Monday, October 7, 2013

Pickin' Up Brass

Pick up almost any fictional story about cataclysmic existence (aren't they all fictional?) and they stress conserving and utilizing resources.  Metals are especially important to conserve.  If you need new iron, you might have to mine it, refine it, forge it and shape it all by hand. 

So now image a group of people committed to surviving apocalyptic events.  These events might mean something as simple as a winter storm and no electrical power for 78 hours or bacteriological terrorism in your backyard.

The group only allows people with specific skill sets to join.  That makes sense if you’re going to build a future community from the ashes.  You would want medical doctors, hunters, military scouts, weavers and leather tanners.  Farmers and carpenters would be welcome, maybe even a few accountants to help manage and insure sufficient supplies.  Web designers need not apply.  
close up of brass left on the range
Can you guess what this is?

Having a second skill like welding, candle making, rope making or bread baking might get you accepted especially if your primary skills aren’t that hot.  As you might expect, they get together to practice their skills and learn new ones like shooting, first aid, camping and working together.  Cooking over an open fire isn’t a simple skill nor is building emergency caches of supplies.  You need to practice both.

One person you would certainly want is the scrounger.  Even in modern life it’s nice to know someone who can find a new battery for an old laptop, the valve stem on a 14-year old frost free outdoor faucet, or a good truck inner tube on short notice. 

Of course part of his job would be to conserve resources and utilize them as best as possible.  If you anticipate the Twilight of the Gods then you know you will run out of arrow heads, that ammunition must be conserved and you better be able to substitute one material for another.

So imagine my surprise when I found that the local group was training at our range and left at least 19 pounds of dirty, wet, fired brass cases behind.  I also found a surprising number of unfired cartridges, mostly 9s and 40s.  I’m going to assume they are from clearing weapons at the end of an exercise and simply lost in the grass.

fired brass left as worthless scrap
The total pile of unloved, unwanted brass left by the survivalists.  Well, I have several uses for it. 
Wouldn't you want to recover the brass?  You could melt it over a coal fire in a cast iron pan and cast bullets, arrow heads, and knife and tool handles.  By flattening out a case and cutting it into a triangle the brass could make either fishing or bow hunting more efficient.  

If you've included a blacksmith or a metallurgist in your group you would know that the addition of specific metals to molten brass could turn the brass into a harder form of bronze.  Bronze has better strength and edge retention than brass.

Even failing that, the reloading potential is huge.  There’s probably a summer’s worth of shooting in the brass I picked up.  If scrap prices stay at $1.75 that’s at least 30 bucks they could use on heirloom seeds, survival gear, water purification or the yearly we-survived-another-one party.

Not bad for less than an hour of stoop labor by two people.

Is there a tactical message here?  I don’t know.  Maybe the message is that modern life is too complicated to successfully step back to the 8th century.  Maybe it’s camping out over a weekend isn’t a measure of your survival skills and planning for the zombie uprising is waste of effort.  Maybe the tactical message is that we can be blind to the flaws in our favorite plans.

You think about it and see if there’s a message in here for you.

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