For all the research, study and acquisition preppers put into their crisis survival planning, it seems to me many put off actual practice, save for a few specific skills. Sure, plenty of us will get in camping, hunting, hiking and trigger time whenever we can. Those skills are very enjoyable and certainly count as hobbies all on their own. Those of us that can afford professional training will often attend classes when we can. All good endeavors and worthwhile activities that improve our skills.
But what about the other, less exciting, glamorous or engaging skills? When do those get a workout, if ever? Things like loading up the SUV, kids, cans, cat and all on the clock? How about drilling your family or yourself on getting out of the house in the event of a fire? Have you actually rucked up and hiked your route out of town to your bugout location? When is the last time you practiced applying a tourniquet to yourself or someone else?
They may not be very much fun or garner much attention on social media, but those are still skills and drills to pay the bills when Death comes calling. The good news is no matter how deficient you have been on practicing some of your more mundane responses and techniques you can knock the dust off of them and practice today, and usually do it for little to no cost.
Repetition is the Mother of All Learning
It’s true. Practice. Drill. Reps. Evolutions. Whatever name you want to ascribe to it, proficiency only comes after much repetition for all but the most gifted of virtuosos. Getting in good practice reps regularly, even if it is only a few, is paramount to building and maintaining skills, and furthermore is the bedrock of procedural memory.
When a person is well-drilled on anything, a certain stimulus will usually result in the desired response at speeds beyond conscious thought. “I just reacted,” is a common refrain from trained and practiced individuals who were suddenly thrust into the situation they trained for. That level of proficiency is attainable by most of us if we put in the time.
Additionally, the confidence and stress reduction that comes with knowing you can handle yourself in a given situation is an asset, and helps you think clearly about a response. Your mental fortitude is contagious, and will help calm anyone under your care.
How Much Realism is Required?
Whatever skill or response you have in mind, don’t think you need to engage in “1:1” max realism practice to gain skill and confidence. Simple, effective dry-runs, rehearsals and scenario training can bestow significant benefit if you are practicing with a desired end goal in mind.
Obviously, there is no substitute for a practice run that is so intense and fleshed out it makes a real-event seem tame by comparison. But adding realism increases physical risk, cost, and complexity geometrically for most tasks. You wouldn’t set your house on fire to practice a family evacuation, would you? Of course not! So what’s the next best thing? Setting up smoke machines, lights and speakers to simulate the ambience of a house fire while blasting your furnace on 11? Sure, sounds pretty rad, but how much will that cost, and how much time will it take to set up per run?
A better solution for most prepared families would start with basics: learning primary, secondary and tertiary routes out of the family home in broad daylight. Then you could step up the difficulty by making them evacuate while wearing some kind of sheer blindfold to impair their sight, simulating smoke to a degree. Lastly you could prearrange a “real fire” drill by waking them up one night with the smoke alarm and have them do the same with sleep clouding their minds a bit. Add difficulty by blocking off known or likely exits to introduce curveballs.
There is a cost-benefit ratio at play: is the juice worth the squeeze? I am not dinging anyone that wants to step their practice up in difficulty and intensity if it is done with a purpose and deliberation. More power to you! I am simple cautioning against disregarding any practice that might not meet your standard of “real” practice.
Ideas for Practicing Commonly Neglected Skills
Below I will detail a few ideas for simple drills and practice procedures to let you get in practice repetitions on a variety of skills. You can take these and add to them or use them think up your own. If you are developing your own drills, take care not to make them too gamey: you should identify the desired outcome in a given scenario and setup your practice to hone and refine the actions that will produce that outcome.
I already covered a few ways to practice escaping from a house fire above, more scenarios are below.
Firearms– If you aren’t taking the time to get in at least three fifteen minute dry fire sessions every week, you are wrong. The very best shooters in the world use dry fire as a major component of their training regimen. Live fire practice is of course essential but you will see major gains in performance from implementing dry fire techniques. Long gun or handgun, dry fire pays dividends if you are deliberate and consistent.
The quintessential dry fire practice technique is working your trigger press while maintaining a perfect sight picture on a target. Most flubbed shots result from a janky trigger press, so refining this fundamental at home for no cost will translate to better shooting when you go live.
You can also practice drawing, reloading and malfunction clearance procedures. You can add complexity and practice vital carry skills when using a handgun by using the holster and cover garments you typically wear when concealing your firearm. Long guns can be practiced with while slung, and you should practice slinging and unslinging the gun until your can do so smoothly and on demand with no hiccups.
I know many of you will not need to hear this, but be absolutely sure you remove all live ammunition from the training area before commencing dry fire practice. Take it out of the room entirely or place it in a secure container for the duration of your practice session. Check every firearm, magazine, pouch and pocket twice. Ensure all dummy rounds or snap caps cannot be visually mistaken for a live round. Never, ever do any form of “dry” draw or presentation practice with a loaded gun. It won’t be long before you wind up with hole in something you don’t want a hole in.
Medical- If you have a few spare supplies, you should practice treating various simulated injuries, even if it is just going through the motions of diagnostics and then application. A great drill is applying a tourniquet to a limb on a time constraint, both your own or someone else’s.
Take care, as tourniquets applied properly are very uncomfortable or even painful, so learn how to do it properly and know what you are getting into before you practice this. You can add a little reactionary challenge by springing a surprise drill on a family member, or have them surprise you with one, that requires one of you to produce and then apply a tourniquet within a time limit.
Disclaimer: As always, consult your physician to make sure you are healthy enough to have a tourniquet applied to your limb.
Basic first aid skills like CPR or applying a splint, wrap or sling to an injured limb can be easily practiced at home, and will translate into greater fluency and confidence when applying these treatments for real. If you do not have or carry basic trauma supplies with you on a daily basis, this is a great opportunity to incorporate them into your EDC kit in a functional, accessible way.
Knowing how to use a trauma kit does no good if the kit is always in the car or at home. You must have vital equipment with you to make use of it. Figure out now how to keep a tourniquet on you and a bundle of Quik-Clot gauze or similar at a minimum.
Especially for medical techniques, you must know what you are doing! It is fine to refer to the internet and manuals for guidance and refresher training, but you must have formal, expert instruction in first aid and trauma treatment. A severe wound or injury is no time for improvisation. Get trained and, if applicable, certified. Then maintain your edge by regular practice.
On Foot or Vehicle Bug Out- I can assume most of you keep bug-out bags packed and at the ready as well as keeping a few supplies in your vehicles at all times. Good on you. Most of us also probably have quite a bit more we plan to take with us if we have even a little notice. Before hitting the road, you may have to load things like food, water, shelter, guns and ammo, not to mention the family, their BOB’s and the family pet.
Start by pre-staging what you know you’ll be loading near the vehicle; in the garage or a nearby mudroom is a good choice. Then start the clock and see how long it takes you to the get the vehicle fully loaded in a logical, efficient way. Run your final push-off checklist, then check your time. See if you cannot improve it in some way. Next time incorporate your family, with each member having responsibilities for the bug-out load according to their ability. It may just be getting their shoes on and grabbing their personal BOB for the little ones.
If you plan to bug out on foot or by bicycle, you can run the same type of drill by changing into appropriate clothes and footwear, grabbing your pack and other needed supplies and then taking off on one of your selected evacuation routes to hike out. This is a great opportunity to get more familiar with your routes and your equipment, as any mistakes in pack ride or comfort will become readily apparent. If you are not used to hiking or rucking with a pack, you may find your fitness level sorely tested. Better to discover that now than during a real crisis.
Take mental notes when hiking your routes of any potential pitfalls or hazards that may result in delays or become impassable. Be sure to hike each route at least once during each season to assess their suitability in different conditions. Done regularly, this will also go a long way towards improving your fitness!
The sky is the limit. If you have your own radio setup, you can practice sending and receiving during different times of day and in different weather conditions to determine the limits of your equipment. Practicing basic and primitive survival skills are always useful; try starting a fire in your backyard using only primitive or rudimentary tools. Try your hand at water purification. Make a shelter using found materials and cordage.
Even something as simple as using your lesser-needed equipment has merit; your camp stove, compass, etc. The more unknowns and variables you can eliminate the better off you’ll be during a crisis. Don’t forget that everything gets harder when you are stressed, tired, hungry and wet. Even simple tasks can become vexing in such situations. The more experience you have using your tools the better.
Greater skill with using your equipment translates to energy savings in a crisis, and reduced stress. Both are important considerations.
There are many skills to master in order to be truly prepared for a crisis. And while we may not have time to master all of them, you can achieve a high level of proficiency by being motivated and getting in practice when you can. By engaging in simple, effective repetitions of essential tasks, you can gain confidence, speed and fluency when the time comes to implement them for real.
Tom Marlowe grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, He has the experience in helping civilian shooters figure out what firearms work best for them.