Thursday, July 2, 2020


It's the time of year for smoke, bright flashes of light, and noise: no, not a pop-music festival, the 4th of July. Many states allow their residents to celebrate their Independence Day with a variety of fireworks; the selection varies by state, and Federal law limits the amount of explosives available to mere consumers, many of which can be re-purposed by a prepper with a touch of imagination. If you live in one of the more restrictive states, check the laws in your neighboring states; I happen to have two bordering states that sell fireworks year-round and buying them in the off-season drops the prices dramatically.

I'll be the first to admit that I've always enjoyed fireworks, as the pyromaniac hiding in the back corner of my psyche gets a giggle out of watching things explode. Having handled military explosives and later studying chemistry, I have a healthy respect for anything that goes “BOOM”, but I also know a bit about how they work and what they can do. Lets break the common fireworks down into a few categories and see how a prepper might adapt them to their own uses.
DISCLAIMER: Fireworks contain black powder (BP) as an active ingredient. BP is flammable when in an open container, but explosive in a closed container. Some of the additives used to produce the colors and light are unhealthy to ingest or breathe. Use of gloves and other protective gear is highly recommended, but I (and BCP by extension) cannot be held responsible for your actions. Consider all of the information that follows as “for educational and entertainment purposes only”. Never mix the contents of dissimilar types of fireworks, the combination could be spontaneously explosive and the amount of energy stored in even tiny amounts can kill or maim you. If you have any doubts, don't do it.
One of the most common and least regulated types, smoke bombs of various sizes are a slow-burning mix of black powder and something to give the smoke volume and color. The small, spherical ones last a few seconds, but the large ones that are about the size of a stick of butter can last for a minute or two. If all you can find are the small ones, they can be cracked open with a hammer or rock to extract the active ingredients. Combining the powder from several small ones and placing it in a tube of any sort will replicate one of the larger ones. Filling a beer can with the powder from a couple dozen large ones will give you something to rival a military smoke grenade.

Smoke is handy as a way to signal for help or mark your location for searchers during daylight. It can also be used to hide your location and movement if the smoke is thick enough. The high sulfur content in most smoke compounds makes the smoke unpleasant to breathe and the lack of visibility in the middle of a good cloud is disorienting, so they may have uses in crowd control.

Bright Light
Sparklers used to be common, but the nannies have decided that the glowing-hot metal rods can be dangerous (duh) so they're getting harder to find. Used individually, they burn hot enough to start a fire with damp tinder and they last long enough to be useful. They can take a bit to get started, though, and I've always used a cigarette lighter for 5 to 10 seconds depending on size and quality of the sparkler.

Strobes are a more recent product. They ones we see around here are about the size of a sugar cube and they produce an intense series of flashes of lights for 10-20 seconds. These are very useful as a night-time signal for help, and also very disorienting and almost blinding in a dark room.

Fountains and gerbs are the little cones or cylinders that produce a shower of colorful sparks when lit. These are common in the variety packs of fireworks because they're cheap and take up space. They're another handy way to start a fire if you are dealing with damp tinder.

Safety flares are not technically fireworks, but are rather pyrotechnics. The once-common road flare or “fusee” has been largely replaced by reflective triangles and flashing LEDs, but you can still find them in truck stops, on Amazon, and in forestry supply shops. They're designed to catch your attention, so use as a signal for searchers is a given. They also project a flame 6-8 inches from the end and burn for quite a while (15 minutes to 2 hours), so they could probably be used as a weapon, and they are very handy for lighting large or sustained fires, such as back-burning a field to stop a grass fire. 

The noisy fireworks are either explosions or screams. The explosions are BP, but the screamers use a specific chemical mix to produce the noise (although I have seen whistles built in to some rockets to produce noise). Remember, BP is a propellant in loose or open containers but an explosive in closed containers.

Firecrackers are being used as distractions in riots all over the world. They can mask the sounds of gunfire and will confuse the various forms of “shot-spottter” surveillance systems found in large cities which use a series of microphones connected to a computer to record and triangulate the location of gunshots, and which can be overwhelmed by increasing the number of “shots” in an area. The sudden, sharp noise also makes people instinctively look for the source, drawing their attention away from anything else that's happening.

Screamers use a mixture that burns at two speeds, low and high. When they burn, they produce gasses in low and high quantities at very high speeds, and the switching between low and high speeds produces an oscillating wave of gasses that we hear as a high-pitched scream. Very loud, these can be deafening in small spaces and the large ones will hurt your ears even in open areas. Useful as a signal, they can also be used to scare away predators.

Consumer-grade fireworks are regulated to prevent stupid people from killing themselves. Darwin is over in the corner pouting, but since many idiots exist we have to put up with laws that protect them from themselves.

Firecrackers in the USA are limited to no more than 50mg of powder, which is 0.050 grams of noise-making composition. For the reloaders out there, that is 0.77 grains of super-fine BP. (Yes, you can slice open firecrackers and extract the powder, but I can't suggest that you do. Too many lawyers, not enough rope and trees.) I have broken open duds (they didn't explode when the fuse burned down) after a safe waiting period, and the powder makes a good fire starter and catches a spark from a flint and steel very easily. It's like in the movies where someone uses a flintlock firearm to start a fire.

Illegal firecrackers come in from various places. Other countries have more lenient laws, and I've seen some impressive explosives over the years. The “cannon crackers” (Knallk√∂rper ) we used in Germany to celebrate New Year's Eve were about an inch in diameter and four inches long. You can find videos of them on the Internet, and they have an impressive amount of power. Some of the fireworks smuggled in from Mexico come close to that level, which is more than enough to take off a hand if you're stupid. I'll leave the use of actual explosives to your imagination, as I can hear the lawyers sharpening their pencils.

Stay safe this Independence Day. Let's all have the same number of fingers and eyes next Monday that we have today.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Prudent Prepping: Car Maintenance

The dust has settled and the First 72 Hours have passed. Follow along as I build a long term plan via Prudent Prepping. 

I'm in the middle of doing some delayed maintenance on my car. I ticked over 100,000 miles a bit ago, and I want to do everything to keep this car going as long as possible.

Keep It Running
At the bare minimum, everyone should be checking their own oil, coolant and tire pressure. It isn't hard and is covered in your Owner's Manual. Besides that, YouTube has as detailed instructions as you would like, up to rebuilding an engine. I also have the one of the better aftermarket books for my Honda Accord, the Chilton Repair Manual.
My Book

From the Amazon page:

Covers Honda Accord 2003-2012 and Crosstour 2010-2014. DOES NOT include info specific to hybrid or ALL-Wheel Drive models. This series offers do-it-yourselfers of all levels TOTAL maintenance, service, and repair information in an easy to use format. Each manual contains: trouble codes, electronic engine controls, maintenance schedules, diagnostic charts, wiring diagrams, tune up specifications, and much more.

I've used these manuals in the past to work on every car and truck I've owned, and the info inside is very clear and easy to read. I've changed rotors and pads, replaced interior trim, diagnosed bad sensors, replaced a fuel sensor and submerged fuel pump, and figured out that reattaching the front bumper skin is a job I don't want to try, all from looking at books like this.
What I did recently was have my automatic transmission serviced. There was a bit of a delay shifting between 1st and 2nd at low speed, and besides that it was time for me to start checking everything. The car had low miles for its age when I bought it, and my mechanic said it possibly was sitting for some time before I found it; regardless, it was affordable and I needed a reliable vehicle.

This is just the start of the work on my list; coming soon is a timing belt change and while that is being done, a new water pump will be installed since everything related to that will have to be removed to get to the timing belt, and it makes sense to me to get it done when there is access.

As I mentioned in last week's post and related to yesterday's post from Lokidude, having a plan and working it is vital. Since I have a car, what I plan on carrying daily is different from someone who has a truck. It also makes a big difference on what I can take with me in a Bug Out situation, or if my place is on fire and I'm tossing things out of a 2nd floor window.

I need whatever vehicle I do have to be ready to do whatever is necessary to get me to safety. I have budgeted for car repairs, just like I have budgeted for other expenses, but now that I've been getting some overtime the chance to some of the repairs all at once is something I have take advantage of. I only have one car, and it has to be running reliably.

Recap And Takeaway
  • I've never been able to afford having all my servicing done at either a dealer or a shop, so a book like this is very handy.
  • Be sure to have money set aside not only for routine maintenance but also emergency repairs.
  • Nothing was ordered last week, but money was spent to keep my car going.
  • Manuals like mine are available from Amazon for just about any car, truck, van and even motorcycles! Mine was a gift, but it can be ordered from Amazon for $20.95 without Prime shipping (which has been taking longer than normal lately).
* * *

Just a reminder: if you plan on buying anything through Amazon, please consider using our referral link. When you do, a portion of the sale comes back here to help keep this site running!

If you have comments, suggestions or corrections, please post them so we all can learn. And remember, Some Is Always Better Than None!

NOTE: All items tested were purchased by me. No products have been loaned in exchange for a favorable review. Any items sent to me for T&E will be listed as such. Suck it Feds.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Have A Plan and Practice It

I'm holding off on the firearm selection posts for a week, to address something particularly timely: it's the beginning of fire season here in Utah, and things are already getting rough. As I type this, there is a 10,000+ acre wildfire burning in the county just to the south of me, and over 3,000 homes and 13,000 individuals have been evacuated. One home has been destroyed so far, and about a dozen have had some minor damage, thanks to aggressive efforts from local fire crews.

The evacuation was a grand mess, however. Part of this is due to the area having only one road out, and part was due to less-than-ideal planning on the part of both the residents and the municipality; the area in question has had no less than 7 major wildfires in the past decade. Some are naturally caused, and some caused by human stupidity. They happen enough that anybody but a first year resident has experienced one. Sadly, many have not learned much from their experience, but we can.

Everywhere in the USA that people live has some kind of disaster that happens frequently enough to plan for: northern blizzards, coastal hurricanes, midwestern tornadoes, fires, floods, and other events happen with regularity, enough that building codes and city planning are engineered for them, and hopefully local authorities have them as part of their public works and community response plan. Local residents also need to plan for these events.

The Basics of a Plan
  • A plan needs to be detailed and specific enough to act upon, but flexible enough to adapt to the circumstances at hand. 
  • Without details, you're left spiraling out of control, grasping for direction. While 12% of a plan beats 11% of a plan, it's not enough. 
  • Too rigid a plan, on the other hand, falls apart quickly, giving rise to the adage "No plan survives first contact with reality" or, more gutterally, "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face." 
  • When Plan A fails, you need to be able to shift to Plans B, C, D, and on down the line. This may involve having several routes of travel, or a backup ending point, or allowing for any number of other variables.
Plans don't have to be huge, either. They can be as simple as a fire drill, which was something we practiced when I was a kid (being the son of a firefighter leads to certain things.) We also learned to stage hoses, buckets of water, and other supplies when we were setting off fireworks. Plans can also be as simple as knowing where emergency exits are in a building, and prioritizing which order you'll attempt them in.

Practice, Practice, Practice
Having a plan isn't enough, though. You need to practice your plan, and practicing your plan just during convenient times isn't enough, either; you need to practice in a variety of circumstances.
  • If it's an evacuation plan, run it at different times of day and evening, in varying weather, and in all seasons. Summer traffic, or schooltime traffic, or winter weather can dramatically effect travel times and available routes. 
  • If it's a bug-in plan, figure out what it takes to be comfortable in your home for extended periods in every season. If one good thing comes of the current global pandemic, it's that folks are getting some firsthand experience with this.

It all boils down to this: Make a plan, test your plan, amend your plan. Lather, rinse, repeat.


Monday, June 29, 2020

Friday, June 26, 2020


Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.
As I said previously, Dunbar's Number is the number of active relationships humans can sustain, and therefore anyone within that number is someone we care about. and is effectively part of our tribe. Anyone outside that number is at best someone we don't care about, and at worst is regarded as a competitor for scarce resources. It therefore follows that humans will find ways to relate to those people within their monkeysphere, and we do that in a manner known as groupness.

What Is Groupness?
The term was coined by social psychologist Henri Tajfel who stated that various animals, including humans, form in groups with common characteristics. Among humans, these characteristics are:
  1. People within the group share common rituals and norms. This means that there is a shared sense of what is allowed within the group and what is not, and that there are some tasks which everyone does and some tasks which fall to certain people, like elders.
  2.  A common understanding of history and purpose. The group has been together long enough to have shared stories or in-jokes that outsiders are not privy to or wouldn't understand, and everyone within the group shares a common ideal. 
  3. The ability of members to sustain the group through challenges. Not only does this mean group effectiveness in overcoming obstacles, but it also means that the group pulls together under stress and members look out for one another as an example. 
Let's examine the groupness of preppers.
  • We all have emergency supplies which we own and maintain, and we have disaster plans which we refine and practice. That's our norm. 
  • When we see someone in our group making a mistake, like engaging in unsafe behavior or buying improper gear or giving bad advice, we correct them. If we see an incorrect depiction of preppers in the media, we ridicule it. That's one of our common rituals.
  • Some of us are very vocal about preparedness and we all have strong opinions, but we generally leave the task of teaching to those of us who are eloquent, responsible and have some degree of respect within the group. 
  • Our common purpose is, of course, to prepare ourselves and others for emergencies so that we can all survive.
  • Our common history involves us making jokes about how the great toilet paper shortage of 2020 wasn't an inconvenience to us because we already had all we needed, laughing at the unprepared people who stood in line at Costco for hours, and how we suddenly weren't as crazy as the media depicted us. We use words like BOB, TEOTWAWKI, INCH, WROL, and other in-group jargon terms.
  • Our common ideal is, of course, to weather a disaster with as little disruption to our lives as possible. 
  • The entire purpose of a prepper's Tribe is to create a group which pulls together during stressful times where we all look out for one another. We even saw this to a lesser extent here, on this blog and in our Facebook group, where we supported one another during the rough spots and exchanged advice, hints and tricks that worked for us in the hopes that they would help other people. 

Is It Good or Bad?
It sounds like groupness is a great thing, doesn't it? Well, it is and it isn't. Groupnesss can accomplish a lot, but with it it comes the risk of becoming insular. It's all too easy for members to stop listening to anyone not within their group and an echo chamber emerges where challenging thought isn't permitted.
As Laurence Gonzales said in Mob Mentality: the Failures of Groupness,
When the in-group encounters individuals from outside the group, the default response is hostility. People protect their group from outsiders and from outside influences. For example, we will reject information, habits, and culture from other groups.

The power of groupness is not to be underestimated. If a group invests a lot of effort in a goal and succeeds, its boundaries become stronger, and it tends to become even more hostile to outside influences. This may not be overt hostility. It may simply be a subtle and unconscious tendency to reject anything from another group.
We preppers do this a lot as well. Some of us make it difficult for new members to join, or for new modes of thought to be accepted. (For example, see the division between primitive survival skills enthusiasts vs. those who want to use the best, most advanced gear possible.) In worst-case scenarios, an entire culture develops around not allowing dissenting thought or not challenging the elders, and this becomes groupthink.

As an example, consider NASA in the 1980s. They had put men on the moon multiple times over the past decade, and so they weren't open to any suggestion that how they were operating the Space Shuttle was dangerous. The thinking was "Don't tell us how to do our job. We know what we're doing." This culture became so pervasive that even though there were multiple failures within a launch, these were defined as 'acceptable' simply because the launch was successful. Groupthink from groupness blinded them to hazards until something happened that they couldn't ignore: the explosion of Challenger in 1986.

So in other words, when groupness is bolstered by a few lucky victories, it can blur the line between actual success in achieving a goal sensibly and a close call that fortunately didn't turn into disaster... this time.

How Does This Apply to Prepping?
Preppers need to understand how groupness works and must be able to recognize the signs of isolation and groupthink when they appear. This is important because preppers already form into circles, groups or tribes of like-minded people -- groupness in action -- and so when disaster strikes, we need to be wary that we don't fall into the trap of groupthink.

Additionally, we need to realize that post-disaster, other people will form their own groups as well and will likely regard us preppers with the same hostility and other-ness.

Finally, preppers need to realize that just because we got away with something once doesn't mean that it was a good idea. Similarly, just because something worked in the past doesn't mean it will continue to work in the future.

For more information on groupness in a survival situation, I encourage you all to read this three-page PDF Groupthink in Outdoor Adventure Settings. It's a fast, easy read full of useful information for all of us.

In Conclusion
Dunbar's Number means that human brains are inherently wired for tribalism. Those within our monkeysphere are seen as human and are valued; those outside out monkeysphere are at best seen as faceless things to interact with and at worst as "the other" which must be destroyed.

Because of this tribalism, we practice groupness. In so doing we surround ourselves with like-minded people with similar values, shared goals and a unifying history and language. This reinforces "us vs. them" and "we are right, they are wrong" thinking.

Groupness leads to groupthink, where outside ideas are seen as dangerous to the group and are rejected without consideration in favor of "we've always done it this way." Unfortunately, this can lead to stagnation or even disaster.

Thursday, June 25, 2020


Being somewhat of a gun nut, I pay attention to the newer offerings from the various manufacturers. This week, one caught my eye that demanded a bit of research and led to the idea for today's article.

Firearms require ammunition; that's a basic fact. In times of crisis, finding a ready supply of ammunition can be a problem. Most of us get around that potential problem by stockpiling ammunition and/or components to reload our spent brass, but there are some who choose a different path. They want a gun that can fire a variety of different calibers so they can take advantage of whatever they can find. There are several common calibers that have interchangeable partners, like firing .38 Special in .357 Magnum or .22 LR in a .22 WMR (don't try to go the other way! They won't fit, and if you do manage to insert one and fire it you will damage your firearm or yourself!), but a few enterprising people have come up with ways to make guns capable of firing more than just two or three calibers from the same frame.

Medusa M47 Revolver
Based on the venerable S&W K-frame revolvers, this pistol has a unique extractor system that would work with rimmed or rimless cartridges. Advertised to work with around 25 current cartridges, you could feed it another 50 or so obsolete cartridges if that's all you have.

Since the .38 Special/.357 Mag family uses 0.357 inch bullets while the .380/9mm family uses 0.355 inch bullets, the Medusa uses a 0.357 inch barrel. The slightly smaller 9mm bullets don't bite into the rifling as much, but they at least head in the right direction.

Introduced in the late 1990s, this handgun didn't fare well in the market and production ended after only 500 were made. The price was twice that of a comparable .357 Magnum, and poor accuracy from the smaller bullets not engaging the rifling, and a sometimes sticky extraction, led to poor reviews. They are now a collector's item, and prices are well over $2000 for one in good shape.

Scavenger 6
This is the new gun that caught my eye. Advertised as a survival gun, it is basically a standard revolver frame with a very long cylinder and a barrel extension to make the collapsible butt-stock legal*. The long cylinder is referred to as a “Cylinder Barrel” in their ads, which tells me that the front portion of the cylinder is the only part that has any rifling.

The “Cylinder Barrel” (CB) is available in a few different combinations of calibers (21 to choose from), but most of them are 6 different caliber choices per CB. Priced at roughly $1700 for the basic package and $8000 for the deluxe kit with additional CBs costing $300-400, this is not one for someone on a tight budget.

Just off the top of my head I can see several potential problems with this gun:
  • Advertised as being able to shoot common calibers from .22LR to .308/7.62x51mm, you're going to need their special cylinder case just to carry all of the extra parts.
  • I have my doubts about the comfort, reliability, and longevity of the collapsible stock they chose. It reminds me of the wire-frame stocks found on submachine guns of the mid-20th century, but those SMGs fired 9mm rounds and were blow-back operated, so the felt recoil would be a lot less than any rifle cartridge fired from a single-shot (fixed action) “rifle” like the Scavenger 6. That oval of steel tubing for a butt-pad looks like it'll be painful with a rifle cartridge.
  • Yes, I said single-shot. Each CB has 6 chambers, but each chamber is for a different caliber. This might be suitable for hunting if the accuracy is good enough, but I can think of several much less expensive single-shot rifles on the market that would be quicker to reload for a second shot.
  • The CB is the barrel, so you're looking at maybe 6” of rifling to stabilize a bullet. This is sufficient for most handgun calibers, but nowhere near enough to get any accuracy out of a rifle cartridge. Good luck hitting a deer-sized target at any range past 50 yards with a 6” barrel and a bullet that normally gets at least one full revolution in a rifle barrel!** I've seen a lot of large-game handgun hunters, but they're using hand-crafted ammunition in exceptional handguns to hit what they aim at.

T/C Contender
My choice for a multi-caliber firearm would be the tried and tested Thompson/Center Contender or Encore. The Contender is the older style, introduced in 1967, but there are still plenty of companies making barrels for them. The Encore is an updated version, with a better trigger and stiffer frame for better accuracy. 

You can find, or have made, barrels in any caliber you want from .17HMR to .45-70 Government so the variety of choices is much wider than the options above. Barrels are quick to change, have their own front and rear sights (or scope), and the simple break-action design is quick to reload after some practice. Accuracy from a quality barrel is often better than what the shooter can do; I've seen half-inch groups at 100 yds from a bench. Stocks and barrels from 6” to 20” may give an overly-zealous law enforcer some room to hassle an owner, but I've never heard of any major problems.

Priced around $400 for the frame (which is the serial-numbered part), you can add barrels as your budget allows. Barrels vary in price by popularity and condition; I usually see at least one table full of used Contender barrels at the larger gun shows and new ones in common calibers are selling for $300-400. Custom-cut barrels in “Wildcat” chamberings can get expensive, but that's for the true gun nuts who demand the best they can get.

Like most things in life that try to do everything, none of the multi-caliber guns does all of them well. You will be trading speed, reliability, accuracy, or cost to get more functions stuffed into a tool. I've used and carried a variety of multi-tools over the years and they mostly worked at a “fair” level, but never as well as the tool that was designed for that task. Guns aren't much different.

* The government has silly rules about putting a butt-stock on a pistol; they call such combinations Short Barreled Rifles which require a Tax Stamp and a $200 fee, if your state allows them.

** Rifling is expressed in “twist”', the number of times the bullet will make a complete revolution in a given distance. .223/5.56mm is usually 1:7 or 1:9 inches, with heavy bullets using 1:12. .308/7.62mm is usually close to 1:10 inches. That means that a common AR-15 with a 16 inch barrel will spin a bullet twice before it leaves the barrel. The spinning motion helps keep the bullet flying in a straight line, pointy end first, making it more likely to hit what you're aiming at.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Prudent Prepping: An Unexpected Wake-Up Call

The dust has settled and the First 72 Hours have passed. Follow along as I build a long term plan via Prudent Prepping. 

It wasn't the wake-up call I wanted, but it definitely woke me up!

BeepBeep! Fire! Fire!
My smoke detector went off last night, complete with computer voice and flashing lights. There's nothing like coming out of a sound sleep to see the detector in my bedroom flashing and squawking. Since I don't have any habits that might set off a detector and I saw nothing burning, that meant it could only have been set off from outside my bedroom.

Which is on the second floor.

I have related my experience of being in a structure fire and how I plan to exit a 2nd story if there's a fire where I live, and last night I thought it might be the time. My housemates and I have practiced how to evacuate, but each time we did that it was done in the daylight. Last night, we were all looking at bailing out of a real burning building, at night, half awake but full of adrenaline. Fortunately, I was awake enough to feel the door -- it was cool -- and I then opened it carefully to check if things were really burning or if there was any smoke.

None. All Clear. None of us are sure why the alarms went off randomly, but they did. We even called our utility company once when the carbon monoxide alarm went off, only to find out that things were fine.

What Now?
I don't have a good answer today, since I got about 3 hours sleep, but my housemates and I are going to talk more this weekend on what happens if it's dark when the real emergency happens. After three cups of coffee this morning, it hit me that even though I've got important papers in a box ready to be dumped into a bag, what about some of the other things I have? I need to think about grabbing computers, firearms, and ammunition if there's time... but only after several nights of calm, relaxing sleep.

Recap And Takeaway
  • If you've read this blog for any length of time, you'll know that we all have written about bugging out and the importance of good planning. I know what happens when there isn't a good plan, so practice, practice, practice your plan so your actions are automatic. That way you will know what you have to do, even if you are half awake.
* * *

Just a reminder: if you plan on buying anything through Amazon, please consider using our referral link. When you do, a portion of the sale comes back here to help keep this site running!

If you have comments, suggestions or corrections, please post them so we all can learn. And remember, Some Is Always Better Than None!

NOTE: All items tested were purchased by me. No products have been loaned in exchange for a favorable review. Any items sent to me for T&E will be listed as such. Suck it Feds.

The Fine Print

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial- No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Creative Commons License

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