OB­SERVE, ADAPT, SUR­VIVE

Study­ing your en­vi­ron­ment pays big sur­vival div­i­dends.

American Survival Guide - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - By Dana Ben­ner

The act of sur­viv­ing any sit­u­a­tion in­volves as much men­tal might as phys­i­cal strength. Sure, phys­i­cal well-be­ing plays a large part with­out a doubt, but it is those peo­ple who un­der­stand the sit­u­a­tion and who don’t let the men­tal pres­sures beat them down who will sur­vive.

One way to deal with the men­tal pres­sures is knowl­edge, which will lead to un­der­stand­ing the en­vi­ron­ment you find your­self in. Whether you are in an ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment, a desert or a swamp, know­ing what that par­tic­u­lar en­vi­ron­ment can of­fer you and how you can best uti­lize its re­sources will help en­sure your sur­vival. All the fancy, top-of-the­line equip­ment will do you no good if you don’t use your brain to rec­og­nize the as­sets avail­able around you.

Ev­ery year, I travel to an area I am un­fa­mil­iar with. I spend about two weeks study­ing the en­vi­ron­ment. I learn as much as I can about the re­sources—both man­made and nat­u­ral—that can be uti­lized if I ever find my­self in a bad sit­u­a­tion.

I speak with, and lis­ten to, na­tive el­ders about how their peo­ple have sur­vived for thou­sands of years. I watch birds and an­i­mals, be­cause do­ing so will teach you a great deal if you are will­ing to take the time to ob­serve them. I try to learn about the best places to shel­ter and the ar­eas to stay

away from. I learn which plants are ed­i­ble, which ones will kill you quickly and which ones have heal­ing prop­er­ties.

Can I gather all the in­for­ma­tion I need in two weeks? Of course not, but I can gather enough to keep me alive. The learn­ing process is an on­go­ing process. A Pe­quot elder once told me, “No­body knows ev­ery­thing, but ev­ery­body knows some­thing.” If we stop learn­ing, if we stop ask­ing ques­tions, we are al­ready dead.

ALL THE FANCY, TOP-OF-THE­LINE EQUIP­MENT WILL DO YOU NO GOOD IF YOU DON’T USE YOUR BRAIN TO REC­OG­NIZE THE AS­SETS AVAIL­ABLE AROUND YOU.

THE LEARN­ING BE­GINS

As soon as you step one foot be­yond your com­fort zone, the learn­ing be­gins. I am very com­fort­able in a nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment: I grew up in a ru­ral area. I have hunted and fished most of my life, and I grow as much of my food as I can. As soon as I step out of that en­vi­ron­ment and en­ter a city, I am on guard.

Un­for­tu­nately, most air­ports are in cities. I al­ways make sure to ar­rive early so I can get a “lay of the land.” No weapons are al­lowed in air­ports, so I must rely on my mind as my pri­mary de­fen­sive tool. I lo­cate all ex­its and find nooks and cran­nies where bad things can hap­pen … and then, I stay away from them.

I sit with my back against a wall so no­body can get be­hind me, and my eyes are al­ways mov­ing, try­ing to lo­cate po­ten­tial threats be­fore they can do any harm to me or some­one else. I credit this height­ened aware­ness to my 12 years of en­hanced

U.S. Army train­ing.

Some­times, my wife trav­els with me. She, un­like me, is com­fort­able—no mat­ter where she is—al­most to the point of throw­ing cau­tion to the wind. This raises my sur­vival senses to new lev­els, be­cause I need to pro­tect her as much, if not more, than I do my­self.

When I get to wher­ever I am go­ing and can get out of the city, my senses (which have been on over­drive) can re­lax. They don’t turn off, be­cause ev­ery new place can pro­duce un­seen and un­known dan­gers, but the in­ten­sity is dif­fer­ent. I can then truly en­gage my learn­ing mode and am open to the lessons be­ing pre­sented.

WATCH AND LEARN

We all know peo­ple need food, wa­ter and shel­ter to sur­vive. No mat­ter where we are, we need these ba­sic things. To find them, all we need to do is keep our eyes and ears open.

Wa­ter. Even in places such as Ari­zona’s Sonora Desert, one of the hottest and dri­est places I have ever found my­self, there is wa­ter. How about the Florida Keys? These is­lands, which are sur­rounded by salt­wa­ter, do have nat­u­ral fresh­wa­ter sources. So, how do you find them?

The very first thing I do when I get my­self into an area is find a wa­ter source. I do this by look­ing at the veg­e­ta­tion. All plants need wa­ter to sur­vive, but some need less wa­ter than oth­ers. Some flora, such as man­grove trees, can sur­vive in brack­ish wa­ter (a mix­ture of both fresh and salt­wa­ter). Peo­ple can’t drink brack­ish wa­ter, but the man­groves in­di­cate there is a fresh­wa­ter source nearby—be­cause you can’t have brack­ish wa­ter with­out fresh­wa­ter. As you get closer to the fresh­wa­ter, you will start to see trees such as maples and oaks, bul­rushes and cat­tails. Don’t rely on the pres­ence of mosses, be­cause these plants have the abil­ity to take

AS SOON AS YOU STEP ONE FOOT BE­YOND YOUR COM­FORT ZONE, THE LEARN­ING BE­GINS.

mois­ture out of the air.

Some­times, as in the Amer­i­can South­west, the wa­ter will not be ob­vi­ous. It might be un­der­ground, or maybe it will only be a small seep among a pile of boul­ders. In these sit­u­a­tions, I look for both plants and an­i­mals or signs that an­i­mals fre­quent the area.

All an­i­mals need fresh­wa­ter, so let them lead you to it. Fol­low game trails if you’re able to find some. Just be care­ful: Preda­tors of­ten hunt near wa­ter sources.

Con­tinue to watch the plants to iden­tify pos­si­ble sources of wa­ter. In the Ari­zona desert, many of the plants grow­ing there can live with very lit­tle wa­ter, but there are

also a few cot­ton­wood or wil­low trees. These trees are great in­di­ca­tors of a good source of fresh­wa­ter.

Shel­ter. Now that you have found a wa­ter source, what about shel­ter? The ten­dency to build your shel­ter ex­tremely close to the wa­ter is one that many novices fall prey to. Don’t do it, be­cause this mis­take can kill you in more ways than one. You found this wa­ter source, so that means oth­ers—both two- and four-legged—will find it also. Re­mem­ber: You aren’t camp­ing; you are in a sur­vival sit­u­a­tion, and the com­pe­ti­tion is on for ev­ery­thing that can sus­tain life.

Like my na­tive an­ces­tors be­fore me, I want my shel­ter on the high­est ground pos­si­ble. First, it is drier than ar­eas close to the wa­ter. A sud­den rain­storm could flood the lower area. Be­lieve me, you don’t want any part of that. In ad­di­tion, bit­ing in­sects tend to be less prob­lem­atic the higher up you go, and there is more fuel avail­able for your fire.

High ground gives me the abil­ity to sur­vey the sur­round­ing area, en­abling me to de­tect both food and pos­si­ble dan­ger. Higher ground is also eas­ier to de­fend.

Keep in mind that there are al­ways things out there that will try to get you. Build­ing your shel­ter on higher ground will make you much safer. Just be very care­ful you don’t sig­nal your pres­ence, which is also eas­ier to do at higher lev­els.

Use avail­able ma­te­ri­als to con­struct a shel­ter that will pro­tect you from the el­e­ments and pos­si­ble threats and that blends into the sur­round­ing area. If you keep all this in mind, you should be all set. There are many dif­fer­ent shel­ters and ways to make them— way too many to dis­cuss here. Knowl­edge of build­ing sev­eral types of de­bris or ex­pe­di­ent shel­ters should be some­thing you have be­fore ven­tur­ing into un­known ar­eas.

Food. While I al­ways carry some food with me (see the side­bar on page 74), the abil­ity to se­cure food is needed for sit­u­a­tions last­ing longer than a few days. You prob­a­bly won’t know how long your sit­u­a­tion will last, but it makes sense to in­ves­ti­gate your food op­tions sooner rather than later.

My fa­ther used to say, “If it walks, crawls, flies or swims, you can eat it.” While this is

THE ACT OF SUR­VIV­ING ANY SIT­U­A­TION IN­VOLVES AS MUCH MEN­TAL MIGHT AS PHYS­I­CAL STRENGTH.

not en­tirely true, it does drive home the point that food is all around us. The roots of cat­tails are ed­i­ble, as are the young shoots of ferns, called “fid­dle­heads.” Many berries are ed­i­ble, but use cau­tion here, be­cause some are poi­sonous. In a true sur­vival sit­u­a­tion, you can set snares to catch birds and small an­i­mals. That wa­ter source you found prob­a­bly has some fish, frogs, snakes (once again, use cau­tion here), all of which make a good meal.

Man-made. Hu­mans have been part of the en­vi­ron­ment for thou­sands of years. Take ad­van­tage of what past hu­man

IN TODAY’S WORLD, IT IS VERY EASY TO GET COM­PLA­CENT AND NOT TAKE SE­RI­OUSLY THE PREPA­RA­TIONS FOR DEAL­ING WITH THE CHAL­LENGES WE’LL FACE IN ANY VA­RI­ETY OF SUR­VIVAL SIT­U­A­TIONS.

oc­cu­pa­tion has left be­hind. It could be in the form of shel­ter or sup­plies. You never know un­til you find these op­por­tu­ni­ties.

If there is an old, aban­doned struc­ture of some sort, it was put there for a rea­son. Per­haps it was an area of good hunt­ing or fish­ing. Maybe it in­di­cates a re­li­able wa­ter source. Chances are, both were avail­able at the time it was built, be­cause the builders had the same ba­sic needs we do today. Be­ing able to rec­og­nize these fea­tures in the en­vi­ron­ment where you find your­self could save your life.

PAY AT­TEN­TION

Sur­vival is sim­ply the abil­ity to stay alive. In today’s world, it is very easy to get com­pla­cent and not take se­ri­ously the prepa­ra­tions for deal­ing with the chal­lenges we’ll face in any va­ri­ety of sur­vival sit­u­a­tions.

There are peo­ple who say all we need is to own the lat­est and the great­est gad­gets in or­der to sur­vive. How­ever, the most im­por­tant tool hu­mans have is our brain, along with the abil­ity to use it. Peo­ple have sur­vived in this world by learn­ing to deal and work with the en­vi­ron­ment around them. We can, too, as long as we are will­ing to be good ob­servers and lis­ten to the lessons be­ing taught.

PEO­PLE HAVE SUR­VIVED IN THIS WORLD BY LEARN­ING TO DEAL AND WORK WITH THE EN­VI­RON­MENT AROUND THEM.

Snakes, such as this one in Florida’s Corkscrew Swamp, make great food sources.

Right: Proper footwear is a must at all times. The coast is a great place to gather food, but al­ways wear some­thing on your feet be­cause of hid­den dan­gers such as rays, li­on­fish, scor­pi­onfish and urchins. These Chaco san­dals are per­fect be­cause of...

Near left: Shal­low coastal wa­ters are easy to ac­cess and can yield food, such as this large her­mit crab.

Lizards seem to be ev­ery­where, whether in the trop­ics or the desert, and they make an easy meal. Never pass them up.

Frogs are al­ways good sources of food. But be care­ful, be­cause some are poi­sonous (this one is not). If in doubt, leave it alone.

Even in ur­ban ar­eas, food can be found out­side gro­cery stores.

Be aware of po­ten­tial dan­gers— both nat­u­ral and man-made. It is the ones you don’t see that will get you. Man­groves in­di­cate fresh­wa­ter nearby. Other broadleafed trees in­di­cate higher and drier land, as well.

Above: Cat­tails, rushes and reeds in­di­cate fresh wa­ter. Left: This black racer in the Florida Keys is a great food source … if you can catch it.

Above: This area is a great place to gather food; it is also dan­ger­ous. A cut here can lead to an in­fec­tion that could take you out of the game. Right: This area screams dan­ger. Don’t linger here. Get to higher and drier ground.

Old Man’s Beard is a lichen found al­most ev­ery­where east of the Mis­sis­sippi (this im­age hap­pens to be of the Corkscrew Swamp in Florida). It makes great fire tin­der. Col­lect it as you go so you will have it when you need it.

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