Real-Life Survival Story: What Happens When Your Situational Awareness Skills Are Insufficient?

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by Wandering Will

My wife and I have been campers for many years, running the gambit from backpacking to car camping to motorhome camping. The motorhome experience was incredibly unique. We ended up living full-time in the RV for nearly four years until circumstances forced us to come off the road.

We sold the motorhome, and our domicile became a small house in the suburbs. 

Off we went to enjoy the tranquility of the woods

At least, that’s what we thought.

The RV was gone but not the desire to camp, mainly because we have always found solace in the woods. After five months of covid lockdown and various other stressors, we decided it was time to return to the woods, at least temporarily.

The trip would take us full circle back to car camping once again. However, a newly acquired minivan would transfer our sleeping quarters from the cold hard ground to a reasonably comfortable hard sided enclosure. Adding to the comfort factor was a recently purchased specialized tent. The tent, which attached to the minivan’s rear, would later become a possible lifesaver.

Four Situational Awareness mistakes we made

We headed to our favorite campground just one state away. We checked in but could not get our favorite site because it was already reserved. So, we settled on a site we thought would work fine. Mistake #1.

After the tent was set up and attached to the van, we split up the chores. My wife finished setting up the campsite while I proceeded to gather and chop wood. After gathering sufficient wood supply, I began to cut it into usable sizes. As I began chopping, I decided that my friend and constant companion, Mr. Glock needed to be removed from my belt to make my motion more efficient. I relocated the piece to the van. Mistake #2. 

After cooking supper, the wife and I settled down in front of the fire to relax. Our campsite was in the middle section of the campground and was car accessible on three sides. Mistake #3.

The campground had very few campers, so we did not think much about it when a car circled the campground. Mistake #4.

Simply knowing the importance of Situational Awareness is not enough

Many of the talented writers on the Organic Prepper have written at length on situational awareness. 

Fabian’s article explains how Situational Awareness is perhaps the most needed skill to stay alive in the first place. Even with the 7 Pillars of Urban Preparedness in place, no amount of food, ammo, or other ability will matter much to someone caught with their head in the clouds in a disaster or attack. And this article by Fabian offers excellent advice on how to practice advanced situational awareness. 

Long-time popular commenter 1stMarineJarHead after returning from a trip to the big city had some interesting observations about the differences between Urban OPSEC and Situational Awareness versus the same things in more rural settings. Here’s another article from an international security expert about practicing situational awareness.

As a rule, I generally do a relatively good job of practicing it. Much to the dismay of my wife, who I constantly bombard with questions shortly after we enter any establishment.

How many exits, dear? Which one is closest, dear? Are any of the patrons carrying a weapon concealed or open? We live in a free state, so open carry is quite common. What is the make and color of the car which parked beside us?

I know the awareness exercises are irritating. Still, my wife understands the need and willingly participates. She is currently learning to identify various makes and models of vehicles.

Back to the mistakes…yes, there were more

Ok, one car circling the campground should not be a problem. Mistake #5. 

As dusk fell, the same car circled the campground, stopping approximately twenty yards from our campsite and just sat there with its lights on. Ok, alarm bells were starting to go off. 

Why didn’t they pick a spot and set up camp? Wait a minute, who camps in a two-door muscle car?

As the evidence mounted, I suddenly realized my Glock was not within reach! The full impact of the critical error I made hit home. Then, the car pulled away, passing within fifteen feet of where we were sitting.

A few moments later, we heard gunshots in the distance. “Ok, it’s the middle of the woods,” I thought, “It’s probably some yahoo was poaching deer. Not to worry.” Mistake #6.

And then we learned this…

When we turned in for the night, neither of us felt secure as we crawled into bed. We strategically positioned two guns, appropriately marked his and hers. Sleep was elusive for the remainder of the night.

The following day, we were sitting by the fire drinking coffee when a wildlife officer approached. The officer questioned us about a particular muscle car in the campground last night. After answering the questions, the officer informed us that a shooting occurred just outside the gate to the campground the night before. 

The mystery car carried the shooter.

A male and female were in the suspect car. As they left the campground, they fired on and hit a family. Then, to rid themselves of the previously stolen mystery car, they stole the family’s car. 

Some of the family members sustained wounds but survived. The officer further informed us that the shooters had stolen a truck later that night and were still on the run. After the officer left, my wife and I sat down and tried to put the pieces together.

Here is our analysis of what we believe happened

The suspect car made its initial entry into the campground to scout the area. On the second trip, the vehicle stopped and observed our campsite for about five minutes. 

We believe that the pair were deciding if we would be their next victims during this time and then steal our van. I firmly believe that while scoping out our van, they concluded that having the tent (attached to the van) would slow down the theft attempt and delay their escape. 

So, they elected to leave the campground and carjack the family.

What did we learn from this experience?

Several days later, and several states away, authorities captured the pair. Different states began to figure out their independent investigations were all linked. The couple was responsible for murders in Ohio and West Virginia and a shooting in Indiana.

And my wife and I were alive by the grace of God.

So, what were our lessons learned:

  • Location: Pick a campsite with limited accessibility from the road and several escape routes with proper cover.
  • Situational Awareness: We cannot afford the luxury of totally relaxing. We need to constantly practice and run possible scenarios, then decide on a course of action should something occur.
  • Never assume: Gunshots may or may not be explainable.
  • Equipment: Always have protection within arm’s reach.
  • Alert: Be aware of any movement in your area.

It’s never too late to practice situational awareness

As shortages continue and the political situation continues to deteriorate, I feel we must anticipate a significant surge in criminal activity. It’s wise to be prepared to protect yourself and your loved ones at all times. Being in tune with your surroundings and aware of what is going on is of the utmost importance to achieve this.

Have you ever experienced a close call as a result of insufficient situational awareness? What lessons did you learn? What did you do to improve your situational awareness? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

About the Author

Currently retired and serving as head of security for his church, Wandering Will spent 30 years working in the field of nuclear security and emergency preparedness. Read his previously published articles on

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  • Great story and is a good lesson to those living in a bubble. I am personally like a Bulldog Ant, because when any noise happens in my part of the neighborhood I am out there trying to determine just what is going on that may need my attentions. I want my neighbors to know that when they see me in my driveway that I am aware of the situations.
    Sometimes trying to get my other-half to understand Situational Awareness is like pulling teeth, but I harp on it all the time. I did finally get her to carry protection in her car, or with her when she goes for walks in the park, (pepper spray).

    • “when any noise happens in my part of the neighborhood I am out there trying to determine just what is going on”

      what is the difference between this and paranoia?

  • “When we turned in for the night, neither of us felt secure as we crawled into bed”

    if you felt insecure, why did you stay?

    • You realize the entire point of this is learning from one’s mistakes, not castigating people for them. Our writer fully recognized his mistakes and is sharing them for the benefit of others. Be nice.

      • asking a question is not castigating. understanding why they voluntarily stayed, and in fact slept, when they felt insecure, goes a long way towards situational awareness.

    • I am not trying to criticize anyone, but to point something out.
      Intuition, 6th sense or what ever you want to call it, should always be recognized and followed.
      Let that sink in.
      This is the biggest part of OPSEC or Situational awareness, etc.

      The fact that you felt unsecure should have alerted you to following your intuition, that something was wrong.
      I suspect it was active a long time before that, you just did not fully recognize it.
      Once you got ready for bed, your rational mind got “quiet” enough, for you to recognize this sensation of uneasiness.

      This is a gift that should be cultivated and followed.
      Paranoia comes from fear or from thinking that has run wild.
      This is more Basic, instinctual, and primal.
      Which is why you rely on it and not on what your conscious mind rationalizes or thinks it knows.
      This is what often makes the difference in survival scenarios.

      • On the other hand, just because you may feel secure doesn’t necessarily mean that you are safe. Most of America feels relatively secure right now and has done so for decades, not realizing that they have slowly been entrapped in a situation that will spring destruction on them that they cannot escape. In fact, America felt so secure with its own government and agencies that they lined up to take a vaccine that will soon kill millions if not billions while injuring the rest for life.

        • Well said! The most horrific part of this will be when the worst side effects start appearing and people will not even realize that they are being caused by the vaccine. It will be hard to point the finger at the vaccine as no one (other than the dangerous vaccine developers) will understand that’s the cause.

  • All good points and I would add to make sure to have a loaded chamber to give you a few precious seconds.
    Also have a high lumen LED flashlight on your person at all times.

  • We once camped often in out of the way locations. (I dislike crowded campgrounds.) So we looked for those spots away from other people. We don’t do that any longer because the potential problems these days just take from the enjoyment. Having to stay alert the entire time when what you really wanted was relaxation tends to spoil the experience. I’m now fortunate that where we live provides the enjoyment and relaxation of the woods.

    • (nod) interesting. the typical prepper/survivalist view is that “people are the source of problems”, but this illustrates that a lack of people is a source of problems too.

      • I live in an isolated homestead well away from people, and I have noticed that the same rules of town or the suburbs do not apply. People have no respect for privacy or boundaries, the same trespass that would be outrageous in town is to be expected.

        I found two men recently going through one of my outbuildings, they had to walk a half mile from a road, climb over a locked gate, and when I told them they were trespassing they argued the point and didn’t leave until i raised my voice.

        I’ve pulled a gun out in the past for other people who did something similar, and they called the police on me. No shots fired, no threats made, I just had a gun in my hand. The police are an hour away, but still sent five police cars out. They didn’t find my house, and they asked the neighbor down the road who sent them in the wrong direction.

        Still, you should know that the further from town you go, the more wild things get.

      • I think people still are the problem. Its just that stumbling onto potential victims who are isolated and there being a lack of witnesses presents those with a predatory nature with an opportunity and a reduced risk to themselves.

  • Wow! That’s quite the story. Evidently you and your wife failed “the interview”, which is a wonderful thing! That’s good move #1. You listened to your gut and kept those firearms handy when you went to bed, which is good move #2. Your thought process was up and running, which is good move #3. So you have the opportunity to learn from your errors, which I expect you’ll take full advantage of. Good move #4.

    We have grown entirely too complacent in our society, myself included. I too am practicing situational awareness and critical thinking skills every day. Maybe I’ll even learn about car makes & models! Being a non-driver that information has never held much meaning for me, although I can say “blue four door” or “black minivan.” Learning is a good thing! Glad you’re both OK.

  • wow Ant7.. I think you need a picnic! Otherwise this was a great article about what could happen if you don’t pay attention to your surroundings. I have worked with the elderly for many years and I taught them situational awareness all the time, they loved my approach to it and it did make them aware that not everyone is nice. Great article Daisy, thanks

    • “they loved my approach”

      could you do that here? I grew up in big cities and spent a lot of time in some larger ones so to me “situational awareness” is normal and habitual and “instinctual”. I don’t think I could explain taking in proximity and movement and setting and clothing and race and eyes and hands and facial expression and gait and then making a decision in one second, and it would be great to hear from someone who can.

  • Hi, yes situational awareness is very important!! Im a older female, my husband died 3 yrs ago. Im not real strong physically. I live out in the country in the desert on 5 acres a ways from town. With just a few nebors close by. I was living in a bus surrounded by a nice yard and 6ft fence with several big dogs in huge pens. I moved out of the bus into my camper, parked next to my big shed, put up a small fence and brought one of the dogs with me. Along with most of my guns and ammo. I never go out beyond my little fenced in area without my gun. Only this one time I did just to move my motorcycle up to my gate. The dog inside the fence. Before I got to my bike, a young guy came up on his motorcycle, and was in front of my gate between me and my camper and the dog on the other side. He was interested in something on my property. He stood there and so I sat back down on my bike and talked to him. My dog didnt like him at all. Before I even knew it, he was on the back of my bike wrapped around me like a friggin spider demanding a ride. No way I could fight him in that position so thought “ok play his friggin game”. I fired up the bike thinking Id go by nebors houses slow enough that could give a description of the last person they saw me with if something happened to me. I did try to throw him off the back by popping the clutch and goosing it, but he hurt my ribs squishing me. I wasnt aboout to wreck my bike possibly killing myself. I got back in my driveway and when he got off, I ran into my little yard to the camper and came out with my gun, told him to leave and never come back. He left saying crap like, He’d be back after sunset and I better be naked, REALLY?? Im armed you idiot!! So, I called my nebors and friends and told them. The Sheriffs around here dont patrol out here very often, so it takes a good while for them to get here if you call. It was dark by the time I got off the phone with nebors and I needed to walk across the property a ways to go feed my other dogs and water them. I left one dog here, grabbed my gun and phone, let my closest nebor know, and left. My nebor stepped out on his porch, rifle and spotlight in hand to watch me. When I was done I called him and said I was going to hang out at the bus for a while and if the guy did come back and come through my gate there, I would let the dogs out on his ass. After a couple hours, I called again and said I was going back to the camper for the night. Thinking the guy wasn’t stupid enough to come back, I went in, turned off lights, called in the dog, locked up and played on the internet. Thought Id report him to the Sheriff in the morning…..damn, the guy came back at 12:30 in the morning!! WHAT THE F****!!!! only one person close by that I knew up at that hour, I called him. The guy was beating on my door and windows, dog coming unglued. I pretended not to be here since the lights were out. Just as he was leaving, my friend(who is in a firetruck) pulls in the driveway lights going. The freak got scared and took off fast…lol…I did report it to the Sheriff and found out the guy has been run off before for squatting at someones vacant house up the rosd. Apparently hes been watching people and property out here for some time now. So we all started a watch group just for our community out here on fb. There are a few lessons I’ve learned in that situation. One of them is, never leave my gun behind even for a second!!

    • “I better be naked, REALLY??”

      (nods) really. sometimes it works. you’re probably not the first girl that he’s propositioned that way.

  • Great article, Will, and the linked situational awareness articles from Fabian are good resources. Since I haven’t been trained in situational awareness, I found myself “googling” (no, I don’t use google 🙂 “things to notice in situational awareness” and found this article from Krav Maga –
    Because we’re not likely to notice everything all at once, it would be cool to have a weekly challenge to notice something in particular as we go about our business during the week. Maybe the first week could be “Observe the space-what’s the layout, what objects are in the space and where are they located, where are exits/entrances, what could someone else use against me in this space, etc…”

  • I have turned into that nosy busybody that always peers outside her window to see what is going on.
    Yep…that’s me.

  • Wow ! You guys are definitely lucky to have made it out of that situation to tell the rest of us the story. A friend of mine and myself go trailing in the mountains of Southern Arizona. I always bring Mr.Glock along with me and one extra magazine. Maybe I should bring two ?

    • Bring as much as you feel comfortable to carry. Personally, my limit would be a MK 48 machine gun with a thousand rounds but I won’t last a day because I can’t carry anything else. 😉

  • I was at walmart and I was putting my groceries in the trunk of my car. My husband had called as I was putting them in my trunk. He said something that had irritated me so I was standing with my back to the parking lot as I was talking to him. I hung up still mad. As I turned around there was a blonde hunk of a guy walking right to me. I have no idea where he came from. My key to my car had a switch that flips my key out. I did that and this guy actually watched me do it. He said he needed money I told him I don’t carry cash. He started to follow me as I put the cart up. I didn’t turn my back on this guy. He said let me take the cart for you. He took the cart and I never seen him again. My gun is always with arms reach now. I’m 61. I’m small and look like a grandma. One thing is for sure, I pay attention to my surroundings more then ever

  • I really don’t know how a man can relax and take it easy with women or children around him that have to be guarded. In this day and age, the threats are in all quadrants.

  • If a car circled my campsite like that I would leave. Why? Because what they are doing is unnatural and should ring 5 alarm bells in your head.

    You were indeed lucky to not get knocked off. There are other techniques I would use to ensure survival but I can’t reveal them here.-

    You said your weapon hurt you when you chopped so you took it off? Just imagine getting shot, stabbed, clawed, or bitten and you’ll find that little minor pain will go away. 😉

  • Another point to add is that the State & Federal parks are not that safe to begin with. Sadly in addition to many homeless people having no alternative to living in relative “Safety” many people buy Annual passes & maximize their stays to keep their families together which unfortunately attracts predators & thieves who prey on these already compromised people. Many RVers on YouTube are drastically altering their RV lives due to Threats, Thefts, Assaults, Rapes & outright attempted Abductions or attempted Murder that they have witnessed, experienced or were warned about from Rangers, Law Enforcement or Fellow RVers. The point that the Author made Very Well & Very Clearly is: Just because you are camping doesn’t mean you’ve Escaped Humans & Human Nature which in today’s America is becoming ever More precarious. Remember it is Never in the interest of Parks, Hotels, Resorts or Tourist areas to Report crime but to Suppress the info at All costs it’s called Dollars before Safety just like The Pharmaceutical Companies – Don’t Worry Take the Stab – We Need to Get PAID! KEEP YOUR HEAD ON A SWIVEL & STAY PARANOID!

  • My first husband was a certifiable anti social, vicious, nut case. Joined a gang of like minded idiots. I saw things no one should ever see. I was also threatened. I quickly Iearned to stay watchful. Sit with my back to wall. Always have a weapon at hand. Never trust strangers and not all acquaintances either. It’s taken a lifetime to be a bit more relaxed and only slightly more trusting. I still prefere a wall behind my back in public places. I almost can not sit with my back to the room in a restaurant. I watch for exits, restrooms, and anyone who makes me uncomfortable. I usually carry a pocket knife. Mid sized. Not tiny nor gargantuine. At home weapons of several kinds are always close.
    I’ve had someone try to break in with me at home, twice. First time I was 17 and used a shotgun to back up my yelling to go away. Blew a perfectly good front door into toothpicks. Second time I heard someone walk up the gravel driveway. I was a recent widow. I then heard a bone chilling conversation under my window as i quietly in the dark, loaded my late husbands 12 ga, my 303, 30.06, and my old bolt action 22. When the outside door to my bedroom popped open I shot the 22 over the head that stuck into my room, racked the 12 ga and told him and his friend they should come on in but “be aware I don’t want blood on the carpet, that will really piss me off”. Thankfull they turned and ran. Years Iater one was dead and the other one had apologised. So I guess it was good. For a long time I second guessed myself for not shooting them.
    I have a machete by both outside doors, a firearm within arms reach, and a long bow hanging by the front door and a crossbow by the back door. Extra bullets, boIts and arrows with hunting tips are there. Walking my land I usually open carry. I also have a very loud whistle near the doors and in the vehicles. In my tiny rural village the whistle or more than one shot would bring help.
    On the rare occasion I go to the city I always wish I had CC.
    When I was young I scared off a wouId be rapist with a pocket knife. I kept it on a chain, open, up my sleve. All I had to do was let it slide into my hand. I know…it sounds nuts, but I lived in fear with that first husband and the gang. I was constantly ready for a fight.
    Surprise is good weapon.
    Eventually i found a chance to get out. Thats a whole different story.

  • Having lived in a big, safe city most my life, I’ve never felt comfortable carrying a firearm. But personal safety has rocketed to the forefront of my consciousness in the past year after the Floyd riots and the city council’s crazy actions to defund the police and give away huge city funds to the families of deceased criminals. Murders and shootings are way up, and police response is way down. Should I get a concealed carry permit or skip the formalities and just carry? Gangstas with guns sure don’t have permits. Yes the city house is going up for sale, we’re sick of the drama here. But where we go, crime will eventually follow.

  • I’ve written here before about an incident when waiting for husband in a hospital parking lot at 3 in the afternoon. I was irritated with myself for getting caught by 2 punks in hoodies wanting my truck.
    It was a good exercise for me to assess what to do the next time I’m in the big city as well as what I would do if an Xcon had stuck a 45 in my face instead of two very green carjackers one with a 380. I didn’t shoot the kids, but I would have shot someone with evil in his eyes without a second thought. I had my doors locked and windows half way up so no one could have gotten in the back seat holding a gun to my head. But if I had been flanked by two serious crooks, I likely would not be writing this. The biggest value of my story has been to promote our women’s gun safety classes to all the women I know not to tout that I’m a bad-ass grandma.
    If my husband had been in the truck instead of me, he would have lost everything, and quite possibly his life because he does not carry.
    We are currently living in heightened awareness of an extended family member whose wife is in hiding with her kids. We do not know where she is, but we half expect him to show up when we least expect it to see what we know. I have been shooting at the range with him in years past so I know how well he shoots his 5-7 and he knows how well I shoot my 9mm. Back then he was a reasonable guy- not on drugs. So I cannot have any preconceived ideas about him. Our awareness is heightened. I wear my firearm all the time now and keep all 5 exterior doors locked in our country home.
    It’s such a “fun” way to live… but it’s good preparation for our immediate future as a country.
    We will be taking a long road trip this summer , fortunately through states that have CCW reciprocity. My antenna will be up the entire way.

  • -Wondering Will,
    Good to hear you and the Mrs. were not put into a dangerous situation.
    Good article and lessons learned.

  • Thank you for the opportunity to think out each of those mistakes. My situational awareness was when I neglected to check the weather prior to visiting a State Park for a long trail walk. Not even a third of the way in, it started to rain. Not bad at first, but before the half way mark, it was torrential. I still kick my self in the butt for almost having to be rescued. The trail was really slick and physical injury could have resulted. Fortunately, I survived. Unfortunately, now I do not do as many trails as I used to because of that experience.

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