Olive Branch native and Survival Instructor Joseph Hernandez shares the secrets to living wild
Interview by Casey Hilder
Click Magazine: How did you get into the survivalist lifestyle?
Joseph Hernandez: When I was growing up in Mississippi, I spent a lot of time getting lost in the woods and trying to find my way back, that sort of thing. In my teenage years, I started going out on my own. There was always a real call to the wild for me, and I always thought the military was that calling. So I joined the military, got a couple of deployments in, and did some really cool stuff. I loved it, but the call was still there. A few years ago, I got the chance to attend the Bear Grylls Survival Academy in Scotland. As soon as I touched the ground, I was ready and realized that this was my calling.
CM: Did your own survivalist training help you overcome any personal fears or challenges?
JH: After my deployments I came down with some pretty significant PTSD. All things considered, it was a fraction of what some of the other guys talk about and have gone through, but it was still pretty traumatic for me and led to a really bad time in my life. But once I went through the 5-day course in Scotland, I realized that I hadn’t thought of anything bad for those five days. I was living in the moment, focused on my own survival. It was really therapeutic for me, so I started studying more in different places around the world and eventually got my instructor’s certification.
CM: What kind of things did survival academy put you through?
JH: We were in a big glacier valley in Scotland right by the Alladale Wilderness Reserve, in the middle of nowhere. The instructors we had were old, retired British Royal Marines. Really killer guys. One of the dudes, Darren Swift, single-handedly rescued someone from Mount Everest in a place where they usually leave climbers to die. A lot of it was climbing and mountaineering-based in addition to your basic survival stuff: how to use knives, how to build a shelter, all that. Then we head out to the middle of even-more-nowhere and the instructors take their leave and we start building our own shelters. The first night was godawful-brutal, but so much fun.
CM: What did you eat?
JH: Bugs and a single MRE were all on-hand for five days. We also came across a rabbit and a few fish, but it was mostly mealworms — a kind of beetle larvae — that we ate. You know they’re not bad. They taste like popcorn when you’re that hungry. The longest I went without food was three days.
CM: How does your body kick back against something like that?
JH: The human body can actually go up to three weeks without eating, but you definitely feel it. You start getting dizzy upon movement, and some people experience blackouts. However, there are a few benefits. It’s hard to describe, but it kind of resets your taste buds. Eating ordinary food after something like that is almost overwhelming.
CM: What are some things that come up in survival situations that many people don’t consider?
JH: The attitude that everybody has. Once things start going bad and mistakes happen, people tend to get discouraged that things don’t go like they do on the Discovery Channel. In my courses, I teach how to do a bow drill fire, as well as a type of friction fire. No one gets these their first time. My first bow dril fire took about two years of practice to fire. If you try to get it in an afternoon, you’ll find yourself really unhappy with life. And once people reach that level of nature kicking you in the face for so long, they can completely shut down. A positive attitude is important. That’s not rain, that’s liquid sunshine and emergency water rations.
CM: What’s the first thing you teach in your classes?
JH: The rule of threes. Three seconds of being human — that is, being frustrated and emotional — can kill you. Three seconds of not being safe can kill you. Three minutes without air can kill you. It’s an easy rule of thumb.