Selco: Dealing With Dead Bodies When the SHTF

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Author of The Dark Secrets of SHTF Survival and the online course SHTF Survival Boot Camp

There is a saying that death is so close to every and each one of us in every moment, so close that actually, it breathes down back of our neck, and I kinda believe that. Still, we are so unaware of its face, and we are so reluctant to see it, both in philosophical and physical term too. It is in human nature to ignore it, to act almost like it does not exist.

When the SHTF, that attitude can bring you some problems simply because death probably will happen more often around you. You need to prep for it – and for the dead bodies that come with it – both mentally and physically.

Dealing with dead bodies

I read years ago a comment in some forum that said (paraphrasing)” if you find a body and that body belongs to a raider, you just leave it there (in front of your house) and put a note on it that says “You are next if you try to break into my home…”

Then there are comments about composting bodies or getting rid of them by burning and many other methods.

And of course, there are words of advice about how all bodies need to be handled with high respect and so on.

Some comments make sense. But others (just like many comments in survival forums and blogs) are simply comments from people who read about the idea. Or maybe they heard it from a guy who heard it from another guy who was someone who read about it in some fiction book or saw it in a movie.

Obviously, they have not dealt with bodies ever in their life, or at least not during an SHTF scenario.

Let’s try to keep it to basic practical advice: what you need to have and what to do with a body.

What do you do with a body?

After you come into a situation where you have a body that you need to deal with there are a few important things for you to think about:

  • Does it belong to a loved one?
  • How dangerous is the situation outside?
  • What is the level of SHTF?

Usually, the answer to these questions will determine your actions. Dealing with a body may range from leaving it outside to rot up to having almost a full funeral service in the closest graveyard.

Let’s try to cover some basics.

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Is the body dangerous to you (from the point of health)?

 Well, the answer is yes and no.

Yes, from the point of possible health risks and no from the point of how you might imagine it from the movies and fiction books.

In the shortest explanation, most of the diseases (germs) that the person had die when the person dies, some immediately, some a bit later. But there are exceptions for some diseases.

Because of those exceptions, you will deal with the body with caution. And especially because of the fact that you will be in the middle of an SHTF event where even “a small cut can kill”.

Especially if we are talking about SHTF event that happening because of some pandemic.

So for your own safety, store things like bleach, tarps, face masks, gloves, heavy-duty duct tapes, ropes…or even gowns. And obviously a shovel.

There is good advice to bury the body far from water sources or downhill from your location and similar. This is all good advice, but be sure to put it in your perspective and scenario. Check what is possible and safe and what is not. Do not get yourself killed because you wanted to do it by the numbers in the middle of SHTF.

Burning or burying the bodies?

Again it depends on the scenario, but in a great majority of situations, it will be burying simply because it will be easier. You will need to have a lot of fuel in order to destroy a body (to some level), not to mention it kinda attracts a lot of attention.

It is much harder to do digging in freezing temperatures, actually, sometimes it’s impossible. But that freezing temperature will “freeze” the body too, so you can “store” it somewhere until warm temperatures when you can bury it – however strange and weird this sounds.

Depending to climate and nature where you are, a possible mistake could be that you bury the body to shallow, and then it can become a health hazard too because animals might drag parts of it around.

Two feet should be minimum. In urban settings, you can help yourself by adding rubble on it, pieces of concrete rocks and similar. 

The level of SHTF

One of the important things here is to be sure where something is buried. Depending on the level of SHTF and the reasons why you have a body in the first place to deal with, you may wish to have a clear record where you buried someone for multiple reasons.

For example, you may exhumate it one day and give it a proper burial. You may need to prove something in court one day or similar.

There may also be a situation where only you need to know where you buried someone and how that person become that body in the first place.

SHTF brings some new situations.

Let’s talk about some popular thoughts on what to do with a body

Leaving the body in front of your home in order to “repel” possible attackers make sense from the point of giving them an idea about what happened there and what might await them. But it also gives you the issue of living in a house with a rotting body in front of it and all possible health hazards already mentioned.

It can work for a short amount of time because you will have to deal with that body outside your home.

Nature will do things to the body and while it goes through the natural process of decaying, it changes in ways that may do bad things mentally to you if it is in front of your house.

Especially do not put a sign on it with a “tough message” because in that way you’ll just be showing future attackers that you are inside there and they might check what you are defending so hard. Eventually, someone stronger than you will come along.

Other than that defending your home by repelling the attacker with stench is something that I strongly advise, but do it in more subtle ways, with dead animals or cans with spoiled fish or similar.

About Selco:

Selco survived the Balkan war of the 90s in a city under siege, without electricity, running water, or food distribution. He is currently accepting students for his next physical course here.

In his online works, he gives an inside view of the reality of survival under the harshest conditions. He reviews what works and what doesn’t, tells you the hard lessons he learned, and shares how he prepares today.

He never stopped learning about survival and preparedness since the war. Regardless of what happens, chances are you will never experience extreme situations as Selco did. But you have the chance to learn from him and how he faced death for months.

Real survival is not romantic or idealistic. It is brutal, hard and unfair. Let Selco take you into that world.



Selco survived the Balkan war of the 90s in a city under siege, without electricity, running water, or food distribution. In his online works, he gives an inside view of the reality of survival under the harshest conditions. He reviews what works and what doesn’t, tells you the hard lessons he learned, and shares how he prepares today. He never stopped learning about survival and preparedness since the war. Regardless what happens, chances are you will never experience extreme situations as Selco did. But you have the chance to learn from him and how he faced death for months. Read more of Selco's articles here. Buy his PDF books here. Take advantage of a deep and profound insight into his knowledge by signing up for his unrivaled online course. Real survival is not romantic or idealistic. It is brutal, hard and unfair. Let Selco take you into that world.

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  • So I get to the end of the article referencing decaying body stench, and there’s a pop-up AD for Nature Fresh Air Purifying Bags, priceless. Good article by the way.

  • I would bury the bodies…if you have ever had the misfortune of smelling a dead body, you would agree.

    Having a supply of lime in your garage is not a bad idea either. It has multiple uses and can be used to supplement soil or keep odors away…

  • I would also suggest that when you decide to insure that you have the resources to handle any Dead Bodies in a SHTF that you have several large bags of Quik-Lime on hand as they will aide in and speed up the decomposition of the body should you decide to bury it.

  • You are absolutely right most people dont have any idea of what to do with a body or the dangers of one being close. Secondly you right again about burying being probably the best choice for the average person dont try to burn a body because you will make a huge mess and waste resources I can say this as a professional in the cemetery business I’ve done both burials by hand and machine and now work as a crematorium operator. so I have many years of experience working with the dead nobody wants to try and cremate a stranger never mind a loved one.

  • Selco is very knowledgeable and I was a soldier in his country during that timeframe. I’ve followed him for years.

  • For those of you who have never been around a decomposing human…you are in for a real surprise. The horrific smell of ammonia and rotting flesh is OVERWHELMING and almost impossible to be around if you have never been there before. And, don’t think you can ‘just get over it’ and go on with life…it’s not something you forget easily. Now, if it’s a relative, ii’s ten times worse ’cause there is the psycological factor” to deal with.

    Get quick lime and store it so as not to get wet. DO NOT hesitate to use it to help the carcass decompose. The sooner the better. If you are physically capable, a shallow grave is good. If not, move the body away from your shelter or wherever you are staying. Yes, some diseases die with the human, but many more are brought about by the decay.

    Be damn sure you wash “everything” after handling the body. Powdered bleach is a must and can be had online for now…GET IT. It only takes a couple of spoons full of powder to make a strong bleach and the water does not have to be pure.


  • Burial would be the way for corpses as it decomposes the body, cuts down on odors attracting rodents and flies and out of sight, out of mind.

    Bokashi composting works on decomposing organic matter using anaerobic processes. A layer of sawdust, straw or dried grass helps with odors. “Human composting”. Quik-lime preserves the body.

    It’s better to shroud the body and bury it before it starts to putrefy and liquefy releasing it’s bacteria.
    On the other hand if one develops a quirky sense of humor during SHTF knowing there’s about twenty-four hours before rigor mortis sets-in, you can contort the body, say a raised hand waving, then drag it to the end of the street of your block, impale it like a popsical, greeting any would raiders to let them know you are officially crazy. (I don’t recommend this but it seemed historically to have an effect on pesky Turks dropping by Vlad’s castle.)

    Short of particle accelerators and spontaneous human combustion it’s difficult to burn bones to ashes. After cremation the remaining bones are put in a rotating drum with steel balls to pulverize them.
    A newer way is for the corpse to be placed in a cylinder of lye. (And, no, I won’t make a dark humor comment about combining the two methods regarding hairy soap. Save that for SHTF when all the above could become very real and we’ll need some occasional release.
    According to a book about the 900 day seige of Leningrad, a popular joke was,
    “Why don’t you come over for dinner?”
    “Sure. What’s for dinner?”

    • Clarification to above:

      Selco quote, “For example, you may exhumate it one day and give it a proper burial. You may need to prove something in court one day or similar.”.

      Then apply Quik-Lime to preserve the body as it burns the skin and forms a protective shell so it can be identified or moved later to a karst formation.

      Don’t use it if you want the corpse to decompose, adding nitrogen and other nutrients to the soil so flowers can be planted there later.

  • The wiseman: good idea if it is someone who died you don’t know to use the septic tank idea. A loved one should be buried.

  • Leaving the body invites wolves, bears, or coyotes to your yard if you live in a rural area. A bear knows where he found good food and he will come back. Maybe you want to kill a bear for the meat and fat, but he poses a danger to anyone on guard duty. I like dragging the body off somewhere by horse or vehicle and leaving it there with no tarp or sheet that could identify it as having been killed by a nice person.

  • Part # 12: Funeral & Corpse Handling Equipment
    PAW burial suggestions:
    Invest a few bucks in body bags (or at least heavy duty contractors’ trash bags & Gorilla tape, some inexpensive blankets and/or sheet plastic), a game or other cart, some lowering gear, PPE, simple grave markers, and a pick and shovel. Decide where the family/friend burial grounds will be. Decide where Boot Hill is going to be. Create a set of burial ceremonies or a non-denominational one. Keep it simple, but provide something for friends or relatives to satisfy their emotional and religious needs. Laminate a copy of the words to be said at the burial. Again, specific to the ceremony or something non-denominational.

    If it looks like things are getting bad, especially in a situation like an epidemic or other situation likely to result in several deaths, go ahead and dig a few graves for the family/friends, and a trench for Boot Hill, using owned or rented digging equipment. Make them the standard 6′ or so deep so they will not be likely to be dug up by animals that could be desperate for food in a disaster situation.

    Put a few supports (limbs, used pipe, used lumber) over the graves and use some sheet plastic to cover the holes and dirt mounds, weighted down around the edges with some rocks or dirt.

    Corpses are difficult to handle. And in the case of death by infectious illness, dangerous to handle. Have some rubber gloves, masks and goggles, and even protective coveralls for when you handling the corpse. Get it in a body bag or wrapped in cloth or plastic as soon as possible. You will need cleaning supplies to take care of any blood or other body fluids if the death occurs inside or in an area that will be used in the future.

    Have a cart on which you can carry the remains. It will reduce the stress significantly if you have some wide webbing straps with which the body can be lowered into the grave, rather than just dumping it in.

    Conduct any ceremony needed, fill in the grave, place the marker, and walk away. It is done. Do not dwell on it. It is something that must be done and you have fulfilled your obligation.

    If you are not going to be able to get out to bury a body for a while, seal them up in some type of body bag, purpose built or expedient, and place the body(ies) in the coolest spot in the structure, that is not used much, if any, where they will not be disturbed by pets or vermin. At the very least, close off an area with a screen or curtain, or hide the bodies from general view in some manner. As soon as possible to take them out and bury the remains.

    Funeral/Burial Items:
    • Record book w/pen
    • Death certificates
    • Body bags w/attached id tags
    • Toe tags
    • Personal effects bags w/attached id tags
    • Surgical gloves
    • Surgical masks
    • Safety glasses/goggles
    • Full face respirator(s) if possible
    • Tyvek coveralls w/attached hood & booties
    • Hibiclens antiseptic surgical scrub (liquid)
    • Household disinfectant
    • Bucket & scrub brush
    • Cart to move deceased if at all possible
    • Pick/mattock
    • Shovels
    • Gorilla tape
    • Lowering straps
    • Temporary grave markers w/attached id tags
    • Attachable faith emblems for markers
    • Bible/Koran/Torra/Prayer Book

    Just my opinion.

  • Where i live near three reservations death and dead bodies are feared on one reservation and not so much on the the other two. Many folks are simply wrapped in a blanket and burried within 24 hours for health and legal reasons. Usually if the person was reasonably healthy thy will be washed, dressed, wrapped in a blanket, and laid out at home overnight then burried the next day.
    My good friend and neighbor died of covid. He was held in the hospital refrigerated morgue overnight then quickly burried the bext morning in the wrapped body bag. 2 sons and his wood hauling buddy burried him in the hole that was dug the day before. His wife, old pastor, spouse, and three little grandchildren where there in the falling snow. A granddaughter watched on phone vidio. Then the three men worked for hours shovel filling the 6 ft deep grave.
    I’ve helped bathe and dress dead family members. I bet away from native reservations not many can say that today. My mother died in my arms at home. My late husband prayed at bedtime holding hands with me and our daughter and was gone two breaths later. Sons and son in law bathed and dressed him. We burried each of them within 24 hours.
    A dead body isn’t safe health wise beyond 1-3 days unless frozen. And the longer you wait the harder the job is. Graves here are usually dug with a backhoe but not always. Sometimes the grave is hand dig. In this country that means using a pick and shovels. Very hard digging.
    Folks are so coddled that burying without a casket is repulsive. Death is as natural as birth. We use euphemisms, “gone on”, “passed away” instead of saying death or died.
    If an enemy died at my gate I’d want that body carried off or burried quickly. Family and friends need to be able to say what they need to say. Hiding from the fact of death doesn’t help up deal with the pain of loss.
    Killing even to protect family or yourself is foreign to most of us unless you’ve been in battle or law enforcement . And that’s a battle ground of its own.
    Many haven’t even butchered an animal for food. Zero in person experience with death. It would make a SHTF existence harder than necessary. Not to make light of death but modern society has separated us the experience of death. Family used to be laid out at home. Prepared for burrial by family or at least the body at home before a funeral. Someone made a coffin. Maybe it was open or maybe not.
    Many families raised and butchered food at home. Death was experienced as a natural event no matter what the cause. Our youth seem to think meats just miraculously appear in plastic packaging at the supermarket. Funerals just happen and with watching so many movies I wonder if the deceased isn’t expected home by dinnertime.
    Not equating human and animal death but both happen the same way. Breath ceases, the heart stops, the eyes fix in a sightless stare, the mamal jaw drops down, the body slumps in total relaxation. Often urinary or bowel control are lost. And there is no response. Not sure how i’d handle being the cause of a human death. Even for a good reason. The native response to an animal death in hunting is prayer and gratitude for the gift of food to meet our need.
    The death of a person quite reasonably elicits and even stronger reaction. The death of someone you love may hurt for years. The death of a stranger or enemy doesn’t leave us unmoved. But it presents choices according to the circumstances. Well worth considdering.

  • After I’m dead …. I won’t care what they do with my body. I’m not in it any more. Drag it far enough away from the house so you can’t smell it and leave me to rot. I’m not going to care. The buzzards and the maggots need to eat too !!

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