The Mountain Man as a Rifleman: An Analysis of a Better Survivalist Strategy

mtn-menWhen it comes to survivalism, prepping and general self reliance, an overtone of a militant nature flows through the veins of many. Rightfully so. The ability to skillfully protect what is near and dear to a community is the backbone of why one would prepare. Often enough this necessitates a high focus on military weapons and tactics in an effort to mirror that same capability. Its not that such a focus is wrong- it is not, entirely- but rather a modification of Light Infantry method, or a rejection of such in lieu of a better approach, may be far more effective while keeping you and yours alive.

Take the historical Mountain Man from the fur trapper era. Rarely were they the lone wilderness dweller types as romanticized, but rather were usually private contractors that served dual roles as both trappers and scouts for the US Army. While hunting or scouting in small groups, these men were constantly on guard for everything from combat with hostile native tribes and predators to natural disaster to flat out bad luck. By necessity they had to be a jack of all trades, and a master of quite a few just to survive. This should sound familiar to many. Their requirement to live is your goal, whether you realize this or not.

mtn-men2Another glaring fact to coincide with this reality is that the furtrappers of yore were not Infantrymen of any type; in many cases the men of those groups had served in various uniforms during wars of their respective eras, some were criminals running from a rough past, and others just misfits or all of the above, but at this point they were hunters and most importantly, scouts. There existed no support for them in any immediate sense. Outposts were usually days away at best, with material usually being sparse as-is even when it arrived. Their only assets were their wit, their marksmanship, their teamwork, and their ability to remain hidden and sustained through healthy knowledge of their terrain. They were Survivalists of the strongest type. It is necessary then that their experiences serve as a lesson and guidelines to how a mutual assistance group or militia would work in a grid-down world versus attempting to mirror a disciplined and predictable Light Infantry model with limited or no required assets.

Haweye.jpgFollowing a man’s best asset, his wit, skill as a marksman often was the measure of quality and made their  reputation. James Fenimore Cooper’s Natty Bumppo (also known as Hawkeye) was the perfect illustration of this, being a mixture of many of the legendary frontiersmen of the day.  In every case be it fiction, woodslore, or real, the ability to streamline and perfect practical marksmanship is the most critical skill a man at arms can have and in a practical sense should be one of the benchmarks of your own training. You should be able to estimate range, know the approximate trajectory of your own rifle, and be competent enough to know at what range you can make a clean kill- and more importantly- when you can’t.

In stating this, it must be recognized that merely shooting from a bench or under controlled conditions cannot equate skill in the field. Shooting fast at stationary targets, alone, cannot achieve such skills either. The former does not push the shooter beyond a comfort zone, the latter only wastes resources and assumes a reactionary stance, reflective of police and military tactics during peacekeeping occupations. Having done the later overseas, it is no model anyone should adopt as their own on these shores. Neither work for any sort of effective defensive plan. The mountain man, knowing that every round must count, and every round will give you away, worked diligently to know where those rounds were going before they were sent. Marksmanship was every bit as much about making a clean kill with that one shot as it was conserving their own resources.

mountain man horsesIn the small unit sense, mountain men were team hunters. Each man in the team knew how to move quickly and quietly while assessing terrain. All the skills of team movement, such as knowing where each man in the group is in the hunting party, having an experienced pathfinder and tracker taking lead, and the others watching for any and all signs of danger, all being well versed in land navigation, were exactly the model of small unit prowess that many seek today. Further, they knew when and where to make an effective ambush, whether it was to kill game or getting the better of a team of hostiles.  The ability to see the game first meant the difference between them living another day or dying a very, very miserable death. In that sense their hunting party is synonymous to a type of Light Infantry, where one is hunting and only concerned with winning and withdrawing versus taking and holding terrain for follow on forces.

mountain man blanketWhere this leaves you, the soul concerned only with protecting his own God-given liberty and posterity, is to view your skills, training, and equipment in a different way than some in the contemporary sense may. The mountain man of yore had no illusion of their place in the world- they were not Infantrymen of any standing army and had no desire to be, had no supply line aside from what was on their backs or could be procured, and above all else, knew wholeheartedly the very fine line they tread between life and death. For some, perhaps that was all part of the thrill of living. But all of the above was and is predicated upon their skill with a rifle; the ability to make the shot under any condition while tired and cold. Simple and effective kit, a good rifle, and the skills to make it all work was, and remains, the most effective model of survival and personal defense versus training to be exactly the opposite. The traditional mountain man scout, both individually and as a team, serves as an effective example of what the survivalist should strive to be. The jack of all trades and master of quite a few, including expert proficiency with his chosen weapon. They were not Infantrymen nor troops of any real kind; simply hard, stubborn, self reliant and skilled men. And you should be also.




40 thoughts on “The Mountain Man as a Rifleman: An Analysis of a Better Survivalist Strategy

  1. Pingback: Brushbeater On Mountain Men And Survivalist – Mason Dixon Tactical

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  3. LodeRunner

    Bullseye. The typical infantry mentality often treats the terrain (and the weather) as enemies to be overcome, instead of allies to be understood and employed with care.

    The brute force employed by large, well organized, and well funded military organizations is not an option for the Scout | Mountain Man | Survivalist | Irregular fighter. Not only do we not have the manpower, resources, or support necessary to possess and control territory in any meaningful way, we can also see that history warns against the hubris of such ham-handed attempts at power – there are countless examples of large, well provisioned forces being defeated [or at least held to a stalemate] by lightly equipped, grossly outnumbered irregular forces.

    Discretion, discipline, and self-sufficiency are the keys to success in any scenario involving social upheaval and/or government oppression, just as they are the essentials of living beyond the pale, as the trappers and mountain men of our history did.

  4. Anonymous

    Excellent, glad to hear this from someone like yourself. My father used to be into the rendezvous when I was younger and I used to go with him. Even then, (mid 90s) I was young and stupid and tended to like the “tactical” crap more. As I have gotten “older and wiser” I find myself actually enjoying blackpowder stuff more. Im even selling off my military tactical gear. So sick and tired if hearing about tactical this and that, infantry this, militia that. The mountain man of the fur trapper era is what every survivalist should try to be like, not an operator. Thanks.

    1. It’s interesting what people consider ‘tactical’, which is simply equipment reflecting a ‘tactic’.

      Most have serious issues with the second.

    2. PRCD

      The modern “operator” (SEALs, for example) are depicted in movies and books as guys who drive out of a “green zone” to “kick ass” and then drive back to safety. In Mark Bowden’s “BLack Hawk Down,” for example, this is exactly what happened. Elite US troops shot a bunch of Somalis, the Somalis killed 50 of us, then they won. Bill Lind writes that a better idea is to live amongst the population and intermingle with them so that you can protect them. More soldiers will die this way, but more goals will be accomplished.

      I am curious how one protects and provides for family while off playing commando? If the answer is, “You can’t,” then I imagine most irregular forces would prefer to use their own homes as FOBs rather than abandon their families to hostile forces. I think MOsby might have an answer to this in “The Reluctant Partisan” and I just haven’t read there yet.

  5. Rodney

    Enjoyed the article, informative and thought provoking. Following this line of thought, would it be better to carry a scout type rifle or stick with the basic AR configuration that you recommended in an earlier article?

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  7. This is good stuff. Since I started up Libery and Lead again I have been reading so much about how men from that era lived and it is amazing the skill set they held. 2018 is the year I prep me, the man, and concentrate on using the tools I have to the best effect and training the lizard part of my brain to do many things in auto mode so the thinking part can do other things.

  8. S. B.

    For some reason this article ( excellent by the way) reminds me of that guy a while back who shot that state trooper. He stayed in the woods for something like 48 days before caught and I believe there was quite a bit of resources expended trying to capture him. Light, simple with a knowledge of the area can really bog down OPFOR.

    1. Frein.

      Frein was an interesting case, and the facts surrounding it were a bit different than what was hyperbolized (as usual). Awful person, but an interesting case.

  9. dangero

    Lest anyone misunderstand this article and start having Mountain Man fantasies of growing a beard and getting to hunt all day to replace their Militia fantasies of getting to grow a beard and shoot UN troops all day go watch the movie “The Revenant” if you haven’t seen it. While slightly altered from the true life story it still paints a realistic picture of how tough life was for trappers of that time period.

    1. Mike Hohmann

      Realistic to a degree. People didn’t fall in the river, in freezing conditions, miles/days from anywhere, seemingly every other day, and live to talk about it. The movie got downright unbelievable in too many instances. The scenery was downright harsh and yet beautiful… the beautiful lady holding a dagger behind her back… beware!

      1. Ha yes…that and the actual Hugh Glass incident happened in the summer. But the scenery was amazing, as was ML Knives’ work on display.

  10. Lest anyone misunderstand this article and start having Mountain Man fantasies of growing a beard and getting to hunt all day to replace their Militia fantasies of getting to grow a beard and shoot UN troops all day go watch the movie “The Revenant” if you haven’t seen it. While slightly altered from the true life story it still paints a realistic picture of how tough life was for trappers of that time period.

    1. I’m glad you recognized the subtle Hugh Glass references. I actually had him in mind while I wroteparts of this, and Danile Boone in others. The Revnant got many details wrong but was just as harrowing as the real story.

      But the idea of what they were doing there is not unlike what many will be doing in our approaching future. And it’s a better model than running around looking like TF Orange in Balad. And I’m a bearded dude who hunts 😀

      1. Yes, sorry if that didn’t come across, you are spot on that the experience of the mountain man will be much more accurate for many (most) than that of a soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan.
        I meant to add that while more accurate it shouldn’t lead to people look to forward to it. None of us should look forward a collapse where reality means having to watch a loved one die over a simple infection because of lack antibiotics.
        I know you weren’t suggesting we look forward to it but I know for many of us stuck in a boring 9-5 job with bills to pay and all kinds of not fun responsibilities it is easy to picture this as a preferable way of life.
        PS I hunt too but can’t grow a beard worth a crap!

      2. Nah it came across fine- I was just wringing it out 🙂

        My experience in Afghanistan was far more relatable to a hunting party model versus the peacekeeping that a lot of folks get confused as being ‘tactical’. Then again, we were human hunters by purpose, and most of the guys game hunters in their spare time. So it gave me a unique perspective on small unit warfare I didn’t get in my two trips to Iraq.

        But on your last point- you’re exactly right. A lot of people do get caught up in that. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

      1. LodeRunner

        “He had a lot of friends where he was” – Object Lesson, right there.
        Loners end up like Eric Dorner – hunted, cornered, and cooked in short order.
        Those who have a community which will support them through adverse scenarios are bound to make it a lot further – maybe even long enough to survive a Super High InTensity manhunt (even uncle Feddy has limits on time and resources).

        I’m not advocating that anyone choose criminal activity – some people break the law, but others will face the fact that the law has chosen to break them. In such a scenario all the expensive gear in the world won’t save you, but having good skills and some good friends certainly might. Ask D.B. Cooper ;P

  11. CDG

    Amen. Tacticool gear and LARP-ing as a light infantryman is no substitute for skills. Mountain men had skills.

  12. Mike Hohmann

    Great story/post, ncscout. I have interest in the days of yore -18th, 19th century… the voyagers that hunted/trapped and traded as they traveled the rivers and Great Lakes of the North -especially those that traveled/explored the boundary waters between the U.S and Canada… from Minnesota territory, west through the Rockies of both countries, up through the Yukon into Alaska, to the Pacific. Deadly cold and rugged country, often above 10,000 ‘. Many carrying single shot smooth bore/riffled weapons, limited powder (that had to be kept dry), yada, yada. Tough times! You referenced ‘…the very fine line they tread between life and death.’ Ain’t it true. Traveling thousands of miles, often yearly, on foot, horseback, and on the water. The necessity to trade/barter with local natives (friend/foe) for sustenance, horses, travel routes, etc. Amazing lives to be sure. Repeating rifles arrived and the equations changed, but life was still tough. I’ll take conditions/weapons today over those of the past, but much remains the same in the overall equation. We can learn from history, but we live today, for tomorrow!

  13. anonymous

    Also check out the book THE STRANGER IN THE WOODS by Michael Finkle. Written about a hermit in the state of Maine who lived in the wilds for decades (!!) by himself. He claims to have only spent one night in a cabin during that time. The description of his camp and how he survived (basically, breaking into nearby cabins and take what he could haul away). How his paranoia of being found taught him what to avoid. The hermit definitely sounds like a high functioning autistic personality, but that is conjecture.

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