Selco’s Guide to Looting and Scavenging When the SHTF

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

Through the media, we have gotten a picture of scavengers, so there are movies and book about guys who ride motorcycles while wearing helmets with horns. These guys are looting and scavenging after the SHTF. And then, in this fantasy, there are good guys who do not do that, except maybe to get some interesting book or similar.

The interesting thing is the fact that guys who “scavenge” somehow through all those movie and book cliches are understood as bad guys and psychos. Through the news, we see folks who loot as a mindless mob who drag out big-screen plasma TVs while floods are coming.

It would be cool if we could try to form our opinion and adopt some knowledge and strategies without those images from above.

It is nearly impossible, but let’s try.

Let’s try to form our strategies about looting and scavenging through the following topics.

First, remember that curiosity killed the cat.

One of my favorite sayings is that “curiosity killed the cat” and I think I survived many times during my SHTF situation thanks to the fact that I kept it on my mind all the time.

We are living in the times where we simply we “want to see and understand”, or even better where we want to have that feeling of “amusement”, moments of excitements.

We read about how people get killed or injured just because they want to check how dangerous something is, or just because they wanted to have selfie photo in some dangerous place.

Horse playing has become our culture, and a lot of people do stupid things just because “it looks cool”.

A real SHTF event has much higher stakes, so you need to have the thought constantly in your mind that says: “Do I really need to do that?

If you do not need to do that then just simply do not do it.

Do not go out into riot just because it looks cool, do not lift objects from the debris just because it is shiny and weird, do not check abandoned house because you saw it happen in movies.

The examples are numerous, and it is a bit hard to transfer examples to your own settings, but once when SHTF please use the question, “do I really need to do that?” all the time and keep in mind that curiosity did kill the poor cat.

And yes, that goes along with looting and scavenging.

Yes, looting and scavenging is a part of prepping and survival.

Prepping at its core is about having enough items to overcome some hard disruption in the system around us.

There is nothing wrong with that if we are talking about shorter SHTF events like a temporary collapsing of law and order and system from events like storms, electricity failure, rioting, etc.

But if we are talking about a really prolonged absence of the system, then we should include more actions in our prepping. We should have more plans to solve some problems.

One of those actions is looting or scavenging.

Based on the event (or kind of SHTF) that you will experience you need to understand what kind of level of SHTF is happening around you. How hard did it go?

Based on that information., you have to switch your mentality to a new level. You will have to adopt a new set of rules.

It sounds metaphysical but it is very simple.

It means that if there is no more system, which means there is no more law and order and especially that there is no more distribution of goods, maybe now you need to adapt to the new reality that going into the mall to take food is no longer stealing. It is simply obtaining the goods.

It is a decision that each one of you has to make while again, keeping in mind that curiosity kills the cat.

Looting 101

I am talking here mainly about looting. This includes taking goods from stores, malls, and similar.

Do you have to loot?

The answer is that I do not have clue, and it is completely up to you and the event that is happening around you.

  • How well you are prepped
  • How big your storage is
  • How long the event is gonna last
  • How dangerous it is
  • What your personal opinions about looting are

All that comes into the equation.

I know from my personal experience that I did not loot enough. In other words, I was not smart enough to loot enough while there was time for that, simply because I did not understand there were new rules and how big the event was.

What should you loot?

Now I can give you some suggestion on WHAT to loot if you decide to loot. And no, I am sorry but it is not gonna be in the form of “100 items that you need to loot”.

It is not gonna be because of two reasons:

  1. You are a prepper probably so it is insulting if you do not know what items are important for survival when SHTF
  2. The list of needed items is way too long

There is a big advantage here, thanks to our modern society. You should, as a prepper and survivalist, go and loot items that most people around you who are looting will not be interested in.

While other people look for money from cash registers, TVs or stereos, or whatever is popular to loot at that moment, you will look for batteries, tools, lamps, lighters, stove fuels, matches, tarps, canned food, and seeds.

I mentioned this often: when SHTF happens here, there is a small parking machine right next to my building, and it is operated on small coins. When I see people trashing it in order to take coins from it, I’ll run there to take the small solar panel that sits on top of it and the battery from it while they are looking for money.

Nobody will even notice that solar power, but there are a  lot of coins inside.

F**k the coins.

You see the analogy here?

Scavenging 101

Scavenging is very often the art of recognizing what to take from what looks like a pile of junk.

As the situation deteriorates around you and as your prep storage goes down, and as things in your house including your tools, clothes, and similar deteriorate, you will be forced to scavenge more and more, and you will learn to recognize what is useful and what is not.

One example is that we first went and chopped all the trees around our homes for wood-heating and cooking. Then we moved to parks and small forested areas. Then, when that disappeared, we took apart wood frames and furniture from abandoned or destroyed houses. Then we pulled up wood floors etc.

As a result, I learned what kind of floor burned fast or slow, how much I needed to boil water, whether it was wet, how long it was under the rain, and how that impacted the quality of fire, etc., etc.

Wood is one example only.

Over time, pieces of wire from burned houses became important to use as a rope, for example. Pieces of gutters were useful for wood collection, etc.

I am talking here about the other side of scavenging and what you can repurpose.

You are a prepper so there is no need to tell you that you definitely need to scavenge every bit of fuel possible from the abandoned cars in your area or to look for means of alternate to transports goods like carts or bikes.

Here also you need to look for the stuff that most people will not look for, at least they will not look at that particular moment. You as a prepper have to always be a few steps ahead.

Again the examples are numerous. If we are talking about a pharmacy people might look for addictive drugs and narcotics, while you will look for antibiotics and drugs for existing medical conditions in your family.

Also, being a few steps ahead here means that you should be able to find and recognize drugs quickly that you want to take.

It is not a movie. You are not gonna be the only guy around scavenging or looting. Other people means possible danger, so minimize the time and interaction by having a plan where the stuff is that is interesting to you.

The other thing that I did a lot in my time is keeping info where interesting the stuff is around me in my area when S did hit the fan. (There’s an article about that right here.)

I usually carried a piece of paper and I wrote down on that paper where I saw something interesting in town during the collapse on my way somewhere. That way I had an idea where possible things of interests are (if I did not want to take it at that moment or I could not do that for some reason).

My main tool for scavenging was a combination of an ax and a crowbar, and I find it as a very good tool for SHTF because it is a weapon also.

A scavenging and looting plan is part of prepping

Good prepping usually just postpones the moment in a serious SHTF event when you have to go out and take stuff through other means, by trade, scavenging, looting or whichever way.

That does not mean that you cannot have a plan and info on where that stuff is and how to take it.

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.

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived, and 3), an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. She is widely republished across alternative media and  Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

Leave a Reply

  • Great article Selco! Good information not often found in prepper books or articles. Lots of things to think about. Just watch out for other scavengers, who will also be armed, who challenge you to back off because they have already claimed that building. Probably better to back off and live to scavenge another place.

  • Today my husband,a friend and I took down an old 8×20 deck with two sets of steps and a small deck with steps that had been built against a mobile home. A friends up oldmobiles to rehab. I got the surrounding deck for $95 and a few hours of Very hard work. Part of this will be a small deck and steps for my mobile home and some wood that is in poor shape will be part of the new shelter for my chickens. So nothing wasted.
    This is how we live and get a lot of things we don’t have the cash to buy all new. It works.

  • Don’t just go bustin into every abandoned looking house cuz there might be someone on the other side of that door or window, waiting for you to make the fatal mistake of taking what doesn’t belong to you.

    If you get caught, you’d be lucky if the owner decided to hold you for the neighbors to examine and determine if you’ve been naughty before, then tried by a group of your peers, as opposed to simply shot/axed/knifed/beaten and thrown to the dogs. Or worse, kept as a slave. If you come in with weapons… expect to catch bullets from the get go.

    As to organised pillaging/piracy, they all meet their end sooner or later. For example, in Brasil, youths who would rather commit larceny than industry are finding that as they go through their routine of daylight robbery and carjacking need some time off to enjoy their profits. So they loiter outside enjoying a beer or whatever kills the pain for them, when a minivan pulls up and sturdy men in balaclavas who know who the pirates are and what they’re guilty of exit the vehicle and place bullets into each pirate. In another case, two young men engaged in the business of armed robbery were merely walking down a street when the fateful van pulled up and blocked their path, once again armed men in balaclavas brought justice to the youths. Minivans of justice lol. In a lot of ways, I feel Brasil is more mad max than just about any place on earth right now and likely far closer to what it will be like in the US.

    That’s for the small timers. For the big timers there will be gang wars and all that crap in shtf, good people will have to band together to protect their homes and take care of the mess.

  • The SHTF you stumble upon 10 lbs of gold, and 10lbs of ammo you can really use, which one do you take?
    Bury the gold, take the ammo. It’s all about priorities

  • Another thing to keep in mind is. If you are a prepper, then you are smart. Don’t brag about it, because then you become a dumb @$$. So you diligently stocked up on your non perishables, water, ammo, fuel, etc etc while your idiot neighbors spent their extra $ on budweiser. You talk to other people, you tell them all the goodies you got. People talk, even if they don’t mean to, they talk, especially to a potential thief or parasite, that just sits around being sociable, picking up every word being said, of what possibly may be where. Granted this guy or gal is probably listening up for money and jewelry to steal (and of course your 80 inch plasma you just got), but if he remembers that you also said you had food, water, ammo etc…. two weeks after the SHTF and him and his beer drinking buddies are now facing a food crisis, all of the sudden he remembers, oh hey Billybob, this guy up the road, he’s one of them prepper people, I heard him say so. I bet he’s got all kinds of food, water and stuff up at his place. Go grab Bubba, Cleetus, and Porksword, we is gonna pay him a visit tonight.

    Ok yes, you may have ammo, plenty of guns, and people in your ‘compound’ and good aim, but do you want to waste that good ammo taking down dirtbags, instead of potentially using it for killing food or self defense as you find yourselves eventually having to root around town as well for stuff to survive?

    Now that we are here, let’s discuss this. If you are going to be with a ‘group’ in your survival pack, it may be a few neighbors going to band together to protect their stuff, and help each other through, or whatever. It’s best to have a plan on how to deal with Cleetus and Porksword when they DO show up with the rest of the goober gang. You know who your neighbors are, you know which ones are probably going to be trouble when shtf. Have a plan for eliminating problems before they are kicking your front door in with a shotgun. Im not saying go on the offensive here, this is not the purge, but rather to be proactive when needed, I think you get the point.

    If you are going to run a generator, Id consider a diesel. Let’s face it, fuel is going to become a bad issue sooner or later. A decent diesel WILL run on vegetable oil, or animal fats. No you do NOT have to chemically process it into biodiesel to burn it, just keep it liquid. Heat does that nicely. Animals (no matter how many legs) boil down nicely and the fat can fuel a generator. The rest you throw to the hogs or alligators to fatten them up for later consumption. If an animal ends up dying on your property, this is possibly another alternative in the disposal process, other than eating, in a manner that you are wasting as little as possible. Instead of burying the entire thing, or slopping the hogs, if I can stew it for a few hours first, to get enough oils off it to run the generator for a night or two, that’s better. Not to mention if the thing has a potential of carrying some disease, this is one way to greatly increase the chances that the pathogen is killed off. The pigs do better off with cooked stuff like that over raw this, raw that every night anyways.

    Each persons situation will be a bit different, it’s best to plan for the absolute worst. If it does not get that bad, then you caught a break, if it does, you are prepared.

  • :'( I kept scrolling down for more to read!! GREAT article Selco – very thought provoking and informative. Thank you so much for sharing.

  • I don’t believe in looting unless the site has been abandoned. Which most likely it will be.

    As far as curiosity kills the cat I have always said if it is unnecessary and can be avoided – why NOT?

  • Thank you Selco for your articles. This article gave me a sort of framework where to place your other articles due to the idea that there are phases to a SHTF situation. Plus, the need to plan ahead and improvise.

    If, as you said above, one needs to stay two or more steps ahead then that already puts one in a good trading position to what people will be needing. It reminds me when I was a kid of a rumor about a neighborhood person who stockpiled scrap metal knowing war was coming and made a good profit afterwards enough to start his own business. Or, in one of your articles where after people realized their money was valueless someone traded for that paper money knowing the conflict would be over and he became well off.

    The flip side to looting houses is the house owners planned ahead and set ‘mantraps’, some baited, for whatever reasons they may had in mind.

  • Selco,
    Another great and thought provoking article. I assume that your primary audience, at least on Organic Prepper, is comprised of people living mostly in the U.S. For most of us, our predominant form of behavior is to follow the Rule of Law and the very thought of looting is contrary to our culture and upbringing. I’ve read comments from similar articles where people also recoil from the concept of scavenging; making no real distinction between it and looting. In other words, (to many people), either activity is just a form of theft even though they may not understand the difference in terminology.

    While looting is unquestionably theft, scavenging is the search for useful objects or material among rubbish, discarded or abandoned things. This distinction is critically important. In a SHTF world, where there is no Rule of Law, where government is incapable of enforcing law or protecting its citizens, the two activities of looting and scavenging will still exist. In other words, theft from an individual, whether food or other material goods, will still be theft, whether done forcefully or otherwise. In contrast, the act of scavenging will be the procurement of food or other material goods that have no identifiable, enforceable or living ownership.

    In that SHTF, no Rule of Law context, the scavenging of clothing (or any other material goods) from a house that has been abandoned, or whose owners have died, would not be looting. In that context, I believe there would be an abundance of scavenging opportunities that would ensure or prolong the lives of ethical survivors. I also believe that defending one’s self, family and property is a fundamentally moral act.

    Thanks again for a great article.

    • Let’s play Devils Advocate here.
      Ok, so I died. WHAT gives you the authority to take the stuff that is still MINE, out of my house? You are not my heirs or the one named in my will to get that stuff. “Scavenging” is still Looting, is still Theft. How do you know I died, until after you trespassed or staked my house out (stalking?) and seen that I was not active? Maybe I am 2 houses down bunking up with the neighbor, and you are going to assume I died and try to take my stuff? Maybe I am waiting for you to go into my house so I can kill you and take YOUR stuff. At that point of trespass, you are now a thief, and then it’s ok to kill you, because laws no longer apply right? or maybe the laws DO apply. You being a prepper, Im sure you showed up at my door with some useful tools I can use, those tools BTW can also be considered tools of burglary, that’s even further justification that you getting killed was warranted, even legally in many jurisdictions. When fecal impact occurs, that tends to be a martial law scenario.

      Playing semantics with words and definitions so you can sleep better at night is not going to change what it is. You are going to be much better off once you come to terms with what you are doing and calling a spade a spade. You can make amends after the fan blades are cleaned off and the fan is spinning again, until then, you are doing ‘the wrong thing’ for the right reasons. But I do agree. Taking food after a hurricane is surviving, stealing a plasma TV, you need to be shot on sight. Just an opinion.

      • I fully agree with you that taking food after a hurricane is theft. Didn’t say otherwise. There is still a government and still an enforceable rule of law.

        In Selco’s description, maybe your neighbor two houses down and everyone within a radius of 20 miles is likewise dead. If you think for a moment that surviving communities will not scavenge for useful things to help them survive and rebuild, you are deluding yourself.

      • this is a very naive viewpoint, you think excuse my french if this is a full Mad Max or Balkan Wars situation anyone is going to give ONE FLYING FUCK? if you don’t get it find someone else will and you will end up dead because you did not see the point of getting resources from someone who does not need it anymore> WAKE UP and read more Selco and stop with this fantasy role playing, you be lucky not to blow someone brains out all over the wall much less worry about looting from people who do not need the items anymore.

  • What may be “looting” in the first month of SHTF may be necessary in the second month and survival by the third month. So, if you can think or anticipate ahead …

    Selco, your articles clearly tell what happened to you during the siege but I’m also interested in the chronological order for what skills or mental abilities were needed during each stage as the situation developed or changed with time from the beginning, the marches and then the snipers, and so forth. Is there a timeline for your articles, if possible? Hope that makes sense.
    Hvala, again for your articles.

    Quote from a real soldier, “As long as he was in Vietnam (with a gun, etc.), it was his country.”.

  • Looting opens a whole can of worms, which includes everything from morals and ethics to legalities and repercussions, so it’s a subject that requires a lot of thought before engaging in it. Yes it needs to be discussed because no matter the justification, it’s still theft. There’s no way around that simple fact. I’ve struggled with this for years in this prepping journey, and I can’t see an easy answer to it. A lot will be decided upon the circumstances of whatever collapse one faces.
    Barring nuclear exchange, whatever happens in the US, won’t occur overnight. The territory is too vast for that to occur. This is the difference I see in what Selco faced, experienced, and overcame, and what we might see here. Bosnia, is less than half the size of West Virginia. So while I don’t discount Selco’s experience and perspective, post Soviet pre-war Bosnia’s government and infrastructure isn’t comparable to the US or its States government. The levels of government in the US, Federal, State and Local, won’t all cease to exist and discontinue operating at the same time. Local control, IMHO, would be the last to go, in every scenario I’ve worked through, especially in the sub-urban and rural areas. Even if Local collapses, the State and Federal can still step in to regain control, which is why I believe Local control will be the last to go in any SHTF presenting itself.
    The problem with bureaucracy, is that its absence creates a void. Into that void, a strong man/woman/group can easily step in and seize control of an area, and dictate how life will continue in that area. The end result is a return to a Tribal mentality for the survivors, in which any form of democracy will cease to exist. This is what I fear the most in any coming collapse. Warlords leading communities all struggling against their perceived rivals for food and shelter.
    In any case, Looting is fraught with problems and hazards, and it will be up to the individual, to decide whether or not to participate in the practice. For myself, it’s on the list of last ditch efforts to survive (unless it’s an abandoned Hostess delivery truck to borrow from Zombieland????).

  • WHEN to loot and scavenge. First, riots that devolve into mass looting happen fast, and joining a riot can and will devolve into “scavenging “ which is often just stealing which is, of course, wrong. After the Watts riots in the 1960s, perfectly good church going citizens were sucked into the groupthink that rioting engenders. These good people DID break into, and walk off with a lot of stuff that was in markets and electronics stores.
    3 days later, the friend that told me this story said the guilt and horror his family felt was terrible.
    The local law and social services announced that people could surrender those stolen items anonymously at various locations in Watts and surrounding cities.
    It helped this family deal with the darker side of their souls. They had not been looting from starvation or a real breakdown in government.
    In a riot situation, taking stuff became exciting and normal.
    Huh. Those feelings passed as usual social mores re-asserted themselves. The rule of law returned.
    I agree with SELCO on much he has said, but deliberate scavenging and looting needs to be thought about carefully. I guess it really boils down to:
    Has SHTF destroyed a real return to being governed? If yes, loot and scavenge away. But, if no, back off and resist the very real urge to do what undermines out elected government.
    “Thou shalt not steal” is a real part of your soul. Think about what it means to you, your family and all who know you.

  • Excellent article.
    The only thing I might add, is on repurposing things.
    As well as getting a mindset now for looting or scavenging, you need to get a mindset for repurposing things. This is something you can start doing now.

    This is not only good for the environment ( less waste), but can save you some money.
    In today’s Consumer based, wasteful society, that is not the “cool” thing to do, but it was the way of your grandparents and their grand parents.
    In the past, in some rural communities, used motor oil was strained, filtered and reused as a lubricant on farm machinery and other tools, even as a rust preventative.
    Reusing canning supplies from season to season was another common practice. As well as reusing old empty containers, for storing other things.
    Fixing broken stuff instead of throwing it out and replacing it, was another common practice.

    All of these will be useful skills during SHTF. Start learning these skills now,, you won’t have time to ” learn” all the new stuff you have to “learn” or relearn, after SHTF. So start now!

  • Selco, Very thought provoking article and not one I haven’t already thought about and have done some planning for. Regardless of your depth of preps things will run out or you just didn’t have that one thing you desperately need. I understand and appreciate all the opinions about “it’s theft” and “I just won’t do it” to those that say that then you haven’t been there yet and hopefully none of us are. There are a million different angles and thought processes to scavenging and looting. So I will say don’t “cut your nose off to spite your face” and develop a plan for doing what you need to do to keep you and yours fed, warm, watered and alive through the mess. I would look at your surroundings and note the already empty homes and businesses that may bear fruit in the event of SHTF event. Also anyone that has common sense wouldn’t go barging into a building/home that may or may not be occupied. Be prudent and spend some time with your eyeballs on your target building. It could mean the difference between a good scavenging trip and one that ends up with you being dead. A couple days watching your target building is well worth your time even if there isn’t a damn thing in it worth having.
    Scavenging and looting may seem “wrong” but what will you do when your child or family member needs what you don’t have? When no one else you’re bartering with has it? All I am saying is don’t rule it out and have a plan for it if that eventuality happens because to survive we have to be ahead of the curve and not behind the eight ball.

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