CREEK STEWART TALKS WITH ASG
Part one of our exclusive interview with an American survival legend
Creek Stewart didn’t take the easy way out; no short-cuts, no jumping to the head of the line. This now-polished, but always constantly learning, survival expert has paid his dues through thousands of man-hours “out in the field” to position himself as one of the top survival and preparedness instructors in the country today. From an early age, the thirst for the outdoors pulled him into scouting. As a young man, Creek learned about the beauty, as well as the unpredictable dangers, of the outdoors. From there, his love of Mother Nature—and preparing for what she brings, both good and bad— continued to expand almost exponentially. He has taught large groups about survival and emergency preparedness at his compound in Indiana. He has been a featured guest on numerous programs, hosted several television shows centering on various aspects of the survival world and has written numerous books on the subject, which comprise both nonfiction and entertaining fictional stories of overcoming the odds when all seems lost. But Creek Stewart is more than just a famous person with a list of accomplishments; he is a down-to-earth man who loves to share what he knows with others. Here, in the first of a three-part interview, Creek opens up about what led him into the world of survival, what those new to the field should know and what the foreseeable future has in store for this highly relatable and humble outdoorsman. EARLY YEARS American Survival Guide: At what age did you first realize the outdoors was going to be your “office” and your life focused on survival and emergency preparedness? Creek Stewart: Growing up on a farm and actively involved in Boy Scouts, I fell in love with the outdoors at a very young age. However, it wasn’t until my early 20s, while in college and studying pharmacy, that I made the decision to pursue something in the survival training genre as a career. Of course, I had no idea how hard and long the journey would be, but looking back, I consider that blind naïveté was my best skill at the time. ASG: Once the survival “bug” bit and you were just starting to learn outdoor skills and techniques, who did you look up to as a mentor or role model as you were learning the basics? CS: When I first got into survival specifically, I didn’t even know there was a survival industry—or survival instructors, for that matter. I had only ever seen old Boy Scout manuals (which I considered to be survival manuals at the time) and some of my dad’s old Army survival books. If I had mentors then, they would have been Sir Robert Baden-powell (a founding father of scouting) and my own grandfathers. I scoured the early scouting books written by Baden-powell and picked up a ton of great outdoor skills through them. I also learned a ton from my grandfathers. From wild edible and medicinal plants to simple animal traps they used during the Great
Depression, their skills were very real and tangible. Their stories were even better. For example, my grandfather shared with me a very simple live-capture bird trap he used to catch song birds, sparrows and anything that would hop inside. These birds helped feed him and his seven brothers and sisters during the Great Depression. They would pluck them and skewer them like tiny chickens over a fire in the backyard of their old, rundown farm house. He grinned when he told me that the red cardinal tastes just like chicken. Skills like this weren’t just words on paper. They were proven and tested to work. ASG: Using only three words, how would you describe yourself? CS: Grateful Boy Scout. STUDENT BECOMES TEACHER ASG: At what point did you go from survival skills student to wanting to open your own facility and teaching others on a large scale? CS: I’m a 0–100 type A personality. I typically live by the rule, It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. In my young mind, I was an instructor before I was a student. It didn’t take long to figure out I had so much more to learn about survival and life.
FOR THE FIRST 10 YEARS OF MY SURVIVAL TRAINING BUSINESS, I WAS A TRAVELING INSTRUCTOR, WORKING FROM PUBLIC LAND, BORROWED LAND, RENTED LAND, AND STATE AND LOCAL PARKS.
I’ll never forget one of the most humbling moments of my young career. Of course, this happened back in the days when I “knew it all.” I was featured on the largest morning news program in our region as a survival Instructor. I even bought a new shirt and had my logo embroidered on it for the occasion. I was going to show the world how to make fire by bow drill on live TV. I started the conversation with the host by talking about the importance of fire and training and how choosing the right survival instructor is so important. Then, I started to do the bow drill for them. Long story short, I couldn’t get it. I was sweating, frustrated and humiliated. They had to eventually cut to a commercial break. I left the television studio feeling defeated—and quite frankly, lost. Still, to this day, almost 20 years later, that experience keeps me grounded. I also hope that the video never surfaces! Not only did I have to take the necessary time (which would end up being years) to train in the skills I wanted to teach, I also had to figure out how to pay the bills in between training and teaching my weekend courses. For the first 10 years of my survival training business, I was a traveling instructor, working from public land, borrowed land, rented land, and state and local parks. Needless to say, state park officials don’t see eye-to-eye with things like fires, traps, shelter-building, harvesting wild edibles—or anything “survival”! I knew that in order for me to really grow my business, I needed my own land and facility. As we all know, land isn’t cheap, especially if you need a building with restrooms, etc. I saved every penny I owned. Ten years later, I found a foreclosed piece of property with a building and made what I would define as the “go big, or go home” commitment to my survival training business. ASG: What advice would you give a person who wants to begin survival training and preparedness? What is the best starting point? CS: I always tell people that one of the best ways to “wet their beak” in the world of survival is to build a bug-out bag (BOB). A BOB is a three-day survival backpack designed to get you and your family through 72 hours of independent survival in the event that a large-scale disaster would unexpectedly drive you from your home. Building a BOB forces a person to gather some tools and skills in a variety of survival categories, including water, fire, food, shelter, first aid, firearms and tools. This will not only help you figure out what you need to know, it will also help you discover what your specific interests are in the world of survival. And, after you’re done, you have an awesome survival kit, just in case. As far as a specific skill goes, I believe fire is the most important survival skill, so when someone asks me what they should start learning first, I always say fire. It can make up for a bad shelter, regulate core body temperature, purify water, cook food, signal for rescue and make tools; and, it’s your best friend in the dark, lonely woods. ASG: You’ve been described as a “hybrid” sur-
vival expert, focusing on primitive skills, as well as utilizing modern gear and equipment. Would you say that description is accurate? CS: Yes, I would. While I certainly teach primitive, “off-the-land” skills, I am far from exclusively primitive. In fact, there are far more talented primitive skills survival experts than myself. ASG: If you could teach only three survival skills to a “newbie,” which ones would you choose? CS: How to make a proper tinder bundle; how to start a fire using a Fresnel lens by magnifying the sun’s rays; and how to build a proper fire (starting and building are different). LIVING THE SKILLS ASG: Is there one survival expert—well-known to the public or not—who you would jump at the chance to work with or, at the very least, meet? CS: The survival experts I seek aren’t [those] most would expect. My interest in recent years has been to train with individuals who are living the skills I want to learn. These people are hard to find. For example, I’ve long wanted to train in several southwest America desert skills. Through an anthropologist who lives in Mexico, I arranged a two-week trip to train with an indigenous tribe of Paipai Indians in Baja California, Mexico. Those amazing people live the skills they teach. From natural cordage to wild desert edibles, I learned skills that are as close to the source as it gets. ASG: What would you say is the most underestimated aspect of survival that most beginners fall victim to when in a real life-or-death situation? CS: I’ve had the unique opportunity through filming SOS: How to Survive for The Weather Channel to intimately study and interview many survivors of real-life survival stories. Through this experience, I have identified two common threads that always seem to make things worse, and they are very intertwined. First, simply not stopping at the first inclination that they’re lost. It is amazing to me how far people will drive, walk or paddle after they realize they are lost. It almost always leads to a worse scenario. However, I believe this is directly perpetuated by the second: the fear of spending the night in the woods. The notion of spending an unexpected night in the woods, in the desert or on a mountain drives people to make horrible decisions. As I tell my students, the woods are the exact same at night as during the day. It’s just dark. Of course, both of these concerns can be adequately dispelled with a little knowledge and experience. ASG: In most professions, a person seldom stops learning. To whom or where do you turn to learn new techniques or skills?
I’M DELIVERING SURVIVAL KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS IN A UNIQUE AND EXCITING WAY AND AT A LEVEL THAT THOSE WHO ARE TIRED OF “THE SAME, OLD SURVIVAL STUFF” WILL FIND VERY REFRESHING.
CS: This question is really what inspired me to start Survival Skill of the Month Club. Every month, I teach a new and unique survival skill in unprecedented detail. Month by month, my students are curating the best survival manual of all time. Survival Skill of the Month started as a quest for me to go deeper into the survival skills I wanted to learn. Whether it was dedicating time to learning a new skill or traveling halfway across the world to train with an expert in a certain skill, I wanted to learn, document and share survival skills on a level that I had personally not seen on the written page. When you spend an entire month focusing on one skill, it’s amazing how much you learn. For example, I’ve trained with Paipai Indians in Mexico about how to process agave cordage, how to hunt desert pack rat and how to make a Paipai willow bow and arrow. I’ve also trained with one of the world’s leading primitive skills experts for how to make a traditional river cane blowgun with thistle-fletched darts. I document my findings, not only with descriptive text, but also with high-resolution professional photography. Every month, I seek knowledge. Then, I share it with people who, like me, value what’s in their brains just as much as what’s in their packs. ASG: With some of the major “world-ending” predictions behind us now, what do you feel is the current state of survival preparedness? Has the fear of impending doom lessened for most, and have people become somewhat complacent? CS: Everyone’s motivation is a little different for delving into the survival world and studying survival skills. For me and “my tribe,” it’s less about what we’re preparing for and more about the notion that we just love doing it. The “big event” takes all of the fun out of it. My motto is, “It’s not if, but when,” and I believe that to be true. But, if I’m honest, it’s not a pending event that I’m preparing for. I just love survival. I love the woods. I love the idea of being self-reliant. I love the people in this industry. And I love that what I teach (and sell) can actually save someone’s life one day. What started as a hobby for me still feels very much the same. I’ve always been motivated by the love of survival over anything else. I ran my survival business for 10 years before I ever made a dime. I’ve always said that if you’ll keep working at something with absolutely zero financial reward, then it must be your passion. Survival is my passion. LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE ASG: What projects are you currently working on? And what have you planned for the near future? CS: Those who follow me know I’m always working on something. I have three survival-themed subscription businesses that keep me very busy—myapocabox.com, survivalskillofthemonth.com and wildedibleplantofthemonth.com. I’m delivering survival knowledge and skills in a unique and exciting way and at a level that those who are tired of “the same, old survival stuff” will find very refreshing. I just finished filming season two of SOS: How to Survive for The Weather Channel. In this series, we study real-life survival stories and figure out how we can all learn from them. This series will be airing in late summer 2018. ASG: Where do you see yourself in five years? In 15 years?
CS: I know it’s contradictory to what most people associate with success, but I’ve never been a long-term-goal person. My interests change daily and, with them, my goals. One initiative we will certainly be doing more of in the future is raising funds for people who have suffered through large-scale natural disasters such as hurricanes Maria and Harvey. So many people fall through the cracks in the aftermath, and we, at Team Creek, have made it our internal mission to find some of these people and help them [by] using our sphere of influence. ASG: Aside from survival instruction, you are also a published nonfiction and fiction author. Are there more books possibly hitting the shelves in the future? CS: Yes, The Noncon Pack (a backpack for when coming back home isn’t an option) will officially release this year. This is a follow-up to my best-selling book, Build the Perfect Bug Out Bag. The Noncon Pack is for the absolute worst-case scenario. Part fantasy and part “maybe,” it will not disappoint survival enthusiasts. I also publish an average of one Pocket Field Guide per month as well. These are small, pocket-sized guides that cover a specific survival skill set or topic in much greater detail than you might find in the average survival book. The second installment to my fiction [book], Rugosa, is also in the final stages. Look for it in early 2019. GETTING PERSONAL ASG: What is one thing about yourself that would surprise many of your fans and followers? CS: I used to be a carnie—you know, a carnival worker. That’s right! While building my survival business, I needed a source of income to pay the bills, so I started a seasonal snow cone business. I sold snow cones at fairs and festivals to support what I considered my real job: survival instruc-
tor. also My made favorite the best flavor lemon was black shake-ups cherry, east and of I the Mississippi! ASG: When you can finally take a break from the world of survival, whether teaching, filming or writing, what do you do to have some fun or to relax? CS: “Relax”—what’s that? I have a motto when it comes to rest: “I’ll rest when I die.” ASG: Was there a time during a solitary adventure in the outdoors when you thought you were prepared to the fullest but soon realized you were not? CS: Yes, on day three of a five-day solo hike, I got a thorn in my eye. I couldn’t get it out. I didn’t have a mirror. It was before smartphones with cameras. It was absolutely horrible. I will never hike without a mirror again. ASG: Do you feel that survival shows on television are double-edged swords, in that they do help inform and instruct people but also don’t convey the severity of most survival situations? CS: I don’t have cable television, so I don’t get to see most of the shows that come out, but I’ve always enjoyed survival television shows for what they are—television shows [whose] first and foremost goal is to entertain. Having been behind the scenes of survival television, it is a very grueling job, with long, hard days. There are many dedicated and extremely talented individuals who make these shows happen. I can’t help but have respect for all of them, because I’ve been in the television trenches too. Author’s note: The next installment of this exclusive, three-part interview with Creek Stewart will cover his thoughts on urban survival. He’ll address some of the unique challenges you can expect to face and how to respond to them. Look for it in the December issue of American Survival Guide.
Above: Creek Stewart, in his preferred natural environment (Photo: Creek Stewart) The Paiute deadfall trap is a common survival skill taught by Creek during his outdoor classes. (Photo: Creek Stewart) Left:
Left: Filming outdoors “in the field” sometimes entails long hours and a grueling schedule, but it allows Creek to spread his knowledge to a large audience. (Photo: The Weather Channel) Below: The central fireplace within Creek's compound offers him a comfortable place to sit back and relax—or to sharpen his blades for an upcoming adventure. (Photo: Creek Stewart) Bottom: Every environment has its own benefits and dangers. Here, in the dry plains, Creek plans his next move to secure life-sustaining water. (Photo: The Weather Channel)
Creek’s “Survival Skill of The Month” instructional sheets are organized in the included three-ring binder for future reference. (Photo: Creek Stewart) Creek jumps in with both hands —and feet—to complete a complicated rope-weaving task. (Photo: Creek Stewart)
Far left: Creek, at 21 years old, teaching his first outdoor survival course (Photo: Creek Stewart) Near left: Creek, as a young scout, organizes his growing library of survival and other reference materials. (Photo: Creek Stewart)
Top right: Creek Stewart's bi-monthly Apocabox arrives loaded with survival gear and useful information that enhances subscribers' ability to respond to tough situations. (Photo: Creek Stewart) Bottom right: This is an assortment of some of the types of items that can be found in an Apocabox shipment. (Photo: Creek Stewart)
Creek Stewart’s Build the Perfect book series offers great survival advice to beginners and experienced emergency preparedness practitioners alike. (Photo: Creek Stewart)