To some extent, the absolute basics of survival have not changed for several thousand years. While we may have different technologies and problems to deal with, there are some fundamentals that every prepper should learn from the days of the American pioneers. At the very least, if you can master these following six skills, and then adapt them for dealing with modern problems such as nuclear contamination, heavy metal pollution in the water, and severe air pollution, you may find it easier to develop both long term and short term survival plans.
Hunting and Fishing
In one sense, it can take decades of experience before you know all the best tips and tricks for subsistence hunting and fishing. Being able to track animals, understand their behavior, recognize signs of disease, and knowing which times of year to avoid are all very important essentials that pioneers grew up with. It is also very important to know how to use every part of the animal including the fur, bones, and internal organs. Today, many people that expect to “live off the land” after social collapse fail to realize that polluted water and air have already reached deep into the forests where game animals and fish live. It is not safe, let alone reasonable to assume that animals are safe to eat when they have been exposed to pesticides, heavy metals carried by the wind, and many other chemicals. Since many of these animals and fish develop tumors and other signs of cancer, you will need to recognize abnormal growth so that you can avoid being sickened by meat from these animals. Unfortunately, this is one area where a social collapse will make things much worse, and may just make it impossible to go back to the methods tested and proven to work in the pioneering days.
You might also find interesting our article about tips for making money off the grid.
How to Build Shelters
From short term to long term needs, you can still use just about everything that the pioneers did when it comes to building shelters. This includes building underground shelters or “dugouts”, mud brick homes, log cabins, and many other shelters made from natural materials. Unlike hunting-related issues, you may actually benefit from using methods developed by the pioneers instead of looking for more modern materials and techniques. Here are just a few places where pioneer building methods are better than more modern approaches:
- underground shelters can be dug in just about any kind of ground. They are also one of the few shelter types that will protect you from nuclear radiation. You will also find that dugouts are relatively cheap and easy to make. If you want to expand later on, you can always build tunnels and other extensions to store important supplies in. As long as you are careful about choosing a site that won’t flood out, you should be able to do a lot with this building method.
- If you are concerned about earthquakes and other large-scale weather disturbances, mud mixed with straw may also be of some interest to you. In South America and other parts of the world, this simple building material has been used for centuries to build houses that can withstand many weather conditions that would destroy a conventional wood or brick home.
- Even though it can take a bit of work to build a log cabin, you will we well on your way to building a home that will be sturdy, reliable, and weatherproof for decades. It should also be noted that log cabins do not come with the kind of chemical hazards that are found in modern wood. Chemically treated wood can give off dangerous gasses and odors that can cause everything from headaches to asthma and cancer. At the very least, if you chop the wood for a log cabin yourself and let it season properly, you will not have to worry about all these chemicals making you and your family sick.
Perhaps it can be said that even the wealthiest and best-prepared preppers may not be as prepared as they think they are for a total collapse of the electricity grid. EMPs can easily destroy battery systems as well as many other parts of power generation systems no matter who owns them. Since refrigerating and freezing food forms a large percentage of electricity usage, knowing how to use pioneer methods is very important. Here are a few methods you should make it a point to master:
- drying foods – if you combine this method with a solar powered dryer, then you will have the best of a pioneer method combined with a newer technology.
- Fermenting foods – I am always surprised at the amount of alcohol people buy, yet fermenting fruit and other foods have gotten to be a lost art. Aside from making medicinal wine, and other alcoholic beverages that can be used to remove bacteria from water, pickling and fermenting are valuable for preserving many kinds of food.
- Canning – anyone that loves jellies and jam should take the time to learn how to can using methods developed by the pioneers. While it may take some practice, you will find that canning is a valuable skill that will extend the shelf life of key for months to years.
How to Purify Water
Over the years, I grow continually amazed by the number of people that think they only need to boil water in order to make it safe for drinking. While this may have been a safe enough method during the pioneer era, it is one of the most dangerous things you can do in these difficult times. In order to understand why, you must understand just how polluted potable water sources have become in the last few decades. Here are some things you will have to contend with that the pioneers may have some answers for, but may not have used very often:
- heavy metal contamination – no matter where you go, streams, rivers, and even underground water sources may be contaminated by lead, chromium and other dangerous heavy metals. If you boil the water, the “clean” water will evaporate as steam and leave behind water that has an even higher concentration of heavy metals than before. While the pioneers may have eliminated some toxins by using activated charcoal, you will need to know how to make and use bone char in order to reduce heavy metal contamination.
- Pesticides and fertilizers – as with heavy metals, these contaminants have leached into just about every water source that you can find. In most cases, activated carbon can get rid of these chemicals, however, you will need to use it for every drop of water that you drink or use for cooking. I could also make an argument for purifying bathing water because many pesticides and other toxins can be absorbed through the skin.
- Pharmaceuticals and other drugs – right now, some people say this problem occurs most in municipal water supplies. On the other side of the equation, most municipal water comes from aquifers, and man-made reservoirs that flow right back into streams and rivers. Therefore, chemotherapy agents and other drugs that get flushed down toilets and sinks also wind up polluting water dozens to hundreds of miles away from the source they were released from. Needless to say, as with pesticides and heavy metals, boiling the water will only concentrate these drugs even more in the water that remains behind. Once again, you will need activated carbon at a minimum to get rid of these toxins.
We also recommend reading our article about living without a refrigerator.
Crop Irrigation and Water Gathering
If you have a small to medium sized garden, chances are you just turn on the sprinkler and relax knowing that your plants are getting plenty of water. By the same token, even if you have a homestead, you may not have thought much beyond keeping a manual water pump on hand to retrieve water from a shallow well. This is a vital place where you can learn a good bit from pioneers that were always conscious of the need to control the flow of water. Here are a few things that you should also study:
- how to read the lay of the land so that you can figure out where water may collect underground. This is a vital skill that will make it easier to find water during droughts or other in times when an existing well becomes inaccessible.
- Dowsing – while there is a good bit of skepticism surrounding the ability to find water by walking around with two sticks, many people still believe in it.
- How to make french drains and other forms of irrigation ditches so that you can irrigate crops and bring water to a location where you can gather it more easily.
- How to dig a small, ground water level well and keep the water in it as fresh as possible.
How to Make Shoes and Clothes
As with making wine, dowsing, and other common pioneer skills like making clothes and shoes are another lost art that people rarely think about. It is very important to realize that modern clothes simply don’t last as long as the ones made even a few years ago. Fabric that is supposed to be sturdy rots and tears apart, while dyes never stop running. No matter how many clothes you have stored away, the fact remains you may need to make new garments sooner than later. Some important pioneer skills in this area include:
- how to skin animals and use the pelts to make fur or leather
- how to make thread from animal sinew and plant fibers
- how to make sewing needles from bone and other natural materials
- how to grow and process cotton or other plant based fibers to make yarn and fabric
- you should also be able to sew, crochet, and knit by hand. It will also be of some help to learn how to sew using a manual sewing machine. As nice as electronic ones may be, you will be glad you know how to use a foot powered sewing machine in time of need.
- Know how to make moccasins from leather as well as other kinds of shoes that have a more conventional looking sole.
During the pioneer era, people spent the vast majority of their time engaged in activities that were directly related to survival. If a major social collapse occurs, you will also find that you will be spending far more time than usual on the most fundamental aspects of survival. Learning how the pioneers made a living is important for preppers, provided you also keep in mind problems that exist today that need to be accounted for. Please feel free to share in the comment box below about the pioneer skills you have mastered and how you see yourself adapting these skills to meet modern problems.