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)

Channelization and Lines of Drift

Most major routes out of major cities will be very dangerous places to be in the event of a massive involuntary urban exodus. Imagine the situation WTSHTF in small towns on either side of the Snoqualmie Pass in Washington, or near I-80 across the Donner Pass in California, or on the Columbia River Gorge (dividing Oregon and Washington), or virtually every other stretch of interstate freeway that is within 150 miles of a metropolitan region. These channelized areas (also called “refugee lines of drift” by Military Police war game planners) should be studiously avoided.

Conversely, there are areas between lines of drift that will likely be bypassed by refugees and looters, due to poor access.(Constrained by small winding mountainous roads, water obstacles, intervening canyon lands, et cetera.) Some of these bypassed zones may be fairly close to urban areas. It is a dangerous gamble, but if for some reason you must live near a city, I suggest that you carefully search for what may be a largely bypassed zone for your retreat and/or home. A few regions that may be bypassed come to mind, based on my travels and from first hand accounts by my associates. (There are many others that are similar–do some research to find ones in your region). These include:

Portions of the Ouachita Mountains, west of Little Rock, Arkansas
Some islands in the Great Lakes region
Parts of Sabine County, south of Shreveport, Louisiana
The periphery of Harry S. Truman reservoir, 60 miles southeast of Kansas City, Missouri.
Portions of Dewey and Custer Counties (80 miles west of Oklahoma City.)
The Santa Rita Mountains, southeast of Tucson, Arizona
The Chiracahua Mountains, in the southeast corner of Arizona
The Mount Hamilton region, Alameda County, California. (East of San Jose, and south of Livermore.)
Parts of the San Joaquin River Delta, east of San Francisco, California
Some islands in the Puget Sound, Washington

Driving the back roads of your region will probably reveal other similar areas that might be bypassed. BTW, I’d appreciate input from readers about other potentially bypassed areas.

A Special Request From Jim:

I’ve been amazed and gratified that this blog has already has already had 1,960+ unique blog accesses and a total of 29,395 page hits. That’s not bad for a site that is just three days old… I’m asking a favor: Please send a brief and informal announcement to all of of your family, friends, or co-workers that have an interest in preparedness, self-sufficiency or related survival issues. Let them know about Please help spread the word! Just remember, if they get motivated and squared away, they will be one less person knocking on your door in need of charity on TEOTWAWKI+1.

Letter Re: Raising Rabbits as a Protein Source for Tough Times

Glad to see your Blog page starting up. I wish you well with it. To add to your son’s warnings on a rabbit meat-only diet: Eating strictly rabbit meat, the lack of fat causes the human body to start to crave. Early mountain men & wilderness travelers found this out the hard way. It is sort of like a salt craving: One’s body goes through some hard times when this happens, up to including malnourishment symptoms. By the way, it is noteworthy that “New” vegetarians experience these symptoms until their body becomes accustomed to vegetable fats. This can be a long process. I hope this bit of info will help. Take care.
– The Bee Man

[JWR’s note: Some of the readers of my novel will remember The Bee Man from the Barter Faire chapter. Yes, he is a real life individual. And a real “character” to boot!]

Letter Re: “On Population Density”

Jim, read the ‘population density’ analysis and couldn’t agree more. When I was on the road moving to North Idaho earlier this year I came up[U.S.] I-5 and swung over through Washington. There are a lot of people in that corridor. But when I went back for the second load I went down [U.S.] 395. I was amazed at the absence of civilization (at least on a large scale) From John Day [Oregon] through northern California it was DESOLATE. To the uninitiated this would seem frightening. Sometimes a half hour would pass before you passed another car. And the Eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada isn’t bad either. (Except for the fact that its in California). When we again headed north it was up 395 to Reno then North/east on 80 to Winnemucca. That stretch as well is quite appealing. Checked eBay and there is a lot of land for sale in those parts ‘dirt cheap’. And the area you mentioned in Idaho County as well appealed to me for the same reasons–small towns and few of them! Good growing climate and lots of wildlife. Northern Idaho is quite frankly TOO CROWDED and we will be leaving here soon. My circumstances (family) dictate that I leave this area but I will be relocating to a smaller town in Nevada and will keep my eyes on these areas that you have mentioned. OBTW, I lived in D.C. in the eighties while in the Air Force and was amazed at the number of people there. You are right, less is better!
– J.M. in Post Falls, Idaho

JWR’s Reply:

I agree that the Coeur d’Alene area of northern Idaho has too many people. However, there are a lot areas that are outside of commute distance to Spokane and the Aluminum Gulch that are very lightly populated. And those same areas are also where rural acreage is still affordable.

Letter Re: Small Livestock on a Budget

Howdy Jim & Memsahib,
Regarding getting rabbits free after the usual Easter bunny buying frenzy – great idea. Get them producing, and optimize your cage designs at the same time by using those Easter bunnies as test subjects.

One notes however that the “pet” rabbits are generally not designed specifically for meat production, and there are oftentimes sizeable efficiency differences between the breeds. As soon as possible, consider sourcing true breed lines that are designed for meat – you’ll kick up production quite a bit. Using the 4H as a source is probably the best idea – depending on where you’re at. Our 4H locally has been absolutely decimated by PC folks….not many of the 4H clubs still extant here.

If possible, stay away from wooden cages, or wooden cage frames. The rabbit’s eat and chew the woods, damaging and weakening it – and the urine will soak in, making it pretty nasty after a while. If you’ve got to build from wood, make sure you staple the cage wires to the inside of the frames. For cleaning, a 15% bleach/water solution sprayed on liberally and allowed to soak in works well. I’d also say, if you’ve got to use wood, use Cedar or Redwood only.
Good sources for these (at least in urban areas) are old fences, decks, spa surrounds, etc. (At least once a year I advertise for free demolition and removal of a deck. That keeps me with enough Redwood for my projects.)

Ideally, make those cages out of only metal mesh. The wire cloth (hardware cloth, hot dipped galvanizing) that’s out there is miserable stuff to work with, but it’ll work in a pinch. Lot’s of sharp edges and spikes on it, so wear gloves. Plus it’s got the problem of spiking the rabbit’s feet, sometimes giving some nice cuts and abrasions.

The best mesh material is [Smooth] Welded Wire Mesh – 16/14 GA will do just fine. Something like 1/2″x1″ openings. Get some hog ring pliers and hog rings, wire cutters, 4×4’s and hinges for a bending brake (not absolutely necessary, but sometimes will save time and materials) and a tape measure and you’re in business. (OBTW, this stuff is also great for building aviaries, live animal traps, shrimp/lobster cages, fish weirs, etc.)

Great blog so far – looks like it’ll be a winner. I’ll be making it one of my commonly visited sites. – G.T.

JWR’s Reply:

Many thanks for your well-informed observations! I concur that wood-framed rabbit cages are a bad idea. At the Rawles Ranch we use only all-wire rabbit cages. We were able to find our latest batch (made by Bass Equipment, Inc.) via mail order when one of their distributors had a sale a couple of years back. The only wood that ever goes in our rabbit cages is a resting board. (A piece of scrap lumber–usually 2″x6″ or 2″x8″, about 18″ long. This keep the rabbits from getting infected haunches from extended exposure to wire mesh.) We change the resting boards regularly!

Letter on the Asian Avian Flu

I have an idea for a topic that I would certainly like to get your thoughts on. As you probably know, scientists are nervously watching poultry in Southeast Asia for signs of a new virulent strain of flu. Just today the Guardian published an article on the topic, and how scientists think they can contain the epidemic to 200 people. I am not so confident in their efforts, and would like to hear your thoughts on the topic of how one can prepare for the possibility of a possible flu epidemic. – “T”

JWR’s Reply:

Asian Avian Flu (H5N1) is indeed an important topic. Perhaps we have a reader out there who is an epidemiologist lurking out there who can give us some further details. (Hint, hint!) Like you, my main concern regarding the Asian Avian Flu is that the virus could mutate into a strain that could easily be transmitted between humans. That could result in a pandemic worse than the flu pandemic of 1918/1919. (Which killed 20 to 30 million people–far more people than World I did.) For anyone interested, I recommend the books Plagues and Peoples and Plague of Plagues by William H. McNeill. I also recommend the science fiction novel The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton. While it is ostensibly fiction, Crichton manages to weave a lot of non-fiction into the storyline. His succinct description of natural mutation toward non-lethal strains is easily understandable to the layman.

T’s letter reminds me: Every forward thinking survivalist should have the ability to hunker down at a retreat in complete isolation for six months or more. With apropos warning signs (and perhaps a few prudent warming shots), this this would ostensibly protect you from a pandemic that is spread by casual human contact. (Typically, unwashed hands and/or spittle.) That means an independent water supply and a six month supply of fuel, food, and so forth.) This approach would of course be of no use if the bug is carried by the winds.

Consider preparing large convincing (official-looking) “Plague Quarantine Area” signs. Place those at the perimeter of your property. Those ought to scare off most looters. Closer in to your retreat/house post large “Warning: Land Mines and Man Traps!” and “Looters will be shot on sight!” signs. For those readers in The Americas, the latter signs should be bilingual. The bottom half of each should read: “!Se prohibe entrar! !Disparamos al intrusos!” Needless to say, post your signs only after it is clear that it is absolute TEOTWAWKI.

OBTW, I’ll cover antibiotics storage in an upcoming issue.

Jim’s Quote of the Day:

“The larger [Persian] Ismaili fortresses provide outstanding examples of military architecture. Their strategic position and the skilled use of natural resources to ensure, that despite the difficulties of the terrain, the castles were well supplied with food and water and therefore able to withstand a prolonged siege of many months, even years. In his account of the destruction of Alamut by the Mongols, the historian Juwayni (d. 1283) describes with considerable admiration the vast underground store rooms built by the Ismailis and the difficulty the Mongols had to destroy the castle’s fortifications.”
– from Nizari Ismaili Castles of Iran and Syria, published by the Institute of Ismaili Studies, London

The Golden Horde

Because of the urbanization of the U.S. population, if the entire eastern or western power grid goes down for more than a week, the cities will rapidly become unlivable. I foresee that there will be an almost unstoppable chain of events: Power -> water -> food distribution -> law and order -> arson fires -> full scale looting
As the comfort level in the cities rapidly drops to nil, there will be a massive involuntary outpouring from the big cities and suburbs into the hinterboonies. This is the phenomenon that my late father, Donald Robert Rawles–a career physics research administrator at Lawrence Livermore Laboratories–half-jokingly called “The Golden Horde.” He was of course referring to the Mongol Horde of the 13th Century, but in a modern context. (The Mongol rulers were chosen from the ‘Golden Family’ of Temujin. Hence the term “The Golden Horde.”) I can remember as a child, my father pointing to the hills at the west end of the Livermore Valley, where we then lived. He opined: “If The Bomb ever drops, we’ll see a Golden Horde come swarming over those hills [from Oakland and beyond] of the like that the world has never seen. And they’ll be very unpleasant, believe you me!”

The Thin Veneer

In my lectures on survival topics I often mention that there is just a thin veneer of civilization on our society. What is underneath is not pretty, and it does take much to peel away that veneer. You take your average urbanite or suburbanite and get him excessively cold, wet, tired, hungry and/or thirsty and take away his television, beer, drugs, and other pacifiers, and you will soon seen the savage within. It is like peeling the skin of an onion—remove a couple of layers and it gets very smelly. As a Christian, I attribute this to man’s inherently sinful nature.

Here is a mental exercise: Put yourself in the mind set of Mr. Joe Sixpack, Suburbanite. (Visualize him in or near a big city near where you live.) He is unprepared. He has less than one week’s food on hand, he has a 12 gauge pump action shotgun that he hasn’t fired in years, and just half a tank of gas in his minivan and maybe a gallon or two in a can that he keeps on hand for his lawn mower. Then TEOTWAWKI hits. The power grid is down, his job is history, the toilet doesn’t flush, and water no longer magically comes cascading from the tap. There are riots beginning in his city. The local service stations have run out of gas. The banks have closed. Now he is suddenly desperate. Where will he go? What will he do?

Odds are, Joe will think: “I’ve gotta go find a vacation cabin somewhere, up in the mountains, where some rich dude only goes a few weeks out of each year.” So vacation destinations like Lake Tahoe, Lake Arrowhead, and Squaw Valley, California; Prescott and Sedona, Arizona; Hot Springs, Arkansas; Vail and Steamboat Springs, Colorado; and the other various rural ski, spa, Great Lakes, and coastal resort areas will get swarmed. Or, he will think: “I’ve got to go to where they grow food.” So places like the Imperial Valley, the Willamette Valley, and the Red River Valley will similarly get overrun. There will be so many desperate Joe Sixpacks arriving all at once that these areas will degenerate into free-fire zones. It will be an intensely ugly situation and will not be safe for anyone. In some places the locals may be so vastly outnumbered that they won’t survive. But some of the Joe Sixpacks will survive, and then the more ruthless among them will begin to fight amongst themselves for the few remaining resources. They will form ad hoc gangs of perhaps 6 to 30 people.

Once the Golden Horde has been thinned (and honed to ferocity) and they’ve cleaned out an area, the thugs at the pinnacle of ruthlessness will comprise the most formidable rover packs imaginable. They will move on to an adjoining region, and then another. But the inverse sqaure law will work in your favor: Imagine that you take a jar of marbles turn it upside down on a wooden floor and then lift the jar suddenly upward. The marbles will spread out semi-randomly. But the farther from the mouth of the jar, the lighter the density of marbles. Hence, the rover packs will attenuate themselves into a huge rural expanse that is peopled with well-armed country folks. By the time the looters work their way out 150 miles from the big cities, they will be thinned out considerably. The rover pack is your primary threat in a total collapse, no matter how remote your retreat. Here are your potential adversaries: A squad to company size force (12 to 60 individuals), highly mobile, moderately well armed with a motley assortment of weapons and vehicles, and imbued with absolute ruthlessness. Be prepared.

From The Memsahib: Small Livestock on a Budget

I suggest that when in comes to small livestock equipment, start out with used equipment and/or build it yourself. If you want new, your local feed store is likely to have fair prices. But do not buy your equipment at a big chain pet store. Compare these prices. Used rabbit cage at a garage sale: $10 with everything included. Build your own: $20. Buy a similar cage at the chain pet store: $75!
The handy person can construct much of the necessary equipment themselves. But if you want to buy it, I have some suggestions for you.
A great time to get set up for rabbits is a month or two after Easter. Likely there will be families in your town who thought if would be fun to get Junior a little pet bunny for Easter. Now the bunny has grown in to a large cranky teenager that bites!. You can likely get the rabbit, cage, and all the equipment for an low price. Most people at this point just want to get rid of the rabbit and will not question if you are giving it a “good home”. But if the seller want a “good home only”, I would respect that, and pass up on the deal. Another good place to get good used equipment is from your local 4-H Club. Contact the Rabbit Leader. He or she may know a youth who is leaving 4-H and has rabbits and/or cages to sell. And don’t forget garage sales…
I have used a lot of kitchen items from Thrift Stores as feed pans, water bowls and the like for my small livestock. Occasionally thrift stores will have “pet supplies” at good prices too. Just remember that you can start your small livestock project for less money than you thought if you shop around and are creative.