Basic training: simple skills to help you become a master woodsman

It’s a shame, but lots of folks who call themselves outdoorsmen these days have little or no knowledge of the basic woodsmanship skills that can make life outdoors safer, more comfortable, more enjoyable and more productive.

Millions of people devote weeks each year to hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, paddling and other outdoor pursuits, but few possess the skills and knowledge once considered essential by all true woodsmen. Most have no idea how to gather and cook wild foods without modern accoutrements, how to improvise or repair tools in the back country or how to find their way back to a vehicle or camp without a GPS or map. Starting a fire with a single match and navigating by the stars are lost arts. If forced by calamity into a survival situation, many so-called outdoor types would find it difficult to stay warm, nourished and healthy; some might even perish.

1. The One-Match Fire

Always try to light a fire with a single match-even when an entire box of matches is at hand.

This skill could someday mean the difference between a warm, comfortable camp and a chilly, miserable one.

Place a softball-size piece of tinder on dry bark or on the ground. Good tinder ingredients include lint (check your pockets and belly button), cotton threads, dry-wood powder, bird or mouse nests, dry shredded bark or pine needles. Around the tinder, pile a handful of dry twigs. Over this nucleus, lean a few slightly larger, seasoned branches in tepee-fashion. Over the branches, lay some bigger pieces of deadwood.

With the pile sheltered from wind and rain, ignite the tinder so the flames eat into the heart of the pile. Once the fire gets going, shape it however you want.

2. Tater Alternatives

Many wild plants have starchy roots, corms or tubers that can be boiled, fried or baked as potato substitutes.

  • SPRING BEAUTY OR FAIRY SPUD: The marble-size corms of this flower have a nut-like flavor and are excellent when boiled or used in stews.
  • YELLOW POND LILY: This aquatic plant’s large root was an important food for eastern American Indian tribes.
  • ARROWHEAD: Dig tubers from the mud with your toes and collect them as they float to the surface. Cook like potatoes.
  • JERUSALEM ARTICHOKE: The tubers of this plant, native to Eurasia and found in 42 U.S. states, can be eaten raw, pickled or sliced into a salad.

3. Take A Seat

Need a seat in the swamp? Build a hunting stool from two pieces of 2×4.

Determine a comfortable height for your seat, and then add about 1 foot. Cut the first board to this length. Next, cut two angled pieces from the end of this board, forming a point you can push into the bottom of the marsh. Cut a smaller piece of board for the seat. Attach the two pieces of wood together with wood screws so the finished result is a T-shaped seat. Finish the stool with camouflage-colored paint, and you can relax on your next marsh waterfowl hunt.

4. Fly Bane

Flies are repelled by stinging nettle plants.

Use bunches of freshly cut stems as a repellent in food cupboards. Replace them when they dry out.

5. Fish & Frog Catcher

A jawed spear is great for catching fish, frogs and other aquatic creatures.

Split one end of a green sapling 6 to 8 inches. Carve sharp, rear-angling teeth into each flat side in the split. Use cordage to bind the split’s upper end so it won’t split further. Open the “jaws;’ and separate them with a twig strong enough to keep them apart. When the spear is thrust down over a fish or critter, the twig is knocked out and the jaws snap shut, holding the quarry.

6. Spit- Roasting

Here’s how to properly turn a hunk of spitted meat over flames.

It is one of our oldest and simplest cooking methods, ideal for preparing anything from a haunch of venison to a bluegill. For the spit, choose wood like green oak or hickory that won’t impart a bad taste to the food. Ideally it’ll have a fork at one end you can use for turning. Shave the spit to flatten it along two opposite sides (this prevents the stick from rotating inside the food). Turn the food as it broils, basting with drippings caught in a pan or curved slab of bark placed beneath it.

7. Wild Chocolate

A good chocolate substitute can be made from a paste of the ground fruits and flowers of the American basswood tree.

The basswood tree’s range includes much of Central and Eastern North America. Attempts were once made to market this product, but they failed because the paste is quick to decompose.

8. Cane Poles Done Right

When fishing with cane poles, some anglers make the mistake of tying line only to the end of the cane.

If the tip breaks, the fish is gone. Instead, run line along the whole length, starting just above where you’ll hold the pole. Tie the line here, then wrap a piece of electrical tape around the tie to secure it. Tape the line at several evenly spaced points along the pole, concluding with a piece of tape that secures the line at the tip of the pole. Leave a length of line beyond the tip that’s equal to the length of the pole. Once the line is rigged with terminal tackle, you can adjust the length as necessary by wrapping or unwrapping it at the tip. Tie it off with an overhand knot.

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