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Tooth or Tail

I first came across the phrase “Tooth or Tail” in a paper entitled “The Other End of the Spear: The Tooth to Tail Ratio (T3R) in Modern Military Operations”  by John J. McGrath (download free).  I found it an interesting read but then again, I do not deny being a tad on the strange side.

By Captain Bart, a contributing author for

It started me thinking seriously about something we often talk about, the teeth, and the ramifications “the other end of the spear” has for our preparations.  As late as the early 20th century armies survived by forage from the land they marched through.  The problem was that it was an unreliable source of supplies after Napoleon’s Russian Campaign.  Napoleon did not burn Moscow, the Russians did and taught the world a valuable lesson.

Why burn your own fields and cities? So that the invader can’t use them.  Napoleon did not have a supply train large enough toScorched Earth Policy supply his army without using Russian resources and the Russians used a scorched earth policy to starve Napoleon’s army.  If you are willing to burn your own supplies, the enemy can’t use them.  In the 20th century, armies became more mechanized and less able to forage.  By the time of WWII about 1 in 3 soldiers were combat troops; the rest were support troops of one type or another.

A Survival Cache?

So what is the point for us?  Think about your bug out plans.  If you don’t have prepositioned supplies, you must carry them.  If your prepositioned stuff is discovered you may not have anything when you get to where you’re going.  This photo of an 1847 wagon train showed what was needed to travel in the 19th century

The animals ate forage when available but the wagon was the vehicle needed to move overland for a few weeks at a time.  Fresh Pioneer Survival meat came from the hunt but staples were carried.  If the weather was against you, you carried forage for your animals as well as all the water you would need.   The larger the party, the more difficult the move became because the strain on the resources of the area the wagons moved through increased.  If you get it wrong, the story of the Donner party is instructive.  If your plan is to grab your BOB and go, you might want to pause and think very seriously about your planning.  If you are foraging for supplies, your “Get Out of Dodge” plan means that you are not stealthy.  If you are not the first through an area, there may well be no supplies to find.  That is the bad news.

Mutant Zombie Bikers

The good news is that the MZB face the same facts.  Nature doesn’t play favorites; the rules apply to all.  If there are MZB, I MZB Survivalthink they will not want to leave their turf until forced into it.  Gangs will spend time trying to take territory from each other and playing Mad Max for a while.  By the time they decide to leave the city and spread out into the country, they will be deep into their reserves (if any) of food, fuel and ammo.  They won’t be able to use bulk stored items since it is doubtful that they know how to grind wheat to make flour for example.  They will quickly run through their supplies and then either perish on the trail or break apart on the defenses of some small town.

The tooth or tail question comes up when it is time to spend our money as well.  The old political question of “beans or bullets?” is very real for the prepper.   You are always gambling when you prep.  You are betting your life and possibly the lives of your loved ones that you are getting the right amounts of the right stuff for them to survive.  If you get nothing but bullets, then YOU become the MZB and you have all of their problems.  If you get nothing but beans you are betting your life that you won’t be discovered when the SHTF.  Possible, I guess, but not a plan I’m comfortable with.  Even if you could remain undiscovered post SHTF, you are still subject to home invasion, assault, mugging, animal attacks etc. before, during and after the SHTF.  So, what is the correct tooth to tail ratio?

That depends in large measure on what your favorite SHTF or TEOTWAWKI scenario turns out to be.  Since I don’t envision massive combat operations as part of my SHTF events, I lean more toward beans than bullets.  Teeth are critical, but the basic 3 gun survival battery is sufficient for all but the most extreme cases.  In the extreme case, you need full auto, preferably belt fed, and even then I doubt we’d make it.  I do think that you need that 3 gun battery for each teen or adult member of your group.  If you are planning for TEOTWAWKI, then you will also need firearms for minors or infants as they grow up or perhaps for new additions after the SHTF.  I use the military concept of the “basic load” for ammo supplies. I have an estimate for how much ammo I will use each month and set that aside.  I then look at my estimated length of need and that tells me how much ammo I need for my SHTF load. Your load will vary based on perceived hunting and defensive needs.  Add in any practice requirements and there you have your “teeth” requirement.


For the tail, you need around 2400 calories per day per adult.  This will vary by age, body weight and physical activity but it is Lewis and Clark Expeditiona good planning number.  Number of people times the number of days times the 2400 calories and you have your basic food load. A basic MRE is around 1200 calories so two MREs a day is required.  That is the basic calorie requirement; the psychological need for some variety and comfort food must also be taken into account.  This applies especially for long term survival requirements.  What do I mean by long term?  More than a month, up to and including forever.  Check out Lewis and Clark’s plans for a three year journey.  They were a military expedition, planning to forage from the land but they started in large keel boats in order to have enough supplies.

Also part of the tail is your fuel requirements.  How much diesel, gasoline, charcoal, lamp oil  or propane do you need per day? How about batteries for essential light or safety/optics gear?  If you can’t get more do you have enough, right this very second, to complete your survival plans?  If you have to GOOD (Get Out Of Dodge), can you?  Once you complete your GOOD plan, can you live well (not JUST exist but LIVE), long term in your BOL (Bug Out Location)?  Do you have what you need to farm, hunt, process food and all the many everyday things that just living require?  Check out books like the Fox Fire series for how it was done before the grid.

Are you prepared to home school your group?  Not just the children or the teens but everyone?  You need to be able to learn the things you don’t know.  Do you have a teacher or instructional materials?  For all the areas of interest?  Construction?  Land management?  Farming and fishing?  Medical aid?  Weather?  Edible plants and dangerous animals?  In my part of the world, Spanish is a valuable tool.  I need to brush up on my Spanish to the point that I can at least communicate effectively if need be.

Are you prepared to deal with medical issues?  Especially issues like insects?  They are an annoyance when I have enough repellent but with out repellent they can be a serious health issue.  There are natural remedies and repellents for insects.  Do you know them?  If not, they do not exist for you.

That is only a very, very short list of the things needed for the tail.  As we watch the world go nuts around us, the weather (how prepared are you for the worst drought on record?) and other natural disasters occur and financial collapse threaten on a global scale, we have to really consider our levels of preparation.  We have to make our best guess as to what is absolutely necessary and prepare for that.  My recommendation runs toward taking your best guess, doubling it and then add 10 percent just because Murphy was always so optimistic.  Above all, balance in all things.  Too much tooth (which can be more glamorous than the tail but it is hard to eat that tricked out space gun) or too high a logistics concern (great for the guys that take it away from you) and you are less prepared than you may need to be.  There are no guarantees of course.  Only our best effort to get it right.  Remember, the pros rarely get it exactly right so don’t expect perfection from your supply stores; just be as close as possible so you can improvise the rest.

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