About two years ago, while selling real estate for a broker who specialized in rural properties, I was contacted by a local businessman on behalf of a group of his friends. It seemed the small group of business and professional men were searching for a secluded acreage with year-round running water, one ingress and egress, and located less than two hours from St. Louis. I was really familiar with farms, rural home sites, hunting property, or unimproved land. But this was my first request for a B.O.L. … a “Bug Out Location”.
In the time since that unusual request, I’ve come to realize that it wasn’t that unusual after all. I was just behind the curve in discovering the growing popularity of “prepping”. Preppers are individuals who believe that, in the near future, life as they know it will be challenged or changed due to a major event. Some preppers anticipate a local or regional catastrophe such as an earthquake, hurricane or extreme drought. Others expect a national or international crisis like a collapse of the financial system or power grid. Still, others hope to hedge against a global event such as a solar flare, climate change, or a pandemic.
So as not to sound all gloom and doom, let me preface this by saying not all preppers are extremists or think the world will end in a big puff of smoke. In fact, most prepping enthusiasts think the event which eventually disrupts life as we know it will not only be survivable but with the proper preparations can offer a chance to thrive. The goal is to have enough provisions and the right tools on hand to survive without government intervention or support… which may or may not even be available. WTSHTF (or when the s**t hits the fan, a common prepping acronym) a prepper will make a few adjustments and continue on facing life day by day. An important aspect of that is “bugging out”…. changing locations to a less volatile, less congested, and potentially safer locale.
That group of doctors, lawyers, and business owners looking for a bug out property within a couple hours of St. Louis were on the right track. They realized that: 1) if, or when, a major catastrophe happens the heavily-populated areas could quickly become chaotic, and 2) having a place to go that offers solitude, shelter, and resources makes perfect sense.
A “Bug Out Location” is a rural place outside metropolitan areas where you can retreat to in times of unrest. An added benefit is that such properties are also great places to hang out anytime. Just leave the city, head to the county, pass through the gate and put all your troubles behind.
If you think cities can’t get out of control in a hurry, consider the rioting and other violence in Los Angeles following the 1992 acquittal of police officers in the beating of Rodney King, or New Orleans in the hours and days after Katrina when countless people turned to smashing and looting in broad daylight as news cameras rolled, or maybe New York City and the rest of America in the aftermath of 9-11. Even in the small community where I live the gas stations had a run on fuel and sold out within hours, with some store owners price-gouging friends and family to the tune of three and four times the regular rate per gallon. In the case of 9-11, the fuel jobbers showed up the next morning with another tanker truck full of fuel and life began returning to normal. But that could have easily gone another way.
It comes down to a few simple questions. Where would you want to be if some life-changing event created chaos? Would you want to ride out the mayhem in a city where there’s power in numbers, but also the potential for increased violence as more people vie for any available resources? Or would you want to gather your pertinent belongings and escape to a secluded property where you could continue a peaceful lifestyle in safe surroundings? I’m not talking about “chaos” such as a tornado or localized earthquake, where help will arrive from the next precinct or town over within an hour or so. I’m talking about several days ranging to several weeks or months when it’s left up to you to fend for yourself. I don’t profess to be an expert on everyone, but most folks I know would rather ride out the storm on a rural property.
To that end, in this article, we’ll be taking a look at what kind of acreage makes a good “Bug Out Location”. How do find your rural property? How far from the city should it be, and what attributes should it have? In future articles, I’ll discuss what you do to your land to make it more “bug out” comfortable.
First, here are some criteria for choosing a B.O.L. Look for a location less than a half-tank of gas away from where you live. For example, if your automobile has a 20-gallon tank and averages 20 miles per gallon, you could travel approximately 200 miles on a half tank of fuel. It’s a good practice to always keep at least a half tank of gas. When the gauge dips near the halfway mark fill it up as if it were empty. Prepping is all about preparing for emergency situations before they happen. There’s another popular prepper saying that goes something like this… “a half-hour before the prom is not the time to learn to dance.”
Second, a good B.O.L., or rural getaway, would be someplace you would already own or, at a minimum, know very well. You wouldn’t want to choose a popular rural escape such as a campground or resort that other people would likely run to as well. It’s a great feeling to have your own piece of rural land. My wife and I have a vested interest in a family farm some 40 miles from the small town where we live. The rural acreage sits two miles down a dirt road and has an old farmhouse and barns already in place. I maintain the land to attract wild game—potential food sources—and have fruit trees growing for food and woodlots for cooking and heating fuel. We keep bedding, some basic cookware, as well as a heat source and fuel at the ready at all times.
Like the doctors, lawyers, and businessmen who were looking for a piece of land, sometimes family members or friends might go in together to purchase a property. Even if it’s a group plan, it’s still comforting to have a vested interest in a place in the country.
A good escape location should have clean water at least nearby, preferably on the property. That can mean a year-round creek or river, a spring, or even a drilled well. Many preppers keep a water purifier on hand, but having good clean potable water can save a lot of time and potential for illness. Getting sick from bad water is one thing, but getting sick at a time when you’re already stressed or worn thin could be deadly. Your property doesn’t necessarily have to have a year-round creek or river, but it should be located close to a plentiful water source.
A key feature of a bug out location is available water. Even a tiny spring-fed stream such as this one can be a huge selling point for buying a rural property. But a spring is not necessary. A nearby river or stream, reservoir or even a drilled well can provide needed water.
Still another thing to consider is the lay of the land. Where I live, the Ozark Mountains of southern Missouri offer ideal terrain for bug out locations. Most experienced preppers say a good piece of land offers security. Protecting your family and belongings in less-than-ideal times could mean being able to protect the perimeter of the property, or at a minimum, all ingress and egress routes. That could mean watching roads leading in and out from a vantage point, or using technology and installing video surveillance or driveway alarms. The ultimate location for bugging out, or getting out of Dodge, would be a rolling property with one or two ways in and out, woods and clearings for fuel and game as well as potential garden spots, clean water for drinking and other uses, a place or plan for toiletry needs, and far enough off the beaten path as to not draw unwanted company.
Dealing with human waste can be tricky on unimproved land. This is one example of the need for thinking and planning ahead. For centuries humans used chamber pots and dumped the waste a distance from the house. Then came the popular invention called the outhouse. In the past century, indoor plumbing became the norm. Modern-day septic laws in most states require a costly percolation test on properties less than three acres before installing a new septic tank and drain field. These tests can be expensive, and often it makes sense to buy tracts of more than three contiguous acres to avoid such costly governmental involvement. If you choose to stick with an outhouse at your rural property, be careful to position it far away from the drinking water source. Heavy rains could contaminate your water source due to storm-water runoff.
Now that you know what to look for in a “bug out” property, here’s how you start the search and eventually make the deal for your own rural escape. A great place to begin is the Internet. Even the hillbillies of southern Missouri now have computers and know how to use them. The first step is to define your target search area. Consider how far you can drive on half a tank of fuel if you leave your in-town home and head straight to your bug out location. Use a travel map service such as Mapquest to define that perimeter circle. In Missouri, where I live, the three largest cities are St. Louis, Kansas City, and Springfield. All three are less than 250 miles apart, so bugging out of St. Louis could easily take you more than halfway to Springfield or Kansas City.
With a perimeter established, begin your search on the outer edges of that area. Turn to a program like Google Earth to look at aerial photos and or terrain views of possible properties. While the optimal way would be to look at a map and find the ideal property, then go make an offer on the land and buy it, this is far from a perfect world. Many people might have a price point at which they’re willing to sell the farm or homestead, rural areas are known for land which has been in the same family for hundreds of years. Just because you’ve found the ultimate getaway acreage on Google Earth doesn’t mean the owner will ever consider selling out. But the preliminary search will give you an idea of what the “lay of the land” is in your search zone. Look for tracts of land well off the main highways, with limited access, and nearby flowing water.
Using online services such as Google Maps or Yahoo Maps are a great way to have a first look at a potential property or area. After you narrow down the perimeter where you hope to find land, use online searches to find properties and look at topography maps for features such as ingress and egress, streams and rivers, and the lay (contour) of the land.
Once you know what to expect in your “bug out” area, now start looking for leads. As I said before, the Internet is a great resource when searching for rural property. Rural land is usually much more affordable than lots in incorporated cities and communities. Additionally, unimproved land – real estate with no “improvements” such as a home, outbuildings, paved roads or well and septic – can be had for much less than properties with improvements already in place. You should know that banks generally will not loan at the same low interest rate or lengthy term for unimproved land versus a home on groomed acreage. Terms for a small number of acres can often be less than a 10-year note.
When choosing a getaway property consider ingress and egress, possible garden locations, woodlots for fuel for cooking and heating, water sources, and shelter locations. This property off the beaten path but easy to access has it all … woods, fields, one road leading in and out, a spring-fed year-round creek and suitable building areas.
But even with the funding limitations discussed in the previous paragraph, buying a rural property is still a wise investment – another popular aspect of preppers. Many prepping enthusiasts prefer to have diverse “investments”. That can mean having quantities of gold or silver stored away for currency or trade goods when the current economic system fails, or having stores of food and other merchandise on hand that will perhaps be desired commodities when shortages become the norm. Owning land is another great investment… after all, they’re not making any more of it. In the county where I live, a building lot in town will sell for $5,000 to $25,000 for a third-acre. Commercial lots sell for $4 to $6 per square foot. Home lots just outside the incorporated boundaries go for $2,000 to $5,000 per acre. But unimproved land in the rural counties just to the south and west sell for $1,000 an acre or less. For the cost of a small building lot in town, you can own 5 to 25 acres in the country.
Where do you find such land? Do an Internet search. There are hundreds of individual property owners looking to sell their rural acreage. Some will turn to “For Sale By Owner”, or FSBO, sites to post their own land. Others will list their land on Craigslist. In both cases, the buyer should be savvy about the steps to buying land and take time to research the process if the plan is to buy property without using a licensed real estate agent.
Another growing trend is Internet-based real estate brokerage companies. In many cases, these brokers purchase large tracts of rural acreage and have the land subdivided into smaller lots suitable for country getaways. Some properties will come with restrictions, while some will ask only that the land is paid for before the purchaser has any standing timber removed. Still, others will have very few restrictions. The big advantage to buying land from an online broker is that oftentimes the brokerage company will sell the land on monthly installments with little or no money required down. Just pick out the preferred acreage and start making monthly payments. Buy a piece of magnificent rural property with no money down and low payments… this is a deal rarely made available to the rest of the world.
Just like 30 minutes before the prom is not the time to learn to dance, waiting until some life-changing event happens is not the time decided to secure your own rural getaway. Owning a piece of rural acreage can mean serenity, security, simplicity, and safety… whether you buy into the prepper lifestyle or not.