Sunday, April 24, 2011

Bug Out Bags Aren't Just for Armageddon Anymore

Back when I was going to college on the GI bill I became a semi-pro photojournalist (code phrase meaning I didn't make much money at it) to augment my meager official income. I came by most of my alternative income as a stringer finding, photographing and selling stories to local newspapers. As a freelancer I managed to somehow wrangle an official police press pass which helped me get past police lines.

During the warmer months I'd earn extra money by getting exciting pictures of the various brush fires that would spring up in southern California's summer heat. One day a newspaper editor commented to me "You smell like smoke!" I took it as a compliment.

I smelled like smoke because I got right in with (and sometimes in front of) the firemen. Oh I was good! Using angles and close-ups I could make a little two acre grass fire look like a conflagration and then rush down to the newspaper office to turn my film into cash!

Back in those days the official policy was to put out every brush and forest fire as soon as possible. The result of that policy was to allow brush that normally would have been burned off in small fires to accumulate year after year until the sage brush, chaparral and dried grass became so thick and high in places you couldn't walk through the dried brush. All it took was one hot dry summer to set it all ablaze.

Laguna Fire
The Laguna Fire burned from late September until early October 1970. It was my finest hour as a fire photographer, but my second worst as a semi-pro photojournalist seeking fame and fortune*. Although I came out of the fire smelling like smoke as usual I sold only a few pictures to the local weekly newspaper*. Newspaper caption #1:
While their comrades stood guard on the roof of a nearby school, which was protected from the fire by its wide playground, these reinforcements watched the fire race by. Sun night Flynn Springs. (By now we were all a bit tired and dispirited.) Click to enlarge picture. Then click again to enlarge again.

While the fire was "hot" news I was up on the fire lines recording great images while the daily newspaper (which paid MUCH better) printed whatever their in-house photgs brought them. I only sold a few pictures to the low paying weeklies. Newspaper caption #2:
A California Forestry Foreman started to drive into the area but soon found himself surrounded on three sides as sparks came to rest in dry brush after the wind shifted. (I'd followed him in. After a very short conference we decided to make like good shepards and get the flock out of there.) Click to enlarge picture. Then click again to enlarge again.

Afterwards I sent several dozen images of what was, at that time, the second largest fire in California's history to TIME magazine hoping to make a sale since TIME wasn't as time sensitive as the newspapers. I got back a rejection letter stating that TIME magazine didn't cover "local" fires. Maybe the fact that I was shooting only black and white for the newspapers didn't appeal to TIME's color minded editors. Picture #3:
One of the many pictures of the "local" fire that TIME turned down. Click to enlarge picture. Then click again to enlarge again.

I still have pictures and memories of that fire. The most prominent memory (sorry, no pictures) is of getting my eyebrows singed off.

I'd followed a line of fire trucks up into the hills when they attempted to start a backfire to create a fire break. The fire trucks spread out along the top of a "T" road intersection at the base of a hill. I parked just a few feet behind them on the leg of the "T" and stood in front of my little Volkswagen cameras ready to record what we all hoped would be end of the wildfire. But it was not to be.

I got a shot of a fireman calmly walking along the road holding out a can that dripped burning liquid along the roadside. Soon he and others had created a small half mile long grass fire that was slowly burning its way up the hill into the wind. Then the main fire got to us.

The dry and very combustible chaparral on the hillside was higher than a man's head and where it had been cut back along the dirt road the dead grass was bone dry. The 90°F plus heat with humidity in the single-digits combined with up to forty mile-per-hour Santa Ana winds to fan the flames into a firestorm as the fire crested the hill.

As the main fire fought its way down the hill the grass fire reached the chaparral and flared up. The two rows of flames met about twenty feet from the dirt road in a conflagration that was about thirty feet high.

The fire didn't just "jump" the fire line so much as it flared across it. The score was, once again, fire one, firefighters zero.

As the flames flared up on 'my' side of the road I jumped onto my VW and backed to a point where I could turn around and race back down the hill. I didn't want to be in the way when those fire trucks started fleeing the fire.

A mile or so down the dirt road I saw a civilian car with two men in it being chased by two sheriff's deputies coming towards me. The cops had set up roadblocks to keep all but emergency personnel (and me with my press pass) from entering the area. I stopped and tried to yell a warning of the inferno that was ahead of them to both cars and was ignored by both as they raced past.

Continuing my rapid retreat down to the roadblock, I discovered I no longer had eyebrows and my beard was singed. A few minutes later the sheriff's patrol car came back with four very dazed looking men in it. I don't know what happened to the roadblock runner's car. It seems they'd been trying to get to someone or something up in the fire zone. All they got for their trouble was a burned out car and arrested. Two young men work on a fire break well ahead of the fire. A man watches the fire while standing on his roof as he waters it down with a sprinkler. (Front page pictures from a weekly newspaper.) Click to enlarge picture. Then click again to enlarge again.

Other memories of the Laguna Fire:
A lone young fireman ignoring the frantic, frustrated, angry cries of his chief coming over the radio of his fire truck as he single-handedly fought a flying ember started grass fire approaching an evacuated house. (I wholeheartedly agree with the young fireman's decision; householders could have easily put the fire out with a garden hose, but they'd been ordered to evacuate by the authorities. Putting the grass fire out took only a few minutes and prevented (remember the up to 40 mile an hour winds) yet another wildfire starting up behind the fire line.

Following an old fire truck manned by volunteer firemen up a dirt road to an abandoned house surrounded by flames. The truck's commander really really REALLY wanted to "borrow" my goggles (he didn't have any) but I figured I'd need them to see to take pictures. I should have given them to him since I never really used them.

To give you an idea of how desperate things were one of the trucks out fighting the fires was a brand new pumper. They'd decided to forgo the normal acceptance tests and loaded it up with "deadlined" hoses and other equipment scheduled for replacement and sent it out to fight the fire manned by any firemen they could find. All vacations had been canceled and the fire houses in the city were being covered by skeleton crews.

Alright, old geezer, what do your ancient adventures mean to me?
1. Being prepared pays off. My little VW was equipped with a Radio Shack scanner with five crystals tuned to police, sheriff and fire department frequencies. You young whippier snappers have it easy with digital radios and such. You don't need a police/fire scanner, but do you have a battery/solar powered radio that'll get the emergency channels?

2. Planning ahead pays off. Many of the people who fled the Laguna Fire had to do so with little or no notice, some lost everything. Do you know what you'd take with you if you had to suddenly flee your home right now? Do you know where these things are ? Credit cards and cash (in case the ATM's aren't working); your meds; your passport(s), drivers licenses, birth certificates, deeds, vehicle titles; food; water and a place to go.

3. Knowing what you're doing can save your life. At one point, near the beginning of the fire, I came across four teenage boys fighting the fire on their own. They were halfway up a hill ten feet in front of flames as high as they were fighting flames on a fifty foot front in the middle of a mile long line of flames. A change in wind velocity/direction could have surrounded them with flames in seconds. I suggested they fallback to a natural fire break and give themselves some time to create a fire-resistant zone parallel to the flames which they could extend into a firebreak.

4. Pay attention! Near the very beginning of the fire I was covering some firemen who'd parked their fire trucks at intervals along a paved road planning to use it as a firebreak against the flames advancing slowly down a hillside. Having positioned themselves they fell to talking amongst themselves. I spotted a flying ember as it alighted among the dried brush on the other side of the road behind the last fire truck. I yelled to them, but by the time they got a fire truck to the spot the campfire sized "hot spot" had grown to a yards long wildfire racing on down the hill.

5. There have been four wildfires larger than the Laguna Fire in California since 1970. World wide our nightly news is filled with hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis and tornados; do you really believe it can't happen to you?

* Next week I'll tell you about that one.

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Sunday, April 17, 2011


As our American ship of state plows through the dark waters we are mere passengers peering into the fogy future straining to distinguish opportunity from danger among the vague ever shifting shapes ahead. But what if we spot calamity dead ahead?

We were in the position of a passenger at the bow of the RMS Titanic shortly before midnight on the 14th of April, 1912 who has figured out that there is an iceberg dead ahead. ♦

What'ya gunn'a DO? Ask the purser to wake Captain Smith so you can give him your opinion of his chosen course? Do you think the helmsman would obey your orders? Orders from a mere passenger? What'ya gunn'a DO?

After the first mate has refused to wake the captain ♦ ♦ and the threatened to call the master-at-arms if you continue to scare your fellow passengers; What'ya gunn'a DO?

Should you:
A. Rearrange the deck chairs so that everyone can get a good view of the collision?

B. Go into the casino and start taking bets on whether the ship will sink. Act as the bank and accept only cash bets (NO coins!)?

C. Realize that bad things are going to happen despite your best efforts and take responsibility for saving yourself and your family. Then go to the ship's kitchen, grab an ice pick and go about punching the pins out of hinges on as many of the wooden stateroom doors as you can so the doors ♦ ♦ ♦ can be used as floatation devices.
♦ Hyper Inflation? Hyper Deflation?

♦ ♦ Ever call the White House or one of your elected representatives? Do you think your message went any further than the staffer responsible for picking the correct form letter to send you?

♦ ♦ ♦ I read an account of one of the Titanic's lifeboats wherein an "Japanese man" was found clinging to a wooden door having tied himself to it after the ship sank. Doubtless he knew that because of the "morals" of the day he would be denied a seat in any of the lifeboats and so (thinking outside the box) took matters, and the door, into his own hands.

He survived.

1,517 people who followed orders and thought inside the box died.

"A little further on, we saw a floating door that must have been torn loose when the ship went down. Lying upon it, face downward, was a small Japanese. He had lashed himself with a rope to his frail raft, using the broken hinges to make the knots secure."

(Torn loose my rear axle! And the guy just happened to find a piece of rope floating around too?

No, the guy had a plan. First he removed the hinge pins from a door and hauled it upon deck along with a piece of rope.

Then he threw the door overboard and jumped in after it. Then he tied himself to the door using the rope. (He may have tied one end of the rope to a hinge before tossing it, that's what I would have done.)

Given the situation anyone with any sense (and enough time) would have put on wool clothing too.)

"As far as we could see, he was dead. The sea washed over him every time the door bobbed up and down, and he was frozen stiff. He did not answer when he was hailed, and the officer hesitated about trying to save him.

"What's the use?" said Mr Lowe. He's dead, likely, and if he isn't there's others better worth saving than a Jap!"

He had actually turned our boat around; but he changed his mind and went back. The Japanese was hauled on board, and one of the women rubbed his chest, while others chafed his hands and feet. In less time than it takes to tell, he opened his eyes. He spoke to us in his own tongue; then, seeing that we did not understand, he struggled to his feet, stretched his arms above his head, stamped his feet, and in five minutes or so had almost recovered his strength.

One of the sailors near to him was so tired that he could hardly pull his oar. The Japanese bustled over, pushed him from his seat, took the oar and worked like a hero until we were finally picked up. I saw Mr Lowe watching him in open-mouthed surprise.

"By Jove!" muttered the officer. "I'm ashamed of what I said about the little blighter. I'd save the likes o' him six times over, if I got the chance.""

What color is your door?

Desert (Have you even picked out a door?) Dave

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

What Predator Callers Can Teach Survivalists

You may not be all that interested in eating javelina, feral pigs, coons and coyotes (dogs) now however I'll bet y'all won't be so picky after three days with no food.

True, long term survival skills probably won't be needed in the aftermath of even a large scale rapid onset WTSHTF (When The $#!t Hits The Fan) disaster such as the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami which resulted in over 300,000 refugees even before the nuclear reactor problems became the news story.

In a prolonged onset WTSHTF event such as a 1930's style depression nontraditional supplemental foods (to modern urban Americans) may begin to look a little more appetizing if government assistance proves inadequate.

And, of course, in a TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It) world any food, no matter what the source, will be welcome.

So, how about calling in some pork for supper? Or maybe a few days away from the TV dinners would pique your interest in finding out why so many recipes down south include raccoon?

No, I'm not writing about midnight raids on a farmer's pig sty or chasing howling dogs through the dark. There's a much easier way to feed yourself and your family in time of need.

The other day I watched video of bow hunters calling in whole herds of peccaries (aka javelina) so close that one of the little porkers actually brushed a cameraman's leg as it ran by.

Peccary (not to be confused with wild pigs) are small wild pigs of the genus Tayassu; they are the only pig native to the Americas. Wild pigs will come to a call just like the peccary do.

I've also seen video of hunters calling coons down to their deaths from their arboreal abodes in broad daylight.

Both of the well known traditional hunting methods: "Spot & stalk" and ambush hunting (whether from a ground blind or a tree stand) demand a level of woodcraft most city slickers don't have.

But even I called in a coyote on my first hunt many years ago. The team captain of one of the pistol teams I was on while in the Army was a coyote caller. He took me out calling with him on a bright sunny day. We set up on a hillside below the crest so as not to silhouette ourselves against the skyline.

I'd barely begun calling with a handheld mouth call (back then I used a wooden call, this link is to a modern plastic call with "instructional" DVD) when a coyote came barreling out of the sagebrush towards us. My friend was an excellent shot with either rife or pistol. He fired once with his .223 Ruger Mini-14 rifle as the coyote jumped over a small cactus about one hundred yards from us. The dog nipped at its right front leg once but didn't slow down its hungry charge.

I whispered, "You missed."

He whispered, "He's dead, he just doesn't know it yet."

By this time the coyote was closing in on fifty yards from us so I whispered, "You'd better remind him he's dead before he gets here."

He fired a second time and the dog went down about twenty-five yards in front of us. The coyote had two bullet wounds. The second shot (the one that brought it down) had hit in the center of its chest.

The first shot would have hit there too, except the coyote had jumped up to get over the cactus an instant before the shot was fired so it had been airborne when the bullet arrived. That bullet would have hit slightly right of the center of its chest if the dog hadn't jumped when it did. Like I said, he was a good shot.

If I can call in a coyote on my first attempt so can you. The ability to call calories to you instead of having to expend calories chasing after them can be critical in a survival situation.

Coyotes are Canidae aka prairie wolfs aka dogs are found from South America to all but the northernmost reaches of Canada and from the suburbs of Los Angeles to the East coast. Chances are this protein source lives near you.

Dogs are/were eaten in the Orient, ancient Mexico, ancient Rome and by AmerIndians, Lewis & Clark mountain men and, one presumes, pioneers of the American west. In fact dog meat is eaten in virtually every nation on Earth.

People eat armadillo, javelina, squirrel and raccoons, why not coyote? When researching coyote recipes I found opinion (at hunting web sites) among those who claimed to have actually eaten coyote meat about evenly divided. So it may be an acquired taste (the hungrier you are the more easily acquired).

Lookin' fer some Wile E Coyote recipes? Any dog recipe will do check out Vietnamese & Korean cuisine.

Of course there are always the old standbys:
• Crockpot Coyote
• Coyote Kabobs
• Howlin' Coyote stew (with jalapeños)
• Coyote Stir fry
• Coyote Tamales
• Yodeldog burritos

As with any wild meat you'll want to cook it thoroughly; there's no FDA in the wilderness.

So, what equipment to you need for predator killin' an grillin' hogs, javelina, coons and coyotes? Any centerfire rifle will do and shotguns with buckshot for the close in shots if you want to sell the hide. Of course you'll want to use common sense in your caliber/gauge selection a .375 H&H Magnum is a bit much and the .410 less than optimal.

You can research predator/varmint calling online or, if you have satellite TV/ cable, on the Outdoor channel, Sportsman channel and Pursuit (sometimes labeled the "Hunt") Channel.

Online you can watch past shows and "read all about it!"

Predator Nation
(Fred Eichler is a real professional.)

Predator Quest
(Les Johnson is another real professional.)

Mojo Outdoors
(In one show callers called raccoons out of their holes high up in trees.)

Fast and Furious
(These guys seem to miss a lot.)

Wireless game calls

FoxPro High Performance Game Calls

Extreme Dimension Wildlife Calls
(It even has a Corvus brachyrhynchos call in case you want to eat crow.)

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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Barbed wire is misunderstood

"Inside the Wire" is a military slang term meaning the enemy is not just on your doorstep; he's breaking through the door!

"Oh jeez! What's he going on about NOW? Are we supposed to wrap our homes in barbed wire to keep the barbarians out?"

Well maaaaaaaaybe, kind'a sort'a; you see a home invasion is like an ambush in reverse.

In a classic military ambush (or a street mugging) the attacker(s) lie in wait and strike the victim(s) as they move past.

A good ambush is over before the victim knows it has started. With ambushes the purpose is always the same: overcome the ambushee, with overwhelming force, before he can recognize the threat, reorient to oppose the threat and react to the threat.

In SWAT team raids (and home invasions) the role of the mobile party is reversed. The attacker is on the move and the building's occupant(s) are the ambushees. But the attacker's goal is still the same: overcome resistance before it can form.

Why? Because given sufficient time to recognize the attack and organize a defense almost any attack can be thwarted. Whether it be by rallying the troops on hand or calling for reinforcements; if the attacker can be stalled the attack, no matter how well planned, can be defeated (as stupid generals proved over and over and over again in World War One with hours – sometimes days long – artillery bombardments of enemy positions prior to going "over the top").

Barbed wire is misunderstood. The purpose of barbed wire (nowadays razor ribbon) is not to stop the enemy's attack, but rather to delay the attack and give the defenders time to react. So, what do you do to keep the barbarians at the gate and not inside the "wire" that protects your home?

As I pointed out in an earlier article home invaders often try to con their way past your first and best defense: your door. Failing that they'll try to break in.

We have iron barred gates (they also serve as screen doors) on the outside of all our doorways so that we can open the inner wooden door without opening ourselves to attack by whoever is knocking at the iron gate.

You should have iron gates on your doors too. They not only prevent home invaders from rushing you as you open the door to see who's there, but they also discourage burglars because he sees he'll have to break down not one but two doors to get inside.

Bars over windows (or at the very least cactus, rose bushes or other prickly plants under them) also discourage burglars.

Remember the old joke about the two hikers who find themselves suddenly confronted by a hungry bear?

The first hiker says "Let's run!"

The second hiker says "What's the use? He can run faster than either of us."

The first hiker says "I don't have to outrun him; I only have to outrun you!"

And so it is with burglary and home invasion in your neighborhood. You don't have to live in a fort, just put up enough "barbed wire" to make the criminals look elsewhere for an easy score.

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