Every once in a while, I have to step back and look at the way I’m doing things and the way that we, as preppers and survivalists, do them in general. Often that retrospection gives me a new perspective on things and an opportunity to find things that just don’t make any sense, from a survival point of view.
This s something we should all be doing on a regular basis. The fact of the matter is, much of what we do as preppers and survivalists is a head exercise. Few of us have ever experienced the circumstances we are preparing for or even talked to someone who has survived them. So while there are certain survival lessons that have been hard won through trial, suffering and even the deaths of those who didn’t follow those lessons, much of what we do is unproven and will remain so until a disaster hits.
One of the places I especially see this in bug out planning. I’ve never bugged out in my life, nor do I know anyone who has been forced to. In fact, there are few circumstances I can even think of, where people were forced to bug out. Some coastal towns have needed to bug out due to hurricanes, there have been times when people have had to bug out due to war, but there is little other actual experience in bugging out. So in my mind, that makes the whole idea of bugging out and the plans that we make about bugging out highly suspect.
That’s not to say that the concept of bugging out is flawed or that we shouldn’t develop bug out plans and accumulate the necessary equipment and supplies. I’m just saying that we need to not be so quick to take our own counsel. This is one of those prime areas where we need to reflect on what we are doing, trying to put ourselves in the situation and see if our plans really work.
The Problem I See
I just went through that mental exercise and encountered what could be a serious error in our collective bug out planning. That is, we’re thinking as refugees, rather than soldiers. Such a difference in thought pattern could prove dangerous or even fatal.
The general consensus amongst survivalists is that it is better to bug in, rather than bugging out. But we all need a bug out plan, just in case. It is widely recognized that when we bug out, we probably won’t be alone. Oh, a few of us might beat the rush, but most won’t. Since we may very well find ourselves part of a mass exodus, there’s a common understanding that one of the risks we face is that the highways will turn to parking lots. When that happens, we’ll have to abandon our vehicles and head out on foot.
All of that seems to be pretty widely accepted in the prepping community. We also realize that there is an inherent danger in any crisis situation, in that people will be desperate, and as such, will do desperate things.
Now, here's the disconnect I've encountered. Knowing this danger, we don't make proper plans to mitigate it. We tend to trust in our own firepower, as if that will be enough to keep us safe. But when we're on the road or moving through the woods, we lose the advantage of our home defense, and in fact become quite vulnerable to attack.
About the only thing I've heard to help mitigate this danger is to avoid looking obviously like a prepper. Okay, so we don't wear cammies and don't use obviously tactical backpacks. Do you really think that's going to help? Do you think your blue jeans and red backpack are going to make you look unprepared? Don't you think that the simple fact of being armed and having backpacks will be enough to show all those desperate people that you're in better shape than they are?
I'm sure there are some half-blind or half-catatonic people out there who won't recognize you and I as preppers. But I'm equally sure that the rest of them will look at us park our vehicles and walk away from them armed to the teeth, with our backpacks and other equipment attached to our bodies, and say to themselves, "Those people look ready for anything."
That's a dangerous thought; because the thought that might very well follow it is one about trying to take what we have. If the person who has that thought happens to be with their own team of buddies and they happen to be armed too, we could find ourselves the victims of a sweet little ambush... only... it won't be all that sweet for us.
There are 83 known criminal gangs in the country I live in; and I’m quite sure that we are not the number one county in the nation. In fact, I live in a fairly peaceful area. But that doesn’t mean it’s a totally crime-free one. And while I imagine few of those gang members have really done any serious criminal activity, they’ve all bragged about it. They’ve all shown that they are tough and there are enough true criminals, who have been hardened by time in the big house, amongst them, that any of those groups could turn violent in an emergency situation.
This is something we’ve seen over and over again. During a disaster or crisis, criminals and wanna-be criminals come out of the woodwork. Mostly they limit themselves to taking advantage of the situation to do some looting, but it doesn’t always stop there. Sometimes, they prey upon others in their weakened condition, taking advantage of that and turning them into victims.
These people are true predators. Some or predators all the time. We know that because they didn’t need a disaster to come along, to give them an opportunity to prey on others. Some are only predators because the situation has peeled away the veneer of civilization that they were covered with. Either way, they are dangerous to you, as well as anyone else they encounter.
At the moment you park your vehicle and leave it, you need to turn into a military unit, regardless of who you are and who is part of your team. If you don’t, you may find that some of these predators react to your presence, faster than you can react to theirs.
The ones who are full-time predators are going to be ready to act anyway. Seeing you get out of your vehicle, loaded down with packs full of useful survival goodies, is going to be all the trigger it’s going to take for them to react.
Just like an army unit in the field, let’s call it a squad, there is no down time in survival. There is no moment when you are truly safe. You have to keep your guard up and you have to keep alert. The few seconds notice that being alert buys you can keep you alive.
Take my word for it, these predators can tell the difference between someone who is alert and someone who is self-focused. Just like any other criminal, they will try to keep their distance from those who are alert. They don’t want a fight, unless it is one-sided. They want to take what you have, but they don’t want to risk their lives to do so.
Stay on Guard
Your counter to their aggressiveness and viciousness is to see everything as a potential danger. Remember the levels of alertness? Stay in yellow, ready to move into orange at any moment. Evaluate those around you, looking for potential dangers. But never dismiss anyone who is close to you as being totally safe, because that may just be a ruse that they are using to get close. You can ignore those that are far away, once you determine they aren’t a threat, but you can’t do that with those who are close.
So, the first tactical principle you need to apply is to post guards. The first people to get out of your vehicle have to be armed, alert and have the responsibility of guarding your family or survival team, while everyone else is getting out and getting organized.
Hopefully, you’ll be traveling with your survival team and have a number of people who can act as guards. A larger group can make a greater show of strength, making you a poor target for anyone to attack. If you are by yourself, as just your family, then you are much more vulnerable.
With several vehicles, have the guards get out of opposite sides of the vehicle, down the line. In other words, the front-seat passenger on the first vehicle gets out and posts guard, while someone gets out of the driver’s side on the second vehicle, preferably from the back seat. Stagger this way down the line, so that each vehicle is contributing to the guard force.
If you are by yourself as a family, then you should still have two guards, one on each side of the vehicle. One person alone can’t see both sides of the vehicle. But if there are only two adults in the family, then you only have one available to stand guard. In this case, the best place to stand guard is on the roof of the vehicle. That gives the best, unblocked view of what’s going on around you.
Each guard must get out of the vehicle with their weapon in their hands, held in a non-aggressive stance, but one which they can move to action quickly. With rifles, that basically means holding them at port arms. With pistols, they can remain holstered, with a hand on the holster.
The guard stays on guard until relieved by someone else who has finished their preparations. Then, the guard can make their preparations, hopefully completing the preparations of the whole group.
Always Keep a Guard
This idea of posting a guard has to become a normal part of your lifestyle from the time you bug out, to the time you return home. While you may not have as many guards posted as what I recommended for getting out of your vehicle and getting organized to continue on foot, you should always have at least one. How many you actually have will be a command decision you have to make, depending on the situation. The more danger there is, the more guards you need.
This means keeping guards posted at night as well. Night attacks have been a favorite tactic of all types of bandits for centuries. They’ll wait until everyone in your camp is asleep, then sneak up and attack; counting on the time it takes you to wake up to give them the advantage.
That's what makes night guard so important. Essentially the lives of your whole team are in their hands. They have to raise the alarm and fight off the attackers at the same time, giving the rest of the team enough time to wake up, grab their guns and join the fight.
For this reason, it's a good idea to post guards where they are not easily seen and have some cover available to protect them. If you are camping in front of a cliff face, a ledge ten feet above the ground is a perfect guard post. Not only is it hard to see, but gives the guard a commanding view of everything around. A few rocks on the edge of that ledge can provide cover, so that they are protected while they fight.
Night guards must avoid looking into the fire at all costs. It can take hours to get your night vision working really well, but a quick glance at the fire destroys it. Unless you have night vision goggles, that night vision may be the only thing that makes it possible for you to see what the bad guys are doing, before they have a chance to do it.
For that matter, unless you need a fire for heating, put it out before retiring for the night. That fire can be seen for miles in the wilderness and can act as a beacon to every vagabond and bad guy out there. Don’t give them a clear sign to locate you, at least make them work at it.
Guards in the daytime have an easier time than those at night. Not only can they see easier and clearer, but they can see farther. Night vision goggles don’t really give you that long a range of vision; at least, not compared to what you can see in the daytime. About the only thing that is easy to see at night, is light. If the bad guys are foolish enough to smoke or build a campfire, that can give them away to you, as easily as yours can to them.
One of your greatest times of risk will be while moving. Ambushes aren’t only the realm of armies, but of anyone who wants to surprise an enemy. All that’s needed is to pick a place where the victims are going to pass by and set up your guns along that way. Then, when the intended victims appear, everyone shoots at them.
There are countless variations on the ambush, including moving ambushes and even ambushes where the attackers close on their victims, rather than the victims closing on the attackers. But the number one thing they all have in common is surprise. The ambush is a surprise attack, more than anything.
Proper tactical movement not only reduces the damage that an ambush can do to your survival team, but improves your ability to counter it. While your team may still suffer some casualties, they will be less than you would suffer if you were just walking through the woods. The other thing that tactical movement does, is allow you the best opportunity to take advantage of any chance encounters you have with others you might see along the way.
The first consideration is your tactical lineup. You want to move in a single-file line, as much as possible, to make it harder for anyone following you to determine how many of you there are. If you have six people walking abreast, it's easy to determine how big your group is, but if those same six people walk in single file, their footsteps overlap each other, creating confusion to anyone who is trying to read your trail.
Speaking of obscuring your trail, walk on rock as much as possible. Of anything you can walk on, rock is the one which will not leave any footprints. About the only way you can leave footprints on rock, is if you have mud on your boots. If you walk in dirt, pine needles, leaves, sand or mud, you will leave a trail that others can follow. Watch out for brushing clothing against brush and trees as well, as you might leave behind threads, break twigs or damage the bark on the trees. All of these are like road signs to someone who is knowledgeable about tracking.
However many people you have, they should be lined up in essentially the same order:
- Point Man - This should be someone who is good at picking trails, following a map, walking quietly in the woods and is very observant. Their main job, besides picking the trail, is to look for enemies. At times, the point man may stop the column, while they scout ahead or to one side, seeking enemy activity. When in the lead, they have this option and whoever is in tactical command should allow them that freedom.
- Slack Man - The second person in the lineup should be the one with the heaviest firepower. If there is a choice between several people who have equal firepower, then pick the one who is the best shot. This person follows the point man by 50 to 100 feet, depending upon terrain. They should be able to keep the point man in view at pretty much all times. Their main job is to protect the point man, bringing fire to bear, if necessary, so that the point man can extract himself from a dangerous situation.
- Tactical Leader - The first person in the body of the column should be the tactical leader. Depending on how your survival team is organized, this person may be your overall leader, or there may be a different overall leader. They need to be close to the front, so that they know what is happening and can make tactical decisions as necessary. This leader should follow the slack man by 50 to 100 feet, depending on terrain.
- Note: From this point on, each person should leave 10 to 15 feet between themselves and the person in front of them. That keeps the column a "diluted target," which is not attractive to attack. One grenade or one burst of fire from automatic weapons can't take out too many people.
- Communicator - The main communicator for your team should come next, so that they are co-located with the tactical leader and can pass instructions on to the rest of the team. Depending on what types of communication gear you have available to you, this person could end up quite busy. Their secondary function is to protect the tactical leader.
- Reaction force - If you have enough combatants in your survival team, anywhere from one to several should follow the communicator, in the front of the column. These people are your reaction force, who are ready to respond to any attack your point man or team falls under. In the case of an ambush, they are the ones who will circle around and flank the ambushers.
- Body of the Column - The main body of the column includes most of your people. Anyone who is acting as a bearer should be in this section, as well as all children and non-combatants. Combatants need to be interspersed between them, to provide protection. Ideally, you'll have one combatant between every pair of non-combatants. Everyone in the main body should walk ten to fifteen feet apart, with the exception of mothers who are holding onto the hands of their children.
- Secondary Reaction Force - Just like the reaction force at the front of the column, this group acts to encircle any ambush that you might stumble into. They also have the additional responsibility to ensure that no hostiles get between the column and the rear guard. This is a favorite tactic of small groups wishing to attack a larger column. If they can infiltrate the end of the column, they can work their way up it, killing as they go.
- Rear Guard - The rear guard is there to make sure that nobody can sneak up behind you, as well as to watch out for anyone who is following the column. Ideally, you want a rear guard that consists of two people, so that they can watch each other's back. If you are being followed, the rear guard is the element which would create any traps for those behind you. At times, they may lag behind, to check for any followers.
Obviously, this system is designed for a fairly large survival team. However, it is based upon a normal infantry squad. If you don’t have enough people for all the positions mentioned, you may find yourself having to modify it. The most common modification is to combine positions, such as having the tactical leader also act as their own communicator, as well as being part of the reaction force.
Establishing a Perimeter
Whenever you stop, whether for a break or for the night, the team should form a circle, much like the old wagon trains did. The difference is that this time, it’s a circle of people, rather than of wagons. The circle itself consists of all your shooters, divided in teams of two. That allows one person to keep watch, while the other sleeps or cleans their gun. The non-combatants, as well as the leadership are in the middle of the circle, where the shooters can protect them.
If you have enough people, a small reaction force might be kept inside the circle as well. Or you might have a few women who are shooters, but are inside the circle because they are with their children. Should reinforcements be needed on part of the perimeter, these women would leave their children in the care of others, so that they could go help the guards on the perimeter.
Likewise, the team’s leadership can act as part of the reaction force; but this must be done with care. Leaders are prime targets and if anyone has been following you, you have to assume that they have been trying to determine who the leaders are. Killing leaders disrupts your command and control, making you an easier target to attack and destroy.
You can use this to your advantage as well. Determining the leaders of any attacking group should be a priority of every shooter you have. They will usually be easy to identify, as they will usually be in front and be giving orders. Anyone who talks to you or talks to their own team during an attack is probably a leader. Another sign is that the leader will probably be better equipped than the other team members. Target them first, if you can, as eliminating the enemy leaders might be enough to break up the attack.