Green Beret and outdoor survival expert Myke Hawke provides practical skills for how cope in any extreme situation in the outdoors. During his 25-year career, he honed his skills as a captain in the U.S. Army Green Berets, using his knowledge to start the survival training company Spec Ops Inc. He serves as a frequent survival expert on TV.
His book, "Hawke's Green Beret Survival Manual: Essential Strategies For: Shelter and Water, Food and Fire, Tools and Medicine, Navigation and Signaling, Survival Psychology and Getting Out Alive!" also includes more than 200 how-to illustrations.
Read an excerpt of the book below, and head to the "GMA" Library for more good reads.
Preface[book pages 14-20]
A bit of background before we begin . . .
I was born a po' boy in Kentucky. My Pa was a soldier and my Maw was a waitress and we didn't have squat. That's it.
We lived like lots of soldiers' families in the 1960s, especially the young ones like my folks: very, very poor. We literally had outhouses and well water. But hey, it wasn't bad. And like a lot of families during the '60s when the free-love and war-time mentalities separated the nation, my folks split up when I was young. So most of my childhood was spent living all over the Southeast with many different friends and relatives, whoever could take me in for a while.
What this meant was a lot of poverty and lot of hardship for my family, and a lot of time for me to try to escape all of that and explore the world away from all the troubles at home, whether it was in the country woods or the city areas not safe for the general public, let alone a child.
Now, much of the time, I'd be with my mother, back and forth in between spells with relatives, boyfriends, neighbors, sitters, and other friends or co-workers. My mother and father were both good-hearted people, but both had a rough childhood themselves and so, as very young parents, there were a lot of things they could've done better.
Many times, we had electricity or gas or heat or water cut off, or were evicted from our home. We lived in shacks, cars, and trailers with no utilities. We even lived one winter in a house under construction with nothing working, no doors or windows, buckets to catch the rain in the bedroom which only had one bed that we all slept in under one car blanket in all our clothes that we'd then wear to school the next day and all week.
So, many days I spent trying to scrounge food for my brothers and sisters since I was the eldest and the adult(s) were often nowhere to be found. Sometimes we'd have gas and water—shoot, if we only had flour, I'd make flat bread—and sometimes, I'd just go steal some food from the local store. Can't count how many times they caught and kicked me out of stores, haha! But when they found out what and why I was stealing, they'd usually just let me go.
Now, I could speak a lot about falling in with wrong crowd and all that, but that is another story. The key in that part of my growing up was that I had a lot of near-death experiences, from car crashes to shootings, stabbings and a whole lot more. In all that, I developed an approach to life that comes down to this: Never Quit. But what really set me on the path to cultivating a deep interest—and eventually, expertise—in survival, was the winter my mother went away.
I was 14; it was late fall in Virginia. I had started working at eight years old, doing yard work for folks around the neighborhood, then paperboy, dishwasher, and grocery bagger, before a great job came along. A friend was working for his stepfather doing high-water-pressure washing of trucks. They got a contract out in the country to use their water to clean the paint off a building and it was short notice; the money was good so I left that day. Now, I wasn't in school, and I'd often be gone days at a time. I'd tell my Maw I was at a friend's and that would be fine by her as she'd have one less mouth to feed. So, it wasn't too big a deal when I didn't show up for a few days, but this job was two weeks, and it just so coincided with a time when she was evicted and had run out of options in Virginia. She got an invite from a friend to move to Texas, and she took it, leaving with my lil' bro' and my two sisters, and without me.
Since we never had a phone, there was no way for her to reach me. When I eventually did return home, full of joy at the proper money I had earned, it was nighttime. It wasn't unusual for the doors to be locked so I broke in. I went for the lights and the power was off; again, not too unusual, but when I called out and got that hollow echo of an empty house, I knew something was wrong.
I slept on the cold floor and, come daylight, I saw the house had been vacated and there was a note on the kitchen counter for me. Something to the effect of, "Dear Myke, I had to go to Texas. Sorry. Love, Ma." And with that, I was on the streets. Winter was coming on hard and I had nowhere to go, but at least I had some money in my pocket.
I exhausted the good will of my friend's parents after a couple of weeks, and there were no more regular homes and couches available to me, so I took to the streets in search of food, water, shelter, and warmth. It was during this winter, when I had nothing, that I became a student of and believer in survival. Not that I knew it at the time; I was too busy trying to survive and being angry at my circumstance, in between bouts of sadness as well. I didn't like it, but I could understand my friend's inability to help me. I learned I could rely on no one but myself. On the whole I guess I did alright; heck, I survived.
I slept in dumpsters and hallways, broke into cars, homes, and offices—anything I could find. I found food in trash cans and behind grocery stores, ate lots of ketchup and mustard from fast food places, drank water from mall water fountains, took baths in public toilets, found heat in the form of homemade fires and the old fave: the heat cranked out from the refrigerator units behind grocery stores. I had to keep slapping rats that were trying to nibble on my head, but the need for heat made them only a small nuisance.
Spring came and I got a real break with a job at a grocery store, saved up enough money, and soon ran into my mother's number-one fall back guy, Earl (R.I.P.), and he took me in.
From there, it's just a story like many others—joining the service and growing up.
***** What I will say is that many men in the Elite Forces are just regular guys with a little extra drive. Some come from a background that pushed them a little harder; some come from the stock of being a little more gifted. But most are just regular folks who wanted something they believed in, tried, didn't quit, and they made it. That's all. When it comes to career military pursuits, some try to be the best at what they do. For example, one man might get into hand-to-hand fighting and become expert. Some focus on the shooting, or scuba, or skydiving, or other such skills. For me, the thing that always held my interest was basic outdoor survival. So, whenever we deployed, that's what I was interested in and developed. And over time, it became my area of expertise.
As to military background, my service started in the U.S. Army in 1982 and I've seen service in Active Duty, in the Reserves, in the National Guard, and later as a defense contractor as an operator and manager. I spent time in the Cavalry and Rangers before joining Special Forces. I qualified as a Special Forces Communicator, Intelligence Operator, and Medical Specialist attaining the enlisted rank of Sergeant First Class before being Commissioned as a an Officer in the Medical Branch. After 9/11 I was activated to report for the Special Forces Officer course, almost 20 years after first joining the Army. Upon completing this Detachment Commander course and all Officer Advanced courses required until reaching Lieutenant Colonel rank, I served in the Global War on Terror both abroad and at home. All told, my accumulated experience was gained in African, Asian, Latin American, Eastern European, and Middle Eastern theaters seeing combat in eight conflicts including over 80 actual engagements. An "engagement" in my experience was defined as folks actually shooting at me, unlike the current trend of counting a trip to the market as a "combat" mission. What it all means is that I gained a lot of real experience all over the globe under high threat—very risky and very real threats to my life with death a real, constant possibility.
***** As it was then, so it is now: I still have a job and family to tend, so you won't catch me traipsing off to live a life in the Alaskan wilderness for a year at a time. I find that to be a luxury only afforded to people with lots of money or lots of time. And that's not most of us. So I learn, do, and share what I can as I can in hopes that it will be useful for other folks like me: not the extremely rich or just plain extreme, but regular folk who have an interest in but not a consuming lifestyle in survival.
And my brand of survival could not be called "fancy camping," nor is it an interesting academic pursuit of lost traditions and ancient primitive practices. It surely isn't like some of the survival shows on TV these days that teach crazy stuff that might be able to be done by someone when things are extremely bad, but isn't the best thing for most, most of the time. For most, doing some of those TV drama-survival acts will get you killed. And finally, my survival teaching isn't some extension of all those military survival books out there, talking about techniques geared towards soldiers and the kit they have issued and available at all times. Heck, if you have even just a parachute kit for survival, you pretty much have everything you need.
Nope, this book is about a fusion of all these things. Using some real experience both from study and living, with some military aspects like the discipline and drive, with some good old fashioned common sense and, most importantly, the one thing we all have—the "will to live" no matter what it takes, to draw from everything around you to make it out alive and get home safe.
That's what I hope to instil in anyone who reads this book—the belief that you will survive, and the knowledge that will help you to survive. I want you to believe that just because you don't have all the goodies and supplies, or the training and experience, doesn't mean you won't or can't make it; it only means it will not be as easy and you'll have to try harder. But that's ok, because lesson one is the most important lesson of all: NEVER QUIT!
[book pages 22-26]
Introduction: The Hawke Teaching Methodology
When it comes to learning, I am not a natural genius or gifted with a high IQ. What I do, and do very well, is work smarter, not harder. More times than not, this actually serves better than having big brains, as those who do often know too much and perhaps think too much.
Within my company SPECOPS (www.specops.com), we train civilians in the skills of survival with a focus on medicine, mental and physical fitness, self-protection, food, water, shelter, navigation, and basically how to get out of simulated survival scenarios alive and well. These scenarios can border on the extreme, but our teaching methodology always remains simple: provide the most useful information and skills, and do so in a way that our students will be able to comprehend and apply the knowledge quickly and accurately.
When it comes to teaching, I try to reduce everything down to it simplest components. Then I place those components in order of their importance or sequence. I reduce these key concepts to one word each, then I use the first letter of each word to give me an acronym. Each word within the acronym reminds me of a phrase, and each phrase helps me to remember what I need to do or know. This method helps me retain complex information without feeling overwhelmed, and enables me to act effectively without becoming subdued due to the sheer volume of information.
An example is the common term "ABC" as it applies to basic first aid—Airway, Breathing, and Circulation. I, however, jumble the acronym to "CAB" for Circulation, then Airway, then Breathing, since most folks in dire situations are suffering from wounds and bleeding more than airway issues. Also, we can go a minute without air and be fine, but we can bleed out in a minute and be dead. So, I remember CAB, and if I don't tend to these elements in that order, the victim will be catching a CAB—to the afterlife. I'll expand on this lesson inside the book.
For now, another quick example of my teaching methodology is the "K.I.S.S." principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid! That's exactly what I always try to do, and encourage you to do the same when in a survival situation. So in this book I will normally reduce everything down to one word. Those will lead to other words, then other phrases, then other concepts and ideas. In this way, you will have a mental survival kit containing the smallest, lightest things with the most uses.
You might also notice as you go along that I stay away from using names. I don't say use this tree or that plant as you never know where you are going to be. I don't give a rat's butt what a thing is called by scientists or other experts. What I do care about is universal principles. There are always exceptions, but for most things there are general rules that will serve you well. For example, it's not important to know the scientific or common name of every hard wood—if I can't stick my thumbnail into it, it's a hard wood. If I can, then it's a soft wood. I will then use it according to my needs. If a wood is light and floats, maybe I'll use it for a boat. If it's hard and tough, maybe I'll use it as a weapon handle or tool.
I suggest, as you go about learning, that you ask questions of folks wherever you are. Don't mind so much what they call something, but rather note how it looks, feels, smells, etc. Then note its purpose and uses, as food, medicine, tool, or poison. And then give it your own name. This is how you'll retain it best, and be most likely to recall it when necessary and apply as required. For example, I don't recall the name for a plant, instead, I'll name it the medicine plant, like the "tummy ache leaf" or the "fever root" or the "roof-tile leaf," etc. This way, I'll be able to identify a familiar plant and associate it with its purpose. After all, that's all I really need—to see it and to use it.
With all my subjects, I teach that you should try to know about 10 options. Master one, be very good at two more, have tried three more, and be familiar with four more after that. If you have about 10 options for food, water, fire, and shelter, and master at least one in each category, you will be able to do whatever you need with the one you master and the other nine will serve you in various situations should circumstances change or preclude you from doing the ones you know best.
So, these are the basic things that everyone should learn, know, and be able to do with nothing but your bare hands, the clothes on your back, and your knowledge:
FIRE: Know how to make fire in at least one way with sticks only.
SHELTER: Know how to make one type of shelter from scratch that stops wind, rain, cold, and predators with no tools to assist you.
WATER: Know how to get water with no tools in at least one way, in the primary area where you live, work, and travel.
FOOD: Know how to make at least one simple trap or snare very well, and/or at least one fishing technique, with nothing but what's around you.
PLANTS: Know at least three plants that are edible, nutritious, filling, plentiful, and easily identifiable in the area where you live, work, and travel. Learn them by their leaves, stalks/stems, and roots as all three are part of the plant, might have use, and will confirm identity of the plants. Take into account the seasons when they grow and soils where they grow, and any relative plants that are around that might lead you to them. Also know at least three plants that are medicinal in some significant way and that are easily identified, readily available, and most useful based on your needs.
WEAPONS, TOOLS, INSTRUMENTS: Know how to make at least one weapon that can defend your life or take an animal's. Know how to make at least one tool that can assist you in improving your quality of life.
When you finish this book, don't put it down. March right out with it into the woods or whatever your environment is, right now, today, or as soon as possible. Do this at least once, if never again, for the sake of your future survival and for those whom you care to return to should you ever become separated. Do it for life.
Finally, know that this book will NOT save your life. Let's just set the record straight right up front. This book will give you some vital information that will serve you in a difficult time. But at the end of the day, should this hardship come your way, there you'll be and then . . . YOU will save you. That's all I have to say on that. Happy Survivalin'!
WARNING: If you are a survival expert or outdoor professional, this book is not for you! (Although you may learn something useful which you may have considered beneath your skill set.)
This book is for every housewife, businessman, weekend adventurer, and any other person who is exactly the opposite of the typical tested survivalist. It's for anyone who may one day find themselves in a dire position between life and death, where survival comes down to will and certain skills that you may not otherwise have. And my primary goal is to impart to you both the supreme importance of developing your natural will to survive, while also providing you with enough simple skills to make it happen.
Myself, I didn't ask for this and didn't necessarily want to ever be in the position where survival was my only option. But it came to me, and I learned from it. And now, I feel it'd be wrong of me not to share what I've learned. And that is the simple fact that anyone can survive even the harshest circumstance; they need only choose to do so. The rest is simply details that will help along the way. This book is meant to provide the simplest means to that end—everything you really need to know to survive, and nothing else.
[book pages 257-260]
Fruits, nuts, and berries are found all over the planet. Even in the arctic it is possible to dig up berries from under the snow. The problem is that they come in so many shapes and sizes and colors. So, all one can do is to be on the lookout for anything that looks like these things, and then apply the rules of the UET:
Amount: Are there lots to eat, or are they big enough to make a real meal from a few? About: Do they look like something you know or have seen before?
In Doubt: Do any warning signs—smell, touch, taste, look—call it into doubt?
If in doubt, throw it out!
Also keep an eye out for the critters around you. Are they nibbling on something? Could be a nut or berry. Are there lots of insects about? They could be attracted to some fruit. Look on the ground; I've often found fruit and nuts not because I knew what their trees and leaves looked like, but only because I saw some on the ground and looked up—they couldn't have fallen too far from the tree!
An easy way to remember the berry rules:
PBB (like the acronym for Peanut Butter and Jelly, but replace jelly with "Berry")
Purple, Black and Blue Are Good for You (90% good to go!)
Yellow, Green and White Mean Death by Night (90% deadly to know)
Red can be good for the head, or . . .
Red can mean you'll soon be dead (50/50 is the red way)
Roots, tubers, and other stuff to dig up. Anything you dig up should be cooked if at all possible. Not only is there concern about ground bacteria, fungi, and other evil spores, but the real deal is that roots are a concentrate of everything that's in the plant as its storage facility. So, boiling or cooking can neutralize any toxins or otherwise strong concentrations that might cause you some grief.
Secondly, it's real hard to just arbitrarily go around digging stuff up. That takes time and energy. So, try to have an idea what to look or smell for, and only commence to digging if you're pretty sure or, if there are so many of a plant sprouting up that if it does have an edible root or tuber, you'll be in a good stock for a while.
Again, look at the ground for signs of disturbance to see if any animals have been rooting around trying to dig up and eat some yummy grubs. Chances are, if they dug, they got it and ate it, so study the plant stalk they left behind. Look for more of those and try digging one up and see if it's paydirt. It helps to have a digging stick for this sort of task.
Grass, greens, shoots, stems and all in between. Many plants that grow in and around water are edible. Also, people can eat grasses—not a lot, and they should only be the brightest green, newly fresh grasses, but they can be eaten—they are not dangerous and have some nutritional value. People do not have the enzymes needed to break down grass and get the nutrients out of it the way animals can, but a little grass in the diet can help a bit.
Many trees have brand new stems that are edible, or, when small little saplings are coming up out of the ground, they are often edible as well. Always apply the UET.
Eating trees! One thing that really makes me happy is trees. In combat, I go into the trees and have my moment in the quiet before the storm. But the main reason they make me happy is all the good things that they mean. They mean life! They provide shelter, weapons, tools, lookout points, fire, transport in the form of boats or litters, and medicine as well. They also mean food. Not only do animals live and rest in them, providing you a hunting ground and source of meat, but you can actually eat a good many trees!
For example, the spruce tree buds, needles, and stems can all be eaten raw, but they're better cooked. Many fresh baby sproutlings can be nibbled on from a lot of trees like the evergreen (green year round) coniferous (plants with cones) pines.
Birch trees have an inner bark that is edible, as do pine trees, too. See the list of edible plants by region for a better idea, but many hard woods do have some sort of edible inner bark, and many winter trees have nuts, and many spring trees have edible shoots.
It's not ideal and certainly not a complete survival diet to go around nibbling on trees, but if you have an idea of which ones in general offer a food source, apply what you know, all your common sense and the good ol' fashioned taste test and you'll likely be alright and find something you can eat.
Running Press, Spring 2009