British Bushcraft Adventure
By R. Jacob Herman
USA – -(AmmoLand.com)- When our French and English and Swedish ancestors first came to this land we call America, they were in search of Gold, God, and land. Those men, the hard ones, the ones who shaped our culture, hunted the same forests that the Cherokee did in search of meat to live and fur that could be traded.
The Overmountain men roamed the Appalachians, and down into the fertile Cherokee hunting grounds. They used what we call bushcraft skills to survive. Making shelter, making a fire in adverse conditions, eating wild game, and being able to be at home in the forest generally. Those skills were brought from those that crossed the big forests of Scandinavia, poached to support their families on land owned by the King, or learned during years of warfare on the continent.
Some of the best bushcrafters that I have met are our cousins across the pond in England.
There has been a resurgence in bushcraft skills going on for many years in the UK, and with the Youtube, we have been able to learn what they know on our side of the ocean. Fortunately, the English also don’t feel the need to wear buckskins and pretend we are in a time machine. My interest in bushcraft started via Youtube when I decided that I wanted a new hatchet — having misplaced my previous desk hatchet. I begin searching and found some reviews of small axes and hatchets from Europe. One thing led to another, and six months later I had signed up for a bushcraft course with Mike McQuilton of MCQ Bushcraft in the Lakes District of England. Having no idea how to get to the Lakes District, I enlisted my friend Claire Sadler who runs a blog called Gracing the Field, and happens to be a world-class wingshooter to go with me. I met Claire and her best friend Victoria of Chelsea Bun and Shotgun Club fame while pheasant hunting in Kansas.
There is a very short list of required equipment for this bushcraft course and I knew I could source most of it in England. I did take my new tiny Mora Eldris and a Mission Knives CSP-A2 survival knife designed by Chance Sanders. I was doing some hunting in England as well and wanted to pack really light. My basic kit included a bright orange north face jacket, a fleece, my well used Keen sandals and some shorts I picked up on Safari in Africa. I would rather be cold, than wearing long wet pants. I stuffed all my goodies in my super light Osprey 30 liter pack and off I went.
The Lakes District in England is like something out of a story book. Lush and green and fairly steep inclines were rising off the valley floors. The difference between the densely populated southern end of the country and the sparsely populated Lakes District is drastic. We met in a car park ( a parking lot for us Yanks), and everyone introduced themselves. I was the only American! One interesting fact is that I had brought a couple of knives, as I mentioned. I had the CSP-2 attached to my belt when I got out of the car. Everyone else asked permission if it was ok to have their knife. I find the British views on authority very interesting. Over the past several years, after the Liberal progressives made owning a gun very difficult they started cracking down on knives. Now people are afraid they may offend someone if they have a knife.
I felt strange for not wearing a pistol, and these people felt weird wearing a knife on a camping trip. Watching a subjugated people lose their rights is heartbreaking.
Mike led us on a small hike to the top of a nearby ridge. This is where he and Nigel from TrekTippi ( the company actually hosting Mike) had built a bushcraft basecamp for teaching students. The basecamp consisted of two large shelter tarps — one for classroom instruction and the other for cooking and eating. The tarps themselves were about the size of an equipment parachute with plenty of room for 10 or so people underneath. There was also a large stock of logs both to sit on, burn, and use for projects. I enjoyed that we were there to learn actual skills and not spend time gathering firewood. Too many instructors focus on “character building” and not enough on skills.
After initial introductions, we all went through our backgrounds. There was some experienced outdoorsman, and then there were people that had never been camping before. One guy was a shoe buyer for a major online retailer, and he literally was testing product in the field. Claire and I were on the upper end, along with a guy who bushcrafted for several years. Claire and I were the only hunters in the group. I was the only person that regularly carried a pistol on my person and found it weird that no one in the group was armed with a firearm.
Bushcraft in the UK is a bit different from the US. In the US, it seems that most instructors want to live off the land entirely, embracing a more sustenance approach. Some were going so far as wearing buckskins and moccasins. I have found this to be really labor intensive and at the end of the day uncomfortable. No matter how many pine needles you pile up, it is no replacement for a good ground pad. This is what drew me to Mike and his youtube channel. He blends new and old. His knives use the highest tech steel available, but he uses a ferrocerium rod to build a fire. He also had us bring along sleeping bags. I was thankful we weren’t going to be sleeping on the hard ground or on pine boughs. Mike supplied tarps and rope for shelter building. There was no hootch made of leaves on this trip. The idea was to be comfortable outside.
Since most of England no longer carries a knife on a daily basis, we started with knife handling and safety. Much like a beginner pistol course in the US. Mike went over basic carving techniques. Some I had used but some I had not. I really enjoyed the building block approach Mike took, and it was very evident he had put time and effort into building this curriculum form a teaching standpoint. Once we had our basic carving and knife handling skills down, we moved into sharpening. I will be the first to admit. I have never been able to get sharpening down just right. Mike spent a considerable instruction block on sharpening as working with wood you need a very sharp knife.
Mike then passed everyone out a hatchet. Since these hatchets were very sharp, a lesson on how to use a small ax or hatchet was given. It was stressed time and time again how blade control and paying attention was the most important thing. It has been a long time since I spent time with a small ax. I did catch myself looking away, and the blade glanced off the wood I was working and went right off my leg. Thankfully the angle was just enough that I didn’t get cut. This was one of those reality check lessons. Pay attention. If you can’t pay attention, don’t work with the ax. They are sharp and can cause a nasty wound in a split second.
I took two knives with me. A Mission Knives CSP-2 designed by Chance Sanders and a little Mora Eldris which I wore as a neck knife. Having never been to a bushcraft course before I quickly learned the difference between a survival knife and a bushcraft knife. The CSP-2 is a hardcore knife that is extremely thick. It could be used to pry a door open or baton wood into smaller pieces. It was a bit thick for carving and finer detail working. The CSP did excel in making the fireboard for the bow drill. I ended up using the Eldris for the full two days and loved it. While small, it is very sharp and the size is great for quick use. If I had to pick a big knife in place of a hatchet then the CSP-2 would be great. I prefer the pairing of a forest axe and the mora but this is personal preference. Most people do not want to spend $150 dollars on a little axe, but will spend that on a great knife like the Mission Knives CSP-2.
My favorite part of the course was learning to make and use a bow drill. Mike showed us several ways to make fire with a ferrocerium rod, but the elusive bow drill was something I had always seen on television but never used. Making one is a time-consuming project and not something I would look forward to if I needed to create a fire to stay alive. It is a tool better made and carried on your pack.
I started with a fair sized log that we could make a fireboard from. The fireboard is what you drive the drill into. The thinner the better. With the CSP-2 I was able to quickly refine my fireboard down to about 3/4 an inch. The CSP 2 also made quick work of the notch for the burn. When you look at say a log think about how long it would take to make a flat board? Alot longer than what you think. The next is the spindle itself. I started with a limb bit thick. About the size of a 40mm grenade and worked it down to about the size of a 20mm shell. It needs to be smooth and one end a point and the other a round nub. The point sits on a rock or bearing block of some type and the nub in the notch on the fireboard. Once again, this took much longer than one would think.
I started working the piece down with the CSP but quickly moved to the Eldris. The bow itself was as long as my arm and I’m 6’4 so longer than what you would think is needed. A slight, very slight curve helped greatly. Now once we assembled all these items the real fun starts. I notched my board and using a piece of shell for a bearing block went to work using the bow. I had to make a charred bowl then cut a “V” shape into the bowl. The drill makes sparks that fall through the V on the tinder pile on birch bark under the board. It takes a tremendous amount of effort and pressure to get this thing to work. I am 6’4 and while i made fire first out of the group it wasn’t easy. Claire took around 25 minutes to get a fire going.
There was one guy about 25 years old. He probably weighed in at 125 pounds. He never got a fire going. He built everything right, his bow worked fine. He did not have the physical strength to put the pressure needed to create heat. His physical weakness prevented him from fire. I do not say this to make fun of the guy. Anyone can be weakened due to hunger, injury, sheer cold. Just because you have the tools and even the willpower you are not guaranteed fire. This guy wanted to build a fire terribly. It didn’t happen. Next time you think how you are a mountain man remember that things happen. Carry a bic lighter.
After we made fire, Mike had a teaching block about preparing wild game. Mike had shot some pigeons a few days before and frozen them whole. Unfortunately, we were unable to hunt for ourselves during the course. Now Mike took us over and had the birds laid out. I was utterly amazed that out of the group, only 3 of us had ever dressed a bird. Claire and I dove right in and worked through the birds with Mike.
A few other people tried, and one particular individual from Scandinavia was a vegan. He refused even to touch the bird. There will be no Valkyrie to take him to Valhalla to meet his ancestors when he leaves this earth. I was embarrassed for the man and his ancestors but kept my opinion to myself.
Mike McQuilton is a fantastic instructor. He is mild-mannered and incredibly thoughtful and patient. The outdoor world is a better place because of the man. I was humbled to learn from him. Mike made sure to let everyone know that it was not his way or the highway. He was very open to new ideas or different methods. If you have a chance, take a course with MIke, or even better a class. You will learn more from his Youtube channel than any “bushcraft “ book I have found.
I have a few takeaways. Get good kit ,and learn to use it. Trying to sharpen an axe or build a bow drill is going to be very hard if you have never done it. Bushcrafting doesn’t mean being miserable. Buckskins and canvas tents look great at a rendezvous but aren’t super practical in reality. Physical strength can make a huge difference. Being healthy and able to complete the tasks with enough energy to work the bow drill can make the difference in living or freezing to death. Mental illness such as veganism that prevents an adult male from touching a dead bird would also prevent him from surviving in a situation that needed everyone to pull together. Meat provides protein and fuel to survive. Bushcrafting is not purely for survival situations which I think most Americans equate it too.
Bushcrafting is like camping except more fun and you don’t have to drag as much crap with you into the backcountry.
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