In many western stories there is a scene where someone approaches a camp site after dark. Often the phrase “Hello the Camp” is used to hail those at the campfire. Many assume this is just a “Hollywood” line; it is not.
The need to identify yourself as you approach a group not your own, or any campsite (even your own) after dark, is a matter of life or death in many cases. American Mickey Marcus (aka Michael Stone – he was a member of the US Army and could not use his own name or US rank) became the first general in the army of Israel in 1948. He responded to a request by Ben-Gurion to help the nation of Israel establish an army based on the skills he demonstrated during WW2. Six hours before the cease-fire that resulted in Israel’s foundation, Marcus couldn’t sleep so he took a short walk. As he returned from his walk, he was challenged by the sentry. Never having learned Hebrew, he didn’t understand the challenge, didn’t give the correct response and was shot and killed. The only thing friendly about “friendly fire” is how bad the guy that shot you is going to feel about it afterward.
One of the most delicate operations to undertake is to enter a secure location, especially in low light, during unsettled times. Even in my house, when someone comes home at night, we always call out “Hello the House!” (except my daughter who sounds off with “It’s Me, Dad” – I never could teach her simple protocol). Failure to do so results in them meeting me and my 12 gauge shotgun checking out the open door. No sneaking in quietly to avoid awakening those asleep – I always wake up and I WILL find out who has entered. It is a lot easier if they just announce their presence. This in what passes for ‘normal’ times. After a SHTF event, stress is much higher. Approaching even your own camp, you must announce your presence to avoid a violent reaction from startled people inside the camp site. Outside your perimeter is “Indian Country” and very bad things happen there (no offense intended – anyone who knows Texas history knows about Comancheria and the Indian Territory that is now Oklahoma). Bad guys and harmful things exist out there. Is that noise in the woods your friend, a large animal/predator, an unknown human or a BG (bad guy) with evil intent?
Approaching a Camp
Approaching a camp not your own is even more delicate. Think for a moment how you would feel if your family has executed its GOOD (Get Out Of Dodge) plan, is en-route to the BOL (Bug Out Location) or has reached your BOL, and then an unknown group approached. Do they want to join with you, rob you, or stay as far away as possible? Can they bring anything of value or will they put unacceptable strain on your resources? Your security is already compromised by the fact that you’ve been discovered. If you let them in to your site, your security is even more deeply compromised since they now see what you have and are inside your perimeter. If they are prepared, they might be a positive addition but if they out number you or perhaps are better prepared, are you willing to cede control of the site to them? Once you let them inside, how do you invite them out if they don’t want to leave and you don’t want them to stay?
If you have those concerns, so do the people in any camp or group you approach. They see armed strangers approaching with uncertain intent. After SHTF the initial assumption will be that you are a threat. In truth, you are a very serious threat. Allowing you to enter their camp is a risk they may not want to take. Like dangerous predators forming a pack (I don’t know of any predator more dangerous than an armed, scared human being) the initial contact can go very wrong, very quickly. So how do you navigate this tricky terrain?
First do not rush into a contact effort. There is nothing you have to do that has to be done quickly. Spend some time observing the other group. You do have your binoculars, right? Look at them with cold logic. Are they going to add or detract from your group? Do you want to join with them if they will stress your supplies? Are they calm or nervous? Well organized or confused? Is there a leader or are they a mob? Have they improved their position or have they done nothing there? Remember, they have (or should have) the same questions about you. Expect them to do the same to your group. If you decide to contact them, you have made your strategic decision and now entered into the realm of tactics.
Science fiction writers, UFO fans and some government agencies spend time working on so called “first contact” protocol. The key to a first contact is that one side or the other will be at a tactical disadvantage. Both sides may believe they are disadvantaged. If the new comers approach you in force and heavily armed are they aggressive or just careful? Make a mistake here and you could be very dead. The key to a successful first contact is to accept as much risk as you can handle and no more. If the other group is too forceful in the attempt to make contact, you may be entering into a dysfunctional relationship so be careful. Trust you ‘gut’ instinct. If it FEELS wrong, it probably IS wrong. Back out and go your way. Avoid using force if at all possible but back away.
Try to arrange to meet the leader of the other group alone. The location should be as far as possible from your camp, and his, but within range of the rifle marksmen in your group (See Video on how to set up a meeting from the movie “Heat” click here). The leader of the other group may well want to be within range of his shooters as well. Fair enough, you both are concerned about security. Select the middle ground with care but recognize his legitimate safety concerns while maintaining your own security. With battle rifles that could be a place as far as 500 yards from your position. This gives the other group a sense of security while not moving you out of support range. One person is not likely to be an armed assault, reducing the stress of the meeting. Do not go unarmed and don’t ask them to go unarmed either. If they are BGs they will agree but lie; if you are unarmed then, you are dead. You have increased your personal risk so be sure the gain in survivability is worth that increase in risk. An ability to read terrain to select advantageous ground for your meeting is a skill that would be good to learn now. Military manuals on scouting and platoon operations are a good source.
The rules about forming a group before SHTF apply here as well. If there does not seem to be a good fit, disengage. Offer any intelligence you have on the path you’ve come (status of towns, road conditions, BG locations, etc.), ask about where they have been. If you have barter items you might ask about a trade if you are comfortable enough that they are safe. If you have medical skills you might offer to assist them if they appear to need medical help (be careful about sending your medical talent into a camp you don’t control – you might have trouble getting them back out). Even if not forming a group, this act of kindness will be good for both sides. Then wish them well and go your way. Pay attention to your back trail. The odds are very good the folks you’ve met are as nervous about you as you are about them, but after the SHTF you can not afford to be wrong so stay on your toes.
While I have written this as if two traveling groups meet, it applies equally to a group already at its BOL. With some modification (it is more difficult without back up support) it applies to an individual as well. In an abnormal situation like SHTF, stress is high and fear can cause catastrophic mistakes where firearms are available. At your BOL you have a better choice of the meeting place and terrain but care must be exercised. Under no circumstance should warning shots be fired. Remember, if you fire a warning shot you have “shot at” the people you are trying to warn. The resulting fire fight, that no one wants, is your fault.
Meeting after SHTF is always risky but it will be necessary if we are to begin rebuilding our lives. If they are concerned about the same issues that concern you, there may be a chance to form a group that will increase the level of security and odds of survival for everyone. If there is no common ground, then you have left yourself a way to break contact gracefully and safely.