I’m talking about the upside of long-term, remote, Rocky Mountain survival. The very fact that you are reading this essay means that you are concerned about the state of the world around you and that you have serious concerns about what you are seeing. Whether your concerns center on the threat of attack from outside forces, economic collapse, fears that elected officials in the American government are taking us irreparably away from the government envisioned by our founding fathers (my concern), or the Zombie Apocalypse (my wife’s favorite), you’ve decided that the time has come to prepare for the possibility that life as we know it really could end. Nobody is as prepared as they would like to be, and most of us do not have the financial resources to have our own personal retreat, fully stocked just waiting for normal life to implode. That means the rest of us will have to resort to getting away from the chaos around us and going where we feel we have the best chance to persevere. Growing up in Colorado and going on annual elk hunting trips, my safe place would be deep in the mountains. The Rocky Mountains offer a great many positive attributes when it comes to getting away from the end of the world. The geography makes it easy to isolate yourself. There is an abundance of food, if you know where to look and how to catch it. Water, moving downhill like it does, is often collected in predictable places. Coniferous trees offer ample opportunities for primitive shelter and concealment. In some ways, trying to make a life here would have some unique advantages.
Harvesting an antelope, deer, elk, or moose would create enough meat to feed a family for anywhere from two weeks to three months, depending on the size of the animal. While deer and elk hunting as we know it can be considered difficult, and by no means are you assured of a successful hunt, the dynamics of hunting these creatures change dramatically if the hunting season changes to year-round. I observed something interesting when, after hunting all my life in late October in 3rd rifle season, our hunting camp decided to start going several weeks earlier in 1st season. The deer and elk had been shot at and hunted aggressively for several weeks by the time 3rd season came. They were much more wary of human presence and as a result it was more difficult to get close enough to them to shoot at them. In 1st season, they hadn’t yet been hunted and we would regularly see deer and elk in close proximity to human camps, especially near sunrise and sunset. In a situation where you are no longer required to apply for a license and hunt only during the week-long period specified on your license, the probability of a successful hunt increases dramatically. Another reason your odds of success would increase is because you would no longer be limited in what you could shoot at. For example, this year I obtained a cow elk license, and my father who hunts with me got a bull elk license. Even if we party hunted (which is illegal in the state of Colorado, even though it happens in 75% of all hunting camps), I would only be able to shoot an antlerless elk, or a bull elk that had more than 4 points on each antler (Colorado Department of Wildlife regulations). After a week of hard hunting, we broke camp and went home empty handed. If I wasn’t bound by those rules, however, I had opportunities to take shots at a group of three deer, a huge moose, and a cow elk that I hesitated to shoot at because I couldn’t tell through the timber if she was a bull or a cow. In a primitive living situation, I would have had plenty of meat to feed my family.
There are more opportunities for smaller game, if the idea of harvesting a giant antlered creature seems a little overwhelming. In my time hunting and camping in the Rocky Mountains, squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits are all very common and can be efficiently hunted with or without guns. A little .22 rifle is ideal for these types of animals, but for people with families, arm your nine year old son with a slingshot and a pocket full of rocks, and turn food collection into playtime. Birds like wild turkeys, pidgeons, and grouse are also plentiful. A shotgun is obviously preferred for them but not required, especially if you were able to just draw and shoot if one crossed your path.
Unless you locate to an extremely high elevation where temperatures at night get too cold, there is a short growing season in the mountains were you will be able to grow a respectable number of vegetables. Peppers, green beans, tomatoes, lettuce, and other vegetables can be raised. Ground will tend to be rockier than ideal, but if the will is there it can be done. I won’t claim to be an expert on edible plants in this area, but the information is readily available on the Internet and can be found at sites like http://backpackingtherockies.com/edible-wild-plants/ or http://www.coloradoplants.org/.
Safety and Security
When cities are no longer safe and people are starving in the suburbs, we will be living modestly but comfortably deep in the Rocky Mountains. There won’t be any elaborate security systems. There won’t be any neighborhood watch. There won’t be any 911 emergency response. There won’t be anything like that to make sure your person and your property remain safe, but it will still be one of the safest places a person can be. The biggest reason is an easy one to comprehend. EVERYONE WILL BE ARMED! Your typical hunting camp has thousands of dollars’ worth of gear and guns and 4-wheel drive vehicles. Large canvas tents are simply zipped shut while people go out for the day to hunt. It isn’t possible to lock up all your valuable gear while you are away, and yet there is very little concern that your gear will be taken because it takes a suicidal mixture of bravery and sheer stupidity to try to rob people that are armed like a group of hunters.
In the fiction of James Wesley, Rawles, his characters are heavily armed with high capacity automatic and semi-automatic rifles (among other things). In a scenario where you are trying to wait out the collapse of society in a place like a farm or a ranch where a road on a map can take you to their doorstep, that kind of firepower is necessary. Large, highly armed bands of brigands and looters must be deterred by force. It is not as essential to be armed that heavily deep in the mountains. By going deep enough into the woods and away from the roads, you take yourself largely out of the line of fire from groups like that. While protecting your life and the lives of your loved ones after the world falls apart means that you are forced to start with the assumption that everyone is looking to take from you, you are more likely to encounter similarly-minded individuals who have decided to wait out the end of the world as far away from most other humans as you could get. I would still argue that you would want as much firepower as you could get your hands on, but if I had to I would still feel pretty safe with my elk rifle, my Glock 19 handgun, and my .22 rifle along with several thousand rounds for each.
Shelter and Warmth
Much of the Rocky Mountain range is covered in coniferous trees like pine trees and fir trees. In the last 10 years, the Mountain Pine Beetle population has grown to record high levels. The Mountain Pine Beetle burrows into various types of pine trees to lay its eggs and is responsible for the death of a staggering number of trees in states as far south as Arizona and as far north as British Columbia. It is an alarming sight to see all of these dying pine trees in what would otherwise be a beautiful pristine forest, but it can make survival in this area somewhat more manageable. Should you decided to build something more permanent than a canvas tent, there is an abundance of useable pine trees that have been ravaged by the Pine Beetle and have fallen in the woods. In fact, there is more than there has ever been. Large, lodge pole pine trees litter much of the forest floor and would make ideal building materials for a solid simple lean-to structure that could be made in a day and last as long as you needed it to.
For the same reason, you will also have no trouble finding fuel for your campfire. Clearing out fallen timber from around your camp will often provide you with enough firewood for several weeks and also help protect your camp from forest fires. Fifteen years ago, when we would first set up our camp for hunting season, we would have to leave camp and go to an area where we saw some dead pine trees and chainsaw them into a small enough size where they could be loaded into the trucks and taken back to camp. Now we wander around just outside our camp and take the trees that have fallen near camp in the last year, and we also take down a few trees that are near camp that are dead and pose a risk to fall and injure people in our hunting party or damage our property. Gathering enough firewood to keep our camp warm for the week used to take half a day, and now it only takes a few hours.
I believe that food, safety, and shelter are three of the issues that most of America would struggle with if TEOTWAWKI ever comes. Although I, like most of America, am not as prepared as I would like to be, I know where I can go to survive and care for my family and get away from the chaos that threatens to take civilization apart. I know that life anywhere would be difficult, and secluded mountain life is not different. It would take faith, a strong will, and lots of hard work to make it, but when the world does fall apart, those are going to be the shared attributes of all survivors.