Monday, January 23, 2012

Near Misses

There have been many times in my life, and I suspect in yours, that something has happened where your life was placed in danger but you managed to avoid a catastrophe by sheer luck.  Perhaps, just in the nick of time, you realized what was about to happen and you stepped back from the brink of disaster.  Or, more commonly, someone else recognized what was about to happened and intervened.  These are the “near-misses” in our lives that we all experience from time-to-time.  When an accident happens, especially a serious accident where people are injured and sometimes killed, an investigation usually follows.  An accident investigation board is convened. Witnesses are called.  Experts testify as to how the accident happened and how it could have been prevented.  Then recommendations are published hoping that a similar situation can be avoided in the future.  Seldom does the same train of events take place following a “near-miss!”  But it should!  Read more

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Finding North to Help You Stay Found

It is easy to find yourself a bit disoriented and, lacking a compass or other navigational equipment, being unable to figure out which way to travel to go home!   One of the fundamental skills that an experienced outdoors man or women relies on is the ability to determine the cardinal directions (North, East, West and South) from the sun or from Polaris - the North Star.  Blake Miller of Outdoor Quest has done a great job of showing you how to use Polaris to determine North and then based on knowing where North is,  determine East, West and South.  Check out his blog   But what about during the daytime when you can't see Polaris?  What can be done then to help you determine your way back to your truck?

It easy assuming you have a clear sky and can see the sun.  Cut yourself a thin stick, 1/4 inch works well, 15 inches in length and sharpen one end to a point.  Find an area in the sun and clear away any debris from a circle about 18 inches in diameter.  Drive the stick into the ground while pointing the opposite end of the stick directly at the sun in such a way that the stick casts no shadow.

Let twenty - thirty minutes go by and then observe the shadow that the stick now casts.   Regardless of latitude, the time of day or the hemisphere you happen to be in, the shadow that is cast points East.  Depending on the time of year it may not point exactly east but it is accurate enough to give you a general easterly heading and again, knowing where east is you can determine the other cardinal directions.

So how does this help you.  For the sake of argument let's say you parked your truck on a generally North-South road and walked away from the truck to the west to spend the day hunting.   Let's say  that you didn't pay as much attention as you should have and you find yourself "a little disoriented" when it was time to return to your truck.  Lacking any landmarks to guide your way you have no idea which direction to go but you do know that you are west of the road. If you just had a way to figure out which way east was you could at the very least get back to the road on which you left your truck.

Find a sunny spot, cut the twig, drive one end into the ground and wait for the shadow to develop.  Since it is difficult, lacking a compass,  to maintain a straight line when walking through the woods it may be necessary to repeat this process several times before you reach the road.  You probably haven't navigated right back to your vehicle but you are at least on the road where you parked it!

So you now have two tools to use to help yourself "stay found" when next you become, as Danial Boone is supposed to have experienced "a mite befuddled!"

Sunday, January 1, 2012

My Top Twenty Favorite Survival Books

Winter is a good time to do some reading and if you are interested in expanding your knowledge of survival and surviving here's a list of some of my favorite books.  These are books that I go back to time and time again. They are my references for much of what I teach in my seminars.  Some are of the "been there, done that" variety.  Some are of the "here's what you need to be able to do in a survival situation" genre and others are scientific studies of the psychology and physiology of humans in extreme conditions - survival conditions.

In previous times the survival literature was based on the anecdotal accounts of those unfortunate souls who had been in a survival event and returned to tell about it.  "They survived therefore what they did must be correct!"  Not necessarily so!  Some people survived in spite of what they did!  Fortunately, scholars, many in the medical community, have in recent years studied why some people survive and yet others, under similar conditions die, and have written some very good books on the subject.  Read widely.  Compare the advice given.  Test the recommendations and find out what works for you.

Survival Psychology - John Leach
Deep Survival - Laurence Gonzales 
Everyday Survival - Laurence Gonzales
Life at the Extremes - Frances Ashcroft
Surviving Extremes - Kenneth Kamler
The Survivors Club - Ben Sherwood
Alone - Richard Logan
Last Breath - Peter Stark
The Unthinkable - Amanda Ripley
102 Minutes - Dwyer & Flynn
The Essentials of Sea Survival - Golden & Tipton
Desert Survival Skills - David Alloway
Out of Captivity - Gonsalves, Stansell & Howes
Touching the Void - Joe Simpson
Survive - Peter Deleo
Wilderness Medicine 6th Edition - Paul Auerbach et al
Endurance:Shackleton's Incredible Voyage  - Alfred Lansing
Northern Bushcraft - Mors Kochanski
Staying Found - June Flemming
Angels in the Wilderness - Amy Racina

Humbly, I might add my own book "Surviving a Wilderness Emergency" to the above list.

Notice there aren't any books on this list that are titled "The Complete Book of.........." because they never are!  Nor are there any books titled "The Encyclopedia of.............." because once again they never are!  The other titles that are noticeably missing are books based on military survival training, both the American and the British military.  Skills taught to the military, regardless of nationality, do not necessarily cross over into the civilian world.  I measure the value of a potential survival reference book by whether or not the book recommends the use of space blankets, a bow and drill for fire starting, solar stills and living-off-the-land!  If they do I conclude that the author has not done his homework!  Remember, when reading, there's a big difference between the skills needed to survive an inconvenient night out and bush craft skills needed to live in the back-country for prolonged periods of time.  Granted there is some cross-over but more typically you need to know how to survive a night or two out until you are found.