Urban Survival (Paladin Press, 2000), America's
leading survival author, Ragnar Benson, debunks the myth that the only way to
survive is to stock a retreat in the mountains. He tells urban dwellers how to
find water, trap and butcher game, preserve food, position a retreat for
maximum safety and barter with other survivors. Ragnar gives you the solid
information you will need to make it if the worst-case scenario becomes a
reality. In this excerpt from chapter 1, “Basic Survival Philosphy,” learn all
about the Rule of Threes.
You can purchase this book from the GRIT store: Ragnar’s Urban Survival.
“When it is extremely
important that your pants stay up, use both a belt and suspenders, along with
buttons on your shirttails,” a Russian proverb says. This basic homily echoes
the Golden Rule of Survival, known as the Rule of Threes.
The Pacific Northwest Nez
Percé Indians probably deserve the most thanks for refining this rule into a
genuinely workable survival plan. Most likely this plan became part of their
culture in about 1730 with arrival of their first horses. The Nez Percé were the
only tribe of North American Indians who learned to selectively breed their
stock, leading to development of the famous Appaloosa warhorse.
The Nez Percé were unique in
several other regards. They were the only tribe that did not routinely starve
every winter. They had a lifesaving survival plan that soon became an integral part
of their culture.
It was a model of
simplicity, explaining in large part its great success. The Nez Percé
discovered that for everything really, truly important to life, three separate
and distinct methods of supply must be developed. As it evolved through the
years, this Rule of Threes proved to be extremely wise. Obviously the Nez Percé
applied this rule to their life in the country, but experienced city survivors
have found that it works equally well for them.
The system’s corollary proved
equally profound. The Nez Percé found—especially in the short run—it does not
take very much in an absolute sense to stay alive. Elements of basic survival
were simply seen as food, water, energy, shelter, and possibly articles of
personal encouragement. In our culture these personal items might be art,
music, or perhaps a Bible. One woman I know believes this should include a hot shower
once a week. Because these items are so absolutely necessary, positive provision
for their supply must be made. Twentieth-century experience suggests that we
must include medications, clothing, and self-defense in this list. But we also
now know passive defense systems— such as simply laying low and hiding—are
often as effective as active ones.
First contact with Europeans
for the Nez Percé came on September 20, 1805, when Lewis and Clark rode down
out of the mountains into their remote area of what is now the state of Idaho. At that time the
Nez Percé already owned six modern (for that era) rifles! These had been
bartered from the Mandans
and Hidatsa, who had bought them from French and British traders. Because their
Appaloosa horses were so valuable, the Nez Percé were able to trade for equally
valuable items such as rifles, powder, and balls. Another rule of survival
comes into view.
Even before firearms, the
Nez Percé were able to survive using their Rule of Threes. Later on, having a
few figurative trade dollars in their pouches allowed them to survive in much
better style. It’s still true today—those with their financial houses in order
will survive better and more easily than those who are forced to live under more
basic conditions. Those with money for guns and ammo, especially in cities,
have a far better chance at survival.
While the basic Rule of
Threes works in a day-to-day, practical sense in the city or country, it can
also be deployed by those who are into recreational nuts-twigs-and-berries
primitive survival. The rule gently draws all of us into a workable plan. People
don’t have to leave their current homes for mice-infested, drafty cabins in the
hills in order to live.
Employing the Rule of
Threes, we know that when food is vital for you and your family’s survival, you
should develop at least three separate and distinct sources of supply. No one
source can in any way be dependent on the other for its implementation. Each on
its own should be capable of feeding you and your family during an emergency.
My father and his family in
post-World War I Germany, for example, relied on the rabbits and pigeons they
tended, the garden vegetables they raised, and wild edibles they found in the
fields and city parks, as well as what they bartered for with surrounding farmers.
They lived in the center of a large city.
In a more modern context,
city dwellers can expect to rely on their domestic rabbits, their gardens, and
scrounged edibles gathered from surrounding fields, parks, and rivers, as well
as consumption of stocks of previously stored supplies as needed.
The other vital rule is the
Rule of Survival Thermodynamics. This means that you must never put more energy
into a survival activity than is taken out. Those who fail to heed this warning
quickly become casualties.
This generally rules out
sport hunting and fishing, but opportunistic shooting of critters for the pot
in the course of other survival-related activities probably would not violate
Keep in mind that in Indian
cultures, most edible critters were caught in snares or deadfalls. Theories of
fair chase and conservation did not enter the equation.
Gardening as a survival
technique may also be impractical for many people who haven’t gardened before
in their specific area. However, survivors who are already practiced in their
city-based gardening skills can probably see a net gain for their efforts.
Foraging in the city can
also yield food, but it is difficult. Our early Indians learned to properly
treat acorn meat (washing out the tannic acid), hunt wild bees, dig edible
flower bulbs, and collect cattails and many other edible plants. Today, in the
city or country, the only foraging technique that practically qualifies for
most Americans involves gathering
cattails. Other edibles are sparse, hard to recognize, of little food value,
and generally unavailable in winter. As a practical matter, collecting nuts,
berries, and twigs generally makes little survival sense.
But the good news for city
dwellers is that cattails are everywhere. My old, old account regarding
cattails with which many survivors are already familiar, involves the time I
was riding in a taxi from National Airport at Washington, D.C., (now Ronald
Reagan National Airport) into town with a skeptical newspaper reporter anxious
to discredit all survivors. We passed acre upon acre of cattails growing wild
along the Potomac River. My point about these
being an excellent survival food that was commonly available in an emergency
was instantly made.
During the fall and winter,
cattail roots can be sliced and boiled, substituting for potatoes. In spring and
summer, tender shoots can be harvested and steamed for the table. In season,
cattail pollen is relatively easy to collect, substituting for flour as much as
50 percent by volume in biscuits. Green cattail flowers are also nutritious and
abundant when collected and eaten before they mature and brown. Most important,
easily identified cattails grow everywhere in the United States in great
abundance. Nothing else looks like a
cattail and they are never toxic. The danger is, of course, that over time,
many city survivors will obliterate limited city cattail beds, but so far this
has not happened. Despite my best efforts at promotion, few people seem to know
about and use cattails!
Another valuable food source
available to city dwellers is rabbits and pigeons. Those who have never raised
livestock before will find these animals fairly easy to raise. Rabbits are some
of the best composters available, and they eat just about any cellulose at
hand. After learning how to handle them, three females and a buck will produce enough
meat for two rabbit-meat meals per week, while simultaneously fertilizing the
garden. And they are good city animals. I recently discovered an extensive,
mostly hidden, rabbit enterprise in a crowded English city.
As a food source, common pigeons
are another critter with great charm when raised in the city. They fly out to
get their own food and water from a roost that can be established virtually anywhere.
Fifteen adults easily produce sufficient meat for another two meals per week.
There will be more about raising these critters in the city in this book.
Game animals of all kinds
from rabbits to carp are best trapped. Learning how isn’t difficult. Set out great
numbers of traps, repeating what works. In cities, expect to catch cats, dogs,
and rats; in the country, look for deer, rabbits, and geese. Trapping wild or
semiwild game is part of the Rule of Threes for both city and rural survival.
Bartering with farmers and
stockmen for edibles is another alternative. Those living near farms may be
able learn how to preserve harvests themselves.
Like country survivors, the
city variety must be willing and able to preserve their own food.
Most city survivors will
elect to make stockpiling a large part of their three-legged food survival program.
Understanding how to effectively stockpile intimidates some folks. Here’s a
simple way to determine what you’ll need: Instead of guessing about what you
think you’ll need, just start buying doubles of all the essential items you normally
purchase. For 8 months preceding the hour of need, start saving all these extra
supplies in one set-aside survival area. Soon there will be more than enough
lightbulbs, hand soap, sanitary napkins, coffee, and so on, to see you past an
Three sources of potable
water are a must. One source could be the municipal pipe into your home, but is
not a source you can count on. City dwellers might consider renting a shallow
well auger to sink their own backyard well. It is not too early to think about
the availability of pond, river, or lake water as part of one’s water Rule of
Threes. You’ll also want to consider a rig to catch and store rainwater from
house and building roofs. All that is needed to implement this collection
storage plan in most city circumstances are some extra gutter, plastic tarp,
and plastic storage barrels (which for some reason are most often blue). Other
suggestions are to store water in bottles, bladders such as waterbeds, or
fiberglass water tanks.
Planning three sources of
energy is not tough once you overcome the realization that they probably all
must be purchased well ahead of need or, within cities, actively scrounged up
by creative survivors. I plan to use 1,000 gallons of stored fuel oil to run my
generator and provide some heat, and 1,000 gallons of propane to cook, heat
water, and perhaps warm the house. Large propane storage tanks may not be legal
in cities, but I know of two current survivors who have 1,000-gallon propane
tanks buried out of sight under their garage floor. My third energy source is
25 cords of scrap wood that I can replenish from abandoned buildings and storage
areas as needed. I could heat, cook, and survive with scrap pallet wood alone.
Depending on one’s specific
circumstances, there are also coal, geothermal devices, solar cells, and fuel
cells. Small, increasingly inexpensive fuel cells used for direct electrical
conversion from LP (liquid propane) gas are coming on the scene. There are also
very unconventional fuel sources. My father ran out every time a team of horses
came by to scoop up any road apples, which were either dried for fuel or
shoveled into the garden as fertilizer. Although road apples have gone the way
of dinosaurs in most places, your city survival plan will eventually entail
these sorts of improvisations.
Shelter in our list of
threes also encompasses clothing and emergency medical supplies. Most people in
our outdoor-oriented society have sufficient boots, jackets, and warm, woolly
sweaters to wear when the place can’t be kept at 62 degrees. Emergency medical supplies
are a complex, separate, and very philosophical issue that should be addressed
by survivors as quickly as possible.
Shelter might be your
present home or apartment. First backup can include an abandoned cellar, backyard
dugout, a tent, or perhaps a cooperative area, depending on risk levels. Others
may have a travel camper, old bus body, or even an old warehouse in which to
hide a shelter. You may make tentative plans to move in with your kids or back
to your parents. Anything just so long as the Rule of Threes relative to
shelters is addressed.
It’s tough advice for city
people, but no matter what, never, never become a refugee. Survival rates among
refugees with no control of their destinies are dismal. Refugees are totally
the wards of government. If you believe the government does an adequate job of
running the post office, Social Security, and the military, then you will
probably be satisfied with the way it will run your life as a refugee.
Effective hiding is an important part of city survival as it relates to the
Rule of Threes.
Our technology is changing
quickly. For this and reasons of personal circumstances, skills, and likes and
dislikes, our personal survival plans are never final. Readers should include
survival means that I have never dreamed of within their own Rule of Threes. A
survivor in east Boise, Idaho, has his own private geothermal heat
well, for instance! We will miss opportunities unless we are constantly alert
This is the overall guiding
philosophy to survival. Obviously it applies to city survival. Commit to it and
you will live. To gloss over parts of it is to suffer extreme consequences.
This excerpt has been
reprinted with permission from Ragnar’s Urban
Survival: A Hard-Times Guide to Staying Alive in the City, published by Paladin Press,
2000. Buy this book from our store: Ragnar’s Urban Survival Guide: A Hard-Times Guide to Staying Alive in the City.