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- This is an idea that I came up with. If you feel you can refute any of my claims feel free to discuss it in the comments section. If you feel you can lend a hand while keeping the overall premise and tone the same, please do so. I am not affirming this as canon nor expect you to take it as such. For any bothered by my personal speaking in a wiki, remember that this is a site dedicated to the understanding of zombies.
- This is not a strategy for everybody; it is complex and requires a lot of experience and familiarity with animals, carts, wagons and any other equipment you bring along.
The Oregon Trail Strategy is a general transportation strategy during a Zombie Apocalypse. The basic premise is to be constantly ahead of any zombies that may be following you and to use supplies, routes, and mode of travel reminiscent of the Oregon Trail video game.
The strategy is meant to be done like a caravan from the old pioneering days. You are to get a group of carts or wagons (or really anything that can carry people or supplies and be pulled by an animal) and use them to make your way to a safe zone. You are not meant to use this strategy to forever outrun the zombies or make a new life as a group of nomadic wagon men.
When it comes to choosing your method of transportation, there are many things to keep in mind to prevent your carts from becoming a mobile zombie buffet.
Carts are a bit of a rarity in this modern age. There is almost no chance of finding any large carts or wagons at large, factory farms. Smaller, independant farms can and do still employ forms of carts. Also, some museums will have recreations of old vehicles. They are made to look like old fashioned wagons, but are made by modern people and, sometimes, by modern means. Do not, under any circumstance, use any actual historical carts. These carts are very old and weak. They may look nice and repaired, but the repairs are purely superficial. Restores refrain form replacing original parts and, as such, can have weak sections. Even if it is capable of being marched through a parade does not mean it can travel rough mountain passes or days of rocky plains.
Animals should be taken from small ranches and never form any other sources. Equestrian stables and show horses are beautiful and fast but are not accustomed to prolonged labor, rough terrain and especially not gunshots. Ranch horses are accustomed to rough riding and may even have pulling experience. If the rancher loved guns it is not impossible to imagine him taking his horse out into some mountains or a valley and the shooting at a target while the horse stands nearby. If the rancher is still there and alive, you should try to recruit him. He knows the horses well and would be an invaluable asset. He of course would also have knowledge of the surrounding countryside and other vital knowledge. If your animals are inexplicably aware of zombies, you are boned (I say inexplicably because the idea that all animals can just “detect” solanum is unrealistic. The assumption that they can detect solanum is based on the fact that some animals are capable of detecting other things like fear or sense danger coming. This does not mean that they should also be able to instantaneously detect and react to one single virus. Solanum is not shown to emit any indication to its presence with either a hormone or radiation and no super natural things exist in Max Brooks’ canon. So there seems to be no reason to believe that all animals will be able to detect the virus. Yes, some dogs can be trained to sniff drugs or even sense seizures, but that only comes with years of training. Saying animals can just detect a virus instantly and from large distances is like saying a dog can read your mind because it can tell your mood by your expressions and actions).
Another, far stanger form, of aquiring transportation, would be asking the Amish (called Mennonites in Southwestern Ontario- don't get the names confused). If you live near a community of Amish, it would not be impossible to get a little support. You might be a little tempted to stay with them (self suficient and isolated sounds awesome) but you have to remeber that these people are pacifists and very religious. It is hard to speculate just how these people would react to a zombie apocolypse. And don't expect them to just hand everything over. These people have a history of extreme generosity but will not give away all of their supplies to some dude. And, please, don't bring any zombies on your trail, these people will most likely do their best to help you, don't feed them to the zombies.
Supplies are one of the most vital aspects to the strategy. Anyone who has ever played Oregon Trail and ran out of supplies will tell you how terrible it can be. Most common supplies will include canned goods, dried foods, rifles, pistols and ammunition. You should try to calculate the rations necessary and the amount of days spent traveling so you don’t over pack or under pack. Either can have dire consequences but the former is preferred to the latter.
An Electric Generator and some gasoline should be brought along. Much care should be given to this as it is both hazardous and can be delicate. It should be stored in a well guarded cart but not with your most important supplies. The risk of an accident will always linger, especially because you will be traversing rough terrain and will often be firing weapons.
Highways and other paved roads are to be avoided at all times. Using roads will only run you the risk of encountering bandits or zombies. Old mountain trails or train tracks as well as landmarks would serve better and safer for navigation. Navigation will be the most vital aspect in this scenario. Getting lost or going in the wrong direction could absolutely destroy any chances of survival.
Exceedingly rough terrain should also be avoided because it can over work your horses or put them in dangerous situations.
It should be done sparingly, but when it is done try not to choose towns with populations larger than a few hundred. There is never anyway to know for sure if it is mostly abandoned or teeming with zombies inside the houses.
The biggest and most looming hazard will, of course, be the zombies. They way zombies track is open to nearly endless debate, but I will try to use their basic behavioral traits that are common amongst nearly all classic zombies.
Zombies are slow and stupid. If they are capable of tracking a caravan by scent, they can follow in an ever growing horde. With every town you scavenge you can add as much as hundreds and maybe up to the thousands. With this awesome, unstoppable force following you day and night, never stopping or pausing, it’s enough to make anyone see this plan as ludicrously unfeasible. There are ways of disputed validity to confuse them, but there is one way I believe almost anyone can be in agreement, the use of peripheral parties.
Scouts, hunters, scavengers, warriors, Dragoons; whatever name you choose to give them they will prove your most valuable human assets. By having small bands of three to five on horseback you can create a protective bubble around your caravan that can spot threats early. The main caravan is slow, cumbersome and unruly, but the peripheral bands are fast, close and wily. They can scout ahead, scavenge towns or distract zombies. These will be your most prized and stalwart warriors.
Imagine this scenario. On the tail end of the caravan a look out spots that the horde of zombies has come within range of his binoculars. He calls to the head of the watch at the end of the caravan and he comes running. Looking through the binoculars, he goes to whoever may be in charge. The person in charge dispatches a group on horseback to ride fast and hard toward the zombies. They arrive in front of hundreds of zombies and begin firing blindly into the horde. They toss firecrackers and shout obscenities at the zombies. Once they have their attention they trot slowly to the east, away form the caravan. They sporadically fire and continue shouting and screaming. The zombies follow after the band of horsemen. After a while of this they break into a run, then a gallop and head back to the caravan. If done correctly, they can by hours or even lose some of the horde.
This tactic would only work if it is done with the caravan outside of the vision of the zombies.
Another vital use of peripheral parties would be to scout your destination long before you expect to make it there. You would hate to have traveled so far to realize that the base or fortress has become a zombie-fest.
Your peripheral bands will be your most vital human assets, but should not be counted on for defense. They are much too valuable to be placed on the front of an attack or defense. For this there should be three classes of warriors.
Riflemen: These are men and women who are more proficient with firearms and are wielding long range rifles. They should be placed on top of wagons or any vantage point to harass zombies before an actual assault or defense.
Close Quarters: These have a miscellaneous assortment of guns that are better for closer encounters. Some will have Handguns, others shotguns. If automatic rifles or battle rifles are available they are to be placed in this group.
Mêlée: These are some of your braver (and physically superior) warriors and are armed with any Mêlée weapons they may have. You should have a large group of these but they should not be your bulk. Your forces will consist mostly of civilians and they would constitute more of a militia than a unit. The duty of wielding a melee weapon will task them more than any other group.
The best way to plan a defense is to try to get the high ground. Since zombies cannot maneuver your flanks will be mostly safe. But do not be lulled into a false sense of security; more hordes can come or they can begin to spread out and flank you by accident. Have the carts parallel to the brunt of the zombie horde and place riflemen on the carts and in any high ground you can find. Have the Close Quarters fighters in a concave line, with the bow out to the zombies. Place them about seventy five yards before the riflemen’s minimum range. Have them stand in a single (or more depending on your size and the width of the horde) rank and fire into the zombies. As the zombies come closer have the men fall back thirty to forty yards. When within fifty yards of the carts have the Melee soldiers charge with the Close Quarters combatants to finish the fight.
If no other options exist and you must attack an area with zombies follow a similar strategy as with defense.
Put the riflemen in a position where they can have fire and can see zombie movement. March the Close Quarters fighters in a long line, stopping to fire, not firing while walking. For best effect, use Napoleonic tactics adjusted to zombies.
First have them stand in rank and fire slowly and surely into the zombies. When they come within ten to fifteen yards, fall back thirty to forty yards. When there is no more room to fall back two tactics can be employed. Either completely retreat if too many zombies come, or call up the melee units and fully charge the zombies.
Anyone having played Oregon Trail will be in fear of dying of dysentery. It is true that many a brave adventurer met his fate on a toilet but this was due to poor preserving of foods, under cooking and drinking unclean water. With our modern understanding of microbes, death by diarrhea should be a rarity. This is also where the alcohol brought along will prove valuable. The use is not for inebriation but to help purify and preserve water. Yes you can boil and strain water and it will be clean, but it won’t stay clean. If you have to store it in barrels or open jugs it can spawn scum or become infested with bugs and become contaminated. The risks associated with carrying water are great, but by mixing liquor into your water it can be much better preserved. Or even just carying barrels of wine. Wine will keep well and has been used in place of water for armiies or expeditions for millenia.
A long caravan can seem a bastion of safety to any small bands or lone survivors. With the carts loaded with supplies and bristling with rifles and shotguns they can attract a lot of attention. The danger here is mostly that one of them can be infected and just not show it. The only fool proof way to avoid the risk of allowing an infected into your caravan is to disarm them and strip search them. Now if one of them is infected you have two main options, you can force them away or shoot the infected. In this there is much danger as either scenario can antagonize the other members of the infected person’s band. If a wife, or worse a child, is infected you may have a hysterical husband or father pleading with you to take them in so they can get help for their dying loved one. If you refuse the survivors can become enraged enough to even attack you. Even one man with a gun can cause a large amount of havoc in a caravan. These situations are to be treated carefully and politically to absolutely ensure a safe resolution for you and your band, not theirs.
Bandits can pose a much larger threat than zombies. Bandits can track, maneuver, and can even perform espionage. If you are lucky you will only encounter small bands of five or so and, depending on the size of your caravan, they can see the futility and opt for smaller prey. To maintain a formidable appearance, keep your warriors well armed and visible. Any large and cumbersome, but impressive looking, weapons should be on display for all to see. Your peripheral parties would be most susceptible to bandits as they travel in small bands. To keep them safe, have them with the main caravan as much as possible and only dispatch them on important missions.
The idea of keeping a large group of people to act on one exact goal is an incredibly difficult job. If your caravan is large and grows on its journey, you can easily be in charge of a convoy of a hundred or more. If you inspire other people to start their own caravans and they combine with yours or just go along with you as allies, we can be talking of hundreds of humans.
This enterprise would most likely be a civilian enterprise and any soldiers or police officers might try to take command. This may be a terrible idea as they can be inept and it just damages morale. Having a commander suddenly replaced can cause dissention among the people. The newcomers of authority must be stripped and disarmed as any others seeking to join. This will show them that they are not in charge and they can be rearmed when they show that they will obey.
Any factions of dissention must be dealt with quickly, but not immediately with force. Political maneuvers and speaking can often stop a dissenter. If they have a grievance, hear it. Try to explain them why it is and how you will try to fix. If you do say you will fix it, try. Do not make any empty promises or dissention can grow. Imprisonment is a viable option but it wastes several able bodied people (the prisoner and whomever may have to guard him).
Officers will be necessary to this strategy. They will have to be people you have utter trust in. There bravery must be tested and steeled against the zombies. They will watch over the caravan and the battle as you can not be everywhere at once.
Shootings are an incredibly gruesome but necessary evil. Anyone who has read For Whom the Bell Tolls has been given a close glimpse of this bloody task. Unfortunately you will have to perform them. It could be that someone was bitten by a zombie, maybe somebody performed a crime, maybe a dissenter is spreading the word mutiny across the caravan. One day, you will have an unarmed person who has been taken into custody and will have to be taken care of. Exile is not viable. They can attract zombies, bandits or just come back berserk. You will have to place a gun to the man. If he cries you can’t stop. If he shouts you can’t stop. You will have to shoot him. Use it sparingly because you can seem harsh and monstrous, which can create enough fear and hate to cause mutiny. When it is done explain why it was necessary. Have the victim’s friends or family come to have it explained to them. If they can accept that it was necessary you have avoided a massive internal problem.
The Oregon Trail is a massive enterprise which will not work for everybody. If you live in an area where all the necessary equipment is easy to find, and you can find people capable of operating such a venture, and you can figure a way to navigate through the country, and if you have the time to safely and carefully prepare, and you have a strong, capable, just and intelligent leader, it can work.