Thursday, December 19, 2013

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Millions of Americans are stricken to some degree by a silent killer every year. What I’m talking about is carbon monoxide, a common by-product of the combustion process.

Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that strikes without warning. It’s virtually undetectable by human senses. You can’t smell it, you can’t see it, you can’t taste it. It accumulates in enclosed spaces, often while the victims are asleep and a stove or heater is still burning. But you can become a victim while you’re wide awake. That’s because, as carbon monoxide accumulates in your body, it prevents the hemoglobin in blood from delivering oxygen to the cells. Shortage of oxygen to the cells gradually weakens the body and eventually results in unconsciousness. By the time the victim realizes there is a problem, he or she may be too weak to open a door or window, or move outside to fresh air. And as the process continues to deny oxygen to the cells, the victim dies.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning range from a slight headache to nausea, weakness, vomiting, drowsiness and heart palpitations. Eventually the victim may fall into a coma and die. Those with pre-existing respiratory or cardiac conditions are at greatest risk.

Statistics indicate that between 5000 and 10,000 people die annually as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning. Nearly 200,000 experience non-fatal CO-induced heart attacks, and about 25-million victims undergo some level of illness that is actually caused by CO poisoning, but misdiagnosed as flu, motion sickness, or food poisoning.

To help prevent excessive exposure to this lethal gas, a quality carbon monoxide detector is an important piece of safety equipment. Monitors should be placed about midway between the floor and ceiling, where it will most effectively detect the presence of the dangerous gas as it circulates freely in the air.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can originate in many places. At home it might be a faulty furnace or fireplace. When traveling or camping, it might be leaky vehicle exhaust system, poorly operating camp appliances, or the exhaust from a portable power generator.

During cold winter weather, some folks are tempted to heat their homes by using a barbecue or hibachi indoors, but this is exceedingly dangerous. The only combustion appliances that should be used indoors are those that are designed for indoor operation and are properly vented. A gas furnace is a good example. And even then, you should have the furnace tested by technicians to make sure the combustion process isn’t spewing out carbon monoxide.

This stuff is a sneaky killer that takes down a lot of people every year. Make sure you aren’t one of the victims. Have your appliances checked, and use a carbon monoxide alarm.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Keep Bears Out of Camp

Did you know there are about a half-million bears in the Lower 48?

Surveys taken from 35 states indicate that the population of black bears is either stable or increasing. Small populations of grizzly bears live in some parts of the country. And, not surprisingly, the kind of places bear populations thrive happen to be the same kind of places people tend to go camping.

Nobody wants to have a bear wander into camp and tear everything apart while looking for a quick meal. That is, after all, what the bear is hunting for — food. And to a bear, garbage is the same as food.

So that leads us to a few rules for keeping bears out of our campsite.
  • Don't leave food lying around camp, because it will attract bears. That goes not only for human food, but for pet food and livestock feed as well. 
  • Store double-wrapped and tightly sealed food in your vehicle trunk. if the vehicle is not available, place food in a backpack or other container and suspend it from a tree limb at least 10 feet above the ground and 4 feet away from the trunk. 
  • Be strict about maintaining your tent and sleeping bag as Zero-Food-Zones. That means you never take food (not even midnight snacks) into your tent. And never sleep in the clothes you wore while cooking. 
  • Keep a clean camp, to eliminate odors that attract small animals like raccoons, which in turn attract big animals like bears. Don't cook smelly or greasy foods, such as bacon. Maintain the cooking and food storage area at least 100 yards from your campsite (preferable downwind). If you barbecue dinner, wash the grill immediately after use. For that matter, wash all the dishes immediately after use. 
  • Store garbage, fish parts and meat waste in double-sealed plastic bags that are placed in bear-proof trash containers 9where available), or containers with tight-fitting lids. Keep the containers well away from camp, and suspended from a bear wire or tree limb. 
  • Pack everything out in double plastic bags. Do not bury or burn garbage — bears will be attracted to the residual odor.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Dress For Survival

Your clothing is your first line of defense against the elements in the outdoors, or even in an urban survival situation. So here are the rules about dressing for survival.
  • Dress long. That means long sleeves and long pants. No matter what time of year it is, in a survival situation, the last thing you want is to expose yourself to harm. Exposed skin can be harmed by sunburn, bug bites, scratches and scrapes, and contact with toxic properties of some plants (poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac). Those injuries can easily lead to infection. Obviously, bare skin leaves you vulnerable to the cold, wet and wind, all of which lead to hypothermia.
  • Choose the right fabrics. Cotton feels soft and comfy but it absorbs moisture and holds it against the skin, which promotes hypothermia. Wool or synthetics are a better choice, because they are less absorbent and they wick dampness away from the skin, keeping you dry and helping retain a proper body temperature.
  • Dress in layers. Think of your clothing as a system, not just an item. Ideally, you have an undergarment that wicks moisture away, allowing skin to remain dry and comfortable. The next layer is insulation that is meant to trap and hold air at body temperature. The outer layer is a shell, designed to turn the wind and repel precipitation while allowing body moisture to pass through from the inside and escape to the atmosphere. By using the layer system, you can make adjustments as conditions change. You don’t have to wear everything at once. If you don’t need it, take it off, tie it around your waist or stuff in a pack until needed. There are pros and cons to pullover tops vs. clothing with buttons or zippers. Pullovers retain maximum warmth, but don’t open for ventilation. Buttons and zippers can break or foul, but offer ventilation options.
  • Wear a brimmed hat. Keeping your head, neck, ears and face covered with shade is an advantage when the sun is strong. On a cold, rainy day, you don’t want water running down the back of your neck. So, a brimmed hat is excellent in all conditions. An alternative to a full-brimmed hat is to tuck a handkerchief up under the back of a ball cap and let it drape (Legionnaire style) over your neck and ears to protect against the sun, wind and rain.
  • Sturdy shoes or boots. You need honest to goodness trail shoes or boots that offer protection against stone bruises, twisted ankles, and such. Sandals are fine for the beach, but not for the trail. Going barefoot, even around camp, is just asking for an injury. 
  • Pockets are good. Cargo pants and shirts with pockets are especially versatile. In pockets, I carry fire-starting equipment, a folding knife, a signal mirror and whistle, a map and compass, some food, a lightweight poncho.
  • Never discard any article of clothing, even if you don't think you need it. Down the line, you might find that item useful for something other than its original intended purpose.
Pay attention to how you dress for survival in the outdoors. Your clothing is your first line of defense against the elements, so think of it as your portable shelter.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Water Storage

Let’s pretend that, all of a sudden, the municipal water supply you normally rely on fails.

It could happen because of severe winter weather that freezes pipes, or maybe an ice storm that tears down power lines and leaves the city's water pumps out of action. Or maybe an earthquake that breaks up the water supply lines. Or a huge storm like Hurricane Sandy that contaminates the water supply for days and weeks on end.

No matter what causes the water system to fail, the fact is that you can’t live very long without water. And if the city can’t deliver it to you, where are you going to get enough to live on?

And that raises this question: How much water do you think you consume each day? Under normal conditions, the average American consumes approximately 150 gallons of water per day. So if the water supply is suddenly cut off, ask yourself where you’re going to come up with 150 gallons of water every day so you can go on living as if nothing had happened.

If you live in a family of four, the amount of water the family consumes is about 600 gallons per day. Most of that water is wasted — 30 gallons per bath, 3-5 gallons per flush of the toilet, lots more that goes down the drain while washing hands and brushing teeth. But it adds up.

Now here’s the good news — Under absolute survival conditions, the amount of water you actually need to keep yourself alive is only about 1 to 2 gallons per day. The amount varies depending on the climate and your work load. I'm talking about water for drinking and cooking, not for washing anything (dishes, your body, etc.).

But the question still remains, where are you going to come up with a couple gallons of water per person per day?

As part of your emergency preparedness, you should focus on that amount for your water supply. The best strategy is to have a sufficient supply of drinkable water on hand so you are somewhat self sufficient.

There are a couple of reasons you want to already have it stowed away where you live. Water is heavy. It weighs nearly 8.5 pounds per gallon. You don’t want to have to run around with a bucket hoping to find a few gallons of water you can use. Not only does that leave you vulnerable to having to use water of questionable purity, but in an emergency situation you’ll be competing with everyone else for the limited and precious water supply.

It’s better to have your own stash of pure water, so you don’t have to worry about fighting so hard to survive. The best solution for most of us is to store water in heavy-duty 5 to 6-gallon containers. Companies like Coleman and Reliant make these and they’re sold in sporting goods stores. Containers that are cubical in shape stack nicely alongside and on top of each other. Since they hold only 5 gallons, they're fairly easy to move even when full. They’re dark blue, so they keep sunlight from degrading the water. And they’re tough enough that they won’t break easily.

I recommend getting as many of these containers as you can fit in your allotted space. Tuck them away in a closet, or under a bed, or in the corner of the garage. Fill them with fresh water right out of the tap, so it’s already been through the municipal water treatment system, and then add a dose of Stabilized Oxygen solution. It only takes a few drops to sanitize each gallon of water (follow product guidelines), and there is no taste or toxic chemicals to deal with. It will keep your water supply sanitary for more than 5 years, so it’s ideal for long-term storage. Stabilized Oxygen is available online from several sources.

You can survive a long time without food, but you need a constant water supply every day, so this is a very important component in emergency planning and preparation.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Power Generators

As winter approaches, we can assume there will be power outages in some parts of the country.

One way to survive a power outage is to use a portable power generator to supply electricity to a few things that you don’t want to do without — like the refrigerator, for example — or a small space heater, or some lights.

Two questions that naturally arise when discussing portable power generators are — number 1, what’s portable; and number 2, how much power is enough?

To answer the first question, let me say that what’s portable to me might not be portable to my wife. So that’s a question only you can answer for yourself.

With a few exceptions, heavier generators produce more power than lighter-weight unit. And the simple truth is that no matter how lightweight and portable the smaller units are, if they don’t generate sufficient power to meet your needs, they won’t work for you.

How Much Power?

So, how much power is enough? There are two ways to arrive at an answer to that question because there are two different types of electrical loads. The simplest is a running (resistive) load for things like light bulbs, toaster, coffee maker, radio, etc. But appliances that involve an electric motor or compressor (refrigerators, for example) impose what is called a starting load that can nearly double the resistive load. For example, a fan with a 1/8-horsepower electric motor draws 300 watts while running, but to get the fan started requires 500 watts.

To figure out how much generator power you need, add up the “running loads” of all the appliances you intend to operate at the same time. Then do the same thing with the “starting loads” for appliances that fall into that category. Now it becomes a juggling act. With a small generator, you might discover that it is necessary to turn off some appliances in order to operate others.

Many appliances are rated in amps, but generators are rated in watts. To convert amps to watts, multiply the volts times the amps. For example, if the appliance draws 10 amps, multiply that times 120 volts and you come up with 1200 watts. The important thing to remember is that the combined wattage of all the appliances you are operating at any given time needs to be lower than the generator’s rated output. Keep in mind that generators are rated with two levels of output — Maximum Output and Rated Output. You want to be working at or below the Rated Output level. Max Output is a number that represents the absolute peak power that the unit is capable of delivering, but it is not a level that can be sustained over a long period of time.

To help decide how much power output you need from your portable generator, consider these typical wattage requirements for a variety of 120-volt appliances.
  • Hair drier: 800 to 1700 watts
  • Electric skillet: 1500 watts
  • Microwave oven: 800 to 1500 watts
  • Radio: 50 to 200 watts
  • Color TV: 350 watts
  • Ceramic heater: 1500 watts
  • Toaster: 1100 to 1750 watts
  • Coffee maker: 850 to 1750 watts
  • Laptop computer: 250 watts
  • Fan: 75 to 300 watts
  • Lights: whatever is listed on the bulb (i.e. 60 watts)

It’s easy to see that a small 50-pound, thousand-watt portable generator won’t even be able to run a simple space heater or toast your bread. So if you’re thinking of getting a generator as part of your urban survival strategy, make sure you get one that will supply enough power for your needs.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Crisis Management

No matter what kind of crisis you're facing — whether it's a natural disaster such as a hurricane, earthquake, flood, tornado, etc.; or whether it's a hazardous materials spill, fire in your house, or terrorist attack — there are some general principles to follow that will help get you out alive. You need to know what to do first, and then what to do next. It's all about setting priorities.

What to do first?
  • Assess the situation — Determine what is most critical to your survival. Until you do that, you will be unable to decide on a course of action that is appropriate for the crisis at hand.
What to do next?
  • Make sure you take care of your own survival needs first. That may sound selfish, but think about it — in the safety briefing on commercial airplanes, there’s a reason why they tell parents to put the oxygen mask on themselves before fitting on to their children. Because if you aren’t alive, you can’t save anyone else.
  • Medical needs come first. You can take care of food, water and shelter later. Take care of emergency medical situations immediately. In order for you to be able to do this, you should become trained in emergency medical techniques. Check with your local fire department for information about how you can obtain this training in your area. They won’t train you, but they can probably point you in the right direction so you can get the training you need.
  • Locate your loved ones and let them know what your plan for survival is. If members of the family are separated from each other when the crisis happens, you should activate your pre-arranged rendezvous plan. This is why it’s important for everyone in the family to know what to do and where to go in the event of a disaster. School children will likely be kept at the school under the direction of the school’s disaster plan. If you know that, you’ll know where to go to find them. If you don’t have that figured out in advance, you’ll be in a state of anxiety, wondering where the children are and if they’re okay.
  • Gather everyone to a safe place. If you can shelter in place at your home, you’ll have basic supplies to work with. If you need to evacuate, grab your evacuation kits and get moving. Of course, all of this assumes that you have prepared your home with emergency food, water, medical and other supplies in advance. And it also assumes that you have an evacuation kit already prepared. When the crisis hits, it’s too late to be making these preparations.
  • Let distant members of your family know what your situation is, so they won’t worry, or so they can send help, or so they can plan on your arrival if you’re evacuating to their house. Normal communication lines may be down, but if you have access to HAM radio you might be able to get a message out via radio contact with a distant HAM operator and then a phone patch to your extended family members. I suggest everyone become licensed to operate a HAM radio, and buy at least a basic VHF radio that will allow you to contact other operators even when there’s no electricity or phone service available.

Friday, November 8, 2013


The human body’s dependence on water is so powerful that it takes only a few days without water intake for you to die.

If you’re exerting yourself, or the ambient temperature is high, it takes only a matter of hours before you begin to experience the effects of dehydration. The symptoms come slowly, quietly, and unless you’re paying attention you won’t notice what’s happening.

Your blood thickens, and the blood volume is actually reduced. Your pulse speeds up, as your heart is forced to work harder to move enough blood through your body. You become exhausted. Your mind ceases to function well, and you begin to make errors in judgment that can, in a survival situation, lead to injury or death. But even without any big mistakes, death comes soon enough, unless you can find a good source of water and drink your fill.

A somewhat loose method of determining the level of dehydration can be done by monitoring the quantity and color of your urine. The more dehydrated you become, the less urine you produce. Along with that, the color of the urine becomes more yellow as dehydration becomes worse. Ideally, it should be clear to very light yellow. One caution though — if you’re taking vitamin B, supplements, the color of urine will be artificially dark yellow, even if you’re not dehydrated. Other than that, just pay attention, and if your pee gets dark yellow, know that dehydration is getting severe.

Don’t wait until you feel thirsty before you drink, and keep drinking even though your thirst has been satisfied. It may be hard to believe, but thirst is a poor trigger for drinking water. This is especially true during colder winter months. So drink regardless of your thirst. Avoid alcohol consumption, because that actually promotes dehydration. Drinking pure water is always the best solution to the problem of dehydration.

Along with drinking more water, slow your pace to prevent sweating. Move slowly, take frequent breaks, lay low during the heat of the day. Adjust your clothing and your workload to help reduce the amount you are perspiring.

Dehydration is not solely a wilderness survival problem. You can die from dehydration in your own home or on the streets of your city, if there is insufficient water to drink. A natural disaster that disables a city water supply during the heat of summer can plunge thousands of people into an urban survival situation all at once. A terrorist attack against a water supply can do the same thing. So it's a good idea to stock up on a supply of drinking water for those possible emergency situations. And keep a supply of water in your vehicles as well.

Paying attention to these strategies will help you avoid becoming a victim of dehydration.

Fire and Ice

The most difficult time to build a fire is when the ground is wet or covered with snow. Of course, that's also the time when you probably need a fire the most.

To build a fire under those conditions, the first thing you need is a suitable firebase — a place for the fire to live. Trying to build the fire on wet or snowy ground is a recipe for disaster. You need to build up a suitable base or the fire will self-extinguish.

The problem with wet or snowy ground is that, as the fire heats up, the air around the fire rises. This pulls the moisture up out of the ground beneath the firebase, and causes the fire to struggle for life.

To create a firebase when no dry ground can be found, create a platform of stones or green logs laid close together. In the case of logs, you can keep the fire from burning down into the base by covering the logs with a layer of soil that you have dug up from the driest spot you can find.

The best place for your fire is where it will be protected from excessive wind and precipitation. Before building the base, look up to make sure the fire won't be extinguished by snow falling from the limbs of overhanging trees.

These are the kind of conditions when you must use the driest tinder and well-prepared kindling in order to give your fire the best chance. Then you need an abundant supply of dry fuel wood to keep the fire going through the night.

When you think of tinder, think of a bird nest. In fact, if you can find one, a dry bird nest will make excellent tinder. Otherwise, use dry grasses that you might be able to locate beneath the shelter of a downed log or an overhanging tree. Form the grasses into a tight bundle. If you're on the move, create several tinder bundles whenever you find the right kind of materials, and tuck them away in your pack or pockets for use when you need to build your next fire.

Kindling is the next step up from tinder, and should be the diameter of a matchstick on up to the size of a pencil. It can be made from the small dry twigs you find tucked among tree branches, or from shattered bits of the trunk of a downed tree that has been broken by a storm. If you're working with large kindling, use a sharp knife to shave "fuzz sticks" that will enable to wood to catch fire more easily. Prepare a lot of kindling, because you will need to feed this into the birthing blaze continually until you build up enough heat and coals to ignite the fuel wood, which is the next stage.

Now for the fuel wood. This should range from the diameter of your finger on up to the thickness of your wrist. Larger fuel wood should be split or shattered, if possible. A long piece of fuel wood can be gradually fed into the fire as the end of it is consumed. Collect double the fuel wood that you expect to use during the night. If the wood is damp, position it close enough to the fire that it can dry out, but not so close that it will combust.

Begin by laying the tinder bundle on the fire platform. Then stack kindling loosely over the tinder, leaving plenty of open space for air to move through the blaze.

Kneel by the firebase and pull your jacket down around yourself as you huddle over the tinder and kindling, forming a windbreak of your body and coat. Before striking the match, feel what's happening around you to make sure you have formed a wind-proof environment.

When you're ready, strike the match (if that's what you're using to ignite the fire) and hold it at a diagonal angle with the flame at the bottom. This will allow the flame to stabilize and begin to gain strength as it burns up the length of the matchstick. When the flame is strong, move it to the tinder bundle. Then arrange kindling over the tinder to take advantage of the growing blaze.

If you do everything right, you'll have a good fire that can help you survive the night, dry your clothes, purify drinking water, cook your food, and signal for rescuers.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


Getting lost in the wilderness is, unfortunately, a pretty frequent survival situation. If you do a Google search for “lost hiker” you’ll be surprised how many hits you get.

One of the recent ones involves sixty-two-year-old Alyof Krost, who went missing during a hike with a group of 20 people being led by two guides on the Pinnacle Trail at Lake Arrowhead in California.

Now you wouldn’t think you could get lost if you were surrounded by 20 people and two guides, but here’s what happened.

At some point during the hike, Krost became fatigued and stopped to rest on the side of the trail. The back guide, who was bringing up the rear, was also starting to feel sick, so he stayed behind with Krost while the front guide continued to lead the rest of the group along the trail.

Krost eventually regained enough energy to resume the hike and left the sick guide behind as he continued up the trail to join the rest of the group that had gone on ahead.

After a while, the back guide felt well enough to continue up the trail, and he eventually caught up to the main group. That’s when he discovered that Krost never reunited with them.

Fearing for the lost hiker, the entire group turned around and hiked back down the trail to search for Krost. But they never found him.

Search and rescue teams were called in, and they combed the area for several days on the ground and from the air, using tracking dogs, heat-sensing night-vision devices, and more than a hundred searchers. Still nothing.

Whatever happened to Alyof Krost is still a mystery. But there are simple strategies that can help prevent something like this from happening to you.
  • Never hike alone. While Krost was following this rule in the beginning, there came a point when he left the rear guide and took off on his own to try to catch up with the rest of the hiking group. If he had stayed with the guide, things would have turned out differently.
  • Don’t leave the trail for any reason. If you become injured or sick or just turned around and unsure of which way to go, stay near the trail, because that is where searchers will begin looking.
  • Make yourself as visible and audible as possible, using colorful clothing or equipment or a signal mirror to show your location to searchers, and make noise with a signal whistle or other noise-making device to attract attention.
  • Stay put. Don’t wander around searching for a way to rescue yourself. The rescue team will begin the search at your last known position, then expand the search outward from that point. If you’re wandering around, you might travel outside their search perimeter. So just sit down and wait for them to find you.
In the case of Krost, this trail is very popular. If he had simply stayed put on the trail, he would be home with his family today. As it is, the mystery of his whereabouts continues.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Evacuation Plan

When disaster hits, you have two choices — shelter in place (stay put), or evacuate.

There are very good reasons to shelter in place if you can, but there are times when evacuation is the best alternative. When that time comes, your prepared evacuation plan should allow you to answer the following questions:
  • Why do you want to evacuate? What are the circumstances that make it unwise or undesirable to shelter in place, (which means stay right where you are)? There are times when it’s preferable to stay put, as long as your primary shelter (your home) isn’t in imminent danger. If you can shelter in place, you are in familiar territory, you have all you daily supplies with you, and you don’t put yourself at risk of not making it to your planned evacuation destination. However, if your house is no longer a viable shelter, or is in the path of an oncoming disaster, you must evacuate.
  • Where are you going to go? Different circumstances will call for different evacuation plans, and you should have destinations in mind that cover different scenarios. For example, if a hurricane is coming and you live along the coastline that is about to be hit, you need a destination far enough inland that you will be safe from the storm surge and flooding, as well as from the wind damage. But if the disaster is a massive wildfire inland, you probably don’t want to head in that direction — perhaps opting to follow the coastline to a destination opposite the direction of the fire’s progress.
  • How are you going to get there? You need different contingency plans that will work when the roads are open and when none of the roads are open. An earthquake can effective shut down roadways, so if you’re trying to evacuate in a car you might not make it. Likewise, when everyone is trying to get out of town at the same time, highways become gridlocked. What alternate form of transportation can you use under those conditions? 
  • What route are you going to take? Rather than gathering with all the rest of the crowd trying to get out of town on a main road, consider alternate routes that might be more open to the free flow of traffic. 
  • When are you going to evacuate? My advice is to not wait until the official evacuation order is issued. That’s when everybody hits the road at the same time, and the traffic locks up fast. You don’t want to get stuck in traffic when a disaster is approaching. Take the initiative and get out ahead of the crowd. Monitor radio and TV broadcasts to stay up on the latest information. If it looks like conditions are becoming more dangerous, pack up and leave early.
  • What are you going to take with you? You don’t want to end up in a refugee camp having to borrow somebody else’s toothbrush. And you don’t want to be totally dependent on someone else to supply all your necessities. Prepare an evacuation bag that has all the essentials in it, and stow it someplace where you can grab it on a moment’s notice, toss it in your car (or strap it on you back), and go.
Spend some time creating your evacuation plan, along with contingency plans in case Plan A doesn’t work out. This can be a life-saving exercise for you and your family.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Coyote Attack

Some people have a misguided idea that animals such as coyotes are not a danger to humans.

Probably comes from watching too many movies in which wildlife and humans pretend to be friends with each other.

Well, Colorado resident Andrew Dickehage, has a different story to tell. One morning as he was walking to work, three coyotes attacked him.

Dickehage said he was walking along and heard a twig snap. He turned on his flashlight to see what made the noise, and that’s when the largest of the three coyotes attacked.

They lunged at Dickehage, biting and scratching him. The larger coyote launched at him a second time after the initial attack. Dickehage fought off the attack with his flashlight, but then the two smaller coyotes started to attack him.

Here’s the way he described it, "They were continuously jumping on me one after the other after the other. It was nonstop. It was so dark all I could see was the glimmer of their eyes."

Dickehage said he felt like the attack would never end, but admitted that the whole ordeal probably only lasted about a minute and a half before the animals gave up their attack.

After it was over, he was treated for his injuries at a hospital, where he received nine shots, including rabies and tetanus.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokeswoman Jennifer Churchill said this is not common behavior, because the coyotes were not defending their young or defending a food source.

She went on to advise that people walking through areas where coyotes might be present need to be alert and aware of their surroundings, and might consider preparing themselves by carrying an air horn, a walking stick, deterrent (pepper) spray or even a pocket full of rocks to throw at coyotes and scare them away if they approach.

If a coyote approaches you, here’s what you need to do:
  • Do not run or turn your back — that will only trigger an attack.
  • Make yourself look as big and sound as loud as possible.
  • Wave your arms, yell, and throw rocks or sticks at the animals.
  • Face the coyote and back away slowly, to show that you are not intending to be a threat.
  • If the animal presses the attack, stay on your feet and fight back as hard as you can.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Be Prepared

72-year-old Gene Penaflor had no idea, when he and a buddy set off from their hunting camp with full intention to meet up again for lunch, that it would be 18 days before he would see civilization again.

But that’s what happened. Sometime during his hunt, Penaflor slipped and fell on the steep terrain. He hit his head and lost consciousness, and by the time he woke up it was after dark. And he had no idea where he was.

Lucky for him, he did the smart thing — he made a survival camp and stayed where he was for the night. Unlike some who find themselves in a similar situation, Gene Penaflor didn’t give in to the temptation to wander around in the dark, trying to find their way out of a difficult situation. Nope, Penaflor did it right, and that was a good thing because hiking at night can lead to further injuries.

But even so, due to the seriousness of his injuries and the fact that Penaflor had no clue about where he was, there was no way for him to hike out of the forested mountains in a self-rescue attempt. He was stuck there in his makeshift survival camp until he was rescued. And that took 18 days.

An intensive search and rescue operation was initiated, but after 4 days it was eventually called off when Penaflor was not found. At least once during that search, Penaflor spotted a rescue helicopter, but he had no way to signal them.

On the 18th day of his ordeal, another group of hunters stumbled upon Penaflor and carried him out of the forest. He had kept himself alive by eating lizards and snakes, berries and algae. At night he covered himself with leaves to stay warm.

There’s a lesson in all this for us.
  • Always be prepared to stay longer in the wilderness than you planned. A simple injury, the sudden onset of bad weather, or getting lost can easily cause you to have to stay overnight, or over several days and nights.
  • Carry emergency shelter with you at all times. Even something as simple as a pocket poncho can keep the rain and wind from sapping your body of its warmth.
  • Carry emergency signaling devices — a mirror, a whistle, a radio, a cell phone, a personal locator beacon. The fastest and best way out of a survival situation is by making contact with someone who can rescue you. 
  • Carry at least 2 methods of starting a fire. Practice fire starting as often as you can, so you are confident in your ability to create a life-saving fire that can also serve as a signal.
  • Carry a small water filter — something like the Aqua Mira filter straw (, and carry a supply of high-energy trail foods that can keep you going for a while if a short-term emergency happens.

By carefully selecting the emergency gear, all of these things can fit in your pockets, so you don’t need to carry a backpack every time you leave camp or go on what you intend to be just a short hike.

The important thing is to be prepared to stay for much longer than you think you’ll be out there.

Just ask Gene Penaflor — he’ll tell you how smart it is to be prepared.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Water Purification

Water is absolutely essential to survival, in order to avoid dehydration, but if the water is contaminated if can make you so sick that dehydration happens even faster.

You can make water suitable for drinking by using thermal, chemical or filtration techniques. Depending on the water quality, sometimes it takes a combination of the three to really do the job right.


Bring the water to a rolling boil and keep it there for 1 minute at sea level and 1 additional minute for every 1000 feet of elevation above sea level. If you don’t know your elevation, boil for 10 minutes. This method will kill parasites, bacteria and viruses, but won’t eliminate chemical or heavy metal toxicity.


The whole idea behind chemical treatment of drinking water is to poison all the critters that are swimming in your drink. Iodine and chlorine are the old standbys. Make no mistake about it, chemical water treatments are toxic, at least to the organisms being treated. The key to safe use of these products for human consumption is to carefully follow manufacturer recommendations. Additional caution must be exercised because some people have chemical sensitivities or are allergic to some of these substances (particularly iodine).

The effectiveness of a chemical purifier depends on 5 factors — product freshness, water temperature, water clarity, exposure time, and dosage. Check the expiration date on the product package to make sure the chemicals are fresh. For more effective purification, raise the water temperature to 60 degrees F or above. Pre-filter or let the water stand overnight to allow sediments to settle, and then treat only the clear water. Allow the recommended treatment time, and use the full dose of chemical.

For using liquid chlorine to disinfect drinking water, add 1⁄8 teaspoon (or 8 drops) of regular, unscented, liquid household bleach for each gallon of water, stir it well and let it stand for 30 minutes before you use it.

The recommended dosage for liquid iodine is 5 drops of 2% tincture of iodine in a quart of clear water. If the water is cloudy or especially cold, increase the dosage to 10 drops. Shake the container to disperse the iodine and then let it stand for half an hour before drinking.


Among the good filters are two types worthy of consideration — a membrane filter and a depth-type filter. A membrane filter utilizes a porous membrane that permits water to pass through, but stops particulates larger than the size of the pores. These filters clog quickly but are easy to clean.

A depth-type filter utilizes an element such as a ceramic block that is porous enough to allow water to be forced through, yet dense enough to capture the bad stuff. Care needs to be exercised with this type of filter element, to prevent accidental breakage. Clean the element by scrubbing or back-flushing when clogged.

If a carbon element is included, the system will be able to remove some chemicals and heavy metals, as well as improve the flavor and smell of the water.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

How To Choose A Survival Knife

One of the most important survival tools you can have is a good knife. With it, you can make shelter, fire, tools for food gathering, and water collection. But the knife must be up to the task.

What makes a knife suitable for the rigors of a survival lifestyle? Let’s start with blade material.

Blade Material

The blade of a good survival knife should be made of tough, edge-holding, corrosion-resistant metal. Knife metallurgy is a constantly evolving science, but in general, a stainless steel blade in any one of the 440 A, 440 B or 440 C categories will be a good choice.

Blade Geometry

When it comes to blade geometry, the knife should have a full-length tang that runs all the way to a functional pommel at the butt of the handle that can serve as a hammer. Some part of the blade should have aggressive serration for sawing through small limbs. The back of the blade should have a stout spine that can be hammered on to assist in chores like splitting firewood into kindling or hacking your way through a tree limb. The blade should have a sharp point and good slicing ability. Strive for some balance between the amount of the blade that is serrated and the portion that has a plain edge, because you’ll need both.


Under survival conditions, you’ll sometimes be wet and muddy. Your knife needs a grip that is not slippery when wet. Knife manufacturers use every trick in the book to accomplish this, from shaping the grip with contours to fit among your fingers, to using aggressive crosschecking, or employing “grippy” materials. Find a knife that feels comfortable in your hand, and do a wet test, if possible. The grip should be durable enough to take a pounding without falling apart in your hands. A pretty grip that shatters the first time you use the knife as an axe isn’t worth much.


Your knife should be big enough and heavy enough to serve as an axe, pry bar, or a digging tool. Ideally, you’ll use your blade to make a good digging stick out of wood, so you don’t abuse your knife by sticking the blade in the ground. But you never know what’s going to come up in a survival situation, and the knife shouldn’t be a wimp about it.

If you pay attention to those four characteristics — blade material, blade geometry, grip, and overall size, you should be able to find a good survival knife that will suit your needs.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Essential Survival Gear

Not every piece of outdoor equipment is equally critical to your survival.

Some items are simply more versatile and valuable than others. And here's a surprise — one of the most important pieces of equipment is also one of the least expensive.

I'm talking about a cheap little rain poncho that costs only a couple bucks at your local WalMart, and is compact enough to fit in a shirt pocket. It might be small and lightweight, but when the weather turns bad this little sheet of plastic might save your life.

The truth is that most outdoor survival victims end up suffering some level of hypothermia, commonly referred to as "exposure."

You've probably read the headlines in which the media announces that someone was found dead of exposure. What they're really talking about is hypothermia, which is a lowering of the body core temperature. It doesn't take much of a drop in core temperature before you start losing the ability to do necessary tasks to keep yourself alive.

The biggest cause of hypothermia is getting wet. Damp clothing acts like an evaporative air conditioner, sucking away the warmth from inside your body. That's why, when I teach outdoor survival, I use a key phrase that says, "Stay dry or die." That's really the heart of the problem. If you get wet, it will be almost impossible to stay warm, so one of the most important principles of survival is to stay dry.

And that's where the cheap little pocket poncho comes into play. If you use the poncho to protect yourself from rain or snow, you are taking the biggest single step in avoiding hypothermia.

The second biggest factor in hypothermia is the wind. Even a slight breeze will chill you in a hurry, especially if your clothes are wet. The poncho is very effective at shielding you from the wind. So with this one inexpensive piece of equipment, you are well on your way to protecting yourself from two potentially deadly survival problems — wet and wind.

As a bonus, this is a versatile piece of gear. Other than wearing it as a poncho, you can spread it out on the ground as a rain collector for gathering drinking water. Or you can use it as part of a shelter roof or wall. Or you can wrap up in it as a lightweight blanket. Or you can use it as a signaling flag to attract attention of rescuers (especially if it is brightly colored). You can even use the thin plastic in a traumatic first aid situation to close a sucking chest wound.

I recommend that everyone carry a pocket poncho when venturing outdoors, and even carry a couple of them in the vehicle. You never know when you might break down and end up walking on a dark and stormy night.

Monday, September 23, 2013

How To Survive A Shooting Incident

Never bring a knife to a gunfight!

Those words of wisdom were told to me by a SWAT commander, after an incident in which a punk tried to attack him in a restroom. The punk had a big, bad knife. My friend had a Glock with 15 rounds in it. The punk lost.

The message, of course, is that you never want to be outgunned. But the reality is that sometimes you are. That's because shooting incidents tend to take place in "gun-free" zones where you aren't permitted to carry a weapon. The reason gun-free zones are such highly favored venues for killing people is precisely because there is so little risk for the assailants. If nobody else has a gun, there is little risk that the victims can fight back.

Such is the mentality of lunatics who go around shooting people in public places. And it doesn't matter whether is a public school in the middle of America or a shopping mall in the middle of Kenya. These events will continue to take place, and probably in greater numbers in the future. Those who are either crazy or have some personal agenda about eliminating other people will continue to become more emboldened by every similar incident.

It's up to you to prepare and train your mind to do the right thing if you're ever involved in such a horror.

So, if you find yourself outgunned in a shooting incident, how are you supposed to survive? You really have only three options — run, hide, or fight. Let's take a closer look at those three possibilities.

Run. If you're caught in a shooting incident and there is a way out, take it. Get out of the area as quickly as possible. The more distance you can put between yourself and the shooter, the greater your chance of survival. And the faster you can do that, the better. Don't stop or even slow down to gather up your stuff, just escape as quickly and quietly as you can. Encourage others to do likewise, but don't let them slow you down by their indecision to join you.

The first step is to instantly assess the situation. Hopefully, you'll be practicing situational awareness all the time, so you'll already know where the possible exit routes are. But in the surprise of the moment, you'll need to quickly scope out the situation and find the cleanest route out of the area. That means you need to know where the shooters are. If you can see them, they can see you, so you need to put some solid barriers between you and them. Then work your way out of the area. When you get clear, call 911 and keep moving away from the scene.

When law enforcement arrives, they will be on high alert, so don't rush toward them or they might think they're under attack. Approach with hands high and shout to them that you have escaped. They might put you on the ground and do an initial search to verify that you're safe for them to deal with. Go along with whatever they demand, and don't make a fuss. Answer all their questions, and try to provide as much information about what's going on in the incident zone as possible.

Hide. If you can't get out of the building, or the area, your next best strategy is to conceal yourself. If the shooter can't see you, he probably can't do you any harm. The most desirable concealment is a place that also offers some degree of solid cover that would stop (or greatly slow) a bullet — a metal desk, file cabinets, solid walls, etc. As you are moving to your hiding place, turn off your cell phone ringer, so it doesn't inadvertently announce your position to the shooter. If you move into a room to hide, turn off the lights and lock the door. Then find a place to hunker down unseen and become as quiet as the proverbial mouse. Noise and movement will give away your location, so don't be tempted to move to a "better" spot. Being absolutely still is your best bet. If places to hide are in short supply, you might try pretending to be dead, in hopes that the gunman will pass you by in favor of live targets.

Fight. As a final option, you might decide to fight back. You should only consider this option if your life or the lives of your loved-ones are at risk and you decide that you have a better chance of survival if you attack the attackers.

A coordinated attack is more effective than going it alone, especially if you can plan an attack to come from multiple points, so the shooter is surrounded and can't take out everyone at the same time. An ambush would involve luring the shooter into a spot where you can hit him when he least expects it. Surprise and exceptional violence should rule your attack plan. When you hit, you want it to be explosive and totally unexpected. Hold nothing back — do whatever is necessary to separate the shooter from his weapons, leaving him absolutely incapable of making any moves to regain the upper hand.

With what's going on these days, it is expected that there will be more shooting incidents in public places, especially in gun-free zones. Be aware of what's going on around you. Have an escape plan in mind whenever you enter a public building. Know how to get out, how to hide, and have a plan of attack in mind in case it comes to that final option.

Practice, train, focus your mind. Be ready to run, hide or fight for your life.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Wolf Attack

Sixteen-year-old Noah Graham suddenly found himself in the jaws of a wolf. 
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reports that this is thought to be the first actual documented wolf attack on a human in their state. 
Graham and five of his friends were camping near Lake Winnebigoshish when the attack took place. One minute Graham was sitting peacefully talking with his girlfriend, and the next minute he was fighting for his life.
The wolf apparently came up behind Graham and chomped down on the back of the teenager's head. Graham said he had to reach back and jerk his head out of the wolf's mouth. Then he kicked and screamed at the animal, causing it to leave, but it left only reluctantly.

There is a persistent undercurrent of denial among some alleged "nature lovers" that claim wolves don't attack humans. Well, here's one more case to disprove that theory.

Graham was ambushed by the wolf. He never saw it coming, and never even knew wolves were in the area. To his credit, he did the right thing by fighting, screaming, kicking, and generally presenting himself as a target not to be messed with.

If you are confronted by wolves, face the animal head-on, stand tall and make yourself look bigger than life by raising both arms overhead while waving your jacket. Raise a ruckus, yell and scream. That will probably do the trick. But if the wolf, or a pack of them, continue to close in around you, prepare to fight with anything you can get your hands on — rocks, sticks, hiking poles, a knife, a firearm.

As wolves become more plentiful and more habituated to humans, they will lose their natural fear of man, and close encounters will undoubtedly become more frequently reported.

Do not believe that wolves are harmless to humans. These are top-of-the-stack predators who will do whatever it takes to feed themselves and their young.

They know how to survive, so if you're in their territory, you need to know how to survive an encounter with them.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Survive A Hazmat Incident

When a train pulling cars filled with flammable and corrosive materials went off the tracks recently in Louisiana, more than 50 families were evacuated, forced out of their homes to save their lives.
If you become aware of an incident involving hazardous materials, monitor radio or TV stations to learn what's happening. 
Now, you might think this type of hazardous materials incident can't happen to you but, before jumping to that conclusion, let's take a look at the numbers. According to FEMA, "varying quanitites of hazardous materials are manufactured, used, or stored at an estimated 4.5 million facilities in the United States. These substances are most often released as a result of transportation accidents or because of accidents in manufacturing facilities."

The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that over the past 10 years "there has been a major growth in the amount of hazmats transported on a daily basis, resulting in a high level of risk."

In total, there are more than 3.1 billion tons of hazmats transported annually across the county by rail or roadway. By far (94%) is carried by truck. Five percent is transported by air. And about 1% goes by rail, pipeline or ship.

So, what do you think the chances are that an accident might happen in your community, resulting in the release of hazardous materials into the atmosphere, or on the ground, or into the waterways? Would it surprise you to learn that on average, there are more than 15,000 hazmat incidents reported in the U.S., resulting in more than $50-million in damage per year.

The big question is: What are you supposed to do to survive a hazmat incident? Here are the steps to take:
  • Follow instructions issued by authorities.
  • Stay away from the incident area, to minimize the risk of exposure and contamination.
  • The general rule is "Up" — stay upstream of materials released into a waterway; stay uphill (because these materials are generally heavier than air, so they sink to low ground); and stay upwind. 
  • If you're driving, and must remain in your vehicle, roll up windows, turn off the air conditioner or heater, and close vents. Try to drive out of the area to a safe zone.
  • If you're indoors, close and lock all exterior doors, so people won't open the doors and allow the hazardous materials inside. Close windows and all vents and fireplace flues. Use plastic sheeting and duct tape to seal all doors, windows, vents and ducts. Use plastic sheeting to seal over all electrical wall outlets, cable TV, and phone line outlets. Turn off ventilation systems that might bring in outside air. Seal cracks and voids around pipes or other openings through the walls.
  • Remain in place until given the "all clear" by authorities.

  • If you inadvertently come in contact with hazardous materials, follow decontamination instructions issued by authorities. Depending on the chemicals involved, you might be instructed to shower — or you might be instructed to stay away from water completely. Don't assume that the right thing to do is hop in the shower, because some chemical agents can be activated by water.

    If you experience symptoms that you suspect are the result of exposure, seek medical help as soon as possible.

    Monday, August 5, 2013

    Lightning Survival

    According to the National Weather Service, about 400 people in the U.S. are struck by lightning each year and an annual average of 73 die — nearly one out of five.

    That’s more than the average weather-related death toll from hurricanes, tornadoes or blizzards — only floods rank higher than lightning strike, when it comes to deadly weather.
    One of the things that can happen to a lightning strike victim is cardiopulmonary arrest. Basically, that's death.
    To save a victim who has suffered lightning-induced cardiopulmonary arrest, administer CPR while waiting for the emergency medical team to arrive. In spite of best efforts, some victims remain in a coma and eventually die of secondary causes including hemorrhages and lesions to the brain, spinal cord, lungs, liver, intestines, etc.
    Those who aren't outright by the lightning strike typically suffer debilitating injuries — severe burns, burst eardrums, blindness, paralysis, memory loss, sleep disorders, weakness, dizziness, numbness, seizures, chronic pain, and other disabilities.
    Sometimes victims recover, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they live the rest of their lives with permanent disabilities. Needless to say, lightning strike is extremely serious.
    Due to predominant weather patterns, certain parts of the country are especially prone to lightning. The Southeast experiences more strikes than anywhere else in the U.S. Florida ranks number one, but there is plenty of risk elsewhere. In fact, there is no place in the world that is totally safe from lightning strike.
    So, what can you do to be safe? If you hear thunder, lightning is within 6-8 miles so you are within the danger zone and should seek shelter immediately. Safe shelters include: metal vehicles with windows up, substantial buildings, or the low ground.
    Avoid trees, water, open fields and high ground. Small shelters such as tents offer virtually no protection against lightning, especially if they are positioned on high ground or near a tree or a small group of trees that dominate the area.  If your only shelter is a tent, it should be located in a low area and away from tall trees.
    If you feel your hair standing on end or hear crackling noises, you are in immediate danger. Waste no time in distancing yourself from metal objects (toss the golf club or fishing rod away from you), place your feet together, duck your head, and crouch as low as you can, with your hands on your knees. You're trying to make a small target that has only one "ground" point at your feet.
    As a storm approaches, thunder will lag behind the flash of lightning by five seconds for each mile of distance.  For example, if you see lightning and the sound of thunder doesn’t reach you for ten seconds, the strike was about two miles away. The distance from one strike to the next can be six to eight miles, so you are in danger and need to take precautionary actions.
    After lightning and thunder have departed, wait a minimum of 30 minutes before resuming activities. Don’t be fooled by sunshine or blue sky. A bolt, literally from the blue, can travel from a storm cell as much as 10 miles away.
    The grim reality is that lightning is a capricious and deadly event that cannot be predicted with any degree of reliability. There is nothing you can do to prevent a strike. All you have in your favor is living by rules that offer the best chance for safety.

    Thursday, August 1, 2013

    The Truth About Wild Edibles

    Cattails.jpeIt drives me crazy when I hear accounts of someone who is rescued after being lost in the wilderness for a few days and the story says the person kept himself alive by eating berries or pine nuts or cattails or some such thing.

    The addition of a few berries, nuts or weeds to the diet is not going to make the difference between life and death in a 3-day survival incident. The greatest value of those food items is psychological — it makes the individual feel like he’s doing something positive to survive and gives him hope.

    Granted, any food you can intake does help boost the energy level a little. But keep you from dying during a short survival incident? No. To actually die from lack of food would take much longer — weeks, not days.

    That said, there is tremendous value in knowing how to find and use wild edible plants. If a survival incident goes long-term, food gathering and preparation will be critically important. Over time, lack of caloric and nutritional intake results in loss of physical, mental and emotional strength, leaving the victim weak and apathetic, and unable to take care of basic needs. Supplementing the diet by every available source can help stave off those debilitating effects.

    But how do you find the right things to eat and avoid the wrong things? The truth is that if you indiscriminately “graze” your chance of ingesting toxic wild plants is huge. There are several hundred thousand plant varieties in the world, but only a small fraction of them are edible. Get into the wrong ones, and you might kill yourself.

    Imagine walking into a grocery store and all the labels are written in a foreign language. That’s what you’re facing in the wilds. The plants are all labeled, but unless you know how to read the language, it would be like opening a can of unidentified stuff and chucking it down your throat, not realizing that it's poisonous drain cleaner, not food.

    If you want to take advantage of wild edible plants, you must learn to read the labels. There is a false notion that you can rely on animals to show you which plants can be eaten. That is not true. The fact is that some plants that are perfectly safe for some animals to eat can kill humans. Examples: squirrels can eat deadly (to humans) varieties of the Amanita mushroom, and some birds can eat the berries of poison ivy.

    Unlike some survival instructors, I don't subscribe to the “edibility tests” that would lead you to test edibility by sampling a small amount and waiting to see what happens. My advice — if you don't know what it is, don't put it in your mouth. The consequences of making a mistake can be lethal. An example is the Water Hemlock with roots that smell and taste like parsnips. It is reportedly the most deadly plant in the U.S. and eating a piece the size of a peanut will kill a man.

    The good news is that you can easily learn to use wild plants safely. All that is necessary is to learn to make positive identification. It’s no more difficult than telling the difference between Romaine and Iceberg lettuce, or differentiating yams from sweet potatoes. Except that with wild plants, the edible parts are sometimes hidden underground or inside a shell or leaf cluster, so you need to know what all parts of the plant look like and the stages of the plant in all seasons. Begin with the plants in your region, and spread out from there. There are books about plant identification for all parts of the world, so start hitting the library.

    It can become a very enjoyable lifetime study, and might even save your life someday, if you're caught in a long-term survival situation.

    Wednesday, July 24, 2013

    A Hero Lost

    In my book, the word Hero is overused by the media and by people in general.

    For example, I don't consider it heroic just because you were a casualty of war — you got injured, you got a purple heart, so you're a hero? You got captured by the enemy and later released — does that make you a hero? No, I don't accept that. It might mean that you were unlucky or maybe even stupid, but it doesn't automatically elevate you to hero status. It takes more than that to become a hero.

    Now, if you willingly make a decision that puts you in extraordinary risk — you go out on a limb to save someone else — whether or not you get injured, captured, or killed, you're a hero. My definition. Your mileage may vary.

    Well, a true hero died last Monday night. His name was David Vanbuskirk, a 36-year-old search and rescue officer and member of the Las Vegas police department.

    Vanbuskirk had been on the search and rescue team for 6 years and had performed dozens of rescues similar to the one that killed him.

    It was a helicopter rescue of a lone stranded hiker who was perched on a rocky ledge. The man had hiked into a restricted area where there were signs warning hikers to stay out or face fines. He managed to get himself stuck on the craggy cliff. At this point in the investigation, it's unclear how the stranded man contacted authorities, but somehow he did and Vanbuskirk's team responded.

    After being lowered from the helicopter, Vanbuskirk attached a harness to the stranded man then signaled to hoist them both up. Somehow, Vanbuskirk became detached from the line in midair and fell to his death. The hiker was safely rescued.

    David Vanbuskirk made a conscious decision to engage in a risky attempt to save the life of another person. In my book, he was a hero even if it hadn't cost his life. All those times before when he put himself in danger to save other people — that's what made him, and those like him, a hero.

    Unfortunately, sometimes heros end up losing their life while trying to save someone else. This was one of those times.

    While I take this opportunity to honor the life of David Vanbuskirk, let me emphasize the fact that when you get yourself in trouble and need the help of search and rescue personnel, you put their lives in danger. Sometimes that happens quite innocently, and the SAR folks are willing to help pull you out of the situation. But if you do something stupid, like hiking into places that are posted to keep you out, then you deserve to feel the weight of your decision. You bear some moral responsibility.

    Think about that.

    Thursday, July 4, 2013

    Widow Makers

    They call these things widowmakers for a reason — they can be deadly, if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    Unfortunately, 21-year-old Annais Rittenberg happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when a widow maker did it's deadly work. In this case, it was a large branch of an old oak tree that broke free and fell 32 feet to the exact spot where Rittenberg was eating breakfast in camp at Yosemite National Park.

    While they are relatively rare, when widow makers fall they are equal opportunity killers that don't discriminate. Anyone who happens to be in the path will become a victim.

    In fact, widow makers lead the list of my Top Twelve things to watch for when selecting a campsite. Here's the list:

    • Before establishing your camp, look up to check for widow makers — dead limbs in the trees overhead that might fall on your camp, causing injury or damage.

    • Look for level ground without rocks, roots or stumps protruding from the earth.

    • Find a spot with some ground cover, so the dust from just walking around doesn’t create a problem.

    • If you are depending upon a local source of water that you will filter, or otherwise purify for use in camp, locate your campsite within convenient reach of the water.

    • Likewise, if you are collecting deadfall for firewood, position your camp near enough to the wood supply that it won’t be too difficult to haul the wood to your camp.

    • To keep the wind from whistling through your camp, use the lay of the land or natural resources (boulders, downed trees, etc.) to serve as windbreaks.

    • For natural climate control, position your camp to take advantage of the early morning sun and afternoon shade.

    • Avoid noxious weeds. Poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, stinging nettle, thistles, briars and such can make life around camp miserable.

    • Make sure the site is not in a natural drainage that will funnel rainwater toward your camp. Also, make sure you are not camping in a place that can be suddenly inundated by a flashflood caused by a storm miles away.

    • Avoid spots where there are standing puddles of water, because that will promote mosquitoes, a foul smell, and a messy campsite.

    • Check the area for evidence of obnoxious insects. Look for wasp nests, anthills, etc. Some wasps nest in the ground, some in trees or other structures. Observe the area for a few minutes to see if there is insect activity.

    • Inspect the area for signs of burrowing animals. The dens of these animals can be dangerous foot traps, causing injury to anyone who steps into one.

    Monday, July 1, 2013

    Don't Be Stupid

    What happens if a search & rescue team has to come and pull your tail feathers out of the fire? Well, the answer to that question depends on circumstances.

    The truth is that, if you are in trouble, those dedicated individuals who join search & rescue teams and spend years getting trained and practicing their techniques, will make every effort to save you.

    To do so, they risk their own lives. They risk personal injury. They spend their own valuable time and money — time and money they might spend going to the beach, a ballgame, or enjoying a BBQ in the backyard with friends and family. Instead, they leave their other pursuits to come to your rescue, often spending miserable days and nights trudging through the backcountry, sleeping on the ground, suffering blisters, hypothermia, sunburn, puncture wounds, and worse.

    That's right, there's nothing special about search & rescue team members that prevent them from suffering injuries, illness, exhaustion, dehydration, or any other maladies that befall humans who are spending extensive time in rugged conditions outdoors. They suffer just like you do. And they're willing to do it to save individuals who are in trouble.

    The difference is that these folks are trained and prepared, whereas you … if you're the lost victim they're searching for … probably are not trained or prepared. Or maybe you're just stupid.

    I accept that some folks end up in bad circumstances totally by accident, but probably 90%+ of those "accidents" could be prevented by proper training and preparation, and then applying a healthy dose of situational awareness. But most of the time we run around with our head where the sun doesn't shine, or we do something purely stupid.

    Case in point: In an earlier post, dated April 8, 2013, I reported in a "day hike syndrome" incident involving a couple of young people named Nicholas Cendoya and Kyndall Jack who disappeared during an Easter Sunday hike on a popular Southern California trail.

    During the rescue attempt, 1,900 man-hours and more than $160,000 were invested by search & rescue teams in the effort to find these individuals. And one of the search team volunteers took a fall and suffered a severe back injury that required $350,000 of medical intervention, including surgery.

    It was a bizarre case, with both of the subjects of the search discovered badly dehydrated, shoeless and separated from each other. Those circumstances raised questions about what really happened out there in the canyon. Were these two the victims of abduction by drug smugglers? Were they kidnapped, their shoes taken, and then deposited in separate parts of the canyon?

    Turns out that this might be a case of the victims being stupid. Perhaps "drug stupid." Evidence for that conclusion is the recently revealed fact that sheriff deputies discovered nearly 500 milligrams of meth in Cendoya's car while the teenagers were still lost. (There's a reason they call this stuff Dope — 'cause you're a dope if you use it.) And now the Orange County Fire Authority, and the injured SAR volunteer, are suing Cendoya and Jack to recover the costs incurred by the search. Not only that, but Cendoya is facing criminal charges that might land him in prison.

    So, the question is, did these two go into the canyon to do some dope, get themselves mentally trashed, and then go off and lose their shoes and their way, and each other? Kinda looks that way now.

    And back to my original question — what happens if you end up being the subject of a search & rescue effort? That all depends on the circumstances, as we can see from this case. If it's a legitimate incident, you probably will be welcomed back into civilization by all your friends and relatives, and the SAR team members who found you will feel happy about the outcome.

    But if you're a dope, you might end up getting what you deserve — a huge fine, and those welcoming you into their open arms might be wearing prison uniforms.

    Don't be stupid.

    Thursday, June 20, 2013

    Wild Animal Encounters

    It happens all the time — people drop their guard while out wandering through the wild outdoors, and they get into trouble with animals.

    Part of the problem is the Hollywood-spawned mentality that humans and wildlife interact peacefully, as long as you approach the animals with good intentions. Somehow, the wild animals are supposed to understand that you mean them no harm — all you want to do is cuddle.

    Boy, that's a load of trash. Let me put it this way, if someone wandered into my home uninvited, the last thing I'm going to think is that he wants to cuddle. Well the same thing applies to wildlife. That's their home you're wandering into.

    Survival as a wild animal demands that these critters live in "red alert" mode all the time. The minute they let down their guard, they become someone's lunch. This becomes the most important concept in their life, so when a threat appears they will either run away or fight for their life.

    Then you show up with your camera and snacks, hoping to feed one of these cute creatures. Next thing you know, you're in a hospital bed with injuries or perhaps disease you received as a result of your adventure.

    So here's the deal — If you encounter a wild animal:
    • Keep your distance — there is no valid reason to approach a wild animal, no matter how cute they are.
    • Even small critters like chipmunks and raccoons can carry disease that can be easily transferred to humans (plague, rabies, virus and bacteria).
    • Bears are predators who sometimes injure or kill humans during encounters. If you are going into bear country, know about it beforehand. Maintain a constant watch for evidence of bears. Keep all food and garbage in bear-proof containers. If you encounter a bear, back away slowly, keeping an eye on the bear. Do not run, as that will spark an attack response. Just calmly move out of the area, so the bear doesn’t consider you a threat.
    • Cougars — they will stalk humans, follow them for miles, and take them down from behind when least expected. Best not to travel alone in cougar country. Always be prepared to defend yourself in an attack, using a knife, stick, rock or whatever you have. Never try to run. Face the cougar, make yourself look big and dangerous. Don’t loose your feet during the battle.
    • Moose, elk, deer, bison — all are dangerous to humans, so keep your distance. If you are approached or attacked by big game, keep something solid (tree, boulder) between you and the animal until it loses interest in you and goes away. You can’t outrun them, so don’t even try unless you have a vehicle or building very close at hand that you can scramble into.

    Saturday, June 15, 2013

    Ten Essentials

    You've probably seen the credit card commercials with the message "Don't Leave Home Without It."

    Well, that concept ought to apply to the outdoors. There are some things you should always have with you when you venture beyond the borders of civilization. Some outdoor organizations have proposed their list of Ten Essentials, but here's my own list.

    Actually, this is a list of the Ten essential categories, and you'll notice that I've added the stuff I use to fill those categories. Feel free to modify this list to suit your own situation.

    Shelter —
    • Tent
    • Emergency blanket or bivvy
    • Rain poncho

    Insulation —
    • Appropriate clothing for the season
    • Sleeping bag

    Fire —
    • A Bic lighter (or similar)
    • A fire striker
    • Prepared tinder and/or accelerant product

    Water —
    • A canteen or water bladder system
    • A water purification system to keep you going when the initial supply runs out

    Food —
    • Energy bars
    • Trail mix, GORP

    Navigation —
    • Map of the area
    • Compass
    • GPS and extra batteries

    Signaling —
    • Signal mirror
    • Signal whistle
    • Cell phone
    • PLB or Spot

    Tools —
    • Knife
    • Flashlight and spare batteries
    • Multitool
    • Cordage
    • Toilet paper

    Medical —
    • First aid kit and manual
    • Personal medications

    Environmental Protection —
    • Insect repellent
    • Sunscreen
    • Sunglasses

    Friday, May 31, 2013

    Woman Attacks Bear

    A woman who couldn't figure out how to load the family's shotgun, so she could use it to save her husband who was being mauled by a black bear, decided to beat the bear on the head with the gun.

    Not exactly the most effective method of using a firearm for self protection, but it worked.

    Here's what happened — the couple and their dog were enjoying a vacation in their Wisconsin cabin when a year-old black bear started chasing the dog. Gerre Ninnemann said, "I came running out into the yard, shouting, waving my arms at the bear, thinking that would scare him away. But it didn't. All it did was leave the dog and come right for me."

    Ninnemann ran for the corner of the cabin, but the bear caught up with him and started mauling him. His wife, Marie, found the shotgun but didn't know how to load it. So she took the gun outside and beat the bear on the head, which gave her husband a chance to escape into the cabin. But the bear wasn't done with them. He charged right up to the door, then started circling the cabin and looking in the windows. Ninnemann called the sheriff, who sent a deputy to dispatch the bear.

    Ninnemann ended up in the hospital with bites and claw marks from his waist to the top of his head. His wife's quick thinking probably saved his life.

    After Ninnemann recovers, I believe a session at the shooting range is in order. If you're going to have guns of any type, it's critical to be well trained in their use. That goes for everyone in the family, because you never know when the defensive use of a firearm will be needed by someone other than the primary gun owner.

    Wednesday, May 29, 2013

    Wildlife Attacks

    Are you ready for this? Out of Belarus comes a story about Attack Beavers that kill people.

    Sounds completely bogus, and some folks in the "nature is warm and fuzzy" crowd will rise up and claim that beavers don't kill people. These are the same folks who staunchly proclaim that wolves don't kill people. Unfortunately, they grew up watching too many Disney movies and reading books by Farley Mowat.

    Well, let's see what this story is all about. It turns out that a 60-year-old man wanted to have his photo taken with a beaver he spotted alongside the road. He stopped the car and approached the beaver. As he tried to grab the animal, it defended its position by biting the man several times, slicing an artery in his leg, causing him to bleed to death.

    According to the report, this isn't the first time a beaver vs. human encounter turned out badly for the human. Although this is the first report of a person being killed by a beaver attack, there has been a string of attacks reported, as the beavers have become increasingly aggressive when confronted by humans.

    And who can blame them? I wouldn't want some guy stopping his car and grabbing me just because he wanted a photo either. I'm not sure if I would bite him, but I would certainly do everything I could to discourage the fellow. So I'm not blaming the beaver.

    I'm also not blaming the wild goat that killed a man a couple years ago on the Klahhane Ridge trail in the Olympic National Park. Nor do I blame the bears, cougars, wolves, deer, elk, moose, or any other wild animal who dispatches a human who is misbehaving in the animal's territory.

    What I blame is the stupidity of humans who put themselves in a position to be confronted by wildlife. Sometimes it makes me wonder how we (humans) ever ended up at the top of the food chain. And it only reconfirms my rejection of the Theory of Evolution that has a foundation based on Survival of the Fittest. Humans are NOT the fittest — we are among the most frail, least naturally prepared to survive in a harsh environment. And sometimes we prove to be too stupid to save ourselves, or prevent our own death.

    Okay, rant over.

    So, here is the #1 rule about human survival when confronted with wildlife. LEAVE THE ANIMALS ALONE!

    Don't try to pick them up. Don't try to hug them. They don't want their picture taken with you. They consider you a menace, an intruder, a threat. It's like you've invaded their home, and they have every right to defend it. LEAVE THE ANIMALS ALONE!

    Alright, second rant finished.

    Seriously, if you want photos of wild animals, use a long telephoto lens. The best wildlife photographers are so adept at capturing their subjects in their natural environment that the animals never even knew the photographer was there. It takes skill and finesse to locate the animal and then sneak into position to take the shot without disturbing the animal. That is so totally different than finding an animal along the road, stopping the car, scaring the crap out of the little beast, then trying to grab it so your buddy can take a photo.

    You see the same kind of behavior in places like Yellowstone Park, where a traffic jam clogs the road because tourists screech to a halt and jump out of their cars to approach and photograph some poor animal that just wants everybody to go away and leave it alone.

    Humans should follow a certain wildlife etiquette, a code of behavior, when in the back country.
    • Unless you're hunting game, don't pursue animals you encounter. Enjoy the fact that they're sharing their backyard with you, and respect that.
    • If you're on the same trail as the animal, divert your path rather than forcing the animal off the trail. 
    • Back off and keep your distance.
    • Don't make any threatening moves, such as trying to approach the animal.
    • Don't inadvertently attract animals into your camp by leaving bits of food or garbage around. Secure all food and trash in animal-proof canisters.
    • Leave your pets at home. A dog might go nuts when it spots a wild animal, giving chase, or perhaps attracting the wild animal toward you (think hungry bear or cougar wanting a bite of Fido).
    If there is unprovoked aggressive behavior on the part any wildlife, report it to authorities as soon as you have an opportunity. There might be a disease situation that has caused the animal to become aggressive.