These days a lot of folks are thinking about how to survive tough times ahead. It’s tempting to end your short list after a stash of food, and an assault rifle with plenty of ammo. Good luck! In a pinch, it’s not the things you have as much as the skills you have that will be your most valuable assets. By the way, since it takes years to acquire all the necessary skills for provident, abundant living, I recommend adding COMMUNITY as a pre-requisite to an attempt to become truly self-sufficient. You will find that the task is much less daunting and the journey more enjoyable if you work with other like-minded people to divide, conquer and share the spoils of your efforts.
Whether you want to move into rural America or stay put in the suburbs, here are some skills you will need whether or not TSHTF.
# 1 Grow Fresh, Wholesome Food
Most people have some experience gardening even if it was just watching a bean grow in a Styrofoam cup way back in kindergarten. But could you live off of what you grow? It’s definitely possible. Our first summer garden in the Village provided us with roughly 80% of everything we ate, but we learned in subsequent seasons that doing it consistently can be challenging. We added a 2,000 square foot green house, intending to grow food year round and found that it was a whole different animal… uh vegetable. It takes time to build up soil quality, learn what grows best in your area, how to control insects, crop rotation and a myriad of other complex and inter-related issues.
Fortunately, gardening is the single most popular hobby in the USA, so you know that it’s rewarding and you can swap knowledge with lots of people. Agricultural colleges operate an Extension Service in most counties where you can get tons of useful, local information and soil analysis. Local farmer’s coops are a great source for tools, fertilizer and seeds. But your best source of information will be your neighbors who have successfully grown food for years. They know local soils and weather patterns and where to buy or trade non-GMO heritage seeds.
Extend your garden with permaculture methods by planting a fruit and nut orchard that will yield abundant crops year after year without tilling and planting. But start soon. Developing a productive small-scale farm takes time.
#2. Learn to Weld
Learning to weld is easy, especially if you use a MIG wire-fed welder. Just adjust the wire feed speed and voltage to match the thickness of steel you are welding. You can get the hang of it with just a little practice and a few tips from a friend who knows how. Community colleges often offer inexpensive classes on Welding. One near us is also certifying welders for work at nuclear plants in Alabama and NE Tennessee.
I bought a little 120V MIG welder at Harbor Freight for about $100. It’s a good idea to stock up on a bunch of flux wire. Not a bad investment as inflation kicks in, especially on commodity intensive stuff like steel. I use my little welder a lot and liked it so much that I bought a second one that runs off of 220V current and can do deeper welds. It was about $180.
If you haven’t welded before you will be amazed at how often you will use it, whether in a survival situation or just doing some DIY repairs around the house or shop. Then again, you can barter or start your own small welding business for some extra cash.
For real self-reliance you might want a portable generator/welder combo. You can find these for sale all the time on www.governmentliquidation.com or, just use one of the generators you already have. When we built the amphitheater stage, we added a 40’ container with massive doors that open to a big movie screen and lock closed to house the barbecue and A/V equipment. It’s in a scenic, remote location at the Village. My 7KW Honda generator and MIG welder worked great. I’m now putting the finishing touches on a guest house built from two shipping containers. If you plan to do any welding on this scale, I also recommend getting a plasma cutter, also available inexpensively from Harbor Freight.
#3 Learn Basic Carpentry and Home Repair Skills
Start with some DIY projects around the house. Build a deck, a shed or a playhouse. Building it plumb, square and level are the basics and are easily learned. Ask a friend who has some carpentry skills to help out. The Amish don’t have a patent on community barn raising. It’s a great way to learn, build something great in a short time and bond with resourceful friends.
Any long-term crisis requires these skills. Even in good times there are plenty of opportunities for the service-minded person to enjoy helping a widow or single parent in need. I have found there is nothing more satisfying than building or fixing something well. Carpentry, Electrical and Plumbing skills will all be in demand. Having learned some of these skills from a friend, if you are the one on the block who knows how to fix stuff it’s your turn to make a lot of friends quickly.
#4 Learn To Trap and Hunt
Hunting is one of those basic survival skills that have also found their way into mainstream recreation. There are plenty of hunters around. You need to make sure you are one of them so some of the local game finds its way onto your table and not someone else’s. This is a skill that takes time to master. It’s not just about marksmanship. It requires one to understand the movement patterns of animals in the wild – the where and when of their eating, drinking, sleeping, communication and mating patterns.
Since we have an abundance of hunting land right here in the Village, it has been easy to barter for hunting lessons with good hunters for the right to hunt here. I think that’s a far superior learning method to book or video learning because it’s local. But traditional learning methods have their place too.
Trapping gives you a more reliable, efficient way to get fresh meat. Traps and snares work while you work at something else or sleep. Traps can cover a wide area. A hunter can sit in a tree stand all day and not see a thing. If you are more interested in dinner than sport as I am, trapping is for you.
There are a lot of different types of Snares, Live/Box traps, leg hold traps and body gripper traps. Each has a different purpose and different methods that need to be learned for trapping anything from small game like rabbits or squirrels, to large game like deer or feral hogs to nuisance animals like coyotes, beaver or raccoons.
Look for a local Trappers Association and join up for their mailing list, workshops or just some fun outings.
#5 Learn how to Butcher Animals
This skill is a natural, not only for hunters and trappers. Near the Village there are several small farms that raise grass fed or free range livestock (beef, goats, chickens, turkeys, etc.) One of our Villagers is an avid carnivore. He’s in the process of buying more land from me, planning to raise his own beef. I lowered the price a bit with an option to keep a cow of mine in his pasture land. Butchering skills come in handy for significantly reducing the cost of bringing your beef (or chickens or wild game) from the field to your dinner table.
The first time I butchered a deer, I was pretty clueless. It was a partial road kill, with a broken back it limped onto my property and I needed to learn quickly. That deer made it into my freezer and we enjoyed the venison, but it wasn’t pretty. Later a hunting friend showed me how. Learning how to properly butcher and store animals for meat is a skill that everyone wanting to be self-sufficient should have.
#6 Fish for Food
This isn’t about trophy or pleasure fishing where a secondary objective is to have a nice nap in the sun. You need to be able to bring in a quantity of fish reliably and fast. First, buy and learn how to use trotlines, fish traps and nets. Then learn how to make your o wn.
Like trapping, a good trotline can be left to do your fishing while you build a barn or chop firewood. And when you return, you’re likely to find several fresh fish on the same line just waiting to be fried up or smoked.
In spawning season, many fish will school up and move together. My wife and I have enjoyed a salmon run on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. Many other freshwater lake and river fish like Walleye, Bass, Stripers and Crappie have similar spawning behaviors you can take advantage of.
Google trawl and gill nets for supplies you need.
Warning! These techniques may be illegal where you are. Be familiar with local regulations. But then, if it comes to a choice of a potential fine versus hungry kids, well… you decide.
#7 Gunsmithing – Learn To Repair Guns
For the aspiring Survivalist or Self Reliant person, having a variety of guns for various purposes is a no-brainer, whether for hunting or defense. Knowing how to clean, repair, site and adjust guns is probably just as important as knowing how to use them. Any guy who has been through basic military training remembers that one of the first things you learn is how to disassemble, clean and reassemble your weapon efficiently so it will work properly? No shortcuts when your life depends on it. Keep basic spare parts for your guns and learn how to fix each one if it breaks.
Many Video’s and Books on Gunsmithing can be found on Amazon or Brownell’s. Pick ones that cover your gun types.
#8 Operate a HAM Radio
We decided early on that having someone in the Village with communications skills and equipment is important. With the many skills I need to master, we decided another Villager would take this on. He happens to be my brother who is just finishing his house. Since he already had his license, this decision was easy. For now, he has a good portable HAM, but he’s planning to install a fixed unit with tall antenna. I plan to get my license when I can get to it. In a disaster, a HAM radio is your communications lifeline to the outside World. To appreciate its importance, there was a great TV survival mini-series a few years ago called Jericho. You can find it on Hulu.com.
Last year, the requirements for a HAM radio operator’s license became a lot easier. No Morse code is required. A few hours study and pass an online test and you’re on your way. Then, join a local club for practice and to build a resilient network.
#9 Advanced First Aid
“Knowing advanced life saving first aid skills should be the goal of every person who is prepping for life. And I’m talking about skills that go above and beyond those taught in basic first aid classes.
Learn how to treat major wounds, such as a sucking chest wound, until help can arrive. Could you set a broken bone? How about removing a bullet? It’s not as simple as some macho guy on TV makes it look. You’ll have to assume at one point during a crisis, you’re first aid skills will be needed. If not by you, then possibly by a family member or friend. You may be their only hope for surviving.”
The Survival, Emergency Preparedness and Self Reliance Blog
#10 Small Engine Repair
Small engines provide most of the power that makes self-sufficient living enjoyable and even doable for folks of our time. As I look around our homestead, I’m surprised to count the number of small engines I use. (Chain Saws, 4-Wheeler ATV, Generators, Pumps, Air Compressors, Saw Mill, Rototillers, and the list goes on)
Knowing how to repair any of these small engines is a huge plus because it seems they’re always breaking down. Because we’re in the country there are a number of small engine repairmen I can and do depend on, many more per capita than you would find in a big city. Most people around here use small engines a lot. But in a crisis situation, good repairmen may be overwhelmed. Your local community college may offer classes on basic and advanced small engine repair. Once you’ve learned the basics, the rest is a piece of cake.
Auto repair has elements of Small Engine repair skills, and I’m tempted to include it here, but in a real crisis I’m thinking of getting back to alternative modes of transportation. Automatic transmissions or sophisticated electronics built into most newer model cars are way beyond the reach of today’s shade tree mechanics. If I can fix the small engine on my 4-wheeler that will get me by for transportation within a ten to fifteen mile radius, that will do, especially if I have more than one vehicle. I do have an older model 4-wheel drive stick shift, carbureted vehicle. It’s great for off-road use or on icy roads. And, for those wanting to be prepared in case of an EMP attack, it has no sensitive electronics that could be fried by a massive pulse. For this older vehicle, small engine repair skills will get me a long way. Then, of course I could go back to horse and buggy days as some around here do. I know where to buy a saddle horse for almost nothing. Come to think of it, where the cost of gas is headed, that might not be a bad idea.
At a minimum, you should be able to change a tire, and change out parts that frequently break like starters, alternators, water and fuel pumps. If you can’t do these simple chores, you’d better have money or another vehicle to rely upon should one go down.
This is my top 10 list. It is only the start if you want to be truly self-sufficient. To give credit where credit is due, I got inspiration for this article from a like-minded blogger on The Survival, Emergency Preparedness and Self Reliance Blog. My list is a bit different from his, so you might want to visit there for more ideas and a different slant.
#11 Food Preservation
Yes, there are many other important skills I couldn’t squeeze into the top 10. I’ll sneak in one more. Food Preservation is really important because in most climates your winter garden won’t satisfy all your needs for fresh food. Food preservation includes Canning, Smoking, Dehydrating, Salting, Pickling, Root Cellars, Refrigeration/Freezing and much more. Maybe I’ll do a list of the next 10 another time and lead off with this one.