Modifying Your Retreat House: The Basics

Before I go into detail on how to make you retreat/home nor defendable (as I will in subsequent posts), here are a few basics:

Buy a house with at least one more bedroom than you currently need, preferably with a full basement. (Proviso: A basement only if the local water table level will allow this without aid of an electric sump pump. It must have a “dry and tight” basement!) Stock up on extra tools, sturdy clothes, food, guns, web gear, and necessities for family and friends that will surely show up on you doorstep on TEOTWAWKI+1. Don’t do anything externally visible that might tip looters that they can “get your supplies here.” Put in an oversize vegetable garden, preferably out of line of sight from the street. Ring the garden with flowerbeds and some tall flowering shrubs to make the garden look more decorative than practical to the casual observer. Get a big, quiet, mean-looking (but obedient) guard dog. I tend toward Airedales (the largest of the Terriers) and Rhodesian Ridgebacks. Both are fairly large breeds with loyal, and highly territorial temperaments. Note , however, that selecting a dog breed is a very personal choice. Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV). BTW, I’d love to get a “review” letter from anyone who has owned either breed for an extended period of time. (I’m the first to admit that I’m too biased to write anything about dog breeds dispassionately.)

Plant several rose bushes or thorny Bougainvillea vines beneath each window. (“Don’t those look lovely!“) Bush roses and climbing varieties can be used in various ways to defend your home. Use your imagination. If you buy defensive wire (military surplus concertina wire or civilian razor wire), keep it stored discreetly in your garage out of sight and put it up only in the event of a true “worst case” situation where the town must be barricaded. When you donate that wire to the local security committee you will be looked at as a forward thinking life saver, not a whacko!

Replace all of your exterior doors with sturdy steel ones in steel frames. If your house has a connecting garage, pay particular attention to beefing up the door that connects it to the house. Turn your garage into a mini-warehouse, with lots of heavy duty shelving. And then avoid opening your main garage door unless absolutely necessary. Train all of your family members to never let visitors see the interior of your garage. Pick up your mail in town, and don’t subscribe to controversial publications in your own name.

The “No Paperwork” AR-15

A tip of the hat to The Rascal for pointing me to this URL for 80% complete AR-15 receiver kits and completion tools/jigs/instructions. This could prove useful if you live in a State that has registration requirements for “private party” gun purchases, but not for home built guns. Consult your State and local laws before ordering! You should also order through a drop box to avoid a paper trail.

To U.S. readers: Resist the urge to drill an extra hole above the selector switch hole. With practice, you can squeeze your trigger finger very rapidly with just semi-auto. There is NO REASON to risk a five year stay at the Gray Bar Hotel and the permanent loss of your gun ownership and voting rights! I’m dead serious about this.

OBTW, I’m not a great fan of Mouse Guns. However, they do have their purposes, most notably for use by children, the elderly, and anyone confined to a wheelchair. Also keep in mind that AR-15 receivers can be used for more than just building a .223 AR-15. For example, the Ferret .50 kit (.50 BMG single shot) requires NO FFL. Nor does the BRP Guns MG-42 (semi-auto belt fed) kit. Both use AR-15 receivers. Parenthetically, a strange quirk of U.S. law makes the lower receiver on an AR legally the receiver, rather than the upper receiver. It is a good thing that Eugene Stoner set the precedent of stamping the serial numbers on the lowers of the first AR-10s, some 40+ years ago. The rest is history.

Letter: A Book Recommendation

Dear Mr. Rawles;
Nice to see your Blog.
As a recommendation, try an older book, titled “Five Acres and Independence ” by M.G. Kains, B.S., M.S. It was first published in 1935, updated in 1940 and 1948, But still very relevant! You can find it on Advanced Book Exchange for very low prices. It outlines exactly what your wife has advised for breeding livestock, as well as similar programs, even for corn and vegetables, as well as fruit trees. Well worth the low cost as a second hand book. – P.W.

Jim’s Quote of the Day:

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, and die gallantly. Specialization is for insects." – Robert Heinlein

Note from Jim:

I have considerably expanded the SurvivalBlog Glossary. You may find a few of the entries entertaining as well as informative.

Batman Fantasy Land (SA: Retreating Options)

You should discard any fantasies that you might have had about strapping on a backpack and disappearing into nearby National Forest to “live off the land.” IMHO, that is an invitation to disaster. Too many things can go wrong: You will lack sufficient shelter. You will not be able to carry enough food reserves. Your one rifle and your one pistol, and your one axe, once lost or broken will leave you vulnerable and unable to provide for your sustenance or self defense. Any illness or injury could be life threatening. Even just a dunking in a stream in mid-winter could cost your life. Also, consider how many thousands of urbanites will probably try to do the same thing. Even if you manage to avoid encounters with them, those legions of people foraging at once will quickly deplete the available wild game in many regions. Furthermore, on your own you won’t be able to maintain sufficient security. (You must sleep, after all!) For countless reasons, playing “Batman in the Boondocks” just won’t work. So forget about the “one pack” solution, other than as a last resort–for example, in the event that your retreat is overrun. Also note that any of you that do not live at your intended retreat location year round should have a “Get out of Dodge” (G.O.O.D.) pack ready at all times. Keep it in the trunk of your car in case circumstances force you to hike all or part of the way to your retreat. (A sub-optimal situation, as described in my novel Patriots.) Be sure to inspect your G.O.O.D. pack regularly and rotate any first aid supplies, chemical light sticks, jerky, dried fruit, or other perishables.

Vehicular Retreating

“Land mobile” retreating in a recreational vehicle (RV) is another invitation to disaster. In a TEOTWAWKI situation, a fixed location retreat is vastly superior to going mobile. IMO, the myth of ”Road Warrior” mobility and firepower is in actuality just an expanded opportunity to wander into ambush after ambush. No vehicle short of a $70,000+ Cadillac Gage V100 wheeled armored personnel carrier (APC) would have both the cargo capacity and the ballistic protection required. (A little Ferret scout car just doesn’t have the capacity. I speak from personal experience on that!) Also, consider that you would need a pair of APCs to provide mutually supporting defensive fire. And then of course you will probably want a belt-fed for each. With spares and accessories that is an additional $3,000 per vehicle. If by chance you already have a fully stocked retreat established and have $150,000 in cash laying around for a couple of ultimate G.O.O.D. vehicles, see: Dave Uhrig’s website and then click on “Armor”. (I should mention that I have done business with Dave Uhrig on two occasions. He is quite reputable.) Note: I will discuss survival vehicles in greater detail in blog posts later this year.

Here is a dose of reality for you: If you choose to go entirely vehicle mobile eventually you will eventually lose a battle–most likely in a roadblock ambush–or your RV will break down. Or it will run out of fuel–with some likelihood that it will be on exposed terrain in an untenable situation. Also, since the logistics that you could carry would be limited, you will start out with an inherent disadvantage to fixed location retreats. This also creates the prospect that once your food supplies are depleted you will be tempted to take what you need from others. To paraphrase John Dibari (my high school chemistry instructor) when he described troublemakers: “If you aren’t part of the solution–you’re the precipitate.” (That is, someone who precipitates trouble–part of the problem, not the solution.) Scratch that idea!

Sea Mobile Retreating

A live-aboard sailboat or motor cruiser is another frequently touted retreat option. Unless you are an experienced blue water yachtsman with many years of experience, then I cannot recommend “sea mobile” retreating. I only know a few yachtsmen with this level of experience–most notably Mark Laughlin and Matthew Bracken. (BTW, Some of the characters and descriptions in Matt Bracken’s recent novel “Enemies Foreign and Domestic” shed some light on sea-mobile retreating.) IMHO, for a long term Crunch with anticipated fuel shortages, only a sailboat with an auxiliary engine makes sense. If you do choose this route, then by all means select the largest sailboat you can afford (and that can be manned by a small crew) with the following features:

A minimal radar cross section.
A retractable keel so that you can navigate shallows.
A very quiet auxiliary engine.
The largest fuel and fresh water tanks possible.
A full suite of communications gear (marine band, 2 Meter, CB, and HF.)
At least two Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers, plus a sextant in case the GPS satellites ever fail. (Or in case the GPS constellation is destroyed or significantly degraded by anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons.)
A hull and rigging design that will “blend in” with the crowd of seasonal yachtsmen.
Plenty of spare parts.

Be forewarned that your inevitable desire to add a large photovoltaic array will be in direct opposition to blending in. If you buy photovoltaic (PV) panels, buy canvas covers to make them less obvious when sailing near shore. A sailboat moored at night is vulnerable to sea-going looters. Even today, piracy is a problem, particularly in the Caribbean and the waters around Southeast Asia. This threat will surely expand by an order of magnitude WTSHTF. So plan your landfalls carefully!
Mobile approaches to retreating have too many drawbacks to recommend them, except perhaps in a few cases for someone with a huge budget. Pragmatically, you will need a defensible fixed location with a deep larder, tools, weapons, barter goods, and friends that you can count on. In essence, the only tenable “mobile” approach is for the very short term: a reliable vehicle that gets you to a well provisioned and defendable fixed retreat. (But I highly recommend living at you retreat year round, if at all possible. I will articulate this fully in future posts.)

POST REVISION: A Special Note for Commonwealth Readers

In yesterday’s post I should have been more specific when I used the term “British Commonwealth.” I had intended to direct my comments mainly toward the United Kingdom which is heavily urbanized and has a low quotient for self-sufficiency. A reader from Australia kindly pointed out my lapse in articulation. To clarify: I do believe that some of the more remote areas of Oz (particularly up at the fringe of The Wet), much of Western Canada, and perhaps parts of New Zealand that are well removed from major population centers could be a good places to survive WTSHTF. See my revised post, under the August 8, 2005 divider. Mea culpa. OBTW, a recent poll of Canadians showed that at least 35% of residents of the Western Provinces favor secession from the Ottawa government. Let freedom reign!

The Lightweight Bugout Bag, by “Jim Tanker”

My first bugout bag was actually a large army box that I had acquired in my many years in the military. I’m not sure how much that weighed but seemed like a hundred pounds. Most of the gear that I used back then was surplus army gear, actually the gear I was issued. I believe that most army gear was designed during The Inquisition. Any of you who have carried it know what I mean. Even my civilian pack topped out at 60 pounds, I didn’t know any better. In the last few years I’ve gotten into lightweight backpacking. There is a sect of backpackers that use the term “Ultra light” to describe their style of packing. Base weights of as little as 9 pounds are not uncommon if you have the money to buy them. 15-20 pound base pack weights are not too uncommon and fall into my category of light weight backpacking. Your base pack weight consists of everything you need to survive except expendables such as food, fuel, or water. Now understand that I’m not talking about a bug out bag at this point but shaving weight in some areas will shave weight for your bugout bag as well.

To start off with, I like to use civilian gear, for a few good reasons. The first is camouflage. If you go walking around in the city with a military rucksack on you are either a nut or a terrorist in the eyes of the sheeple. Not too many people would think twice of a person in clean clothes walking around with a nice internal frame backpack or even a duffle bag. Just think, you could carry around your bug out bag to work every day and just tell people that you are getting in shape for an upcoming backpacking trip. Secondly, it’s just so much more comfortable. That reason alone is enough to change for me. A good internal frame pack from any backpacking store will do fine. A balance in the volume to the weight of the pack should be looked at if you really want to reduce weight. I went for a 2900 cubic inch pack, to intentionally limit the volume that I have available. A lot of people buy a pack that is way too large for them and fill up the empty space with useless junk. I know, I’ve done it and went over a mountain with that pack, and I felt like a mule.

Jim’s Quote of the Day:

"A remarkable fact is how unafraid people are of influenza, even though the 1918-1919 pandemic killed upwards of 20 million people in a short period of time, a similar pandemic could recur, there is no cure for the disease, and flu vaccines are unreliable due to mutability of the virus." – Judge Richard A. Posner, Catastrophe: Risk and Response

The Illusion of Isolation

If you are an eastern urbanite and come to the conclusion that you need to buy “a cabin in upstate New York” or “a brick house in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens,” then you are wrong, quite possibly dead wrong. (By the way, I had both of those earnestly suggested, in e-mails from readers of my novel Patriots.) A rural area that is within an overall heavily populated region is not truly rural. It lacks real isolation from the basic problem–population. Most of these “rural” areas—except perhaps for a few fortunately bypassed zones, as I mentioned yesterday–will be overwhelmed by refugees and looters in a true TEOTWAWKI. You will need to be at least one tank of gas away from the larger metropolitan areas–preferably 300 miles or more, if possible.

Retreat Location Criteria

A retreat is not just “a cabin in the mountains.” Rather, it is a well-prepared and defensible redoubt with well-planned logistics. A proper survival retreat is in effect a modern day castle. Be prepared to escalate your defensive posture to match an escalating threat, and in a “worst case” your retreat will be so well defended that looters will most likely give up and find someone less prepared to prey upon. Ideally, a survival retreat is located in a region with the following characteristics:

A long growing season.
Geographic isolation from major population centers.
Sufficient year-round precipitation and surface water.
Rich topsoil.
A diverse economy and agriculture.
Away from interstate freeways and other channelized areas.
Low taxes.
Non-intrusive scale of government.
Favorable zoning and inexpensive building permits.
Minimal gun laws.
No major earthquake, hurricane, or tornado risks.
No flooding risk.
No tidal wave risk (at least 200 feet above sea level.)
Minimal forest fire risk.
A lifestyle geared toward self-sufficiency.
Demographics not factionalized either economically or racially.
Plentiful local sources of wood or coal.
No restrictions on keeping livestock.
Defendable terrain.
Not near a prison or large mental institution.
Inexpensive insurance rates (home, auto, health).
Upwind from major nuclear weapons targets.

After digesting the foregoing list and taking it seriously, you should be able to greatly narrow your search for potential retreat regions.

A Special Note for Commonwealth Readers (REVISED)

You will note that in my blog posts that I don’t make specific recommendations for regions in British Commonwealth countries that I consider safe havens. This is for two reasons: First, Because of my lack of familiarity with the terrain and microclimates, I don’t feel qualified to do so. Second, and more importantly, in my opinion there are no safe areas! The gun control laws and other facets of The Ubiquitous Nanny State have made your nations a poor place to stay in WTSHTF. Your laws prevent bearing arms for the defense of you own life and property. (And in most cases even owning guns or even some types of swords and knives!) Further, the multiple generations of people accustomed to deep dependency on the welfare state will make very dangerous neighbors. You will be outnumbered. It will mainly be criminals that will have guns, and you will be at their mercy. I cannot find words strong enough to implore you to emigrate to the United States if your circumstances make it feasible. You and your family will be much safer here! The only exceptions might be for those of you who live in some of Canada’s western provinces or the more remote regions of Australia or New Zealand. But even then you still have to live with some fairly draconian gun laws. If you plan on staying put, you should probably buy two fully redundant sets of guns. One to use, and one to cache. Your own government may come and collect the first set. And then it will be up to you just how you’ll interpret Rule 303.

I am also directing these comments to those of you living in unstable countries such Indonesia, Israel, Pakistan, The Philippines, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. Many of you are presently living in circumstances that are very similar to what I describe in this book. My hat is off to you. I can’t teach you what you already know so well. But I can recommend relocating to a rural region in the U.S. while it is still possible to do so. As they say at British football matches: “Take the gap!,” ladies and gents.

From The Memsahib: Selective Breeding

Selective breeding of small livestock is important to the survivalist because you will not be able to get replacement livestock from other sources if things get truly bad. You will have to maintain your own breeding population to replace those animal you consume, are killed by predators, die of disease, or even old age.

The first principle is that you will keep only a few male animals and a preponderance of female animals. The females of course gestate. The more females you have the more offspring can be produced. You will need some males. You certainly would want to have a “herd sire” and a spare. But you probably would not keep more than two because one male can service many females, and your space and feed will probably be limited. That having been said, your rooster, ram, buck goat, etc. should be the very best you can get. The old saying is that the male is 50% of the herd. He will provide his genetic material to ALL the offspring.

Once your animals are producing offspring, you will want to select the very best to raise up as replacements. First, they ought to be the daughters out of your very best females. Which are your best females? These would be the females that are healthy and have never been prone to any illness. Select chicks from your hens that started laying eggs the earliest, laid the most eggs, and kept laying even into the winter when the other hens stopped laying. For rabbits, select offspring from the does that raised the most bunnies to butcher weight on her milk alone. Select ones from does that breed readily, have large litters, but also have plenty of milk to feed their babies. For sheep and goats, select the offspring from the mothers that had no problems during their births, are calm mothers with lots of milk, never suffered from hoof or teeth problems, with well-formed udders and teats (“easy milkers”), and have been free of udder infections. Also, only select from ewes and doe goats that have twins. Twinning is an inherited trait. (Make sure your ram was a twin as well, because he can pass this gene on to his daughters).

The offspring you ought to eat first are the offspring from the inferior females that don’t lay as many eggs, don’t have twins, are prone to illnesses, are nervous mothers, or are less productive in some way. Your next step ids then to start raising up replacement young females. At the point when the yearlings come into production themselves you will want to cull your senior females that were not as healthy and productive as the others in the herd or flock. Your will also need to raise up a few young males to be eventual replacements. If you decide you have space to raise two young males you would be wise select males from two different mothers so as to maintain some genetic diversity.

In conclusion, I believe that your goal should be increased productivity and vigor in your herds and flocks. Obviously your goals will not be the same as someone who is breeding for “show”that is breeding for a certain look.

Jim’s Quote of the Day:

“The diligent farmer plants trees, of which he himself will never see the fruit.” (“Abores serit diligens agricola, quarum adspiciet baccam ipse numquam.”) – Marcus Tullius Cicero, Tusculanarum Disputationum (I,14)