FRENCHVILLE – Being lost alone in the wilderness may seem like a nightmare to some. For others, they’d gladly learn from the experience.
Frenchville resident and U.S. Army veteran Scott McKenzie recently returned from a SIGMA 3 Survival course in Missouri.
McKenzie first learned about basic survival during French Commando School. However, it was so many years ago, that McKenzie knew certain techniques had changed.
“I’ve always enjoyed nature and I wanted to update my skills.” McKenzie said. “I’ve watched a lot of movies and read a lot of books. I was always interested in Native Americans and how they live off the land.”
McKenzie said he specifically wanted to learn about edible and medicinal plants, as well as how to make a shelter. He said as someone who hikes a lot, these skills would be extremely beneficial.
“When I was in a combat zone, I wondered what would happen if I were separated from my unit and had to survive. With all the hiking I do, what if there’s a storm and I don’t have enough food in my pack. Being retired, I’m in a position to do something about it,” McKenzie said.
McKenzie said it was important to learn how to trap animals for food and to be able to find civilization. He said he had taken the basic survival class through SIGMA 3 Basic survival in September and really enjoyed it. The next step was to take the Standard Survival Course.
According to information on SIGMA 3’s Web site, the Standard Survival Course is the most popular of the wilderness survival training courses. It covers basic as well as more advanced skills.
The classes are all hands-on, in-the-field training. The students learn about primitive and modern survival shelters; more than 10 methods of finding water; making fires with a bow drill and using a ferro rod; how to keep a fire going all night; fishing tactics; improvising primitive deadfalls and snares; wild edible and medicinal plant use; primitive navigation and primitive tool making; killing and processing meat from animals; making jerky and bush craft cooking; making rawhide and processing it into useful cords and ropes; primitive pottery and building a bush kitchen; building a survival bow; advanced trapping; basket fish traps and other fishing tactics; and basket making.
McKenzie said SIGMA 3 has schools all over the United States as well as in Romania and Nicaragua. He attended a school in Missouri from April 26 – May 2. However, when he arrived at the school, he got more than he bargained for.
“The first night we were there, the head of the school was introducing himself and talking about what we’d be doing. There was a land dispute going on between the school and some other people. As he (the instructor) was taking to us, these guys came in with AR-15s and machetes and started yelling about how we’re not allowed on their land,” McKenzie said.
“Some of the guys (in the school) were combat veterans, so they were ready to fight, but the instructors told us to just stay off the disputed property and they marked it out with ribbons.”
The class was also taking place during record rain-fall in Missouri.
“The storm broke every record in the state. It poured for five out of the seven days we were there,” McKenzie said. He said in addition to the survival training, the students were subjected to monsoon-like rains, heavy winds, sleet and dangerous lightning.
“Lightning struck within 10 feet of one of the guys. It knocked him back and gave him a good shock. He was kind of out of it for a little bit, but he was OK,” McKenzie said.
While the students in McKenzie’s class were staying in tents and the students in the advanced class were sleeping in the shelters they had built, the conditions deteriorated so badly that by the final night, the students were given the option to sleep in their vehicles or to get a hotel room for the evening.
“It just got too dangerous,” McKenzie said. “The instructor said I can’t teach you anything in this.” He said the instructors came from Australia, China, Greece, and Britain.
“I was really humbled by the knowledge they had,” McKenzie said. “I realized how much I don’t know. If you were to look it on a scale of grades, I made it through the first grade, while those guys have their PhD’s. I saw just how much I need to learn.”
McKenzie said he has been invited to share what he’s learned with the members of Boy Scout Troop 9.
McKenzie is also looking to continue his adventures in hiking. He has completed the Appalachian Trail and is hoping to complete the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide. Together, these three trails are considered the “Triple Crown” of hiking.