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72 Hour Survival – Part 2


There are two main ways of staying warm in the wilderness:

Number 1 – retain the heat that your body is already producing. Your body is a natural furnace.  It is producing a near constant 98.6 degrees of internal heat. If you prevent this heat from escaping, you will stay warm.

Number 2 – create an outside source of warmth (i.e. fire) that will replace any heat that radiates away from your body.

Your first layer of defense against heat loss is your clothing.  Dress in layers.  Polypropylene  long johns, a flannel shirt, wool pants, a wool sweater, a Gortex windbreaker, and Gortex wind pants for your body.  Cotton or nylon inner socks, wool outer socks, and sturdy boots or shoes for your feet.  Wool mittens for your hands, and don’t forget a hat.  40% of your body heat is radiated out through your head.  By dressing in layers, you can add or remove clothing to maintain a comfortable body temperature and avoid sweating which can cause chills.

Your second layer of defense is your reflective Mylar solar blanket.  Although it is very thin, the solar blanket will reflect your body’s heat back on itself and keep you warm.

Your third line of defense is to build a survival brush shelter.  A properly built shelter will keep you warm and dry in sub-freezing temperatures.


The survival brush shelter is built entirely of found materials.  No tools are necessary.

1. Find a long pole, about 10′, to use as a ridgepole.  Lay the ridgepole in the crotch of a tree or on a stout limb that is about 4′ off the ground.

2. Lean shorter poles against the ridgepole at a 45 degree angle to form a series of ribs.  The short poles should be about 6 to 8 inches apart.  Leave an opening about 2 to 2 1/2 feet wide at the high end of the structure for a door.

3. Cover the entire structure with a layer of boughs.  The purpose of the boughs is not to seal the shelter, but to provide a base on which you can pile leaves and needles.

4. Gather dead leaves, pine needles, dead grasses, and any other debris that you can find and pile one to two feet of this material over the entire structure.  If you are in the structure and can see any light coming through, you need more debris.

5. Gather more short poles and lay another layer of ribs on top of the debris.  This is to keep the debris from blowing off of the shelter in a storm

6. Fill the entire interior of the structure with clean, dry leaves and needles.  Burrow into the interior leaves and needles to sleep warm and dry.  The leaves that you are laying on will compress, so make sure that you have at least 6 to 8 inches of compressed materials between you and the ground.


Fire is a powerful psychological tool against the despair of being lost in the wilderness.  Fire can keep you warm in cold weather.  Fire can be used to signal for help.  For all of these reasons it is important to be able to build a fire.  There are four main elements to a fire.  they are: (1) tinder to catch the initiaal spark, (2) kindling to catch the flames of the tinder, (3) fuel which is the larger logs that will produce the heat that you are seeking, and (4) an ignition system   to get the whole fire process started.   Of course all of these materials must be laid out in the proper way in order to insure a successful fire.  Here’s how to build a fire:

1.  Gather tinder.  Very dry dead grass, very dry dead leaves, very dry dead pine needles, and shredded cedar bark all make good tinder.  Shredded paper, an old bird nest or mouse nest, and your emergency fire starter can also be used.  Pitch pine is an excellent tinder.  Look for a dead and fallen pine tree.  Check the rotted stump. It may have a hard, golden brown center.  If it is pitch pine it will have a strong turpentine smell.  Pitch pine will light and burn in the wettest weather.  When your tinder is gathered and prepared, lay it on the ground preferably on top of a piece of dead tree bark.  This will keep the tinder from absorbing moisture from the ground.

2. Gather kindling.  Kindling wood must be dead and dry.  One good source of small kindling is “squaw wood”.  Squaw wood is found on standing live trees. Squaw wood is the small lower branches that have died, but not yet fallen off of the tree.  Squaw wood will generally be dry even in a rainstorm.  If the wood doesn’t snap when broken from the tree, it is not dry enough.  Small kindling should be toothpick size.  Medium kindling is pencil thickness up to little finger thickness.  Large kindling is about an inch in diameter.  take your smallest kindling and lay it in a cone or pyramid shape on top of your tinder pile.  Leave a small opening where you can light the tinder when the time comes.  Continue laying kindling onto the pyramid with each layer of kindling increasing in size.

3. Gather fuel.  It will take a lot more fuel than you think to keep a fire going all night.  Fuel logs should be dry, dead wood, 2 to 4 inches in diameter.  Hardwood (oak, hickory, ash, elm, etc,) is the best, but anything will do in a pinch.  Lean 5 or 6 small fuel logs against your pyramid.

4. It is now time to light the fire.  Reach in with your match or lighter and ignite the tinder.  It is best to light the fire on the side from which the wind is blowing.  You may want to blow gently into the center of the initial blaze to feed oxygen to the fire.  If you have done a good job, flames will spread throughout the materials and you will have a good fire.

Improve the warming efficiency of your fire by building a reflector in back of it.  An 18 inch tall wall of rocks or green logs in back of the fire will reflect more of the heat towards you.  Conserve your fuel by keeping the fire relatively small.  Remember the old Indian adage, “A White man builds a big fire and stands back; an Indian builds a small fire and sits close.”



72 Hour Survival

The next few posts will be a reprint of a small booklet that I wrote to use in wilderness survival classes.  This booklet outlines the things that you need to do to keep from getting into a survival situation to begin with, but if the worst happens it tells you the things that you need to do to survive for the first 72 hours and the things that you need to do to aid your rescuers in finding you.


The first 72 hours after becoming lost in the wilderness are the most critical hours.  This is the time period in which the search for a missing person will be the most intense and the most resources will be brought to bare.  If the lost person can survive for these 72 hours and render some aid to the searchers, the chances of a successful rescue are high.  The purpose of this booklet is to help you, the victim, survive those all-important first 72 hours, and to provide strategies for you to help your rescuers locate you in the wilderness.


1. Always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back.  Always contact this person on your return to let them know that you have made it back safely.

2. Always hunt, fish, hike, or camp with at least one partner; Two partners are better.   With three people, if an injury occurs, one person can stay with the injured party while the third person goes for help.

3. Always carry a compass and a map of the area that you will be in.  Learn how to use map and compass before you go into the wilderness.

4. Always take a compass reading before you leave the trailhead.

5. Always leave yourself plenty of time to return from the wilderness.  Don’t get caught unprepared by the sunset.

6.  If you have a cell phone, make sure that it is fully charged and take it with you.  Even if it doesn’t work in the wilderness; you may need it to call for assistance when you get in range of a cell tower.

7. If you have a GPS unit, be sure that you know how to operate it before you go into the wilderness.


At a bare minimum always take the following with you into the wilderness.

1. Leatherman tool or Swiss Army Knife

2. matches or cigarette lighter

3. whistle

4. compass

5. relfective Mylar solar blanket

6. quart canteen or water bottle filled with fresh water

7. small bottle of insect repellant (according to season)

8. small bottle of sun screen (according to season)

Better yet, take all of the above plus a wilderness survival kit equipped with the following:

1. small mirror

2. magnifying glass

3. 15′ of small gauge snare wire

4. small bottle of water purification tablets

5. 1 quart zip-lock freezer bag (for emergency canteen)

6. 2 needles

7. a pair of tweezers

8. 3 Band-Aids

9. 6 Tylenol tablets

10. 2 Benadryl tablets

11. 6 small fishhooks

12. 6 split shot fishing weights

13. 20′ of monofilament fishing line

14. another cigarette lighter or waterproof matches

15. a candle stub or emergency fire starter.


A human can survive approximately 3 minutes without oxygen

A human can survive loss of body heat for approximately 3 hours

A human can survive approximately 3 days without water

A human can survive approximately 3 weeks without food.


STOP!  Sit down in a comfortable place, take a long drink of water, and breath deeply through your nose.  This will help fight off the panic that sometimes occurs when we find ourselves lost or disoriented.  Analyze your situation.  Stay where you are.  It will be easier for rescuers to find you if you are not on the move.  Take a compass reading.  Just knowing where north, south, east, and west are is a powerful psychological boost to a disoriented person.  How late in the day is it?  Will you be in the woods overnight?  Now think about the rule of three.  You have oxygen to breath, so you don’t have to worry about that.  You can survive without food for 3 weeks, so that’s not a problem.  You should have a near full canteen or water bottle, so dehydration is not an immediate threat.  Your main concern, if night is approaching, is to avoid the loss of your body’s core heat.  Loss of core body heat, called hypothermia   is  the most common cause of death for those who are lost in the wilderness.  If you are exhausted, if you are wet, and if the wind is blowing; you can become hypothermic when the air temperature is as high as 55 degrees Fahrenheit.  So let’s take care of the body heat problem first.




Make Homemade Muscle Rub from Wild Horsemint Leaves

Horsemint (Monarda punctata L.) is a wild mint that grows in East Texas and much of the rest of the eastern United States.  It has a pretty purple flower and a strong medicinal odor.  Pictured below:  Wild horsemint

My old survival mentor, who taught me so much about the wild plants of East Texas, told me to never drink horsemint tea; that it is much too strong.  If you smell a batch of this “tea” brewing, believe me, you won’t be tempted to drink it.  But he did show me how to make a good muscle rub, kind of a survivalist Ben-Gay ointment, out of horsemint.  Here’s how you do it.

Gather a couple of handfuls of horsemint leaves.

Bring about two cups of water to a boil, drop in the horsemint leaves, turn off the stove, cover the pot, and let the leaves steep for about fifteen minutes.

While the horsemint is steeping, take a cup of vegetable shortening or lard and melt it in a small cook pot over a low flame.  Don’t overheat the shortening.  Just warm it until it melts.

When your horsemint “tea” has brewed pour a half cup of it through a tea strainer into the melted shortening.

Stir the two together and then set aside to let it cool.  The tea and the shortening will separate as they cool, but that’s OK.  The oil in the horse mint, which is the active ingredient, will mix into the shortening.  Take a fork and kind of whip the mixture together.  It should be about the consistency of thin yogurt.

Now pour the mixture off into a jar a put a lid on it.

If you have sore muscles just take your liniment jar, shake it up to mix it back together, and rub a little liniment onto your muscles to help ease the pain.  Be forewarned that this is pretty greasy; not like the stuff that you buy at the store, so use it sparingly.

Pocket Pistol Comparison Test

In this post I’m going to make a side-by-side comparison of three pocket pistols; a vintage Iver Johnson revolver in .32 S&W, a Raven .25 auto-loader, and a Ruger LCP in .380.  All of these firearms are very small in size, hence the term pocket pistol.  Let me say from the start that I am no fan of pocket pistols.  For home defense my choice is a shotgun.  For a vehicle carry weapon my choice is a hand gun of at least 9mm with a long enough barrel to give a good sight plane.  But with that being said, I can conceive of some instances where a pocket pistol might be called for.  Many law enforcement officers carry a small pistol as a back-up weapon, and I can think of instances where a lady might like to have one in her purse, but in general I don’t think that there’s much place for these guns.  Pictured below: on the top an Iver Johnson chambered for .32 S&W, bottom left a Raven .25 auto, and bottom right a Ruger LCP chambered for .380 auto.

I see three main drawbacks to the pocket pistol: (1) they usually have a very short barrel and hence are very inaccurate over any distance, (2) they generally fire a fairly small caliber round (in Texas it is illegal to carry anything smaller than .380 as a concealed weapon), and (3) the workmanship on most (but not all) pocket pistols is generally pretty poor.

Now, why would anyone carry a pocket pistol?  Well, I think that the obvious answer is that they feel like they may need it to protect their life.  So, if your life may depend on it, don’t you think that it makes sense to carry the most accurate and reliable pocket pistol that you can find?

So let’s run these three pocket pistols through a few tests and see what the results are.  We are going to do four tests. First we will test for accuracy by firing five rounds with aimed fire and with the first round already chambered.  Since pocket pistols are intended for very short range use, we will do our shooting from twelve feet.  We will then test for accuracy from the same range but this time we will start with the pistol loaded for safe carry, then ready the pistol and fire three rounds in five seconds.  We will test for reliability by running three magazines of ammo through each pistol.  And finally we will test for power by measuring the penetration of each round into a phone book from ten feet.

Test 1 – Five Rounds Slow Fire

The targets pictured below show the results of the slow, aimed fire test.  On these targets the center bull is 10 points, the next ring out is 7 points, the next ring 5 points, and the outside ring is 3 points. The Ruger and the Raven fired comparable groups.  Both had two in the 10 ring, two in the 7 ring out and one in the 5 ring.  The Raven shot a little tighter group which was a real surprise to me.  The Iver Johnson was only a little less accurate with one 10, three 7’s, and one 5.

Test 2 – Three Rounds in Five Seconds from Safe Carry

Safe carry is different on all three of these firearms.  The Ruger holds six rounds in the magazine.  It has no safety and always has the hammer down.  Every shot is double action with this pistol, so it is safe to carry with a round in the chamber. But the long double action pull is a little disconcerting.  I have to admit that it is a smooth pull, but it is just not what I expect to feel with an auto loader.

The Raven holds six rounds in the magazine.  It has a safety but I would only feel comfortable carrying it with an empty chamber.  This means chambering a round before the first shot.  Not something I would want to have to do in a hot situation.

The Iver Johnson, being a revolver is probably safe to carry with the hammer down on a round, but I just can’t do this with a revolver.  I always carry a revolver with the hammer down on an empty chamber.  Just an old habit, but it is deeply ingrained in my shooting habits.  Since the I J only holds five rounds, this is a severe limitation as far as fire power goes.  An empty chamber under the hammer means that you only have four rounds to use. 

The Ruger and the Iver Johnson were virtually tied in this test.  The Ruger shot a 10 and two fives for a total of 20 points.  The Iver Johnson fired a 10, a 3, and a 7 for a total of 20 points.  The Raven was out of it on this test, firing only two 5’s.  Time expired before the third round could be fired.  The problem was that the Raven put itself on safety after ejecting the second round.  This occurred several times in the course of firing this weapon.  I don’t know if it is just this particular gun or if this is a problem with Ravens in general, but it is a definite deal breaker if this firearm is intended for self defense.

Test 3 – Penetration

For this test we fired a round from each handgun into two telephone books that were taped together and counted the number of pages that each slug penetrated.

Big surprise!!  The Raven .25 had the best penetration.  Not by much, but it did win this one.

The Ruger .380 penetrated 1342 pages.  The jacketed slug was slightly flattened on one side of the nose.  Needless to say, the greater mass of this slug did more damage than the .25, and the friction generated by the larger slug is probably why there was a little less penetration than the smaller .25.

The Raven .25 penetrated 1375 pages.  Its jacketed slug was pristine.  No expansion at all, and hence not as much damage.

All I had for the Iver Johnson .32 were unjacketed rounds.  It only penetrated 623 pages; less than half of the other two firearms. As you can see in the picture below, the slug was mashed in all along one side.  The heavy, unjacketed slug sitting on top of a relatively light powder charge greatly reduced the penetration of this round; but, here again, shock would be much greater than the .25. Pictured below: On the left is the .380 slug, .25 is in the center, and the .32 S&W on the right.

The Ruger and the Iver Johnson had no problems cycling rounds.  The Raven, on the other hand, put itself on safety two different times while we were running rounds through it.  Not a good thing.

I guess, on the whole, the Ruger came out on top in this little comparison.  It’s a good little gun with only a couple of drawbacks.  It is so light that the recoil of the .380 feels pretty extreme.  Don’t buy one of these for your wife unless she is used to managing recoil.  Also, I am told by two different owners that breaking the Ruger down for cleaning and then re-assembling it is not an easy task.  Pictured below: Ruger LCP .380

The Raven is fun to shoot, and it is surprisingly accurate, but if the “unintentional going onto safety” problem can not be solved in my shop then this will never be a gun that I carry.  Pictured below: Raven .25 auto

The Iver Johnson is a fun little gun, but it has low magazine capacity and the ammo is expensive and hard to find.  I think I’ll leave this one on the wall.  Pictured below: Iver Johnson .32

Truth be told, if I am going to depend on a handgun to save my life, I’m going to carry my Taurus PT-92 9mm.  It’s not that much larger than a pocket gun, it holds 15 rounds, it has tremendous knock-down power, and it has never misfired.  These are all a good trade-off for the little extra weight and size as far as I’m concerned, but that’s just me.  Pictured below: Pocket pistols compared to Taurus PT-92 9mm


Finishing Out the Pack Basket

So, let’s finish out this pack basket and try it on for size.

First I take the finished pack straps and punch a hole in each end.  A thong of wet rawhide is used to tie the top of the straps to the pack frame.

On the bottom of the straps I twist up some brain tanned elk hide and insert it through the hole.

This can then be tied to the bottom of the pack frame to make the straps fit as tight as I need them.

I add a couple of brain tanned thongs on the bottom of the basket so that I can tie my bedroll to the bottom.

The last thing is to twist up about ten feet of yucca cordage that I can use to lash my gear into the pack.

And here’s the finished product.  My tarp and a canvas bag with all my gear are lashed into the basket, my bedroll is tied on to the bottom of the pack, and the straps are adjusted for a comfortable fit.  Ready to head for the woods.

How to Sew with Real Sinew

Many hobbyists and re-enactors use artificial sinew (waxed Dacron) to sew together bags, clothing, and other items.  It’s hard to tell the difference between artificial sinew and real sinew after the sewing is done, and the artificial stuff is sure more convenient to work with; but this is a blog about survival and primitive skills, and you don’t find waxed Dacron in the wilds.  So in this post I’m going to show you how to sew with real sinew.  The project I’m working on here is a set of straps for the pack basket that we made in the last post.  By the way, if you try this kind of sewing you will gain a quick understanding of why things like steel awls, metal sewing needles, and linen thread were such popular trade items with the Native Americans.

The Pack Straps

We could just twist up some rawhide or yucca fibers into large cordage to make our pack straps, but I know from experience that narrow straps are tough on the shoulders.  I’m going to make some straps for my pack basket out of brain tanned elk hide, with the finished straps being about an inch and three quarters wide.  Straps this wide that are made from a double layer of soft leather will be a lot easier on the shoulders.  Here’s the procedure:

First cut the straps about three and half inches wide, then fold them in half lengthwise.  This will give a double layer of leather and a finished strap that is about one and three-quarters inch wide.

Now it’s time to prepare the sinew.  You want the longest sinew possible so that you don’t have to constantly be tying off an old thread and starting a new one.  In this case we will use an elk loin sinew.  This will give us sinew threads that are about two feet long.  Pictured below: Elk loin sinew with dollar bill to show scale When you first strip off a thread of sinew it will be kind of fuzzy and rough.  Pictured below: Freshly stripped sinew thread

Run the sinew through your mouth and moisten it with saliva.  This will soften the sinew and smooth it out.  Set the sinew aside to dry for a minute.  Pictured below: Moisten and dried sinew thread

When you have your sinew prepared, it’s time to take your awl and start punching holes in the leather.  It’s a waste of time to punch more than two or three holes at a time.  The holes in the leather will shrink back up and make it hard to thread the sinew through, so it’s easier to punch the holes as you go.  Pictured below: top, leather awl made from a sharpened nail and hammer stone; bottom, using a awl and stone to punch holes in the leather

You don’t need a needle to sew with sinew.  Just leave the first inch or two of the sinew dry and stiff and that will serve as your needle.  Pictured below: Dried sinew “needle”

Chew lightly on the rest of the sinew to soften it and then tie a double knot in the tail end of the sinew.  Pictured below: top, chewing sinew: bottom, knot in the tail end of the sinew

Start sewing by running the sinew up from the inside through one layer of the leather.  This will hide your knot in between the layers.  Go to the second set of holes and sew down through both of them, then back to the first holes and up through both of them, then once again down through the second set of holes.  This makes your first stitch a double stitch with the knot hidden between the layers of leather.

Now you can start punching and stitching down the length of the strap.  Pictured below:  Sinew “needle” sticking through pre-punched holes in leather

When you run out of sinew, you will have to start a new piece.  I have never found any definitive information on how this is done, so I have tried several different methods.  I tried twisting the new sinew and the old together.  Didn’t work.  The wet sinew would pull apart.  I tried tying the new sinew to the old.  Didn’t work.  Again, the wet sinew would slide out of the knot.  If I let it dry first, the knot would be hard to pull through the holes, and you never knew if the knot was going to end up showing on the outside of a stitch.  So, this is what I came up with.  I don’t know if it’s historically accurate, but it works for me.  First I tie a knot in the old sinew so that the knot will be in between the layers of leather.

Then I take my new thread, knot it, back up one hole and start the thread so that the knot is in between the layers of leather.

I then continue my sewing.


When you get to the end of your sewing, do a double stitch pulling the thread out between the layers of leather.

Tie a knot in the sinew.

Cut off the excess, and use the point of your awl to push the knot back up between the layers of leather.

You should now have a nicely stitched piece of work with no visible knots. Pictured below: top, row of stitching; bottom, the finished pack strap.

In my next post we will attach the straps to our pack basket, and finish the basket out.

Make a Rawhide Pack Basket

This is a primitive skill that my old survival mentor taught me.  He said that was how some Native Americans made their pack baskets.  I’ve never seen one in a museum and I can’t find any documentation on the internet, but it does make a dandy pack; very light-weight, very strong, and comfortable to carry.  This would make a good trekking pack if you are a buckskinner, longhunter, or mountain man re-enactor.

The basic parts of the pack are two wooden hoops with rawhide netting made like the target hoop from my last post, and one wooden hoop without netting.  Of the two netted hoops, one should be pretty near round and the other should be more oval shaped.  The un-netted hoop should be oval shaped.  Pictured below:  The basic parts of the pack basket

To assemble the pack, take some wet rawhide and lash the two netted hoops together as shown below.

Now take the un-netted hoop and lash it to the two netted hoops as shown below, then set the whole thing aside and let it dry overnight.

When the pack has dried out take some more wet rawhide and net in the sides of the pack.  To do this you follow the same basic procedure that you use to net the hoops.  Pictured below:  One side of the pack basket netted in (the other side is secured with a rawhide thong to keep the drying rawhide from pulling the basket lopsided) Net in the other side and let it all dry.  You may want to add a twisted rawhide handle to the top of the pack basket to make it easier to pick up.  And here’s your finished pack basket:

Now we need some straps for the pack.  In my next post I will show you how to make a set of pack straps that are sewn together with real sinew using the old-time method of sewing.


Make a Target Hoop for Archery Practice

This is a fun project all on its own, but it is also the first step in making a primitive backpack.  After we have made a target hoop I will do a post on how to take two of them and turn them in to a very effective backpack.

Target hoops were used by Native-American boys to practice their hunting skills.  The hoops were rolled across the ground or tossed up into the air, and the boys would try to shoot an arrow through the hoop.  The target hoop is basically a hoop made of wood with a rawhide netting woven into it.  It looks very much like what most people know as a dream catcher.  Pictured below: Dream catcher and target hoop, look a lot alike don’t they? 

Since I have never seen any historical documentation of dream catchers prior to 1900, I have often wondered if some white man didn’t see a target hoop hanging in a teepee somewhere and when he asked what it was he was spun some yarn about how it was there to catch bad dreams.  Who knows?  Anyway, this is how you make a target hoop.

First we’ll make the wooden hoop.  For this we will need a nice flexible sapling.  Willow was commonly used for this purpose, but any kind of sapling will do.  Since we are going to eventually turn this into a pack, we will make our hoop a little larger than the traditional ten or twelve inch target hoop.  Cut a sapling that is about as big around as your index finger at the base and about five feet long.  This will give you enough length to make a hoop that is about sixteen inches in diameter with a foot of overlap.   You can leave the bark on or take it off.  Since I’m going to keep this one for a while I’m going to go ahead and take the bark off.  While the sapling is still green and flexible, go ahead and bend it into a hoop and tie it off.  If you have time to let it dry for a few days, that’s good; but it’s not totally necessary.  Pictured below:  Pealed sapling tied into a hoop

Now we need to weave in the netting.  You can make the netting out of store-bought cordage or hand-made cordage, but the traditional material was rawhide.  I like to use rawhide because it is very strong, and since it shrinks as it dries, it makes a nice tight hoop.  Check my post of 12/19/2011  for information on how to make rawhide.  Pictured below:  Rawhide that is being cut into a long thong.  Notice how I spiral around the edge to get the maximum length out of a relatively small piece of hide

To begin the netting tie one end of your rawhide lace to the hoop and then make a series of fairly tight loops all the way around the hoop.  When you get back to where you started wrapping, drop down and keep going.  You will be creating a series of diamond shapes as you continue lacing.  The series of pictures below will show you how to lace the rawhide better than I can tell you with words.

First course close-up


First course finished


Second course close-up


Second course finished


Four courses finished

As you continue spiraling around you will notice that the diamonds get smaller and smaller.  When the diamonds get to small you can do a row where you lace the thong through every other diamond.  Then go back to lacing every diamond.  Pictured below: On this row I am skipping every other diamond

When you get to the middle of the hoop, tie the thong off, and set the whole thing aside to dry over night.  Pictured below: Finished target hoop

If you are going to make a backpack, go ahead and make a second target hoop the same as the first one, but make the second hoop a little more oval in shape.  Pictured below: Two finished hoops that we will use to make our back-pack



Make a Honeysuckle Basket

Very, very seldom is anyone ever caught in a long-term survival situation.  A Robinson Crusoe scenario you might call it.  Most rescues of individuals lost in the wilderness occur within seventy-two hours.  So being able to make storage containers or gathering baskets is not a really important survival skill.  It might be a fairly important skill in a post apocalyptic world where isolated communities might have to provide everything, including containers, for themselves.  At any rate, basket making is a fun and relaxing skill and it does have some usefulness around the homestead.  A nice basket is handy when harvesting produce from the garden or if you are out gathering wild berries or fruits.  So let’s learn how to make a simple basket.

Basket making is one of man’s oldest household skills.  Baskets were manufactured for thousands of years before the development of ceramic pottery making.  Some cultures took basket making to such a level that they could actually weave watertight baskets.  I certainly don’t have anywhere close to that level of skill, but I can weave simple baskets to use for gathering and storage; and one of the simplest types of baskets to make is the woven honeysuckle basket.  Give this skill a try and you will probably find it fun and easy to do.

First you will need to gather the raw materials.  Honeysuckle is easily recognizable by the small white flowers that grow all over the vines in the spring.  Every kid I know of has pulled these flowers to suck the sweet nectar out of them.  Don’t worry about sending honeysuckle into extinction by pulling down the vines.  I have been pulling them for thirty years on my farm and, if anything, there are more of them now than there were thirty years ago  I gather vines of all sizes and sort them according to diameter after I clean them.  Pictured below: Honeysuckle vines

After you have gathered a bunch of vines, you want to run your hands down them to strip of the leaves and flowers.  If the vines fork or have side shoot can cut these off and save them to use also.  After I have a long vine cleaned I generally roll it up into a coil and set it aside to dry.  If you try to use the vines when they are too green, they may snap due to the pressure of internal fluids.  You can use green vines; you just have to be extra careful. Pictured below: Cleaned and coiled vines

If you want to remove the bark from the vines you can peel it off pretty easily from the fresh cut vines.  If the bark has already set you can toss the vines into a big pot of boiling water and boil them from about ten minutes.  Take them out, let them cool, and most of the bark will peal off easily.

The dried and coiled honeysuckle vines will keep for years, so you may use them at anytime.  Before you use the vines it is a good idea to soak them in water for a couple of hours so they will be pliable.  Pictured below: Vines soaking in water

Now take your freshly soaked vines and let’s start on our basket.  We’re going to make a gathering basket that is about ten inches across at the top and eight or ten inches deep.  The first thing that we need to do is lay out the ribs (called “warps” in basket making) of the basket.  You will need to select some of the larger and straighter pieces for the warps.  These should be from 3/8 to 1/4 inch in diameter.  You will need three pieces that are about 30 inches long and one piece that is about 18 inches long.  You see, to make a woven basket you need an odd number of warps (in this case we’ll have seven).  If you have an even number of warps you will end up going over and under the same warp with each layer of your weft (this is the vine that you weave around and around the basket).  This sounds a little confusing, but you’ll see right away what I’m talking about.

Take the three longest warps and lay them down crossed in the center.  Take the short warp and lay it down in the “V” formed by two of the long warps.  Lay the short warp so that it has about 15 inches on one side of the crossed warps and about 3 inches on the other side.

Now take a piece of string or a strip of yucca fiber and tie all of the warps together in the center.  Wrap the string around so that it keeps the warps spread out in an even spoke-like pattern.  Pictured below: top, Warps tied together; bottom, close-up of warps tied together

Now we can start weaving in our weft.  Select the longest piece of honeysuckle that you have and start your weaving where the warps cross.  Push the weft down under one warp and then take it over the next warp.  Go under the next warp and over the next warp.  Continue weaving around and around the basket.  Notice that because of the odd number of warps that your weft will go under a warp one time and then over the same warp the next time around.  Keep your weft pushed in tight to the layer below it so that you don’t have gaps in the wall of the basket.  Pictured below: Weft woven around warps

When you’ve worked your weft out about two inches it is time to add in six more warps before we start turning up the sides of the basket.  To do this you will need six more pieces of honeysuckle that are about fifteen inches long.  Push one of the new warps in between each of the existing warps except for one.  Remember, you need an odd number of warps so that the weft goes over a warp one time and under it the next.  It’s a little tricky to keep the new warps in place as you start working the weft around, but after you’ve made a couple of passes they will stay in place just fine.  Pictured below: New warps pushed into place

Since we are making a bowl shaped basket we don’t have to make any sharp turns with the warps.  Just bend them up gradually as you work and the rising weft will hold them in place.  When your weft runs out just let it end so that it is in back of a warp (inside the basket), back up about two warps, and start a new weft.  Continue weaving the weft until the basket is as tall as you want it.  Pictured below: top, turning up the sides of the basket; bottom, finished weaving and ready to finish out the rim

When you have the basket completed to the height that you want, it is time to finish out the top.  To finish the top you will need to trim off the excess portion of the warps and bend the warps down to insert them into the holes next to other warps (this will become more clear in a moment).  The point is that we are going to be bending the warps rather sharply, and since they are pretty dry at this point, the may snap.  To prevent the warps from breaking, it is a good idea to soak the basket in water for an hour to make sure that the warps are soft and pliable.

Now that the warps are soft and pliable we can finish out the top.  Select any warp (we’ll call this warp A) and bend it over to the right.  Pass it in front of the warp that is just to its right (we’ll call this warp B) and pass it in back of the next warp (we’ll call this warp C).  If you’re making a basket without a handle continue weaving down the warps all the way around the basket until you get to the last two.  Since there are no warps left to weave these last two in back of, you just bend these down and insert them down into the holes of the warps next to them.  Pictured below: Close-up of rim showing how the rim looks after weaving down the warps

If you want to make a handle, leave two warps that are on opposite sides of the basket standing up.  Weave the rest of the warps down as above.  Now take the two standing warps and bend them down toward each other.  Insert the ends of these two warps down into the hole next to their opposites.  You should now have a handle of two warps that lay side-by-side.

Now take a long vine and shove one end of it through the side of the basket just below the rim and right next to the handle.  Pull half of this vine through the basket wall and then fold it together.  You should now have a double vine that is secured beneath the rim.  Take this vine and spiral it tightly around the handle until you get to the opposite side of the basket.  Poke the ends of the doubled vine down into the holes next to the handle warp.  Shove them down pretty far so that they will stay in place.  Pictured below: Completed basket with handle

You’ve now completed a simple woven, honeysuckle basket.  Time to go out and gather some wild berries.



When It Comes to Survival, Don’t be a Purist

When I’m doing wilderness survival projects, I usually try to do them as if I have no tools other than my pocket knife and no raw materials other than what I can forage in the wilderness.  I do this so I can master skills in a worst case scenario; sort of a “naked into the wilderness” mind-set.  But, trust me, if I ever find myself in a true survival situation; I will use anything and everything that I can find to survive.

Jesus said that “the poor shall be with ye always.”  He could have easily said that “trash shall be with ye always.”  There is hardly a place left in the world where man has not left his debris.  I recently read that they were having a clean-up day on Mount Everest to clear away all of the trash and discarded oxygen bottles that climbers have left on the mountain.  Mount Everest for Pete’s sake!!!!  If the top of Mount Everest is trashed out, what part of the world is free from liter?

What I’m getting at is that even though you are lost in the wilderness you will probably come across items that have been discarded by other humans.  If you find something that you can use to help you survive, use it.  Let me give you an example.  This wasn’t really a survival situation, but it will illustrate my point.  A friend and I were back-packing in Colorado some years back.  We had brought plenty of food with us, but we hadn’t brought any fishing gear.  We were up in the mountains about twenty miles from the closest town, and we were hiking along next to a beautiful mountain stream.  The stream was teaming with trout, and we were sick of freeze-dried food, but as stated earlier we had no fishing gear.  Jim knew that where there were trout, there had to have been trout fishermen, and sure enough, in no time he found some broken and discarded fishing line that still had a hook on it.  Jim turned over a rotten log, located a few grubs, and using his scavenged equipment as a hand line caught three nice trout.  Trout for dinner thanks to someone else’s trash.

Here are just a few examples of how you can turn trash into valuable survival equipment:

Beer Bottles

Here I’ve carved a wooden stopper, attached a piece of yucca cordage, and made a very handy survival canteen out of a discarded beer bottle.

The bottom of a broken beer bottle can be used to make an effective arrow point.

Broken glass can also be used for skinning game, or it can be used as a scraper for making arrows and etc.

Plastic Bottles

Plastic bottles can be used to store and transport water.  Two-liter bottles can be turned into effective minnow traps.

Old Cans

An old can and a piece of rusty wire can make a serviceable cook pot.  You can boil water in a can to purify it for drinking or use the can as a container when gathering wild edibles.  

Remove the pull tab from an aluminum drink can and attach a fishhook to it to make an artificial lure.


Much has been made of using an old CD for a signal mirror to signal aircraft.  This can be done, but a CD is far less efficient than a mirror.  Never the less, a CD is far better than nothing at all.  Pictured below: top, a CD and a real mirror; bottom, the light that they produce when shone on the side of a house fifty feet away.  CD flash is on the left, Mirror flash on the right.

Plastic Bags

hese things are everywhere.  When I go canoeing I see them draped in trees where the high water has left them.  Plastic bags can be used hold wild plants as you gather them. If there is a chance of rain, you can gather dry fire tinder and store it in a plastic bag to keep it dry.  A plastic bag makes a good emergency rain hat.  Fashion a hood out of a plastic bag to help cut the wind and retain heat that radiates off of your head.  Plastic bags stuffed with cattail down or shredded cedar bark can be worn over the hands as emergency mittens to prevent frostbite.  A large plastic bag can be used as a poncho, a ground cloth, or an emergency tarp.  A plastic bad can be sealed over the live foliage of a tree limb to act as a mini-solar still for collecting water.  Please note that you don’t get much water from one of these, so ties on as many as you can find. Plastic grocery bags can be twisted up into light-duty cordage.  Pictured below: Four feet of cordage made from one grocery bag 

Remember, your mind is your most important survival tool.  Learn to think outside the box, and use anything that you can find, natural or man-made, to help you survive.