Sunday, June 30, 2013

Just the Basics – Marksmanship


Marksmanship: the skill of shooting a mark or target

Any time you get around shooters, eventually the topic of “marksmanship” comes up. It is one of the fundamental building blocks of your skill set as defensive shooters. But, it is just ONE of your building blocks. I want to try and put some perspective on this topic, where it fits into your overall skill set and some ways you may balance your marksmanship against other components like speed and movement.

Marksmanship is your ability to hit your designated target – whether an “x-ring” at 300 yards or that smallish vulnerable spot just below a threat’s nose. It you can’t hit your mark – you, a family member or a friend may well not see another day. However, marksmanship is NOT the skill of making very small groups on paper. If you get it in your head that unless you can shoot a 1-inch group from 50 feet, you’re a failure as a shooter – you’re going to have a number of disappointing days at the range. Let’s spend some time working on some mechanics first . . . . then we’ll work on some different definitions for “marksmanship”.

The basic mechanics of marksmanship consist of a consistent stance, a firm grip, aiming your weapon, managing your breathing and your trigger press. These elements are what allow you to consistently hit your target. Let’s flesh these things out a bit.

Consistent Stance and Grip: I teach what I call a “modified Weaver” – feet shoulder width apart, dominant side foot roughly even with the heel of your support side foot, knees slightly bent and leaning aggressively into your shot. I like this stance because it transitions easily between a long-gun and handgun. You may well find something else that fits your body better, work with it until it “fits” you.

Your grip also in a basic component to consistent shot placement. I spent quite a bit of time talking about it in this post. I’m not going to repeat that whole post here. That said, your grip plays into your ability to quickly and easily come up on target, to control your weapon’s recoil and to effectively aim your weapon each and every time you engage a target or threat. A significant amount of the time you spend in both dry-fire training and range time should be given over to working on your stance and grip.

Aiming your weapon: The individual components of aiming your weapon are Sight Alignment and Sight Picture. Honestly, I have spent a fair amount on this topic as well in my post: “I Just Can’t Hit A Darn Thing With This Thing”. This process is certainly the primary component of making the 300-yard shot or the lifesaving head shot. However, there are other methods of aiming that are more effective methods to engage a threat that is a mere handful of yards away. We’ll chat about those in a bit.

Breath Management: Breathing is a normal process that your body expects to continue. If you stop, it takes notice. If you stop for more than 5 or 6 seconds, it will demand attention – your lungs will begin to exert their will to draw a breath. The tension that begins when you try to dampen this demand will induce tremors in your hands, arms and overall body. Your accuracy simply goes to hell. Because of this I teach a “pause” in your normal breathing cycle of about 2 seconds (I pause at the bottom of my exhalation) for that final bit of stability that helps you insure a solid hit on your target. You DON”T hold your breath for stability . . . . you build a stable platform and then “pause” to finalize your sight picture and press the trigger.

Trigger Press: There are many misconceptions about how you interact with your weapon’s trigger. During my childhood cowboy action heroes like Roy Rodgers used to cock their SA revolver and “throw” rounds at the bad guys while visibly pulling the trigger. I’ve had a number of instructors over the years that taught me to “squeeze” the trigger which induced a whole new range of issues that affected my ability to hold a solid sight picture.

I have chosen to teach a trigger “press” using the end 1/3 of my trigger finger that is “pressed” straight to the rear of the weapon. This works well for me. I have a favorite training tool that I encourage folks to try – a ballpoint pen. I did a video on this quite a while back. Give this a try – work on a firm “press” and then polish it up using some dry fire on your “indoor range”.

This is what you have to work with . . . . these are the primary elements in becoming a marksman. I say “becoming” because it is a skill that demands constant work, constant training and a willingness to invest the time needed to learn, refine and maintain the skill set.

I know this is old ground, but I try to spend 100 rounds or so each range trip on this skill set. Let me use a target from my last range trip to illustrate:


This is the result I had with “aimed” fire – after I drew my weapon from concealment; I took time to get good sight alignment, a good sight picture and then pressed the trigger. Each engagement was two or three rounds each lasting around 5 seconds. This is but one example of a type of target or process that you can use to refine your marksmanship using a target. Another is a “Dot Torture” and has an excellent example of this target. Refining your marksmanship using aimed fire should be a component of every range trip.

There is another element of marksmanship that also comes into play – those elements that lets you make a rapid and accurate first-hit on a threat. These skills move you into the realm of “focal point shooting” where the top of your weapon’s slide becomes your “sight”. The rear of your slide become your “metal on meat” sight that you use when you get a firm two-handed grip, fully extend and simply place “metal on meat” and press the trigger. At close distances, with an existential threat barreling down on you – an alternative is required to allow you to engage quicker while still enabling you to get a solid hit on a threat to encourage them to change their mind about attacking you. Or, to find their “off switch”. I covered the various components of this type of shooting during a range trip that focused on “focal point shooting”.

The results of my target on the same range trip listed above looked like this:


All rounds were fired using a 2-handed grip, full extension putting “metal on meat”. Each engagement was 2-3 rounds. Obviously, there was a much broader spread in my shots. Yet, over 88% of the rounds hit the target.

And, there is the balance . . . . between marksmanship with aimed fire and marksmanship using focal point shooting. There is value in having both skillsets in your tool kit. One will help you make a critical shot at distance – perhaps a headshot with a loved one being held hostage. One will enable you to get a rapid first-round hit to discourage a threat from taking further action against you.

As in all things – there is balance. Balance between aimed fire and focal point shooting. Balance between taking time to make a difficult shot and getting rounds on a threat in the shortest possible time.

There is tremendous value in you working on your marksmanship.

Make a plan . . .

. . . and the next time you go to the range – pop up a Dot Torture drill and see how you do!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Training - Are you satisfied???


I had the great pleasure of spending 20 minutes on the phone with Kathy Jackson of “Cornered Cat” fame a few weeks back. During our conversation we spent some time discussing the reluctance of folks to take more advanced training. We both agreed that the training industry has, in many ways, dropped the ball on the promotion of additional training. As instructors – it simply makes sense to offer course work that advances a shooters marksmanship, their ability to draw and engage, their ability to move, their ability to clear malfunctions . . . . there is nearly an endless list of opportunities to offer shooters ways to advance their skill set.

That said, the true responsibility for building your skill set, for learning new skills, for practicing those skills falls squarely on YOUR shoulders. So let me ask you a question . . . .

Are you satisfied????

With your skill set, with your ability to exercise each component of that skill set, with your ability to defend yourself, your family, or your friends?

Are you satisfied with the course work you’ve taken? Do you have “holes” in your training?

Are your satisfied with your range work? Your marksmanship, your ability to draw and get that first hit, your ability to “get off the X”?

Are you satisfied with your level of performance when you compete?

Are your competing?

We finally pulled together enough shooters for a single stage steel shoot tonight. Just a half dozen guys sending rounds down range. Here was our stage for the night:


Nothing tricky – 4 whites and a red. We use slightly smaller plate for our shoots. The rounds are 8” and the rectangles are 8” x 10”. We use a 30 second par time. And, here is yours truly shooting a round tonight:


About 86 degrees and, since we are next to a very wet marsh – tons of small flying piranha – otherwise known as gnats. So, we had the advantage of having a few natural “stressors” forcing us to focus on our shots.

So, how’d the night go? Well – in the interest of full disclosure . . . .


Best time for the night – 6.21 seconds. Heavy sigh. Am I satisfied . . . . mmmmmmm – no. But, it is a starting point for the summer shooting season, provided some good reinforcement for the work I am doing with my SIRT pistols and it was just plain fun to be out shooting.

So . . . . I want you to be honest with yourself . . . . are YOU satisfied?

If you are . . . . fully satisfied . . . . I’d ask you to simply re-evaluate where you are as a shooter. I’ve been at this for a lot of years - and I’ve never been satisfied with my performance. Accepting of where I am . . . . but satisfied?? Nope – never.  Perhaps it’s time to push yourself to a higher level of performance.

And, if you’re NOT satisfied . . . get off your butt and get moving. There’s a great cadre of instructors in the U.S. Find some that are reputable, have solid references and teach what you want to learn.

“Satisfied” . . . . it’s a great goal . . . .

. . . . work toward it!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Commentary - There Is No Hope


Hope: : to cherish a desire with anticipation

             : to desire with expectation of obtainment

             : to expect with confidence

              : to hope without any basis for expecting fulfillment

I sit with a friend in the dayroom of the dementia wing of a local care facility. I’m here to bring communion to the folks from our parish that live here. While he and his wife are not among our members, they are good friends and I always find time to sit and chat. She has faded from our world a bit more since my last visit. He seems improved but is weakening with time needing a walker to help get around. He’s a large man – coach – teacher – played in college on a team that traveled the world. Now he struggles from home to care facility and back home again.

I don’t dodge “hard” questions so I ask how his wife is doing. He says she’s working with a team from the university – she’s getting better . . . . . his voice, his eyes, his heart are filled with hope . . . .

Heidi Yewman recently wrote an article for “Ms. Blog” entitled “My Month With a Gun: Week One” She was determined to follow her 4-rules: “Carry it with me at all times, follow the laws of my state, only do what is minimally required for permits, licensing, purchasing and carrying, and finally be prepared to use it for protecting myself at home or in public”. Missing were any thoughts on training, safe handling, carry classes . . . . which begs the question about rule number 4 – if you know nothing about your weapon and how to use it – how can she possibly “be prepared to use it for protecting myself at home or in public”??

While attempting to make a political statement on the ease of purchasing a gun (though many discrepancies between real life and her account of the purchase are popping up) she appears to be relying on simple “hope” to keep herself safe. I suspect she:

  • Hopes she’s not attacked during her 1-month carry period.
  • If attacked, I suspect she hopes merely presenting a gun will scare the attacker off. (This works in about 80% of bad-guy/good-guy with a gun encounters).
  • If attacked, and the gun doesn’t scare the attacker off, she can only hope that she figures out how to draw, aim and engage the attacker before she draws her last breath.
  • And, finally, she can only hope she doesn’t kill anyone other than an attacker during the encounter.

So how do my friend and Heidi belong in the same post? Both are basing their future happiness on “hope”. My friend hopes his wife will improve. He’s not an ignorant man or a foolish man. He has a deep faith and a trust that his wife will get better. Still – under that faith and hope is an understanding of life – its beginning and its end. So along with the hope is an acceptance of the next stage of their journey together. Reality softened by hope.

Heidi is at the other end of the spectrum. She is willfully ignorant of the skillset required to properly use, care for and deploy a handgun in her defense. While making her political point – she is willfully depending on “hope” to save her. I can only “hope” that a merciful God sees fit that no hard lessons come her way . . .

In my mind’s eye the answer is simple for each of these two examples . . . . there is no hope. Sounds cold, doesn’t it. Yet, for my friend, we both know that his wife is on the beginning of the next leg of her journey. She will not turn back. While “hope” can soften this reality – the reality remains.

For Heidi – if she is like most folks that carry – she will go the entire month and never draw her weapon. She may well be able to carry her entire life and never draw her weapon. And, in her case since she is unwilling to take her chosen responsibility seriously – I suspect we all “hope” she fits into the norm and will never need a weapon to defend her life or the life of a friend or loved one.

Should fate conspire against her – there is no hope. She will either live or die, draw and engage or die.

Unlike Heidi – if you are reading my blog I suspect you take gun ownership and training a bit more seriously. You have all the time in the world NOW . . . . today . . . . to

. . . sign up for a class

. . . hit the range

. . . learn something new about your weapon’s system

. . . learn something new from another shooter

Because there is no hope. In a gunfight you will either win or loose.

You will either go home to your family or go home in a Ziploc.

You know what to do . . .

. . . now do it!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Basic Prepping - Transportation


Transportation: means of conveyance or travel from one place to another

In the event our civil society goes sideways in a big way – you may well find yourself in the situation where you simply need to “get outta Dodge”. Mother Nature can also play her hand and strongly encourage you to move to safer ground as well. Your “permanent shelter” is gone and you must seek an area to migrate to and regroup.

This place may well be a redoubt of some kind – remote cabin or trailer. Or it may be a camping area that can provide some level of security and a reliable source of drinking water. It may be an individual family shelter or a joint encampment comprised of multiple groups. We’ll work on some of the details in future posts. Or . . . . it may simply be “away” . . . . away from your current location to give you time to search for some place safer.

You means of getting “away” is your “transportation”. In preparing for a broad range of possibilities, I want to take some time to define “transportation”, break it down into a couple different common modes and then chat about the requirements of each of these modes. I could categorize the major categories of transportation as:

Vehicular – large framed: I would define these as cars, trucks, SUVs, RVs – any large framed motor vehicle capable of carrying multiple passengers and pulling a trailer with equipment and food.

Vehicular – motorized 2/3 wheeled: The most obvious examples would be motorcycles, dirt bikes, tricycles, motor cycles with side cars – all equipped to tow a small trailer.

Bicycles: A bicycle designed for trail riding and equipped to tow a small trailer.

Animal: A “beast of burden” – horse, mule, donkey, lama (don’t laugh, we have a lot of lama in Iowa!).

On-Foot: This is typically your “last resort” or your only choice at the moment you must leave.

Each mode of transportation has specific consideration that must be accounted for. Failure to do this can drastically reduce the effectiveness of your transportation and may well deposit you in the middle of a very bad day rather than deliver you from disaster. Let’s take a closer look at each in turn.

Vehicular – large framed

As I watch some of the “prepper” shows on cable, there seems to be a fondness for large trucks towing big trailers with everything you would need to survive a disaster for months on end. There is nothing wrong with this as an option as long as you consider the numerous elements required to use this mode of transportation.

Fuel: I pointed out in an earlier post that the average vehicle get about 20 mph. Large framed vehicles may well get only 6-8 mph. This means you will need large fuel tanks, ready access to fuel when you have reached your maximum range, and a substantial supply of fuel for continued operations past the initial “bug out” phase.

For natural events – storms, floods – once you are clear of the affected area, fuel will probably not be an issue. In the case of societal issues – the probability of access to fuel diminishes drastically.

Security: Protecting a large framed vehicle that is carrying your entire kit of supplies may well be impossible. Your best protection – leave early! Before everyone else in your community comes to the realization that the storm is much bigger than expected (Katrina or Sandy come to mind), or the fires burning in the hillsides are moving quicker than they expected, or the fragile threads that hold our communities together are much more frayed than they’d dared believe.

Desperate folks will take desperate measured for their own survival – including taking what you have to provide for their families. Again, the solution is to leave early – have a secure destination pre-defined and a plan in place to get you from “here” to “there”. Prolonged travel over large distances will become more and more difficult as fuel sources dwindle and folks begin to look elsewhere for their basic survival needs of food and supplies.

Eggs . . . Basket . . .: In this type scenario all your eggs are in one basket . . . literally. Any breakdown, any system failure – whether in your own vehicle or the infrastructure you are traveling through – and you may well have to “shelter in place”. Depending on the reason for the move and your final resting place – that could be a real “treat”.

Repairs: A given – with any of these systems of transportation – is that you have a well stocked repair kit. Do your research, find out the most common failures for your vehicle and then create a repair kit. This will consist of both parts and the appropriate tools. And . . . a knowledge base that will allow you to actually do the repairs. Seldom is it as easy as depicted on TV or in the movies where a simple pocket knife and an assortment of components that are lying around are all that’s needed to get you back on the road. You have all the time in the world – NOW – to prepare to repair your vehicle . . .

So, am I saying to abandon the use of large framed vehicles all together? No, just be aware of these issues in particular – and probably another dozen that spin off from these – and adjust/adapt accordingly.

Vehicular – motorized 2/3 wheeled

I suspect that the majority of the world moves through the use of 2 or 3 wheeled vehicles. Motorbikes, motorcycles, scooters, dirt bikes, and motorcycles with sidecars . . . they are found in abundance throughout the planet. Their biggest single advantage – lower initial costs and lower overall operating costs. Their increased gas mileage provides real cost benefits in both developed nations and developing nations.

When considering such a mode of transportation as part of your transportation system there are tradeoffs to be made:

Mileage: The average mileage of a motorcycle is 40 mpg or more, roughly double (or more) that of a large framed vehicle such as a car. So where a 5-gallon “jerry can” of gas will get you and extra 100 miles of range for a car, it represents 200 miles for a motorcycle.

Maneuverability: Highways that would be congested with large framed vehicles are much more passable on a motorcycle – even if it is pulling a small trailer. So, while fellow evacuees may well be stuck in traffic, someone on a motorcycle may well fine multiple ways round blocked roads.

Redundancy: A family would be much more likely to have multiple motorcycles available than multiple cars/trucks/SUVs. And, it is much more likely that you could keep together as you travel than in a large framed vehicle – especially as travel conditions begin to deteriorate. And, should one of the motorcycles fail – you have the option of abandoning it and traveling together on your second bike.

Off-road travel: Depending on the type of motorcycle – it may well be easier to exit the main roads and travel secondary – and perhaps even cross country – on a motorcycle. Again, as choke points build during an evacuation – the ability to go around them is a real benefit.

Disadvantages: Of course, there are downsides to consider as well. Weather – heavy rain, cold, deep snow – all can make travel uncomfortable or impossible on a motorcycle. Your ability to carry equipment is also part of the equation – a small trailer in pretty much a certainty with supplies carefully chosen.


Bicycles are also an enormous component of the global transportation system. And, should certainly be part of your transportation equation. When your large framed vehicles and 2 or 3 wheeled motorized vehicles quit – a sturdy mountain bike will be able to take you as far as you are physically able to peddle.

Fuel: Obviously – the fuel needed to run this mode of transportation is your personal food store. Keep in mind this means that your food intake will increase significantly. Checking various sources on biking – “moderate” speeds – 12 mph or so – require approximately 50 calories per mile. If you travel 50 miles per day – that’s an additional 2,500 calories you need to add to your food supplies.

Conditioning: You are relying on physical exertion to move your body. If you spend most of your time in a recliner . . . . your “range” will be significantly reduced. If a bike is to be part of your transportation system – spend a sufficient amount of time riding it to allow you to have a reasonable range should you need to make an exit from your home or community.

Trailers: Since biking is such a popular sport/leisure activity – there are a number of pull-behind trailers available that will allow you to pack camping equipment as food sufficient to exit your area. Here too, redundancy should be part of the equation with each family member having a bike and trailer. This will increase your quantity of supplies and extend your ultimate “range”


Beasts of burden have been part of human’s transportation system since man first began to settle in community settings. They have been used to haul carts, carry people, pull coaches, draw farm equipment . . . . for the vast majority of our time as a civilization. Depending on your geographical location – they may well serve a purpose as part of your transportation system. And, they have special needs as well.

Fuel: They too require “fuel” – about ½ small square bale of hay a day. You can easily double that amount if you are considering a large work animal – plough horse, ox, large mule. And while it is tempting to think that you will simply allow the animal to eat along the way – depending on the time of year and the local environment – there may not be any food available.

Health Care: While consideration for human’s physical health is just second nature – unless you have worked with large animals – it’s pretty easy to overlook their health needs. During long periods of travel or work – their feet and lower legs need constant attention. Sharp rocks, shards of metal or hard surfaces can quickly damage a horse enough that they simply become unusable. It is simply imperative that if such an animal is to become part of your transportation system – that you take the time necessary to know how to properly ride, use and care for the animal.


Traveling significant distances on foot is simply not done much in our “civilized” society much anymore. And our waist lines show it. Yet, this may well become part of your transportation system. There are a couple major considerations to this mode of travel.

Your home is on your back: I wrote a post quite some time back about my “boogie bag” for when it’s time to leave. It is essential my base kit for treks and paddles. It has everything contained within a 6500 cu backpack including house, kitchen, camp equipment with a base weight of 25 pounds. Add to that 2 pounds of food per day and 2 pounds per quart of water (3-quart minimum per day) and you end up with a typical pack weight of around 55 pounds for the start of a 5-day trip.

Physical conditioning: Obviously carrying 55 pounds or so on your back for a day requires an elevated level of conditioning. In preparation for a trek I will increase my walks without the pack a couple month in advance and then work up to local “walks” with a full pack up until a couple days before the start of the trek when I return to just walking to allow my body to repair any “kinks” here and there. It was easier 30-40 years ago. Age does play part in your overall equation if you plan on having On-Foot travel as part of your transportation system.

Feet: I remember 4+ decades in the past when my feet popped glorious blisters after only a few days at boot camp. I also remember the butt chewing I got for going to the medics to have them taken care of. That said, I learned a lot about foot care, proper types of socks and lacing boots during that period of my life. Lessons I still use today.

Your feet are your ultimate bottom-line method of transport. If you can get in a car, drive through your evacuation zone and then stop 10 miles short of your final destination and cannot walk that last 10 miles – you have a problem. Feet – as any tool – must be used properly and cared for properly.

Socks: I use a polypropylene liner sock inside Smartwool socks. This will reduce friction between your foot, sock and boot as well as good wicking of moisture away from your foot keeping your foot dry. And, should your foot become wet, the reduction in friction helps prevent blisters from forming even though your feet are wet.

Boots: While there are a myriad of options out there – I still prefer leather boots coated periodically with mink oil for waterproofing. The pair I am wearing even as I am typing this are going on 13 year old, have hundreds of miles on them and simply fit like a glove. It’s hard to beat leather.

“Jungle Boots”: The exception to the above statement on leather boots are “Jungle Boots” when I paddle. I am a “wet footer” meaning that I make no attempt to keep my feet dry during portages. I will walk a canoe into the water to transfer it from a portage position to the water to insure I don’t hit the bottom on a rock and make a hole in it. Jungle boots are typically canvas uppers, leather on toe and heal with a good sole in the boot. There are small ports on the side of the boot that allow any water to be “pumped” out by the action of your foot as you walk. Of course, at the end of the day I do carry camp shoes that I put on so my boots and socks have a chance to dry.

Sandals: Conditioning your feet by exposing them to the elements and sun light will help keep them in shape between treks. I find I like some of the Teva sandals with solid soles. I am not much of a flip-flop kind of guy. One consideration – on a trek or a paddle – there is no place for sandals IMHO. Typically you are a long way from assistance and your feet are your primary means of travel. Take care of them. Boots will do much more to protect them on a trip that sandals.

Bare footed travel: I don’t. Ever.

In the event that things go sideways in a big way – through natural causes or through the foolishness of your fellow man – you may well find yourself in the position where you need to leave . . . . now!

I have given you my thoughts as to what I see as the major types of transportation systems you may choose to use to make your exit. It was not meant as a solution to this issue – merely as a starting point for your consideration as you begin to “prepare”.

You have all the time you need . . . NOW . . . to begin initial preparations of your transportation system. You never know . . . .

. . . . when it may be time to leave.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Range Trip - 6/9/2013 Been WAY too long


Something very unusual for this spring occurred over the weekend – no major rain showers . . . . what to do, what to do . . . .

Chores first – lawns here have been growing like the Amazon!! So Saturday morning saw me mowing my yard – 1.5 acres, about 1.5 hours. The afternoon saw me mowing the Ike’s grounds – 4+ acres, about 2.5 hours. Something about “lawnmower butt” comes to mind . . .

Sunday was to be heavy rain – NADA!!! Nice. So – again, all this time . . . . what to do . . . .

It’s probably been a month+ since things have truly been dry enough at the same time I had a hole in my calendar to go to the range. Sunday afternoon was it!

Packed up some target stand repair material, my trusty Springfield 1911, Ruger 22/45, 100 rounds of .22 and . . . . upon closer examination when I began to load my 1911 .45 ACP . . . . 100 rounds of 9mm. Heavy sigh.

Goals for the trip:

  • Minimum 80% for both marksmanship and “draw and engage”
  • 100 rounds .22 for “warm-up”
  • 100 rounds .45 to follow

Obviously, due to my “cranial rectal insertion” – no .45 work was done. Heavy Sigh!

My target was one of the LE silhouette and shape targets that I like so much. Below are my two results:


  • Triangles from 5 yards – 100% on left, 80% on right – each 5 round engagements.
  • Circles from 7 yards – 100% on both – each 5 round engagements
  • Square from 30 yards – 80% on left, 100% on right – each 5 round engagements.
  • 10 rounds, 7 yards, draw and engage – 80% within the silhouette

Not bad for the trip, I’ll take it. I believe the indoor range work with the SIRT pistols is having a positive effect. Draws were smooth, target pickup quick – it all felt good, even though it’s been close to 2 months since my last range trip.

I taped the target, and proceeded to engage the silhouette with 50 rounds from a distance of 7 yards or 10 yards, I didn’t tape in between.


Result – down 4 for 50 rounds, 92%. I’ll take it.

Hope you all have had an opportunity for some range time! Remember - make a plan, document your results and work on your skills each and every trip!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Basic Prepping - Shelter


Shelter: something that covers or affords protection

“Shelter” is one of the four primary components in my “Rules of Three” for survival. In its primary form – our homes – “shelter” is something that is used every day and seldom given any thought. Of course, mother nature can quickly remind us that we are not nearly as protected as we may think – a lesson taught to our community on July 11, 2011.

My neighbor’s home was completely destroyed:


And our home sustained substantial damage as well:



We were but a tiny snapshot of the havoc 22 minutes of 122 mph+ straight line winds can do to a community. 75% of our trees gone, damage to virtually every home within the community, power out for over a week . . . . “shelter” can be a very transient thing.

So let’s chat a bit about shelter, the different categories of shelters, some examples and some skill sets you should put in your bag of tricks.

Permanent: Well, as permanent as they can be. That was the purpose of the above photos. Short of an in-ground safe-room/bomb shelter, there is no such thing as a permanent shelter. But, for the vast majority of people – throughout their entire life – their home/apartment does act as their permanent shelter.

Cars/Trucks/Trailers: Cars/Trucks/SUVs are common modes of transportation to and from work as well as around our communities and nation. They offer temporary shelter as we drive. In times of emergency – they may well become a source of primary shelter as well. When expanded to include RVs or some type of camping trailer – a temporary shelter easily flows into a more permanent type of shelter.

Packable Shelter Systems: I have a wide range of shelters I use on my treks and paddles. They range from a simple tarp to a family sized dome tent. Each serves a distinct purpose and each can be “stretched” into a broader, longer term shelter.

Natural/debris shelters: These types of shelters typically are brought into play when things have gone sideways in a very unexpected way. On winter pack trips, my favorite example would be the space under a pine tree. The bottom level of branches usually provide good shelter and help insure you don’t have to shovel away a pile of snow before it’s a usable shelter area.

Each of these categories are important to understand, to “prep” in their own way and to use and practice to insure you and your family have the skill set to employ them quickly.

Permanent Shelters:

Perhaps the biggest lesson to learn about “Permanent Shelters” is that they aren’t . . . . permanent. In my neighbor’s cast – 22 minutes of wind destroyed their home of 10 years and most of its contents. The blessing was that the family escaped unharmed. While our home was habitable, temperatures in the very low 100s pushed us out to friends a few communities away until power was restored. Add to these instances the standard fare of tornado and hurricane damage along with fires . . . and hopefully you get the point. Do not depend on your Permanent Shelter as you ONLY shelter, that may well bite you in the ass one day!

It’s also worth it to add a safe room to your home. In Iowa, virtually all new construction have such a room – reinforced, poured concrete walls and roof – as part of the foundation. If you don’t have such a room – see what you can do to reinforce an interior bathroom or walk in closet.

As part of this mix, add in defendable positions in case of home invasion. I’ve covered most of this ground in my “Home Defense” posts so I will let you read those separately.

Old sayings have value because they have been proven throughout a long period of time. Sayings like “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” apply to Permanent Shelters. If you home contains EVERYTHING – emergency supplies, weapons, ammunition, travel gear, tools . . . . and it is lost to a tornado or hurricane or fire . . . . you have a real problem. Staging gear with others of a like mind set, in storage facilities, at a cabin, in a small trailer that can be easily moved . . . may well save you some day.

Take time to look around your Permanent Shelter, take an inventory of everything you are dependent on and then imagine that it’s all gone . . . . everything. Start there and put plans/procedures in place to mitigate this possibility.

Permanent Shelters ARE NOT permanent.

Cars / Trucks / Trailers:

Every year multiple folks die because the slide off the road during a blizzard and decide that they MUST walk to safety. Darwin at work. Your fastest means of escape from a threatening situation is probably your car/truck/SUV. It only makes sense that you pre-stage gear in that vehicle. We have “The Kit” in our vehicles. It has everything we need to stick out whatever for three or more days. My vehicle has a full set of trekking gear that would enable us to live in a given location for as long as needed provided we could find a source of food and water. And no, it doesn’t fill a trailer . . . . merely half of a 6500cu backpack with room left over to carry extra food.

Small trailers are also solid back-up options. I’m not talking about the 35 foot monster being pulled by a “small semi” – but rather a small travel trailer that could be easily outfitted for a quick move, sustained living and provide a solid living option should the need arise. You can see these things for sale all over the place for prices between $1,000 to $2,000. Make sure the frame, axel, wheels and brakes are functional. If you are “handy” (I AM NOT), you can take the time to make whatever repairs you may need to provide you a portable shelter in the event you need to move.

Trailers also provide you options for staging them on a property away from your current location. There are risks of discovery and break-in – but good OPSEC can help mitigate that as well.

You have all the time in the world – TODAY – to throw a kit in your car, put together some camping gear, put a 3-day supply of food in an old ammo can in the trunk of your car . . . . you may well need them tomorrow.

Packable Shelter Systems

Packable Shelters are exactly that – you can carry them easily. They fall into two broad categories – Tents and Tarps. I always carry both – some type of tent, depending on the length of the trek/paddle, the environment I’m going to and the number of folks that will be sleeping in the tent. And, I always carry a tarp since it provides quick shelter from storms, nice shade during the heat of the day and may well replace the tent if the bugs aren’t too bad.


I have multiple categories of tents each one provides some flexibility depending on where I’m going and what I’m doing.

1-man tents are primarily for a trek where I will be sleeping by myself. The primary consideration of a pack trip is always weight! What’s the best shelter for the weight. I have three different types of tents I use:

Kelty Clark:


Weighing in at around 5 pounds, it’s a great tent. The outer rain fly goes all the way to the ground and in heavy wind and rain it will absolutely keep you dry. There’s not a lot of extra space here but that’s one of the trade-offs you face when trying to trim weight. Unfortunately Kelty seems to have stopped making this particular tent, but there are similar ones in their current product line that look to offer the same benefit of good protection and low weight.

For about the same weight, you can gain quite a bit of space by going to a single-walled shelter. These are typically made of silicon-nylon impregnated nylon, are light weight and provide very good protection against the elements. Their biggest downside to me is that they don’t “breath” as well. The humidity from your breathing gathers on the inside wall and can offer you quite a “shower” when you are getting out in the morning. Still, the tradeoff between that and extra space makes this type of shelter a good choice. My favorite is made by MSR and used to be called “The Missing Link” – now-a-days it seems to be called “The Fast Stash”. Regardless, it’s a solid option to consider for a person on the move.


Yet another option to drop more weight is a hammock. The advantage here is that you can leave your mattress pad behind, any required tent stakes and poles – all of which add weight. However, they are not the best option during very cold weather because you are essentially “hanging out in the breeze” and you cool much quicker. One of the leaders in the industry is Hennesy Hammocks. Mine is similar to what is now called the “Scout Camper”.


If you are traveling with a family – larger is better, 4-man or larger. I have two variants I like – the “A-Frame” and the “Dome” tent. In my opinion there is no better A-Frame than those made by Eureka Timberline Outfitter’s 4-Man tent. I have used the simple Timberline (same tent actually) for over a decade. I’ll upgrade to the Outfitters version this year. It will keep you warm and dry through the worst weather imaginable. I have actually seen them float in truly heavy rain and never take a drop inside.


There are any number of Dome Tent manufacturers out there – I like REI myself. These are usually 6-8 man tents that offer high ceilings and lots of floor space. We moved to these when our children came into our life – we actually used to take a “pack and play” along to have them sleep in – inside the tent. Now we simply like all the extra room.


Find a tent system to fit your needs (or maybe more than one). Then use it! Camping is a lot of fun and the skill set you develop will serve you well should you ever need to leave your Permanent Shelter with your family.


Tarps are typically quick types of shelter that can be erected in any number of configurations to provide protection, shade or sleeping quarters.




Tarps are my primary shelter on most camping trips after the bug are gone. From late September after the first killing frost through mid-April when the first gnats and mosquitoes show their fondness for humans – tarps are the way to go. And, on a trek or paddle when a heave shower can show up quickly – a tarp offers great shelter for little weight. The photo taken through the canoe paddle was on a long afternoon with heavy rain. We spent most of the day chatting, reading and finally cooking – all in comfort under our tarp.

My favorite tarps are made of lightweight silicon-impregnated nylon. The Campmor 10x12 lightweight backing tarp is simply a required item on anyone’s gear list.

Natural / Debris Shelters

Natural shelters can take many forms - mall caves, tree stands or, my favorite – the pine needle bed under a large pine tree. In a true survival situation, seek shelter where you can until the storm or the night passes, then regroup the next day.

If you are going to construct a Debris Shelter, there are two primary types – a lean-to and a Debris Hut.


A lean-to is simply a framework built out of local material and covered with leaves. More leaves – better protection. If you find yourself away from your Permanent Shelter, you have no portable shelters or tarps with you and you will need to stay in this location for a bit – take some time to prepare a place to keep you warm and dry. This type of shelter is a good option.

A Debris Hut is similar in that you use natural material to make a hut.



Once the frame is built and “shingled” – cover it with leaves and fill the cavity with leaves as well. This provides a tremendously warm shelter while you wait out a storm.

Shelters – that’s a lot of options to take in. That said – please remember your Permanent Shelter is simply NOT PERMANENT. Your local/regional conditions may change is such a way that you are forced out of your Permanent Shelter. Have a plan. Have the gear necessary to provide you with solid options to shelter yourself and your family. Practice with this gear – and camping can be a fun way to get the experience you need. Finally, in a raw survival situation – even without modern equipment there are a number of shelter options available.

Providing solid shelter for yourself and your family is a skill set every person should have. You have all the time in the world TODAY to do something towards learning to use what we have chatted about here . . .

. . . today might be a good day to start!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Just the Basics - DIY Reloading Table


The DIY part is just a bit deceptive coming from me. Visualize “Tim the Tool Man”, multiply by 100 . . . . you have my construction skill set. Ask me to design and build a computer system, HF Radio system, navigate the wilderness with nothing but a stick and my two feet – I’m your guy. Build something out of wood . . . . call my son-in-law, Jeremy.

Jeremy is a true craftsman. An art professor specializing in wood as his primary medium (though he just finished four plaques for a parish walkway in bronze), he’s your man. Honestly, he’s become a son over our 20 years of loving the same gal.

Anyway, I wanted a reloading table but the designs I found on the net seemed overly complicated, bulky, complex . . . . just was not what I was looking for. So, we visited Jeremy and my daughter last weekend, chewed over my ideas and came up with this:

  • The foundation would be a standard folding table
  • The top would be built to sit on top of the table and made of Melamine for ease of cleaning.
  • Shelves would be added made from excess material

I liked the idea of a folding table because it will be easy to move in need be, it seemed to be a cleaner approach and it kept costs down.

Folding Table: Menards - 6 ft. Long Rectangular Resin Fold-in-Half Banquet Table

Melamine: Menards - 3/4" x 49" x 97" Melamine

Jeremy also surrounded the edge of the top with a 2x4 frame which protects the edge of the table top as well as provides a way to secure the top to the folding table.

The components of the table are:

  • 1ea      30” x 72” Top of Table
  • 1ea      9” x 72” Top Shelf
  • 1ea      9” x 70 ¾” Middle Shelf
  • 2ea      9” x 18” Shelving Unit Ends
  • 2ea      9” x 8 ½” Shelving Unit Center Supports

The table top was wrapped in 2x4s that he planed down to square them up and put a better edge on them.

A work in progress:


Finished Product:


Final Installation:


Note that I added a couple of lamps to it. The center also has a 3x magnifier built in (eyes simply are not what they used to be).

The next step will be to install the reloading gear. That will be a job for the next few days.

I’m pretty happy with this approach. It was simple to transport home because I simply had to fold down the legs and slide it into our van. It weights a substantial amount so I believe it will be more than solid enough for reloading straight walled casings. I suspect it will work on rifle cartridges as well, time will tell.

The costs were certainly well within what I had hoped for coming in under $80. Not bad. Of course, Jeremy made this possible – thanks bud.

So, if you want still one more reloading table option – there you are!


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Just the Basics – Dress to Conceal


I spent 21 years of my life concerned with my military dress. Pressed shirts, a straight “gig” line, a “proper” hair cut . . . . habits pretty well engrained into my soul. Honestly, not much has changed – I still like creased pants, a pressed dress shirt and my hair would simply fall out if allowed to grow much past the “pinger” level. However, some things have changed to help accommodate the concealment of my carry weapon. I suspect you, too have made adjustments or will if you are just beginning your carry lifestyle.

I want to make just a quick detour and chat about my views of open carry vs. concealed carry. These are MY views – other folks will feel differently, and that’s just fine. I do not open carry – period. I am reluctant to give up any tactical advantage I may gain by having a concealed weapon the bad guy doesn’t know about. I don’t want to draw additional attention just because I carry a defensive weapon – no need to go out of my way to make myself a target. And, it avoids the paranoid fool who sees a weapon on my side and scream “ZOMG – GUNNNNNNNN!”. Concealed is better – IMHO, of course, you are more than welcome to form your own.

One further element in this mix of dressing to conceal – you have chosen to carry. This is a BIG choice that has the potential for life changing consequences. Do not make this decision lightly. For the purpose of this article, I am making a couple of assumptions (yes, yes – I know – assumptions, bear with me).

  • You are fully licensed in your state to carry concealed.
  • You are fully aware of precisely where you CAN and CAN NOT carry within your state and community.
  • You have had training in employing your weapon from concealment.
  • You continue to work diligently on your draw and engagement of a mortal threat.

If you find any of these points onerous . . . . please reconsider your decision to carry. A person without proper licensing, without an awareness of where they can carry, without any training and without the ability to quickly, safely and accurately deploy their weapon . . . . is simply putting themselves and those they may be trying to protect at greater risk. You have all the time in the world . . . NOW . . . to prepare, do it!

All that said, let’s talk about clothing. For the ladies reading this, my apologies – this is most certainly from a guy’s point of view. A handful of Polo, print and dress shirts, couple pair of jeans and khakis, my “shooter pants”, and a suit – my wardrobe is complete. I envision the carry options as a bit more complicated for women because their range of wardrobe is more extensive in my experience . . . . (why do I feel like I’m diggin’ a hole here . . . .). I have a friend with a YouTube channel called “limatunes”. She is by far the best on the net describing concealed carry for women. I’m not even going to try and touch the topic of ladies clothing and concealed carry. I will simply say if you are a lady and are going to carry concealed – you need to go and review some of her videos.

For guys, let me talk about the adjustments I made, major components I believe you need to look at and what my choices have been.

Holsters: I carry with an Inside the Waist Band holster. I use the Blackhawk leather holster and I carry it at the 4 o’clock position on my dominant side. I prefer IWB for the added concealment my pants give and I seem to be able to find a more comfortable spot to put my weapon. Obviously your body and holster choices may well be different. My main concern is that you find a comfortable holster and spot on your body to carry. If it is NOT comfortable, you will NOT carry – it’s that simple.

Shirts: Gone are my tucked in shirts with the straight “gig” line. In are dark polo shirts, print shirts meant to be worn outside my pants and a variety of 5.11 carry shirts that offer easy access to my defensive weapon. A looser fitting shirt – be it print or polo – will offer you better concealment. You do not want to have a tight fitting shirt with a clear print of your Glock clearly visible. Darker colors, shirts with prints all help you better conceal your carry weapon.

Pants: Khaki pants, jeans and 5.11 TacLite Pro “shooter pants” are my traditional wardrobe. All work well. However, when you are buying pants – here are a few thoughts. TAKE YOUR GUN! Try the pants on, with your defensive weapon in its holster as part of the whole “do these darn things fit??” process. Nothing is more frustrating that spending $50+ on a pair of pants only to get home – slip your gun/holster on – and find out you need to get pants just a bit bigger.

Undershirts: I have taken to wearing a black UnderArmor or some other poly undershirt. Since my Glock and Springfield 1911 are black and my holster is also black leather – the black T-Shirt aids in the concealment if I raise my dominant side arm enough that my shirt rides above my belt. It doesn’t happen frequently, but it does happen.

Belts: The word “sturdy” means something – and you need a sturdy belt if you are going to carry two pounds of weapon and ammunition on your side. For my casual dress, I am fond of Cabela’s leather belts. They are well made and easily carry the extra load of a fully loaded Glock 17 or a Springfield 1911. For daily dress of jeans or tactical pants – I have settled on 5.11’s belts. I have a couple of their double sided belts – they are well made and certainly strong enough to carry my fully loaded defensive weapons.

A life style change: I have changed the way I dress. On those few occasions when I am going somewhere I know I am not allowed to carry – I DO NOT change the way I dress on that particular day. I look the “same” every day – whether I am unarmed, carrying my Glock 17 or carrying my Springfield 1911. It helps me “blend in” better, raises fewer questions like – “so, are you carrying today??”, and reinforces the habit of carrying each and every day.

I obviously need to work on my taking-a-picture-in-a-mirror skills, but this will give you a quick idea of what my daily wear typically looks like. Khaki pants, polo shirt and a concealed weapon:

clip_image002 clip_image004 clip_image006

Hopefully, you get the idea.

Take a look at your wardrobe. Evaluate which items you wear that conceal your defensive weapon well, and which do not. Change your clothing and your carry methods so you can easily carry each and every day. Incorporate these changes into your daily life. Then . . .

. . . . carry our damn gun . . . . EVERY DAY!