Many years ago, my two childhood friends and I began to prep for TEOTWAWKI. At first, we just began buying whatever was recommended by certain web sites, throwing our equipment into a box and then telling the others about what we have. Doing this allowed us to collect many things, however we were not sure what was really practical since we never used the items. We decided to change this about five years ago when we got serious about what we are doing and decided to take a camping trip. The camping trip would include about a one mile hike and the only things we would bring would be the equipment that would be used in a “bug-out” scenario. My group consists of seven main members who live in four different states, so the gear testing trips take place in two different states twice a year. The members of my group currently live in four different states: Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee, and California with the majority of the group living on the Ohio/Indiana border. Obviously, the friend in California is not a viable option for retreat, but the Ohio and Tennessee locations are both large farms and “close enough” for the remaining group members to gather together. So, we practice bugging out to each location from our respective homes. The first test trip was quite a learning experience! The oldest member of our group had equipment that weighed a total of about fifteen pounds. We younger folk whispered among ourselves that this surely wouldn’t be enough. While I will not disclose the pack weight of the rest of the group, I will say that we were having trouble going very far without having to take a break; and imagine our surprise when we found ourselves asking to borrow some of the older man’s equipment! Needless to say, we decided to take a few tips from the older man and have changed the way we pack for these trips!
We travel to each location twice a year, Tennessee in early April and late July, and Ohio in early October and late December. The reason for this is so we can camp in different temperature extremes. The difference of Tennessee in July and Ohio in December are huge and require different gear, so this allows us to practice using everything. Prior to our first travel, we sat down together with topographical maps of Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee. We mapped the best routes for foot and vehicle travel. We had to know if we could get to southwest Ohio from east Tennessee without hitting a major city while avoiding the interstate…and vice versa. The members from Ohio and Indiana and their families meet en route to Tennessee and take a different route each year. Throughout the trip, they stop to photograph certain areas they believe would be a good resting spot and mark the coordinates on the map. When my family and I make the trip north (I am the good southerner in this group) I retrace their steps north with photos and coordinates in hand seeing if I agree or disagree with their selected stops. I also take photos and coordinates of my own if I see something I think is better. Once we get together, we discuss the trip and compare notes. As of this writing, we have two preferred routes with several stops marked. If I am headed north or they are headed south I will know which direction to expect them if we cannot contact each other. Also, if we know a member is en route and never shows, we have a good idea where to look.
As a group, we agreed with the guns and calibers we would collect. We went with a Glock 22 in 40 S&W, 12 gauge shotguns, Ruger 10/22 rifle, Savage .308 bolt action rifle, Walther P22 pistol, and an AR-15 in 5.56. The oldest member of our group (and smartest) carries a Kel-Tec PLR-16 on a pivot harness and carries the Ruger Charger in a holster attached to his pack. After a long day of hiking uphill, the PLR-16 looked a whole lot better than my AR. Once again, if you buy it- practice with it. If you are carrying a gun, don’t just shoot it- carry it! Practice with in every way. If an AR is your bug-out gun, find out how far you can travel with it comfortably. These are the reasons we decided to start our excursions. Also, carrying four guns is not practical for long distances. My group may have 5 or 6 guns, but I do not carry all of them. On our hikes they are spread between my three sons and wife. Each one is given a gun and taught not just how to shoot it, but how to carry it and how much ammo they can carry without losing to much comfort or speed. We also have stored .50 caliber muzzleloaders, bows, crossbows and various hunting, fishing, and camping supplies while they were on clearance during the off-seasons.
We also coordinated our bug-out bags to be similar, so we know where everyone keeps supplies in their bag. We follow the first in last out method of organizing our gear. (I would not recommend sharing this information with a group unless these are close friends. I feel comfortable doing this with my group since we have been close for thirty plus years. ) We use the typical 3 day bag for our trips. When going out with my sons, I have switched the Eberlestock X1A1 pack, giving my oldest boy my three day pack. I find this pack is great for carrying my rifle long distances, but you lose the tactical advantage of having the rifle readily available. Once again, this becomes an issue of practice. I have decided in a TEOTWAWKI scenario I would probably have two rifles- one in the pack and one slung for carry. Also, during our trips we all discovered the joy of sleeping in a hammock. Previously, we had carried sleeping bags and slept on the ground. The hammock was much lighter to carry and far more comfortable than sleeping on the ground. While we all carry a small two or one-man tent, the hammock is the preferred sleeping choice; especially as we are getting older!
Keep in mind while reading this that while we are prepping together, we are also prepping separately. We each have large families and friends that we expect to arrive at our house if a worst case scenario happens even though we attempt to treat our prepping habit like the first two rules of Fight Club. Unfortunately, the rules we keep don’t always apply to our wives who will mention our guns and food storage during a conversation with those they are friendly with but not friends. With that in mind I will briefly describe each bug-out location.
Ohio- In Ohio, my friend lives on a 40 acre farm surrounded by other farms to the north, west, and east. There is a large wooded area to the south of his property. He has a large cache of food stored there and at home he owns in the nearby village. On his farm, he is currently raising meat rabbits, chickens, goats and horses. He has a large area set-up for a “survival” garden and two barns. One barn is arranged with a tack room and can be set-up for temporary housing if necessary. The rear barn is where the livestock is kept along with their supplies. His house is large enough to house four families comfortably. The Ohio farm is also close enough for my cohort in Indiana to travel to without touching an Interstate or city. If the situation would dictate they need to leave Ohio and head to Tennessee, they would use the farm as a staging area to prepare for the possible dangerous trip to Tennessee.
Tennessee –In Tennessee the farm is on 200 acres that is mostly wooded. The area is set-up with several small shooting houses (each equipped with a propane heater, but no air) that are made for hunting, but could be used for a lookout post or temporary housing for a few people. We have a small garden and recently started orchard, which is in the process of growing to a large orchard with many different types of fruit and nuts. We have very few farm animals, but are surrounded by a few like-minded neighbors with horses, cows, chickens, and goats. Our house is also large enough to house four families comfortably. We also have two barns that could be easily converted to living areas; one barn is currently holding the supplies to complete that task. My wife has a large extended family in east Tennessee and I would not be surprised if most landed on my door step. I have discussed this event with a few of her uncles, all of which have a trade skill in farming or mechanical. My immediate family is storing food for 50 people for one year. We have split this up between several households that are all within thirty minutes of each other, the plan being that they load up and head to the farm. I truly believe that the majority of my wife’s family would not make the trip to Ohio if we needed to evacuate our farm. They are proud people who often discuss fighting to the last man. While that is great in theory, I plan on protecting my wife and children to the best of my ability. If that means retreat, I retreat; I plan on living to fight another day. If they stay and fight, they will cover our exit as we head north.
If both locations fall or fail we do have a handful of other locations to fall back to. Only one or two have potential to become long term, but they would give us time to regroup, assess and plan.
In most TEOTWAWKI scenarios communication is impossible. I am hoping for difficult and improbable, but not impossible. Best case is we use cell phones to communicate and coordinate our efforts. We would also discuss on whether to hunker down or travel. It may be in everyone best interest that they stay north and I stay south. If cell phones are down we have a ham radio at each farm. If those go down the back-up plan is signals. We have made a list of signs we would leave at the farm if we had to abandon them, so the others would know where we are headed. We also have a small cache of food and ammo for them to resupply with. Also, we place a few signs on the mapped routes to the farms, in case we both bugged out and did not cross paths. We each carry a laminated copy of address (coordinates attached) in Tennessee and Ohio that are our fall-back positions. This list was one of the last things I put together, but will have a great use if we ever have to use it.
I know prepping with a group will lead to the best possible outcome and I chose to do that with my three closest friends and their families. When we began prepping and discussing logistics this is the best course of action we could come up with, but the bottom line is if we did not train we would not know. I can imagine us trying to take I-75 N and having to pass through Knoxville, Richmond, Lexington, and Cincinnati to make it to the Ohio retreat or my friends and the small convoy they have passing through those cities in a worst case scenario and I know it would be madness. I can imagine the results if we had never discussed ammo or weapons and all showed up with different calibers and little ammo. How would we fare if we never stored food for a large group and just for our immediate family? What would we do? How would we handle it if we showed up to one of the farms and it was empty? How well does each member shoot? Does one of us exceed at different roles such as planning, chef, and sharp shooter (growing up together we pretty much already knew where we would fall, but not our wives and children. My middle child will most likely end up as our sharp shooter)? We would not be as far along in our prepping if we did not start using our gear and training. Training requires planning, planning requires a vision, and with no vision the people perish.