Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Survive A Shooting

So there you are, sitting peacefully in a "gun free" zone, minding your own business. Suddenly, someone with criminal intent, taking advantage of the fact that this is a gun free zone so he can operate without threat to himself, opens fire.

How do you get out of that alive?

The fact is, criminals don't obey the law. Duh! So they don't care whether or not a zone has been officially declared "gun free." They carry guns because they intend to use them in criminal activity. If you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, you end up a victim. End of story.

Except that really ought to be the beginning of the story, not the end. This is where we ask ourselves why law-abiding citizens are denied the right to defend themselves against the lawless. The Second Amendment clearly gives citizens the right to bear arms, so what gives with these "gun free" zones that effectively deny us our Constitutional rights?

That question should be the beginning of the story. How did we get to this point? And how do we change it?

But I digress. Actually, I want to touch on the subject of how you can save your own life when some lunatic opens fire in a crowd. There are strategies you can use to give yourself a better chance of survival.

The first strategy is to shoot the bad guy — but since, in this example, you're a law-abiding citizen and are in a "gun free" zone, that one is off the list.

As an aside, let me say that one option is to avoid "gun free" zones. If a building is so designated, let whomever is in charge of that place know that you don't feel safe there, so you're going to take your business elsewhere. If enough people boycotted the "gun free" zones, there might be a shift toward a more sane policy.

Okay, back to the business at hand.

If you hear gunfire, start moving. A moving target is harder to hit than one that is standing still. And the best kind of movement is erratic, unpredictable, bobbing and weaving, shifting directions, ducking for cover, and putting distance and hard objects between you and the shooter.

An alternative is to rush the shooter, preferably while his attention is distracted in another direction. This only works if you're already close to the shooter and you don't have to climb over a bunch of obstacles to get to him. If you can get to him in two heartbeats, take him down hard, get control of the weapon and strip it out of his hands. What you do with him after that is up to you, but leaving him without eyesight, functional limbs, consciousness, or the ability to breathe is something to consider.

This is, after all, your life or his. Think about it — if you live, you can carry on doing good things in the world — if he lives, he's likely to do this bad stuff again, perhaps killing innocent women and children.

Where's the justice or the mercy in that?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

True Survival Story

The location posted at the head of the news story caught my eye — Boulder, Utah.

Boulder was the nearest village to our cave (seen here at left) when we spent a year living in the southern Utah wilderness doing primitive survival research. So it was only natural that a flood of memories filled my brain as I read the story of a 28-year-old man from Colorado Springs being lost in that desert for 3 weeks…and barely surviving.

After William LaFever was found by search and rescue teams, sheriffs spokeswoman Becki Bronson had this to say about the region. "It's some of the most rugged, unforgiving terrain you will find anywhere on Earth, jagged cliffs, stone ledges, sandstone, sagebrush, juniper."

This is slickrock country, where breathtaking sandstone cliffs rise hundreds of feet above the desert floor, where intermittent streams and permanent rivers cut through the rock to form deep canyons.

To outsiders, this place appears inhospitable, and yet it is a landscape that supported whole communities of life for thousands of years. This is where the ancient Anasazi lived in cliff dwellings built into caves and beneath rock overhangs.

This is where we spent a year in the wilds, Becky and me and two small children ages 1 and 3. Having lived there, I can attest that it is a land that can kill you quickly, if you fail to respect it. But it is a land that will give you everything you need to live, if you understand it.

The episode related in the news story started when William called his father to say he was hiking in the Boulder area with his dog, and that someone had stolen some of his equipment and he had run out of money. His father told William to catch a ride to Page, AZ where there would be money waiting for him.

But rather than catch a ride, William decided to hike the 90 miles to Page, following the winding path cut by the Escalante River until he reached Lake Powell, then hope to catch a boat to Page.

Well, that didn't go as planned. Ninety miles is a long hike at any season, but in June a hike like that in this desert can be a killer. Especially if you're unequipped. Especially if you're not highly skilled at desert survival. Especially if you're alone.

And, as it turned out, it nearly killed William.

When William failed to show up in Page, as his father expected, a search was initiated. Sheriffs deputies and the Utah Highway Patrol helicopter began searching along the Escalante River. But deputy Ray Gardner said he was not expecting a good outcome. "We had no idea if William had stayed along the river or decided to leave, got a ride with someone, or was lost somewhere other than along the river. We flew without any expectation of finding anything at all."

William had set out along the river and hiked until he ran out of food. His dog abandoned him and was never found. Eventually, William decided to start leaving some of his gear beside the trail, to lighten his load. When he was discovered, All he had was the clothing and shoes he was wearing. He had hiked about 40 miles and was still 5 miles short of reaching Lake Powell. When the helicopter passed over, William was so weak he couldn't stand and was barely able to wave his arms.

Deputy Gardner said, "We were absolutely dumbfounded to learn that it was William and that he was alive. You've seen pictures of starving people from other countries; in all my career I have never seen someone so emaciated. I feel certain that in another 24 hours he would not have been alive."

Lessons for us are clear.

Don't hike alone.

File a hike plan with people you know and trust, and then stick to it. If you decide to change the plan, let those people who have your plan know about the changes. 

Prepare yourself with more than sufficient food and a water purification system that will see you though to the end of the expedition. Don't expect Mother Nature to feed and care for you along the way. 

If you become lost or disabled, stop and make camp, then activate signaling strategies to help searchers locate you. 

Employ good survival technique to protect your core temperature, your energy and hydration.

To me, the desert around Boulder, Utah is a fantastic place. The scenery is straight out of a postcard, and the isolation is profound. It is one of my favorite places on Earth. It invites adventure seekers to come and explore. But it also demands respect, good judgment, and skill if you want to go there and come out alive.

Friday, July 13, 2012


In 1937, Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared during an attempted flight around the world.

For the past 75 years, what happened to them has been an ongoing mystery. For all these years, it's been anybody's guess what happened.

Did they crash into the ocean and simply disappear?

Did they crash near an island, make it to shore only to be taken in by natives where they remained, unable to make contact with the outside world?

The truth has never been discovered…but researchers are getting closer all the time.

Clues recently found on the island of Nikumaroro (a tiny spot of uninhabited land in the middle of the Pacific Ocean between Australia and Hawaii) have given researchers hope to understand what happened to the ill-fated duo.

Archaeologists recently discovered fragments of objects that might have belonged to Earhart. Specifically, shards of glass that seem to have come from jars of cosmetics. If it turns out that these bits of glass can be linked to Earhart, then the mystery will be somewhat closer to a conclusion.

But to me, that isn't the most interesting aspect of this find.

Five pieces of glass belonging to one of the jars were found. Four of them were located close to each other, while one shard was about 65 feet away, and it showed signs of having been put to use as a cutting or slicing tool.

That would indicate Earhart or Noonan, or perhaps both, survived the crash of her airplane, made it to shore, and lived for a while, improvising tools from what they had available.

It's all still speculation, but it does bring up the importance of being able to improvise needed materials in a survival situation.

What can you do with that rock, this stick, those bits of trash that were left behind by someone else (or perhaps drifted in on the tide)?

Native peoples all over the world understand out how to use the natural resources in their areas to accomplish the tasks of living day to day.

To them, it isn't a survival problem any more than operating your electric can opener is for you.

To them, it's just life.

But hand a person from a true primitive culture an electric can opener and watch the bewilderment on his face.

He would have no more idea how to use that contraption to break into a can of food than most modern men would have trying to discern how to gather food from a jungle.

It's not that they're smarter than we are because they know their way around a jungle…nor that we're somehow superior to them because we are mechanized. It's all about knowing what to do with the resources at hand in any given situation.

That's sometimes what separates survivors from non-survivors.

If Earhart and Noonan were clever enough to use a shard of glass as a cutting tool, it says something about their survival knowledge.

What really happened on Nikumaroro is still a mystery. Maybe someday we'll know the rest of the story. But in the meantime, we can take a small lesson from what has been found. Always be thinking about how you can improvise what you need from what you've got available.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Survive An Alligator Attack

Kaleb Langdale has a story to tell about surviving an alligator attack. Seventeen-year-old Langdale was swimming in the Caloosahatchee River in Florida when the attack took him by surprise, ripping his right arm off just below the elbow.

The 11-foot gator lunged at him during the swim, and he felt the pressure of the jaws clamping down on his arm. The alligator instinctively began to do a death roll to drag his prey to the bottom of the river to drown.

Bones in Kaleb's arm cracked like dry twigs, and the violence of the death roll tore his arm off until all that kept it attached was a dangling tendon. "I still couldn't break free, because I was still attached to the tendon," Kaleb told reporters. "Then the gator did another death roll, and I kicked my way out of it."

Rescuers rushed Kaleb to the hospital, where he was stabilized, but there was no hope of reattaching the lost arm. Florida Fish and Wildlife officials said a hunter tracked down the gator, killed it, and found the arm still inside.

Kaleb Langdale was clearly lucky. Loss of half an arm, while tragic, is nothing compared with the loss of your life. And it could have gone that way so easily. 

So, what is the best way to survive an encounter with an alligator or crocodile?

If you see a crocodile or alligator that has not been made into shoes or a purse, the best survival tactic is to run. They are quick, but probably won’t pursue very far.

If you are caught, try to gouge the gator's eyes and thrust your fingers (or a stick or knife) into its snout to discourage the attack.

If the croc or alligator has you in its jaws and begins a death roll on dry ground, roll in the same direction with the animal. Don’t fight the direction of the death roll or it will tear off pieces of your body.

In the water, roll with the animal and attack the throat, eyes and nose.

Above all, don’t give up — keep fighting.