SUBSCRIBE | NEWSLETTERS | MAPS | VIDEOS | BLOGS | MARKETPLACE | CONTESTS
TRY BACKPACKER FREE!
SUBSCRIBE NOW and get
2 Free Issues and 3 Free Gifts!
Full Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
City:
State:
Zip Code:
Email: (required)
If I like it and decide to continue, I'll pay just $12.00, and receive a full one-year subscription (9 issues in all), a 73% savings off the newsstand price! If for any reason I decide not to continue, I'll write "cancel" on the invoice and owe nothing.
Your subscription includes 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Or click here to pay now and get 2 extra issues
Offer valid in US only.

Also on Backpacker.com


Enter Zip Code

Backpacker Magazine – October 2012

Survival Bootcamp

At the military's top-secret survival school, Air Force crews learn how to escape their worst-case scenario — shot down behind enemy lines. With the highest level of access ever granted to a journalist, our scout learns how to escape when Mother Nature is only one of your worries.

by: Brian Mockenhaupt

PAGE 1 2 3 4 5
Survival Bootcamp (Michael Hanson)
Survival Bootcamp (Michael Hanson)
Concealing Themselves (Michael Hanson)
Concealing Themselves (Michael Hanson)
Edible Plants (Michael Hanson)
Edible Plants (Michael Hanson)
Rootball and Branch Shelter (Michael Hanson)
Rootball and Branch Shelter (Michael Hanson)
Magnesium Started Fire (Michael Hanson)
Magnesium Started Fire (Michael Hanson)
Rescue Helicopter (Michael Hanson)
Rescue Helicopter (Michael Hanson)
Killing and Skinning a Snake (Michael Hanson)
Killing and Skinning a Snake (Michael Hanson)
Plotting Day's Movement (Michael Hanson)
Plotting Day's Movement (Michael Hanson)
Calling in for Help (Michael Hanson)
Calling in for Help (Michael Hanson)

On our first night in the field, after Blackmon makes a shelter in the upended rootball of a toppled Douglas fir, we set snares throughout a clearing: simple traps of thin copper wire that tighten around an animal’s neck when it runs through the loop. We’re hoping for a squirrel to supplement the MRE (Meal, Ready to Eat) and small assortment of snacks and energy bars we’ve each been given, the equivalent of about one meal per day.

The snares are still empty the next morning; this sort of hunting takes time, patience, and many snares placed in well-scouted locations, near food and water sources or the entrances to nests or burrows. A pilot on the run could also snatch the occasional rabbit or chicken from a farmhouse. But even without small game, there is plenty of food in the forest, if you know where to look.

As we walk through the Kaniksu National Forest, an hour north of Spokane, Blackmon and Senior Airman Brett Charity, another SERE instructor, continuously point out edible plants: trillium, young ferns, wild ginger, Grand Fir needles—which taste like pink grapefruit—huckleberries, and Oregon grape.

Charity hands a large black ant to Airman Thomas Stone, a C-130 loadmaster from Miami who has never spent the night in the woods. Charity tells him to eat it, and preferably with his front teeth, which will prevent it from biting his lip or crawling around in his mouth.

Stone pauses and considers the creature wriggling between his thumb and index finger, then slips it into his mouth.

“Tastes like lemon drops, doesn’t it?” Charity says.

Stone nibbles and ponders. His face shows surprise. “Yeah!”

Later, Airman Bill Heebsh, another C-130 loadmaster, catches an 18-inch garter snake. Charity presses it to a log and slices off its head. Were it poisonous, he’d cut an inch or two back, to avoid the venom sacks. He grabs the meat in one hand, the skin in the other, and yanks down, which pulls out all the organs. He drops the skinned snake, ready for cooking, into a plastic bag.

That evening, as mosquitoes swarm us by the score, we each practice making fires using petroleum jelly-soaked cotton balls and the brittle bottom branches of conifers. Blackmon disappears down a dirt road to a resupply site and returns with a clucking chicken under one arm and a squirming gray rabbit under the other.

“You’re killing him,” Blackmon tells me, after learning I’ve never slaughtered an animal. Per his instructions, I grab the rabbit by the back legs and hold it upside down. With a forearm-size piece of wood, I stroke its back, from tail to neck, which calms it. I swing the club, smashing the neck just behind the ears, which brings a dull crunch. The rabbit’s legs twitch with a few post-mortem convulsions.

Blackmon hangs him upside down on parachute cord strung between two trees, makes slits on the legs and belly, and pulls the skin down in one motion. He cuts off the head and pulls it back through the skin, so the rabbit now resembles a sock puppet. Blackmon slices open the abdomen, saves the heart, kidneys, and liver, and puts the rest of the entrails and the feet into the bag of skin.

In easy, swift motions, he butchers the rabbit into several neat pieces, which now look like they should be under cellophane at the meat counter. Easy as that. Like the other skills taught here, I find this incredibly effective training, demystifying a process that could save these men’s lives.

Blackmon demonstrates how to kill, skin, and butcher the chicken, and we’re soon loading large tin cans and packets of foil with chunks of rabbit and chicken, carrot and potato slices, and handfuls of trillium, which tastes something like bok choy when cooked. Belly full, I sleep in a one-man shelter made from a 10-foot sapling, bent over and tied to a log and stripped of its branches, with a poncho thrown over the top and the corner grommets staked.

The next night, after a day of lessons on camouflage, fire building, and more navigation, Blackmon gathers us in a clearing near our new camp. “We need to talk about psychological stressors,” he says. “What emotions have you guys been feeling out here?”

“Those mosquitoes really had me down,” Heebsh says. “And I’m not used to the diet. I’ve been trying to ration my food and that was catching up with me. I felt low on motivation.”

Blackmon nods, and offers advice: You’ll survive longer if you can tolerate discomfort and overcome aversions, like eating insects and worms, which provide much-needed nourishment. Keep the mind and body active—one POW in Vietnam built mental houses, from the foundation up, nail by nail, while in solitary confinement. Don’t dwell on self-pity, set realistic goals, and take a moment to relax.

“What we’re going to do right now,” Blackmon says, “is play some baseball.” With an alder branch for a bat, a duct-tape ball, and scuffed-up patches of dirt for bases, we spend the next half hour running and laughing, and it seems very much like a camping trip.

Then we’re on the move again. By 11 p.m., after 16 hours of motion, ending with a stumbling walk through the forest practicing night navigation, we crawl into our BLISS shelters—Blended, Low, Irregularly shaped, Small, Secluded—sad-looking poncho hooches covered in sticks and pine bows.


PAGE 1 2 3 4 5

Subscribe to Backpacker magazine
Sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter
Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
City:
State:
Zip:
Email (req):
Reader Rating: Star Star Star Star

READERS COMMENTS

Star Star Star Star Star
Walt
Jun 15, 2013

1967: Orders to 'Nam, but not until a few weeks of evading a tough-as-nails SEAL crew who taught us to "Suck it up. It is what it is." Gave us each a 10-inch piece of nylon line and a safety pin... nothin' else. Yup, this squid with a Top Secret clearance got his taste of reality. Best part: I never forgot those lessons learned. Made me a better man to this day. My heart still beats hard in appreciation of those guys who more than earned their gold Trident. Teamwork and brotherhood. God Bless them, each and every one.

Star Star Star Star Star
dave
Jun 15, 2013

fantastic read. my brother went through a similar school in Maine I can understand why the last part of the story was left out and you should consider yourself very lucky. lets just say that Happy Valley is not so happy. cool read THANKS

Ben
Oct 20, 2012

Egads man! too much java! got to slowdown and get the facts straight! so he tried escape, and didn't make it, whew, got it now I think...

Ben
Oct 20, 2012

whoops, how about that, it's the same guy! lol, my bad, glad to hear he escaped gonna have to read this, thanks google!

Ben
Oct 20, 2012

um, might wanna check your facts, read a recent Rolling Stone article about an Army deserter who was captured in AFGN, I believe that would still make him a POW.

Brett
Oct 19, 2012

Great story!

Brett
Oct 19, 2012

Great story!

ADD A COMMENT

Your rating:
Your Name:

Comment:

My Profile Join Now

Most recent threads

Trailhead Register
It's HAP.., er, no, oh wait, YES,..
Posted On: Jul 11, 2014
Submitted By: hikerjer
Gear
Advice on pants
Posted On: Jul 11, 2014
Submitted By: High_Sierra_Fan

Go
View all Gear
Find a retailer

Special sections - Expert handbooks for key trails, techniques and gear

Check out Montana in Warren Miller's Ticket to Ride
Warren Miller athletes charge hard and reflect on Big Sky country, their love for this space and the immense energy allotted to the people who reside in Montana.

Boost Your Apps
Add powerful tools and exclusive maps to your BACKPACKER apps through our partnership with Trimble Outdoors.

Carry the Best Maps
With BACKPACKER PRO Maps, get life-list destinations and local trips on adventure-ready waterproof myTopo paper.

FREE Rocky Mountain Trip Planner
Sign up for a free Rocky Mountain National Park trip planning kit from our sister site MyRockyMountainPark.com.

Follow BackpackerMag on Twitter Follow Backpacker on Facebook
Get 2 FREE Trial Issues and 3 FREE GIFTS
Survival Skills 101 • Eat Better
The Best Trails in America
YES! Please send me my FREE trial issues of Backpacker
and my 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Full Name:
City:
Address 1:
Zip Code:
State:
Address 2:
Email (required):
Free trial offer valid for US subscribers only. Canadian subscriptions | International subscriptions