American Bushman

"If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing." —Benjamin Franklin

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Simonich Salish

Holy cow is this a tough knife!

S30V blade
G10 handle slabs
Paul Bos Heat Treat
My convex edge

Here's a thread on Bladeforums where I've been testing this knife for over a year.


Monday, October 30, 2006

Bark River PSK

The knives I took with me this weekend varied a bit from the original plan so the Aurora didn't get any work. The PSK knife, however, did get some attention and I have to say I'm generally pleased with the knife.

This knife was conceived, designed, and commissioned by two members of the Knifeforums community a few months ago. Mike Stewart agreed to make 200 pieces of a very limited run but asked to keep the design as simple as possible. One choice of handle material and only one color--orange G10.

The actual cutting surface is approximately 2" long with the entire knife coming in at 5.25" overall. Including the slabs, the thickness is around 5/16" with the blade thickness closer to 1/8" of 12C27 Stainless. This is NOT a big knife.

Here is the PSK as loaded inside my modified NRA Survival Kit. The kit is an excellent value and, pre-modification, comes with a metal match, whistle, signal mirror, and tinder. To those I have added a lighter, jute twine, water purification tabs, a mini fishing kit (hooks, split shot, and line,) a sewing kit, snare wire, a small jigsaw blade, aluminum foil, duct tape, band-aids (plasters,) and the PSK knife.

The whole kit is protected by an NRA-badged Otterbox 2000 which provides waterproof and crushproof protection for the gear inside. While there is no hard proof to verify that this is, indeed, an Otterbox, I have compared the NRA case to an Otterbox 2000 and the components and construction are the same on both pieces. The hinge, the latches, the lanyard loop, and the shape of the two sides are all the same.

The knife is held in a three-finger grip and I've tied a small lanyard to the back to give my pinky something to grab. Setup this way, the knife handles much like the Mini Canadian with thinner scales and blade--kind of a Skinny Mini Canadian. I have yet to use the PSK knife for an extended period (hours) but it remained comfortable to handle throughout the duration of use both woodworking and food prep. I haven't really beaten on the knife yet as that seems, to me, outside the scope of the design. I did, however, use the knife to scrape up tinder, carve fuzz sticks, and split seasoned wood to prepare the fuel for a small fire. Then I used the PSK knife as a striker with the BlastMatch and easily generated enough sparks to get my fire going.

Scraping, batoning, and carving had no effect on the sharpness of the blade. A quick strop back and forth on a pant leg was all I needed before putting the knife back in the kydex sheath.

Overall, this is a very nice addition to my PSK. The 12C27 won't leave me wondering if my blade is rusting away, it gets and stays plenty sharp, and the whole knife fits easily into the Otterbox 2000 so it'll be there when I really need it. Blaze orange G10 makes it easy to find--in case I ever drop it in the woods.

Thanks for reading,


Sunday, October 29, 2006

Being an Outdoorsman

There's something about strapping on a knife, loading up a pack, and heading for the woods. It's manly.

Whether you go with the intent to practice Bushcraft or just to lounge around surrounded by the amazing beauty of nature it all represents the same departure from the world of skyscrapers, bumper to bumper traffic, 9 to 5 workdays, weekends, and vacations.

I'm blessed to be able to do this on a regular basis.


Saturday, October 28, 2006

Aurora and PSK Testing

Today and/or tomorrow I'm going to be doing some extensive testing of both the Bark River Aurora and PSK knife.

If the weather (and the family's schedule) permits, I'll be off to the woods after soccer for a few hours of work today solo and tomorrow I'll be taking the kids with me for company.


Friday, October 27, 2006


My desktop crashed a couple of days ago. As a former professional computer geek I considered it a minor inconvenience. Now it looks as if it is a much more significant problem.

The hard drive has bad sectors all over the area where the system files are written and the computer won't even boot in safe mode. Today is the day we kick up the efforts a couple of notches.

If my efforts are unsuccessful, I stand to lose Gigs upon Gigs of photos (including those from the birth of both kids,) music, and personal files that simply cannot be replaced.

Not going to be much time in the woods today.

The lesson:
Back up those files that you want to keep on a regular basis as you just never know when it's going to be too late.


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Collecting firewood

Collect as much dry wood as you can while the sun is up.

If you find yourself low on fuel wood once it has gone down you're more than likely going to be spending some time trying to avoid smoke.

Fortunately I found some hickory for my campfire so all my gear smells like a smokehouse but it could have been some nasty punky wood that'd been sitting on the ground for ages that smoked me out of the basha.

It's now four days removed from my outing and some of my gear is still hanging up in the garage. The smokey smell of a campfire fills the air and every time I climb into, or out of, my car I'm reminded of my time in the woods.

Make sure you can identify and avoid poison ivy, oak, and sumac. Burning any or all of these WILL cause you respiratory problems. Even a piece of wood with dead ivy growing on it may be a problem. You could also cause problems for anyone else unfortunate enough to inhale some of that smoke.


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated

The title is, of course, a quote by Mark Twain and could be applicable to the status of Survival, Inc.

According to a source close to the matter, the owner of Survival, Inc. is neither dead nor gone and there is a possibility of a future comeback.

Keep your fingers crossed. They make some great products.


NRA Survival Kit

The NRA Store is selling a Personal Survival Kit for $15.95US. This kit, assembled by Survival, Inc., contains a BlastMatch Firestarter, StarFlash Signal Mirror, two WetFire Tinder Cubes, and a JetScream Whistle. The container appears to be an Otterbox 2000 and will withstand abuse you and I are unlikely to withstand.

These kits are an excellent value as the Otterbox would cost you about $15.95 and the BlastMatch alone is around $20 online.

The reason for telling you about this today is that I called the NRA Store yesterday to get some inventory levels and to find out whether or not they had an alternative in place once these pieces were gone. The simple answer? Once they're gone the item is being cancelled.

You could probably build up a similar kit using your own preferred components but I highly doubt you could do it so completely with such high-quality gear for the price. Even if you buy the kit for the box and one of the components you'll come out better than break-even.

Thanks for reading,


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Swannie Ranger Works

It was windy but dry and the temperature was in the 30s before the sun went down and dropped steadily after. I was wearing a Coolmax T-shirt, a button down shirt, and the Swanndri Ranger as my insulative layer. I wore a Wigwam Thermax hat, cotton pants (yeah, I know,) wool socks, and nylon and leather ultralight hikers.

This combination of clothes, along with an effective shelter and a reflector fire, kept me plenty warm both during active times and times of rest inside the shelter.

The more I wear the Swannie, the more impressed I become with it. I can see light through it if I hold it up but it has been more than adequate for any temperatures I've seen thus far this year.

It held up to sparks from the fire better than my new hooded space blanket which looks like the Swiss Cheese I brought with me. That thing's going to need some serious TLC to get it back to where I'd take it into the woods...

Yesterday I put on my Ranger Extreme which has the addition of a windproof layer and a full lining. As smoky as my Ranger is, the Ranger Extreme may well get the call today.

Thanks for reading,


Monday, October 23, 2006

What a Day

I got a late start yesterday due to various reasons but I did finally get into the woods and I did manage to shake out one of the many bags I've got loaded up around here. I made a few last minute additions to the kit which included fresh water in the hydration bladder (2L) and a chunk of Swiss Cheese I picked up at the store.

It was chilly and windy yesterday so the first two priorities, after finding a site, were getting the shelter up and getting a fire started.

During the winter I like to use a British Army basha as it's built more heavily than my other lightweight tarps and will, from experience, handle the weight of snow should it fall during the day or night. Yesterday I pitched it as a lean-to because it goes up faster and requires the carving of fewer pegs.

I use 4 or 5mm cord for the ridgeline and find it stretches less, is easier to see, and has less chance of breaking when compared to paracord. It is also heavier and bulkier but, in the winter, I'll take the extra weight and bulk over something that may fail under the weight of wet snow.

For food, I brought a Swedish Army Trangia which contained the brass burner, a fuel bottle, some parched corn, beef jerky, and the previously mentioned Swiss Cheese. The only water I brought was in a hydration bladder inside the pack.

The only other gear I used from the pack during the outing was a couple of pieces of fatwood for starting the fire and a muslin bag of dried grass I collected in The Sanctuary last weekend.

Once the basha was up, I put down a Space Blanket on the ground reflective side up and slid it under the lean-to. I put my gear on top of the blanket and began clearing a site for the fire. Standard distance is about one pace from the front of the shelter if you're building a reflector and aren't planning on constructing a bonfire. I like to keep my fires fairly small as it conserves the wood and doesn't light me up too much in the dark. It does, however, provide plenty of heat to warm the lean-to.

I collected wood for maybe an hour just to make sure I had enough to last the night and then began to build using tinder and kindling and a spark or two from my firesteel. Once the tinder is burning I like to add chips from a piece of fatwood to keep it going while the twigs get going and before I move to larger pieces of wood.

My late start caused me to be out far later than I would have planned and the small fire, coupled with the shelter, gave me the confidence to just bide my time and soak in the woods at night. Fantastic time.

Thanks for reading,


Saturday, October 21, 2006

Kit testing

This weekend I'm going to be trying out one of my many kits to see just how it'd work if it was the one bag I grabbed as I ran out the door.

I think The Sanctuary is due for another visit so hiking in and hiking out is the order of the day.

The forecast calls for rain all weekend so shelter will be a priority once I get out there. I will not, however, repack any of the bags from here on out. That makes the test much more realistic.

(I hope I grab one with a decent shelter component.)

I will be wearing a Bark River Mikro Canadian with a Boy Scout Hotspark around my neck and a Victorinox SwissTool on my belt. Everything else will have to be as it is currently packed.

This will be a good shakeout for the gear I plan on using should I need to grab a bag in an emergency and hit the road.

Wish me luck,


Friday, October 20, 2006


Wow! 200 Posts.

This has become quite an obsession since March. My first thought upon waking is, "Gotta' update the blog..." and my last thought at night before going to sleep is, "What did I do today to write about in the blog?"

My gear addiction, if anything, has gotten worse instead of better. The amount of time I spend on the Internet has increased so I can keep up with Pablo, Sam, and the others every day.

I have slowly built up a library of mushrooming books, have revisited my tree identification books, and have begun pouring through my animal tracking books again.

Jake has started to come out with us. Laura has acquired more cold weather gear in anticipation of some winter hiking. My wife STILL only read the blog that one time. Hah!

All in all it has been a pretty good 200 posts--for me anyway. I'm curious to know what you think.

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, October 19, 2006


By the way, the Bark River Knife & Tool Aurora is coming...

Hopefully I'll get one in my hands to test by the weekend...


Some more blogs I'm reading

Last night I was reading Pablo's blog here and his picture with the Trangia in the middle got me thinking...

Back when I started this blog I did a search for the word "Trangia" (along with several other camping-related words) and found blogs like Pablo's and Mungo's. Last night I repeated the original search and came up with three more blogs with related themes that I thoroughly enjoyed reading.Reading the Hiking Wales blog I found a reference to Akto Man who has a blog here. I'm really enjoying his writing style and find myself humming and/or whistling the soundtrack to my hikes sometimes too...

I hope you enjoy them as much as I have been...

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

First Aid Kit

Over the weekend I went down to the city for a 5K race my wife was running. We went with another couple and another friend. On the walk to the starting line one of the women fell on some rough sidewalk and managed to tear open both of her hands at the lower palm. My wife, her husband, and the friend were many paces in front of us and focused on the job ahead.

I assessed her injuries by asking her a series of questions and then took a look at her bloody hands. The injuries were fairly minor but would require some attention.

I pulled the first aid kit from my pocket and offered her an alcohol wipe to clean out the wounds. Next was a sachet of Neosporin and, finally, a couple of band-aids. Before dressing the wounds she asked me to cut the loose skin so I pulled the scissors from my SwissTool and cut as much as I could. We never did get back to the Neosporin and band-aids...

The kit I carry is made by Johnson & Johnson and comes in a small 4" X 3.5" plastic box. The basic kit contains:
  • 2 - Johnson & Johnson Cleansing Wipes
  • 2 - Johnson & Johnson First Aid Gauze Pad - one 2-pack - 2 x 2 in
  • 2 - Band-Aid Brand Knuckle Adhesive Bandages
  • 2 - Band-Aid Brand Adhesive Bandages - 3/4 x 3 in
  • 2 - Band-Aid Brand Adhesive Bandages - 5/8 x 2-1/4 in
  • 2 - Band-Aid Brand Butterfly Closures - 1-3/4 x 3/8 in
To this I've added the following:
  • 1 - 0.9g sachet of Neosporin
  • 2 - small tubes of Instant Krazy Glue
  • 2 - 3.5g sachets WaterJel Burn Jel
  • 2 - Bausch & Lomb single dose eye drops
  • 2 - Bayer Aspirin
  • 6 - Benadryl
  • 4 - Immodium
  • 1 - WetFire Tinder cube
  • 1 - Uncle Bill's Tweezers

All of this fits into the same plastic box and gives me a level of preparedness much greater than any of the other adults last weekend or most any time I'm out in public.

Sure, this isn't an EMT-level blow out kit but it has handled the many minor "emergencies" I've encountered both in the woods and on the streets. It also provides me with some peace of mind. That's definitely worth something...

Thanks for reading,


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

More from The Sanctuary

Frequently, when I stopped, I'd look around and see something interesting. Here's a perfect example. I stopped for a drink of water and, as I reached for my bottle, this Red Tailed Hawk feather just popped out from the leaves. I did move a piece of dead grass to get the picture but the image is otherwise composed as it was when I first saw it.
You can see some of the scrapes left by the buck I encountered. There were other signs in the area but I'm not certain they were all made by the same buck I saw on Sunday.
Here's another example. This bark is completely shredded and would make excellent tinder to get a fire going should one be needed. This particular tree was found earlier in the day and may well be outside the range of the buck I spotted. The height of the scrape is also a bit higher and the length of the scrape overall is longer.

It is wholly possible that there is another more mature buck roaming through The Sanctuary that I didn't see. They don't get to be as big as the one I saw without being a bit shy and/or wary of people.
One more shot of the big boy. I can hardly believe that I saw a buck in The Sanctuary let alone got two pictures of him before he spooked and ran.
Having the river nearby is always comforting. Should I run out of water, I have the gear necessary to boil and/or chemically purify enough water tto get me home. I have yet to find someone with the EPA who would be bold enough to take a drink of purified water from the river at this point however.
It is not uncommon to see two saplings grow together to form one larger tree. Seeing three trees of two different species, however, is. This is a black cherry in between two maples if I remember correctly.
The forest preserve was once private property (as recently as the 1970s) so finding an abandoned cabin on the property wasn't such a surprise. Finding it in such good condition was though.

It was getting dark so I didn't spend much time exploring the old cabin. That's an adventure best saved for another day...
Black Cherry bark to add to my tree bark photo album.

October has been a good month for tree identification. The changing leaves add a facet to species identification as certain members of a tree family change different colors in the fall.
Lo and behold, on the way out of the woods I find an old dried mullein stalk. Mullein used to grow here in vast quantities but in just the past few months the Forest Preserve District, in conjunction with the National Audubon Society, have ripped much of the flora from the forest preserves and replanted the areas with once-native grasses.

Mullein stalks can be used in primitive firemaking but I suspect they'd miss this one if I harvested it as it appeared to be the only example left in the field.
I think this picture does a good job of summing up the current state of the woods.

What a fantastic time of year to be in the woods. Obviously I wasn't the only one who though so as I encountered more hikers on the trails on Sunday than I would normally encounter in an entire month. More people in the woods is a wonderful thing.

When I get tired of all the company however I always will have The Sanctuary for a little peace and quiet...

Thanks for reading,


Monday, October 16, 2006

The Sanctuary

This weekend I decided to hike to my hike. The local woods are about 1.5-2 miles from my house and the extra bit of exercise would be good for me. I loaded up some very basic gear, grabbed a bottle of water and my hiking stick, and headed out. Along the way I spent some time investigating the woods along the bank of the river. I also have long wondered about a section of woodland I pass every day taking the kids to school.

Yesterday I stopped someone and asked a few questions and found out the place is called "The Sanctuary," has public access, and has no trails to speak of. Sounded like just the thing after a fairly busy weekend down in the city.

This property belongs to the Forest Preserve District but appears to be left to natural development. Often the woodland is managed to remove excess understory which will prevent the canopy trees from flourishing. This area had an extremely thick understory of 2-3" diameter saplings and smaller trees.

The terrain is slightly undulating and has enough shallow depressions and slight bumps to knock the starch out of the legs. This on top of a very short night made for some very tired legs.

The Sanctuary is adjacent to residential property on the North and the main access road to the forest preserve on the South with enough woodland to completely swallow up a lone hiker. In other words, I can go in far enough to be concealed from the access road and the residences. If I'd thought far enough ahead to bring my hammock I might've made a night of it...or at least a nice little nap.

There's something about the crunch of leaves underfoot and the frequent scampering of squirrels and chipmunks running about looking for food to store away. This is, however, the kind of woodland that can give an unprepared hiker the creeps. With no trails to follow and the heavy understory it is extremely easy to get turned around. It's less than a mile (I suspect) in any direction to paved roads but running through the woods in a panic rarely happens in a straight line.

I found some more musclewood and these particular examples would make excellent hiking sticks. I almost lost mine (pictured) later in the day as I propped it against a tree to take a picture of something and then walked off without it.

This is the picture I was taking. My Northstar has custom Tan Fern Fibermascus handle slabs put on by the boys at Bark River Knife & Tool some time back. The slabs go all the way up to the plunge line allowing a more forward grip and a more comfortable grip for those with larger hands.

This is a knife that has seen quite a bit of work over the past two years. It carries well, cuts great, is light and comfortable, and has been a great value. I may not carry it always but I sure do seem to carry it often. With the introduction of the Aurora just around the corner this one may be officially "retired" but, seeing how it has survived the arrival of several other knives, I suspect it'll just see less frequent rotation.

I walked far enough that I could see the access road and so I turned West to head for the North Loop Trail. Just as soon as I found the trail I also found (and surprised) a nice buck that had been leaving scrapes, rubs, and sign all over. He and I had very little distance between us and it was clear that he was so distracted he hadn't heard me coming.

There's plenty more to talk about but this post has already gotten pretty darned long...I'll save the rest for later.

Thanks for reading,


Friday, October 13, 2006

Friday the 13th

Is it really Friday the 13th?!

Funny that my bad luck came yesterday on the more innocuous Thursday the 12th.

It had been snowing for 15 or 20 minutes (the first of the year) and the roads were a little slick. A car in front of me spun around across three lanes and managed to avoid not only all the other drivers but any other obstacles as well.

I got my new van stopped. The girl behind me didn't. Contact.

Nobody was injured and both cars were driveable with little cosmetic damage.

Now, instead of spending my Friday the 13th in the woods, I'll be spending the day with insurance adjusters, body shop repairmen, service technicians, etc. Fun.

The actual incident took less than 5 seconds to play out from the first car's spin to the contact with my car and then it took the rest of the day to fill out police reports, talk to my insurance company, talk to her insurance company, schedule appointments, etc.

So this Friday the 13th I'll be doing my best to avoid any bad luck and, if I'm really creative with my schedule, may find some time to get into the woods for a short hike. I've been carrying a box of gear in the back of the van for a few days because impromptu hiking is not an uncommon event in my life. If I can find an interesting piece of woodland I may very well stop the car, hop into the woods, and explore for a bit.

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, October 12, 2006


Our first temperatures in the 30s and it is 30 degrees. We're under a Freeze Warning from The Weather Channel with a chance of flurries today. That's right--snow.

Forecast high today is 40 degrees so it'll be getting warmer (relatively) throughout the day.

It's a great time of year to be a cold-weather guy. This temperature may require some additional layers atop the Swannie Ranger.

I'm going to break out the metal Wiggy's water bottle for my hike later too. It's quite a bit heavier than Nalgene but I can set it right next to the fire to either melt snow or thaw a frozen bottle without worrying that I'm going to melt my container.

On a side note, I played a bit more with WetFire yesterday and actually got a fire started IN a puddle of rainwater. The bits of tinder floated on the surface and still lit from the first spark of a metal match. When burning, the tinder released some by-product into the puddle that reminded me of gasoline from an outboard motor. Perhaps that means the WetFire was Petroleum based after all? We may never know...

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Hmm...not so good.

Survival, Inc. the makers of WetFire Tinder and many other outdoor/survival products...

The guys at mentioned to me this morning that the product was discontinued and my digging revealed the website above.

I hope they're wrong. WetFire was a great product. Already I'm having a hard time finding any.


Ultimate Survival WetFire Tinder

Ultimate Survival WetFire Tinder comes in a box of 8 squares for around $6. This tinder feels paraffin based but I've never seen an ingredient list so can't be certain.

Each block comes wrapped in a gold mylar wrapper and measures approximately 2.5" X 1". This wrapper can be compressed to 1.5" X .75" for ease of carry and storage. Inside you'll find a white "brick" of tinder that can be cut, sliced, or smashed to produce fine flakes of material. Somewhere online I read a comparison to dried coconut and found the comparison appropriate.

One "brick" of tinder is more than enough to get a fire going and I have found a single piece enough for three fires in good conditions and still two in wet conditions but you're probably looking at one piece per fire in the worst of conditions (i.e. wet, heavy snow.)

This stuff WILL burn while surrounded by water (see picture) and during testing I sprayed various amounts of water on and over the tinder before, during, and after use to see what effect it would have. The short answer--none. As a matter of fact, dry or wet, this stuff goes up fast from the spark of a metal match.

Speaking of burning, WetFire was designed to be odorless (it is,) smokeless (it is,) and non-toxic (it'd better be) so it is already ahead of Trioxane and Esbit tabs. Trioxane comes in a box of 3 bars which can light several fires but leaves a residue and smells strongly of chemicals. Esbit comes in a 12-pack, leaves some residue, and smells strongly long before ignition. I once carried an Esbit stove and extra tabs in my pack and it quickly fouled everything in that pocket with the smell of the tabs.

It's more expensive than making your own Vaseline-soaked cotton balls but I can carry a cube of WetFire with a metal match in my pocket which makes it, ultimately, more likely to be with me in an emergency situation.

Thanks for reading,


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Picnic II

For the second Monday in a row the kids have been off from school. So, we headed to the local woods for a day out.

Temperatures were in the 60s and there was a slight breeze.

The setup was the same, shelter, blanket, camp chairs, and cooler. Yesterday we added an Eagle's Nest Single Nest hammock and Slap Straps.

Jake would like to take a minute to guide you around our shelter. "This," he says, "is the zipper that opens up the back wall."
Eating inside the shelter IS allowed here and Jake is a big fan of the baked potato chip.
Laura shows that despite the cooler weather and slight breeze one can always remain fashionable when enjoying the outdoors.
Notice the Brunton compass hanging around Laura's neck. She's beginning to work on her land navigation skills and neede her own compass. For the money, this model (the 9040) really fits the bill.
Here she is working her way along the scrub line calling out where the arrow is pointing.
While Laura worked on her navigational skills, Jake took a few minutes to just sit and enjoy the moment.
And then they were off and running once again. This time it was chasing a small yellow butterfly back and forth across the field.
Jake learning that even though the nights are cool bees will still be active when the sun comes out and it warms up a bit.
Ah, we've been at this for a few hours and it's time to relax for a while in the hammock. From the way Jake's looking at his sister here, I may be in the market for a new hammock soon.
If your pants are too big and your sister has taken off your belt it may not be the best idea to try and crawl into a hammock unassisted. If you try it you may end up pantsed.

We all had a great time, ate some good food, enjoyed some of the last nice weather of the year, learned a thing or two, got some hang time in the hammock, and spent the day outside. It's hard to beat that.

Thanks for reading,


Monday, October 09, 2006

Prototype Testing

We managed to get some woods time yesterday and I had the pleasure of working with the Bark River Knife and Tool Aurora Prototype. The knife will come with a JRE Industries sheath and will be made of A2 fully convexed by the crew in Escanaba. The handle slabs are contoured and the handle falls right in to the "not too big, not too small" category. I found it fit my normal-sized hands as well as it fit Dan's big mitts.

The knife handles extremely well and features a nice pointy tip that can be used for drilling a hole and other fine work while retaining strength for more aggressive work.I used it to make fine shavings from a fallen tree trunk for firestarting. Here you can see some of the curls after just 30 seconds of work. After a minute or two I had enough curls to make my bird's nest. Another 30 seconds of scraping the flattened spot provided me with enough fine tinder to get a fire going with the squared spine of the Aurora and my firesteel. I LOVE the smell of woodsmoke...

We found a bundle of fishing line wrapped around a dead branch and I proceeded to unravel it to get myself a nice length to do some hand-fishing. A piece of aluminum can to reflect light and a bit of mashed Powerbar and we were off to the river. Having no hook, the kids and I had little success at the hand-fishing game but we did inspire Spen to give it a go.

The day ended up a bit warmer than I had anticipated so the kids and I were overdressed for the activity level. I made sure to encourage both Jake and Laura to hydrate often. Then I showed them how to spit like a fountain...and soon the water ran out.

With very little encouragement, the kids both waded into a lake on the way out of the woods. However, both of them kept their shoes and socks on and neither managed to keep their clothes dry. Fortunately I had extra clothes for them both back in the car so I wasn't too concerned as long as they were having fun and playing safely..Despite the soggy socks and shoes, I think we all had a great time. The kids were a bit antsy from time to time in the woods but there was plenty to do and see and once they'd realized just how much was going on around them they settled into a rhythm.

The forecast calls for snow as soon as Thursday so our days of sunshine and warmth are nearly over. While that may depress some, I happen to adore the cooler/colder weather. I can't wait to see what next weekend brings...

Thanks for reading,


Sunday, October 08, 2006

First venison of the season

We went out to dinner with my in-laws last night and their Country Club had a game-heavy menu that included pheasant, venison, walleye, duck, etc. This is quite a departure from the usual fare and quite a risk for the chef to take.

I had venison medallions (thin slices of loin) roasted and served with a cranberry Madeira wine reduction, roasted acorn squash, and a neat presentation of mashed russet and sweet potato. Yum.

There's little that fits better the taste of the season than pheasant, venison, duck, turkey, and goose. There is assuredly a reason for this (traditionally hunting season for these animals is this time of year.) Add apples, cranberries, and squash to the mix and you have a wide variety of delicious dishes that are easily prepared.

Thanks for reading,


Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Stalk

Yesterday I spent most of the day in the woods.

The first hour of my afternoon hike was spent moving very slowly first to make sure I could find and identify the musclewood trees and then to prevent spooking a doe who hadn't noticed me as I came tromping down the path.

Over the course of an hour I moved (maybe) 15 feet. During that time the squirrels running through the dry leaf litter scared Ms. Deer more than I did. What finally spooked her enough to raise the white flag was a strange noise that sounded three times. I don't know what it was, can't even really describe it, but know that it isn't anything I've heard before.

I knew my stalk was going well when a second doe crossed between us without even glancing my way. I managed to snap about 30 pictures during the stalk but don't know if any of them even came out as the light was fading fast. I'll know more once I get the pictures blown up on the computer.

The kids have a standing playdate on Friday afternoons so I spend the morning in the woods, pick them up from school, feed them lunch, drive them to the playdate, and head right back to the woods until it's time to come home and make dinner. Fridays are great!

Thanks for reading,


Friday, October 06, 2006

On The Hunt

I spent my time in the woods yesterday on the hunt for Carpinus caroliniana (AKA Musclewood, Hornbeam, Ironwood, etc.)

North American Forest Service Page

American Hornbeam turns orange in Autumn so that makes the task of finding it a little easier. I know there is a grove growing locally but finding it has proven a bit more complicated than I originally thought.

(Bark image courtesy of Forestry Images)

I found a very small sapling yesterday and I hope to uncover some larger specimens today when I return. Now that I know I'm in the right area it should be a little easier than it was when I just wandered through the woods hoping to encounter it.

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, October 05, 2006

Lithic Arts

I've been knapping flint.

My parents have a lake house with an abundant supply of dark flint which sparks extremely well with a small Chinese file. The problem? They're big chunks each weighing a couple of pounds--not exactly something you want to be toting into the woods on a regular basis.

The last time we went down, I spent some time in the lake digging for a nice smooth stone that had some mass to it and fit my hand well. This would be my hammerstone once it dried out. I found a couple and kept one.

Today I started knocking off flakes from a spall I received in the mail. The first piece was rather small but sharp enough to skin a squirrel. The second piece was more what I'd hoped. I've got a piece of flint that is sharp on one side, rounded on the other, and thin and light enough to carry with me all the time. The smooth side protects my hands from the sharp edge, the sharp edge throws wicked sparks, and the piece is large enough to re-knap the edge if needed but not so big that I won't take it with me.

Some things I've learned about knapping since watching the MacPherson videos:
  1. Wear safety glasses--you never know where some of those small razor-sharp pieces are going to go
  2. Control your breathing--inhaling some fine dust will do to your lungs what the shards will do to your eyes
  3. support the work--the chips will break more consistently if you're supporting the force of the hammerstone

I don't really know enough about the lithic arts at this point to make many more suggestions.

Knowing how to break smaller usable pieces from larger chunks of flint boosts my confidence in the woods because it gives me another option when it comes time to light a fire. Having that sharp edge doesn't hurt. Making tools is part of the aim of Bushcraft so I'm keeping with the traditions set before me.

I'm off to pound some more rocks...

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Homemade Applesauce

Apple season is upon us. If you happen to find yourself in the woods next to an apple tree (it has happened) keep this recipe in mind to make some mouth-watering applesauce in your Trangia with a little sugar from your brew kit and a little water from your canteen. The lemon juice is really just to keep the apples from coloring so don't worry too much if you don't normally hike with a fresh lemon in your pack.

  • 6 apples, McIntosh preferred
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, optional

Peel and core apples and cut into quarters. Place them in your deepest pan with the water and lemon juice then bring to a boil then adjust the simmer ring on your burner and simmer 30 minutes to break them down and get them to thicken. Take off the heat and stir in the sugar and cinnamon, if using.

If you don't have a simmer ring for your Trangia burner you should seriously consider getting one. It'll fit both Military and Civilian burners and will dramatically extend your fuel for cooking "missions" such as this one.

Carve a wooden spoon while you wait for this delicious and nutritious treat to thicken up and you'll be ready to go as soon as it cools enough to eat.



Tuesday, October 03, 2006


The kids and I went for a picnic yesterday as both of them were off from school. We took a shelter, blanket, one folding kiddie chair, and a cooler full of food (i.e. sandwiches, chips, crackers, Skittles, and drinks.)

We spent several hours at one of the local Forest Preserves and, after lunch, the kids played on the jungle gym. Once they had finished the first round on the playground they came back to eat some more and have some water and Gatorade before running off to play some more.

There was a finch playing right above our shelter and the kids decided to name him Mr. Peepers because he was constantly peeping at us. We must have watched him hop from branch to branch for 20 minutes. Once in a while, he'd drop down to the ground, pick up some crumbs, and jump right back up into the tree.

We encountered some rain during the afternoon and the shelter held up just fine. The other parents at the playground were impressed with our level of preparedness and several commented on how "neat" and "cool" the shelter was. During the drizzle the kids and I would just huddle inside the shelter and talk about how great it was to be eating outdoors and just being outdoors. I suspect they enjoy it as much as I do.

Laura and Jake have both asked me if we could do this again and, as they have next Monday off as well, I suspect we'll be back in the woods with a picnic lunch soon.

Thanks for reading,


Monday, October 02, 2006


Pablo's got an interesting post on tracking and the use of the tracking stick HERE.

I really like the way he's carved the notches into his stick to measure stride length and/or tread width and length. My setup uses two elastic hair bands (rubber bands) which I can slide up and down the entire length of the stick and, should I fall asleep like Rip Van Winkle, be used to tie my hair and beard into ponytails.

Tracking sounds like a simple process but, in reality, it is anything but. Following the tracks of a single animal (or human) gets you into the mind of that animal/person. Knowing some things about the habits of your prey allows you to better understand why it stopped or didn't stop, what it looked at, what it ate, etc. You can begin to make some mental leaps that will help you to complete your pursuit.

What is the ultimate goal of a tracker? Is it to encounter the creature leaving the tracks or is it simply to better understand the story written on the surfaces of the outdoors? That answer, I'm afraid, is left solely to the tracker.

Thanks for reading,


Sunday, October 01, 2006

Apple Pickin'

Yesterday, the whole family went apple picking with some friends and we had a blast.

First, you ride behind a tractor to get deep into the orchard. The kids had a blast on this "hay ride" munching on caramel corn and waving to the folks who were already hard at work picking appples.

Next, the tractor driver drops you near the kind of trees you've asked for. We first picked MacIntosh as they're in season, very sweet, and cook up well. We charged off the wagon, into the orchard, and the kids began picking up apples off the ground and throwing them into our bag. Yuck!

Time to establish some ground rules. First, only put apples in the bag that you've personally picked off the tree. Second, eat as many as you want so long as they're also from the tree. Third, leave the apples on the ground right there--on the ground.

I peeled an apple for Jake using my trusty Case Sodbuster and that got the attention of the four other kids who all wanted peeled apples. So, five kids = five apples peeled and distributed. Three or four varieties of apples means that many apples times the number of varieties. (Those kids ate a bunch of apples in the orchard.) I wonder if they realize that apples are good for them...

We took a break from picking to examine a smouldering fire pit someone had left and I explained to the kids how the red-hot coals could easily be coaxed back into flame given the windy conditions and the abundance of fuel nearby. Two of the boys took that as a challenge and promptly fed the fire until it came back to life. Soon the smell of cooked apples and pumpkin filled the air. Not a bad way to end a break.

Once we'd finished filling our bags we headed back up to the parking lot. The kids spent some time riding ponies, riding bikes through a maze, and playing in a sandbox filled with dried corn. We loaded up Jake and Laura (who promptly fell asleep) and drove to Grandma and Grandpa's house for dinner.

This has been a good couple of days to get outdoors. We had some rain and some cooler temperatures but, overall, it's been great for a short hike, a bit of a brew up, and a whole lot of fun.

I can't wait to see what tomorrow will bring...

Thanks for reading,