Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Booby Traps

I know that the word "booby trap" has a somewhat sinister connotation these days, being tainted by their current, vivid association with enemy insurgency groups that we are fighting (Iraqis), or enemies we've fought in the past (Viet Cong, Japanese) who have used them effectively. This is partly why I feel that this subject should be discussed, or, at least should not be discounted. Booby traps are a tremendously effective force multiplier, useful when economy of personnel is critical or when an area or route must be denied but you have few resources, a good alternate source of food that works by itself, at the very least as an early warning device, and even just to have a psychological effect on an attacker or pursuer.

For safety and legal reasons, I shall NOT be describing the details of how to build booby traps. But I will merely suggest their general utility in certain survival situations. I have personally used or field tested all of these methods and can aver that they are practical and effective. If you wish to learn the "how to", I suggest consulting an expert or learn the basics from a field manual. As with all things, practice is important and much of the early learning curve on this tactic is worked out by trial and error.

I guess I started messing around with booby traps as a kid thinking up ways of doing little practical jokes on my friends, brother, dog, and sister remotely. With kite string, scotch tape, scrap paper, and paper clips, I would rig envelopes full of 3-ring dot confetti, rubber bands, party poppers, caps, and cups of water to pour down, launch or loudly explode, startling the victim and giving me a remote feedback and a good laugh. I used to devise ever more complex Rube Goldberg-like machines which worked sometimes, but more usually came crashing down as the weak point in the system failed. I did learn from these failures.

There can be additional components to a booby trap, but I find it useful for the sake of visualizing it to think of booby traps as 3 main component sub-systems. The trigger, the power, and the payload (or payoff). The good thing, with a few exceptions, is that variations of each of these sub-systems are interchangeable, like you can use trigger type B (trip wire), with power source C (a 5 lb rock lifted to tree top level), hooked to payload A (wire noose snare).

The trigger is usually some type of moving part which activates the trap. It can be a tripwire or cord, a bent nail, a knotched branch, a door, a drawer, a hinged lid, or just about any free-standing object that can be moved.

The power can be the trigger or payload itself (i.e. the movement of an object, or explosive in the case of a bomb), but it is the potential energy source that powers the device, whether it be mechanical, electical or chemical. Examples, springs, twisted elastic, branches that are pulled back, weights that are lifted or suspended, flowing water, bowstrings, batteries, gunpowder, explosives.

The payload (or payoff) can be non-lethal, simple noise-maker, glowstick, flare, smoke, bucket of water, confetti, banana cream pie. However, it is usually assumed to be something more dangerous, sharpened stakes, deadfalls, pitfalls, swing weights, projectiles (arrow, rocks, spears), shotgun shells, IEDs, frag grenades, mines, not to mention, live poisonous animals or insects. Perhaps more pertinent to our blog theme is the payoff which is specifically for survival like snares, jaw traps, and fall traps.

My favourite booby trap (most used) is the spring tension trip wire flare or trip wire snare. This is a trap that I learned in the Army, and we used it mostly to deny certain avenues of approach when we did not have enough personnel (and occasionally to scare the bejeezus out of one of the FNGs... lol). Game trails, doors, windows, paths, canyons, corridors, and choke points are what this booby trap is ideal for. It is mechanically simple, can very hastily emplaced (about 2 mins each), and allows for many options on same basic trap... noisemakers, flares, grenades, or a self-tightening game snare. With some special parts (a frame) one can also use 12 gauge shotgun shells (for noise, flare, or shrapnel).

I actually have a booby trap "kit" which I can attach to my tac gear, but a quick trip to the hardware store or drugstore can supply one with all the requisite components for many good traps.
-flexible wire (10 gauge or less), sold in coils, I recommend the coloured type (not metallic silver). I happen to have bought a personal supply of military surplus tripwire in green and sand colour. It should be flexible enough to shape and tie, harder to see is a big plus, and strong enough so that small game cannot escape easily.
-twine, string, cord - a ball or spool of string or twine might be the next best thing. Parachute cord is great multipurpose cord.
-monofilament fishing line makes handy snares and traps. Tends to shine and stand out too much to be a good trip wire, but may be useful for "fake" booby traps.
-duct tape, our old friend is ever useful for quickly attaching objects to other objects. I especially like it for handling/attaching explosives.
-cable ties, are surpringly useful for quick, durable tie downs, sliding components, hanging components. Remember, multiple cable ties can be daisy-chained to make larger "loops".
-springs, almost any type/size of spring is useful, but the optimum ones for booby traps are about 4 to 6 inches long, providing about 12 to 20 lbs of pressure.
-nails, smaller nails about 2 inches long are very useful
-u-tacks, almost as useful as regular nails, allows simple redirection of cords and wires
-staple gun/staples, I used to "hammer" nails and u-tacks with the end of my Kabar or a rock, but then I discovered that a good staple gun with u-staples saves me a whole lot of time and energy. One click and I have a firm anchor point.
-plastic sandwich bags, filled with napthalene, kerosene, gasoline, mixed with liquid Palmolive so it sticks, or two bags that combine for a bipolar reaction (acid/base, chlorine/ammonia, etc),
-mousetraps or rat traps are an excellent trigger for many traps
-party poppers, the cheap little noisemakers have a friction activated detonator
-shotgun shells, blanks, birdbombs, flare, and... #8 shot (note: always wear safety glasses when handling or modifiying live ammunition or explosives for booby trap use)
-black rifle powder, preferably 4F (extra fine grained) is a stable low-velocity explosive that can be purchased without much hassle or regulation.

Most of the rest of it can be "improvised" from garbage and objects found around you. Scrap metal, glass, cans, twigs, tree branches, rocks, twine, wire, cigarettes. All of these useful items are not always handy together in the same location, so I usually forage for useful components as I hike along.

If you don't already have a nice multi-tool, you might need a knife, pliers, wire cutters, and file.

Notice that all of the above listed items are perfectly legal, readily available household products, sold pretty much off the shelf ready to go. I am NOT listing or suggesting in any way, the creation of any homemade explosives, which are dangerous and illegal. Also, I am conspicuously omitting electronics.... batteries, wires, foil, capacitors, soldering iron, mercury switches, and alligator clips. Using electronics in booby traps is a bit more advanced/tricky (requiring professional training), and, it almost always involves the use of explosives, which I am not discussing here.

I mentioned the "fake" booby trap above, which is another useful tactic. For every real booby trap that I set, I find it a decent investment in time to set up a fake booby trap or two (like just stringing wire between two trees). It has a significant psychological effect on an enemy or pursuer, causing them to stop to investigate or to move more slowly/cautiously not knowing which ones are "live". They can even be annoying harrasments, like clothes-lining an equestrian or tripping someone on a dark stairwell.

Yet another step in booby trap construction can be camoufluaging, concealing or disguising it. Unless you want the trap or fake trap to be seen, it is often prudent to take the additional step of hiding it using natural foliage, dirt or objects in the vicinity. Hiding a trip wire with foliage, or burying a pressure release switch in dirt may seem obvious, but don't forget that one can also "hide in plain sight", like a booby trapped aluminum can may look perfectly natural among other garbage, or a booby trapped folding chair (in an urban setting) would raise no suspicion among other folding chairs. "Bait" much like it's purpose in angling can lure animals and humans into a trap trigger, like leaving something interesting or alluring to bring prey to trap killzone.

Finally, a brief word about explosive mines. A mine is an advanced variant of booby traps, cousin to the IED. A mine may be indistinguishable from a IED in mechanics and effect. I mention this because mines, like booby traps, raise a certain "moral" issue in that a booby trap or mine indescriminate as to it's target (victim). Emplacing dangerous unmarked traps and mines in proximity to civilians (though not yet specifically forbidden by the Geneva Conventions) is a tactic that must be carefully weighed (exigent benefit vs. potential collateral damage). In the end, it is just that, a tactic. A method or technique. Used responsibly, I believe the effectiveness of the booby trap makes it far too valuable a tactic to disavow simply because of complaints by civilians. I'm sorry about the innocent bystanders but all's fair in war. Warfare is about horror and violence of many, many types. If you don't like it, vote against war. I basically feel the same about barbed wire and nukes.

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