know about the Polish Commando. He barely spoke English, but he acted like this wasn’t anything new for him.

Further Reading:

SurvivalBlog Writing Contest

This has been part three of a five part entry for Round 71 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest [10]. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:

First Prize:

  1. A $3000 gift certificate towards a Sol-Ark Solar Generator [11] from Veteran owned Portable Solar LLC. The only EMP Hardened Solar Generator System available to the public.
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  5. An infrared sensor/imaging camouflage shelter from Snakebite Tactical in Eureka, Montana (A $350+ value),
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  1. A Model 175 Series Solar Generator provided by Quantum Harvest LLC (a $439 value),
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  9. American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) is providing a $300 certificate good towards any of their DVD training courses [16].

Third Prize:

  1. A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $275 value),
  2. A custom made Sage Grouse model utility/field knife from custom knife-maker Jon Kelly Designs, of Eureka, Montana,
  3. A large handmade clothes drying rack, a washboard, and a Homesteading for Beginners DVD, all courtesy of The Homestead Store, with a combined value of $206,
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  5. Two Super Survival Pack seed collections, a $150 value, courtesy of Seed for Security, LLC,
  6. Mayflower Trading is donating a $200 gift certificate for homesteading appliances,
  7. Montie Gear is donating a Y-Shot Slingshot and a $125 Montie gear Gift certificate.,
  8. Two 1,000-foot spools of full mil-spec U.S.-made 750 paracord (in-stock colors only) from www.TOUGHGRID.com (a $240 value), and

Round 71 ends on July 31st, so get busy writing and e-mail [17] us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.

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Comments Disabled To "USMC Mountain Survival Course- Part 3, by E.T."

#1 Comment By Jason On June 9, 2017 @ 11:07 am

Another excellent installment. I have often wondered about the entire “eating bugs and bark to survive” crowd, and if the calories expended acquiring them where in fact a net loss upon consumption. Better than starvation, certainly, but to me, just another reminder that only a naive fool would consider bugging out to the woods la viable option.

Thank you for a great series of articles!

#2 Comment By E. T. On June 9, 2017 @ 4:05 pm

Agreed. The idea is lunacy. The majority of people today are certainly a far cry from those who adventured into the woods on their own in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Even then they did so with tools, supplies, and the knowledge of how to use them to great effect. They also had the luxury of time and preparation before knowingly stepped into great danger of isolation and a high mortality rate.

Thank you for reading!

#3 Comment By Don Williams On June 9, 2017 @ 1:33 pm

1) I concur — great set of articles.
Re the minnows, did the instructors talk about fish traps — woven nets, baskets, stone weirs,etc?

2) Although the fish probably would not have much calories. May spend more calories acquiring them than what you get back from eating them.

3) It seems like you were in a difficult location for foraging — on a mountain. Unfortunately, my impression from SERE manuals is that 3/4ths up the side of a mountain is where an evader trying to escape an enemy wants to be. Which kinda limits the opportunities for poaching.

4) Re the mule deer, a silenced 22 aimed for a brain shot may kill them at less than 40? yards.
Chiappa has a version of the old Air Force survival rifles that is chambered for 22 LR or 22 magnum (vice the AF’s 22 hornet) and is tapped for a silencer. Youtube has a demo of it with silencer — search for “chiappa little badger tiffany”

5) Don’t know how you would smuggle it past the instructors, however. Maybe infiltrate Bridgeport a week or two before the course and bury it somewhere. heh heh It would blow the instructors’ minds to discover a student roasting a mule deer on a big spit.

#4 Comment By E. T. On June 9, 2017 @ 4:11 pm

We did go over fishing traps, as far as I know no one wove any but I know several attempted to build ‘funnel traps’ of the sort where you apply stick and/or rock to create a pull for fish to swim into but have a hard time swimming out. I don’t know of any success in this matter.

A .22 would have been fantastic. I made it within 20 yards of the Mule Deer and a shot with a .22 would certainly have been taken had it been available. A great boon for any food acquiring.

Never leave home without a gun!

#5 Comment By K On June 9, 2017 @ 2:51 pm

Here is a question I have always wanted to ask a military professional. What is the opinion on having a heavy smoker in your squad? I am very sensitive to smoke and can often smell a smoker several yards away. Not good for someone hiding in the bushes. Some are so bad that they leave a scent trail for a period of time. Also, what about a smoker lighting up at night? Logic may dictate actions but I’m not confident that all smokers operate with logic. I guess I would just like to know how this subject is covered in training.

#6 Comment By E. T. On June 9, 2017 @ 4:17 pm

I’m not sure about the other branches, but in the Marine Corps smoking is not very common. Regulations forbid you to do much of anything with a cigarette in your hand. Such as walking, talking to superiors, being inside doors, etc.

Dip is all the rage now. You can do all of the above with a dip in your mouth. You have to be careful what bottles you drink out of…. or canteens for that matter.

Most marines I know of will dip if they can’t smoke.

There is still some smell, especially with all the fruity flavors they have, but unless someone comes in close to you there won’t be a noticeable stench.

Heck, some guys even do PT with a dip in. It’s bragging rights.

But to go back to your original question, during School of Infantry we do go over smoking and detection. It’s part of our Combat Hunter training.

#7 Comment By K On June 9, 2017 @ 8:14 pm

Thanks for responding. I have had that on my mind for years. As with the other readers I have enjoyed hearing about your training. Thank you for your service.

#8 Comment By LarryC On June 9, 2017 @ 3:54 pm

“Planning for” failure should be the name of the course. I strongly believe the vast majority of those rugged individual loners will die alone. If the individuals took stock of the diversity of talent in the group taking the course and then worked together as a group they would greatly improve their survivability. Two men hunting in a team can be much more effective. There is an old saying that “two can get something done three times faster than one”. This is a very critical principle when seeking water, nutrition and shelter in a crisis survival situation. This is true with families as well. For example; several families can man a 24 hour patrol in their neighborhood while an individual family cannot. Yes it is time to train and stock up but don’t neglect teaming up. For those who have faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, teaming up with like minded brethren is critical. Seeking the wisdom and protection of God when dealing with a SHTF situation is a foundational preparation that should be at the top of your list of preps. Just my humble opinion.

#9 Comment By E. T. On June 9, 2017 @ 4:20 pm

The next section will discuss our Group Survival portion of the training.

It would have made life easier… if the Instructors hadn’t made life harder.

But agreed.

#10 Comment By Big Mike On June 9, 2017 @ 4:30 pm

One thing survival people need to learn is the basic plant species. If there are any wildlife of any type, they are eating some type of plant, from the smallest to the largest animals. Of those plant types, some should be edible and palatable. A “weed” to us is a wild potato to native Alaskans and tasty. A “weed” to the uninformed can be a plant tastier than lettuce to those who know better. Get an “edible plant” book for your area and then become proficient. How did the indigenous people survive in your area? I purchased one for my area. As a “raised bed” gardening area was cleaned out for spring planting, we found that there were 5 edible plants already growing there that were native to our area.

#11 Comment By Brad M On June 9, 2017 @ 5:03 pm

I have been really enjoying this piece every day and find myself looking forward to it. I want to know more, but don’t want it to end.

#12 Comment By Big___Al On June 9, 2017 @ 7:41 pm

Loving the series, E.T. Thanks!

On a side note to admin: I read this site almost every day, but I still manage to miss things some times. I had to scroll back aways to find part 1 of this article. I’ve always wondered, for multi-part articles: Is it hard to put a link under the title? Like, say, after the title of this one, two links saying, “Pt. 1” and “Pt. 2?” Could be difficult; I’m clueless. Thanks as always.

#13 Comment By Big___Al On June 11, 2017 @ 4:04 pm

Duh, just noticed after reading part 5, you have links at the bottom of the article. Don’t know if you just added them, but thanks!