March 2023

Photo credit: Tammy Cobb
Location: White River Park, Lake Geneva, WI

Focus of the Month – Wilderness Survival

Reading Recommendations:
Non-fiction book – Extreme Wilderness Survival by Craig Caudill
Fiction book – Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

I’m not a “run off to the woods and live off the land forever” sort of prepper or survivalist. That said, I do feel it is wise to build up skills in wilderness survival, for a few different reasons. For starters, you never know what the future might bring. You might set out on a leisurely afternoon hike, but things go awry and you end up having to spend a night or three out in the field. It happens all the time.

On top of that, many wilderness skills can be put to use right in the backyard. Let’s say your home is damaged during a disaster and getting out to a motel isn’t feasible. You might have to rough it in the yard for a night or two.

Plus, it can be a lot of fun learning how to make fire, build shelters, and cook food without the use of modern conveniences. It for darn sure increases your self-confidence when it comes to survival.

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The non-fiction selection this month is Extreme Wilderness Survival by Craig Caudill. This is one of the best books on the market when it comes wilderness survival instruction. Caudill is a very experienced instructor and knows just how to present information in a way that’s easily digestible. Of course, book learning will only get you so far. It is essential that you get outside and get your hands dirty practicing these skills.

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Our novel this month is Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. This book has been around for a bit and some of you may be familiar with it already. Even if you are, though, it is absolutely worth another read. The story involves a young man named Brian whose plane crashes in the Canadian wilderness. His only tools for survival are his brain and a small hatchet his mother had gifted to him right before he left home. This is the first book in the Brian’s Saga series. The others are good, too, but I think this one is the best of them.

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March 7 – Making Fire

Fire is a valuable asset in many survival situations. It will keep you warm if you’re cold, dry you out if you’re wet, and boil water to make it safe to drink. It will cook food to make it more palatable, and it can be used to signal for help/rescue. On top of all of that, there’s a psychological component at work. Being able to make fire can give you a sense of control over the situation. You might be lost, you might be scared, but you can at least do this much, y’know?

There are three ingredients to a successful fire. This is sometimes referred to as the Fire Triangle.

If any of them are missing, the fire won’t light or continue burning.

Fire needs to breathe and this is the area where I see people fail most often. There’s a tendency to add too much fuel too quickly and end up smothering the budding fire. You have to let it have some air.

Fuel includes tinder, kindling, and larger branches and logs. Tinder should be dry and fluffy, easy to light with flame or spark. Kindling should be thin, ranging from pencil lead to pinky in diameter. Fuel continues up in size from there.

As a general rule of thumb, gather at least twice as much kindling and fuel as you think you’ll need, and do it before you light the fire. The last thing you want to happen is to run out of sticks and have the fire go out while you’re looking for more.

There are several types of fire lays, each with different uses. This article from The Art of Manliness is a good guide to the more common ones.

Best advice is to take it slow and not rush it. You need to have patience when it comes to making fire. Start easy, with a Bic lighter, some dryer lint, and a few sticks on a calm day in the backyard. Add more fuel slowly, giving the fire plenty of room to breathe. As you gain more experience and confidence, change things up by using other means of lighting the fire, such as a ferro rod, and testing other types of tinder, both manmade and natural.

As with any skill, practice makes perfect. Make a point of getting a fire going outside on a regular basis, at least a couple of times a month if possible. Look at inclement weather as a challenge, not a roadblock.