Woodsman Ways – Our Approach and the Way Forward

Almost a decade ago we started our endeavor into Survival training, Bushcraft and the desire to teach folks Woodsman skills.  We had spent years in the out of doors to this point, be it hunting, fishing, camping and trapping to a small degree.  The Survival community at this time, though not entirely new, was relatively small.  This is when we started our research, the practicing of skills and even attended some courses from some of the top schools of the time.  Throughout our journey in making ourselves more comfortable afield, it was amazing to see how fast the community began to grow.

As we continued to grow ourselves, we started our youtube channel and began to share things we either already knew, had recently learned, and even the things that we were trying out for the first times.  This was a pleasurable time  and lots of folks started doing the same.  It was cool to see others sharing in what we all loved, and the desire to help one another was clear.

Our intent from the beginning was just that, if we could help someone someday, we consider ourselves successful.  We didn’t aim to be the best out there, but wanted to be the best we could be in what we were doing.  Honesty and Humbleness were our motto.  We didn’t see a need to lie or mislead folks in order to make a buck, after all…what we were sharing may end up being a life or death result.  We believe this in itself is what got us a small following that continues to grow each day.  How neat it is to know that folks trust us in this way, and realize that we truly aim to help.

Our school was finally born and we kept steadfast in our ways.  Keep it honest and relative.  Flashy is not always better.  Though there are a lot of Survival skills to concern yourselves with, most of them are not really needed in the so-called “Survival situation”.  Yes, the skills are fun to learn and practice, but typically not needed.  In some cases, doing some of the “cool” stuff, or believing that you need to,  could end you up in an even worse scenario.  So much hype and opinion based theories have flooded the community and clouded peoples perception on what they are really doing in the first place.  We try to keep clear of these thought processes and share the reality of things with our students.  Again, in our opinion, there is no room for blowing smoke in this field.

Over the years we have taken a new path.  We started moving away from the Survival skills as the main focus, and started looking at how we could teach folks in a more meaningful and appropriate manner.  Survival skills are a good thing to know, but that shouldn’t be the end of it.  In fact, we think that is where it begins.  So the skills are nice to have in case you find yourself in a pinch.  But how much better would it be to interact with the land in an entirely different way than thinking it is there to kill you all of the time?  So we started focusing on being able to interact, and in some cases even live,  with the land in a more natural way…..just as our forefathers did.  Doing it in this way offers a much more meaningful time in the woods even if you didn’t plan on being out there.  It is no longer a Survival situation, but an extended stay afield.  Not everyone spends a lot of time in the woods though, and this is why we find it relevant to teach the Survival skills, as well as it being a baseline as previously mentioned.

So what separates us from all of the other schools out there?  Well, first and foremost, we continue to seek knowledge and experience that will better benefit our students, and stay away from thinking that we already know it all.  There is currently no certification process for Instructors or Schools, which can make it difficult for folks to chose a worthy school to go to.  However, there are only certain schools (a small number) that do this Professionally.  That is why we found it important to become a Registered Maine Guide.  This is not some certification through another school or such, it is actually a License provided by the Sate of Maine proving that you have what it takes to Guide Wilderness Trips and teach students.  The testing for this is considered the toughest in the country!  We also find it appropriate to further our knowledge with other Professionals in the community.  We have had the pleasure of learning and teaching with the Jack Mountain Bushcraft School.

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So the way forward for us here at The Woodsman School and Guide Service is staying true to what we did to get us here.  We plan on keeping things relevant and honest, staying away from the hype and trying to pitch such to our students as a reality, or as the right way of doing things.  Teaching skills and taking trips that foster a good stewardship to the land and nature.  Immersing ourselves and students into the forests and waterways to facilitate and even greater learning experience!

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Let’s Talk Fire and Fire Making Techniques

As you may already know, there are Lots of ways to start a fire.  I have tried many of them over the years, and still practice a variety of methods as much as possible even today.  It’s never a bad idea to know a few of the different ways to accomplish this potentially “life-saving” skill.  If you are not into the whole “Survival” thing, than it’s still not a bad idea so that you are not the person at the campground using an entire bottle of lighter/charcoal fluid to accomplish this task, and still failing most times.  I can’t be the only one who has seen this before?  Ten foot flame for thirty seconds or so, and then nothing?

20150127_170049 A “one match” fire in a blizzard.

So there are probably as many opinions (probably more) about what is the best fire starting implement, as there are fire starting implements.  Here are just a few examples:

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There are the ones that you can simply buy at a store (shown above), and of course…there’s always the primitive ways where you make them yourself (ie.. Hand drill, bow drill, fire plow, fire saw, fire piston, flint and steel etc etc..).  The store bought items usually offer results consistent with some sort of instant gratification, whereas the latter requires much more labor and skill.  Another thing to consider and talk about is the preparation in starting any fire, but let’s discuss that later and stick with the implements here first.  ( Video on a bow drill start to finish: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFBjzqLlAa8&index=18&list=PLLSCwNPpoRJfRMRd7Wp1q-hWAoYyEawgC )

One of the common debates I often see is that the infamous, ultimate, survival fire starter is the ferro rod.  The reasons people give, typically go something like this…”it throws 3000 degree sparks”….”you can throw it in the water, take it out…and it still works”……”it will out last any lighter, matches or the likes”.  Am I right so far?  I see/hear it all the time.  I am not discrediting the ferro rod, as it is a useful tool without a doubt…..but the best option?  I think that depends on personal opinion, but I also think some common sense would go a long way here in that regard.  Another thing to keep in mind, and consider, is what are we talking about in terms of use.  Are we talking “Survival Skill”, or are we talking ” Long-Term” use?  There is surely a difference.  Let’s think in terms of Survival (ie.. short term), as that is the case I mostly see this brought up, and this is where I tend to disagree with most folks as to what is the best option.  It is hard to beat an open flame and time saving techniques when they are most appropriate.  So if it is a “short term” situation….will the lighter really run out of fluid in that “72 hrs” (a common gripe about the lighter)?  I know I have used the same lighter for months on end most times, but that’s just me being honest again.  Here are a few example of the rods, as they come in many sizes.  Not all are created equally either.

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So a bit on fire prep may be a good thing at this point.  Let’s skip past specific resources, as they vary with geographic location quite considerably.  The process remains much the same however.  To start a fire with anything less than instant flame….there is “a process”.  There are a couple of steps you need to concern yourself with to be successful.  The first is some sort of “bird’s nest”, or “tinder bundle”.  Some folks claim there is a difference in the terminology between the two….but I disagree.  A bird’s nest is nothing more than tinder (an easily, readily combustible material).  That will be what you use in order to get your coal (however you may accomplish that) to a flame.  The next thing you need is some sort of kindling, and the size will help tremendously in this step.  So this usually takes place with pinky-size twigs or smaller.  Once you have a good fire/coal bed going….it will be much easier to get your fuel (substantial size wood that will burn long and hot) to a sustainable point.  ( A couple of videos showing the collection/processing of materials: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uC0r5EpwFFc&index=5&list=PLLSCwNPpoRJfRMRd7Wp1q-hWAoYyEawgC  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cdAG2a2GEXg&list=PLLSCwNPpoRJfRMRd7Wp1q-hWAoYyEawgC&index=6 )

1514974_385076231638563_1261386981_n A simple bird’s nest with some char in it.

Now that we have discussed the process briefly, let’s get back to implements.  So with the ever popular ferro rod, you need to know that “the process” is required.  You may skip the bird’s nest or tinder bundle if you wish….but you will surely need to process whatever material you will use, in most cases.  So this will take at least some time….which will vary based on knowledge and skills, not to mention the resource(s) itself.  So the way I view this is, ok the ferro rod works well when wet….but what about the tinder?  That is usually the overlooked portion when I see folks talk about this.  Something to keep in mind I guess.  Open flames will help tremendously in this way.  You can also skip the processing portion a great deal with open flame, thus saving time and energy spent. Here is another video where I show/discuss this: ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8EjUZeOK7i4&list=PLLSCwNPpoRJfRMRd7Wp1q-hWAoYyEawgC&index=23 )

I have learned a lot over time, and a lot more about myself.  With that said, I always try and be humble and honest, because why not?  Who am I fooling otherwise?  So having tried many of the fire starting implements, I have gone back to the simple match.  I do use a lighter sometimes as well, but I prefer a match….maybe it’s the traditions of the Maine Guide in me, I’m not really sure.   At any rate, these methods have been introduced and evolved over time for a reason…..so it’s not ALWAYS a smart decision to go back in time and try and reinvent the wheel, or quickly jump on the band wagon of the next best Survival fire starter.  Though I practice many skills, and I think it is wise to do so, I don’t try and sell an idea to conform to popular opinion….that helps nobody.  I guess at the end of the day it would be hard to market matches or a lighter.  I think either of the two would be nice to have when needed, but the matches are what I enjoy using….and that’s just personal preference.

20150821_100329I like to use the strike anywhere matches and I keep them in a “match case”.

Without going on and on here, and rambling, it is all up to the user and what they like, or prefer……too each their own I guess.  But let’s not help spread bad decision making processes, just to conform to a popular belief, agree with the latest “Expert”, or because we can make some money from it.  Let’s pass on the good, practical information that may actually help someone one day!

 

 

Natural Shelters – One of the Most Underrated Skills You Should Know

Natural shelters have been used over thousands of years and they varied greatly depending on location, for obvious reasons.  I would like to take the opportunity and share some of the ones that I have constructed and used over the years, and give my insight on what I think works well in my geographic location (NE USA).

The very first shelter I ever built, with regards to “Survival”, or spending numerous nights in the wilds, was a simple lean-to.  This type of shelter is depicted in a lot of resources when it comes to Survival, and I think I know why.  A lean-to is probably the most conducive when it comes to “calorie expenditure”.  It can be set up in relatively quick fashion, without wasting a lot of calories or resources.  I spent many of nights sleeping in this type of shelter, and it worked pretty well for what it was.  I still fancy this type of shelter even today, again, with some considerations.  The downside of a lean-to is any type of weather.  It will hold off a rain storm if built properly, but a driving rain can be a big hassle.  Add in a winter environment, and you will cut more wood than you want to.  So my conclusion is, if you need a quick shelter, of natural materials…and for short term, the lean-to is not a bad option at all.  Just remember to consider the weather and what you need it to do for you.

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The second type of shelter I constructed was a simple “A-Frame” out of 6″ thick or less logs, which actually worked very well.  At first I used my tarp to cover the frame as my waterproofing.  After a few uses I proceeded to add debris to it to make it all natural.  The thickness you need to make it waterproof can be researched in many books, and watched on many videos.  I think the adage is somewhere between 12″-18″ thick.  Through experience, I found that that is not entirely true, though it is not a bad judgment either.  This particular thickness offers a lot of insulation as well as aiding in the waterproofing, and maybe that’s why it seems to be the norm when folks talk about it.  At any rate, I find that it is merely a bunch of regurgitated information, as much of it seems to be nowadays….no matter the subject.  As a good friend of mine often reminds me, “there is nothing new under the sun”, and I agree when it comes to skills of old.  Once you add your debris to the structure, it will condense, even just overnight.  These types of shelters need to be maintained over time and constantly tended to, at least if you want to stay warm and dry.  I found over the years and the many shelters I have built, that once you get a good thick layer on, and it condenses, either by time, moisture or both….that almost seals the deal, assuming you had enough material to begin with.  At the end of the day, is the finished version or thickness 12″-18″, well not in my case…but it always seemed to work well for me.  Through the rain or the cold, the shelters typically worked well! (sorry for no picture, it was years ago and probably even a couple of computers ago)

The next type of shelter I constructed was another debris-type shelter also known as a “Spider Shelter”.  This shelter wasn’t dissimilar to the A-Frame other than the fact it was more conical in shape and had a bit more debris on it.  All in all, they worked pretty similar.  The A-frame and spider shelters were very good in the cold weather, as they retained a lot more heat than the previously mentioned.  I used fired with both of these shelters, but to take fire out of the equation, they were both better than the lean-to in a cold-weather environment.  You would probably be surprised at how waterproof they can be.  (again no pictures due to being years ago, but I have a video series on this one if you would like to check it out. Find it here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLLSCwNPpoRJcP7brOnFVuKtXOTcmDlDur)

After the Spider Shelter I made quite a few different shelters of various styles.  One of the most impressive was the cabin my buddy Joe and I built.  This took quite a while, and yes, we used a chainsaw and such, as well as some timber spikes to hold most of the frame together.  I had plans for a thatched roof on this one to keep with tradition and being natural and all, but time was not on my side.  So a couple of cheap tarps from Home Depot is all it got.  One winter during hunting season we paid a visit to check up on it and found a note from a random “military guy” saying what a great job we had done and how he was impressed with the quality of work.  It was a humbling experience, and the cabin still stands today after 5-6 years or so.

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One of the last shelters I helped make, and I say help…as one of my Woodsman School classes all built this together, was a Wigwam.  This shelter is pretty easy to construct by yourself, providing you have the right resources to do so.  It doesn’t take a whole lot of heavy work to complete either.  If you add a tarp to the mix…all the easier.  Over time I have added a wood stove and the tarp to make this shelter even better.  I have spent numerous nights in it, and so have students of mine.  It could use a little work nowadays, but it is still solid as far as the framework goes, even after a couple of years.

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So with regards to natural shelters, there are many different styles and types….each conducive to their own environment and functionality.  All of the above mentioned worked well for me over the years, and I would certainly try each of them out again depending on my needs.  If I had to pick a favorite, the cabin would have to be it, though the wigwam is a pretty close second!

So its easy to watch a video, or read the current hyped-up Survival book to find out what you need to do as far as shelter building…..but it is much more appropriate to go out and try them for yourself, and truly see what works for you.

“It is easy to build something that looks like a shelter, but does it keep you warm and dry, and offer a good nights sleep?” (Tim Smith JMBS)

A True Woods Knife

So I believe even just the title of this blog can and may cause some controversy, as it’s one of the most talked about topics in the Bushcraft, Survival and Woods Living communities.  But that is not my intent here.  I would just like to share a bit more on what I have come to believe (personal opinion, for what its worth) on the topic.

I can remember several years ago, in and around 2007 or so, where I was about two years deep into my research on the topic of survival.  As most of you know, it all started for me by watching Les Stroud (Survivorman) on television.  I have always been into the woods via hunting, fishing and the likes, but Les peaked my interest in survival.  And so it began…

My quest for knowledge started, and I had all I could do to get away from the computer and books.  I had a solid 15 month deployment during this time frame in which to do so, and I didn’t waste much of it.

So not long into it, I of course came across the topic of knives.  There was so much to learn, and I had nothing but time.  I read blogs, watched videos from mentors in the community, and got my fair share of advice through the literature I was reading.  I quickly learned that knives were a topic that wasn’t dissimilar to guns.  The “perfect knife” to most, was about as clear as the day’s weather report.  Sifting through all of the hype on knives, it was hard for me to get away from the fact that I came from a large family (13 kids on my mom’s side) of hunters, farmers and even a random trapper or two, who always seemed to have the classic fillet knife on their hip, no matter the task.

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I tried my best to separate the “chaff from the wheat”, so-to-speak, but there were a lot of commonalities as well.  I read and looked over a lot of information on the Mora Knife, and there was a lot of it.  So my first decision was to try one out!  The Mora SL2 was my very first Mora knife, and it did a fine job for me, even though I purposely tried to beat it up.  I think it still sees use today from a good friend of mine, Joe.

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Of course I had to modify mine and add in some kerf marks to each side for better grip…but it was a fine knife regardless.

After using the Mora for a while, I went with two other knives that I intended on using from here on out….the RAT3 and the infamous Tom Brown Tracker 1, or TBT1.

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Both of these knives had a lot of hype behind them as well, and I quickly realized what I had after using them.  I gave the RAT3 away, and sold the TBT1 for another (hyped up) knife.  The journey continued, and I found myself going after the hyped up knives more and more, and even came to have several custom knives made just for me.  It was a losing battle.  There was no “perfect knife” after all.  I regrouped and went back to old reliable, the Mora knife.  This time I used a Mora Classic 2, and contrary to what most believe…it works!  It is also very much affordable, so I could buy ten of these without coming close to the cost of the previously mentioned.

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So here is what I use most often today, and will likely do so for a long time.  I finally got by the hype and realized if you actually know what a knife is designed for, how to care for it, and more importantly….how to use it, you can forego all of the money wasted on knives that I have.  I am a firm believer in “use the right tool for the right job”.  So if you intend on using your knife like an axe, why not just buy an axe and use that?

So to add a final disclaimer, as to not hurt the feelings of any knife makers out there, I am not discrediting them in the least.  I have quite a few custom knives, and I like them all.  Maybe a separate blog on custom knives would be a good idea as well.   But when it comes down to function, and what I really need in a knife…..I find the Mora brand very hard to beat.  It is, in my opinion, one of the most well-rounded knives on the market.  A True Woods Knife….in my opinion.