Do Not Wait Until The SHTF Before You Practice Your Survival Skills


If you want to go beyond ‘Preparedness 101’ and ‘Preparedness 201’, an integral part of ‘301’ and ‘401’ is practicing the survival skills that you read and learn about.

Let me tell you this… It is easy to purchase just about any supplies, tools, and preps for just about any aspect of preparedness, however it is not necessarily so easy to apply those preps into survival skills when it comes right down to it – ‘the hammer hitting the nail’…

Let me put it anther way… Just because you have the ‘stuff’, doesn’t mean that you know how to use the stuff. And just because you might know how to use the stuff as it applies to a particular skill – doesn’t mean that you have learned enough about that skill to be adequately proficient. There is always a learning curve.

And I’m not just talking about ‘bushcraft’ survival skills, I’m talking about any skill having to do with preparedness, including modern survival skills with modern tools and equipment.

A recent comment here on MSB exemplifies this very important notion while learning one particular skill (foraging acorns), and it goes to show how long that it can take to learn valuable (and sometimes very critical) lessons while practicing your survival skills:

It took me FOUR years of trying before I got my first successful batch of acorns to make acorn tortillas. That’s right. Four years. And this was after many hours spent online reading everything I could find on the subject. (I think it is possible that many of the people writing those articles had never harvested an acorn in their lives).

Just FYI – make sure you are getting your acorns from white oaks. Red oaks have way too much tannic acid.

The first year was spent learning to identify all the MANY different varieties of oak trees. Eventually I found some nice white oaks near my house, but I was too late for the acorn harvest.

The second year I waited and watched my chosen trees until the acorns were ready to pick … and I came out the next morning with my acorn collecting bag in hand, only to find a blanket of empty shells under all my carefully chosen (now acorn-less) white oak trees. No one mentioned the fact that squirrels gorge themselves on the white oak acorns the minute they are ripe (and they bury the red oaks to leach the tannic acid out of them as they freeze and thaw all winter in the wet ground and eat them the following spring and summer).

The third year I found a huge grove of white oaks where the squirrels could eat their fill and there were still some left for me.. and I finally went home with my harvest of acorns. BUT I stored them in a plastic bag until I was ready to use them and they molded on me. No one mentioned how to store them if you can’t use them immediately.

Yep. It took me FOUR years to make a tortilla. And I have a masters degree.

MORAL OF THE STORY … Don’t wait until the SHTF before you practice your survival skills.

-comment from ‘bee keeper’

Many of you backyard gardeners will likely relate to the fact that it’s not always easy to simply grow a garden that produces a bounty of produce. LOTS can go wrong. It takes years to learn from your mistakes (I’m still learning!). I made some mistakes on my own garden this year and will correct them next season. It’s never ending it seems. It gets even more challenging as you increase your garden size or try new vegetables.

I know there are preppers out there who feel cozy and comfy because they have bags of seeds for ‘just in case’. Well they are going to be in for one big surprise if and when they actually have to use them if they are not currently practicing gardening!

Same goes for food preservation. There are many techniques. How many preparedness-minded folks have actually tried them? How many are proficient with any of these techniques? Just because you have purchased a pressure canner and several cases of canning jars doesn’t mean that you will know how to do it when you need to do it…

Just because you have a Magnesium Firestarter or FireSteel does not necessarily mean that you will be able to build a fire. Have you ever actually tried starting a fire with your FireSteel? Have you tried to build a fire when it’s all wet outside?

Just because you bought a firearm and have practiced shooting with it a few times does not mean that you are proficient with that firearm.

Just because you have 5-gallon buckets filled with wheat berries does not mean that you know how to make a loaf of bread from scratch…

Listen… the examples are endless. You know what I mean…

The very important point is this: Practice your survival skills now, BEFORE you actually need them. Make the time.

Have you any examples of learning a particular ‘survival skill’, how long it took, or surprises along the way?

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  1. I am going through the acorn stages myself right now. My biggest problem is finding any uneaten. That’s okay though, we have an over abundance of squirrels as a result. So even though I have yet to gather enough acorns to make flour, we will have plenty of squirrel on the menu until such time that I can gather enough acorns for our own use. Also deer and turkey like acorns. As the wildlife population decreases the acorns available should increase.

    As a side note, I have been downloading all kinds of squirrel recipes.

  2. This is also why I feel at least a three year supply of food is ideal as you have to keep getting over those learning curves.

  3. Perhaps some additional knowledge to gain. How to properly skin and prepare, (butcher), wild game to maximize every portion of the animal, not just for the meat, skinning/tanning of hide, antlers for handles, etc.

    Being in the best physical shape possible because having to walk distances while also carrying a load will at some time be required.

    Also knowledge of first aid and the tools required to use. If you have already taken First aid courses and if you took the the course years ago, consider taking a refresher course, it just might save a life!

    Thanks again Ken for reminding us and helping prepare us!!

    1. I agree with the first aid training. I was a line medic and spent two years in Afghanistan and got A LOT of practice and learned a lot. I’ve taught first aid and the combat life saver course and I can tell you from experience that a first aid course is a good start but doesn’t cover enough trauma. I don’t think people can wrap their brain around not having access to hospitals. First aid courses teach how to take care of “boo boos” not GSW’s, major burns, or serious trauma. I always added more to my combat lifesaver courses because I wanted my guys to be able to take care of each other until I got there or if I got hit. A lot of counties offer EMT training courses for volunteers for free. I suggest learning and practicing medical skills as much as possible. I’ve been out for 9 years and still practice because they are dimishable skills

  4. Good points all around. We are prepared.

    We live a ranching lifestyle, can, butcher and prepare our own foods regularly…plus now growing our own eggs and have at lease TWO broody chickens to hatch us more!

    Practice makes perfect folks….so if you do not have a shooting range (we are lucky enough to have our own) then make sure you go at least once monthly. Shooting is a perishable skill.

    I get to “stitch” or do surgery on someone/something pretty often here on the ranch, so those skills stay fairly fresh.

    Keep up the good work folks, and share your knowledge with any fledglings willing to listen.

  5. What do you mean “practice” – heck life for many has now become challenging. But for many here, using survival skills is no more than everyday chores. We garden, store, shoot, fix, build, tend, observe, learn, chop, saw, butcher, shelter, …. and enjoy NRP TP tribulations. It is not easy or cheap to get to this lifestyle but well worth it when achieved.

    1. @ homebody

      Extremely well said; I might add that nobody ever said Life is easy, I believe those that have had it a little “rougher” are a he!! of a lot better off that those that were born with the proverbial “sliver spoon” sticking out of their XYZ’s.

      FYI the Tabulation of the TP is hitting 400…. HAHAHAHA Boy oh Boy, that’s a lot of dead trees for my XXXXX, LOL


      PS; your exactly correct, this lifestyle is not easy or cheep to get “into” but I would NEVER trade for all the rice in Thailand. And I have to tell you, I get GREAT enjoyment doing things the “old way’s” and using the skills my Father taught me and the things I have learned on my own.

      1. @NRP,

        Right there with you on that TP count. My problem is keeping the stockpile up. I swear the women around here must eat the stuff. Don’t tell my wife and daughter I said that though or they may have me using leaves from one of those big Burr Oaks out back.

  6. Ok, I’m going to comment on this fairly early so everyone can beat me up.

    853 times I have said to “live the lifestyle”, now I don’t mean quit your job in Calif and move to a Montana ranch with your Bowie Knife and a tent. I mean, as Nike would say, “Just Do It”.

    Here are a few simple examples:

    If you happen to like canned green beans, rather than just going to Wally World and buying 3 cases of canned beans, go to a local “Farmers Market” buy a bushel of green beans and can them yourself.

    Rather than toss out those torn Blue Jeans sew a patch on them and use then around the yard.

    Try repairing that Lawn Mower yourself. Even sharpen the blades of that Chain-Saw with a file.

    Build a Shed.

    Try making a Hat, use Tin-Foil if ya want, hehehe

    Try doing a “Lights Out” weekend, as I do many times a year just to see what I forgot in the preps.

    As Ken said there are many many of things you really should practice, so you get the point.

    Someone once asked me “how do you know what/how to prep for my family?”, my answer was simple, “Try to put yourself in a place with absolutely NO outside help or ‘conveniences”. I went on to explain, No power, No water, No food, NO, Smart-Phone, No transportation, No FEMA, No NADA, I told him to look around where they lived and imagine how could they live and “do well” without any outside support at all.

    I emphasized the number of Skills needed to do this would be extremely overwhelming, but take one step at a time. I also made it perfectly clear these skills and preps will NOT come in a week or a month, but if he never started, he would still be where he is now….

    OK, back to Ken’s article and what he asked. Being in the “lifestyle” I probably have been doing most of this “stuff” for many many years, but I’m always finding new and fun things to do. As an example, I just started to Salt/Dry cure meats, never did it before…… this stuff is GREAT!!!!

    One of the BEST learning and practicing processes I have found is to do the “Lights Out”, Doing without power, supplied water, store food, no vehicle and other things that one would normally “just run to the store” for. I don’t stay in the house or use anything from there that I would not have with me if there was a total crash or EMP type of thing. I would greatly recommend those that are new to prepping try this a few times; it’s very eye-opening. Can hardly wait for the January “Lights-Out” time to test the cold-weather gear…. BURRRRRR Don’t forget the TP alternative. :-)

    FYI, learning 8 ways to build a fire may sound stupid, till you try it in a snow storm. And Bill Jenkins Horse, using explosives does NOT count…. HAHAHAH


    1. There is one electric device I would power up the generator for, a small and cheap chain sharpener – since you mentioned chain saw filing – this little grinder does a wonderful job and extends the life of the chain with greater cutting ability over a hand filed chain. I think the cost was under $30 and around $4 for extra grinding wheels. Much easier to gather that firewood for your BURRRRRR week in January.

      1. Just checked the price on Harbor Freight site – tool is $35 and blades are $7. Only tales around 15 min to do a chain just like new.

        1. For these with a Dremel or similar rotary tool, there is an an inexpensive attachment for sharpening chainsaws.

        2. I can’t understand how a power tool can do this job better than by hand.
          Sharpening my chainsaw chain takes me no more than four or five minutes.
          Two to three strokes per edge.
          With a power tool your more likely to take too much off each time you use it
          shorten the life of the chain and if you new to it potentially ruin the chain fast.

          Many many years ago I witnessed my boss (I was about 20) go at a chain with one of those power things, this guy hacked that up so bad and he used the power tool regularly
          I couldn’t understand why someone would do that, lazy.

      2. @ homebody

        I agree with the Saw-Sharpener, I actually have a nice one (was a lot more than $35 though). Yes I get lazy, my point being was one should also know how to do things without the “modern electrical conveniences”, like said sharpener.


        1. If you are going without modern conveniences, you’re best to start growing lambs ears. You’ll never go back to TP if you do. Aaaaah! what a great feeling….

          1. @ Stardust

            YA know, that almost sounded like a Toyota commercial….. HAHAHAH

            Lambs Ears do grow a little around here, just be very careful you don’t pick one that had thorns on it (Cactus). OUCH!!!!


        2. Yes. Still shopping for a two man cross cut saw with all the necessary accessories(tooth set, bastard files).

          1. Homebody, don’t forget the lumberjack hat and the red plaid shirt…Lol!

    2. I agree NRP.

      I myself have been unemployed for 18 months now and being forced into the lifestyle. Although I do love it and I use to practice most of this when the kids were little and I was a stay at home Mom, as it was just impractical to put the kids into daycare. I have found that I have gotten rusty on several skills, so it is good to practice.

      As far as lights out, our power company regularly will force us into practice mode with no warning and usually on a bright sunny day with no storm on the horizon. This is one area where we get plenty of practice. I am learning new skills now, like fermenting foods (other than beer). Never stop learning.

      1. @ Peanut Gallery

        Fermented Foods….. YUMMM, things like Sauerkraut, Open-Crock Pickles, Cheeses, Hard Apple Cider…. Among many others. Gata LOVE em all.


        PS; Beer is it’s own food group… HAHAHA Something to remember, throughout history man has always spent his last dime on a “drink”. Brewing is a true art form, and a valuable skill-set.

    3. NRP, what?!

      You mean there are other ways to start a fire?
      Well, I guess I could use the flame thrower…

      1. @ Bill Jenkins Horse

        Bill of all people you should know that explosives are NOT for starting a camp fire…. C-4 is for fishing… HAHAHA


        1. @ Stardust

          OMG girl, I know someone that actually grows those things, I just look at em and my mouth burst into flames.


    4. I have been jerking beef for the long term, for over a year now. I have coworkers that want to BUY the stuff from me….have no intention of going through the governmental hoops to do so, my stuff tastes great, and we KNOW what’s in it.
      We use it in recipes calling for beef, as well as in our self-dehydrated foodstuffs. YUMMY.
      Have to figure out how to do biscuits for the long term though, I love my biscuits a few times a month!
      Anyone have any good dry recipes, they are willing to share?

  7. It is better to learn skills that will come in handy someday. If not for curiosity or fun, it may be out of necessity.

    I hate to say it, but most of my skills developed when others failed me–failed to show up and fix things, they did stuff so bad I have to redo them, or they ripped me off by stealing my money and disappearing and I had to do them myself. I’m talking about plumbing issues, construction, electric fixes, writing/editing a magazine, engine repair, even my buckskin wedding dress.

    I have to thank those dead beat-rip offs for never needing them again. For those things, I learned how to build sheds, decks, stairs, drywall, framing, house and log home construction, put on gutters, fix my own circuit breakers, put in pipes and a septic system, overhaul my own motorcycle engine on my living room carpet, wrote/edited a magazine, and make a good living making hundreds of wedding dresses and all types of buckskin clothing and footwear for over 20 years.

    It was also not having and wanting something bad enough that I made it. I am trying to think of the errors in the processes, but I wrote down plans, sketches, measurements and made my own patterns that made everything fit just right…. except when I was 7, I made that airplane with a skate for wheels going down a steep hill that never lifted off the ground but crashed into the curb lol.

    It all became natural for me to learn many skills but didn’t understand why it was easy for me until I took some tests a few years ago and was put under high in mechanical skills and a genius level in visual mathematics. Then it all hit me… I’m an idiot savant ;-)

      1. It took me 64 years, you still have time to learn more than I, so don’t think you don’t have it in you :-)

  8. One thing I would recommend is that folks work on their trouble shooting skills.

    We all own hand tools but let’s face it. Using a rototiller in the garden for a couple hours is a whole lot easier than using a pick and a hoe all day.

    When it doesn’t start it’s good to know how to find the problem. But you have to know a little about your equipment. Seems the first thing that gets tossed or lost is the manual. Most times they have a trouble shooting section.

    Always go from easy to hard. People have a tendency to go immediately to hard.
    I helped a guy with his truck at H.D. He immediately thought it was his fuel pump when it was only the fuel pump relay.(BTW,a $15 relay kept a $20,000 truck from running. Just how fragile our equipment has become.)

    I get equipment given to me all the time because it’s “broke”. Most times I get it running on an hour or so.

    The shop I buy parts from told me they get equipment to repair that just needs oil added. Apparently the low oil cut off switches are pretty sensitive.People assume the worst when it’s the easiest.

    I’m no mechanic but I can trouble shoot and figure it out.

    With a little practice and some tools you can save quite a bit of money fixing it yourself.
    That way you can buy other supplies…like TP!
    Right NRP? LOL

    1. @ Bill Jenkins Horse

      Exactly correct. Why spend a tail-fin-load of money on something that; 1. You really don’t need 2. That you could fix yourself 3. You’re only going to use once (fad). Or 4. Ya already have it and can’t find it?


    2. You are so right. A guy brought me a new nail gun (compressed air type) and said it did not work. After he left, I put some oil in the hose connection fitting and presto – it worked. I took it back after I sprinkled a little water on my face to make it look like I really slaved over it. He still thinks he owes me much.

  9. Knowing how to ice fish, both tip up and shack spear fishing, hard to bank fish in the winter!

    Build. Your own multi-pronged spear with rod steel by brazing, one for smaller fish another for bigger fish (think like and muskie), navy beans poured on the lake bottom reflect light, like watching TV through a 2 1/2 square foot hand spudded ice hole, ice shack placed over it, with a milk can kerosene stove piped through the roof, all hand built. Bent pipes for shack skis to hand tow by rope. Wood, hand carved and painted yellow perch decoy, curved carved, leaded belly, eye screw in the back hand jig it to swim in a circle, an attractor and have seen Pike swim in and bite it. Learned how to fill the freezer building and using this gear. Just one example of learning by growing up living “the old ways”.

  10. Stayed with my grandparents one summer. She showed me how to can, apple butter, vegetable soup, pickles, beets & green beans. She also let me gather eggs from the chickens.

    Might not sound like much but I still know how to can vegetables.

    My father took me with him when he would cut wood for winter heat. So I do know what type of wood is good for kindling & what burns slow & long.

    With the garden, I’m learning as I go. Found out that mushroom compost is far better than other compost. Have used the companion style of planting,
    does keep the pest away.

  11. I couldn’t agree more with this article. I know so many arm chair prepper’s.

    People who have been able to purchase huge stores of supplies. But actually can’t figure out why a light bulb won’t work!

    I’ve also had people ask me, why I collect old hand tools.

    During the recent hurricane, I sold off 15 Generators. Most of them I got for free, and just needed service from not being stored correctly.

    I find most of what I collect at yard/ garage sales. Why do I want 20 shovels, or whatever. Hard assets my friend, tools in the hands of a skilled person= value. Being able to teach these skills = value. Knowledge and skills are always of value, regardless of the situation of society.?

    Do you know the basics of the major mechanical systems of your home??
    Hopefully you can change that bulb that doesn’t work.?
    And understand that water and TP flows down hill?
    The time spent to learn skills, is more of an investment.
    And pays off through your life time.

  12. You are so right!

    Even everyday skills require a certain amount of practice. I mean, it took DW three years to finally get the hang of baking the best bread in the world. And… we’ve been working the self sufficient angle for a long time and it’s only been the last couple years that we’ve finally figured out how to make the most awesome HOT pepper jelly!! Heck!!

    It took us three years to figure that one out and wound up dumping out a bunch of jelly because it was not up to speed. Same thing with sauerkraut, same thing with everything else we’ve canned and same thing with everything we’ve grown. It took several years to figure out how to make it right for our taste and expectations.

    Bottom line… It’s not automatic and you ain’t going to go into the forest and live like a king without some experience, and it doesn’t matter how many books you read.

    Try making hominy from scratch… wood ashes and all, and you will understand exactly what I mean.

    Still, this year we finally made the best hot pepper jelly in the world!!

    1. @ CrabbeNebula

      Ok. Since you mentioned several times about the BEST hot pepper jelly ever, how about sharing the recipe with a few fellow “lifestylers”? I know I sure would appreciate it. Thanks in advance.


      1. @NRP

        We got tired of fooling around with all the weenie recipes that “sound” hot but are really not so… We stepped off into the chasm… Grow and pick enough Habanero peppers so when they are ground up they will equal about 5 cups of puree.(you may want to wear swimming goggles and a face mask for the puree process.) If you don’t have enough Habanero’s, then you can add some Thai Chili’s or something similar like Tabasco’s.

        3 cups Apple Cider vinegar

        1 cup white vinegar

        (we removed all the seeds and placed them into a tea strainer and boiled them in the vinegar first for about 30 minutes to extract even more heat)… then throw out the seeds.

        6 cups sugar

        4 pouches liquid pectin

        Prepare canning jars (at least 8 (1/2) pints)

        Puree peppers in a food processor or blender with 1/4 cup white vinegar each pass.

        After all peppers are pureed, combine puree, remaining vinegar and sugar. Stir and bring to boil and boil hard for 10 minutes. Stir constantly.
        Stir in the 4 four packs of pectin and boil and stir for 1 minute and turn off heat and remove foam(or you can remove foam during the process).

        Quickly pour hot jelly into jars leaving 1/4 inch head space. Wipe rims, place lid and screw on lids. Place jars in boiling water and hot water bath for 10 minutes. Turn off heat, wait a few minutes and remove jars. This recipe should produce 8 1/2 pints and at least 1 pint left over. The reason I mention this is because my small water bath canner holds 8 half pints. The left over goes into the refrigerator to be eaten quickly.

        It makes an awesome spicy Peanut butter and jelly sandwich and is great on everything else… including slices of home grown bananas!!
        Last winter was mild so our banana trees produced a lot of bananas this year!!

        1. @ CrabbeNebulae

          Thank you for sharing the recipe

          Looks to be fairly hot, can’t wait to get it built. Still have a small box of Habanero’s (10-12 cups) so will be doing this week. I do think I will be forgoing the boiling of the seed pods, I like hot, but that may be over the top for me.. HAHAHA

          Thanks Again

  13. One thought comes to mind….

    Learn to live today how you expect to live your tomorrows.

    Peace n Out ;)

  14. My Dad taught us many things about using tools without injuring your body. I watch people splitting wood by raising the axe well over their head and arching their back and then watch my DH and he never raises the axe so high or even stands up straight. Who wants to pop a disc? Dad taught me to shovel by using a slightly bent leg as a lever and to push down on the shovel handle. Unloading a truck of gravel, the side of the truck is the lever. Also, never lift a large rock. Always roll it.

  15. @Bill J,
    The best way to fish (old fashion but it works wonders) is with a old hand crank telephone, no bait needed. Just do not fish around the Game Warden and you can catch all the cat fish you want. Just keep one unit on hand for when the SHTF, a real time saver.

    1. Hahahahahahahahahaha!
      And we DO have two hand crank GI phones, I always figured I might need one to “ring” up a confession or two, but I will try my hand at fishing…..

  16. Even when you become proficient at something you are still in for surprises on occasion. For example last year everyone’s cabbages started keeling over & then drying out. Turns out there were root maggots in them. One lady told me she had gardened for over 50 years & had never had this problem before. So sometimes we may run afoul even with experience & hopefully it isn’t at a crucial time.

  17. To: Peanut Gallery,

    You bring up a very important point about your white acorn tree and the squirrels. One good tree, shrub or crop row will bring out all of the vegetarians from the treeline to eat “the good stuff” from your yard and garden. I knew a fellow that had a white oak in his front yard. I watched wild boar and deer feeding at the base of that tree for years. He never did give me permission to harvest any of the creatures from his yard.

    I had to shoot deer from fields of green beans and leaf lettuce years ago during drought years. That kind of shooting makes me feel like crap because there is absolutely nothing “sporting” about it. It was ambush hunting made legal with the depredation permit.

    As pointed out earlier, if you want to shoot skunks and coyotes, build a chicken pen and henhouse and clear the brush away for at least 10 yards around it. (I like 20 yards) Get yourself a shotgun with a light attachment on the fore-end and wait. Nothing brings in the meat eaters like a pen of confined chickens.

    If you raise fruits and vegetables or meat far from town or your neighbors, you have to think about what you will do about crop raiders and/ or stock killers. You are creating a calorie equivalent of a seven eleven store in the middle of nowhere.

    For habitat improvement, I like the idea of planting a “good tree” like the White Oak or Walnut. There is the primary benefit of the nuts. People often forget the Secondary Benefit of being a wildlife magnet.

  18. Great site Ken:

    I forgot to add the story of eating crow: it tastes like chicken. I know because 2 of us shot a bunch of them from a small walnut orchard in an ambush. Land owner was happy, We had a wing shooting opportunity and we cut down the local crow population.

    the only losers were the crows.

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