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What we celebrate

I’m sitting in my kitchen in Texas with a glass of iced sweet tea. It’s really good. My family (or “family of origin”) is from the area around Wilmington, NC, so sweet tea is not new to me. When I was a kid, moving all around the country, it was the only way people “back home” drank tea. Learning it was possible to drink and enjoy tea without sugar was a revelation to me. Today, though, is definitely a sweet tea day.

I’m in the kitchen so I can keep an eye on the smoker that sits on our patio. It contains a large beef brisket that I marinated for over 24 hours. Sometime this evening, the marinade plus low heat and a prolonged cooking time (“low and slow”) will have worked together to turn an otherwise difficult to manage cut of beef into something magical.

About noon, I’ll put the baked beans on the heat, along with some sautéed onions, slightly crispy bacon, and some other goodies. These, too, will combine to make something wonderful.

My wife will make her potato salad, for which grown, stolid men have been known to contemplate violence as the supply dwindles.

Friends, many of whom are part of our preparedness team, will come to our house, later today. We’ll eat too much, drink a lot of sweet tea (and some things that will necessitate not driving for a while).  We’ll talk and laugh. Like close friends do, we’ll draw closer and strengthen the bonds of our friendship.

With the exception of the time spent with friends, none of that is important.

Allow me to suggest the men who in July, 1776 (and later) signed a rather short document did not do so simply so you and I could enjoy a smoky, well-cooked beef brisket. It was not for the sake of parties, barbecues and cookouts that they signed their names to the Declaration of Independence. It was not for the purpose of watching fireworks Jefferson wrote

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

Surely, it was not so we could watch a parade that he would continue

“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

And it was most certainly not simply for the purpose of listening to politicians whose devotion to the cause of liberty seems at times dubious at best that he would write (with modification by others) and the signers would endorse

“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

The cause of liberty is far greater than the things we do today. Sadly, many Americans, heirs to a liberty that, though often sadly unrealized, denied to some and obstructed by the very representatives elected to protect it, are unaware this liberty has from its inception to the present day has been unparalleled in its intended scope. That the people, the “common man” if you will, should be free to determine and conduct their own affairs as they will, without any external constraint beyond not infringing upon the right of others to do the same, is as alien a concept today as it was in the 18th century. That this liberty is often infringed with the best of intentions makes it no less onerous. C.S. Lewis put it this way:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.”

Americans, I submit, did not inherit a freedom and liberty intended to save us from ourselves or one by which we attempt to do the same to others. Rather, we have inherited, at least in theory if not always in practice, one in which we are free to exercise our liberty in whatever way we will (absent infringing upon the same liberty of others), even if it is to our own less than desirable end. Anything less is a lesser freedom and a lesser liberty.

Today, it is this liberty we celebrate, not some artificially sweetened substitute offered to us by many on both the left and the right.

Three things

Since retiring from the Navy, I’ve had a number of management jobs. When you’re the “new boss,” employees want to know what to expect from you. They want to know what your expectations are of them. When I was on active duty, I had the good fortune to have a number of good department heads and commanding officers. One gave me the formula I still use when I have that first “Hi, I’m the new guy and here’s what I expect” meeting with staff. I like it because it’s simple, easy for me to remember, and it’s true. Here’s what I expect of people who work for me. I expect only three things.

  1. Show up on time, ready to work
  2. Do your job
  3. At the end of the day/shift, go home

That’s it. Sure, each of those can be explained in greater detail (and often should be), but those three things cover everything I expect.

What I’ve noticed lately is that this “three things” approach is applicable to a lot of areas of life. Remember, each of the things on these lists often encapsulate a myriad of concepts, ideas and skills.

I’m not a pilot. My Air Force pilot friend told me flying a plane is easy. He, too, had three rules to remember.

  1. Pushing the stick forward makes the ground bigger
  2. Pulling the stick back makes the ground smaller
  3. Everything else is airspeed

As a life coach, I’m often asked “why don’t I have everything I want socially/financially/professionally/insert area of life? A life coaching colleague gave me this little gem. He said, “In every area of your life, there are three, and only three, reasons you don’t have/achieve what you want.”

  1. You aren’t doing the right things
  2. You aren’t doing the right things long enough, consistently enough
  3. You suck as a person

(It’s important to note each of the three things above can be corrected)

I knew a personal fitness trainer who shared his three rules for how to get in shape. You must regularly

  1. Eat things you may not currently like
  2. Move until you sweat
  3. Push something heavy

A self-defense instructor told me his three rules for avoiding conflict and violence.

  1. Don’t go stupid places
  2. Don’t do stupid things
  3. Don’t hang out with stupid people

So, what “three rules” lists do you have?

A late thought for a solemn day

If, for you, today was an opportunity to barbecue and spend time with family and friends, I’m glad you had such an opportunity. Times spent with those who matter most to us are valuable and sometimes far too few. Now that the day is nearly done, I’d ask of you a very special favor. If you’ve not done so, take a moment, just a moment, to honor in memory the sacrifice of those who are not here because they paid the ultimate price in service to their country. Remember too, the pain and loss of their families. Thank you.

The best firearm for…

There have been many many words spent on the subject of the best firearms choices for survival / SHTF. Because I have an interest in both preparedness and hunting, it seemed reasonable to me to sacrifice a few more words to the effort.

Please understand a few things from the start. As I have noted in other places, I really don’t qualify as a hardcore survivalist or prepper. Also, while I spent just over 22 years in the United States military, including time “under arms” in an operational capacity, I make no claim to ever having been some sort of high-speed, low-drag, snake-eating operator. What I am is a pretty boring, middle-aged guy who began his military career as an E1 in the United States Coast Guard and retired as a lieutenant in the United States Navy Nurse Corps. I hunt, fish, raise rabbits and chickens, garden and hope, should things actually go south at some point, to ensure I, my family and a few very close friends are able to not only survive but actually thrive (at least relative to whatever the norm might be at that time). I said all that to say this: if you are hoping for an article that discusses the latest in uber tactical firearms and gear, or one that tells you which rifle/scope/bipod combination you would need to consistently make headshots at 750m, you should probably stop reading now because you are going to go away disappointed.

Survival is an interesting topic. I find it almost as interesting as some of the attitudes and opinions of many who write about it. At some point, on virtually every survival forum I have ever visited, someone will ask a question like this: “what is the best survival gun?” To be fair, you do get some very well-thought-out and well-reasoned responses. You also get a number of would-be pronouncements from on high by people who claim to have carried (insert weapon of your choice) in Iraq/Afghanistan/”can’t say because it was beyond top-secret” (the last, or some version of it, almost invariably comes from some mall ninja). While I find their ex cathedra comments interesting, they are also disturbing because, I believe, they can lead some people to believe things that just are not true. Even for those that are accurate, I fear they will lead people to believe something that is true in one situation is true in all situations.

So, for the person who asks “what is/are the best survival/SHTF gun(s),” I offer the following, with this caveat. These are the guns I have chosen for my situation and anything I think I might reasonably face. This leaves a few things out. For instance, I do not need an anti-material, anti-personnel rifle. Therefore, you will find no mention of the Barret M82 or any of its variants. Likewise, I’m no fan of excessive recoil, so you’ll find no mention of something like the .338 Lapua either.

If you read this blog regularly, you’ve probably noted my preference for bulleted lists. So, some bulleted questions related to the “best” survival/SHTF firearm(s).

  • What is your location?
    • Urban? Small town? Suburbs? Out in the country? On a large farm or ranch?
    •  How far away are your nearest neighbors?
    • Do you live in the mountains? The desert? The deep woods? The plains?
  • What do you mean by “survival?”
    • Feeding yourself with small game and/or using the firearm to slaughter livestock? Hunting big game for food? Hunting birds?
    • Perimeter defense?
    • Home defense?
    • Personal defense?
  • Does your SHTF plan center around bugging out or bugging in?
    • In each case, will you be part of a team or a lone wolf?

There are other questions that could be asked. I believe those are sufficient to cover most people. I’ll answer the questions and give my choices based upon those questions.

I live in a small, West Texas city (my wife calls it the biggest small town in America). We live in an older neighborhood with mature trees, houses not too close together (our property is right at 1/3 acres), and little traffic, though we are pretty close to one of the “main drags” in town. Depending on the direction you take out of town, and how far you go, the terrain is hilly, with a fair amount of vegetation (think mesquite and prickly pear), or pretty flat and boring. Our exterior walls are stone (not masonry) and I’m in the process of hardening the doors and windows. I’m also rebuilding, reinforcing and extending the fences. Our plan, should things ever reach the point of having to choose between bugging in and bugging out, is to bug in. The reasons are simple. Stone walls stop bullets far better than the walls of even the world’s best-made tent. If someone gets sick, it’s easier to recover at home than it is while hiding under a log or in a hole in the wilderness. My plan is to continue to raise rabbits and chickens. They provide high quality and low-fat protein, reproduce rapidly, and can be fed for not too much money if you plan carefully. I also have areas located for hunting both large and small game and birds. Perimeter, home and personal defense are all considerations. I do, indeed, have a team. Based on those answers, here are my choices.

Marlin Model 60. In spite of the tubular magazine, this little autoloader is still my favorite .22LR rifle, probably because it’s the one I grew up on. It’s hard to beat for small game harvesting and livestock slaughter (if we decide to start raising goats – this is, currently, an “up in the air” thing).

Marlin 336. A lever-action rifle in .30-30, it performs a number of tasks quite well. While it will never be as accurate or hard-hitting at its more powerful and flatter-shooting .30 caliber cousins, mine is capable of 2.5-3.0 inch groups at 200 yards with factory ammo (what I’m capable of is sometimes a little different, but that’s not the rifle’s fault). For me, it’s perfect for deer and feral hogs. If pressed into service for perimeter defense, its accuracy is sub “minute of zombie.” While the ammo capacity is limited relative to some rifles, it can be reloaded “as you go,” which is nice.

Ruger AR 556. Chambered in 5.56mm, it is more accurate when firing .223 ammo. That’s convenient, as there’s a lot more .223 out there, as well as a broader selection. Light, accurate and easy to shoot, it could, if necessary, be used for small game (head shots only). In Texas, it’s legal for deer and a lot of hunters use it for feral hogs. While it doesn’t carry the down range KE of the .30-30, it is far more accurate, making it an effective zombie killer at much greater ranges than my beloved .30-30. It’s also capable for home defense, especially if loaded so as to reduce the risk of over-penetration.

Winchester SXP Black Shadow. I have argued for years that if you were only concerned about feeding yourself and occasionally driving off predators, and could have only a single gun, you’d be hard-pressed to beat a 12 gauge shotgun. Properly loaded and configured, you can hunt small game, birds, deer and, if you absolutely had to, defend yourself from a bear. Likewise, within its effective range, it is a devastating self-defense weapon. It does not do everything well, but in many cases it does a lot adequately. In the case of this particular make and model, it has the fastest action I’ve ever seen in a pump shotgun. It’s important to remember that people hunt with shotguns – and miss. So, if you choose one, don’t fall for the “you can’t miss with a 12 gauge” lie.

Sig Sauer P250. Mine is the compact version in 9mm. It holds 15 rounds, is accurate within handgun range and eats whatever I feed it. It is almost entirely a self and home defense weapon.

Here at RM Ranch we have other guns. We have bows. We have short and long blades and axes. In addition, the other members of the team have their own selection of tools that go bang, as well as those that cut, chop, slice, etc. The things listed above are my sort of go-to choices. Your circumstances, training, experience, plans and needs are almost certainly not identical to mine, so yes YMMV. Make your choices based upon what you can reasonably anticipate needing.

Some final thoughts that have to do with need. I like guns. I like them a lot. I’ve spent my entire life around them. I’ve used them for recreation, sport and for more serious purposes and I still shoot regularly. All that has led me to this conclusion: there are two, and only two, circumstances in which any person on the planet will ever truly need a gun.

First, if you are depending on one to feed your family. Notice I said depending. I like to hunt. At least for now, my success while hunting does not determine if my family eats or starves. So, when I see a deer while deer hunting, I don’t need a gun. Having one is convenient, but it’s not a necessity. On the other hand, if harvesting Bambi or one of his relatives determined whether we lived or died, then I would truly need a gun.

Second, you need a gun if you are facing an active threat to life or limb from a predator (whether two or four-legged). You don’t need one if you might be facing such a threat in 30 minutes, or if you were but now the threat has ended. Unlike some in the preparedness communities, I will not suggest preparation is the same as need. We prepare for what we might need. If we actually need something, right now, the time for preparation has passed. I have fire extinguishers, not because I need them, but because if I do someday need one I will need it desperately. The same is true for my first aid and trauma kits, and my medical insurance and even the locks on my doors. When it comes to guns I have only truly needed a gun a few times, but when I did, I needed it immediately. I encourage people to learn to shoot and to understand firearms and firearm safety. I encourage them to own firearms. And, yes, sometimes I use the word “need” a little loosely and suggest people need what is, hopefully, only insurance against dire circumstances that never come to pass. But, if they do, sadly and unfortunately need it some day, they will need it right then.

Changing your personal narrative – philosophy (pt 2)

In my last posting about changing your personal narrative, I wrote about philosophy. I used a pretty specific definition because I don’t want what I write here to be confused with the academic discipline of the same name (FWIW, philosophy is worth studying and reading, but that’s not really what we have in mind here). Philosophy, I’ve said before, is everything you know and how you choose to let it affect you. To put it another way it is what you know and how you act based upon what you know.

Today, we’ll start looking at how you change your philosophy.

To change your personal narrative, you must change your philosophy. But, before you can change it, you must know what it is. In other words, before you can change what you believe and how you choose to let it affect you, you must

  1. know what it is you believe
  2. know how you have chosen to allow it to affect you

How do you come to this knowledge? The answer is, you ask yourself some questions or do some mental exercises. Here are two I have my clients use.

First, ask yourself some questions, based on three separate scenarios

  1. Your speech to the world
    1. Imagine you have been given 15 minutes on prime time TV to speak to the world. This is your chance to say something really meaningful. What would you say? Now, your time has been shortened to 5 minutes to tell the world what really matters. What will you say?
  2. I am inspired by
    1. If you could spend time with someone from the past or present (even a fictional character) who would that be? What about this person inspires or attracts you? If you could ask him or her only 3 questions, what would they be? If you could ask only 1? What characteristics of this person would you like to have too?
  3. Looking back
    1. Imagine you’re very old now, sitting at home relaxing. In your life you’ve achieved all you ever wanted and imagined. Thinking back on your life and all you’ve done, what would you like to be reflecting on or thinking about? What do you enjoy remembering the most? What are you proudest of? What kind of difference have you made?

The other exercise I have my clients use is a simple listing of values. The goal is for a person to learn what his or her core values are. We define core values as those 5 or 6 things that are most important – the ones that are priorities. This is important because there are some values that are so important we don’t want to change them. Others, while important, are not “non-negotiables.” One way of determining your core values follows.

If you are a list type person, you can either brainstorm your own list of values or use the one provided here*. Either way, once you have a significant list,

  1. Go through and mark with a plus sign the ones that matter to you.
  2. Narrow it down to the top twenty, then the top ten.
  3. Go through your list of ten values and rank them from 1 to 10 in terms of their importance to you.
  4. As a general rule, your core values, the ones on which to focus and on which to build a life, are the top 5 or 6. The others may be important, but these are your priorities of life. Don’t worry about how others define these values. Use your definitions.

It can take a while to work your way through both of these exercises. That’s okay. The idea is to gain some real knowledge and understanding of yourself so you’re able to plan out how to change what you choose to change about your philosophy.

I said these are two tools I have my clients use, and they are. Still, there is another step. This one works like this: once you know your core values, once you understand what really matters to you, ask yourself some important questions. It’s important that you be very specific as you answer each of these questions.

  1. What is it you want to change about your personal narrative?
  2. In what specific way do you want to change it?
  3. What values will you have to change or modify to bring about this change?
  4. How do you see your life being different once you make this change?

*NOTE: Here’s the list of values I provide my clients. You can, of course, develop your own list and/or add to this one

Fast Pace
Financial Reward
Helping Others
Making A Difference
Personal Growth
Promotion Prospects
Reaching Potential
Risk Taking

THIS is how you keep customers after a PR debacle

Both Rock Island Arms and Springfield Armory have released statements stating their opposition to the deal worked out by Illinois Firearms Manufacturers Association (IMFA) chief lobbyist Jay Keller (there’s more here). I have to admit I was shocked (and more than annoyed) at the apparent sellout by the two manufacturers. That said, I’m beyond delighted to learn both were apparently not only uninvolved in the negotiations, but were in fact unaware of them. Apparently, gun manufacturers do remember what happened to both Smith and Wesson and Ruger when they, oh so willingly, got into bed with the government back in the 1990s. So, unless more information implicating Rock Island Arms or Springfield Armory comes out, I may actually be willing to consider buying one or more guns from either of them in the future.

Team vs lone wolf

The past several weeks here at RM Ranch have been spent in meditation and quiet introspection re-assessing what we want to achieve, do and experience. A big part of that has involved evaluating our approach to preparedness. We’ve come away from that with what I hope is a clearer vision of what we want and a better approach for achieving it. A big part of that has been the realization that we were approaching preparedness in a way that would have, probably, not given us the advantage we want if things were to go well and truly south. We’ve had to change our approach.

We’re inclined to favor bugging in over bugging out. There are some reasons for this, some of which I’ve mentioned before. While it might be necessary at some point to bug out, to grab a bag and flee (ideally to a predetermined location), I think most circumstances will support just staying put. Our approach is to have a bug out plan, but to anticipate staying put as the most likely course of action. None of this is really a change for us.

The change has been the realization it’s arguably one thing to build and maintain an urban homestead when circumstances are relatively stable. We can do that with just our family. It’s another thing altogether if things fall apart. Under those circumstances we need more people. We need a team*.

A team has advantages over an individual (or even a couple or small family) when it comes to survival in truly hard times. There’s the obvious fact that regardless of how capable you are, no one can remain awake and alert 24/7. A team allows people to sleep, even if only in shifts. Having to be “on” in survival mode all the time and for an extended period is exhausting, mentally, physically and spiritually.

Beyond that, teams with the proper skill sets and resources, can produce far more than any individual. Security, food and other goods, in excess of the bare minimal requirements for survival, are the product of teams rather than individuals.

As noted above, skills are an issue. More than that, they are a necessity. As much as I might like to believe otherwise, I simply cannot do everything. Nor, out of the list of things I can do, can I do all of them equally well. A team, especially one that is formed carefully, provides not only a broader selection of skills, it also provides skills in-depth. This is very important, and something we here at RM Ranch were overlooking. What happens, for instance, if the only person who knows how to garden breaks his/her leg? The answer, of course, is “nothing good.”

Anyway, we’ve started building a team. We’re proceeding slowly because we’re trying to get people who meet at least three criteria.

First, they need to have an interest in preparedness. There’s nothing to be gained by talking someone who doesn’t view preparedness as a legitimate (indeed, essential) concern into joining your team. They aren’t likely to be focused on what needs to be done or willing to dedicate to preparedness resources they might otherwise put toward something else.

Second, they need to have skill sets that contribute to the team. This means they need not only some skills the rest of us don’t have (this is the “broader selection” mentioned above), they also need to have some skills that already exist in the team (“skills in-depth”).

Third, they need to be a good fit for the team. If a group of people actually wind up having to live in close proximity to each other during a time of stress and possible danger, the ability to get along with the other team members is vital.

Each one of these things has come with its own challenges. One of the most notable has been a situation in which we’ve approached a couple, only to learn that while one of the two meets all three criteria, the other half of the couple does not. Sometimes, the other half simply doesn’t see preparedness as a worthwhile pursuit or doesn’t see it as a legitimate part of a lifestyle. Other times, this person has no skills that the team really needs (or of which it needs no more). And, of course, sometimes the other person just isn’t a good fit. In these cases, the team has a choice to make. Do we approach the first person anyway, knowing that he/she will be bringing the “other half of the equation” with them, should the SHTF? How badly do we need the skills of the person we approached? How badly do we need another set of eyes/ears? I don’t think there is a single answer to these questions. They’re questions each team will need to answer for itself and in regards to each potential new member.

As time goes on I’ll share here our experiences with the team building part of preparedness. Hopefully, any mistakes we make will be mistakes you’re able to avoid.

*It’s important to realize you need a team whether you bug in or bug out. In fact, I think that as important as a good team is when bugging in, it is even more important if you have to bug out. With the possible exception of some very rare people and circumstances, the lone wolf (or “lone couple”) approach to survival in truly hard times is a good way of ensuring you (and the other half of your couple) die alone.