In short, the idea of going out and living off the land is great. The execution would be friggin hard.
Pre-emptive apologies for the long post. It was a 2 day course, so I wanted to cover everything we did in those two days.
We got there at 8:45 Saturday morning after making an emergency stop to pick up one last piece of equipment I didn't have (an empty gatorade bottle). When we got there, I was surprised to see a pretty nice cabin. Upon walking in, I secretly hoped that this was mostly going to be classroom training where we would stay nice and warm inside.
Looking around at the other guys (there were 18 guys and 1 gal) I noticed I was definitely the most out of place. I was the only one not wearing some sort of camouflage and one of a few that didn't have an extra 50-100 pounds on them. But overall, the group seemed pretty nice.
|Cabin at the entrance|
Day 1 Activities
Obviously, we weren't inside much. Once we got started, we walked a little bit down to camp. The first thing we did was gather a bunch of wood, because that was going to be used for shelter and fire. Most of guys had to start shedding layers because they were getting warm and we weren't supposed to sweat. I found this a little amusing because all we were doing was walking around and carrying logs. As one of the not chubby guys, I didn't really take much clothing off because my heart rate simply wasn't raising high enough to get me all hot and bothered.
We learned a bit about different knots so that we could build our shelters. After that, we started to assemble our shelters. They were simple a-frame shelters. Here's Bob's with just the frame setup:
Once we were done with that, it was time for some bedding. This was simply switch grass gathered from around camp. This kinda sucked. It took about an hour or so to hack away at the grass with your knife in order to get an adequate quantity to sleep on. This was important because it kept you off of the cold hard ground. Now that we had all of our supplies, it was time to put all of those fancy knots to use and assemble the shelter. Here's my fully assembled shelter:
I honestly had little faith in this guy keeping me warm through the night, especially the garbage bag door that I had on the front. But, I had a sleeping bag that was rated to -30 degrees, so I wasn't too worried.
After shelter building came fire craft. Boy howdy does this suck. You see it in the movies and it seems so easy. We didn't even try the whole rubbing two sticks together thing, we were just gathering wood and then using firesteel. The hard part here wasn't so much getting the fire started, it was finding the right wood to start with. I didn't have a saw with me, so that made this task much more difficult. The key is finding a dry piece of wood without knots. You're going to be batoning the wood, so you need a nice straight grain. After a decent amount of work, you'll have your pile of wood, your tinder, and your fire platform and you can go to town with your firesteel. It was pretty cool to get this going, and I feel fairly confident that I could do it again, but it's easier to have a lighter and a pile of newspaper.
|Everyone setup for camp|
After fire, we were pretty much done for the day. We set up our sleeping arrangements, ate dinner, and then essentially watched a one-man comedy show from one of the owners. It's definitely one of those "had to be there" type of things, but suffice it to say, I'm pretty sure I heard more gay sex references than I would hear in a bath house.
I thought for sure that night I was going to get a decent night's sleep. My shelter seemed warm enough, I had enough clothes, I had lots of ground padding, my sleeping bag was rated to -30 degrees, and I wasn't sleeping in the same tent as Bob who is the worst snorer ever (his wife is a saint). Then the wind came. Around 2 or 3 in the morning, I awoke to what sounded like a freight train coming through. It was a little eerie. We were down in a little depression surrounded by trees, so my shelter was barely moving in the wind. So, I could hear howling wind and all of the trees moving, but it was fairly still where I was. Additionally, as I mentioned, I had little confidence in my shelter. I rolled over onto my stomach so that if it crashed down on top of me, it wouldn't hit me in the face. In the morning I learned that we were getting around 50mph gusts throughout the night.
Also at this time, I had a strong urge to use the bathroom (i.e. the tree marked as the piss tree). However, I was very cozy in my sleeping bag. So, for the first time ever, I grabbed my water bottle and relieved myself with that instead of getting up in the wind and cold. I was very happy with that decision. Once again, I was glad I wasn't a woman. Unfortunately, only in the morning did I realize that this was exactly what the empty Gatorade bottle was supposed to be for.
In the end, my shelter held up great through the night. Even my little garbage bag door. I am still a little surprised at how well it worked and how warm it was inside there. Who needs a tent? Just some paracord, a tarp, a 55 gallon trash bag, and some logs.
Day 2 activities
Day 2 was a little less intensive. We didn't really get started until about 10:00am. Once we got started, our instructor showed us how to build a completely natural shelter. It took 10 of us only about 20 minutes to build this. However, there were 10 of us and all of the materials were already gathered. I think it would take about 4ish hours to build one by myself.
The instructor then built a signal fire which we had to make all of the shavings for. This was pretty cool just making a fire that would give off as much smoke as possible.
Our last activity was snaring. As an ethical vegetarian, I was a little apprehensive about this. Thankfully, he said up front that we weren't actually going to be leaving our snares out. But now I know how to strangle a squirrel with some brass wire should the need arise.
Finally, we went back up to the cabin and had a review of what we learned. Most importantly, we got a little velcro patch.
Summary (or TL;DR Version)
Being in a survival situation would suck. I now know how little I know about the topic. And, while it was a fun weekend, I also know I don't want to dedicate the time and effort necessary to learn these skills. My plan, should it hit the fan, is to drive to Tekamah and hope that these guys will take care of me.
|Ready to leave|