Bug Out Vehicle (BOV)

One aspect of emergency preparedness is knowing when to vacate the home (bug out) and regroup at a safer location. To do so, many preparedness enthusiasts choose to create a purpose-made bug out vehicle to enable this relocation.

We here at Keep and Bear, LLC prefer to keep things realistic. That means unless fantasy vehicles are your hobby, odds are you’re not going to mod an old Deuce and a Half or store a Damnation Alley Landmaster in your back yard anticipating radioactive armored cockroaches.

The more measured approach is to select a vehicle that will serve in an emergency evacuation scenario, and will hopefully fit in with all your other daily needs. This can be difficult in some circumstances, such as needing a highly efficient vehicle for a long commute, that would fare poorly if roads became cluttered with debris.

Below are some considerations when selecting your next vehicle to have some BOV capability. The headings are not in ‘weighted’ order of importance.

Power

During the 2016 Fort McMurray Wildfire which enveloped nearly 1.5 million acres of land, many Canadians were forced to flee in vehicle. There are hours of harrowing Youtube footage showing a relatively orderly evacuation process. As seen in the video, vehicles were perilously close to the blaze. Certainly there were those who evacuated earlier, and those who came later at even greater danger.

One person who was interviewed regarding vehicles for this made the claim “larger pick up trucks with the ability to push stalled vehicles out of the way were more successful in escaping the situation”.

Independent of the nature of the emergency, stalled vehicles will be a problem. There will be those who didn’t gas up, or were at the low end of their fill cycle when the emergency hit. There will be people attempting to escape in vehicles that are not mechanically sound, but it’s all they have. These vehicles become problems for everyone behind them, and having a vehicle that can push things out of the way is a BOV must-have.

Terrain capability

The most frequent emergency travel conditions are weather related. The two threat components include wind and water. Wind is likely to blow down trees, cover roads with branches and debris, and make many rural or semi-rural routes impassable.

Depending on one’s location, water accumulation is likely to be another issue with roadways making them impassable.

New Hartford, IA June 9, 2008 – Heavy rains flooded this small town of 698 last night. The firechief’s high-suspension jeep is being used to shuttle residents to their homes so they can check damage and rescue their pets. Photo by Greg Henshall / FEMA

For either of these, vehicle ground clearance is important. The ability of the vehicle suspension to stay above debris and have the suspension travel to go over larger debris objects means a faster evacuation since one does not have to stop to deal with smaller obstacles.

There are full books written on good suspension systems as well as off-road capability, and very knowledgeable clubs devoted to doing so. Partake in these clubs! The vehicle does not have to be pushed hard or beaten to death, and modern trucks and off-road-intent SUVs can handle some significant terrain challenges. Understand your vehicle’s capabilities.

Water accumulation is especially hazardous since it can hide significant terrain features, such as a washed out road, sink hole, or sharp objects that will destroy tires. Furthermore, water entering the air intake system of the vehicle can hydrolock the engine. At best it is a time consuming fix, and at worst it can result in the engine’s destruction.

If one’s threat matrix has a high risk of flooding, a vehicle with a reasonable lift kit and a well-equipped snorkel system is a valid investment. The snorkel reroutes the vehicle air intake system through a snorkel that is usually 2-3 feet higher than stock. Well equipped snorkel systems also include routing axle breathers and in some cases exhaust pipes to a higher point on the vehicle.

One of the biggest factors in terrain capability is 4 wheel drive. In reality, 4WD is actually one rear wheel and one front wheel providing propulsion. With some modern trucks, electronic locking is available to ensure both rear and/or front wheels spin. 4WD is one of the most important factors that should be considered in a BOV.

Access for tools

If road debris is very likely (and it is), then getting at the tools to clear the path becomes important. Having a chainsaw, gas, a couple shovels, and some utility straps or chains readily accessible will make an evac go more quickly. Pick up trucks with a bed divider can help ensure the stuff you need right away is conveniently accessible at the rear of the bed, while the not-as-important-for-an-evac stuff stays securely in place near the front of the bed.

This type of accessibility can be more difficult in other vehicles, such as a sedan or enclosed SUV. In these cases, plan on either using the trunk or a vacant rear seat, or in the case of an SUV a rear cargo area divider, if available, for tool access . The tools WILL get dirty and muddy and need to be put back in the vehicle interior. Try to keep in mind this is an emergency evacuation scenario and something that will clean up isn’t an immediate concern.

Your spare tire and changing equipment should be equally accessible. If you must remove multiple containers from the vehicle to get at the spare, it is time wasted that may be crucial in an evacuation.

Recovery

A BOV intent vehicle should have recovery points. These are the hooks you see on Jeep bumpers or the D-shackles on some aftermarket offroad bumpers. All vehicles have tie-down points to facilitate shipping. Know where yours are and ensure they can be used as a recovery point if stuck. If you modify them, ensure they are rated for 3-4 times the vehicle weight.

This vehicle has aftermarket recovery points (the D shackles) and a winch.

A winch helps ensure the vehicle can self-recover if it becomes stuck. It consists of a high torque motor and spool which reels in a steel or synthetic (better) cable. Winching is an involved skill to do successfully and safely, and should be a part of your training. Again, get involved, even if only briefly, with an offroad club or take a class in this.

Vehicle reliability

We need it to go. Period. The vehicle must operate as intended when we ask it to. Most modern vehicles are quite reliable. While some have interesting quirks, they shouldn’t let you down. In the truck arena, Toyota is generally considered to reign supreme with the Tacoma and Tundra, though Ford and Chevy still make the list.

Along with reliability in design, regular maintenance is a must to ensure your BOV will perform as intended when you ask it to. We all tend to ‘get to that repair’ at some point, while eking out as much value from the vehicle as we can, but if you have a vehicle that will be intent as the family BOV, stay on top of its maintenance.

Ensure your vehicle has a full size spare. ‘Donuts’ (small spare tires designed to accommodate up to 50 miles or travel at low speeds) are utterly unreliable in an evacuation scenario.

Hauling capacity

Depending on the nature of an evacuation, you might be hauling a lot of stuff, or your go-bags only. A well-prepared go-bag is essential, but if you can save even more stuff from damage, you’ll do it. A BOV with hauling capacity facilitates this.

The first factor in hauling capacity is the weight/volume in the vehicle and its bed (if applicable). A Chevy Silverado Crew Cab bed has 72 cubic feet of cargo space and can bear nearly 2000 pounds of weight. A Toyota Tacoma bed approaches 37 cubic feet in volume and an bear 1175 pounds. For a hasty evac, either of these are sufficient to haul the ‘what you can grab’ items. For an evac with significant forewarning, more items might be removable.

For that, the tow rating of a BOV can be important. A trailer for extra gear, or better yet a camper or enclosed trailer with some living accommodation helps ensure you will have lodging, even if hotels are full. Most half-ton trucks (the compact trucks such as the Colorado, Ranger, and Tacoma) can tow approximately 7000 pounds maximum. Full size pickups can tow a typical 9500 pounds or so. These are maximums and if terrain and debris are a factor, the truck/trailer combination may not be capable of traversing the exit route.

For a decent blend of transporting volume and having livable space, the hobby of “overlanding” (motorized exploration travel, think backpacking from your vehicle) has produced many trailers that double as equipment storage, a galley, and a sleeping area via roof top tent. These types of trailers might be an excellent blend of utility and bug-out capability. (It’s also a growing and rewarding hobby…)

Mileage and range

Before the late 2010’s, we’d have to agree that vehicle mileage was the sacrificial lamb in these considerations. All of the characteristics that make a good bug out vehicle are typically not so good on gas mileage. But with manufacturers upping their fuel economy games, this is not as true as before. The Chevy Colorado with diesel engine can get 28 mpg. The full size Ford F-150 can get similar highway efficiency.

New non-diesel trucks are still capable of 22 mpg combined, which is a reasonable bump from just 2 decades ago.

Mileage and fuel capacity culminate in ‘range’, the total distance a vehicle can go without refueling. Some smaller vehicles sacrifice fuel capacity for mileage. Trucks typically do not. For a new vehicle shopper with BOV-intent, some vehicles offer multiple size fuel tanks. Get the larger one.

A Chevy Suburban only gets 19 mpg combined, but with its 31 gallon fuel tank, gets a range of 589 miles. A Chevy Colorado with diesel tops out at 580 miles range. A Ford F-150 diesel has a combined mileage of 24 mpg. With the available 36 gallon fuel tank, this yields a staggering range of over 800 miles.

It is important to remember that an evac situation will most likely not yield this kind of mileage. Getting 1/2 the anticipated mileage is close to worst case.

Mechanical vs Electronics

There is a LOT of talk about BOVs being as mechanical as you can get them. Carburators, manual transmissions, virtually no electronics… There are a lot of old school survivalists that swear by old vehicles that are still on the road. The notion is that mechanics are more reliable than electronics.

A lot of this can be confusion over causality, though. Newer vehicles with thinner metals increase efficiency, but make them less tolerant to rusting. Massive heavy engines made from recycled anvils are phenomenal for longevity, but don’t really help efficiency. Crush zones on vehicles that make occupants far safer means vehicles will be declared totaled with a lower threshold of damage than their Ford Flintstone counterparts. There’s a lot of reason there seems to be more older cars on the road than old ‘newer’ cars.

Electronics does not automatically equate to unreliability. Due to electronics vehicles have more power than ever using less fuel than ever to achieve it. Yes, electrical issues can be harder to pin down, but the free market is providing with things like OBD2 bluetooth devices that let you read trouble codes from an app. The shadetree mechanic is evolving with vehicle technology.

Muh Eee Emmm Peees!

An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is a phenomenon resultant from a nuclear blast or possibly an intense and targeted coronal mass ejection (stuff from the sun jettisons away from the sun and hits Earth). Preparedness enthusiasts tend to keep this idea in the back of their mind, as even a rudimentary nuclear device can produce a substantial EMP. If such a device is detonated far overhead, the coverage area of a single EMP can be significant. EMPs are measured in volts per meter of open space, meaning that two points, 1 meter away, could have a voltage drop of 20 kilo-volts or more. Considering most solid state electronics are rated for not more than 50 volts, the idea that all electronics will be fried is a common one.

Many BOV builders prefer all-mechanical systems just for this eventuality. Many store extra electrical parts (such as spark plugs, condensers, computer modules, and more) in a Faraday cage (an enclosure meant to attenuate an EMP charge).

The reality of an EMP is that they do exist, though the risk is extremely low. The Carrington Event of the late 1800’s disrupted telegraph communications. It is important to remember that telegraph lines in those days were unshielded, and there was no real idea that such a phenomenon existed. Modern vehicles have decent hardening and shielding in place, and the vehicle itself is not a long antenna (meaning, it doesn’t have a large area in which to absorb EMP energy). Fantasy preppers believe most vehicles will fry. Engineers who test for electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) immunity aren’t so sure that the vehicle body and internal circuit hardening (usually properly placed ceramic capacitors) won’t provide sufficient shielding to allow the vehicle to run after an EMP strike.

If EMP is on your “I’m concerned” list, storing extra parts for your vehicle in a proper Faraday cage will be important. (Dismiss anyone telling you that a microwave oven or a shipping container are suitable Faraday cages. They are not.) Discussing your concerns with a qualified mechanic who can identify absolutely critical systems to making your vehicle run will be worth it.

And back to reality

The reality is that 90% of all threat events will be shelter at home. For the remainder, when the home is not an option, we need to have a safe, effective, and capable vehicle to get us away from the threat and to safety, however far that may be. While everyone’s needs may vary, it is hard to argue against a mid or full sized pick up truck with 4×4 as a suitable BOV. The platform offers extensive modification capability (there are custom mods out there for virtually any application) to ensure your vehicle is appropriate to your needs. With significant payload and towing capability, a fair amount of personal property can be saved. Depending on the nature of the threat, modern vehicle travel ranges can put your family well outside the area of effect on a single tank of fuel.

Saving money on training ammunition

The age-old dilemma shooting sports enthusiasts face is spending their hard earned money on a new gun, accessories, training, or ammunition. Yes, a new gun is shiny and cool. Yes, accessories can act as a force multiplier and increase the versatility of your platform. Yes, training can transform you (eventually) from a jellyfish into John Wick. All of these, though, depend on ammunition to make it go. Unexciting. Non-glamorous. Ammunition.

In order to enjoy the shooting sports more, more ammo is highly desirable. Here are some tips on getting more bang for your buck. (See what I did there?)

Inventory control: Determine how much ammunition you need each month. If you’re in a shooting league and are going through 500 rounds a month, your needs are different than a casual shooter expending one magazine at Uncle Joe’s farm visit every few months. Plan on having an inventory of 5 – 10 times your monthly need. This will help ensure you can go several months in between finding excellent deals, as well as accommodate extra shooting or training opportunities.

Understand the name of the game is $/round: With some ammo coming in 50 round boxes, 250 round value packs, 350 round buckets, 600 round packs, and 1000 round bulk packs, it can be hard to determine what is a good deal. Always divide the package cost by the number of rounds to determine a “cents per shot” value. For instance, $13.99 for a box of 50 rounds comes to $13.99 / 50 = 27.98 cents per shot. As of this writing, 9 x 19 mm comes in at about 23 cents per round for new ammunition (115 grain FMJ). Using once-fired brass reloads for range practice (from a reputable reloader), that cost can drop to 15 cents per round. Some places will even discount you further for bringing them once-fired brass.

Choose firearms chambered for cartridges with economy of scale: In other words, ammo that manufacturers have dedicated mass-production capability to will be cheaper than those that have not. Currently, 9 x 19 mm and 5.56 x 45 mm (and .223 Remington) are the most-produced cartridges in the world. Next up are the .45 ACP and .308 Winchester. If you plan to shoot a lot, do yourself a favor and get a 9mm handgun. It will be far cheaper to shoot than .380 ACP, .40 S&W, .357 Sig, etc. If your go-to cartridge is the .43 ACME Obscurus, it will be unlikely you’ll find sales on it, as only so much is produced each year.

Determine your “buy” threshold: Just like the stock market, set a cents per round value that you will act on when you encounter it. Have some money in reserve ($200 is a fair amount) that you WILL spend when you find that deal. Ensure you include shipping costs if applicable, and be sure you discount out-of-state purchases their sales tax, if applicable.

Identify reload sellers in your area: Google “ammunition reloaders <your town>” for a list of commercial reloaders in your area. Quality can vary from business to business. Do online reviews of each place. Local training-only businesses can guide you to what has worked well in their classes. Gun stores may not be so forthcoming since they have shelves of ammo they’d rather sell you.

Always be shopping: Subscribe to multiple gun-sales emails. Cabelas, Dunhams, Midway, and more have daily and weekly specials. When the cost per round is sufficiently low to justify the order (with shipping) or driving to the store, make the purchase. Even if you don’t have your full allotment of $200 (or whatever it is) saved up, spend what is in your allotment. The name of the game is cartridges on your shelf.

Use a Rewards credit card: The average homeowner spends $1000/month between needed stuff for the house, groceries, gasoline, etc.,. Additionally, some utilities can also be paid by credit card. An easy way to get more ammunition is to simply shift expenses you are already incurring onto a rewards card, such as a Cabelas credit card. Of course, be financially responsible and pay stuff off, but there’s no reason not to use the rewards offered as a supplement to your ammunition purchasing power. An advantage to this is that the discount applies to anything in the store, not just range-intent ammo.

Pro-tip: If you buy ammunition, store it in its packaging. Yes, it’s neat to make a treasure-chest-looking bulk ammo container of loose rounds, but keeping ammo in its original boxes lets you retain TRACEABILITY. If there’s ever a recall on ammo, you will have brand, manufacturing date, and lot number, available to determine if the recall affected you. If you dump it all into a bulk box, you’ll have nothing more than a very nervous feeling until it’s all shot up.

Dry-fire practice: Loading your gun’s chamber with nothing costs you 0 cents per round! Yet trigger control is one of the two biggest factors in improving handgun accuracy (the other being sight alignment). Dry fire practice can be done at home (ensure you are safe!) and even 5-10 minutes per day can yield improvements in a short time.

Shoot .22 intermittently: If your firearm has a .22 LR equivalent training gun or a swappable magazine and barrel assembly, shooting .22 is a decent way to develop shooting skills on the cheap. As just stated, trigger control and sight alignment are the biggest contributors to handgun accuracy and both can be practiced with a .22 training gun. The shooter MUST take caution, however, since he will not be practicing grip control and recoil management with .22 LR practice. This is why it’s best to use the .22 LR as an intermittent practice cartridge.

Get something for your money: For amateurs, it can take somewhere on the order of 1000 rounds downrange to move past the notion that you have a repeated explosion going off in your hands and just being excited you’re shooting. At some point, new-shooter anxiety wears off and improvement-intent training kicks in. At this point, every dime and quarter you send downrange should mean something. You should be getting something for your money. Repeated holes in center of target is great. What’s your grouping on controlled pairs (double taps)? What’s your grouping on move-and-shoot? A fun day at the range is GREAT! Do it! But take the time to learn to really shoot as well. Improving your technique is more about YOU than metal on paper. Shift the focus to improvement. Treat rounds downrange as an investment.

Reloading (maybe): Reloading has a somewhat costly start-up expense as you buy the devices, scales, and other equipment necessary to do so. You then have to buy the consumables (casings, primers, powder, and bullets), then you must spend your time assembling the cartridges. For economy-of-scale cartridges like .223 and 9mm, it will take many thousands of rounds to overcome the start up costs and be money ahead. The more uncommon the cartridge, the faster the savings per round will overcome the initial investment. (An advantage to reloading is being able to tailor your cartridge specs to your specific needs, though.)

Round chambered

There are at least four “age-old” handgun debates, with passionate viewpoints on either side. Both sides have expert opinion with hand-picked data, both sides “weigh” the data differently (a fact that is 100% correct does not necessarily mean much to the argument due to relevancy), and both sides have ardent supporters of their stance with preference-based argument. Some common handgun arguments are

  • Revolver vs Semiautomatic.
  • 9 mm vs 45ACP.
  • Colt 1911 vs Glock.
  • Chamber empty or round chambered.

It is this last point that separates the casual concealed carrier with the more ardent personal protection practitioners.

Arguments for carrying an unchambered handgun:

Proof against negligent discharge. For most people, whether through lack of certainty in their equipment or their skills, carrying on an empty chamber is self-justified to preclude the risk of an negligent discharge (in this case, ‘negligent’ means a non-purposeful actuation of the trigger mechanism). Each day we put the gun on our belts and take it off at night. Sometimes, tasks during the day may require us to take it off to perform a thing. Add in PFZ’s (pistol free zones) where we must take guns off and put them on after leaving them, people could be handling the firearm multiple times each day. Since most people go through their day without having to draw the firearm in self defense, the likelihood of a negligent discharge is quite statistically higher than a defensive draw.

The fix for this possibility is to become more familiar with the firearm, and to utilize a holster that allows removal of the firearm from the body in-holster. Most concealed carry holsters will allow this by unbuckling one’s belt and pulling the belt from the holster’s belt loops. There is little reason (and no excuse) to be manipulating a firearm outside its holster during these administrative, daily tasks of arming and de-arming, save a morning press check.

Mechanical devices are not foolproof: A firearm can be a complicated device, with the concern of these mechanisms failing and causing an unintended discharge (in this case, ‘unintended’ means that the firearm discharged without a trigger actuation). For hammer fired handguns, the main firing mechanism is right there to be seen. It is a reminder that ‘stuff’ is happening inside the gun’s innards that some shooters just don’t have a grasp on. For striker-fired pistols, all the firing mechanism ‘stuff’ is inside. How does it work? How do we know it works?

This concern can be addressed with a two-pronged approach. First, we must indeed choose a firearm that has a solid reputation as a safe and reliable device. While unpopular, this means carrying proven designs by proven manufacturers with proven design verification testing. It means NOT being an early adopter of the newest greatest gun as your defensive tool.

As an example, when Sig Sauer introduced the P320, incidents of unintended discharges were soon reported from dropped handguns 1. After lengthy evaluation of internal safeties, it was discovered that when dropped so that the handgun landed on the back of the slide, the mass of the trigger had enough inertia to result in trigger actuation. This trigger actuation caused the internal safeties to disengage (appropriate for a trigger actuation) and resulted in an unintended discharge. This was a product from a proven company with proven design verification testing. The design, though, was not proven. (Sig Sauer has since modified their drop test protocols.)

The second approach to overcome doubts of unintended discharge is to truly understand the firearm’s safety mechanisms. The ‘Glock safety’ employs a trigger safety that, effectively, puts the ‘manual safety’ disengagement as part of the trigger actuation. This safety disengages two internal safeties. The Beretta M9 and a few others have an external safety that rotates a transfer bar off-axis, so that a hammer drop never strikes the firing pin. Understanding the mechanics of the firearm’s internal and external safeties can go a long way to having confidence in chambered carry. Choosing a firearm with safeties commensurate with one’s preferences and confidence is paramount.

Time to be sure: Some concealed carriers argue that the added time to bring the firearm into a ready state by chambering a round affords them the time to be sure that lethal force is justifiable. The concern for certainty is to be absolutely commended. The mechanism by which that certainty is obtained is not necessarily the optimal means to do so.

See the “Immediacy of need” subheading below for an experienced rebut of this rationale.

Arguments for carrying a round-chambered handgun:

A tool of last resort: As taught in the NRA’s Personal Protection in the Home (this course was selected as satisfying the training requirements for a concealed pistol license in Michigan), the firearm is a tool of last resort. Accessing and producing the firearm is the last-ditch effort to protection when other options have failed, or the immediacy of the threat precludes other defensive options. In short, the defender is out of time and out of options, save using neutralizing, lethal force. As a tool of last resort, there are a number of sub-reasons to carry a round chambered.

Immediacy of need: After identifying a threat and determining strong verbal command and capability of lethal force is imminent, a protector must:
1) (CPL) Dig through at least one layer of clothing to access the firearm.
2) Draw the firearm.
3) Get on target.
4) Issue verbal commands to stop and make final assessment to shoot.
5) Disengage safety (if applicable) and engage trigger contact.
6) Confirm on target and discharge firearm.

Please go back and read these six steps while envisioning the duress of a lethal force conflict. Someone is shooting at you or charging you with a knife. With your current skill set, envision each of these steps, the time it takes to perform each one, and an assailant approaching quickly and stabbing, or shooting at you.

During each of these steps, time is going by. It’s time to be harmed or killed, but it’s also time that assessment will occur. “I gotta get this thing on target” and “this guy is really trying to kill me?!” is all being contemplated with the priority of survival instinct. In reality, step 4 is the crux of the argument: “Make final assessment to shoot”. Open-chamber carriers believe that adding a step to chamber a round creates this assessment. It does not. The assessment is already in the sequence. For the chambered-round carrier, he may take extra time if available to re-verify that assessment. For the open-chamber carrier, he must spend that time, even if that time is not available.

The anatomy of violence: Violent altercations are stark, inhuman events. One only has to watch defensive encounters on Youtube security camera footage to see hopeful, peaceable lives being cut short by those willing to do harm. It is both depressing and infuriating. During these altercations, there is frequently a struggle (physical force) to stop attacks and to get away.

FBI statistics for law enforcement officer-involved fatalities 2 show that nearly 50% of fatalities occurred between 0 and 5 feet away.

Note that this table represents LEO’s who, by job duty, must engage hostile assailants. They typically establish contact with suspects or known criminals for purposes of apprehension. Their proximity to the suspect may be closer than the non-LEO civilian whose general priority is to retreat from threat of violence.

However, use of this data may be applicable since assailants typically want something from their target: money, jewelry, wealth, sexual access, or even the desire to commit harm. This typically requires obtaining proximity to target. For the LEO, they must engage, and for the non-LEO civilian, the assailant is trying to engage. In each case, there is one party intent on engagement. Thus, for the purposes of this article, these engagement distances will be used for non-LEO civilians as well .

If these distances are applicable, then the proximity between the assailant and the protector is indeed in melee range (within 0 to 10 feet provides an immediacy of hand-to-hand or handheld weapon threat) 57% of the time. With the assailant in range to lay hands on the protector, or the protector using hand-applications to prevent harm (blocking weapon strikes, for instance), drawing a firearm is a risky option as it turns the melee into a fight over the gun.

Assuming the protector can indeed make the minimum time and distance to draw the gun, he must ensure this is done so with both hands. In reality, both hands are not necessarily free to cycle the slide and chamber a round. Well-trained and equipped-with-intention protectors may know how to cycle their slide on a belt, table, or other protrusion, and have a firearm whose hardware allows for this action, but this should be seen as a secondary option rather than a primary-planned action.

Conclusions

The arguments for open chamber carry are borne, ultimately, from uncertainty and unfamiliarity. Uncertainty in personal firearm handling, uncertainty in the decision making process to use lethal force, and unfamiliarity with a handgun’s redundant safeties.

These factors can all be mitigated through training and knowledge acquisition. They are entirely in the gun wielder’s control to reduce the perceived risks and mitigate the actual risks.

What is less in the gun wielder’s control is the severity of an imminent attack, the timing of the attack, and the distances the altercation will take place in. These factors are a result of the interplay between attacker and protector. Carrying on an open chamber directly and adversely affects the protector’s ability to employ lethal force.

For a tool of last resort, a purposeful condition to delay its immediate use (open chambered carry) and require 2 free hands to bring it into the engagement imposes far more risk of harm than the avoidable risks perceived. The capability of an immediately deployable round-chambered handgun has benefits necessary to reduce imminent harm.

Sources:
1- Sig Sauer Confronts Further Reports of Possible Safety Defect in Popular Pistol. The Trace, Alex Yablon, 08AUG2017

2- Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted, 2012 U.S. Department of Justice—Federal Bureau of Investigation, Table 36, Released Fall 2013


Maintenance: The not-so-glamorous byproduct of preparedness

There’s a thrill coming home with a new firearm, a new pack, a new radio, etc. Preparedness aficionados love new gear associated with their lifestyle just as much as a golfer loves his new putter or your rich dentist loves his new Corvette on track day.

Even before the thrill of coming home with New Toy, we tend to have a great time comparing specs, reading reviews, and optimizing our kit for its intended role. What optics will work best on the new Glock? What kind of range can I expect from this Yaesu handheld? What’s the best steel for my new pocket folder?

What is not as glamorous or exciting is the maintenance required for such things… For most, it isn’t even considered. But, with each piece of new gear, we must carefully ascertain maintenance needs it will require.

Preparedness must be as much about the learning of, and maintenance of gear, as it is acquiring new gear or new skills.

I recently moved to a 13 acre parcel of land in the ‘far suburbs’. This was done to get away from HOAs, provide a more semi-rural experience for my son, and to start down a more self-resilient lifestyle. I am slowly doing that.

In this effort, I needed to get a compact utility tractor. This is the class of tractors that have a front end loader, and can pull basic ground-engaging implements like rakes, rotary cutters, a rear blade, and more. It was the most phenomenal New Toy I’ve ever purchased, and it changed my capabilities from “I’ll never be able to get that done” to “Eh, gimme 10 minutes…”. In the first year of ownership, I cleared well over an acre of very heavy underbrush in an ancient apple orchard to a cleared area with the apple trees remaining. This year, I’ll likely clear another couple acres. I also cleared snow from my 0.33 mile driveway and private road, moved multiple cords of firewood, and more.

To a preparedness enthusiast (I despise the word ‘prepper’) this tractor represents so much capability to turn my land into an investment that will serve my family and further my goals to a resilient lifestyle. Running it is fun, getting work done on it is beneficial, and the experiences of doing these things ourselves is very fulfilling. Imparting this can-do mentality to my son is priceless.

The tractor takes maintenance. Every year I have to change oil, oil filters, check hydraulic fluid, grease over a dozen joints, adjust settings, clean air filters, and more. Every few years I have to change over 10 gallons of hydraulic fluid and a filter, bleed these systems, maintain the diesel filters, and other things. The attachments need basic maintenance as well. It doesn’t take a ton of time to do any one of these things, but it does take some. Doing them all can be a day of work.

Likewise, I have that handheld Yaesu radio in my pack as well as a backup battery for my smartphone. I have to remember to keep them charged. The optics on my bug out rifle? I need to test them and swap batteries at regular intervals. Got your water bottle full on your Get Home Bag? How long is that good for?

Organizing maintenance

If you’ve taken our Emergency Preparedness 1 class, you’ll remember that each threat component should have a corresponding matrix of activities. (If you haven’t taken our Emergency Preparedness 1 class, take this time to sign up here.) In each category, we do a pre-threat rundown on things to get, get trained on, and maintain so you’re prepared for an event. The maintenance must be part of that pre-threat rundown.

Power failure threat matrix

Here is a page from my threat matrix for power failure. As an aside, I am still working on my threat matrices as well since I moved, and am using it as an opportunity to learn Microsoft OneNote. OneNote is an excellent program for data organization and after the ‘structure’ of the program is understood, is intuitive and versatile. As I transpose info from my previous Excel sheets and reassess for my new home, I am populating more in this OneNote file.

In my Power Failure threat matrix, my task of “Ensure flashlights remain charged” is a daily, weekly, and semiannual task. Why? My tactical flashlight gets tested every morning as I put it in my pocket. Just a short on/off to ensure it works. Weekly, my bedside flashlight gets recharged. Semiannually, the batteries in these get replaced whether they need it or not. These entries in my threat matrix get added to a Maintenance page in the program where they are all listed out; all maintenance items from all tabs. I then have a Log tab where I record what I did for each (though I tend to keep daily and weekly items off it, just too much documentation for no benefit).

Once the threat matrices are complete for all threat components, we’re left with a list of what items require maintenance. Having this list is nice, but we still have to make it a part of our routine.

I’ve opted to use Microsoft To-Do on my iPhone. It allows for tasks, subtasks, recurring tasks, and more. It is comprehensive enough for in-depth task details but still very user friendly. Microsoft did a great job with this. If you have a preferred task manager that you use, go for it. I highly recommend one that allows recurring tasks, though, since that is the objective of this exercise.

Screenshot of Microsoft To-Do task manager

It can take some time creating useful To-Do’s from each maintenance item, but once they’re in your list, it is far easier to make emergency preparedness maintenance items a part of your routine.

Another important thing to remember is to create a Go-Bag or Get-Home-Bag inventory as well, and ensure you have covered maintenance items from that. In my GHB, I have the Yaesu handheld radio, as well as a battery back up for my iPhone. I have the recurring task of charging these weekly. I have some freeze-dry food that I swap out annually, and a water bottle that I cycle the water on weekly (it is not commercially sealed). In my full Bug out Bag I have more items, including testing and swapping optics and sights batteries.

Take away:

Is any of this as glamorous as posting your new AR-15? No. Is it as cool as Instagramming yourself eating a grub or bowdrilling a fire? We prepare to help ensure an uncertain future is at least a stable future through risk reduction. As such, it is just as important to pay attention to upkeep on the preps you already have as it is to get new preps. Without proper maintenance, your preps are in an uncertain state. Just like the condition we are hoping to avoid.

Precious metals in a post-SHTF economy

This topic has come up more frequently as people watch the current hyperinflation situation in Venezuela. The concern is “how can I still have money and the things I need even if the money system has failed?” For family leaders who want to ensure their circle’s well being, this is an understandable concern and a topic worthy of discussion. Often, gold and silver are looked to to maintain buying power in a disaster. But is it the case?

First, understanding what is happening with the money is important. To do this, a basic understanding of economics is required. Imagine a good or service that is “fixed” in value. Supply and demand do not waver, and the process to make it is constant. If this “ideal good” value is fixed, then any price changes are entirely due to fluctuations in the value of the money used to purchase it. Likewise, imagine an “ideal currency”, which does not change in value at all. Any fluctuations in a product’s price can be entirely attributed to changes in its supply and demand.

In economics, the value of one is usually fixed so that the other can be studied. In the real world, neither is fixed. The value of currency is going up/down and the supply and demand of a good is going up/down.

In Venezuela, hyperinflation is occurring. The population has lost faith in its money, while goods and services continue to rise in cost. When money is measured by weight and not by face value, there’s a problem. This picture shows a street in Caracas literally littered with useless money.

Proponents of precious metals will often tell you that gold and silver are a great way to protect against this. They are partially correct. Physically held gold and silver (avoid certificates which ‘claim ownership’ of precious metals held at a remote vault somewhere) are an excellent hedge against inflation and hyperinflation. After the hyperinflation event when the currency is stabilized or a new currency introduced, the value of gold and silver is likely to have about the same value after the event that it had before the event. In other words, if you had about $20k (in US dollars) worth of silver before the Venezuelan bolivar started tanking, and the new money introduced after the regime change (maybe the nuevo bolivar?) is stable, after you sell your precious metals you’ll have about $20k USD in the new currency (minus transaction costs, and assuming the price of silver remained relatively unchanged). Wealth retention.

Money is important because it is wealth representation in between trades. It is ‘potential goods/services’. If you have 2 rifles and need 3 pigs and a goat, the odds of finding a guy with 3 pigs and a goat that also needs 2 rifles is minuscule. If you and a buyer of rifles agree that money is ‘wealth potential’ AND you and the pig and goat seller agree money is ‘wealth potential’, then the transaction can occur.

The issue is that most people do not understand the ‘wealth potential’ of precious metals, and as such seek to avoid using it. If you weren’t a diamond expert and someone tries to trade you a diamond, would you trade 3 rifles and 200 rounds of ammo for it? If you can’t tell the difference between a diamond and an old Coke bottle shard that someone worked over with a Dremel, odds are you would not make the transaction. To make a during-SHTF trade, you would need:

  • An item you have extra of, worth trading.
  • Finding a person needing that item.
  • Peaceably making contact to conduct the trade.
  • An agreed upon medium of trade (currency or other goods).
A pile of old circulated worn collectible silver dimes and quarters. Could be used for silver bullion themes as well. Taken with a Canon 7D DSLR.

A lot of prepper fantasy involves people quickly and seamlessly transitioning from a common currency into “silver face” (the face value of the older 90% silver coins that used to be US currency). Using non-collectable pre-1964 dimes and other partial silver currency. The idea is that somehow normalcy will be maintained during a SHTF event (shit hits the fan) despite the USD demise. In reality, silver face has minimal ‘wealth potential’ recognition outside of preparedness circles.

Now that the mechanism of money has been discussed, the topic of goods and services must be discussed. Assuming a common currency between a buyer and seller of an item has been established, a during-SHTF analysis of goods and services must be done.

After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting occurred, the firearm industry experienced a ‘SHTF’ scenario as people feared government would ban the AR-15 (and other defensive carbines), magazines, and ammunition for it. The demand for these items increased significantly, and manufacturers could not meet it, causing a reduction in supply. An AR-15 PMag, the $15-bill of the gun world, suddenly jumped in price to $100, and were still not available on the market.

Before every major snowstorm in Michigan, families gas up the SUV and buy all the bread and milk. The shelves are bare. This is a mere local event with minimal long term potential for disruption.

One story from Venezuela is a family selling a 2 ounce gold family heirloom ring. As of today (08APR2019), that would be $2600 USD. The family got 3 weeks of food and water for this ring, and counted themselves fortunate they found someone able to make the trade. A ‘thrifty’ food cost for 3 weeks in the USA is about $400 for a family of 4. The food was 6.5 times higher in cost, but for the price, it was available using this mode of payment.

At this point, it is challenging to find someone willing to trade a good or service for bolivars, regardless of quantity. Food is unavailable for this currency.

The fact is, that even with an agreed upon currency, the supply of goods is usually highly limited or completely nonexistent. The lack of supply, and presence of significant demand, coupled with a near-worthless currency, is the nightmare scenario of hyperinflation.

In short, precious metals can be used during-SHTF, but one must expect a commensurate increase in the cost of goods and that they will not be getting good value for their money. If developing a family preparedness strategy, precious metals have their place in investment, but food, water, the means of resiliency, protection (both use of force training as well as medical training) most likely far outweigh the priority of investing in precious metals. It should be well-understood that this investment is largely for post-SHTF recovery and not during-SHTF versatility.

Intro courses: An AWESOME responsibility

February was our opening month for the 2019 training season and we couldn’t be more happy with our start. Our Essential Handgun class is our “first time shooter” and even a “not yet a shooter” course and is designed to make newcomers to this activity feel safe and comfortable as they transition from fear/anxiety over something new, to respect for something well understood. When we designed this course, we didn’t look at the basics: we started at our top level courses and worked our way back.

“Training you forward” is what we do in this course. We hope to see each student move on to get their concealed pistol license, and the intermediate/advanced training that comes after it. With this hope, we ensure that what we teach in the basic class integrates with what will be taught in the advanced classes. Have you ever taken an advanced class in something and spent the day de-programming bad muscle memory or understanding with something new? It happens to all of us at some point. And while that day wasn’t the growth opportunity it could have been while you de-programmed a bad habit, it did eventually get you to the next level. What if you never had bad programming to begin with?

“Begin with the end in mind.”

Habit 2 of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People -Steven Covey.

In our Intermediate Handgun 1 course, we instruct multiple targets and multiple target zones (many bad guys and where to shoot at on them). Near the end, we add “no shoot” targets which may vary in consequence to engage the shooter in problem solving. In our Intermediate Handgun 2 course, we add in close contact and making-distance drills. This is MANY steps removed from the basics of Essential Handgun, but the standard rule of firearm safety “Be aware of your target and what is beyond it” as normally taught improves to “Be aware of your target, what is in front of it, and what is beyond it”. If you just got done palm-fisting bad guy’s nose as you make distance to shoot and your support hand is still in front of you, it’s a good idea to be aware of what is in front of your target so you’re not retrieving your own digits from the ground. Impressing these ideas initially adds to the student’s awareness of the safety topics, and prepares him for what lies ahead.

Technique is the proficiency in which one executes fundamental movements to create application.

-Don Alley, Keep and Bear, LLC.

A couple definitions here…

Technique is the ability of a person to perform a task. It improves with practice, it needs renewal with lack of practice, and it gets sloppy when exhaustion sets in.

Application is the activity being performed. The drill. The martial arts sequence. The ‘subroutine’ needed to execute a particular objective.

Fixing technique is one of our primary activities in our Intermediate Handgun courses because technique was never effectively acquired earlier on. This is NOT a dig on any student. They are in class, and that makes them a rock star in our minds. But, it’s hard for someone to move and shoot when their shooting stance is business casual. It’s hard to get follow up shots when they’re leaning away from the pistol and not into it.

Essential Handgun lets us get these more optimized sooner so they can get plugged right in to the application. With a solid isosceles or fighting stance, moving and shooting is one less step (going from a rather undefined stance to a “oh, I have to move now?” stance, and then into a movable stance). Leaning into the stance slightly helps mitigate recoil which helps for faster follow up shots. Building these fundamentals in early is always the right thing to do to avoid relearning.

An AWESOME responsibility

We designed every aspect of Essential Handgun around our later courses. From terminology needed, function understanding of the firearm, some legalities of ownership, and more. Every slide is scrutinized with “how does this help our student’s understanding?”. Every slide is about them.

We love watching our students gain understanding and grow confident in their technique. We love watching the light bulb turn on as one idea leads to many possibilities or conclusions. We love watching them ingrain a safety mindset in how they operate and handle firearms, and we love the sense of empowerment they leave with. This is never self-righteous “I know about guns” smugness, but the solid reassurance that they accomplished something that was an anxiety for them pre-class.

Our joy is in their continued safety and accomplishment.

Vehicle emergency kit (Winter)

I was out of town for the holiday break. Coming back to Michigan, we encountered very slick roads, and witnessed 10 cars off the road.

We have an emergency preparedness class for a reason. That reason is that 99% of all threat we face is not interpersonal conflict, it’s us against some condition or event.

Did these people have a charged phone to call for help? (I was driving slow enough to see a glow from each vehicle, presumably their phones while calls were made). Did they have cold weather gear or at least a blanket for each occupant?

How long was their wait until the overtaxed tow-services could get to them?

These are the reasons we prepare. Not just for bad guy with a gun, but so good guys stay safe and keep their families safe.

So what goes into a vehicle kit for the winter? Start with this list:

Vehicle needs:
Ice scraper/brush.
Extra windshield fluid.
Jumper cables.
Air compressor and tire gauge.
Tire replacement tools (jack, lug wrench, etc).
Foam tire sealant.
Fire extinguisher.
Basic tool kit.
Reflective markers and vest (yes, really).
Work gloves and safety glasses.
Tow strap.
Sand or kitty litter for traction. (Or MaxTrax).
Shovel.
Headlamp (with spare Li Ion batteries).

Shelter:
(Assumes occupants already have winter jackets.)
Blanket for each occupant.
Mittens and boots for each occupant.
Lighter, matches, and at least 3 tea candles.

Hydration/Nutrition:
At least 1 bottle of water per occupant.
At least 1000 calories / occupant in energy bars.

Rescue/Mitigation:
Spare cash (approx $300() for towing/hotel, repair.
Phone charger and cable.
GPS (if not in phone).
Paper maps.
Vehicle first aid kit.




Evolution of carry gun choices

I received my concealed carry license in 2001. In Michigan, that was about the earliest it could be obtained unless you had some serious connections that caused the gun board to vote for you. This means I’ve been a concealed carrier for 17 years, and diligently carry wherever possible.

In that time, I’ve learned quite a bit about what makes a good carry gun for me and my lifestyle. In parallel, the nation has become more shall-issue state to state, causing the gun industry to ramp up selections for this enthusiastic market segment.

This article really deals more with rationale, experiences, and evolving needs and understanding than it does with grams, muzzle velocity, and technical stuff. Sure, a lot of that helped make the choices of carry guns, but very few people hold up a spec sheet side-by-side and pick solely off that.

My first carry gun: the Beretta 92 FS

This was actually my first pistol purchase made 10 years earlier, and was not purchased with the intent of a CPL-intent sidearm. It was a range gun, and I liked the looks, I liked the heft, and I liked that it was the military M9 with associated testing to verify it. When my little blue card arrived letting me know that my right to carry had been purchased back from the government, it was the only handgun in my collection suitable.

When most people think of concealed carry, the full framed Beretta 92 FS does not come to mind. It’s big, it’s bulky, the grip is thick, the slide is long. It is everything that a carry gun shouldn’t be… except reliable, accurate, manageable. Wait…

As a first carry gun, its mass was rather daunting. Coupled with concealed carry being a new thing in Michigan as well as me being a new carrier, I was certain this near-anvil chunk of metal was printing wildly on my side and causing my gait to list to port (I’m a lefty). Truth is, people are oblivious and I wasn’t printing hardly at all. The mass, though… That got me to thinking about something smaller. Much smaller.

My second carry gun: the Beretta 3032 Tomcat Inox

As much as I loved the Beretta 92 FS, I decided to stick with the brand for my next purchase. Keep in mind this was about 2002 and the huge array of concealed carry pistols were not out yet.

I caught some major grief from some friends at this choice, most from one particular friend that held the attitude that if it was not a Colt 1911 45ACP it was not actually a firearm. To him, this pistol was a sissy gun, and a weak sissy at that. To me, it was a relief from the very heavy 92 FS, the ability to concealed carry practically anywhere without fear of printing, and most importantly, a means to always have a firearm on me, whether dressed up, regular clothes, or in a pair of shorts while getting a Slurpee after mowing the lawn.

My argument was a 3032 Tomcat on my person was more powerful than a 45 in the dresser back home. I wasn’t wrong in this assessment, but the 32 ACP had some issues in the power department, and trusting one’s life to such a small caliber wasn’t the wisest thing out there.

At the time, 380’s were the compacts of choice, but coming off the 92 FS I wanted something more subcompact. I eventually sold this gun to fund my next concealed carry purchase…

The Heckler and Koch USP Compact 45

This gun was a dream come true. It was the sweet spot between the big ole 92FS and the small 3032. It was a beefy caliber. It shot like a dream, and the recoil was more of a long shove than a jumpy abrupt kick.

With the two magazine choices, I had the better feeling extended magazine and the shorter flush one, making this a great gun to take to the range and a comfortable one to shoot as well as carry.

The day comes when we all realize that the class to get the dumb blue card ill-prepared us for an actual altercation. For me, this day came in summer of 2004 during a traffic altercation. Another motorist decided he didn’t like my driving, and chose to express himself with the threat of violence.

I was fortunate to have been carrying that day, as I was in my old Jeep with no top and no doors and traffic was going nowhere. I was pinned in. Fortunately, the presence of the firearm proved to be enough of a visual deterrent that he followed orders to drop his baseball bat that he articulated he was going to kill me with and move on with his day. Needing training was now on my mind.

Later that year, I was winter camping solo and encountered a pack of wild dogs. Their modus operantdi seemed to include growling at people until they threw them food, watch as they scurried off, and then eat food. (I learned this later from some backpacking forum posts for that area.) Since I only had freeze dry, and I was not about to set up camp to entertain a pack of wild dogs while I prepared their lunch, the need to defend myself was evident. I drew the USP Compact 45, and put one right in front of what appeared to be their leader. This scared them off for a time, and effectively ended my trip since I didn’t want them coming back  while I was set up and possibly sleeping.

Getting some training

The next Spring I resolved I would get some training from a legitimate source. I managed to find that training and took a Handgun I and Handgun II course with round counts of 350-400 per day. This was common round counts in the pre-Sandy-Hook days of training. Classes had many drills with high reps per drill. It was here I realized that as much as I loved my 45, ammo costs for training were prohibitive.

To solve this issue, I took the training with my Beretta 92 FS. It may seem counter-intuitive to not ‘train like you fight’, but I felt it was more important to get the knowledge in a way I could afford rather than wait. I also took copious notes and trained in my 45 with those drills as I was able to afford.

Some big take aways were:

Ammunition capacity: With a loaded 92FS and 2 spare magazines, I had 46 shots available. With the USP Compact, I had 25 rounds. Nearly half.

Shooting dynamics: Anyone that says “I carry 45 because I only need to shoot once” is either really, really good, or they are a stupid idiot. Odds are generally on the latter. In an altercation, with all the stressors of conflict, the overload of senses, the worrying you’re doing the right thing, the determination this is last resort, the moving, potential bullets coming your way, trying to get cover, etc., you really aren’t going to hit what you’re aiming at unless it’s very close. Or unless you’ve really trained hard.  Capacity becomes your friend so you don;’t hear the dreaded ‘click’ on an empty mag.

After this training, I started to realize that the USP45C might not be the best choice. During the next couple years, strides in cartridge advancement started to close the 45 vs 9mm performance gap. After nearly a decade with the Heckler and Kock USP Compact 45 as my primary carry gun, it was time to make the transition.

The Heckler and Koch P30

The P30 in 9mm is the perfect firearm for the left handed. Ambi mag release, ambi slide lock lever, no external safety. With 46 shots on body (the loaded handgun and 2 spare mags), the P30 is a phenomenal shooter.

This firearm has been my daily carry for the past 6 years. I have approximately 10,000 rounds through it with multiple classes as a student and many as an instructor myself. It has not once malfunctioned on me. It is the cold, stoic, and reassuring friend that has my back, and I have never once doubted its performance.

That being said, I’ve never shot with it particularly well, and have had great difficulty in pinning down why. I always shoot slightly low, and slightly left. This is not a trigger position thing; I’ve tried adjusting this in a controlled manner. Follow up shots are tight, but consistently off. I’ve adjusted sights, and moved point of aim to achieve acceptable results, but still fail to get the groupings that I can easily achieve on my Beretta 92 FS or my USP Compact.

Reassess Constantly

This summer, when shooting at my home range with my son, we tried a few different drills. The first was double taps. With the P30, I was regularly 8 inches apart vertically and within 2 inches horizontally. With my 92 FS, I was regularly 2 inches apart vertically and negligible drift horizontally. This was approximately 30 double taps with each, with deliberate focus on control.

My next set of drills was a 30 yard shot. No timing, no constraints other than aim and shoot. At 30 yards, I was 18 inches off center with the P30. With the 92 FS, I was a mere 4 inches off center (both were low).

My last set of drills was one handed shooting at 10 yards, no time limit. I was on target (about a 1.5 inch grouping) with 15 shots with the 92 FS. When I performed this with the P30, my grouping was 3.25 inches with 15 shots. Both are within acceptable parameters for self defense needs.

During the nearly 20 year span of concealed carry, holsters have also made great strides. The days of leather-only holsters are long gone, with many kydex and performance plastic ones on the market that make large frame pistols far more manageable and concealable than the days of yore.

My experimentation showed I was a better shooter with the 92 FS. With that knowledge, I ordered a modern holster for it. The modern holster makes the large framed pistol easily concealable, the weight manageable, and printing minimal.

My current carry

My current daily carry is my Beretta 92 FS. It has some drawbacks which I understand. It is assuredly not on the same advancement level as the HK P30, and it is still a bit big for discrete carry everywhere. Added to this is a small Glock 43, for when the full frame pistol is not an option.

Between these two, I am covered for concealability vs capacity. But both operate as intended every time I ask. I shoot well with them both, and both serve their purpose.

Educated shooters will wonder Whiskey Tango Foxtrot at my choice, and they are certainly within the realm of reason to do so. But the gun is one part of the whole system, and with me as part of that system, the 92 FS seems to perform better. For me.

Honest assessment.


The Get Home Bag (Cold weather)

Most emergencies are weathered by shelter-in-place, meaning we aren’t going to leave the home to go somewhere else. The home is the shelter of choice for them. ALL preparedness plans should begin with a thorough planning regiment and only then move to developing some type of emergency bag for evacuation. When we finally do get around to making these bags, they should support the PLAN we’ve already made.

There is one exception: the Get Home Bag.

The Get Home Bag (GHB) has a single purpose. To have the tools and resources on hand to get home from wherever you may be. The GHB should assume the worst case for getting home, such as in a blizzard, and having to travel on foot.

Here are some common assumptions:

  • Inclement weather (dangerous cold, snow).
  • Late start time (the emergency happened in late afternoon or early evening).
  • Longest commute distance regularly encountered by the individual.
  • Vehicle unavailable early (the vehicle broke down or was blocked initially or early in the trip, most of the trip will  be walked).
  • Reasonable physical condition. Able bodied, and generally able to hike for 8 hours a day with breaks with a 20 pound load.

In modern suburban America, the average commute is 16.2 miles one way. Extreme commute distances (more than 30 miles one way) is the fastest growing commute segment. It is important to be honest with one’s commute distance and train/prepare for it plus up to 50% more (detours, escape/avoidance, etc).

The first step is determining what the requirements for the GHB are. This article will assume a 25 mile commute one way, and that worst case, the GHB must be employed immediately (the trip is starting out on foot rather than abandoning the vehicle after several miles into the commute).

There is a check list at the bottom of the article. We’re going to ‘game’ this scenario a bit, to understand some of the intricacies. It’s better to read everything and understand the rationale for some items and determine if there is need for them in YOUR plan and YOUR kit.

 

Assess the situation

Overcome normalcy bias. Now. You’ve entered a situation that may require outside-the-norm decision making. Yes, when you leave work for the day and drive home, that work laptop is important. If you have to ditch the vehicle to walk home, is the laptop worth taking, or is it dead weight? It is important to become brutally honest about the situation, the priorities, and the consequences of decisions.

Hint: The password protected and encrypted laptop will be just fine remaining in the locked vehicle until you retrieve it. (It may not be, but seriously, get over it.)

How bad is the weather? Can it be reasonably navigated (such as 4 inches of snow or less)? How late is it? Is it imperative to get home as soon as possible? Is it possible to shelter at work/location until the next day? Most parents are going to think “I need to get home now!” to ensure their family is safe. Overcome this anxiety and collectedly assess.

Communications is important. Gather information via phone calls or radio. Have important numbers, emails, contacts in your phone. Have the very important ones hardcopied in your GHB notebook. It’d even better to understand HAM radio, repeaters, and have those you’re trying to reach equally versed. Some threat events will not allow communications. What is your school’s policy on holding kids until parents come? Do you and your spouse have a plan to enact in the case of no-vehicle no-communications? What is expected of each of you?

Hint: Texts will often go through a cellular system even though voice calls cannot.

Fully understand the situation as it pertains to you.

 

In the vehicle

A vehicle has ample space to store needed equipment and supplies and costs little resources to move it about. There are several things that can be put in the vehicle as options, and chosen for inclusion in the human-portable GHB to be used (we are assuming we will have to abandon the vehicle).

Common in-vehicle gear includes:

  • Weather appropriate clothing.
  • Emergency blankets.
  • Emergency food, water.
  • Tools.
  • Maps/Atlas.
  • Communications (CB, HAM).
  • Electronics charging.

Of these, only a few items will be helpful during a worst-case Get Home effort. The maps, probably. Weather appropriate clothing, as long as it is suitable for hiking/mobility. “Stadium warmth” bulky clothing may be ill-suited for high exertion and mobility (but will be desirable for sheltering). Some food, some water. Useful tools may be limited to a saw, small hatchet, and pry bar. Bottom line, though, is all the stuff in the vehicle that could help the situation isn’t necessarily human-portable. Trying to drag it may not be helpful.

 

Primary activity: Walking

In a Get-Home situation, the primary activity will be walking. Yes, luck may provide a ride, or the vehicle is accessible, but we must plan on this 25 mile walk. What is needed for a walk of this magnitude?

First, we must be in reasonable shape. That means training. Recreational backpacking and hiking is the ultimate answer here. Proficiency with this activity will turn a get-home event into nothing more than a hike with more urgency than usual.

Hint: much of the gear obtained to enjoy this hobby will be directly usable in a get-home bag.

A practiced hiker/backpacker carries a 30 pound load for 8-10 hours a day on unimproved trails, averaging about 3 miles per hour on mostly level terrain. In those 8-10 hours are approximately 15 minute breaks per hour, a lunch taking about an hour, and generally one morning and afternoon extended “packs off” break of 30 minutes. Assuming a full 10 hour day, this equates to 3 hours of break, giving a total range of 7 hrs x 3 mph = 21 miles.

Some of the discontinuities in this data and the Get-Homer are that he may not be a ‘practiced hiker’. The stamina and surefootedness are earned. Another discontinuity is the 30 pounds of gear are recreation-intent, light weight  equipment designed to support a pleasurable hobby. Much of it translates (such as a sleeping bag), but some does not. The Get-Homer may need protective weapons, tools to secure supplies (such as pry bars, etc), communications, and more. Water sources may not be as well understood as a researched and planned hike, resulting in more carrying.

Planning and training are critical to helping ensure a successful get-home excursion.

Pro tip: Store your phone and all spare batteries near your body while walking. The cold will greatly reduce battery life. Your body heat will prolong it. Keep conversations short. Possibly keep the phone off and only power on once an hour to send updates.

 

Secondary Activity: Shelter

Outdoorsmen spend a significant amount of time balancing clothing’s ability to retain heat during sedentary times and shedding heat during mobile times (assuming winter). High quality outdoor gear is made for this. Sweat is enemy number one. Gear selected must be versatile enough to accomplish these things. Modern military wear, prosumer-grade outdoor gear, and high-end hunting gear is designed explicitly for this. It must be researched, it must be tested. Shelter is survival priority number 1. Understanding the clothing in one’s gear must also be.

One of the assumptions was that the ‘event’ causing a Get-Home excursion to be necessary happened later in the day. In northern USA in December winter it gets dark at 5 PM. Worst case is setting out later than this, but much later and there should be a very compelling reason to set out and not wait until morning.

It is unlikely the average person will be able to hike through the night. Training and equipment may allow it, but after 4-5 hours the urge to bed down somewhere will be evident. Finding shelter is an art unto itself, as is making expedient shelters from natural resources. Abandoned vehicles, utility buildings, retail outlets, and more can serve as a means of getting out of the elements. The goal is simple: Get out of the elements, and find a way to retain warmth.

The expectation of getting a good sleep should be removed. It will be a shivering, cold, poor sleep filled with anxiety. It may even only be for a few hours before the weariness fades and the urge to get home overtakes it. All this should be expected. To help ensure the possibility of a regenerative sleep, we should be versed in fire making, have at least a very warm wool blanket, and a means of getting out of the elements. A good silicon impregnated nylon tarp is an excellent light-weight means of providing shelter. Whether in an ‘A-frame’ configuration or even as a lean-to setup to help retain some fire warmth, the wind/snow block is important.

The wool blanket may seem like a heavy, archaic form of sleep system, but it has multiple advantages over a sleeping bag. First, it is easy to get out from under in the event of a threat or other quick-reaction event. A sleeping bag can become a warm coffin in such a situation. Secondly, it retains some warmth retention even when wet, as the fibers are naturally hydrophobic. Thirdly, while wool may singe due to embers from the fire, it does not destructively melt like nylon will. Fourth, it can act as a cover or wrapping and still allow the user to be mobile.

Pro-tip: A mylar blanket does little to keep one actually warm. In a lean-to setup with a tarp, use the emergency blanket inside the nylon tarp to help protect it from embers as well as reflect a substantial amount of the fire’s heat back towards you.

 

Supporting equipment and activities

There are a number of training items, equipment, and necessities to support a get home excursion of this magnitude and under worst cases. The following items are a short list with some explanations.

Handgun and ammunition: Desperate times bring out the worst in some people and the best in others. It is despicable to prey upon someone in times of need. Protection is a foundation of all preparedness, and the fact that you’ve prepared does not create an obligation to help those that have not, no matter how desperately they demand or beg. The handgun keeps your life yours, and your things yours, unless you choose to do otherwise. Without it, the choice will be made for you by evildoers. Training required for effectiveness.

First aid kit: Moving out of one’s normal actions and environments brings inherent risk due to unfamiliarity. Risk potentially leads to injury. An adequate firs aid kit is essential, as is the training to use its contents.

Layered clothing: Everyone in the USA understands the idea of layering. No need to write more here.

Fire starting: Bic lighters, ferro rod, some dryer lint, and a half hour searching for suitable fuel gets you a fire. Know how to start one, know how to keep it going. Training required for effectiveness.

Hydration: K&B recommends a 40 oz widemouth Klean Kanteen with single wall construction. When moving, odds are water will not freeze unless it is exceptionally cold. The steel container can be used to boil water, or at least warm it up well for added comfort. Water filters are useless in the cold (the element will break from freezing). Melting snow is generally safe, but time consuming. Aquamira tablets can be used to purify water, but extend the reaction time recommended if the water is too cold. The average person will need 40-80 fl oz for a trip of this magnitude, and will be slightly dehydrated at its conclusion. Plan on 120-160 fl oz for this trip if possible.

Nutrition: A trip of this magnitude is able to be accomplished without food, but the body will be expending up to 4000 calories each day. No food will make it colder and more difficult. Some food, such as a high calorie emergency ration, or freeze dry meal, will be very beneficial.

Illumination: There are 3 categories of illumination: low level but long duration, medium, and high illumination with short duration. It’s important to have all three in one’s kit. Glow sticks are excellent for 4-6 hours (in the cold) where low illumination is all that’s needed. A headlamp can provide medium illumination (most have multiple settings now for low light and bright light, trading off duration). High intensity tactical flashlights are essential when defensive measures are required.

Cash: For a Get-Home situation, silver and gold will be utterly useless. Yes, survivalists of old, they will. A get-home situation is most likely at the onset of a threat event, and society as a whole will not have acclimated to a precious metal monetary paradigm. It would take weeks and possibly months for that. Cash on hand buys you options. Maybe some skis at the store, maybe a ride on a truck that was unaffected by the event, maybe a night in a hotel somewhere. Cash is versatility to obtain lacking resources.

Battery backups: Have spare batteries for all electronics. Spare batteries should be stored on one’s person to prevent power loss. For maximum resiliency use lithium ion batteries and buy gear that is compatible with Li-ion.

10 Essentials: Outdoorsmen have long understood the necessity of the 10 essentials. In their quest to pare down weight for more enjoyable hiking, they often remove things not used or seldom used from their packs. The exceptions are the 10 essentials, which stay a part of the pack regardless of frequency of use.

  1. First-aid kit.
  2. Knife.
  3. Sunglasses and sunscreen.
  4. Extra clothing.
  5. Rain gear.
  6. Firestarter and matches.
  7. Extra water.
  8. Extra food.
  9. Headlamp or flashlight.
  10. Map and compass

Some of these are covered elsewhere. The utility of the rest of these items should be self-evident.

Navigation: Using GPS apps, maps, and compass should all be a well-practiced skill set. GPS and map datums should match. Maps should NEVER show destinations! Plot courses to the nearest major intersection or significant landmark that you know how to get home from. Label each route home. Ensure your spouse has copies of these routes in case they have a working vehicle and can safely rendezvous with you (assuming you have communications).  Likewise, have copies of their routes. Annotate with water sources, caches, shelter options, and other resources. Maps should be durable.

 

Everyday Carry on-body (Tier 1) and Get Home Bag (Tier 2) Checklist:

Tier 1 Tier 2
Protection
Handgun Yes N/A
Spare mag 1-2 mag 2 mag
Holster Yes N/A
Melee handheld Tactical pen
Tactical flashlight
N/A
Long Gun N/A N/A
Scabbard/sling N/A N/A
Spare Mag N/A N/A
First aid
First aid kit Pocket Kit First Aid Kit
Medications in Pocket kit N/A
Shelter
Daily clothing Yes N/A
Headwear N/A Wool hat

Full brim hat

Face covering N/A Shemegh/ bandana
Filter/Respirator
Spare Underwear N/A Yes
Base layers N/A 1 Merino Wool
Midlayers N/A N/A
Heavy layers N/A Yes
Shells N/A Yes
Gloves (not work gloves) N/A 1 pr glove liner

1 pr heavy

Socks N/A 1 pr midweight wool

1 pr heavy weight wool
1 pr sock liner

Footwear N/A Hiking / Winter
Fire starting N/A Bic Lighter x2
Ferro Rod
Tea candles x2
Fire perpetuation N/A N/A
Fuel N/A N/A
Shelter (expedient) N/A N/A
Shelter (normal) N/A SilNylon tarp
Insulation/Bedding N/A Silk bag liner
Mylar blanketWool blanket 1-2
Hydration
Water N/A 40 fl oz
Purification N/A Aquamira

Floss / Carbon / Bottle

Container N/A Klean Kanteen
bladder
Nutrition
Foods N/A Yes (2 servings)
Preparation items N/A N/A
Serving items N/A N/A
Hygiene/Personal
Nail clippers N/A Yes
Toothbrush/paste/floss N/A (optional)
Soap N/A Yes
Towel N/A Yes
Disposable wipes / TP N/A Yes
Hand sanitizer N/A Yes
Deodorant N/A N/A
Spare Glasses Yes Yes
Rescue / Mitigation
Knife Folding Full tang
Spare folding
Multi-tool N/A Yes
Pry bar N/A Yes
Saw N/A (folding optional)
Tape/Fastening N/A 20′ duct tape
10 large zip ties
Hatchet N/A (optional)
Safety glasses N/A Yes
Work gloves N/A Yes
Needle/thread N/A Yes
Compass N/A Yes
Maps N/A Work to Home
GPS app / handheld smartphone N/A
Pace counters N/A Yes
TX/RX Radio + charger N/A Yes
Cell phone charger N/A Charging block
USB cord
Signal mirror N/A Yes
Emergency whistle N/A Yes
Flashlight Surefire E2D N/A
Headlamp N/A Yes
Glowstick N/A x2 red

x2 green

Ziplock bags N/A 4
Garbage bags N/A 2
Paracord N/A 100’
Emergency currency $100 in $20’s $100 in $5’s
$100 in $20’s
USB Drive + documents N/A Yes
Spare batteries N/A Battery block for phone
Tac Light: 1 refill
Headlamp: 1 refillOptics: 1 refill
Notepad N/A Yes
Pack N/A approx 2000 ci

NOTES ON USING THIS CHECKLIST:

  • Items marked N/A may not appear on that tier (for instance, you’re not expected to have 4 glow sticks on-body carry) but may be applicable for another tier. Items that have N/A for both tiers shown might be a bug-out-bag (tier 3), or bug-out-vehicle (tier 4) item.
  • Some items have hyperlinks with suggested product.

 

 

 

 

Choosing YOUR concealed pistol

We are often asked what firearm a person should get for concealed carry. It’s easy to answer Glock 19 or Sig P365 or any other popular and prevalent firearm currently on the market, and sadly, many people answer with a specific make/model without taking the time to define what requirements the inquirer may have. In this article, we’re not going to answer this question, but we will help identify what some common requirements are for a CPL-intent firearm so that you can answer it for yourself.

Before we get too much into this, though, let’s take a moment to understand that the firearm is one part of a system that includes the firearm, carry location, holster used, and clothing. Some of these concepts are discussed in our previous article, The box full of holsters, the box full of lessons.

Each of these subsections should be thought of as a filter, allowing the shopper to remove items from the list of firearms they are considering.

Concealability

Whaaaaaaaa? Reliability isn’t first? No, not at first, it isn’t. Why? Because the AK-47 is not a concealable firearm. “But but but… we’re talking about pistols!”, I hear you cry. Correct, which is why concealability comes first. It’s a concealed pistol license. Duh?

In Michigan, there’s no real penalty for printing (the pistol is exposed through clothing, or otherwise identifiable) but in some states, printing is a serious issue. Either way, the professionally minded concealed carrier will choose to conceal or open carry, and it shall be that way. ‘Casual’ concealed carry, where some printing is acceptable, is for amateurs.

Concealability will vary for everyone, and it will depend on the firearm-location-holster-clothing system the carrier has in place. Women especially understand this system as they are faced with more form-fitting clothing that makes concealability harder. For them, even mid-size firearms like a Glock 19 will not be concealable.

Climate

Also, consider the climate. Here in Michigan it is shorts and t-shirt weather for 4 months. Carrying a mid frame pistol may be a challenge. “Sun’s out guns out” isn’t a phrase about open carry! The firearm you choose should still be concealable. For the remaining 8 months of the year, it may be relatively easy to do. It’s not uncommon to have 2 or even 3 pistols that can be considered for concealability as wardrobe changes.

Discretion

Let’s just face it. Some places are filled with obliviots that wouldn’t notice the negligent discharge of a flare gun. Strip malls and Starbucks are filled with these types. Even then, if for some reason your concealed pistol were spotted, the worst that would happen is you’d be asked to leave without your triple machiato by the timid barista.

Some places, though, might carry some real consequence. Your workplace may not have rules against concealed carry, but it might not be the best thing to be spotted with it. You may have the permission of your pastor to carry at church, but some families spotting the gun may not be so comfortable.

For these places, smaller generally means more concealable. If your travels include a ‘high discretion’ location, this is worth noting in your selection process.

Reliability

Yes, now we will talk about reliability, now that we’re actually talking about concealed carry pistols. Simply put:

  • It must go bang when the trigger is actuated.
  • It must not fail to go bang when the trigger is actuated.
  • It must not go bang when the trigger is not actuated.

Pretty simple, right? So far, it is. But let’s talk about something called functional reliability. Everyone likes to talk about how revolvers are the most reliable handgun. In truth, they are not. The myth of revolver reliability is most borne out of two points:

1) In the early days of semiautomatics, ammunition used poor quality primers (they were good in their day) that caused frequent failures to fire (misfires). This, coupled with the cartridge manufacturing skills of the day, caused variability in ammunition quality. This brings about point 2…

2) In a semiautomatic handgun, failure to fire requires a slide manipulation to cycle past the malfunctioning cartridge and bring another cartridge into the system. This is a more time consuming process than simply squeezing the trigger again like on a revolver.

In practice, a reputable-manufacture revolver is less mechanically reliable than a reputable-manufacturer semi-automatic.  However, once the user is added to the system, a revolver is more functionally reliable than a semiautomatic. Simply put, the semiautomatic requires a stable hold so that the slide can move relative to the frame, to cycle the action. “Limp wristing” can cause this relative movement to be impeded. A revolver does not have this drawback.

As always, the shooter is a factor in the system. Those with weak grips, must shoot one handed, or other limitations that may exacerbate malfunction need to consider this in their reliability assessment of the shooter-firearm system.

Manufacturer reputation is also a part of reliability. Do they have the know-how to make a reliable firearm? Do they have the infrastructure to correct (recall) any issues? Will they stand by their product? One only needs look at the Remington R51 fiasco to understand it’s not just about name, it’s about real reliability.

Stopping Power and Manageability

Stopping power is the difficult to define concept of the cartridge’s ability to deliver the force to neutralize a threat. In truth all handgun cartridges are poor stoppers, and it must be recognized we are trading convenience/concealability for effectiveness. It’s just the way it is.

To make matters easier, the following cartridges are common CPL-intent.

Semiautomatic:

  • .380 ACP
  • 9x19mm
  • .40 S&W
  • .45ACP

Revolver:

  • .38 Special
  • .357 Magnum

Yes, there are others. Yes, we know you have your favorite. Yes, it may not be on this list. But let’s be honest, if your .43 cal Acme FullSemi Obscurus  is the very best there is and you swear by this mythological wildcat cartridge, why are you reading an intro to CPL article? Hmm?

For the rest of us, the above cartridges represent commonly available, readily purchasable, and affordably trainable cartridges that have a wide array of CPL-intent pistol models available.

Now let’s talk about manageability. We group stopping power and manageability together because it’s not just about the cartridge, it’s about the firearm-shooter system. the .357 Mag and the .40 S&W tend to be a bit ‘abrupt’ in their recoil. Smaller frame pistols may also have this effect and feel when shooting less powerful carteridges.

The FBI explored the powerful 10 mm auto cartridge in the late 1980’s after a shootout in Miami left two agents dead and five more injured. It was concluded that the 10 mm auto had improved power, but its manageability was unsuitable for most agents. We have the same concerns, and most of us have fewer training opportunities than an FBI agent.

We must find the firearm-cartridge combination that gives us the most stopping power that we can safely and effectively wield. And that means trying out multiple handguns in multiple calibers. To the gun store!  But wait…

Manageability Part 2

A big part of manageability is the firearm’s ergonomics. Is it the right size for us? Is the grip wide/narrow enough to effectively shoot? Can we get enough grip contact to create a reliable shooting platform?

Note I did not say “does the gun feel good to hold/shoot”? This is largely the most ridiculous ‘gun guy’ pieces of advice out there. I’ve seen countless Facebook posts from these guys that say “go to the gun store and pick what feels good in your hands”. NO! Worst advice ever.

The measurable is “Can you effectively wield it?”, not “does it feel good in your hand?”. There is a vast difference, and failure to understand this leaves you with possibly violating item #1 (Concealability). You’ll walk out with a full frame Walther P99, H&K VP9 or some target-intent pistol, with no real way to conceal carry it. (Although, an H&K P30 is my carry gun, but I’m 6’2″ and dress as necessary to do so…)

Effectively wield. Key words.

 

Capacity

Capacity is unfortunately the sacrificial lamb in all of this. It’d be nice if the grips contained some magical space where 3000 rounds could be placed and fed reliability, but that technology seems to have been lost with the demise of the 1980’s soldier of fortune movies where reloads were either optional or just a plot device to go hand-to-hand.

If high capacity is an absolute requirement, item #1 (Concealability) may have to give a bit of leeway, as will your carry location and attire. Balance these needs appropriately.

In conclusion…

I sincerely hope this helps. There are tons of great guns out there, and they are improving in quality every day. It’d be easy to spout off favorite models, or just tell you to get a Glock 19 like everyone else on the planet, but this would be giving you my solution and not yours. Investigate the above topics. Try them out. Ask friends that have them and actually put them on with the holster, etc. Carry them for a day if you’re able (as law permits). Is your solution one gun or two or more? That’s OK too.

Just remember this is a filtering process, and it truly helps to be unforgiving honest in in your approach. I know you love that gold plated Desert Eagle 50AE because it matches your Texas Centennial commemorative belt buckle, but if we take a moment to be objective, it might not be the best carry choice. Not saying don’t own it, just be diligently pragmatic about its suitability for this role.