Hoko Knife

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A hoko is a simple yet practical knife being easily made in the bush. The first one was found in an archaeological dig near the Hoko river in Washington. A green stick is used so that the sharp stone flake may be hafted easier. Here, a live branch from a Northern White Cedar is used. The bark is removed as it makes excellent cordage and will be used to hold the hafted rock flake in place. Split the stick halfway down The sharp rock flake is placed between the split portion of the stick The outer bark is then used as cordage to tie above, below, and across the stick so that the rock flake is held securely. The hoko is now made and is a great tool for adding control over rock flakes for skinning or wood working with larger flakes.

Making Char Cloth

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Char cloth is a simple tool used by many who enjoy the use of flint and steel fire making. The charred cloth readily receives sparks from flints and steel or ferro rods. It is then placed in a tinder bundle and blown into flames. Char cloth is natural material that is created through a process known as pyrolysis, meaning it is burned without oxygen to produce a carbonized piece of material. What you need: 100% cotton cloth (In this case I used an old t-shirt) a metal tin (Altoids tins work great) cutting tools (scissors and/or knife) a fire Take the metal tin and poke a hole in the middle. This is where gases will escape from when you place the materials in the fire. Cut up the 100% cotton material into about one inch x one inch squares Place the cloth loosely in the tin. If they are packed too tight, they may not burn properly or may burn too much. Close the tin and place it in a fire. It doesn’t take too much heat or too long to produce results. The gases expelled through the hole in the middle may ignite, this is fine. After the gases are no longer coming out, which you will know as they are visible and tend to ignite, remove the tin from the fire and allow it to cool. This entire process doesn’t take very long, perhaps ten minutes plus time for the tin to cool off. When the tin is opened, a black and fragile material should be inside. This material is known as char cloth. Char cloth readily takes a spark and allows the transfer of a coal to a tinder bundle and be blown into flame.

Mess Kit Philosophy

When it comes to backpacking the most important thing is using gear that you enjoy and know how to use. From my experience in minimalistic camping and bushcrafting, I have found that bucket style mess kits, or as our English friends call them, “Billy cans” seem to work the best compared to the traditional boyscout or USGI mess kit for minimalistic camping. By all means, it is best to use what you like and know how to use, but here are some reasons why I have fallen in love with the bucket systems. When we look at many of the true survivors in the world, the primitives and refugees found throughout the world, we see that the cooking pot is  primordial to survival. The Billy Can system lends  all the abilities of the cooking pot in a condensed version offering, what I feel as, more advantages than that of the smaller capacity BSA style mess kits. Here in the North woods, for more than half the year, water is unavailable except through means of melting ice or snow. The bucket system allows more ice and snow to be melted than the shallow pans and pots of the traditional BSA style mess kits. This makes acquiring an essential resource to our survival much easier. Not only for snow and ice, but for the collection and boiling of any amount of water for drinking purposes. Once, while debating the advantages of the Billy Can systems, someone retorted with “Yes, but you cannot fry a fish in a bucket!” My first thought about this was mostly a knee jerk reaction. Of course, you can’t fry a fish, if only I could do that! But after the initial shock of the idea passed and some thinking on it, the advantages of the bucket system became obvious once more. While bucket systems don’t lend much to frying, how often do you have butter while in the bush to grease the pan to begin with, preventing sticking and a loss of vital nutrients? Secondly, the bucket system lends to the essence of what eating in a survival situation is about: maximum nutrient uptake. Through the method of frying foods, many nutrients are lost through the mechanics of cooking the food. The bucket systems promote the use of boiling, which will save more nutrients, grease drippings, marrow, and the other good things that would be otherwise lost and hold it in the water. All cook water in a survival situation should be drank as it will then impart these nutrients, extra calories, and hydration unto the imbiber. These simple listed advantages are what I feel weigh so heavy in choosing a bucket system over a BSA style mess kit. They both can serve you well, and as said absolutely use what works best for you, but it seems that the many real life uses of a pot over a pan highly add value to bucket systems and make them indispensable for wilderness living.

Straw Mat

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The straw mat is a simple and effective method of staying warm in the bush. It can be made out of virtually any dried and nonpoisonous plant. It is may be used as a poncho, a blanket, or an insulating pad to keep the cold earth from sucking the heat through your body. First, one must collect proper amounts of the material. More straw than expected will probably be needed. Here, three large bales are collected and tied off with a root found growing nearby the collection process. Natural cordage can be used for this process, but for sake of expedience and commonly available material, paracord is stripped of its outer shell and the seven inner strands are used to conserve resources. Find the middle of string and lay it out. Take a handful of material and lay it on the string at the middle point. Keep in mind, the more material used, the more insulating but the less available to complete the project. a simple square knot is tied to hold the straw together and create dead-air space. The process is continued down the line. Grab more straw, place it between the two strings, and tie it off tightly, keeping each bundle close as possible to the last. With a bit of work, soon the workings will begin to pay off. About half way finished, the straw mat hasn’t taken too much time at all. When the string runs out, simply wrap another string around the last bunch of straw. Tie it off just as the other bunches. Continue the process until it is of the desired length. It’s now ready to be used as a blanket or insulating ground pad An Otzi style poncho And even rolls up to storage size!

Bracken Fern Fiddlehead

The fiddlehead is perhaps one of the most well-known wild edible. It is very tasty and cooked like asparagus. Usually, when one says fiddlehead they mean the Ostrich Fern fiddlehead. This time, we are instead harvesting the bracken fern, an incredibly common fern in the north woods. The fiddlehead is shaped somewhat like an eagle’s talon with a silver-grey hair covering the stalk. Harvest them when they are about 6-8 inches tall and not maturing, meaning, not yet uncurling and showing their leafs. To cook them, give them a wash and rub the hairs off of them. It doesn’t take too long and the hairs come off easily. The bracken fern must be cooked before being consumed. They can be steamed for 30-45 minutes in two changes of water until tender-crisp or fried with butter or olive oil. They taste and are used much like asparagus. Once they start unfurling, they become inedible as they tend to get more bitter. This is an example of a maturing fiddlehead that I would not consume. They can be gathered in abundance and make for a delicious meal from our own forest and prove to be way cheaper (just a little time and work) than buying them at gourmet prices at restaurants or at the store. Mmm, a great and tasty wild edible!

Harvesting Cattail Shoots

Harvesting Cattail Shoots Cattails are a nutritious plant that are packed full of starches and in a survival situation, that means a good find. The cattail is found throughout most of the US near slow moving or standing water. Almost all parts of the cattail are edible at some time of the year and were depended upon heavily as a main source of food by Native Americans. Currently in the North Woods around late April and early May, the cattail shoots are just coming up and are ready for harvest. They are very tasty at this time of their growth and exceptionally tender. Here is a cluster of old growth cattails and new shoots growing near a lake. This time of year, we are looking for the younger, new growth plants which are typically the green plants among the dead brown.Here is a young cattail And another young cattail to show you the variation in sizes and to further illustrate that plants don’t always look text-book. The goal is to reach down and dig a bit through the muck at the base of the stalk and pull up the white shoot, starchy bulb, and/or the starch filled rhizome. This early in the season we are focusing on the tender white shoots. With a little bit of swishing in the water, the white shoot should become prevalent and it is this white part that you are after. These cattails are plentiful and quickly gathered. To be a responsible harvester and make sure that there are new cattails for you to harvest later, only harvest a third of the available cattails at the most. The outer leafs are separated from the stalk, leaving the tender shoot to be cut up into chunk sized pieces. They then can be fried up with a little butter or otherwise cooked in the same way one would do with asparagus.

Paiute Deadfall

As always, check with your local laws before using bushcraft and primitive methods in a non-survival situation.   The Paiute Deadfall is a fast acting kill-trap that uses cordage rather than solely sticks as seen in a figure-four deadfall. For the kill weight, it must be around five times the target animals weight. Remember, deadfalls are not toys and cannot make distinctions between targets that may set it off. If something sets off the deadfall it may be killed or injured without being the target animal. The Paiute Deadfall requires two sticks, a piece of cordage, a trigger mechanism, and a heavy weight to crush the prey. The two sticks should be about as long as one’s pinky to thumb in the “Hang-loose” gesture. Next, carve a flat surface to rest the rock upon. This is carved on what is to be the top horizontal stick. With a flat surface, it will be much easier to stabilize the rock as on the horizontal stick. Carve the vertical stick in a similar fashion as this narrowed portion will act as a swivel. It is now time to take the horizontal stick and carve a notch into it. This notch acts as the female part for the male part of the vertical stick. The picture above is the bottom side of the horizontal stick. The horizontal stick will balance on the male portion of the vertical stick like such The trigger mechanism is the next to be built. This stick is the bait stick. It presses against the trigger mechanism and pressures against the rock. It is where bait will be placed to draw in prey. The trigger mechanism to witch cordage shall be tied With a piece of cordage, tie a tight knot around the trigger mechanism. This is tied to the back side of the horizontal stick on the far end away from the female portion. It is then pulled down and wrapped around the vertical stick and held in place by the bait stick. If you study the pictures closely, it will become apparent how the trigger is set. Take the horizontal stick and fit the male part into the female socket. The flat portion of the horizontal stick should be facing the direction of the rock as it will bear the weight of the rock. Finding a good flat rock to use is very important. Going out of the way to find such a rock and carry it to the trapping site may very well be worth it for sake of even getting the trap to balance. Carefully place the weight of the stone on the horizontal stick and begin to set the trigger by wrapping the trigger piece around the vertical stick. The trap is ready to be held in place by the bait stick, but because the rope ended up being a little too long and not providing enough tension to hold the rock up, I wrapped it around the vertical stick once more. The bait stick was then positioned to pressure against the rock and the trigger mechanism. The bait is placed on the stick as close to the underside bottom of the rock as possible. The trap, when done correctly, shall now be free standing and ready to make a kill while you are off foraging. A front view to better see the trigger mechanism A food that has to be tugged at and pulled makes an excellent bait on the bait stick as this will cause the trigger to be set off. Notice the hungry wandering stick about to go for the bait stick! The stick goes for the bait causing the trigger mechanism to release and topple the supporting structure!  

Throwing Club

The throwing stick is one of Man’s earliest weapons and was found throughout nearly all primitive cultures. Many people are familiar with the throwing club in the form of the returning boomerang used by the aboriginal peoples of Australia. The throwing club is intended to to be used as a method of acquiring small game and water fowl. Thrown at the target with the intention of killing or maiming, the throwing club tends to be weighted heavily at the top to carry momentum through the target. Curved throwing sticks may be weighted or unweighted with the intentions of the curve to allow the throwing stick to bounce and skip across the ground at its target. Easily one of the most simple weapons to make or acquire in the bush, the throwing club could present the wielder an opportunity to actively hunt small game in a survival situation. A stick may be used as a club as is, but to optimize the effectiveness of the club it needs to be shaped and weighted. First is to acquire the piece of wood that is wanted. For my purposes, I wanted a straight stick to use as a club Next is to begin shaping it. I take off the limbs of the branch and cut it to around two and one-half to three feet. Next is to begin shaping the throwing club. To make it the most effective weapon possible, the top of it should be weighted. I begin to shape the shaft and the portion where I will hold the club. I also add a pommel at the end for some flare as well as to prevent unintended slipping when using the club in a final blow. Beginning to shape up To make the throwing club more comfortable, the wood may be sanded to smooth it out and prevent slivers entering the hand. A coarse rock or a rock and some sand may be used for this. Some sand is sprinkled on the throwing club Any number of carvings could be done in the stick to turn it from a tool to a work of primitive art. Here is the final and primitively sanded throwing club. When it comes down to it in primitive hunting, we don’t care how it looks but how it works. Having a few carved throwing sticks at the ready will greatly increase the chances of hitting the target as well as giving the chance for a followup shot. Happy Hunting!

Dakota Fire Pit

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The Dakota Fire Pit was first developed on the plains. It was used to hide fire, which could be seen for miles on the plains, burn with minimal smoke as it provides enough oxygen to prevent most smoke, and to burn in a manner that is incredibly efficient as fuel came scarcely on the plains. While the Dakota Fire Pit is a bit more labor intensive than other fire methods, it will produce a warmer, more fuel efficient fire. This means that to cook on, less fuel will be required– meaning more wood  saved for later and less time spent collecting fuel. This fire method is also useful for stealth camping as the flame is below ground, minimizing visibility of light. Another advantage of the Dakota Fire Pit is that it is easy to cook on and if the pot is big enough, can be set directly over the fire. If not, this can be remedied with some cross beams quickly fashioned with a few sticks braced across the fire pit. How the fire pit works is depicted in the diagram below. It helps to build the oxygen feeding hole in the direction of prevailing winds. The fire heats up, drawing in air, the 0xygen feeding hole is sloped to the base of the fire so that it will draft oxygen in, causing a warmer and more efficient flame. Find a flat area where the fire will be made, preferably under some canopy cover so that any smoke coming off may be further diminished. Clear the area of organic material so that the fire will be safe and not spread. If a modern digging tool isn’t available, a stick may be used to greatly increase digging efficiency. Dig out a hole that is about one foot deep and around one foot wide. A secondary hole is dug about half a foot to one foot away from the fire pit. This hole is dug at an angle leading to the bottom of the fire pit. This hole allows for oxygen to feed into the bottom of the fire in the pit causing it to burn more efficiently. Tinder is built up in the hole on the right and then ignited. This photo is from the oxygen hole. As you can see, it feeds into the very bottom of the fire pit so that the fire may draft oxygen and burn more efficiently. If the wind is blowing too hard and is causing the fire to burn too rapidly, rocks may be used as a damper to slow the fueling of the fire by partially covering the feeder hole. When it becomes time to move to the next camp, the fire site can be restored to its original state. The fire is extinguished properly and the dirt is filled back into the holes. The original debris is scattered over the site to rehabilitate it and hide the fire site.  

Long Match

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Fire is an important element to wilderness survival. After getting a fire going the first time, it is important to never allow it to go out in a survival situation. The Long Match is a method of carrying that fire with you as you leave camp and head out to the next destination. This becomes of great use when the only method of fire starting available is through primitive methods.

 

The Long Match may be thought of as a “bushcraft cigar.” It is made of an outer shell and dry fuel that will smolder. The goal is not to ignite the dry tinder but to allow it to smolder until it is desired to be blown into flame.

 

First one gathers the shell. This may be made from nearly anything that can be rolled up into a tube. In this case, birch bark was used off of a dead and down birch.

The bark was broken into about a foot long section and then sliced down the middle to open it up.

This prepared bark is now ready to house dried grasses, leafs, and bark. The next step is to forage for these things. Anything dry that will smolder will do. This means it’s better to use grasses, bark, or things like chaga bits rather than sticks as the goal isn’t to have a flame but a smoldering bundle of fuel.

Dry leafs and pine needles are collected from trees where they blew into rather than the wet ground.

 

Dry standing grasses are easily collected and worked into a bundle.

After these things are collected and meshed together, they are placed on the inside of the outer shell.

 The bark is then rolled up as tightly as possible to make sure the inner fuel is held together.

Once the long match is rolled properly, it is time to secure it with some cordage. In this case, 550 cord is used though root lashing or natural cordage will work just fine. This long match is tied in three sections to make sure that the shell is secure but also if the outer shell degrades as the fuel burns down the new (and smaller) sections will be held together.

To help hold the grasses and bark in, a cap can be made from another piece of bark by inserting it into the folds on the end of the long match.

With the cap now on, the grasses at the top of the long match are tamped down to make sure the smoldering carries throughout the fuel source rather than burning out.

A coal from a camp fire may be placed inside the tamped fuel source. In this case, a sparked piece of amadou is placed inside the fuel source.

To help insulate the coal from being put out by wind and to make sure that the coal catches the grasses and smolders, the coal is covered by a thin layer of fuel.

 

The long match may then be blown on to help insure transfer of the fire from the coal to the fuel source. In the case of an actual coal from a fire, it will often do it by itself but it doesn’t hurt to make sure that the fire is captured, especially in a survival situation.

The long match is now ready to be transported as it smolders, preserving the life of the coal.

If the wind is blowing, causing the fuel to smolder too quickly, measures may be taken to slow this unwanted effect. Fitting a cap on the top of the long match, the exact same way as the bottom cap was made in the beginning, will help starve the long match of oxygen and slow the rate of burning. Make sure some air is still able to get to the coal otherwise it will go out.

When it is time to make the camp fire or possibly a new fire to go about and make a new long match to continue the journey, it is simple to remove the cap and blow life into the fire. The long match is already full of tinder and ready to go with the right bit of wind!