Crosspost from my Patreon.
I get asked all the time: "How do I find a training area for patrolling?"
Let me preface my answer by telling you that I am not giving you legal advice and if you get got, its on you.
Now that I have cleared that up, lets get started. Most of you will have to resort to a few options for field training: training as part of a class, training on private property, training on BLM land, or training "somewhere youre not supposed to".
For starters, let's address the first point, training in a class environment. There are not many courses that offer Small Unit Tactics outside of the military, but some groups do offer it. Max Velocity Tactical, One Shepherd, theres like a handful of other outfits around the US that offer SUT to some degree but their names escape me. These are going to be your safest bet for training, with an (ideally) experienced instructor being able to guide your learning or training and provide input. However, you're almost assuredly on their curriculum and scheduling. This could make or break your experience, but if you can, I implore you try this if you don't have any military experience or experience with SUT. As always, this will impose a financial cost on your training, due to round counts, special equipment costs, travel, lodging, etc.
I'll make a quick side note here, there are large MilSim events that allow you to practice fieldcraft against a "live enemy". Your experience will depend on the people around you, from what I can tell it very much can be a "Your Mileage May Vary" situation. Some guys I know that go with their own group have fun and develop their skills. Others have said less stellar things about the events they went to, but by far and large the "best" event is MilSim West. I have not gone, but I have been encouraged to for years.
Moving on, private property is the absolute GOAT when it comes to SUT training. You will, hopefully, have free will and ample use/space (location dependent) to do whatever you want. Want to train land nav? No issue. Want to go on a patrol at 0200 to conduct recon on a water feature? Go for it. Private property that you have access to, ideally with an owner as enthusiastic about the whole affair as you, is peak training situation. If you can convince someone you know, this is the ideal. Permission here is best if it is someone you know, and if it isn't, usually guys with big properties have game cameras and guns, its a big gamble to skirt that property line. I don't recommend it.
I will loop in BLM land and "non permissive" public land together. The things you have to take into consideration are similar. However, by no means is this "simple". There is significant risk once you include combat gear, equipment, weapons, ammo, and if its a live fire, shooting. I will show you my experience on this whole matter, because it is somewhat doable.
First consideration is always boiling down to location. You need to do the equivalent of an area study on the area youre planning on working in. Figure out how close it is to major population centers or major roads and highways, the closer the higher the risk. Cross reference this with any trail reviews and activity off of places like Google Reviews, it tends to compile info on when the most active times are. Again, the more active, the greater the risk. Figure this and how it plays within local firearms laws and particularly the local hunting regulations. Plan around hunting windows, as you could try to take advantage or avoid it. Orange vests and bolt action rifles with tags are good excuses for the woods. Conversely, any inexperienced hunter may shoot someone in your squad, mistaking you for a deer or turkey. Again, discretion. Ask anyone you know that may hike or hunt around there how populated or secluded the area is. Check local hiking, fishing/hunting, birdwatching, offroading forums/social media groups and see if you get any info on the location. You should be going through satellite imagery and maps to see if there are routes to more secluded areas off of major trails where you and your group will not be seen or interfered with. I discourage campgrounds, too many people running into the woods to take a leak or their kids exploring the woods around camp.
You are past the "prep" work, its time to do some actual footwork. The first (and easiest) steps are driving by different times of week, taking a "normie" hike/walk through dressed like a normal hiker or trail runner, going after hours to scout it out (if its not suspicious in your area). Have a good alibi for the "dry" runs, you are checking the area for not just soccer moms on a run, but hunters and game cops as well. Sorry guys, but if its not some cool training area (BLM land can have spots like this), youre going to get a ton of questions by cops if youre out in kit. Note: just because an area has hikers, runners, etc., doesn't mean you cant use it for training. It just means you need to go deep into the brush or you need to plan for those times where population density is low. If you have a drone, this is a great opportunity to use it to scout the places that you might use as "secluded" areas to train. Be wary of things on trails like tire tracks, as on many hiking trails the rangers or game wardens use vehicles on them for emergencies or to get around. Make sure your "soft recons" are frequent and done at different times and different days at first, then narrowing down onto the most "ideal" schedule. On some of the soft recons, bring another squadmate, they may spot something you don't or come to a conclusion you didn't see before.
After a judicious survey, you can now do your more "hard" recon. Plan ahead, decide what time of day and what day of week is optimal. Have a plan for dense population, inclement weather, and alternate "training areas". Pack all your gear in a clandestine manner (remember those Micro Rigs you should have kept?), Bring what you need only and try and obfuscate what it is as best you can. Don't try to hike in with camo on, it's suspicious. Bring it inside your pack or get used to civilian clothes for training. When you park, park somewhere normal if during daylight hours, and somewhere not easily visible from major roads if after hours. Hike in to your location and do a last minute "make or break" survey. Ask yourself "Are the current conditions too risky for the group to start training?" If the answer is "yes", consider stowing some of the equipment somewhere safe (a return trip home if necessary) and practicing something non firearms/gear related like land navigation or setting up a fighting position just off trail. If anyone asks why you are digging, say you are geocaching. If the answer is "no", and the risk is tolerable, think about what surveyed area you plan to gear up and train at. Consider a concealed entry point to step off a trail, otherwise you may create a trail leading right to your training area.
Sometimes your best training times will be at night.
Once you reach a safe place to "gear up", this is now for all intents and purposes a "stealth" situation. Discovery at best means you have to explain a bunch more than you would want, at worst means an altercation that leads with arrest or death. If youre in a group, kit up one at a time, the rest pulling "security" as lookouts. If alone, you need to find somewhere extremely secluded where you are concealed from most sides. Once kitted, conduct your training. I HIGHLY discourage any shooting if you're sneaking in somewhere to patrol, that goes for use of anything that makes a ton of noise. Your presence in and of itself is a patrol where discovery is akin to death. Some training ideas are setting up patrol bases, LP/OPs, stalking lanes, and just plain old patrolling procedures.
Your wind down and return is just as important. You will be tired, and therefore more prone to make mistakes. Your exit plan must be careful, taking into account the same concerns you took into account to get to the "training area". Pack all your gear, police your area, conceal signs of your presence. Take the same route, and have a plan in case someone is waiting for you by your vehicles. Always have an alibi and a good plan if theres something weird around your vehicle.
Thats it for now, I hope this helps many of you figure out how to train when you have nowhere "obvious". As always, comment or message me with questions. Until next time!