Rons Primitive Skills

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

My old website

This is the contents of my old website. Some of the material was repeated in an earlier blog posting. I had this site from 2004 till 2005

Mountain Rons Primitive Page
June 11 2004
Basic Tools

FIRE

Here I’ll cover some of the basic tools I use for primitive skills and survival. Fire making
is one of the most important skills one can possess. Some of the techniques I use are flint
and steel, ferro-cerium spark fire starters, magnifying glass, hand drill, bow drill, and fire
plow. The spark fire starter is about the easiest way I know other than match’s and
lighters. I make my own tinder or “fire fuzz” which is cotton or Dogbane fibers mixed
with vaseline. The vaseline gives the fibers a good waterproofing as well as having the
ability of producing a hot flame. This tecnique for fire starting is rather simple. I take a
piece of “fire fuzz” about as big as my little finger nail and pull it apart to expose the
fibers. I then build up a bundle of natural tinder such as Cedar or Cottonwood inner bark
and set the “fire fuzz” in the middle of it. The sparker is held so that you pull on the flint
rod with the knife held steady against the tinder. This technique works for me and the
tinder isnt knocked around. There are many brands of fire starters available. One nice
little kit I picked up has the tinder and a small sparker called a “metal match” and is put
out by Coghlans. They are available in many outdoor stores and catalogs. The fire
starting kit comes with 6 or 8 peces of tinder and if you use a small piece from one they
will last a very long time. I don’t know what they use on the cotton tinder but they are
pink and feel a little waxy. They work fine, none the less. I have seen several other
brands of tinder on the market, one being the Strike Force replacement tinder. I have
never used it but have heard it works good. The nice thing about spark rods is they are
always available and they are waterproof so they even spark when wet. I’ve also used a
tiny bit of tinder to start a trioxane cube for boiling water or cooking. I have used knives,
broken glass, pieces of files and sharp flint to throw sparks with one. I have several. One
is on my jacket zipper. Its the boy scout type. Others are in various kits I’ve made up.
Buckshots Camp sells several varietys including a 3/8” by 4” monster. One that size
should last a lifetime and it throws enough sparks to light natural tinder. For bow drill
and hand drill fire starting I use Cottonwood and Agave stalk as a hearthboard and
Cottonwood or Yucca stalks as the drill. These combinations work very well for me. The
best way to find a combination that works for you is to experiment with different woods
and shrubs. Usually a softer wood works for drills and a harder one for hearth boards.
Some people use the same species of wood for drill and hearth. My experience with fire
plow has been using Cottonwood on Cottonwood and Mullien on Agave stalk.
June 29 2004

WATER

Water is hard to find in a readily usable form. 99% of the time it must be treated or
purified. Some folks like to carry and use water filters and others treatment chemicals.
Either way works but you may notice an off taste depending on the type of chemical
treatment you use. Iodine tablets are famous for this and you can remove the taste by
adding a few vitamin C tablets after the treatment period is up. Clorox and other do it
yourself chlorine treatments leave water tasteing like it came from some city
water supply. Depending on the brand, certain chlorine treatment tablets leave this tap
water taste also. One of the best ways to purify questionable water is to boil it. It would
make sense to boil as much as you can carry so you have plenty of water to drink instead
of waiting for the boiled water to cool down before you can use it. Even water in the
wilderness may not be safe due to various disease oragnism’s. Giardia being one. It
causes severe diarrhea and stomach pain. Remember, you loose water from vomiting or
diarrhea and being in a weakend condition makes it hard to get around and find more. My
favorite method for use in the desert is the transpiration bag. This is a clear plastic bag
tied over some leaves on a tree or shrub. This only works during daylight hours. The
plant gives off water and its trapped in the plastic bag. It may taste a bit odd depending
on the plant species used but its water none the less. Always make sure the plant you are
using this technique on is not poisonous as the water will be affected. Springs, stock
tanks, creeks, lakes and rivers can all be utilized with a little common sense. If a spring is
coming out of the ground or a rock outcrop theres a good chance its fairly pure. The only
time this would be a problem would be ground contamination from chemicals or natural
mineral deposits. Natural mineral contamination is usually confined to desert areas,
alkaline water being one type of this. Water from near mining operations and areas where
chemicals may have been stored or spilled is best avoided. Personally, I treat any water I
use from stock tanks and any natural source such as rivers and lakes. I use chemical
treatment or boiling to purify my drinking water. As for cooking water, it depends what
method I use to cook. If it requires water to be added to the recipe I use treated water. If
the food will be boiled I use it from the source since cooking to a boil will make it safe.
See the article about water from trees in my webjournal on this site.
July 17 2004

SHELTER

Some folks may wonder why its important to find shelter in the desert. If you have ever
been here when the summer temperatures reach 120 in the shade you’ll understand. And it gets mighty cold at night as well. In the winter the temperatures can dip into the 30s
(even colder up in the mountains). The only time to travel in the desert during summer is
in the evening, night (if you’re very carefull) and in the morning hours. Stop before mid
day and get shade. For summer shelter the best bet is a good shade tree which will at least
keep the sun off of you. One problem with this is in the middle of the summer trees out
here tend to loose their leaves to conserve moisture and shade is a bit scarce. The trick is
to hopefully find a nice big Paloverde tree and get under the low branchs as close to the
trunk as you can. A little shade is better than none when your life depends on it. The
native Americans who live in the desert country build what is called a “ramada”. This is
basically four posts set in the ground with a roof of loose’ly spaced brush, usually
Ocotillo branchs, on a simple post to post frame. The advantage of this system is it lets in
light as well as giving shade. Also, the natives never work in the hottest part of the day in
the summer. Other makeshift desert shelters can be lite tarps strung from tree to tree (or
in most cases shrub to shrub) and a convenient dug out in the side of a dry creek bank
facing east. Space blankets work well as an expedient shelter provided at least two are put
together some way. They are usually too small to use just one. Most tents are not very
useful unless you’re lucky enough to be able to set it up under some shade. Other wise
you’ll roast to death. When I was a survival instructor in the army I always advised my
students to use their parachute, if one were available, or pieces thereof to make shelter. In
the desert this works great and if you carry a nice big piece of lite fabric for shelter, you’ll
have it made. Once we did a class in expedient shelters and the students were left on their
own to figure something out. Most opted for digging a large hole in the east facing bank
of a dry creek (arroyo) and using shrub to shore it up. This will work perfect unless there
is a storm farther up the way and then you and everything with you will be washed away.
Bad idea in monsoon season. The others erected brush shelters and these are great too.
Just leave the sides facing north and east open so you don’t have an oven. In the winter
most any regular type of shelter such as tents and lean-to’s will suffice. One more caution
about desert camping and survival. Most everything out here either bites, stings or pokes
holes in you so be very cautious and check out your bedding and shelter before you crawl
in. After all, the critters don’t care who built the shelter. They’ll be more than glad to
occupy it, too.
July 26 2004

WILD PLANTS AS FOOD

To most people it may come as a surprise that the desert contains an abundant supply of
edible plants. Some folks are familiar with cactus jelly and candy. This stuff is made
from the fruit of the Saguaro an Prickly Pear cactus. The Saguaro fruits are a little hard to
reach as they grow at the top of the cactus. The Indians use long poles made from the
skeleton of a dead Saguaro to reach the tops and knock the fruit to the ground where it is
easily gathered. As for Prickly Pear, a crude set of wooden tongs or just a plane old stick
is used to gather the fruit. Saguaro fruit does’nt require any special treatment before its
made into jelly, candy or drink. Prickly Pear, on the other hand, has nasty little needles
called glochids, in little clusters on the fruits. These glochids are a pain to remove from
fingers and anywhere else you touch the fruit. Duct tape will take most of them out of
your flesh as well as carefuly scraping with a knife blade. The way the Indians deal with
them is to put the fruit in a basket and throw in a hot coal as you vigorously toss the fruit
around. They also build a small fire and singe off the tiny needles. The fruits are then
peeled and mashed and the seeds are strained out. Saguaro fruit is red when its ripe.
Prickly Pear and its near relative, the Cholla, have fruit that is red, yellow, or purple
depending on the species. My favorite is the large purple fruit from the Prickly pear.
They are usually very sweet and tastey. A good number of these can be gathered in a
short time and the plant is usually not that tall. Other desert plants of note are the
Mesquites, Palo Verdes, and Ironwoods. These all have seed pods very similar to beans
and they are from the Pea Family. According to ethno botanical literature all have been
used as food by one tribe or another. The only ones I have tried are Honey Mesquite pods
(Prosopis juliflora) and the seeds from the Desert Ironwood (Olneya tesota) and Blue
Palo Verde (Cercidium floridum). The Mesquite pods are very sweet and make nice hoe
cakes when ground up. The Ironwood seeds need to be roasted before use and make a
unique coffee like drink. Unfortunately the Ironwood is becoming somewhat scarce due
to over harvesting of the wood and loss of habitat. The wood is one of the heaviest in
North America. It will not float. I once made a knife with Ironwood scales and the wood
is very dark and takes a nice polish. The seeds from the Palo Verde pods are cooked like
beans or ground for mush. The seeds of Ironwood and the various species of Mesquite are
ground for flour, pinole, or mush, too. These trees usually have an abundance of pods and
they are easily gatered. There is a species of weevil, a tiny beetle, who lays its eggs in
most of these species pods. These tiny larvae are usually ignored by the Indians and
looked at as a bonus source of protein. I never had a problem after eating “larvae
enriched” Mesquite flour. I’ll go into some details of other desert edibles in the next
article on this subject.
August 14 2004

CAMPING AND SURVIVAL GUIDE

This book is in no particular order. It’s a survival guide for those who have at least some
experience in the field; after all there are more than enough “Survival Manuals” out there
already. Consider this an appendix.
Frisbees are an excellent survival tool believe it or not. They can be used for scooping up
water, gathering wild food such as seeds, nuts, or berries and as a plate to eat the food
you’ve gathered. It can also be utilized for its original purpose to keep moral up
(provided you are with someone, kind of a hard game to play by ones self!)
Frisbee food gathering scenario: You have found a large patch of wild rice or other grass
with abundant seed heads. You know that these can be a valuable source of food. Now
you find yourself a nice straight stick about ½” in diameter and about three feet long. You
hold the Frisbee under the seed heads and gently beat them with the stick. You see all
those seeds gathering in the Frisbee? You see all the bugs and chaff, too? No problem.
Gently toss the seeds up and as they fall back into the Frisbee blow through them and if
you are really lucky there will be a gentle breeze to do this for you. Or, you can pick the
garbage out by hand if you feel like spending the extra effort. By the way the bugs won’t
hurt you and should be considered extra protein.
Water weighs eight pounds per gallon. If you think you want to carry a five gallon can of
water consider the weight: 40 pounds plus the one or two pounds weight of the can? That
means you will be carrying very little other than water. Who will carry your gear? The
secret is to know how to collect and purify water.
Water scenario: You are at your campsite out in the boonies. You just used the last gallon
container of water. Being the savvy camper you saved all the water jugs and now you
have six empties. The three of you carried two gallons each to the site. There is a nice
clear mountain stream down the hill and there are reasons that one person needs to stay at
camp. So two of you take the six empty gallon jugs down the hill and carefully fill them
with the clearest water you can find. Now the problem is getting them all back up the hill.
Easy. You take a foot of nylon camp rope per jug and tie a loop in the handle of each jug.
Now that you tied loops to all the jug handles you find a decent length pole and slide it
through the loops. Each of you shoulder an end of the pole and carry the water back to
camp.
Survival Kits: this is a subject that much has been written on and yet so few agree too.
What is the perfect kit? Well, the perfect kit is the one that you put together yourself and
contains the items you feel you need. It’s always a good idea to read the various lists of
what people put in their kit. It may open your eyes to a few things you’ve overlooked
including in yours. Below are the contents of my kit. It is geared to my skills and contains
things that I feel essential. When you build your kit you will want to include items that
you can’t find readily in a survival situation. If you learn and practice primitive skills you
will be so much better off for it. These skills are flint knapping, cordage making,
basketry, wood working, net making, trapping, shelter making and many others.
Contents of my kit:
KNIVES- Gerber Freeman sheath knife, neck knife, Swiss army knife (Huntsman model,
this is the old model which doesn’t include toothpick/tweezers so I carry a Classic model
with it), and a small lock back Buck single blade. All these knives cover various chores
and I believe in redundancy for the most valuable items.
10X LOOP- this is handy for close inspection of objects and for fire starting with the
Sun.
FIRE KIT- This contains two 35mm film cans of tinder (Vaseline soaked cotton) and two
Ferro-cerium spark rods (again, redundancy) with a small carbon steel folding knife. The
knife is used only on the spark rods. This way my other knifes don’t need to be abused
for this purpose. As a side note, I find it easy to hold the rod close to the tinder, put the
blade against the rod, and pull the rod away from the tinder. This way you don’t knock
the tinder away as well as possibly damage the blade by hitting something. All of this is
stored in an Army issue decontamination kit container. My 35mm film can with my
fishing tackle is stored in here too. My third fire kit is one of the little Coghlan’s, the
“metal match” type and it came with prepared tinder. For the price this little unit is
amazing. The tinder is very reliable also. This kit is kept in a separate container in the
bag.
PARA CORD- This is the real thing. How to tell? GI Para cord has five or seven
individual lines inside the nylon sheathing. These individual cords can be stripped out
and used for a multitude of tasks. I once took a length of inner cord and stripped it down
even further to see how small I could get it. I ended up with several yards of fine line for
fishing or sewing or whatever other use it could be put too. Supposedly Para cord has a
rating of 550 pounds test. This means its pretty strong stuff but it wasn’t meant to be used
for rappelling. When you use it to make clothes line or other camp items remember not to
make un-tie able knots. You don’t want to have to cut this stuff up and waste it. I
consider it worth its weight in gold.
PONCHO- Mine is a store bought one and is made of heavy vinyl. It rolls up and is kept
in its own stuff sack. I take extra caution when I wear it so that I don’t damage it
accidentally on snags and such.
SPACE BLANKET- Used as extra insulation inside my sleeping bag and as an
emergency blanket if I get caught without my sleeping bag. This and my poncho would
keep me pretty warm.
SNARE WIRE- Self explanatory. I carry enough for several dozen snares. The more
snares you put out the better chance you have of trapping something.
SNARE KIT- This contains my multi strand cable for larger game as well as crimps and
snare locks made from washers.
SIERRA CUP- This is my drinking cup and hangs on the outside of my bag. In a pinch it
can be used to cook a small cup of soup or a cup of tea.
FOLDING SCISSORS- I have a pair of the Chinese made scissors in my kit. I like these
because they are made from stainless steel and very rugged.
CANTEEN CUP- Another multi use item. It can serve as my cooking pot, cup, and
dipper to fill water jugs, food gathering container, and tool and hardware holder when
I’m working on a project.
FISHING KIT- I carry a spool of Spyderwire line (30 pound test) about 200 yards. I
prefer this type as it is multipurpose and can be used to sew and repair the tent, tarps, etc.
This is made of Kevlar and is quite thin for its test weight. Strong stuff! My tackle
consists of a couple dozen different sized hooks and several dozen small split shot. These
are kept in a 35mm film can inside my fire kit. I have an Altoids tin with two small
bobbers and my multi purpose three inch long sea fishing hooks in it. These hooks are
lashed to a long stick and used like a gaff for dragging small game from its den and for
pulling branches with fruit closer to the ground.
ALTOIDS TIN- See under fishing kit
BANDANAS- These are another all purpose item. They function as pot holder, bandana,
sweat rag, food gathering container, washcloth, tourniquet, and many other uses. I always
have at least two in my kit.
HEAD BANDS- I carry two of these also. They are just long enough to go around your
head and keep the sweat out of your eyes. One is just a strip of cloth and the other was
manufactured, it has some kind of gel beads in it that hold the water longer if you soak it
first.
FLINT KNAPPING TOOLS- I have a working knowledge of the art of flint knapping.
What a wonderful skill to master! I can make arrowheads, knives, scrapers, drills, and
myriad other tools from suitable rocks. Even old bottle bottoms can be utilized to knap a
fine tool. The beauty of this skill is that I can make a flake blade and save my steel blades
for more important tasks. When I’m done with the flake I can just discard it or keep it till
it’s too worn to use anymore. My knapping tools are an antler bopper made from the
main shaft of a deer antler and an antler tine for pressure flaking. I also carry an awl
made from copper ground wire and hammered square (hammering copper hardens it). It’s
used for pressure flaking too. A piece of heavy leather that covers the palm of my hand
finishes off this kit. I’ve cut a hole in the leather pad for my thumb. This keeps it from
sliding from my palm. The bopper, tine, and leather pad are in an outside pocket of my
bag. If you have a chance, learn flint knapping!
LED LIGHT AND BATTERIES- I have a small light that uses three button cells. It’s
very bright and the batteries last a very long time. The LED bulb is supposed to last
100,000 hours. That’s nearly 10 years. The extra batteries are stored in a plastic tube.
LED lights are the greatest thing to come along, I believe. When I was young you would
be lucky to have a flashlight last through the night till the batteries died. And if dropped it
was a given that the bulb would be shot. Not so with LED lights. They come in a variety
of sizes and prices. This one was purchased at Harbor Freight for $2.00, is about 2 ½
“long and has an on/off switch on the back end. A keychain clip is attached with a small
chain to the switch itself. I hang this on the outside of my bag. It’s clipped to one of the
zipper pulls.
FORAGING NET- I rescued this from an old landing net. I took a piece of nylon cord
and ran it through the mesh around the edge of the opening. This is the carrying strap and
helps keep it compressed when stored in my bag by wrapping it around the folded net. I
use this net to gather nuts, fruits, whatever. Mine is made from cotton cord. The one I
made for my wife is heavier monofilament cord.
POCKET SAW- This is a two bladed saw I picked up at Wal-Mart. It has both fine and
coarse hacksaw blades that fold into the handle. It’s about four inch long and made of
fluorescent orange plastic. The brand name is “Allway”. I use it for making various tools
at camp and it cuts metal unlike the saw on my Swiss army knife. The blades are easily
replaced by taking a regular hacksaw blade and snapping off 3 ½” of the ends. The hole
in the blade is where the screw in the handle goes through and tightens down when in
use. It’s very handy to have one of these.
EATING UTENSILS- I have an old US Army spoon and a fork from a camping silver
ware set in a carrying case. The spoon as fairly large and is used for cooking as well as
eating. No need to carry a table knife as I use one of my other blades.
1ST AID CREAM- I carry a tube of this in my bag.
LEATHER STROP AND STROP CARD- I have a leather strop that is loaded with red
rouge as well as a business card that is loaded on the back. These give a final edge to my
knives.
DIAMOND HONES- I carry several small diamond hones for sharpening my knives. I
have both flat and rod types.
HONE OIL- I carry a small bottle of honing oil for the diamond hones. When this runs
out I’ll just use water. Diamond hones last a lot longer if you use some kind of lubricant
when you sharpen with them.
STRING- I have a small assortment of string for various tasks.
FOLDING STRAIGHT RAZOR- This is for shaving and minor surgery.
SEWING KIT- A small sewing kit is mighty handy. Mine has thread, needles, buttons,
and a thimble for everyday repairs. I also have a spool of heavy thread to use with my
sewing awl needle for repairing gear or the tent.
EXTRA EYE GLASSES- I wear prescription reading glasses. I carry a regular size pair
in their case and I have a small folding pair in their case.
COMPASS- I have an orienteering compass in a GI compass case.
DENTAL FLOSS- I use this for fishing or sewing and if necessary suturing. I keep three
rolls in a small zip lock bag. This is kept in the compass case with the compass.
PRUNER- this is a pair of folding pruners with a few blades in the handle. I use these
when foraging plants, butchering game, and trimming branches.
SLING- I am proficient with a sling. They are easy to make but you need lots and lots of
practice to become good with one.
CABLE TIES- These are the common electrical cable ties you find in hardware stores.
They can be used for gear repair, making camp tools, etc.
BLANKET PIN- This is used to pin my wool army blanket around my shoulders when
it’s cold. This is great for when you get up early in the morning and there’s a chill in the
air. I also use it to attach things on the outside of my bag such as my poncho if rain
threatens that day. These were issued during World War One and I don’t know where you
could get one other than an antique store. I believe they were made for other uses, too.
Some are marked “Rison”.
HEMOSTATS- I carry a pair of the smallest ones I could find. These are for first aid,
fishing, and various repair work. I keep these in the Altoids tin with my fishing tackle.
P-38 CAN OPENER- Self explanatory. I have one of the new large ones and I have used
it to score arrow shafts during construction. I keep this in my Altoids tin with my fishing
tackle.
SNIPER VEIL- I use this camouflage, netted material for hunting and food gathering. It
can be used to leach ground up acorns, too.
POCKET MIRROR- I use this for shaving, signaling, and the occasional speck in the
eye. Mine is an old cosmetic compact. The case protects the mirror and there’s room for a
few Band Aids in the compact.
FINGER NAIL CLIPPERS- I use these for trimming nails as well as trimming fishing
line, string, sinew and electric cable ties.
WHISTLE- Used for signaling. A really loud one does wonders to scare away
bothersome bears.
BAND AIDS- I carry both regular and butterfly type.
BENADRYL CAPSULES- I keep these handy because I’m allergic to bee stings. Always
remember to carry any medications that you must have.
IODINE TINCTURE- For first aid and can be used to purify water.
IODINE TABLETS- Portable Aqua brand for water purification. I keep these in the
pocket of my canteen cover which holds my cup. I don’t use the canteen as I have a 1
quart water container with a carrying case. It’s a wide mouth Rubbermaid. The snare
wire, sniper veil, and space blanket are stored in the canteen cup.
SCALPEL BLADES- I have four blades wrapped in aluminum foil. These are stored in
the Altoids tin.
BLOW PIPE- This is used to coax a flame or to raise the temperature of a fire. I made it
from a piece of aquarium aerator tubing and a small telescoping antenna. This fits neatly
in a pocket of my bag.
ALUMINUM FOIL- I have about a square foot of foil folded up and it’s stored in the
Altoids tin. This is for covering my canteen cup while cooking. It helps keep the heat in
thus making for more efficient cooking.
AWL- This is a handmade awl that I made a deer antler cap for. I use it for repairs, basket
making, sewing, etc.
WARREN WOOD CARVING SET- This is a very useful tool. I can make eating and
cooking utensils with it as well as carve trap triggers. The blades are extremely sharp and
could be used for minor surgery if necessary. The kit has a handle, six different blades, a
crooked knife blade, and two chisels.
FOUR-IN-HAND FILE- This has both flat and half round regular cut file and flat and
half round rasp all on one tool. I use this for various wood working chores. It’s easy to
rough out a self bow with one of these as well as make axe handles and other tools.
Mines made by Nicholson and I keep it in its own leather sheath.
Here are some of the items I carry in my main pack. A Frisbee, tri fold army issue shovel,
bowie knife, camp ax, folding saw, and spare ammo. The ax and bowie knife are attached
to the outside of the pack as well as the shovel. Other items are spare clothes, an army
blanket and my sleeping bag. My sleeping bag is a Slumberjack Super Guide and weighs
two pounds six ounces. It fits neatly in its stuff sack and takes up very little room. My
sleeping pad is attached to the bottom of the pack. I carry an eight foot by eight foot tarp
to use as a ground cloth when I don’t feel like putting the tent up. When I go hiking I
carry a minimum of food as I plan to add wild game as well as forage. If I were planning
to “bug out” I would carry substantially more food and leave the bowie and shovel
cached somewhere handy or in the car.
Water: how much to carry and how to find more. We know water weighs eight pounds a
gallon. That’s a fairly heavy load considering you’ll be carrying a lot of other stuff.
Having plenty is vital. It rates right up there with fire, first aid, and shelter in importance.
When I travel into the back country I carry at least a gallon jug and my one quart canteen
(which in real life is a Rubbermaid water bottle). I like to go to areas where I’ve been
before and am familiar with the resources. When I go to a new area the first thing I do is
scout around and take stock of the local foragables and water situation. My primary way
of purification is boiling. If I’m in a hurry I’ll just get a quart of water and add an iodine
tablet. After the recommended time for the iodine to work is up I add a couple vitamin C
tablets. This helps to make the water more tolerable and removes most of the iodine taste.
Part of my cooking kit is a 3 pound coffee can that I use to boil water in as well as cook
with. I’ve attached a bail to it. If you take care of these cans they will last for a very long
time. Most water found in the wilds is polluted. Either parasites such as Giardia or other
nasty’s and there is always the possibility of chemical pollution such as old mines (heavy
metals and acids). This is why knowing what’s in your area is important. If, for instance,
you collect water from a mountain stream be sure there are no mining operations up
stream. I’m not sure if the water filters available will remove these toxins. Even if there is
no sign of local industry always treat your water in some way. Giardia cysts have been
found in very remote areas. The only water I ever drink untreated is that which comes
directly out of a spring. Now if the spring is coming directly out of a hillside I believe
you have nothing to fear. But, if its collecting in a pool I would treat it.
Organizing your gear: When I pack my backpack and survival bag I try to make the most
of the available space. I organize everything so that I know exactly where something can
be found quickly. I use a lot of different containers and try to keep stuff in certain
categories such as pocket knives with sharpeners, fire kit, knapping kit, carving kit, etc.
My favorite containers are the little square or rectangular plastic boxes with snap on lids.
These are available at Wal-Mart and various dollar stores. I use all kinds of small
containers such as Altoids tins, pill bottles, plastic match safes, and many others. Use
your imagination and you’ll find lots of uses for everyday, throw away items.


September 2 2004
ACORNS are edible when they have been processed properly. Some acorns are edible
without much processing other than grinding and cooking. Others contain Tannic acid
which is very bitter. The only way to remove tannins is to leach them out with water. The
Indians used several methods. One was to grind the shelled acorns and put them in a
tamped pit in the sand near water. Water was constantly poured over the meal until no
trace of bitterness was left. Another method was to bury the whole acorns in a swamp and
return in a year. The acorns turned black but were edible. Sometimes the meal was put in
a tightly woven basket and several changes of water poured through till leached. Later
methods were to put a piece of cloth in a basket and leach the tannins out with several
gallons of water, usually hot. Also the coarsely ground acorns were put in a burlap bag
and left in a stream till leached. Some folks recommend boiling the acorns in several
changes of water but this removes a lot of the oil and taste. I prefer to soak the coarsely
ground acorns in a plastic or glass container. When the water turns brown I replace it.
This may require several changes until the tannins have been completely leached out.
Still another way is to put the coarse meal in a cloth bag and run a lot of hot water
through it. You can tell when the tannins are gone by the taste f the meal. If there is no
trace of bitterness its done. Now all that needs to be done is dry out the meal and store it
or eat it. Certain species of oak produce acorns which require little or no processing.
These are termed sweet acorns and the ones with lots of tannic acid are called bitter
acorns.
Here’s a list of sweet and bitter acorns:
SWEET
Ballota Oak-Quercus ilex var. rotundifolia
Bur Oak-Q. macrocarpa
Chestnut Oak-Q. prinus
Chinquapin Oak-Q. muehlenbergii
Dwarf Chinquapin Oak-Q. prinoides
Emory Oak-Q. emoryi
Gambel Oak-Q. gambelii
Huckleberry Oak-Q. vaccinitfolia
Live Oak-Q. virginiana
Mongolian Oak-Q. monolica
Swamp Chestnut Oak-Q. michauxii
Swamp White Oak-Q. bicolor
Valley Oak-Q. lobata
Valonia Oak-Q. aegilops
White Oak-Q. alba

BITTER

Black Oak-Quercus velutina
California Live Oak-Q. agrifolia
Cork Oak-Q. saber
Kellogg Oak-Q. kelloggii
Laurel Oak-Q. laurifolia
Pin Oak-Q. ellipsoidalis
Red Oak-Q. rubra
Scarlet Oak-Q. coccinea
Shumard Oak-Q. shumardii
Water Oak-Q. nigra
Non-Oak Acorn: this is the Tanbark Oak – Lithocarpos densiflorus native to California
and Oregon. It has sweet acorns.

September 25 2004
Caching for the future. First off, the definition of a cache. A cache is a hidden supply.
The Army uses this system for special operations troops. For the best information check
out the Army manual on caching, TC 31-29, US Army Special Forces Caching
Techniques. It covers just about everything you could possibly need to know on the
subject. My favorite caching container is the five gallon plastic bucket with the water
proof seal lid. The lid is somewhat water proof but as positive insurance I always seal it
further with silicon rubber caulking. I do this right before I bury it as there is less chance
of breaking the seal from too much jostling around. I run a heavy bead of caulk with a
caulking gun several times under the edge of the lid. After an hour or so it has set up
enough to bury. I still put the bucket in a heavy duty garbage bag for even more
insurance. Remember to mark the cache location on a map. It wont do you much good if
you cant find it. I wouldn’t trust GPS as the system may not work in a survival situation.
Besides, dead batteries, dead GPS.
Here are some items I would cache:
Ammo, radios, flashlights (LED of course), food, lithium batteries, button cell batteries,
alkaline batteries, needles & thread, medical supplies, fire starting kits, various plastic
bags, towels, wash cloths, bandanas, blankets, boots & shoes, clothing, rope, string, tools,
nails, screws, glue, wire, books, paper, toilet paper, prescription glasses, cooking &
eating gear such as small pots & utensils, candles, soaps & sanitary needs (tampons &
napkins for women), money (?) and anything else I deem important enough to bury four
feet down. Why four feet? Its beneath the maximum frost level below 5,000 feet and deep
enough to discourage most animals from raiding your cache. If you cache food and other
time sensitive items you may want to keep a journal of what was buried when so you can
replace outdated items.
October 1 2004
Tinder for fire starting kits. I make mine from cotton and Vaseline. Take a cotton ball and
a fingernail sized gob of Vaseline and mix it in good. You will only need a small piece of
this tinder to start a fire. I have experimented with different fibers for tinder/Vaseline
mix’s. So far I have used dogbane, yucca and stinging nettle and they work as good as the
cotton tinder. I save the fibers that are too short to use when I make cordage. I do the
same as the cotton/Vaseline tinder prep. As far as store bought tinder my favorite is the
Coghlan’s brand. They’re the pink cotton ones saturated with ?. Whatever it is it works
great and a little piece does a fine job.
November 15 2004

Useful Books

These are books I use and recommend. They can be found at book stores, new and used,
and on the web. The best and only way to learn primitive and survival skills is to put
what you read to practice. You will probably make a lot of mistakes and become
frustrated but its from these mistakes you will learn. Once you have tried a skill it will be
so much easier to learn and retain. Just reading about it doesnt mean you’ll remember
how to do it. Practice, practice, practice.
*A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants & Herbs: Eastern & Central North America-Foster
and Duke
· A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants of Eastern & Central North America-Peterson
*A Field Guide to Western Medicinal Plants & Herbs-Foster & Hobbs
*A Field Guide to Venomous Animals & Poisonus Plants of North America-Foster &
Caras
*A Field Guide to Trees & Shrubs-Petrides
· these are Peterson Field Guides-very good illustrations & good coverage of the subject
presented-highly recommended & many great titles available
The Herbalist-Meyers
this is the newer reprint-good illustrations and brief explanations of herb properties
The Herb Book-Lust
this is an excellent paperback-very good guide to the use of medicinal herbs
Wild Edible Plants of the Western US-Kirk
I consider this the best guide to western edible’s and herbs-well illustrated & good
explanations
How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts-Densmore
a very good book about the Chippewa use of plants
Indian Uses of Desert Plants-Cornett
a brief but good book about desert plant usage
Earth Medicine Earth Food-Weiner
very comprehensive book about use for food and crafts
Food Plants of the Sonoran Desert-Hodgson
the best book about desert plants used for food
Botany in a Day-Elpel
excellent guide to understanding fundamental botany-very good illustrations
Edible Wild Plants-Medsger
a classic about eastern edibles
Native American Ethnobotany-Moerman
the best ethnobotany book-very comprehensive with references
Common Edible & Useful Plants of the West-Sweet
a good beginners book on the subject
By the Prophet of the Earth-Curtin
excellent Pima ethnobotany
Edible & Useful Plants of Texas & the Southwest-Tull
good book on the subject and has a good section on natural plant dyes
Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants-Brill
a very good guide on the subject-geared towards the eastern US
A Gardeners Guide to Plant Names-Healey
excellent guide to understanding scientific botanical names of plants
Survival Skills of the North American Indians-Goodchild
good beginners guide on the subject
Primitive Technology a Book of Earth Skills-Wescott
a compendium of various articles on primitive skills-excellent book, well illustrated
Primitive Technology II Ancestral Skills-Wescott
same as above
Camping & Wilderness Survival-Tawrell
excellent book on the subject-tons of great illustrations
FM 21-76 US Army Survival Manual
a classic-this is the book I used to teach survival in the Army, one of the few available at
the time
The Survival Book-Nesbitt, Pond & Allen
this is the very first survival book I owned, bought for me in 1968.I used it in the Army
classes,too.
Wildwood Wisdom-Jaeger
I used this one in the Army survival classes, too.excellent old classic with good
illustrations
Camping and Woodcraft-Kephart
a classic book on camping-excellent
Woodcraft and Camping-Sears (Nessmuk)
another great classic
The Book of Woodcraft-Seton
and yet another great old classic
Bush Craft-Kochanski
the best book for north country survival and woodscraft
Bushcraft-Graves
excellent paperback on the subject-out of print and way overpriced if you find one
Outdoor Survival Skills-Olsen
this book has become a “must have” among survival books-excellent beginners primitive
skills guide
Primitive Wilderness Living & Survival Skills-Mcpherson
this book and the next one are two of my favorites-great illustrations and explanations
Primitive Wilderness Skills Applied & Advanced-Mcpherson
see above
Survival Skills of Native California-Campbell
highly detailed explanations and illustrations of California Indian survival techniques
Survival Arts of the Primitve Paiutes-Wheat
excellent book about the great basin Paiute skills
Primitive Living, Self-Sufficiency, and Survival Skills-Elpel
very good book on primitive skills and a unique philosophy on the subject
Flintknapping:Making & Understanding Stone Tools-Whittaker
my favorite knapping book-also explains artifact interpretation
The Traditional Bowyers Bible Volumes 1,2 & 3 various authors
the best books to own if you want to make your own bows and arrows
Earth Knack:Stoneage Skills for the 21st Century-Blankenship
well illustrated guide to primitive skills-excellent coverage
Camp Life in the Woods & the Tricks of Trapping-Gibson
a Lyons Press reprint of an 1881 classic-great illustrations of traps & techniques, most
handmade from primitive materials and also steel traps with section on camping
Six Ways In & Twelve Ways Out-US Rescue & Special Operations Group
written by military SERE (Survival, Escape, Resistance, Evasion) instructors-skills taught
by the people who use them the most-I’ve only seen this book available at Buckshots
Camp
SAS Survival Handbook-Wiseman
well illustrated book with basic worldwide coverage-theres also a smaller sized version of
this book for backpacks
Survival Series-Don Paul
any one of his survival books are well worth owning.”everybody’s knife bible” is one of
my favoroite-lots of neat ideas to improve the usefulness of this very important tool
The Green Pharmacy-Duke
“from the worlds foremost authority on healing herbs........” an excellent, well researched
book
The Encyclopedia of Edible Plants of North America-Couplan
This is a very in depth book and I warn you that it is not for beginners. You should have a
working knowledge of botanical terms and nomenclature. One of my favorite books on
the subject
Putting Food By-Hertzberg,Vaughan,& Greene
An excellent book about all facets of food storage. Not sure if its out of print but well
worth searching for
Stocking up-Organic Gardening Press
Another book about food storage. Get this one too if you can find it. Well worth the effort
The Encyclopedia of Country Living-Carla Emery
The ultimate book on homesteading and country do it yourself. The 9th edition is the
latest one, I believe. Get a copy!
Audubon Nature Series
This is another fine series of field guides and they use photographs rather than drawings.
Excellent series
Friday, August 19th 2005
11:26 PM

Desert Harvest

Its been a while since I’ve added anything to my journal. Its been a very long summer and
work has taken up most of my time. There is an abundance of wild food available at this
time of the year and with the spring rains being so plentifull as well as the summer
monsoon, the desert has much to offer. I can harvest a bushel of Mesquite pods in an
hour. The Palo Verde trees are loaded with pods and the Ironwood pods will soon be
ready to gather. The Prickly Pear and Cholla fruit is just about ripe. The cactus plants are
literally sagging under the weight of so much fruit. The Gambels quail know ahead of
time it seems, what kind of year it will be. I’ve seen so many coveys with 12 or more
chicks this year. Even the ground squirrels are having larger than normal litters. I can just
imagine what the Indians would have done when there was an over abundance of wild
food available. They would spend days, perhaps weeks, gathering pods, seeds, and fruits.
All of this food would need further processing such as winnowing and drying as well as
grinding certain seeds for flour. These would be stored in underground graineries or in
the beautiful black and white pottery they were so famous for. A “fat” year like this
comes rarely to the desert and taking advantage of it would be paramont to their survival.
Excess food was probably traded for things the traders brought from far off places.
Things like obsidian, sea shells, and bird feathers were eagerly sought after and prized.
Boys and young men would be harvesting the abundant wild life such as rabbits and quail
with traps, nets and rabbit sticks as well as bows and arrows. This meat would be dried
and stored for the winter. The fat tubers of Canaigre (Rumex hymenosepalus) would be
dug to make tanning solution for the Deer and Sonoran Mountain Sheep hides and for the
medicinal properties of this plant. Seeds such as Chia (Salvia sp) and Jojoba
(Simmondsia chinensis) would be harvested for their medicinal and food value. The
plants mentioned are but a tiny portion of the many species available in the desert.
Monday, March 21st 2005
7:22 PM

Rabbit sticks

Rabbit sticks are one of the easiest tools to make for small game hunting. All you need is
a piece of wood about 3 feet long and 3” in diameter. It’s not that hard to find a limb this
size that will suite your needs. Hopefully you’ll find a limb with a nice natural curve, the
more curved the better. Now after you have the limb its time to start shaving it down to
where it looks like an airplane wing, oval in cross section. The tools I use for this are a
small handheld plane (sometimes called a cabinet makers plane), a small drawknife
(Mora makes a very nice one, see Lee Valley Tools) and an assortment of knives. Some
of the sticks I’ve made have handles or are somewhat symetrical like an Australian
boomerang. Experimentation is a must with stick building. If everything works right your
stick will glide just above the ground. If not it will take out a lot of weeds on its journey
downrange. The best throwing technique is side handed or holding the stick around your
back and whipping it frontwards. The stick should just skim the ground by a foot or so.
For an excellent guide to proper throwing technique see the rabbit stick section in
“Survival Skills of the Native Californians” by Campbell. For instance I have poor
accuracy throwing it from across my chest where as when I throw it side handed it is
deadly accurate. When hunting with one I like to get as close as possible to the target.
Less miss’s. Theres lots of different styles and materials used for rabbit sticks and you
can experiment with any combination of wood and design. Medium to hard wood is most
desirable as it gives the stick more weight and durability. Try it out and have fun.
Sunday, March 20th 2005
2:35 PM

Odd sources of water

Recently I had a discussion with some folks about finding water in strange places in an
emergency. If at home the old standbys are the toilet tank, the piping and water heater
tank. What about outdoors? Well I remember when I was growing up in Pennsylvania we
visited our neighbors maple tree lot during sugaring season. This takes place in the
middle of February when the temperatures are just right. I asked my neighbor what the
fresh sap tasted like and he gave me a sample. Water. Plain old water, but with just a hint
of sweetness. You may be surprised that you can get water from trees but this is what
maple syrup is before they boil it down. It takes a lot of sap to get 1 gallon of syrup. In an
emergency you can get drinkable, clean water from maple, beech, sycamore and many
other hardwood trees. Evergreens and some other types just won’t work. The sap is
horrible tasting! How its done: take a known plant (one that you know is NOT
poisonous) such as sumac (Rhus sp.) or reed (Phragmites sp.), and hollow it out if need
be and then take your knife and drill a shallow hole into the bark of the tree until you see
the wood. Insert the stem and hang a small container under it and the sap will slowly
collect in the container. This technique works in mostly cold season however the flow may be
slow or fast depending on the time of the year. In a survival situation you should hang as
many collectors as you can to insure a steady water supply until you find an easier
source. Another benefit is the water is purified by the trees capillary action. I have
collected water from sycamore trees growing near stagnant swamps and the water tasted
and smelled fine. Even in the desert this will work if you find sycamore’s or cottonwoods
near dry stream beds. The roots of these trees go very deep. There are other species of
trees in the desert mountains that will work such as maple and aspen. Oak may have just
a bit too much tannin and be bitter tasting.
Thursday, March 17th 2005
4:12 PM

Knives Part 2

I would like to talk about maintaining knives. Basically the only thing you will need to
maintain will be the edge. I use both diamond and natural stone sharpeners. The diamond
laps are made by Gerber, DMT and EZ Lap. I always use lite machine oil or water with
these. The Gerber is a nice sized rectangular pad about 2” by 6” and is used for my larger
blades like bowie knives. I use the smaller laps for my regular sheath knives and pocket
folders. In my small survival kit is a rod type lap and a small bottle of oil. This is quite
sufficient for keeping an edge in the field. The stones I use are Arkansas stone or Washita
stone. Both are a form of microcrystaline quartz and will work on most any type of blade
steel. I always use oil as it keeps the stone in top cutting condition and floats away the
tiny metal particles. Without using oil or water the stone will clog up and be worthless
until its cleaned again. After my knives have been given a good edge I use a leather strop
that has been given a coating of red jewelers rouge. I glued this to a board and left a
handle on the end to hold it while stropping my blades. This stropping puts a razor edge
on most any kind of steel. I have one of these in my survival kit too. Its rolled up and kept
together with a ranger band. You seldom have to recharge the rouge on these strops. One
treatment will last quite a while. I never use oil on the joints of my folding knives. Oil
attracts dust and dirt and is the worst thing you can do. Instead I use graphite lubricant.
Its a dry powder made from graphite, a carbon mineral. Its sold in hardware stores as a
lock lubricant. Just a tiny squirt in the knife joint will do. Then work the blade a few
times and that should be fine.
Wednesday, March 16th 2005
1:13 PM

Knives

Yesteday I was talking to a friend about knives. His favorite bush knife is a Machax by
Becker Knife & Tool put out by Camillus. He sent me a picture of it and its a fine looking
blade. The working end looks to be a foot or more in length and he uses it for bow
making, basketry material gathering, etc. My favorite big knife is a Coast Bowie with a
9” blade, 14 “ ovaerall length. I use this for building shelter, gathering fire wood and any
other heavy work. Another one I use often and carry the most is a Gerber Freeman with a
3 ½” blade, 8 ¼” overall length. This size knife seems to be a favorite with most
people as its lite and very versitile. Big knives have their uses but the smaller blades see
the most work. I also use a D.H. Russell style of blade similar to the Grohman brand but
made in Germany by PIC from Solingen. This sports a deep bellied 5 ½” blade and is 10
¼” overall length. This is made from carbon steel and holds a fine edge. The blade is
¼” thick and is great for batoning thru the thick stuff. My best advice is get a knife that
fits your hand well and that you are comfortable using. You dont have to go broke to
have a good blade. As for pocket knives I have several. My favorite is the SAK or Swiss
Army Knife. I have a few different models of this knife. I believe Victorinox is the better
brand. More reliable and nicer fit and finish. I also have a German Army Knife that was
made by Victorinox. It has OD Green scales and the Bundeswehr eagle on it. Its a very
sturdy knife with a 3” blade and a saw blade. I picked this one up at a surplus store for $3
and its in like new condition. The saws on SAK’s really work. I use them a lot for making
trap triggers and a number of small jobs. A person could survive with just a pocket knife
but the bigger tasks would be kind of hard. When I was much younger I had an old Buck
model 110 and I used it for everything. Batoning (hitting the back of the blade with a
stout stick) through heavy stuff was not that hard with the Buck but eventually the joint
weakened and the blade wobbled in the handle. Its best to buy the right tool for the job
and a good sheath knife is the answer.
Tuesday, March 15th 2005
9:59 PM

Desert wood and bow making

Today I’m making a bow from a piece of Whitethorn Acacia. Its going to be a limb bow.
The limb is about 2 ¾” at the bottom and 1 ¾” at topside. Overall lenghth about 54”. I
barely started on it and have just removed a tiny bit from the belly at the bottom where
the thickest part is. I did notice there were a few tiny holes in the wood but hopefully this
won’t matter. They were probably made by boring beetles or wasps which are common
out here in the desert. When this bow is done I hope its at least 30 pounds pull. A limb
bow is a good design to get started with. Since its a limb you found or harvested you’re
not wasteing an expensive stave. And since its just a limb you don’t have to kill a tree.
You might look where they are working on power lines or road right of ways. The crews
tend to leave piles of good stuff laying off the trail at times. Here in Arizona the
landscapers have lots of good useable wood and all you need do is ask. They take it to the
land fill or out in the desert anyway. I got my limb from a tree that was taken out of the
way for a road widening project. It had been on the pile for a few months and has been
seasoning for about a year. I hope to find some Ironwood (Olneya Tesota). This tree
grows very slow and lives a long time. The wood is so hard and dense that it won’t float.
Unfortunately Ironwood is getting very scarce and demands a high premium. There are
even reports of Ironwood poachers going out into the desert parks looking for all they
can steal. Ironwood makes very nice tool handles and the local indians used it for a
number of things. Some other desert trees are Mesquite, so popular with barbeque grillers
and Palo Verde. Mesquite wood is pretty tuff and has been used for making various tools
by the natives. As a plus it has edible pods and seeds. The Palo Verde is a light wood and
was used mostly for making cooking utensils by the local natives. The seeds of this tree
are edible too.
Sunday, March 13th 2005
11:52 AM

Springtime in the desert

We’ve had a lot of rain here in the Sonora desert this winter and it’s green every where.
The plants are so lush and growing very tall. Lots of wild edible and useful plants are to
be found quite easily. Heres a list of some that I’ve found: Chia (salvia columbariae)
Canaigre (rumex hymenosepalus) Tansy Mustard (descurainia sp.) India Mustard
(brassica juncea) Chickweed (Caryophyllaceae) as well as Mesquite,Acacia,Palo Verde
and several species of cacti. I’ve studied the native uses of local plants (ethnobotany) and
from the few I have found it seems there would be an abundance of food even in the
desert. This is true to some extent,but remember that the natives gathered and stored
different plant products while certain things were in season. Also the first traceable roots
of agriculture took place here in the southwest. In my neighborhood are the remains of
Agave plantations from the Hohokam people. These remains are very simple rock piles
and low walls made from rounded river cobbles. As for useful plants, the Agave’s and
Yucca’s provide fiber for cordage as well as basket,sandal and clothing materials. The
Agave was roated in a pit and used for food, as were certain species of Yucca. Yucca also
have edible fruit. The Mesquite,Acacia,Palo Verde,Ironwood and Creosote bush provide
wood for tools and building materials. The natives used cactus for food as well as tools.
The skeleton of the Saguaro has long ribs and these were used to make gathering sticks to
reach the fruits at the top of live Saguaros as well as other uses. As far as getting water
from cactus,there are several myths to be exploded. The Barrel cactus (ferocactus
wislizeni) and other species of barrel have a pulp inside which has been used. However
the water extracted from them leaves much to be desired. The amount of water is not
worth the trouble and it kills the cactus in the process,some barrels being close to 100
years old. The watery juice is usually very bitter and the common side effects are diarrhea
and vomiting, both of which can be fatal in a desert survival situation where water is at a
premium. Some indians cooked the pulp and flesh of barrel cactus and other species of
cacti for food. Most cactus fruit is edible and the seeds can be used to make mush,flour
and porridge. Some fruits have tiny spines on the outside and must be picked and
processed with special tools such as 2 sticks used like giant tweezers. These were
then processed by singeing with fire to remove the prickly little spines. The fruit of barrel
cactus is spine free and can be gathered by hand. Depending on the size of the fruit a
good quantity of seeds can be had.I have harvested as much as a cup of seeds from a
dozen fruit. The fruits are yellow when ripe and stay on the cactus for up to 2 years. The
rind is edible but very tart. It can be candied or added to salads for its flavor. The fruits of
the Prickly Pear and Saguaro are usually made into candy and jelly as well as being used
to make drinks. I hope you have enjoyed this little juant through the desert and there will
be more to come.

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