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For the last several years lots of responsible citizens have followed the advice of experts and begun storing extra food at home. Most have gone out and purchased a gun or two or three and stocked up with ample quantities of ammunition. The sale of gold coins has pushed the price to heretofore unheard of levels. Prepping is now a growth industry. Snicker if you will but society benefits when citizens take responsibility for their safety and well being. But there’s a problem . . .

Plenty of industrious preppers now find themselves with a plethora of gear but little skill or knowledge of how to use it. To paraphrase the late Colonel Jeff Cooper, “Owning a gun doesn’t make you a gunfighter anymore than owning a guitar makes you a musician.”  We’ve all suffered, gritted our teeth and smiled as we listened to the self-taught musician. The self-taught shooter is pretty much the same. They might get by without hurting themselves but they possess little true skill. (Yes, I know there have been self-taught musicians that succeeded and went on to fame and fortune so save your comments.)

You can’t buy your way around training

Far too often people, men being the biggest offenders, will try to buy their way around training and practice. They spend thousands on the most expensive firearms they can find, then equip these guns with high-powered scopes, red dots, and laser aiming devices. All of these accessories can enhance the ability of a trained shooter, but in the hands of an untrained novice they’re not much better than expensive toys. The red dot sight won’t fire the rifle and the laser doesn’t guide bullets to the target.

I’ve known guys who purchased $3000 custom M1911 pistols, hand-bonded exotic leather holsters and never attended a single professional training course. Although they might not realize it, they are trying to buy their way around training. James Yeager of Tactical Response equates training to buying a new car and making payments. “When you attend a training course you make the down payment on the skill you need. After returning home you must continue to practice what you’ve been taught.  That act is like making regular payments.  If you make enough payments you own the skill.”

Sonny Puzikas, a former Spetsnaz soldier, now a confirmed capitalist firearms trainer, once offer that, “You cannot buy skill.  When you combine professional instruction with dedicated practice, the end result is skill.”

Mindset: The Toughest Part

The first step toward the development of skill is acceptance – the admission to oneself that you are lacking in a certain skill. This is absolutely the most difficult concept for most adults to grasp and admit to themselves.

The hierarchy of training was explained to me by John Farnam more than twenty years ago. It flows like this; Unconscious Incompetence (blissfully ignorant or you don’t know what you don’t know), Conscious Incompetence (realizing you don’t know, but are willing to learn), Conscious Competence (if I think about it, I can do it), and finally the end goal, Unconscious Competence (I can do it without having to stop and think about it).

Most citizens fall into the Unconscious Incompetence category. They deceive themselves into believing that if they ever need to perform in a crisis that the will or desire to perform can make it so.  That’s like sitting in the cockpit of an airplane with no training but telling yourself that you could fly the plane if it was “really an emergency.” Gun owners do this all the time. “Well, I might not have training, but if I ever need to fight I’ll know what to do.”  That thinking is delusional, but it’s also comfortable and thereby far too easy to accept.

When someone makes the transition to Conscious Incompetence, they think “I realize I don’t have the skill but I want to get some.” They’ve overcome a tremendous obstacle and the road to proficiency and genuine skill is opened up in front of them. As soon as you overcome the denial stumbling block and accept that you in fact don’t know it all, that’s when the learning can begin.

More than Guns

For the prepared citizen – the family that has indeed purchased extra food, firearms, medical supplies, etc. – the road to skill and genuine security has several milestones. Many will purchase pre-stocked bug out bags, survival kits, and medical gear. Based on the suggestions of experts or from watching television, these folks will buy a medical trauma kit, but again, all they really have now is gear without the skill to use it.

Should find yourself or a loved one lying on the ground leaking badly, that’s not the time to try to read a manual to figure out what to do. Reality check: how many of you purchased some type of battle or military trauma dressing from a catalog but have never taken it out of the package? If someone you care about was bleeding to death, would you have the skill to apply that bandage or would you simply be making it up as you go along?

In the same way, I’ve had people tell me that if things got “too bad” they would live off the land, hunt, kill, and eat wild game. Most of these same folks have never actually killed or eaten anything wild in their lives, much less done so with enough skill to feed themselves and their families. Again, it’s the self-deluded thinking that says “I’ll know what to do if the time comes.”

Genuine Skill leads to a Strong Mind

“The sword is more important than the shield, and skill is more important that either. The brain is the final weapon. All else is supplemental.” – John Steinbeck. While it’s not possible to will the body to acquire a skill, the possession of genuine, earned aptitude leads to a strong mind. When faced with a true crisis – a life or death situation – it’ss a strong mind that will guide you through to the other side.

But first the mind must accept that the body needs to be trained. When the mind and body are working in consort and real, tangible skill is achieved, the mind will be stronger and more resolute. What was once thought to be impossible now becomes achievable.  Self-imposed limitations begin to fall away, old boundaries at pushed back and horizons expand. The first step, however, always seems to be the hardest. Are you ready to take that step? In the end the choice is yours.

© Paul Markel 2012, reprinted with permission

Author Bio:  Paul G. Markel became a US Marine in 1987 and served this nation in time of peace and war. Mr. Markel has been a professional bodyguard, police officer and small arms and tactics instructor.  His lifelong training and skills are currently being put to use as an instructor at the recently launched “Emergency Tactical Skills” program.  The ETS program is an intensive, comprehensive training program designed to give the end user the skills they need to be victorious and survive the most hostile of situations.  For more info go to:   

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  1. Water purification equipment – if you can store large amounts of water, great. But it requires a bit of maintenance. Having a huge underground tank of pure clean H2O doesn’t do you much good if you have to bug out of there and can take only a few gallons with you. Accrue a collection of portable filters to ensure access to potable water.
    Social component – if there is a real SHTF breakdown, you’ll almost certainly have to deal with others. Some will be hostile, many will be neutral, a precious few could be potentially valuable allies. Telling them apart will be one of the most crucial survival skills. I’m betting that the hostiles won’t be scary-looking like the marauders in the beginning of The Road… they’ll look as presentable and non-threatening as possible, right up until they start shooting or stabbing.
    Part of combating this will be finding like-minded people who are intelligently preparing *before* the balloon goes up. An association of ready people, even a loose one, won’t have to even consider plundering from others, and can unify against those who would.

    • +1 As a serious answer to the question “Now what?” water will be the most important thing to get keep and preserve supply of. If it’s a real end of the world scenerio, such as nuclear war, or small pox, etc. I’m going to put little effort into surviving because I wouldn’t want to. A Katrina type event, where I have a good chance of civilization returning in a matter of a few weeks, or a few months, is a different story, and for that I am fairly well prepared.

      As a side note, I know a guy that says when things “go south”, the people that tresspass on his property will serve as fuel for his portable analog cordless alarm/security system (guard dogs).

  2. It would also be good to have a few cases of bourbon and a nice Chateauneuf du Pape in the bomb shelter. After all, the end of the world is no reason for life to become uncouth.

      • Comes TEOTWAWKI, I will remain extremely couth, friendly and nice — just don’t put a hand on my Woodford Reserve.

        • Looking contemplative, Ralph sets the glass on the mantle and takes a long pull from his pipe. “Well, just because it’s the end of the world doesn’t mean we can’t be civilized about it.”

      • Quite right. Just because there’s a psycho biker gang with green mowhawks and hockey pads running around, doesn’t mean we have to squat in a ditch poking berries up our noses.

    • That’s my only problem with long-term storage – beer just doesn’t do that well. Thankfully the components for home brew do much better with vacuum sealing and all.

      • A good barleywine should be fine for four to five years. Imperial stouts don’t keep quite as long, but still measured in years in my experience.

        • Never had barley wine and not familiar with the Imperial stouts. I love oatmeal and milk stouts so I guess I’ll have go cosmopolitan and find an Imperial to try. Any recommendations?

        • There are too many small brewers with regional markets to expect much success in finding specific brews in my area which are also available to you. (Some that may be mass-market enough to find far-and-wide are Brooklyn Monster (a barleywine) and Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout (an imperial)).

          BeerAdvocate is a good source for ratings and opinions. Click on any styles in the list for specific brews in that category.

        • Stone Brewing Company makes an Imperial Russian Stout that’ll put hair on your chest. They ship to most of the US, so you should be able to find some locally without too much trouble.

      • Scotch, brother! It’s lighter to carry, packs a punch, tastes like a campfire, and stores like a champ!

        • Everclear 196 proof – If needed it will be helpfull lighting a fire, cleaning wounds and will might melt a bullet. Having enough mixer would be the problem, sure as hell can’t drink it straight.
          Packs a punch – If bugging out take a jar of maraschino cherries drained and replaced with EC.
          Storage – Not a problem
          Bugging out is not an option due to extended family will come here, no place to go in SOCAL that 1,000’s of others are going and probably past the age requirement.
          Have food , water, clothing, weapons, ammo and essentials for short term.
          Informed family to bring something with them or I will eat them first.

        • When cleaning wounds with Everclear be sure to cut it with water first. A 62-70% percent solution of alcohol is more effective against bacteria and viruses than a higher concentration.

    • Oddly enough, Ralph most of the folks on here would benefit from your more simplistic idea. Too many folks are into this whole ‘prepping’ thing and it is silly to say the least. Many rural Canadians call it owing a home.

      Too many times have I seen a little old biddy and her husband having a truck pulled up at Costco to ship their dried food for a year back home.

      There are so many things that folks have wrong about this ‘prepping’ thing that it is frustrating to even talk about it and so I shall stop after this.

      The dude in the article keeps talking about learning to use gear and all the stuff you have. Here is a reality check for you. You won’t have that gear. One of you will be at work and you will be the one known as f^cked. The other will be at home with all the gear and not all the people needed to get it to where it is needed. They are also referred to as f*cked because the whole plan just took a shit.

      Prep in your head because that’s all that you will really have when it comes no matter how much you bought.

      • Some people will never be ready, I keep gear i need in my auto, survival bag, firearm, ammo, cleaning kit, and lots tools, and the skills, and mind to use….

    • I just so happen to have a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape in my cellar. I am in Napa, after all. It’s right next the expensive handguns and 1 million rounds of ammo!

  3. I have a friend who is sort of in the survival thing and has a Ruger .45 ACP Pistol and a Spikes AR-15 with a red dot scope. Guy has done some practicing with his weapons, but has never hunted. He has some food and water stockpiled. He keeps going on about bugging out and traveling light and living off the land. I keep wondering exactly where he is going to bug out and travel light to what location. I really do not consider the weapons he has to be great hunting weapons. He has no hunting experience. I really do not consider travelling light for the supplies to last very long. I doubt if friendly gas stations and restaurants will abound on his trip to where ever.
    Really, I would say that most of us probably will not last very long without the necessities of the ” civilized ” world.
    I now have a medical condition that requires pharmacuetical supplies, so I do not think I would do really well over a long period of time.

    • I’ve perused a few of the survivalist/prepper forums and it seems some fellas imagine living off the bounty of the land as if they are the only ones to be doing it in their area. If it comes to some sort of societal breakdown anyone and everyone who gets hungry will be trying to shoot whatever game they can find with whatever firearm they have. Not everybody hunts but everyone’s at least heard of it. The woods will be mighty crowded with folks who’ve never hunted but are willing to give it a crack when their family is starving. To my way of thinking living off the land and game is a stop-gap measure.

        • mmm, brainnnsss. I mean ribs, I mean cows. Uh, I eat cows, not people. Human brains are gross. I mean I think they are, I wouldn’t know. I am totally not a zombie.

          Last zombie joke from me as I water ski over the shark pen in my cool leather jacket.

    • “He has some food and water stockpiled. He keeps going on about bugging out and traveling light and living off the land.”

      That is better than some-who has two thumbs and is not prepared for teotwawki? This guy!

      That being said, live off the land? I love fantasizing about teotwawki as much as anyone, but I also read non-fiction books about wars. If you think it is going to be like “The Road,” you couldn’t be more wrong if you thought it would be like “Monsters Inc.” At best it will be like “Tae Guk Gi” (because it’s fiction) and realistically it will be more like “Hell in a Very Small Place” (lots of dysentery, rats, and trenchfoot, and no food, and you are trapped in a small, hellish place where there is nothing to hunt but rats).

      Also, if you haven’t read “Hell in a Very Small Place” you should. Bernard Fall is the shiz.

  4. Actually, in a survival situation, it might be best to have .22lr rifle and eat people’s pets and small game; and maybe people. Kitty Cutlets and Soylent Green?
    I would imagine the large animals such as horses and milk cows will be consumed rapidly.

    • Definitely. A “bug out” kit without a 22LR and some bricks of ammo is silly. As for where to go, my most sensible friends and family have all decided to go to sea, out to the gulf stream. Lots of meds, physicians, a dentist, wind and solar power sources, lots of fishing gear, appropriate firearms, and bathing suits…and cases of booze. Ocean space and fish are much more plentiful than anything on land. The ability to choose your landing spot later is not a trivial benefit. Even my most highly esteemed recently-retired SOCOM Colonel friend has accepted the sense of this strategy and moved to the deep-water coast. Corrosion-resistant redundant radio gear is important. This all adds up to a normal August’s preparations anyway. Not much spending required beyond the boat. In a sense it’s all a crock. But if it means a great three month voyage with friends, who cares? The important point is to have a few weeks to enjoy the wiskey without hoards of hungry people overrunning you.

  5. I’m going to bet that if the SHTF like some of these people think it will, one would be better off punching out early in the calamity.

    Sure, you’re still alive, but do you really want to be?

  6. If society breaks down, I am dead. I depend on pharmaceuticals to survive. My wife and I don’t own property in the country or the mountains, and we don’t hunt. She’s disabled. Bugging out would be pointless. And I suspect that millions of us are in the same boat. Makes planning all that much easier! I am much more concerned about the gangbangers, the early release felons and the meth heads that have a fondness for home burglary and using cutting implements on their victims.

  7. Delusional – check

    Living in my own little fantasy land – where I am King of the Apocolypse – check

    Thinking I can “live off the land” – check

    The reality is that I will probably be bawling like a little school girl because my Xbox 360 don’t work no more – now that is more likely.

  8. There’s is an alternative, seek Divine Intervention! There has to be at least a few here who have used the old “Dear Lord, get me out of this mess and I swear I’ll never get into a fix like this again!” 😉

  9. Here is a profound notion for my fellow firearms enthusiasts/prepared citizens: As a group, we should all lose some weight.

    A couple of years ago, I was in my local gun shop purchasing a Ruger LCP, mostly as a curiosity (they were brand spanking new at the time). At the counter next to me was a gentleman who was clearly pushing his frame up into the 300lb territory, and the yellowish teeth and cigarette smoke smell told me that food was not his only deadly sin.

    With a straight face, this guy informs me that a puny .380 offers neither the caliber or the capacity to deal with the threat of multiple attackers.


    It is quite pathetic how some of my fellow citizens are prepared to save the day if they happen to be in the Nakatomi Plaza when Hans Gruber tries to take it over – an event with a statistical probability of exactly zero. While these guys chew their cud over tactical minutia, their cardiovascular health, endocrinological state and joint deterioration are all setting about to insure a slow, painful and early death with a probability of 100%. And even if their exceedingly pathetic health doesn’t do them in, how is some 300 lb wale ever going to operate in a real-deal gunfight? Answer: Very Poorly.

    Of course, we all really know what is going on here: people like to lie to themselves about why they are buying half the crap they have, so they concoct fanciful scenarios under which that 5th AR buildout might ever be useful.

  10. Can someone please point out an instance in history where there has been a complete societal breakdown? Humans are social creatures by nature. All this apocalyptic prepping nonsense is just standard death wish baloney best left to religious zealots and zombie movie aficionados.

    I’m sick of it.

    • Society doesn’t have to completely go to hell for things to start to really suck. Ask an Argentine. Or more recently, a Greek.
      The world didn’t end, it just got s**ttier.

      Now, think about the financial mess we’re in………

      Some firearm training and a nice healthy garden sounds like a pretty good idea to me.

      • Argentinians didn’t head to the hills or carry rifles around in public.

        I once read a post on some firearms site from an Argentinian who lived through the tumultuous times there. They said they would’ve been arrested for open carrying a long arm and viewed as a crazy person. He did conceal carry a pistol, though.

        • You are absolutely right, they didn’t.
          The Lone Rider of the Apocalypse scenarios people come up with are complete fantasy.
          All I’m saying is that there ain’t a thing wrong with preparation for the sort of thing that does actually happen.
          Some self-reliance might make the transition to a more austere environment a lot easier to take.

        • Surviving in Argentina: He’s also camping out in Ireland for the time being, so far as I can tell. But yes, the authorities will still be around after the so-called SHTF. Go to sea. (Everytime I read of people ‘taking to the woods’ I just hear Duelling Banjos in the background.)

    • Probably the Thirty Years’ War – didn’t matter which side your village was on, it was apt to be plundered repeatedly by just about any passing band of armed men.

  11. Forget about gold.
    Ammunition, edible plant/vegetable seeds, tobacco, potable water, food stuffs, soap, fuel now that is worth its weight in gold when it comes to trading.

  12. Mark N I’m in the same boat, Insulin dependent Diabetic.In a complete breakdown of society my life will be over in a few months. So my preparations are for what I can handle, hurricane ? Check, Compete breakdown of society ? Hello dirt nap.

  13. An interesting book to read is Alas, Babylon. It provides a simple yet plausible scenario for what happens next after an event.
    Survival may well depend on luck as much as preparation.

  14. Great article, especially training. You cannot buy your way to proficiency.

    As far as survivalism goes, I am very skeptical of the “apocalypse” scenario . Images of lone suriviors living off the land with their AR15 belong in the same Hollywood garbage bin as guns akimbo and bottomless magazines. In reality governments don’t go on vacation very long. Maybe a week , perhaps two, will elapse before some form of regime emerges from the ashes to call the shots. You may not be able to predict the party or political affiliation, but you can bet the bottom dollar any concept of civil rights will at best be temporarily suspended, if not permanently abrogated. Bye Bye entire Bill of Rights. Hello “state of emergency”.

    Real-life survivalism is based less on water filters and survival bunkers, and more on navigating an urban environment where currency’s inflating 1000% an hour.Unlike the lone ranger theory, there’s not much screen value in showing a guy trading foreign currency in an alley so he can afford to eat.

  15. I do not buy into the doomsday scenarios. I do believe everyone should be prepared. As anyone on the east coast found out when the storms hit last September and October, state and local governments are not prepared. No electricity = no grocery stores and no gas stations.

    I was without power for almost 3 weeks, but I had a generator, food but came up a little short on water. Most of my neighbors where SOL. I will be prepared next time for a month, but that is about it!

    I do agree everyone should be trained and have a plan but I cannot for the life of me get to the point where I am stock piling for a year.

    It is plain and clear to me that governments are not prepared for the same reasons we are talking about here, they don’t train or plan nor are they prepared. it is up to everyone to be self sufficient and not rely on help for at least a month – more than that will depend on individual situations and fear.

  16. Maybe I missed something…..but I thought the gist of the article could be summed up as “You can’t buy skill in a bubble pack on aisle 9. You need to learn to use what you have, and use it well, BEFORE ….whatever.”

  17. “You can’t buy your way around training” Ok – I get it. How many of us though have actually devoted their lives to something other than tactical BS. For most of us, it is some form of profession or job, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that profession is tactical or training others to do what it is that tactical responders do. So you are a dedicated tactical trainer – good for you. What I am talking about is time – time to get proficient, time to practice, time to stay proficient, time for . . ., and time for work, bills, family, kids, chores, etc. Practice? Maybe tomorrow.

    For most folks, it is unrealistic to assume that you are going to get a person to transform into a “tactical” zombie repeller. You might get 90% of your students to take your one class maybe two, but after that, their lives will take over and the “tactical” thing will be put back on the back burner. The remaining 10% might take every class you have to offer and will become loyal dedicated followers – who knows?

    An example that comes to mind is martial arts, which I was into very heavily when I was a kid and teenager. Life took over though, and my path to become an enlightened ninja was cut short. Could I still kick some serious butt? Maybe, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

    My point is realism. I may take one class or two. I may practice more with my .22LR pistol because whatever other caliber is too expensive. I may think to myself that I just want to be 100% ready for that one gangbanger fight like my old sensei wanted to be ready for. Really? One mistake or one mis-step – your dead. That doesn’t mean do nothing, but while you are training or whatever, keep your wits about you and hope for the best because that is really all you can do.

    Thinking you have control over anything is an illusion.

  18. The sign says it all. I am trained with a rifle, right at home with one. But, if I were to go to a “refresher” course, I would keep my mouth shut and pay attention. I do have a pistol for home and road, but, other than reflex tactics, fire and move, cover cover cover, I am not as skilled with a pistol as I should be. In a survival mode, well, any tools you got are better than none. I may be the exception, but I move and and react different with a rifle. Left handed 100%. With a pistol, either hand, as long as I keep both eyes open, and center it with left eye. Being well trained, and having a mindset that kicks in when needed is essential, you must be able to think and react while scared sh**less. Unfortunately, it is an acquired skill, you have to survive at least a few encounters.

  19. As a business school professor and firearms instructor, I am firmly committed to instruction and training. It is an invaluable investment.  I, like most of you, also have made prudent emergency preparations. 

    Now for the buzz kill: rather than prepping for what is likely to be a very, very unlikely, “black swan” event, I urge everyone to instead prepare for the more likely “end of days” scenario where you get old, get sick and die. In other words, do the hard(er) day to day work of spending prudently, saving (I recommend saving at least 10% of your pretax income), debt reduction, and planning. Also work on your health, health care proxy, long-term care insurance, and organ donation plans.

    And, yes, I, too, enjoy the “OK corral zombie shoot out” scenarios. Maybe we should just save them for the range, though.

  20. Stockpile that ammo. Dosent matter if you dont own a gun.

    Gold coins aernt going to be used for trades, but a handful of 5.56 or .40 S&W rounds ought to buy you some bread.

    Stockpile cigarettes, too. If some one smokes, they’ll always want some, and they’ll pay anything for them. They’re light, they last forever even in poor storage.

    They’re also a real quick way to make friends. Bum some one a cigarette, and they look at you as a human being.

  21. Two blondes….twenty gallons of whiskey, 32 cigars, 4,000,000 rounds of 5.56 mm ammo stored. I hope the end of the world happens before the blondes turn 30.


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