Welcome to Jercol's Back to the Basics. This is where I will post useful information, tips, and gear reviews about what I learn about Outdoor Survival, Activities, and Disaster Preparation. My only goal is to be informative, realistic, and at least a little entertaining.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Religious and Political aspects of Prepping

Survivalists and Preppers are an interesting cross section of society.  It's not an evenly distributed cross section though, it sometimes seems to be predominantly conservative and Christian.  Or, it might just be that some people with those traits tend to be very vocal on those forums and websites.  Now, I have no problem with someone being conservative or being Christian, even though I'm not particularly conservative or religious myself.  However, that tolerance can be tested when those views are so frequently, vocally, preached.

You see all sorts of threads like:
"Obama re-elected, better buy your guns now before they all get banned!"
"Can Liberals be Survivalists?"
"Top 10 Reasons Democrats Are Ruining Our Country"
"You remember what life was like when we had a REAL leader?"
"Signs the Apocalypse is coming!"

Yeah, if you went to any of these forums or sites after Obama got re-elected...  Wow, that was quite an interesting time.  A lot of very vocal people expressing their 1st Amendment rights.

Now, I'm not a huge Obama fan, I'm definitely not a fan of Romney, but why would those topics matter on a Survival website?  What do politics or religion have to do with prepping or survival?

I go to these sites looking for tips on how to survive, gear reviews, get along better in the wilderness, and anything else outdoor related.  I don't go to those sites for religious or political reasons.  I don't want or need lectures, or opinions on unrelated topics, or interpretations on world events.  It can be a big distraction though, detracting from the real benefits on the rest of the site.

I try not to preach my own beliefs, as difficult as that is at times, because the disagreements don't do anyone any good.  I'm not going to change their mind, they aren't going to change my mind, so what is the point of starting the argument?  What is the point of contributing to the argument?  It's doesn't benefit anyone and just distracts from the reason we go to those sites in the first place.

So, I would encourage all preppers and survivalists to get over their differences and embrace the similarities.  If you are an expert at starting a friction fire, awesome, I'm sure I can learn something from you.  Does that mean that I need your opinion on the latest political scandal?  Nope.  Just like I'm sure you don't need my opinion on it.

Bringing up polarizing topics, opinions, and beliefs just builds barriers.  We might have different reasons but we all have the same goals, religion and politics have nothing to do with those goals.  Leave them at home.

And when faced with those beliefs?  Don't fall into the trap of continuing the argument, drop it and move on to a different thread.  There are still plenty of good threads out there to enjoy and learn from.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Some thoughts on Guns and Caliber

Left to Right:  .22lr, 9mm, .38sp, .308

I was doing really good for a long time.  When I got into survivalism and prepping I did a lot of research and thinking and planning...  I decided to get a pistol and a rifle that could share the same ammunition, a common round, reliable and easy to work on. 

Eventually I decided on the Ruger Blackhawk Convertible, a revolver that shoots .38sp/.357 and can convert to 9mm, and a Rossi R92 lever action rifle in .38sp/.357.  (Note: I haven't been able to do a review of the Rossi because it broke the first day at the range, there will be a full post on that later on).  I figured that if things ever got so bad that I should get out to the woods for a while I'd have a nice rifle and pistol that shared and fired a good variety of common/cheap ammunition.

However, by the time I had my "survival gun" set up I'd already been bitten by the shooting bug.  Once you have the basics it's hard to stop there.  What if I want to go hunt bigger game or at a larger range?  I should probably get something a little heavier.  Or when you stumble over a super-cool gun at the store that would be a blast at the range (Henry Golden Boy .22lr).  

In recent times I've started to more closely examine the differences between calibers.  You can see the drastic difference between the ones that I shoot in that first photo. 

.22lr is a great round for the range, low recoil, nice accuracy at shorter distances, all around fun.  It's amazingly cheap, light, and you can put a thousand rounds in a pack without crippling yourself.  It doesn't hit very hard compared to most other rounds, but you could probably shoot 10 for the cost/weight of most other rounds.  Great in a short range rifle and is available in a lot of great pistols.

9mm is a great round for hand guns.  It's cheap, light, extremely common, and packs a decent punch.  Arguments have been made against 9mm stopping power but honestly, I think it comes down to what you're comfortable shooting. If you can shoot really well with a .40 or .45 than great, but for those who want lower recoil, faster handling, and usually a higher capacity, than 9mm is hardly a slouch.  As for stopping power, there are studies that show that usually a torso shot will stop a person pretty quickly, caliber doesn't seem to be as much of an issue as where it's placed.  Thus, shoot what you're comfortable with.  There are some 9mm rifles as well, good to pair with a 9mm pistol, but there aren't many options and they are somewhat uncommon.  The Thureon Defense rifle, Hi-Point, and AR-15 style Colt model 6450 in 9mm are some options.

.38sp/.357, I group these together because there is not a lot of difference between the two.  The .357 is a slightly longer version of the .38sp with a few more grains of powder behind it.  Almost all guns that can shoot .357 will also shoot .38sp.  It's got a little more kick than 9mm, it's common in revolvers and was THE round in police revolvers for decades.  It's slightly heavier, slightly more expensive than 9mm.  What I like about this round is the variety, between the different .38sp and .357 rounds it's pretty easy to find the round you're comfortable shooting.  The other benefit is how easy it is to find a good lever action rifle that shares the ammo.  Some rifle nerds poo-poo lever actions but they have been historically proven and remain a good general purpose rifle.

.308 is by far the largest round that I shoot.  This is a big round, kicks hard, and hits harder.  It's the most expensive round, the heaviest round, and also the most accurate at longer ranges.  The .308 is commonly used in long distance matches.  It's also used in most military sniper rifles.  When you just need to reach out and touch something... .308 is a good round to have available.  This is basically just a rifle round though, you'd be hard placed to find a pistol to use the same round (and probably wouldn't want to shoot it if you did), which would mean packing at least two different rounds with you.  Also, this isn't that much fun at the range, you put more than twenty rounds downrange and you're shoulder will be pissed for the next couple days.  Good for one-shot one-kill, but follow ups will be more painful than with other rounds.

One of the things that surprised me when I was shooting more often was the different effects of the different rounds on wood.  The targets I shoot are wood frames with a cardboard center, paper target stapled onto the cardboard.  9mm and .38sp when they missed the target and hit the wooden frame would have a small entry, big splintering exit.  The low speed entry meant that the bullets had time to expand in the wood before exiting.  When I hit the wood with .308 I thought it would be destroyed, blow the frame in half.  Yet the opposite was true.  Small entry, small exit, as though the bullet didn't even notice it had hit anything.  It just went straight through it.  Straight through two inches of wood at 100 yards?  That's penetration.

That's something to keep in mind when hunting, the expansion of the bullet when it hits something solid.  For short range hunting (or defense) a 9mm or .38 will work, it will hit, expand, and stop.  On a small target at shoerter ranges that should be enough, something bigger and it might expand too fast, not penetrate far enough.  For a larger animal .308 will pass through far more tissue before starting to expand.  With most animals I wouldn't be surprised if the .308 went straight through.  For larger animals that could easily be the difference between a wound and a kill shot.

The other thing to keep in mind is that pistol calibers in a longer barrel (like a rifle) will perform way better than out of a pistol.  The longer barrel gives a longer area for the explosive gasses to expand before the bullet leaves the barrel, that gives the bullet a lot more velocity and range.  A .357 in a pistol is a powerful pistol round, put it in a longer barrel and it starts to rival a rifle round for velocity and effectiveness.  Yet, the rifle recoil in a pistol caliber is significantly reduced from a rifle round (they're designed to be shot from a hand gun, there's more weight in a rifle, less felt recoil).  The .38sp in a lever is only slightly more recoil than a .22lr but the bullet hits a lot harder.  They won't be a match for .308 in accuracy or distance, but it gives some credence to sharing a round between a pistol and a long gun.

There are articles, graphs, and websites that will back up the information here and others that will totally disagree.  Feel free to peruse them and see if you can wade through the all various view points.  The information here is based on my own experiences and you might find that your's varies.  There is no substitute for personal experience and practice, so experience and practice as much as you can to find out what works best for you.

Hopefully some of these thoughts help you in choosing your calibers.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Range Review: Ruger Gunsite Scout, Making me look good

I'd been looking at getting a larger rifle for hunting.  The biggest rifle I owned was a Rossi R92 lever action in .357, but I was thinking I might want something a little bit bigger if I was going to take it hunting mid size game.  That's when I stumbled on a good deal for a Ruger Gunsite Scout.

I had the er, pleasure, of shooting my Ruger Gunsite Scout for the first time at the range today.

First thoughts?  .308 kicks like a freakin' mule.  Of course, you have to take that with a grain of salt because I haven't shot anything much larger than a .22lr or .38sp in years.  So, going from .38sp to .308 was like going from a friendly pat to a boxer's punch to the shoulder every time the trigger was pulled.  I ran about 80 rounds through it, interspersed with some lever action .357 fun.  Yeah, I'm feeling it now, a big ol' red mark, and I have a feeling it'll be worse tomorrow. (Edit: yup, I have a nice sized bruise two days later)

I did about forty rounds at 50 yards and was pleasantly surprised with the accuracy.  Considering how unfamiliar I was with the rifle, I was happy to be hitting the target regularly.  I didn't adjust the sites because I figured that the bad shots were probably my fault and the majority were pretty well grouped.  Mostly I was just trying to get familiar with the rifle, how it handled, and how it cycled.  Familiarity is more important than accuracy the first time at the range.

I was also sighting in my Rossi R92.  Both were doing exceptionally well at 50yrds so I decided to get a little froggy and move the target out to 100yrds, still only using the iron sites on both rifles.

The Rossi didn't do the transition very well, the weaker round (I was shooting .38sp) meant I had to adjust the sites to even get close.  Also, the bead on the front site was so big it basically obscured the target at that distance.  It was fun to shoot but it wasn't going to win any accuracy awards.

Then I ran another forty rounds through the Ruger GSS.  Periodically I would use my binoculars to try and see where I was hitting.  Unfortunately, the only "hits" I could see were those on the white paper outside the black rings.  I struggled a little bit trying to figure out what the best site picture should be but since I couldn't tell where I was hitting I wasn't sure how to adjust it.  Honestly, I wasn't even sure if I was hitting the target with most of my shots.

So, imagine my surprise when I walked up and saw this:

Yeah, you rifle nerds can laugh all you want, but I was extremely pleased.  It's not going to win any tournaments or get hung up on the wall, but definitely not bad.  I'm a decent shot overall, I've done a lot of shooting, on and off over the years, with a variety of guns, but this was a totally new experience for me.  Basically, this was my first time shooting an unfamiliar rifle, an unfamiliar caliber, with iron sites, at an unfamiliar distance, and I couldn't even see where I was hitting to adjust for better accuracy.  Half a dozen in the black would have made my day.  So, Hell yeah I was happy with the results!  

I practically strutted back to the bench, target in hand.  Ruger GSS, making me look better than I am.  A little bit of practice and a healed shoulder, who knows how good the results will be?  I'm looking forward to finding out.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you survivalists and preppers, and I guess everyone else too.

I have plenty to be thankful for this year and I hope you do too.

I'm thankful for my new job, for good preparations, and for the ammo sales at the LGS.  I'm thankful for my health, my family's health, and for all of the good and bad things that have happened over the past year.  It's all worked out for the best, so I'm thankful for that.

I'm thankful for cheap liquor, deals on dehydrated food, and for the B-movies on Netflix.  "Iron Sky" is a favorite of mine.

I'm thankful that after everything that has been thrown at me this year I still have my sense of humor.  My family might not be as thankful for that humor, but that's on them, they were always wet blankets.  Hopefully they will continue to be so for a long time to come.

I am thankful for my readers.  I hope you have had as good a year as I have, or at have the strength to over come the challenges that have been placed in your path.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

You Know What Drives Me Nuts? Tight Jeans

Ok, we were all happy when tight jeans and parachute pants faded out with the eighties.  And yet, they seem to be making a come back.  Tight jeans are bad enough, but I'll be more specific.  I really, really, hate this new "fashion trend" of wearing tight jeans and then "sagging" the waste of the pants half way down the ass.  It's like two bad fashion faux pas in one.

You want to wear super baggy jeans, stupid but whatever.  You want to wear super tight jeans, stupid but whatever.  You want to sag your baggy jeans, stupid but they're baggy and going to sag a bit anyway.  But sagging tight jeans?  That's retarded on a whole new level.  That's like shaving your head but keeping your mullet.

I blame Zac Effron...

"Yup, just saggin' my tight jeans and fueling my Audi... " That just about screams "Metrosexual"!  As if that was a good thing.  I'm not entirely sure why any man would think it was a good idea to reject all things masculine.  And some women find that appealing?  Women are from Mars... crazy.

I've also heard that this is something that comes from the Twilight movies.  Having never seen a Twilight movie, I cannot confirm nor deny that.  If a woman decides to watch the movies, whatever, but I am not going to turn in my man-card to accompany one to the movies (possibly why I'm single).  Either way, sagging tight jeans certainly seems like symptom of this Twilight generation.

Does this mean I'm getting old?  I kind of feel like that old guy yelling at the kids to get off his property... like this new generation has nothing positive to offer and it's better off to just avoid them.

But seriously?  Sagging tight jeans?  It's beyond the point of ridiculousness.  I was walking through a store today and saw at least three people in this "style".  Makes me question my sanity... or at least the sanity of all those around me.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Gear Review: Edge of Glory Knife Sharpener

This was an interesting little item I picked up at a local Walgreens.  It was in the "As Seen On TV" section and was interesting enough looking that I decided to pick it up.

This is the "Edge of Glory" knife sharpener $9.  I've been looking for a decent sharpener for a while now, there aren't very many outdoor stores in my area of the island.  I know there are some good sharpeners and I'll probably end up ordering one at some point, or trekking around the island to find a good one, but this was cheap and I figured I'd give it a shot.  

This isn't a ground breaking design, it's pretty similar to a lot of the general "kitchen knife" style sharpeners, two sharpening edges in an overlapping V shape.  It also has a suction cup that can be locked down onto a flat surface.

I'm not going to sit here and tell you that this is as good as the commercials say (I haven't seen those commercials but it's safe to assume that they claim it performs miracles, the package said it could sharpen a credit card enough to cut a tomato), but this little sharpener does a pretty decent job. 

I ran five different knives and blade styles through this thing, it doesn't give them a razor's edge, but it does touch up the edge nicely.  Obviously, the blades that had serrations didn't work as well, it only works for the blade portion.  The other blade that was a little more difficult was my Karambit.  

Because it has a concave blade shape, instead of convex, it took a little more maneuvering but it still worked. 

Concave Buck knife, Convex Karambit

This thing sharpened all the different knives I ran through it without fail.  About five minutes with this thing was all it took to run all five knives.  Some, like the Karambit, took a little more wrangling than others, but all were sharper afterwards.  Some of these started out pretty dull, I ran them through the "Edge of Glory" 3 or 4 times and there was a drastic improvement.

Is this cheap sharpener the solution to all your knife woes?  Definitely not.  But for how easy it is to use, how quickly it improves the edge, and how cheap it is, this is not a bad deal.  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Range Review: Henry Golden Boy .22lr

Ok, I made the mistake of going to a local Gun Store yesterday.  Seriously, a guy like me in a gun store is worse than a kid in a candy shop.  I want it all.

I originally went there to look for a bolt action .22lr that I could use to teach my daughter how to shoot.  Maybe in a couple years I could even pass it down to her.  My father taught me on a beautiful little .22lr bolt and I still have good memories of those lessons.

Anyway, while looking at 22s I noticed the Henry lever action.  I asked to see it and as soon as I laid my hands on it I was sold.  It's a beautiful gun but as soon as you pick it up you realize this is no toy.  First off, it's heavy.  I think it's around 7 lbs, especially with the 20" hexagon barrel.  The Walnut stock is beautiful and it cycles like butter.

It wasn't cheap, around $550, but it looked like a high quality gun so I was hoping it was worth it.

After the range today, it was totally worth the price.

It took a little while to get used to the buckhorn sites, I'm used to matching the top of the rear site with the top of the front site.  With these, you match the round dot on the front site with the round hole at the bottom of the rear site.  Once I got that straight it shot beautifully.

These are probably the most accurate iron sites out of the box that I've ever shot.  Seriously, with just the iron sites and a little practice I was hitting silhouettes out to 100 yards.

I ran two hundred rounds through it, 100 Remington Viper 36gr, and Winchester Xpert HV 36gr hollow points.  It was a joy to shoot.  It cycled flawlessly with the two different rounds I brought with me.  I wasn't sure how it would go with the hollow points (they were pretty cheap so I figured I'd give them a shot), but they cycled just as well as the Remington.  Not a single failure to fire, failure to cycle/eject, with either brand. Accuracy was about the same too.  I loaded one tube with a mixture of both and couldn't tell a difference between shooting them.  (I know, there isn't a huge difference between the two in the first place other than the tips).

The only complaint I had with the Henry is the reloading.  To reload you pull the inner magazine tube out until it clears the loading port.  Put the rounds in, slide the magazine tube back in and secure it.  Ready to go.  The first couple times it's a little weird but once you get used to it you can reload fairly quickly.

(You can see the loading port on the magazine tube about halfway to the muzzle)

Now, it isn't difficult or awkward, but it's more awkward than having the more traditional loading port in the receiver.  To reload this one you have to stop shooting, put the gun down, and reload it, rather than being able to reload on the go like the receiver loading guns.  With the older versions you can fire a round, reload a round, fire a round, without taking the gun from your shoulder or missing a beat.

Also, this might not be best rifle for teaching your young ones.  You load it awfully close to the end of the barrel, so you need to pay attention to where body parts are and where you're pointing the barrel while loading.  There's also no safety switch or lever so you have to be very aware of the hammer position too.  There is a "safe/load" position for the hammer, but I would consider hammer manipulation of a loaded gun a more advanced lesson.

Basically, I think this gun is the perfect for the range, plinking, or maybe small game hunting.  The reloading is a fairly minor complaint considering you can load 15 rounds (though they do go fast when you're having that much fun shooting them).

It's just a fun gun.  It's pretty, it shoots great, and works great mechanically.  It's really nice to have a gun that I love to shoot that is also a cheap date at the range, it's only 15-20 bucks for a box of 500 .22lr.  I had an absolute blast at the range and definitely look forward to taking it again.  I think this might be my new go-to-gun for plinking and silhouette shooting.

And if that means I have to go back to the gun store to get a bolt action for my daughter... I'm ok with that.  We can go plinking together.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Survivalist Books

I read a lot.  I mean, I read A LOT.  Usually 2-3 books a week.  I'll read pretty much anything, but my favorites are cheesy Zombie books and Survivalist books.

After reading a mediocre survivalist book recently, I decided I should share some of my extensive reading list and some suggestions with other fans of the genre.

There are three main things I'm looking at here: the writing (the story line, how well written it is, how well the character's develop, etc), the survival theme (how well thought out the scenario is, how realistic it is, the skills and techniques), and how well it combines the two into the overall entertainment value.  Some of these books might be high on the technique scale but low on the entertainment value, it all depends on the kind of book you're looking for.  I usually read on my kindle and these are all available (and relatively inexpensive) on Amazon.

In no particular order:

  • After The Flash and The Next Tomorrow: A Tag Stevens Novel. J.R. Madsen. There are two books in this series so far.  These are an interesting combination of semi-romance and survival themes.  For the first 50 pages of the first book I was kind of confused as to what I was reading, it was about this father on a trip for his son's hockey tournament.  Now, this was actually quite entertaining, the author keeps getting the main character into these quirky situations and implying the possibility of this guy having a three way with his wife and another player's hot mother. Sex is a pretty strong theme in these books, though it never gets explicit (which is almost disappointing at times).  The books fluxuate between the almost soap opera relationships between characters and survival and combat scenes.  There aren't a lot of specific survival techniques or skills, but it is a highly entertaining post-EMP, cross country search for family with some violence and between-the-lines sex thrown in.
  • Lights Out. David Crawford.  I actually enjoyed this book quite a lot.  I think this is one of the best combinations of survival and entertainment that I've found so far.  This book goes over a systematic break down after an EMP (popular theme) and how the Main Character helps keep his community going, organized the necessary supplies, defends against "mutant zombie bikers" (their term for hostiles).  There is a definite arc in the story line, some cool techniques, some cool combat scenes, and a lot of likable characters.  I really liked the epilogue too, which is important because a mediocre ending can ruin the whole book.
  • Collision Course. David Crawford.  I put this one separate from Lights Out because it's the same author, but an unrelated survivalist book. This is a pretty interesting book about bugging out and bugging in.  There are two main characters that develop over the course of the book in two completely different scenarios.  One is an alcoholic farmer and the other a city-dweller trying to get to his BOL.  I enjoyed the twists in the plot towards the end and didn't see them coming.  Some interesting concepts and challenges are show between the two different approaches to survival.  It's a good read.
  • One Second After. William R. Forstchen.  This book was a little light on specific survival techniques, it was more about the organization of a community to survive post EMP (again, it's a popular theme).  While it doesn't have a lot of specific techniques, this book does not shy away from difficult questions and emotional hurdles.  The main character's daughter has type 1 diabetes, which is basically a lethal diagnosis in a survival scenario.  This isn't a book with a lot of combat (like a lot of other survivalist fiction), but it reads a lot more like a 'real' novel, real characters, and real problems.  This is very well written, one of the few survivalist books that actually evoked emotional responses to the character's trials.  
  • Dark Grid and Dark Road.  David C. Waldron.  These are more books that have good entertainment value, not as much "survivalist" value.  They are quite entertaining, well thought out, and good fiction.  These are about a group of army reservists after the 'Burst' (another EMP) trying to reestablish a community.  There are some military conspiracies involved, different groups establishing and pitted against each other.
  • A Distant Eden and Adrian's War.  Lloyd Tackitt.  These books are half survival manual, half story line.  A Distant Eden is a more typical prepper wet dream, a solar flare (Whoa! Not an EMP!) destroys all electronics (ok, not so different after all) and one man is prepared.  He sets up a community with family and like minded people.  Adrian's War is more of a primitive living guide, I kept expecting to turn the page and see step by step illustrations on basket weaving, or fish traps (that's not necessarily a bad thing).  The story lines are interesting but not real deep, more of a platform to explain survival techniques.  There are some really good tips in here.  Eden is about being prepared, Adrian's War is about one man's primitive journey and combat against an evil militia.
  • Obliterated: Would you know how to survive?  C. J. Hall.  Aliens (Yeah! Not an EMP!) start destroying technology centers (Awww, not so different) and cities.  A group escapes out to the wilderness and get set up to survive long term.  If you are looking for action, this isn't the book for you.  It's a fairly low-key survival scenario with more ducking/hiding/surviving than fighting.  It's not amazing but it introduces a lot of good prepper concepts and basic survival situations.
Most of these books are what I would consider 'budget' fiction.  They aren't professional, highly polished, diligently edited,  or perfectly constructed.  These are more amateur, good ideas, a lot of heart, and I find that pretty refreshing (as long as you can forgive the occasional misspelled word or missing punctuation).

I've read all of these books (and many more).  I'm always interested in reading survivalist fiction, if you have any suggestions, or questions on the books I've listed, feel free to comment or send me a message.

And don't worry, I'm sure I'll be posting a list of good zombie books in the future (there are actually quite a few).

Friday, November 16, 2012

Book Review: Survivors

As previously mentioned, I had to get out of town for job preparations.  I got to the airport with very little spare time before boarding.  I popped into the book store, saw Survivors on the shelf, grabbed it, and ran to the gate.  Oh yeah, I paid for it too.  Quite a bit actually, everything is so much more expensive at the airport.

Survivors, James Wesley, Rawles

I read very quickly.  In between naps I finished this book in about 8 hours of flying.  After finishing this book, and reading the back flap, I realized that the author is also the author of one of the survival blogs I visit.  Actually, it is the survival blog, www.survivalblog.com.

Conceptually, there were a lot of very interesting things going on in this book.  One of the main characters is a military man, stationed over seas when SHTF.  One of the main story lines in the book is his epic journey to get back to his family.  There are also an interesting range of people in different scenarios and how they manage when the economy totally collapses in a very short period of time.

There were some interesting themes in this book, ones that should seem familiar to many who read survivalist blogs: the conspiracy about government controlling the economy, the UN trying to take over, gangs running rampant, and how gold, silver, and ammo are the only currencies that will be acceptable after SHTF.  There are some good survival tips and some cool suggestions on gear.

There is also a very large religious theme, pretty much every "good" character is very Christian.  When I finished the book, I theorized that if you removed every religious reference, ever bible quote, than the book would have been half as thick.  That might be fine for a lot of readers (especially those who are more familiar with his work), but I'm a very non-religious kind of guy and I found it a little too much.

Unfortunately, because I read so much, I'm also incredibly picky.

So, it's an entertaining book, it has some good points...  some readers (especially religious ones who are interested in the conspiracies about the economy) will probably enjoy this book.  As a non-religious guy, who isn't too big on conspiracy theories, this book was a little less than I was hoping for (especially at airport prices).  There isn't any character development, the book skips months at a time with no real changes, it's interesting but awkward.  And very religious.

If I'd paid $2-3 dollars in the kindle store for this book than I probably wouldn't care, but paying full list price +25% airport markup?  I'm not impressed.  And this is a "New York Times Best Seller"?  If you're looking for something to reaffirm standing religious/conspiracy beliefs than this book is perfect for you, if you're not, than this book probably won't blow your mind.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Traveling Wrinkle

So, my recent travels have given me a few things to think about.  I mean, how much good does all your prepping do if you're thousands of miles away from them?  And what can you bring with you through airport security?  You can't even take fingernail clippers or lighters on the plane.

There are all sorts of links online for survival tins, either premade or directions for making your own.   I'll probably be making a generic one in the future, to put in my checked bags.  I thought about making one for this trip, but didn't have time to put together a good one.  Plus, I don't know where to go, have no knowledge of the local wild life and fauna, so what would I put in one?

So, what do you do?

Here are a few of the ideas I came up with:
  • Bring warm clothes and a decent rain jacket.  Maintaining body temp is a key to survival.  Hypothermia is a real risk in any climate if you get wet or have no protection from the elements.
  • Pick up some water as soon as you land.  Obviously you can't bring much with you on the flight, but you can get a couple big bottles at almost any gas station.
  • You can put a good knife, a first aid kit, and some cordage in your checked luggage.  You need to do some research on what the knife laws are where you are going, a Rambo survival knife might not be the smartest option.  I opted for a good little folder just to be on the safe side.
  • You can pick up a few staple food items when you land.  Trail mix, jerky, etc.  Personally, I didn't get much because, like the water, I can't take much back with me.
  • Pack good shoes and socks.  And maybe a foot care kit (tape, vaseline, moleskin, etc.)
  • You can pack a couple lighters in your checked bags, or get a couple at a gas station.
  • Cash.  Carry plenty of cash.  'Nuf said.
So, in a true survival situation you should have the basics covered.  Maintain core temperature, hydrate, first aid, start fires, and have a few food items.  It's not a BOB, it might not get you as far as your stock pile back home, but will hopefully be enough to get you through a short term survival scenario.

(Or you can be lucky like me and have a super-massive Sports Authority right next to the hotel.  It has a huge hunting section, I picked up a badass camo shell jacket today.  Score!)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Another Knife Thread: Lots of Pictures

 I know, I know... you're all tired of knife threads.  Yeah, right, the knife reviews are probably the only reason anyone shows up here.

Anyway, I decided that I wanted to do a kind of "budget" sheath knife review.  There are plenty of half way decent outdoor, hiking, camping knives that won't break the budget.  Here are a few I found, all under $40.

Gerber's Left to Right:  Profile Fixed $25, Freeman Guide $32, Big Rock Serrated $37

There are plenty of other good, cheap knives that could have easily fit in to this post, but it turned out that the three I could get my hands on were all Gerber knives.  I'm not usually a fan of Gerber, I find that their quality is kind of hit or miss.  I've had $20 Gerber folders that worked great and $40 dollar ones that I hated.  Unlike some brands, you have to really get your hands on the knife before you can get a feeling about the quality.  However, in my short time looking for 'discount' sheath knives, these were the easiest to get a hold of.  

All of these are full tang sheath knives, each would probably work relatively well on a camping trip or bug out.  However, each one of these three has a different style blade, grip, and sheath.  Ultimately you have to try out a few different types to see what you like best, but I'll go over a few things that I look for when buying a knife, especially if it's relatively cheap.

Gerber Profile Fixed $25

This is a pretty cool looking knife for the price.  This knife has a lot of metal, which I consider a good thing.  It's heavy, which is a preference of mine.  A sharp blade with some weight behind it requires less effort to use.  A sharp blade with less weight means you have to push harder to get the same result.  That's the experience I've had.

The handle is a little bit of a negative for me on this knife.  You can see in the photo above, if I keep my fingers together my middle finger hits one of the points on the handle.

If I separate my first finger, look where my pinkie ends up.  For my hand type, this handle is a little awkward to use.  I can make it work but it would throw me off.   The next problem I had was with the sheath.

It's made of what looks like quality material, but this style is like two pieces of plastic sewn together around the edges with fabric on the outside.  It's totally flat.  It holds the knife, it's probably pretty durable, but you have to basically force the blade between the two pieces of plastic sewn together.

The sheath isn't a deal breaker to me.  I mean, how hard is it to replace a sheath?  With this knife I would probably swap it out.

Gerber Freeman Guide $32:

This is a slightly more conventional looking knife.  Right off the bat, look at the difference in how the handle fits my hand.  Definitely more comfortable for hands my size.

Like a glove, as Ace Ventura would say.  I really like the shape of the blade, the fit in my hand.  The only complaint I had with the knife itself was the textured area on the back of the blade.  It's hard to see in the photos, but there are notches in the metal where you would put your thumb if you were carving.  Those notches were annoying, and seemed like they would probably tear up your thumb if you were whittling for a while.

Now, lets look at the sheath.

What the heck is this thing?  It looks like it's built for a knife twice this size, or a machete, or something.

Yeah, it covers almost the entire knife.  It's super easy to slide the blade into the sheath... it's getting it back out that's awkward.  I went with two fingers, tweezers-like, on the big metal piece at the bottom of the handle to pull it up high enough to grab it better.  Not easy.

Again, it isn't a deal breaker, but it's annoying.

Gerber Big Rock Serrated $37:

Again, look at the difference in the layout of the grip.  It felt a lot like the Freeman Guide, but it was thicker and I like that better.  If the handle isn't a hand full than the knife usually feels too small for me.  I like big handles and I will not lie.

Over all it seemed like a nice knife.  The only thing that was a little weird was the knob (my thumb is on it in the above photo), it looks kind of funny and might or might not be comfortable when carving with the knife.  It's hard to tell without using it for a while and I haven't had an excuse to use it yet.

And the sheath?

This sheath is surprisingly good after the complaints I had with the first two.  It has a plastic form for the blade inside the fabric.  The knife slides in, easy as pie, doesn't slide around, and secures nicely.  It's not the prettiest sheath, but I probably wouldn't swap this one out.  The only complaint I had with the sheath is how big the belt loop is, it starts where the blade ends and goes all the way up to the top.  I'm not sure if that would cause problems with the sheath sliding around, or it is just convenient for people who like big belts.  Just something to watch.

Here's the three knives, side by side.  Pretty easy to see the differences in the blades and handles.

The three sheaths, side by side.  

I was amazed at how different they all were.  The first and third look similar, but the first is completely flat and the third has the plastic form inside so it is way thicker, it's easier to get the knife in and out.

Any of these three knives would make a decent choice for the budget camper.  They're all full tang, decently sharp, seemingly well made blades.  They're all under $40 and readily available at a lot of outdoor stores and online.  

I wanted to do this post to show you some of the things to look for when determining basic knife quality.  I wanted to look at the differences between common sheath knives and show how important it is to really handle them, get a feel for them, to see which types work best for you.  Remember, these are camping/outdoor knives, practical knives.  If you want something a little more intimidating, there are other options.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Update: Slowing Down

I try and update this blog at least every other day or so, most of the time it's even done daily, but I'm not sure how long I'm going to be able to keep that up.  With my new job has come requirements for some out-of-state training, so for the next two weeks I'm going to be in the mid-west.  Woo hoo.

Actually, I'm really looking forward to getting the new job going, I'm just not looking forward to the training portion.

Anyway, I'm going to do my best to keep putting up entertaining and informational posts, it just probably won't have the frequency that I'm sure you've become accustomed to.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Range Review: Ruger Blackhawk Convertible

So, when I took my class for the pistol permit, one of the guns we shot was a Ruger Blackhawk Convertible.  It's a pretty nifty single action (manually cock the hammer for every shot) revolver, it shoots .38sp and .357, swap out the cylinder and it shoots 9mm as well.

When I got my permit, the first gun I picked up was a Blackhawk Convertible of my own.  This is the stainless steel version with a 6" barrel, cost was around $650.

(Bic is for size comparison)

I took it to the range today, put 300 rounds of .38sp through it.  I brought another revolver and a lever-action Rossi R92, my intent was to run 100 rounds through each but circumstances didn't work out that way.  The silhouette range was closed (I guess it's only open on the weekends), so lever action was out, and I had a mechanical issue with my other revolver (erm, I forgot the tool to 'unlock' the safety).

I would have put up some range photos but I spent the first 50 rounds realizing the zero was off (the elevation was maxed out by the factory), then the next 100 rounds trying to get it zeroed.  Then my arms were so shaky (this is not a light-weight gun) that I wasn't having the most accurate day.  But, hell, was this gun fun to shoot.

First 200 rounds were remmington .38sp 130gr, last 100 rounds were some generic FMJ .38sp 150gr I picked up at Sports Authority.  As for accuracy, I can't really say one was more accurate than the other (I was trying to get a good zero for half the time), but the 130gr had less kick (no big surprise there).  By the time I had a good zero my arms were pretty shaky too.  Either way, it was plenty of fun to shoot and I can't wait to get it back to the range.

(all cleaned up after a day at the range)

As for the convertible part of the gun, it's ridiculously easy.  No tools required, pull a pin, slide the rod, and the whole cylinder comes out.  The whole process takes about 6 seconds.  I was really impressed with how easy it was and look forward to putting some 9mm down range.  I didn't try it this time, but during class we shot 9mm out of this thing and it was a blast.

Overall, it's a fun gun if you like single action.  The 6" barrel takes a little getting used to, it's definitely barrel heavy, but it also helps with the recoil.  Even the 150gr was easily manageable, and I really like the versatility with ammo.

In fact, it's so fun to shoot that now I'm considering getting a Ruger Vaquero to go with it.  I did say I was a cowboy at heart.

Edit: I took it to the range again today.  This time I went to the silhouette portion and I had a blast!  My zero from yesterday meant I was denting metal as soon as I pulled it out.  There's something so satisfying about shooting silhouettes, BANG.. ping,  BANG.. ping.  You see some targets fall, others bouncing around with the shots.  Very fun.

I was very impressed with the accuracy out to around 75 yards.  I'm sure it would be accurate out well past that distance but 75 yards was about the limit of my accuracy.  In other words, the gun is limited by me, not the other way around.  That's a good thing, because my skills will improve with more practice.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

You Know What Drives Me Nuts? Cell Phones

About a week ago I had to do a urine drug test as part of a job application.  These are annoying but I understand the necessity, so that morning I drank about a gallon of coffee and checked in to the medical center.  I sat down in the waiting area and waited for the coffee to kick in.  As I was the only person there, I started to wish I'd brought a book.

A couple minutes later a woman walked in, we did the nod at each in other greeting.   She checked in to the desk and sat down.  

As soon as she sat down she pulled out her phone and was instantly glued to the screen.

A little while later a guy came in.  We nodded at each other, he checked in, then he sat down and pulled out his phone.

Now, I'm not an old fashioned, anti-technology, kind of guy, but it really disturbed me that over the next half an hour not a word passed between the three of us.  I sat there, twiddling my thumbs, memorizing the health posters on the walls... and they were entirely occupied by "angry birds", or whatever it was they were doing, thumb-typing away.

Not that long ago, before "smart phones", we might have been chatting away, BS'ing about our bosses or work (or how hydrated we were).  These days though, as soon as there is a slow second, out come the phones.  We're becoming a nation of ADD cell phone addicts.

It's almost like an insulation against the real world, against interacting with fellow human beings.  We don't talk to each other any more, we 'go online' and chat with like-minded people thousands of miles away, or we post/tweet about our day instead of actually talking to loved ones.

A while ago, I got an important phone call (about that job application previously mentioned) while I was waiting to get rung up at a UPS store.  I stepped away, conducted my conversation, and went to the back of the line.  When I eventually got to the front I apologized for the interruption to the cashier who had been helping me.  She said, "No big deal", and went on ringing me up.  I stopped her, told her that it was a pet peeve of mine when people were face to face and one answers their phone, ignoring the other.  She kept brushing me off, I kept telling her that it wasn't ok.  It seems that popular culture is adopting the attitude that a phone always takes priority over people in any situation.

Not only does it bother me when people are so rude, it bothers me that this is so common it is 'acceptable' behavior.  Seriously, look around when you're out in public, it's like everyone is buried in a phone screen.

When a society avoids face-to-face communication, how long can it last?  Right now, we are at a tipping point and leaning the wrong direction.  Think about that the next time you reach for your phone.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Gear Review: Gerber Gator Machete Jr

Sorry about the condition of the packaging in the following photos, I hadn't planned on doing a gear review.  I saw the Gerber Gator Machete Jr ($24) at the store and figured it'd be good addition to my camping gear.  Machete on one side, saw on the other, what's not to like?  Half way through opening the package I noticed something strange.

Yes, that's a zombie on the package.  There are two more on the back.

When I purchased this I had no idea I was feeding into the Zombie Apocalypse Gear craze.  In case you hadn't noticed, there is a huge advertising trend right now on throwing a picture of a zombie and some ooz-green writing on everyday items and proclaiming them "Zombie Killers" or something.  Now, I love me some zombies, books, movies, whatever... but the merchandising is getting kind of crazy.

(Hornady Zombie Max Ammunition)

(Yes, that's a Zombie chainsaw bayonet)

(Ka-Bar has a whole line of Zombie knives, this is the Zombie "Chopstick")

Now, the gun and knife products I can almost understand.  But Zombie hot sauce?  Or Zombie dog toys?

Yeah, I think the popularity of "The Walking Dead" and various movies like "Zombieland" has turned Zombies mainstream.

Anyway, apparently the Gator is a specialized "Zombie Killing" machete, which is strange because I'm pretty sure I saw the exact same model a couple weeks ago and it was just a 'regular' machete.  Is there some sort of test they run an item through to get it certified for killing zombies?  Maybe it passed the test and now it's upgraded to a "zombie killer"?  Man, I hope they didn't jack up the price on me.

Anyway, it seems like a pretty decent machete.  It's got a good thick blade, the saw blades on the back actually seem well made and sharp.

Apparently when they were running this thing through the test for "zombie killing" they had problems with the hand slipping off the handle toward the blade.  There are some very specific instructions, they tell you to loop the lanyard over the handle before you use it.  There are also blank sections of the blade on both sides above the handle, I'm assuming for the same reason.

I didn't notice any problem with hand slippage, but maybe if you were using the saw on a stubborn log (or multiple zombie attackers) it would be more noticeable.  If you put the lanyard on, as instructed, then the grip is very secure and it would be very difficult to slip either up or down off the handle.

The sheath is usually where I find problems with cheaper blades but this one looks surprisingly well built.  It looks sturdy and fits the blade well.  It has a guard on the back inside the sheath, to protect against the saw blades.  The only complaint I have with the sheath is that the belt loop is a little small and very high up on the back of the sheath (I would have preferred a larger loop and it be placed a little lower to minimize bouncing if worn on the belt).  Otherwise it's pretty nice.

Picture this, you're out on a camping trip and you're clearing some brush.  Two zombies break out of the underbrush and charge at you!  Do you need to run back to camp?  No way!  You've already got a certified zombie killing weapon in hand!  With that kind of versatility you've got to enjoy your Gator Machete.

And if the Zombie Apocalypse doesn't happen at least you didn't overpay for a useless piece of junk.

Edit 11/16/2012:  I actually noticed the main character using the large version of the Gator in a recent episode of The Walking Dead.  At least on TV this appears to be quite the Zombie fighting weapon.