Thursday, May 12, 2016

Practice, Practice, Practice

Skills take time to learn, and if you don't keep using them they can deteriorate over time. Building a fire, pitching a tent, cooking over an open fire, accurately using any weapon, and first aid all come to mind when thinking about prepping, and they're all skills that need to be practiced.

How does a prepper get needed practice without attracting unwanted attention? Good Operational Security (OPSEC) means not letting the neighbors know what you have and can do, which minimizes the problem of how to deal with the unprepared people who may want your stuff when TSHTF.

Primitive camping and traveling through natural areas are often a part of a prepper's list of skills. Getting a chance to use those skills can be a challenge if you live in an urban area; most HOAs frown upon people building a debris hut in their backyard. Day trips to local/state/federal parks can offer a chance to practice hiking (as well as help you test and break in new gear) and overnight stays are possible in some of them. Follow the rules as best you can: no open fires if they're not allowed, pack out your trash, etc. Living out of your Bug-out Bag for a day will show you flaws and shortcomings in your choices of gear, as well as let you get used to using the stuff that works. Remember to clean and restock your gear when you get back home (I usually watch the expiration dates on things and use the oldest stuff for practice).

If you're getting off the beaten path, you can practice map and compass or GPS skills. Geocaching groups are another way to get in some practice with land navigation skills.

First Aid
You need to get proper training and supplies, but once you have them you also need to practice using them. I volunteer as medical aide at just about any gathering I attend; my trauma bag is about the size of a day pack and travels with me in my truck, so I usually have it close anyway. I can toss it under the table at a convention or keep it in a back room at a temporary job. When I was a Cub Scout leader, it went with me to every meeting and campout.

Most of the things I deal with are the minor injuries that occur in everyday life, but I have rendered aid at a couple of serious accidents. Know your limits and offer to help; you'd be amazed at the reception you'll get from an event organizer for offering to be an extra part of the medical aid staff (which is always short-handed).

Firearms are fairly simple to practice with: you'll need to find a range or site that will let you shoot, which can be a problem in gun-unfriendly areas. If you're using a public range, try to pick a time when it is less likely to be full of people. Most gunnies are good people, but there are plenty of law enforcement types that use public ranges and will take note of who is there and what they're shooting. I prefer to limit myself to three or four guns max if I'm at a public range, partly out of paranoia and partly out of a desire to focus on those specific guns.

If you live in an area devoid of shooting ranges, or the local laws are so prohibitive that you don't want to be seen (or caught) with a gun in public, you may want to look into air-powered guns. From the lowly BB gun to the high-end Airsoft replicas of common firearms, you can safely set up your own shooting range in a basement or hallway. Sight picture and trigger control are essential to accuracy, and practice with an air-powered gun will transfer to the real thing. Recoil and noise are missing, but you'll get to practice something useful. Simunitions and similar sub-caliber training aids are available if you have the money for them.

Edged weapons are a bit trickier to practice with: unless you are involved with a martial arts groups that trains with swords and knives, the only way to get useful practice is by joining a LARP (Live Action Role Playing) or SCA (Society of Creative Anachronism) group. Both of these groups deal with re-enacting or re-creating a period of time from the past, with as much detail as possible. Mock battles are often staged and are about the only way I can think of to get close to “live fire” practice with blades. SCA groups are also a good way to learn new skills from those who have been doing it for a long time.

Power Outages
This is the easiest to practice: just shut everything off for a weekend. If you live in your own house, find the fuse/breaker box and pull/trip the main one (usually located at the top of the box). For apartment dwellers, you'll have to go through and turn everything off individually if you don't have a fuse/breaker box. It's usually a good idea to warn everyone in the house before killing the power, but that's up to you.

If you plan on using a generator for electricity, this will give you a chance to experience how much fuel it will consume under load (usually a lot more than just idling when you fire it up for the monthly check) and may help you further refine your plans.

Practice Makes Permanent
Contrary to the old adage, practice does not make perfect; instead, practice makes permanent. If you learn and practice something poorly (or wrong), that is the way you will use that skill when you need it. Practice your skills where and when you have back-up resources. If the generator won't run all night, or the tent isn't fully rain-proofed, it's nice to find these things out in a situation where you can abort the practice run and go back to “normal” conditions.

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