Selco Explains How (and Why) to be the Gray Man

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by Selco Begovic

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

In our interviews with Selco, he has frequently mentioned the Gray Man principle. This is something that people in the preparedness community mention a lot, but many don’t fully understand it. In this week’s interview, Selco explains how – and why – we should embrace being the Gray Man, even before the SHTF. ~ Daisy

In your articles, you frequently mention being the Gray Man. What does this mean?

It is a simple concept that comes to be very important when SHTF, and it is often completely opposite to how a lot of preppers are planning to look or act.

In the shortest definition, it is staying uninteresting or simply looking and acting like most of the people around you in a particular moment.

It can be used in a lot of situations when SHTF, during prolonged periods of time, or during short-term events.

Can you use the Gray Man concept for your home so it’s less likely to be targeted?

It depends on the situation, but in case of a serious collapse in urban settings “home invasions” (especially in the first period) happens based on opportunity and what can be achieved from that invasion.

In other words, yes, if your home is less protected then it is easier to get inside, but in terms of SHTF the more your home looks like a place with valuable things inside, the higher chances are for being attacked.

Remember it is a time without (at least without proper working) law and police force. That means there are no police coming to help after a few shots. There is only you and the attacker.

Having a home with visible cameras, expensive equipment, attack dogs, alarms and similar (especially in a neighborhood where that is not usual) clearly makes you different and gives attackers the idea that there are valuable things inside.

Having all that equipment in times when there is law and order makes sense because police and help are only a couple of minutes away.

When the SHTF in Bosnia, the first houses that were robbed were known rich guys’ houses. It didn’t matter that they were defended and had steel bars.

When 70-100 people (who are mostly armed and not disturbed by the police) start attacking a house with only a few people inside, there are no steel bars and no smart strategies.

Not if the attackers have a strong enough motivation to get inside.

Do not give that motivation to them.

I am not talking against alarms and dogs, but I am advocating a more “subtle” way of home defense, and more fluid, more Gray Man type.

Just making your home “gray” alone is a big topic, but here are a few suggestions:

Deterrents

This is the first step of home defense of the Gray Man principle. Using your weapon should be the last!

In one of the previous articles, there was a comment along the lines of “If I make my home look abandoned, then it is going to be targeted, so it is a wrong suggestion.”

The concept is to look like everything else around you. In a prolonged urban SHTF, there are going to be houses around yours that are going to be deserted, ruined, looted.

Sometimes it makes sense that your home looks like that too. Like if 50 people are coming through your neighborhood looking for useful things, it makes sense if your home and yard look on “first glance” looks like someone already looted it (like most of the houses on the street).

Sometimes the best defense is to look like there is no defense. You still can be prepared and ready.

There is no universal advice. In case of prolonged collapse, different tactics will work for different regions, based on the situation.

For example, in my case, it was very useful (and still is) to put a few “mines” signs as a deterrent. In your case maybe it is cool to have a few biohazard signs that you may put in front of your home, or in case of a pandemic, a sign that says “bodies inside.”

It works in drastic situations. In my case after some time, people simply avoided going inside places where they suspected bodies were.

Think about what can work in your case.

Think in layers

Your defense should not start at your house door because by that time you have lost some of your advantages. Think in layers.

For example, the first layer is a neighboring house, the second layer is your yard, and the third layer is inside your home.

Use advantages (and disadvantages) in your favor

Example: if you have a yard in front of your home, look now for possible ways that intruders could approach. How many of those ways are there? If there are 4 potential ways, is it possible to watch all of them? Can you minimize that to only one way by funneling the attackers by using obstacles, garbage, etc.? Simply put yourself in the attacker’s mind and see what he sees.

Sometimes something simple like planting a bush or tree on a spot in the yard will funnel an attacker to where you want him to be. But at the same time, that bush or tree may obstruct your view, so use your common sense.

Alarms or traps

Popular opinion says that deadly traps need to be used when defending your home during the SHTF.

It is a final solution, because once when you use deadly force (with trap) you are bringing everything a new level. Often, it is simply wrong and you have gone too far.

Think about traps and alarms in layers too (I’ll call them traps, some of them are alarms actually). An entire book could be written about using them when the SHTF, but for this article think just consider these ideas.

  • An alarm that will let only you know when someone is approaching without letting the attacker know he has triggered something (for example in order to approach your home he need to move from his way something noisy that simply stay there)
  • An alarm that will let you know someone is approaching and also let the attacker know he has triggered the alarm so he clearly understand someone set it there and that the place is probably guarded.
  • Traps that are combinations of above-mentioned with the option of hurting the attacker.

There is a situation for each of the above, but using the wrong one can be dangerous. For example, do you want to use a deadly explosive trap for two guys from the neighborhood who are just checking whether you have something to trade?

It is cool to know how to construct something from scratch, but sometimes a cheap Chinese “purse alarm” in combination with a fishing line will give you an SHTF alarm that may help you a lot.

Think about using these in layers, too. If someone clearly ignored your warning devices, perhaps closer to home it is the place and time for a “hurting” trap.

All of this gives you precious time to get organized inside your home, to decide what to do and how to act.

One popular opinion is that “I will have a shotgun. Nobody will come through my door”

For the people who have not experienced a violent collapse in urban settings, remember that other people will have weapons too, and other people may come in bigger numbers than you have.

You need to think in layers in order to maximize your chances of success.

[page_section template=’3′ position=’default’ shadow=’#dd9933′]

Have you taken Selco’s online courses yet?

Taking the online courses are the next best thing to getting over to Europe and studying with him personally.

  • SHTF Survival Boot Camp teaches you both urban and wilderness survival skills, primitive first aid, and lessons on violence that you’ll never forget.
  • One Year in Hell is Selco’s original course that shares the dark truth about what it was like to live in a city under siege. He talks about the signs he missed, what happened when chaos erupted, the grim sanitation conditions, and how his life completely changed.

If you want the real deal from a legend who has lived through the SHTF, these are the online courses for you.[/page_section]

How can you use the gray man concept personally?

OPSEC

“Operations Security, or OPSEC, is the process by which we protect unclassified information that can be used against us. OPSEC challenges us to look at ourselves through the eyes of an adversary (individuals, groups, countries, organizations). Essentially, anyone who can harm people, resources, or mission is an adversary.” (USDoD)

OPSEC is a very good word, but like a lot of other things in the prepper world, some folks have turned it into a parody.

It is not about immersing yourself into the world of conspiracy theories; it is about how it“…challenges us to look at ourselves through the eyes of an adversary…

Just try to look at yourself through the eyes of your adversary, whoever that might be in your opinion.

So, for example, if you are driving a car with a sticker that clearly shows your opinion about something, ask yourself, is that information that can be used somehow against you?

Tomorrow, if a riot starts, will that make you a target?

Maybe if you are going to prepper conventions then discussing openly at your workplace about that and about your latest investment in buckets of dried food, will that make you perfect target when the SHTF?

The examples are many, but it’s all down to how you look and act today or when SHTF.

One big signs during SHTF was to have very clean clothes and to smell nice.

It is a drastic example, but you need to understand that in those times if you looked like that it meant you were doing very well, because the essentials were food and water and weapons, and most folks had problems securing that. So obviously you were doing really good, way better than most of the folks.

It is a drastic example, yes, and it may not be like that in your case but you get the idea.

A trained man can learn a lot about you by watching you for some time, no matter if the SHTF or not.

He can learn from the way you walk, how you leave your car, or how you are standing in a bar. He can learn from if you are carrying a weapon or not, with your choice of footwear or clothes, by your hobbies, etc.

Understand that by your look and activities you are giving up information that can cost you way too much when times get bad.

How can you use this when you are out with your family?

Your family should follow your basic rules about staying gray, again without turning life into a conspiracy theory.

There is no use in trying to blend in if your kid talks in school about how his dad is preparing for the end of the world with enough food storage to last for 40 years.

A good example of being gray and still solving the problem of preparing your family for hard times (and making them preppers) is by practicing skills without the story.

They do not have to believe that society will collapse, but you still can teach them useful skills through activities that they understand and reasons that they understand: camping, fishing, team building, martial arts (sport, health) car repair, cooking meals at home, buying more food (money-saving), or hunting (weapon use)…you get the idea.

Should you only use during a crisis or should you practice this all the time?

It is a good thing to use the gray man mentality even today, and not just because of practice. But also because once when SHTF it may be too late to go gray because some people will already know important information about you, and it is too late to hide it.

What’s the easiest way to quickly become forgettable if you are caught up in a crowd?

You need to set up a clear list of your priorities in case something bad happens and go by that list. It is easy to become forgettable in crowd because crowds have their own psychology. Very often you need to “flow” with the crowd because you cannot act differently than the folks in the crowd. It can be dangerous, and it can turn you into a target.

I often use the words “if everybody is screaming you need to scream too”, because, otherwise, if you are with a bunch of scared people you will look way too confident. They will think either you are the leader (if people are members of your group) or you are a target for them (if they are not connected to you).

It is about how you look to other people, not about how you really are.

Are there different levels of “gray”? If so, can you explain them?

Yes, it is more about thinking outside of the box and about the different applications of gray.

Example one:

Something bad happens in your city (pandemic, dirty bomb, civil unrest…) there is a curfew and nobody is allowed to leave the city until order is restored, but you see it is bad and you want to leave the city to your BOL.

There are people in streets confused and waiting to see what is going on ad what will be. You will mix with them with your backpack with food and ammo inside, a lot of people do carry small backpacks, students, athletes, etc. You want to blend in.

But if you put sleeping mat on your backpack, you are sticking out. A simple sleeping mat gives away you.

(This is a real-life example from one of my bugging out courses).

Very often even trained people stick out simply because they confuse necessity and comfort.

Example two:

One of the often-mentioned questions is:” how will I figure out (when SHTF) if I should carry my weapon openly or hidden?”

The simplest answer is to check the situation and understand which of those two options makes you a more probable target.

Sometimes running out with an assault rifle means you’ll be seen as a threat and shot down, but in other cases running around unarmed will make you easy prey.

Do you have any stories about people who used this strategy vs. people who did not?

I knew a man (I still know him) who in the early days of the SHTF understood some things. He went the station and fill 4 barrels with 80 liters fuel each. He brought them in a trailer and hid them in his garage, and nobody saw him.

A week or two later, fuel became rare 50 times more valuable. He used only it as heating fuel very frugally.

And then he gave 10 liters to his relative and asked him to be quiet, then other relative heard from first man and asked him for 10 liters. He gave it to him too because how he could refuse him?

Then 20 days later in the middle of the night, a couple of guys broke into the garage. The man went out and they beat him badly. They took his fuel, searched his house, and took all food (he was smart so he bought lots of food too). He ha a lot of problems ensuring them that he did not have more interesting things hidden somewhere.

He is still alive, an old man now. He thinks the S. is gonna hit the fan again, but all his discussion about prepping and similar stops right there.

And…anything to add?

The gray man philosophy is nothing elaborate, but it should affect all of your fields of prepping, from simple things like where you are buying your stuff for preps (and in what quantity and what reasons) to who you choose to discuss your visions of tomorrow’s collapse with.

In short, as far as the people outside your circle are concerned,  you are not a prepper, you are like majority of folks and trust in the system. You do not believe that something bad is gonna happen, and when it happens you have to act surprised like them.

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

Selco

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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23 Responses

  1. A much smaller scale, but it still works. My current and past 5 vehicles have never been washed. They never got dirty enough to annoy God,,so it never rained hard enough to clean them off. The survival gear in them was not in pristine tactical backpacks, but in old compost bags and crappy plastic tubs covered with paint overspray. I kept usable containers and dry fire tinder inside, in the former of old grocery bags and outdated rental real estate circulars from the grocery store racks.

    When we had to park in sketchy DC areas, my coworker’s BMW was broken-into just about every time, alarm notwithstanding. I probably could have left my vehicles unlocked, because they looked not worth the effort.

    Urban and suburban camouflage is a lot about “this crap is not worth stealing”, or at least, looking like it.

  2. There is another man that claims he started the “gray man” strategy. Now, I’m beginning to doubt Selco.

    1. Hi, Blather. He isn’t claiming he started it. He’s just talking about how it can be used based on the questions I asked him 🙂

    2. I don’t think you read the article Blather. Nowhere has Selco claimed to be the originator. Also, this is good content, regardless of any supposed merits of origin.

    3. Blather, the term “Gray Man” comes from the military. When you go to survival school you are taught how to blend in with the locals. It is harder than you think. I’ll give ou a perfect example: I live in California. The neighborhoods change dramatically. I’m an older man now and I can walk in my neighborhood without anyone thinking twice about me. However, if I go two blocks down and one block over I will stick out like a sore thumb. Why? Because it is a Hispanic neighborhood. It isn’t because I am Caucasian it is because people in that neighborhood don’t walk around, they drive. It is also because of the why I dress. I don’t dress like the folks do in that neighborhood. They have a different style than I do. I wear blue jeans and a polo shirt. They wear trousers, lining shirts or plaid shirts.

      If I was to go in the opposite direction four blocks up and three over; again I would stand out because the neighborhood is predominately black. So if I was to go gray, I would really have to blend in with these folks by not drawing attention to myself, do it at a time when there wouldn’t be so many people out in the street, and have a real need in being out in the first place. I have found when people have nothing to do; they will do their best to find something to do as long as they can cause trouble for someone else. If I needed to go out in a neighborhood which I know for a fact I could never fit in; I would make damn sure that I really needed to be there. Next make sure it was at a time when there be as few as possible out on the street. Then I would do what I would have to do and leave as quickly as possible, without being seen or heard. I would try and dress like those in the area and stick to the shadows as much as possible. I would carry as little as possible – in case I get caught – whereby, I can afford to lose what I was carrying if I was caught.

      This is sound advice if you are in a city, suburban area, or out in the woods/jungle. Think undercover cop. You know if your are dealing with a cop by the way he cuts his hair or the shoes that he wears. But, if he was undercover, he would look like you or me.

    4. I dont recall anywhere he ever claims he started the “gray man” strategy….. cant be… the idea and strategy has been around for long time… getting it into peoples heads is maybe a new thing for some

    5. I have doubts about that. A man I know who is retired military was quite familiar with the “gray man/going gray” strategy. Does not matter at this point who started it. When SHTF, it may save you.

  3. If there’s been looting after an SHTF event I like the idea of throwing stuff out in the yard: clothes I don’t want, unopened mail, an old laptop, some records, a chair. Make it look like your place was looted or abandoned.

    Put a note on the door: When you get back home come to my house. Dad.

    1. sorry but playing dead never works – all it does is invite someone to kick you in the head to check if you’re faking …. make sure you are the toughest looking nut on the block and they’ll go for the peanuts instead …

  4. There isn’t a right way to act, because it can always be assumed that you are weak or furtive.

    Someone who just wants to mistreat another person is always going to find an excuse in your action or inaction, no matter what.

  5. Recently my daughter and her husband both lost their jobs at the same time. My wife went to the local Safeways store to buy a month supply of groceries for both families. Of course this meant that we purchased twice as much as we normally do. When my wife wrote a check to pay the cashier, the register would not accept the check. The cashier was puzzled since we were regular customers, but said my wife would have to talk to the supervisor at the main counter. The supervisor looked to see why our purchase was not accepted. Oh, he said, I see the problem, you have exceeded your allotment. Puzzled, my wife asked what he meant. He said we track all your purchases with your discount card. We know everything you buy and when you buy it. You have suddenly doubled your purchase quantity. When people buy outside their normal usage range we have to report it to the Department of Homeland Security because it is their intent to prevent the public from hoarding. When she explained the reason for the larger purchase the supervisor allowed the purchase to go thru. My wife immediately picked up her cell phone and called me at work. She said you are not going to believe what I just experienced. Needless to say , we do not use discount cards any more.

    1. What the heck!!!!!!! That is scary stuff, Greg. Thanks for sharing it!

      Your “allotment.” Could it possible BE anymore Orwellian?

      1. Firstly – thanks for all the articles with Selco: He’s a goldmine…
        As to the purchase tracking – I’ve often wondered about that. We do use the chain discount cards for groceries and such and I knew the possibility of tracking exists technologically, and I assumed it would be used for targeted advertising. But reporting purchase quantities and schedules to HHS?!? I really hope there’s a way to confirm. In any event, the cards go in the shredder to day and it’s back to cash for those purchases as well. as my “sporting goods” acquisitions.

      2. Wow! I had no idea there was such a thing as our “allotment”. (I just finished re-reading 1984) I have had cashiers rather casually comment on my purchases from time to time. If they wonder why a little old lady like myself is buying 100 lbs of sugar I just tell them our church has a canning kitchen & we’re preparing to make jam. Same with salt or toilet paper; just lie through my sweet little granny-face. What a terrible place we have come. Thanks, Daisy, for your dedication.

    2. This issue of Homeland Security monitoring the grocery purchases of private citizens is a major issue. If they are looking for hoarders or more likely preppers stock piling food then they are using that as a way to look for who also stock piles guns and ammo. This should cause us all a great deal of concern about there plans and the legality of there actions. What can we do about it besides stop using any kind of store discount cards and consider they are probably monitoring C,C, purchases as well.

    1. Every payday: A bucket of .22 here, a couple cans of 5.56 there, a deal on 9mm that I can’t resist. I adds up somehow…

  6. Glad Selco talked about this, it bothers me a great deal. It amazes me how little (and sometimes big things) give away my prepper neighbors. In some areas I’ve failed to remain ‘gray’ also.

    One neighbor had basically built his earthship home into a castle with Courtyard, gardens and bunker. It’s an inspirational prep for me. Of course the problem is his prep is entirely visible from the road. (Face palm)

    Others I’m not so sure about, but those who have fuel and in some cases food storage are easy to spot..
    ….
    And I’m not even looking hard.

    So it’s always a worry about what mistakes have I made trying to stay gray and how can I start to correct them before SHTF. Do I make myself look like a harder target (further pushing myself out of the gray), or do I reach out to say a neighbor and ask if the hundred gallon fuel tank in his back yard full of diesel or gas, (and in the process open up about my prep and make an alliance)?

  7. Here in the states, how does some people make their homes less a target, when all the houses look the same?
    You have seen them. An entire sub-division that was built by the same builder. All the houses look nearly identical, with minor differences here and there.
    One neighborhood I was in, all the three bedroom two bath houses were on one side, all the 4 and 5 bedrooms 2.5 and 3 baths were on the other. Are the 4 and 5 bedrooms more a target?
    Then there are the McMansions.
    I was in Philly a few weeks ago. Some of the older neighborhoods were clearly built in the late 70s early 80s.
    Go a few blocks over and they had the 50s era look.
    Is one more a target than the other?

    Go to a big box store sometime. Who is dressed gray? I am talking the average person here, not someone from the high end zip codes of CA.

    IF SHTF, and you are wearing your tacti-cool tactical pants with 23 pockets, black tacti-cool boots, and tacti-cool jacket with the quick access side zip, ok, you might stand out, if someone knows what they are looking at.
    Flip side, in the winter, I wear a old Serbian surplus camo jacket. It came with a fleece liner, it is warm, it was cheap, an application of Nikwax and it is water resistant, and if I get it dirty, ripped, blood on it, it was $20. All the neighbors see me in this. It is the norm for me. Am I gray then if it is the norm?
    Was at the airport recently. There were a number of service members using their 3 day assault packs as carry ons. It is not gray, but it has become common enough to be the norm.

    1. I live in a neighborhood of those 50s-era bungalows, and there is one house on my street that really stands out. They took the basic 50s house and landscaped it to the nines with fountains, statues, and flower beds. There’s a Mercedes and a Landrover in the driveway. There’s another house that seems more noticeable, but for different reasons. It’s more rundown than the other homes and has bars on the windows and “No Trespassing” signs posted on the chain link fence.

      All the other houses on the street have more non-descript, reasonably-priced vehicles and a few flower pots and window boxes. I have a few squash plants growing in the front, but my enormous vegetable garden is hidden in the well-fenced backyard. I think the key here is to blend in rather than standing out.

      Interesting questions about the clothing and something we should all be thinking about.

      Thanks, as always, for your insights. 🙂

  8. This is one tf the best pieces of advise I have read on what to do now and after SHIF. Keep preps close and SECRET. Best know one outside your immediate family knows you are a preper or what you have… Hard in practise but wow…

  9. Is “Selco” a fake or made up personage? just curious- lots out there that report and say he’s “fake” and even banned on some survival forums and blogs… but fake what? I don’t care if he’s the Easter Bunny, his stuff rings true. And, how could he be offering onsite trainings if he was not real? I first heard and read some of his stuff in 2011…. since then his site and courses have developed. If you ACTUALLY interviewed him, tell us, is this person with the pseudonym Selco for real? I heard a podcast out of Brazil with him on it and another from yet another country.

    1. Hi, Neil. I’ve personally interviewed Selco at least 4 times on the air when I was with Preppers University. He is a real person and a true survivor, I assure you. He does offer in-person classes in Europe and I know others who have taken those classes.

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