Your Most Important Tool

20130218-143007.jpgMy friend and I picked our way carefully down the hillside toward a small clearing. The sun was setting, and the air was becoming chilled. As we walked, our eyes and flashlights swept our surroundings – there were plenty of holes and pieces of fallen brush to trip us up if we weren’t paying attention, and we could hear the first plaintive yips of a pack of coyotes further up the hill. We’d also seen the tracks of a wild pig, and though we’d not caught sight of the animal, we knew it was likely close by.

Between us, we carried some 50 pounds of gear and supplies – warm down-filled sleeping bags, tents, a pair of butane-powered stoves and the fuel canisters that go with them. We each had a half gallon or so of water – plenty for the overnight camp out we’d planned. A gallon Ziploc bag in my pack held an assortment of food – noodles, instant potatoes, dried blueberries, coffee, and more.I had a knife in each of my front pants pockets on this trip; my friend carried two more blades and a 9mm semiautomatic pistol. (Six hours after I got home from our trip, she’d call me to report that, while out on a short walk, she’d had to shoot a juvenile rattlesnake that had been inches away from striking.)

But despite what the outdoor products industry would have you believe, the most important tool in our survival arsenal wasn’t our gear, our food, or our water. It wasn’t anything we carried, nor was it something you can buy. But whether you’re facing natural hazards or human ones, it’s absolutely essential.

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20121117-212741.jpgI awoke this morning not too long after dawn, to a gray sky and a hammering rain. I packed my range bag, made a mug of coffee, and picked up a friend. Together, we drove for more than an hour to the range we shoot at.

When we arrived, it was still wet and gray and cold. The wind whispered through the trees and licked at the corners of our targets, past the places where the staples held the paper. We trekked downrange through a gloppy, sticky, rock-laden mud to erect those targets. My friend unbagged firearms while I loaded magazines.

We stayed out there and shot for nearly two hours. My friend plinked with his revolvers, while I worked methodically through the skills I’d identified that I wanted to drill during the session. I shivered just a bit beneath my jacket, despite my usual tolerance for cold weather. I had to stop shooting several times, to wipe the film of fog and mist from my glasses so I could see my target.

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