Is This Man’s Weird Breathing Technique The Key To Extreme Survival?

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Is This Man’s Breathing Technique The Key To Extreme Survival?

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Breath in deep. Now let the breath fall out. Again.

Complete this exercise 30 times and a growing number of people will tell you to expect everything from changing the chemistry of your body to being able to survive insanely dangerous temperatures. This trend was kicked off by an eccentric Dutchman named Wim Hof who has dazzled the world with an array of stunts. Hof has successfully survived extreme cold while setting world records for swimming under polar ice, staying submerged up to his neck in a tub of ice, and running a marathon above the Arctic circle wearing only gym shorts and sandals. Not only that, but Hof has summited Mt. Kilimanjaro in the same scant attire, and even attempted to summit Mt. Everest as well. What’s more, he claims that by practicing his special breathing technique, you and I can achieve the same results.

The startling thing about Wim Hof is that he not only completes his cold weather challenges with ease, but he has been scientifically monitored in order to see just what is going on in his body. After being monitored in 2008 at the University of Minnesota Duluth by scientists who specialize in the effects of cold, they explained the results like this: “What you’re seeing basically is a situation in which the usual response to a shock or a cold was completely obliterated.”

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Other scientists who have measured Wim have recorded the same basic results. In fact, several recent studies have concluded the possibility he may be able to control his autonomic nervous system and the innate immune response. To the common person, this basically means he can regulate systems in the body generally believed to be out of our control. Not only that, but his method was tested on a group of people trained by him with similar results. He also claims to be able to consciously ward off illness by changing the chemistry of his body. All in all, Wim Hof may be easily scoffed at, but his track record while being observed by scientists cannot.

One other factor that plays a role in Wim Hof’s ability to withstand extreme cold may be increased levels of brown adipose tissue (BAT), otherwise known as brown fat. Brown fat is a fat found mostly in babies, and its purpose is to burn white fat in order to stay warm. Essentially, it generates heat in the body by burning white fat. Scientists once believed that once you grew past a certain age, you would lose your brown fat. However, now scientists realize that brown fat is found in adults, and adults with a lower body mass index (BMI) have more of it. What’s more is that Wim Hof has higher levels of brown fat than people half his age. Again, he credits this to breathing, meditation and the ability to control his mind.

What does all this mean? First off, you might be a little skeptical about Wim and his achievements. After all, there have been more than a few people in history who earned a reputation doing similar feats. However, this situation seems different because Hof is teaching people his method and they are completing similar feats. Also, it is being scientifically proven that his body is changing in order to better protect against the cold. Finally, this is unique in that it doesn’t cost any money to try.

Contrary to popular opinion, your biggest threats when out in the wilderness are not grizzly bears and mountain lions. In reality, you are most likely to perish from falling, drowning and hypothermia. If the Wim Hof method has validity, you may be able to better safeguard yourself against the latter while out in the woods. Adding an extra insurance policy against cold temperatures might be something worth looking into. Like anything, Wim Hof’s method may not work for you. Anyone interested in experimenting with this method would be wise to proceed in baby steps and test their body a little at a time. In the long run, it may be something that helps you stay better prepared for the outdoors.

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28 Survival Foods The ‘Mountain Men’ Ate

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28 Survival Foods The 'Mountain Men' Ate

The American Mountain Men of the early 19th century are one of our country’s enduring heroes. Men like Jim Bridger, Hugh Glass, Jedediah Smith, Andrew Henry and Kit Carson were the first people of European descent to explore our western regions.

They drew maps, discovered travel routes, and offered input on economic activities settlers should pursue in different regions. Clad in buckskin clothing of their own manufacturing, they traversed the continent using only the store-bought goods they obtained once a year. Everything they couldn’t obtain at a rendezvous came aux aliments du pays, or from “the nourishment of the land.” These days, we would say they were living off the land.

One fascinating area of the mountain men life is their diet. Obviously, finding food was a major issue these men faced each day. They couldn’t just amble down to the supermarket and pick up what they needed. These weathered men generally had to glean their sustenance from natural sources they found in the wild.

At times, the land offered periods of abundance, and at others it would appear to be a wasteland. Today we have grown accustomed to three meals a day. We likely would have a hard time adjusting to this cycle of feast and famine. This cycle was a way of life for the trappers.

One Mountain Man worth studying is Rufus Sage. Rufus Sage was a Mountain Man who headed west in the early 1840s. For three years, he crisscrossed the American West on a grand adventure certainly deserving a place in history. After his journey was complete, he compiled his deeds, experiences and thoughts into a journal titled “Rocky Mountain Life.” This journal provides us with a great insight into his life.

One area Sage detailed was his diet. Although the journal doesn’t dedicate tremendous energy to the topic, he is thorough enough to give us some insight into his diet. He records many of the wild foods he enjoyed as a Mountain Man.

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The following list is a record of the foods eaten by Rufus Sage, as noted in his journal. They are listed in the order they appear in the journal.

Buffalo. This was a mainstay, as the large majority of his meals consisted of this grand prairie grazer. As tradition teaches, when time permitted, the men ate all parts of the buffalo, including the meat, tongue, liver and intestines.

Dog. He noted the taste was not inferior to pork.

Elk. During his time, many elk were still living on prairie regions.


Pomme Blanc (White Apple): This root was eaten by the men. He mentioned that at times the root gatherers were better at providing sustenance than the meat hunters.

Commote: Another root they gathered.

Wild Cherry Bark Tea: Very common drink by the sound of the journal. He noted the positive effect the drink had on health.

Deer: Another common meat eaten. Deer were speedily consumed by a band of hungry hunters.

Prairie Dog: This small rodent also made the journal and was described as tender and palatable.

Serviceberry: Gathered when ripe.

Box-Elder Sap: Noted as “not inferior to that of maple.”

Bear: Mentioned several times. Bear also provided men with fat which they rendered.

Mountain Sheep: Seemed to be a favorite of certain mountain men.

Mountain Fowl: Difficult to discern from the description, but possibly a ptarmigan.

Bilters: Juice made from the gut juice of a buffalo. Sage described it as “exhilarating.” He also mentions that the drink caused vomiting, but after a few attempts the stomach would accept it.

Bald Eagle Fledgling: Noted they made “a fine meal.”

Waterfowl Eggs: Enjoyed while on a river.

Antelope: Another bountiful prairie meat supply.

Greens: Although not much description is given, the notation of greens is another indication of how much gathering the Mountain Men did.

Prickly Pear Cactus: He described the practice of eating boiled prickly pear as not uncommon.

Turkey: On several occasions Sage noted they hunted turkey on the roost. In this manner, they shot them by the dozens.

Salmon: One of the few fish he notes having eaten. These were consumed while spending time in Oregon.

Wolf: A man named “Chance” threw Sage and his companions a wolf while they were starving. The writing makes it seem like predator meat was saved for extreme situations.

Horse/Mule: It was not uncommon for Mountain Men to eat their pack, or riding, animals when faced with starvation.

Crow’s Eggs: He gathered and ate six to 10 dozen!

Catfish: On one occasion Sage notes having caught many catfish. Besides for this, and the one entry about salmon, fish do not have appeared to have been regularly eaten.

Prairie Potato: Better known today as the prairie turnip.

Nothing: One item too often on the menu for Sage was nothing at all. Throughout his journal he notes stretches of three, four and five days without food. Hunger was an enemy he was certainly familiar with.

As you can see from this list of wild foods, the Mountain Men would have had a very diverse diet. They not only consumed huge quantities of meat, but also gathered wild roots and berries along the way. In order to survive, they had to take what Mother Nature threw their way. At times, that was a hearty meal of buffalo ribs, and at others it was a straggling wolf.

It is tempting to view these American heroes clad in clean buckskins and riding into the sunset. However, we shouldn’t over-romanticize their lives if we are to truly appreciate their accomplishments. Their hardships paved the way for waves of settlers that were to come. It was the nourishment of the land that kept them going – and that can keep us alive, too.

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14 Fall-Loving Vegetables You Can Plant FROM SEED In August

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14 Fall-Loving Vegetables You Can Plant FROM SEED In August

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It seems when most folks think of gardening, images of tomatoes, corn and squash come to mind. These are all great crops, but they all have the major downfall of not tolerating frost.

The truth is, there are many crops that not only tolerate frost, but actually thrive with cooler weather. By learning to work in the cool-season margins of the growing season, we can prolong our growing season and greatly increase the amount of food we grow.

August can be a great time to get back in the garden and replant certain crops. Not only is the soil warmed up and ready, but as the seedlings emerge close to September, the weather is getting more comfortable. It also works great if you have empty space in your garden from crops you’ve pulled.

Planting late, however, does pose a few major problems.

Most regions still experience some brutally hot days in the middle of the month. Extremely hot temperatures can raise havoc on your young seedlings. Hot temperatures also dry your soil out faster, making it more difficult to germinate your seeds. If you choose to plant in August, watch the forecast and make sure to keep those young seedlings well-watered if hot weather arrives.

A second challenge is the impending frost. This short window may discourage you from a late planting. However, if you learn what crops will tolerate cold weather, you can expect to budget up to an extra month or more for growing. The trick is to choose the right crops that tolerate cooler daytime temperatures and frosty nights.

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There are two factors to consider when planting crops in August: how fast they grow, and how frost-tolerant they are. Here are a few good crops to plant in August to improve your garden’s annual yield.

Fast-Growing Crops

These fast-growing crops can be planted early enough to avoid a frost:

1. Baby carrots – Harvest in 30 days.

2. Leaf lettuce – Harvest in 30 days.

3. Radishes – Harvest in 30 days.

4. Spinach – Harvest in 45 days.

5. Bush beans – Harvest in 40-65 days.

Survives Light Frost

If you generally experience light frosting early on, these crops are capable of surviving:

6. Kohlrabi – 50-60 days to maturity.

7. Leaf Lettuce – 30 days to maturity.

Frost-Tolerant Crops (Survives High 20s Fahrenheit)

14 Fall-Loving Vegetables You Can Plant FROM SEED In August

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These three crops can really extend your growing season past the first frost:

8. Beets – 50-60 days to maturity.

9. Green onions – 60-70 days to maturity.

10. Peas – 70-80 days to maturity.

Frost Tolerant Crops (Survives Low 20’s)

These crops are the hardiest of the hardiest. They will survive after everything else has died and is in your canning jars.

11. Cabbage – 50-90 days to maturity.

12. Collard Greens – 40-65 days to maturity.

13. Kale – 40-65 days to maturity.

14. Radishes – 30-60 days to maturity.

Again, depending on where you live, August doesn’t have to necessarily spell the end of your gardening season. By getting out of the old habit of planting only after the last frost, we can really extend our growing season. All these crops can grow without the assistance of greenhouses or cold frames, but if you decided to incorporate the use of those structures, you can really start to increase your harvest.

If you get creative, organized and get busy, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to extend your growing season and do some August planting.

What would you add to our list? What do you plant in August? Share your tips in the section below:

It’s The Forgotten Edible They Collected In Bathtubs During The Great Depression.

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It’s The Forgotten Edible They Collected In Bathtubs During The Great Depression.

Quick. What are the healthiest greens growing in your garden? Lettuce? Spinach? Kale? These crops, and others like them, are planted, cultivated and harvested in many gardens around the country. We pay money for their seeds. We often run water to help them grow. And then after a few weeks, our garden greens are ready to be harvested.

There is a possibility, though, that you may be removing a plant from your garden that rivals even kale in its nutritional value. This common garden green has earned many names over the centuries, but is commonly known as lamb’s quarters.


Lamb’s quarters is a green with a rich history. The Romans and people in the Medieval Ages readily consumed it. Entire towns actually acquired their names due to the abundance of the plant.

The nutritional benefits of lamb’s quarters weren’t a secret only to Europeans. In fact, people in the New World also were keen of this healthy wild food. Native people across the country consumed the greens and also harvested the seeds and ground them for flour. Even in the more modern world, people have looked to lamb’s quarter to sustain them.

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In her book “Wild Seasons,” author Kay Young tells a story about how people during the Great Depression utilized this green. Her story comes from a retired meter reader who spent his days traveling around Kansas City in the 1930s. During this difficult time, the meter reader claims to have regularly seen bathtubs full of lamb’s quarters being washed and prepared for canning. It also was one of the few edible greens growing in abandoned city lots.

At a recent family gathering, my wife’s grandmother — now in her early 80s — told of commonly eating lamb’s quarters as a child. Although she was surprised to learn how nutritious it is, she wasn’t surprised at all to learn how people during the Great Depression ate it.


If you have a garden, there is a good chance you have some lamb’s quarters popping up. There are many varieties of the plant, also known as Chenopodium, but the varieties generally consumed have some similarities.

First, the leaf structure of the plant resembles the shape of a goose foot. (Because of this, it’s commonly called goose food.) Another identifying feature is a purplish coloration on the nodes of mature plants. When you are examining it near the stem, you will notice a series of ridges that run vertically down the stem. Perhaps the most distinguishable feature, though, is a white powder coating the plant. This white powder is hydrophobic and repels water. If the “weed” you are about to pull from your garden has these characteristics, it may in fact be the ultra-nutritious wild food.

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If you have located some lamb’s quarters and want to enjoy it, you can prepare it several ways. One way is to eat young leaves raw. While the plant can be eaten raw, it does contain high levels of oxalic acid, which can cause a number of problems if eaten in high volume. Fortunately, many recipes call for the leaves to be boiled. Blanching your leaves in a pot of boiling water for a few minutes removes most of the acid. It may be wise to limit your consumption early on in your foraging and to blanch the leaves, too.

It’s The Forgotten Edible They Collected In Bathtubs During The Great Depression.

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One tasty recipe comes from Kay Young’s book. It was contributed by a Nebraskan who recalled the dish from her childhood. First, gather a few cupfulls of lamb’s quarters leaves. Three cups seems to be a good amount for a single person. Next, drop the washed leaves in a pot of boiling water for two minutes. This not only removes much of the oxalic acid, but it also will tenderize the greens. After two minutes, remove the greens and drain away the excess water. Next, drop the greens into a pan coated in hot bacon grease. Cook the greens until heated throughout, and then remove. Once removed from the pan, you can season with salt, pepper and vinegar to taste.

Words of Caution

With a rich history, high nutritional value and great taste, you may be wondering how lamb’s quarters fell out of favor. It is a good question. While the answer may not be straightforward, here are a few factors that may have contributed to its decline.

Although lamb’s quarters is great feed for chickens (earning it the nickname “fat hen”), it can be poisonous to grazing animals. The problem occurs when the plant is grown under drought conditions, forcing it to absorb high levels of nitrates from the ground.

Another factor that led to the devaluing of this nutrient-dense plant was the introduction of spinach to the European table. Folks swapped out their historically valued food for one they thought was more delicious. Personally, I’ve found the taste of both leaves very palatable when boiled and seasoned.

Finally, the build-up of oxalic acid potentially can cause health problems. One such problem may be the formation of kidney stones. When experimenting with a wild food, it is best to proceed in small doses and see how your body reacts.

Final Thoughts

When weeding your summer garden, it might be worth keeping an eye open for a plant with a leaf resembling a goose’s foot. It could be a hidden boon rather than a dreaded weed. Not only will it add some additional nutrition to your plate, but it may allow you to spend less time weeding, and more time enjoying the fruits of the harvest. More nutritious, less maintenance, less money spent — what’s not to love?

Have you ever eaten lamb’s quarters? Share your thoughts on it in the section below:

He Died Living Off Grid. Here’s What We Can Learn.

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He Died Living Off Grid. Here’s What We Can Learn.

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It was a cold day in the Scottish highlands on Dec. 31, 2011. Although the region is known for its fierce weather, Network Rail technician Gordon Turner noted the weather was “pretty foul” when he stepped into a crude shelter. Of course, bad weather is nothing new during winter in Scotland. What he didn’t expect to see, though, was a lifeless frozen body, curled up on the bench.

In 2012, reported the sad story of 29-year-old adventurer David Austin. Austin had apparently set out from Derby, England, only a few weeks prior with the goal of surviving a year alone in the wilderness. For several years leading up to the trip, Austin had enrolled in a sequence of survival and bushcraft classes, trying to put his skills to the test. He was so confident in his skills that he took little more than a knife and a daily journal with him.

His last stop was Rannoch Station, a tiny spot on the map consisting of a train station, three houses and a hostel. With only four permanent residents, Rannoch Station is one of the most secluded areas in Scotland, with the nearest town a full 65 miles away. If Austin was looking for a secluded location to test his skills, he certainly found it. A hostel employee reported Austin stopped by to chat and said he was headed to the loch to camp. That was the last anyone ever heard from him.

It is believed that after visiting the hostel, Austin followed the tracks into the moorland. Whether planned, or coincidental, it is assumed he spent Dec. 3, his 29th birthday, in the woods. Not much is known about the brief period between his chat at the hostel, and when his body was discovered on Dec. 31. Authorities later reported he died of hypothermia and had perished weeks before being discovered.

For folks heading off-grid, or about to place themselves in a similar survival situation, this piteous story can teach us a few lessons.

1. Survival isn’t easy

First off, this sad story reminds us of the harsh reality of true survival situations. Thanks to reality television and YouTube channels, we may tend to view the subject of survival as entertainment. While aspects of it may be entertaining, people in true survival situations are in a struggle for life itself. While watching your favorite Man vs. Wild episode in the comfort of your den may seem exciting, the reality is very different. Experiments in the most extreme conditions are best left to folks with the most experience.

2. Bring a lifeline

Austin apparently didn’t bring any lifeline. No satellite phone. No emergency distress signal. Nothing. Any individual attempting a similar experiment would be wise to bring some form of communication with them. If you put yourself into that situation and find yourself failing, having a communication device could save your life.

3. Take baby steps

Big-name survivors like Cody Lundin, Dave Canterbury, Tom Brown, Matt Graham and Bear Grylls throw themselves into these environments for a living. However, they didn’t start off in these extremes. In fact, if you read Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Wilderness Survival, he tells many stories of the baby steps he took as a kid to achieve his level of expertise.

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If you have dreams of living off-grid, take baby steps. Take a trip to your favorite local camping spot and leave “Gear X” or “Gear Y” behind. This allows you to focus on a single skill rather than practicing everything at once.

4. Expect surprises

He Died Living Off Grid. Here’s What We Can Learn.

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In the real world, things go wrong and conditions are not always ideal. In order to really master a skill, you should be able to practice it at any time and under any condition. Rains might drench your fire-starting equipment, or you might need to set up a shelter in the middle of a blizzard. What do you do when things don’t go according to plan?

5. Prioritize

Most of the chatter about survival seems to focus on food. Yet food is perhaps your lowest priority in most situations. Lightning strikes kill in an instant. Drowning takes just a few minutes. Exposure can kill you in a few hours. People haved lived for months without eating more than a few creepy critters. The case of David Austin can remind similarly minded people about the very real dangers of weather. Finding a way to stay warm/cool, dry and protected should likely be your top priorities.

6. Study geography

Is it a place where many people today, or in the past, lived in great numbers? If the answer is yes, then you may be heading to a livable location. If you can’t find evidence of large amounts of past people living in an area, odds are the geography makes it too challenging for an extended stay. Starting your experiments in comfortable climates will increase your odds of success.

7. Level with yourself

Push aside your ego and level with yourself about your true skill set. Personally, I wouldn’t consider myself an expert in the field of survival. Unless you were raised in a very unique situation, you likely don’t have the skills to survive with just a knife. This is especially true as the conditions get more and more challenging. As you challenge yourself, make sure you don’t overestimate your skill set.

What would you add? Share your tips in the section below:

The Fire-Starting Char That’s More Reliable Than Cotton

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The Fire-Starting Char That's More Reliable Than Cotton

Fire constructed on the prairie using this method. Yes, cow dung will burn.

There is no doubt we are seeing a sort of renaissance in the art of survival and bushcraft. Not only are big names like Ray Mears, Bear Grylls, Dave Canterbury and Cody Lundin getting a lot of attention, but there are so many popular YouTube channels on the subject it would be impossible to name them all.

For one reason or another, folks in America want to know more about skills of the wild. Perhaps it’s because our modern lives are leading us further and further away from our natural homes. Maybe it’s something people have always found interesting and the Internet has allowed us more access to it. It could also be that people see an impending crisis and want to prepare for it.

Personally, my biggest interest in bushcraft stems from my love of history and the natural world. One thing that constantly stands out to me as I study time periods like the Stone Age, Pre-Columbus America, and the American frontier, is how much applicable knowledge those people had about the world. Most folks think Stone Age hunters were dumb. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sure, they couldn’t read or write, but they had an encyclopedic knowledge of the world. Nature was their education.

One time-tested and proven fire-starting method is the flint-and-steel method. The basic concept was used even by the Romans some 2,000 years ago. Since then, it was adopted by the Vikings and was the common fire-starting technique during Medieval Europe. As Europeans reached the New World, they brought their steel and their method of starting fire with them. Eventually this technology would spread West with pioneers such as Daniel Boone, Simon Kenton, Lewis and Clark, and Jim Bridger. They used it because it was a reliable fire-starting method that needed just a few simple natural materials to ignite.

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The Fire-Starting Char That's More Reliable Than Cotton

Ferro rod, char, uncharred punk wood, and Altoid tin for charring.

Starting a fire with flint and steel requires only a little education, a handful of plentiful natural materials, and one special ingredient. The basic concept is to take a piece of flint and strike it against a piece of steel. When you strike the two together, sparks are generated as tiny bits of steel are removed. When the steel is removed and hits the oxygen it instantly goes through a process of oxidation and catches fire. This is why we get sparks. These sparks are what you use to start your fire. Obviously, sparks themselves are not ideal for starting fires, so the spark must be captured and sustained. This is achieved by using a charred material. Char can be made of many natural materials, but its enduring quality is it can catch a low heat spark and create an ember for up to several minutes. When the ember is added to a properly constructed tinder bundle, you get fire. As mentioned, it was this simple fire-starting technique that American frontiersmen took with them to the wilderness.

Although it is most popular to use 100 percent cotton for char today, some historians don’t believe char cloth was most widely used in the past. They speculate that for men living in the wilderness, cotton cloth simply wasn’t something they carried for fire. The supply was too limited. Rather, they learned to use natural materials such as punk wood, cattail, or a number of other naturally found materials. One trouble with these materials is they often do not catch a spark as easily as char cloth does. Even with properly charred wood, it can still take multiple attempts to get your spark to land just right. Recently, this got me thinking about how could I keep the simplicity, reliability, endurance and compact nature of the flint-and-steel method while improving it.

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What I decided to do was to blend a bit of historical skills with some new technology. Many folks already know that using a ferro rod is one reliable fire-starting method that is popular to use. In case you’re unfamiliar with ferro rods, they are composed of multiple materials that oxidize easily. Like a flint and steel, you simply run a striker over the surface and it creates sparks. One major difference, though, is that a ferro rod will throw far more sparks than a flint and steel. Sparks from most ferro rods will also burn much hotter than flint and steel sparks. Most folks I’ve seen using a ferro rod are casting their sparks into fine tinder in order to make fire. Material like shredded birch bark seems to be ideal. This works great if you have the right tinder, but processing tinder that fine takes not only time, but the right material. One way you can get the best of both worlds is to combine methods to get a very reliable fire-starting method.

Combining the 21st century technology with the first century technique is easy. You’ll need to have punk wood char already made from a previous fire to start. As mentioned, wood and other natural materials were likely used by mountain men, longhunters, and other explorers too far removed to be using cloth. You’ll also need a well-made tinder bundle, as usual. When you’re ready you can simply cast a few sparks from your ferro rod into your char. You should get an ember glowing in no time. After that, the process is exactly the same as any flint and steel, or other primitive fire.

The advantages of this technique are numerous in my opinion. For starters, it is a very reliable fire-starting technique as long as you have a small bit of knowledge of what to look for in your materials. Two, the materials are widely available in nearly every habitat. Three, the ferro rod is a very light and compact unit that works whether it is cold, wet or both. Four, a ferro rod will last for thousands of strikes depending on what you buy. My cheap one is advertised to last for 12,000 strikes. That can start a lot of fires. Finally, this fire-starting method builds off a time-tested process that carried people through all kinds of situations. All the ferro rod does is make casting sparks a little easier.

The ferro rod is a nice addition to any survival pack. It can create sparks and heat with just a few simple strokes of your striker. Combine this technology with some proven charred material, and you have a very reliable fire-starting method. By blending the old and the new, you can get the best of both worlds in order to get your next campfire burning.

What is your favorite primate fire-starting method? Share your tips in the section below:

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Starving And Dying, They Did The Unthinkable …

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Starving And Dying, They Did The Unthinkable …

It was October 28, 1846, and the Donner Party was in trouble. Ahead of them towered the rugged Sierra Nevadas. White snow was falling all around, and from what they could see of the mountain pass ahead, much more blocked their path.

Already worn out from a long trail, the migrants decided to retreat. They backed out 12 miles to wait out the early storm at Truckee Lake. With supplies running low, and months on the trail beginning to show its toll, the group sat tight for a break in the storm. Had they known the fate that was to befall them, it’s likely the group would have exited the mountains altogether. As it was, they were running late and the permanent snows were setting in. However, running late was nothing new to the Donner Party.

The “Donner Party” is the name given to one of the most haunting groups of Oregon Trail migrants. This group of pioneers originally came from Springfield, Ill., and were led by Jacob and George Donner, who had set their eyes west on the rich lands of California. In a time before the Gold Rush, these folks were looking for the golden soil California had to offer. In only a few short years, it would become precious metal that drove a wave of migration.

Their First Big Mistake

By the time the group had plodded down to Independence, Mo., and bought the necessary equipment, it was already May 12. This was considered exceptionally late to begin the trek west. Most of the big trains had been gone for two or three weeks at that point. In fact, the Donner Party was the last big party to leave Independence in the spring of 1846.

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Traveling across the plains went well enough for the group. Golden grass would have blanketed the expansive prairie, although no doubt most of the forage close to the trail was gone. Eventually they arrived at Fort Bridger in southeast Wyoming – at which point they made a disastrous decision. Rather than take the traditional route, the Donners decided to strike straight west out of the fort. They were seeking a new route that had been dubbed “The Hastings Cutoff” – a supposed shortcut named for Lansford Hastings, the man who had written about it in a new guidebook. Little did the group know, Hastings himself had never made the trip and was only speculating on the route. Rather than a shortcut, the Donner Party ran headlong into the Wasatch Mountains. In order to make it over, the group hacked their way through the timber and painstakingly made their way through the mountains. Eventually, they would exit the other side, but the “shortcut” had cost the group an extra 18 days.

At this point, their two biggest mistakes — a late start and 18 days going through a “shortcut” — were beginning to catch up. Had they either left earlier, or taken the traditional route, the group would have missed the Oct. 28 snow. But they did hit the snow, and what happened next is one of the most narrated stories of western history.

No Way Out

As soon as the group retreated down to Truckee Lake, the real problems began. Snow fell and fell, and soon the group had no way forward. Ominously, they had no possible exit, either. To protect against the falling snow and the dropping temperatures, the members constructed makeshift shelters and cabins from what they could gather around camp. They began to dig in for a long winter, and made the best survival preparations they could.

Starving And Dying, They Did The Unthinkable …Most of their food had been eaten on the trail, and most of their loose stock animals were run off not long before they became snowbound. With only 100 miles to the end of the trail, the group would have had enough supplies to last had the snows not caught them. Now the group faced a long winter in the high Sierras, and the supplies would certainly not last all winter.

Within just the first few weeks they had blown through what was left of their foodstuff. They then began slaughtering what stock animals remained. After that was devoured, the group was reduced to eating dirt, grass, tree bark and hides.

As supplies diminished by mid-December, 15 of the strongest group members decided to strike out over the pass in search of help. They fashioned snowshoes from the forest and began their trek. In later days, this search group would be called Forlorn Hope. The name suggests the party’s dire straits.

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Soon, the Forlorn Hope group became lost in the white peaks of the high Sierras. They staggered around in the winter landscape, with no bearing as to where they were headed. After just a few days, several in the group were on the verge of death. The legend goes that on Dec. 25, Patrick Dolan went mad, stripped naked, ran into a storm, and collapsed dead in the snow. Imagine the scene.

A Shocking Decision

Towering pines encrusted in snow bent stubbornly to the howling wind. All around the Forlorn Hope lay a vast expanse of white. They didn’t know where they were going, where they had been, or how far they had to travel. The hunger pains that had begun cramping their stomachs weeks earlier were once again noticeably prevalent. They had been marooned in the high country for nearly 60 days, and no help had been contacted. This group was the only hope the Donner Party had of contacting somebody from the outside world. It was at that point, when Patrick Dolan collapsed, that members of Forlorn Hope made a decision that would become the focal point of the Donner story. They butchered and ate Patrick Dolan.

Starving And Dying, They Did The Unthinkable …Patrick Dolan was not the only group member who was eaten. Two Native Americans also happened to be traveling with Forlorn Hope in search of help. When they saw the cannibalized body, they separated from the group out of fear that they, too, might be eaten. After several days, the duo was found by the rest of Forlorn Hope. At that point, William Foster is reported to have shot the two Native Americans in order to cannibalize them. Eventually, the battered search group exited the mountains alive. They soon notified local residents that the majority of their party was still stranded at Truckee Lake.

With heavy snows in January and February, the search effort was not able to commence right away. By mid-February, the first relief effort punched through the deep snow to reach the stranded party. Unable to bring pack animals, they brought whatever supplies they could carry and ushered out those who could make it. Over the next two and half months, rescuers guided out what remained of the Donner Party. In mid-April, the final effort was made to save the last survivors. Legend says that Lewis Keseberg was the last to be rescued. When rescuers arrived, Lewis was surrounded by half-cannibalized people lying all around him. Some speculated he had murdered the remaining party members in order to eat them. In the end, no charges were ever proven against him.

The Donner Party is a well-known part of western history. Had the group arrived at the now aptly named Donner Pass just one day earlier, odds are all of them would have lived. But of the original 81 pioneers who started the winter at Truckee Lake, only 45 survived to tell the tale. More than 150 years later, their story still shocks those who hear it.

What do you think? Share your thoughts about the Donner Party in the section below:

3 Never-Go-Bad, Easy-Storing Crops That Kept The Cowboys Alive

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3 Never-Go-Bad, Easy-Storing Crops That Kept The Cowboys Alive

The Old West was a tough place to hammer out a living. Whether it was mountain men, cowboys, or buffalo hunters, making ends meet in The West was not for the faint of heart.

Men and women alike had to be self-reliant, self-policed, and self-motivated if they were to survive. It certainly didn’t cater to the weak. Cowboys were one group who were particularly adept at taking care of themselves.

A major reason cowboys became so self-reliant was out of necessity. There simply wasn’t anything to fall back on in the middle of a 1,000-mile-long cattle drive. Part of their ability to complete a drive was attributed to their toughness and their ability to handle problems as they arose. Another reason they were able to complete these long drives can be credited to their planning for the drive. A properly supplied chuckwagon was essential if the cattle drive was to be successful.

One area the chuckwagon couldn’t fail in was the food department. The entire outfit would be composed of around 10-15 people, and those people needed food each day. Not only did those 10-15 people need food, but they needed fuel to energize their bodies for the 18-hour workdays they faced when on the trail.

Although they occasionally ate the cattle they were trailing, they also needed food in the wagon. Chuckwagons were packed full of all kinds of ingredients cooks used to prepare meals. Many sacks of flour and cornmeal were brought along for the journey. They also needed vegetables that would store well in the heat and provide enough energy for the cowboys to keep working.

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If you are planning your garden and are looking for foods that store well, you might take a page from the cowboys and plant these three easy-storing crops.


One staple in the cowboy’s diet was beans – a food high in nutrition and protein (see nutritional information below). There is an old saying that proclaims, “There are two kind of people in this world — those that do eat beans, and those that should eat beans.” There are a variety of bean choices out there, but if you want to grow what the cowboys ate, then try pinto beans.

3 Never-Go-Bad, Easy-Storing Crops That Kept The Cowboys AliveAs they grow, simply let them hang on the plant until dry. After that, they need to be removed from the pod and stored in a cool, dry place. Once dried, beans can last for years without spoiling. Before cooking with them, soak them overnight to reconstitute.


Potatoes have an array of attributes that would have made them popular in any chuckwagon. First, they would have stored well on the long cattle drives. Just keep them cool and dry.

Second, they are packed with nutrition (see nutritional information below). In fact, there are stories of people eating nothing but potatoes for six months, without nutritional defects.

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If you are looking for an easy-storing and nutritious crop, plant a few extra potatoes this spring.


One popular book with recipes from the Old West – “The Cowboy’s Cookbook” – includes a breakfast recipe of fried potatoes and onions. The ingredients’ list is short: potatoes, oil for frying, onions, and salt and pepper. Many a cowboy would have enjoyed this simple meal behind a dusty chuckwagon.

Out on the trail, cowboys needed food that not only “stuck to their ribs,” but also offered energy with essential vitamins and minerals. These staple foods, paired with a steady serving of beef, would have kept the cowboys fit and healthy.

Nutrition facts

Pinto beans (1 serving)

            Calories: 245

            Fiber 62%

            Iron 20%

            Copper 41%

            Folate 74%

            Protein 31%

            B1 28%

Potatoes (1 serving)

            Calories: 278

            Carbs 63 grams

            Fiber 26%

            Protein 7 grams

            Vitamin C 48%

            Vitamin B6 46%

            Manganese 33%

Onions (1 serving)

            Calories: 64

            Carbs 15 grams

            Fiber 11%

            Vitamin C 20%

            Manganese 10%

What would you add to our list? How do you make potatoes, beans and onions store long-term? Share your tips in the section below:

Robbed & Left To Die, He Survived 71 Days In The Desert On Frogs And Leeches

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Robbed & Left To Die, He Survived 71 Days In The Desert On Frogs And Leeches

The road was rough and dusty, as usual. Two jackaroos, or Australian ranch hands, had been sent out from the nearest cattle station to perform their day’s labor. Their first order of business required them to head into some of the most desolate country that surrounded them.

In this part of the northern outback, that meant going into some of the most isolated pockets on the continent. Jackaroos like these were accustomed to living and working in the desert conditions, and their bronzed skin and weathered clothing testified to that. Still, even with an iron constitution, the trip to this remote area was a tough one, even by pickup. Not only would the road nearly jar a man’s teeth from his head, but as it was the end of the rainy season, the temperatures were beginning to heat up.

So the duo bounced along across the desolation. With nothing in sight, the pair talked and joked with each other to pass the time. As they slowly worked their way across the expanse, they spied something moving off in the distance. It was something unfamiliar, something odd and foreign to the regular scenery. They drove closer to investigate. As they drew closer, their curiosity only grew at the strange figure that rose and fell in the distance. Ever so slowly, the tattered pickup eased across the hot sand and unforgiving terrain of the Australian outback. As they approached, the two wide-eyed jackaroos looked at each other in disbelief. The mysterious figure they had found appeared to be a walking, stumbling and living skeleton. They had found a man by the name of Ricky Megee.

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The story of Ricky Megee is a captivating tale of survival in the Australian outback. Although the story is one fraught with hardship and the reality of death, it all began with a young man full of optimism.

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Ricky had just landed a new job and was driving along a barren north Australian highway when he came across a group of stranded travelers huddled around their vehicle on the side of the road. Not wanting to pass a stranded person on this desolate stretch of highway, Ricky slowed down and pulled over. The group needed help to get their car going. Megee allowed a few of them to hop in his car so they could hitch a ride to the next town, where they could get help. The men piled in, and then … blackness. That is the last thing he remembers.

He woke up, naked in the middle of the desert, baking in the hot sun. Confusion overtook him as he tried to understand what had happened. He sat down in the shade for hours, pondering his predicament. Nobody in sight. No roads. No houses. No water. Nothing. Just desert. What was he to do?

Not being one to let pessimism crowd his psyche, Megee walked across the desert, barefoot and naked, to find help. Each morning he told himself that today was the day he would find help. His efforts proved fruitless, though, and he traveled for days without finding anyone. His best option, he soon realized, was to find a good source of water and to stay next to it. Fortunately, the rainy season was just ending, and the desert held pockets of water. He committed himself to one such waterhole and constructed a makeshift shelter.

Robbed & Left To Die, He Survived 71 Days In The Desert On Frogs And LeechesAfter more than a week in isolation, Ricky was getting hungry. His stomach cramped, and his muscles ached from exhaustion. He knew he had to find food. Then, a lizard scurried past. Without even thinking, Megee lashed out and stunned the reptile, killing it instantly. With no fire, he improvised. He laid the lizard in the sun for a few hours and allowed it to dry. After that, he peeled the skin off and enjoyed his first bite to eat in the bush.

Over the course of his 71 days, Megee ate nearly everything he could find. Lizards, frogs, leeches, snakes, grasshoppers and caterpillars. Anything that slithered, crawled, scurried, or crept across the desert floor was fair game. In fact, he developed an affinity for certain kinds of frogs over others. Leeches, he said, are OK – but you must eat them quickly, otherwise they attach to the inside of your mouth.

Megee also ate plants. His rule for eating plants: If it tasted good, he ate it. This isn’t the safest way to test plants – in fact, it is dangerous — but he was fortunate. He mostly stumbled upon a few edible plants aboriginal people had used for millennia.

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But as much as he tried, and as much as he ate, Ricky was slowly losing his battle with the desert. He was gradually starving to death.

After a few weeks at his first shelter, Megee decided he needed to move on. He found a different waterhole and constructed another shelter, and settled in for what he thought might be his last few days on Earth. His strength was failing, and he knew setting across the desert was fruitless.

He began to battle with the thought that he was going to die in the outback. He even mounted a cross on his shelter, marking what he believed was going to be his grave. He simply hoped his corpse would be found for his family.

Robbed & Left To Die, He Survived 71 Days In The Desert On Frogs And LeechesIn his weakened and gaunt condition, Megee also felt the need to block the entrance to his shelter at night. Dingos had been prowling around his camp, and he got the impression they were sizing him up for a meal. Each night he crawled into his shelter, hoping to keep the wild dogs out just one more night.

So it went … for 71 days. By the time the jackaroos stumbled upon him, he was only a gaunt figure of his former self. Previously a strong-and-stout chap at 233 pounds, he weighed a skeletal 100 pounds when the ranch hands arrived. He was emaciated, weak and tired — but he was alive.

What can we learn from such an amazing story of survival? First, finding shelter, water and food — in that order – are the priority. Second, a positive outlook is essential. He remembered friends and family, and the thought of seeing them kept him going.

Ricky Megee was able to stay alive in one of the world’s most inhospitable environments for more than two months. Could we?

Do you think you would have what it takes to survive more than two months in a desert? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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3 Forgotten Ways The Pioneers Built Fires Without Wood

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3 Forgotten Ways The Pioneers Made Fires Without Wood

Image source: Library of Congress

I’m fortunate to call the windswept prairie of the Great Plains my home. If you get out of farm country, it’s just grass as far as you can see. In fact, there are still places nearly unchanged since pioneers first tried settling this area more than 100 years ago.

Although quiet and expansive, there are real challenges to living in the plains. This rings especially true for a person who pursues knowledge in woodcraft. One of the biggest barriers to settling the plains was the lack of timber. Historically, people all around the world have overwhelmingly depended on wood as a natural construction material. The lack of trees on the prairie was one of the biggest obstacles pioneers faced when they looked into the Great American Desert. Wood was, and is, such a central part of our life, especially when forging a living from the land. Lack of timber seemed to make settlement nearly impossible.

While most Americans during the mid-19th century looked at the prairie as an inhospitable land, there were already people living happily in this treeless expanse. An array of Native American societies were established, each developing strategies for living a life that depend on wood as little as possible. Adventurous mountain men and explorers had also learned these lessons the hard way. They, too, knew how to survive in a land devoid of such a pivotal resource. One thing everyone on the plains had to know was how to build a fire without using wood as a fire fuel.

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Even today, we can take a page from their book and remember there are other excellent fire fuels besides wood. Here are three examples of resources you can burn when heavy timber may be in short supply:

1. Buffalo chips/cattle manure

Buffalo chips is a reference to the dried manure of buffalo that once dotted our grasslands. Once dubbed as “Plains oak”, buffalo chips were widely used as fire fuel for generations on the plains. When cattle were brought north, their manure also was collected for the same purpose. Both sources were a very common source of fuel, and actually offered several advantages to wood fires. For starters, in such a dry environment, buffalo chips don’t throw sparks like wood fires tend to do. Manure fuels smolder more than they actually burn. The smoldering actually helps control the fire, rather than constantly setting the prairie ablaze.

3 Forgotten Ways The Pioneers Made Fires Without Wood

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This smoldering characteristic also made buffalo chips ideal for burning in tipis and other natural shelters. Another advantage of using a fuel “cut by the cows” was the saved labor. Rather than spending hours cutting and splitting wood, people living on the plains simply gathered and stacked the chips. In a region so difficult to make a living, this saved labor would have been nice.

2. Woody shrubs

Although there is a lack of trees on the Great Plains, there are locations with an abundance of woody shrubs. Most prolific in my area are sagebrush and yucca. At times, these sources of fuel came in especially handy. One mountain man, Osborne Russell, kept a journal of his experience depending on sagebrush for fire.

Russell and a few companion’s horses had been run off, and the group was on foot. Back in those days, being afoot on the prairie was akin to a death sentence. They headed for an army fort they that lay across a sagebrush sea more than a week’s march. While making their way across the barren land, they carried little more than their rifles and basic gear. No blankets, no food, and none of the small comforts their rough lives knew. As they traveled, they shot buffalo when they came upon them and used the hides to sleep on. While caught in his sagebrush sea, a mix of rain and snow moved in upon the group. Russell’s account of the incident leaves no debate that the trip was miserable. After many, many cold and wet miles, the group finally safely walked into an army fort and survived the ordeal.

Along the way, though, the group needed to build a fire each day. With no wood in sight, they turned to a nearly endless source of fuel in the sagebrush. Russell noted that at times these fires consisted of no fuel larger than thumb size. Needless to say, it kept them alive in poor conditions.

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Sage and other woody shrubs should not be overlooked for their potential as a fuel source. As with buffalo chips, small shrubs offer the advantage of keeping a fire small. Again, in a place that is so dry and windy, keeping your fire small is important. An old mountain man adage was “the bigger the fire, the bigger the fool.” By keeping the fire small, they not only limited the chance of spreading fire, but they saved labor and decreased their chances of being seen by those who meant to do them harm.

3. Animal fat

A final alternative fire fuel people utilized is animal fat. In the past, animals like bear provided not only meat for the larder, but fire fuel, such as for burning lamps. If the pioneers or Native Americans happened to be in an area devoid of animal manure or shrubs, fat would have been a viable option.

In my own experience, I’ve used raccoon fat as a fuel source while building a campfire. I can testify to its ability to put out some heat. A word of caution, though: Unlike the previously mentioned fuels, fat burns extremely hot and very fast. Just toss a bit of raccoon fat on the fire and step back. It is best used in small amounts; otherwise your fire could easily get out of control. Have a bucket of dirt on hand. (With a grease fire, water only would heighten the problem.)

Do you have any fire-starting advice? Share your tips in the section below:

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Survival Lessons From The Man Who Didn’t Eat For An ENTIRE YEAR

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Survival Lessons From The Man Who Didn’t Eat For An ENTIRE YEAR

Angus Barbieri prior to his fast.

On July 12, 1966, the Chicago Tribune published an article about the unlikely story of Angus Barbieri, a man in Scotland who was eating a breakfast consisting of a boiled egg, some buttered bread and coffee. This was no ordinary breakfast, though. It was actually the breaking of a fast that had started more than a year earlier. Specifically, it was the first food Barbieri consumed in 392 days. During that time, he literally ate no food. No meat, no vegetables, no fruit, no smoothies, no light meals.

When he started his diet, Barbieri tipped the scales at a whopping 472 pounds at only 26 years of age. No sources divulge much information as to how the young man got so heavy, other than he worked in his parent’s fish and chips house. Being so heavy, Angus was looking for a way to get back down to a healthy weight. After consulting with doctors, they agreed he should try “total starvation” in an attempt to lose the weight. Angus agreed, and the fast was on.

For the next 392 days, Angus was completely devoted to the task at hand. He quit his job and worked closely with doctors, who monitored his condition. Although he didn’t eat any solid food, his body still needed some vitamins to endure the brutal starvation. The Chicago Tribune reported he consumed only water, soda water, tea, and coffee, along with prescribed vitamins during the fast. “I occasionally had a little milk or sugar in my tea,” he said. During the fast, he reportedly stayed in hospitals for two or three days at a time, and then returned home. After his grueling year was over, Barbieri weighed a trim 179 pounds — and was not planning on returning to work in the fish and chips house, which his family had sold. He even said he had forgotten what food tasted like.

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What a unique and interesting story. As a disclaimer, this is article is not intended to endorse starvation as a means to lose weight. In fact, the same doctor who supervised the fast reported he knew of “five fatalities coinciding with the treatment of obesity by total starvation.” In other words, five other people had died trying to do the same thing. Don’t try this at home.

This story, though, may teach us something about short-term survival situations and the tremendous adaptations the body makes.

Survival Lessons From The Man Who Didn’t Eat For An ENTIRE YEAR

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The first lesson Mr. Barbieri can teach us is that food isn’t a top priority if we find ourselves in a bind. Simply put, our bodies can go for quite an extended period of time without eating. Yes, Angus was in a unique situation hundreds of pounds of fat stores clinging to his body, but the fact stands to reason. Even a relatively fit individual likely has enough fat reserves to last long enough to endure a short-term situation. Dangers like dehydration and hypothermia are much bigger concerns. There even have been reports of people dying from thirst in as little as two days. If you’re in a bad spot, finding water and shelter should be your first priority.

Second, this incredible story teaches us a bit about how the body is designed. Obesity is a growing problem in America, and we tend to view fat as a bad thing. The truth, though, is that throughout history, a limited amount of body fat was a good thing. Every pound of body fat contains roughly 3,500 calories – which can be useful during a survival situation. With the irregular diets of some of our ancestors, the ability to store fat was a survival must.

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Of course, our diets and sedentary lifestyles have made packing on the pounds easy. On the upside, they also have given us a bit of insurance if we find ourselves in a bad spot. Even if you find yourself in the most remote location in the lower 48 states, you likely have enough calories on your body to make the trek out – provided the temperatures don’t kill you first. Again, finding water and shelter are much higher priorities than finding food. In fact, one survival expert, Dave Canterbury, told Off The Grid Radio that he encourages people who aren’t foragers not to eat anything in a short-term survival situation, out of fear they might eat something poisonous.

Keep in mind, though, that this view of survival applies only to short-term situations. Long-term situations would require a different approach in order to replenish your calories. Otherwise, you’ll simply become too weak to achieve any of your survival chores.

Although the unique story of Angus Barbieri is an interesting tale, it does offer up a few lessons for folks interested in survival and the human body. We can be comforted knowing that we all are likely carrying around at least a few days of calories in fat reserves on our body. Know the real dangers you face if you happen to be stranded, and plan accordingly.

How long do you think you could go without food and still survive? Share your survival tips in the section below:

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Stranded In Sub-Zero Temps & Surviving On Seal Meat … For Nearly 2 Years

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Stranded in Sub-Zero Temps & Surviving On Seal Meat ... With No Possible Rescue

If it weren’t for bad luck, some folks would have no luck all. But these folks often seem to have a deep-seated determination that drives them through the rough spots. One such determined fellow of the past was Ernest Shackleton. As an Antarctic explorer, his survival story – one of the most incredible in recorded history — can teach us all a bit about the grit it takes to get out of a serious pinch.

Ernest Shackleton was born an Anglo Irishman in 1874 and was raised in bustling London during the height of English imperialism. Bursting with energy and enthusiasm, at a young age Shackleton knew a life of adventure waited for him, as he dreamed of far-off lands and watched the sailing ships return from their exotic journeys. He became a certified master mariner, an Antarctic explorer, secretary of the Scottish geographical society, and made an attempt at English Parliament — all before his 30th birthday. To say the young boy from London had ambition, with the drive to match it, would be an understatement.

As Shackleton grew he was pestered by an underlying determination to achieve some sort of notoriety. At first his goal was to become the first to lead an expedition to the South Pole. Despite his best efforts he was unsuccessful in several attempts, and Roland Amundsen would become the first recorded human to stand on our most southern point. With the prestige of that journey evaporated, Shackleton shifted course and set a new goal: to become the first recorded man to cross the Antarctic continent.

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You can imagine how daunting this challenge would have been. He guessed the journey to be roughly 1,800 miles – 1,800 miles across the desolate, frozen, wind-swept, nothingness of Antarctica. Not only that, but he planned to start this expedition in the Weddell sea, a body of water generally unexplored at the time. In fact, much of the expedition would be through places the maps simply left blank. Heap on the added challenge of exploring a place where the record low is -128 degree Fahrenheit, and it becomes clear he was willing to risk everything. (He recorded temperatures of -23 – although it undoubtedly was colder at times.)

Despite the odds against an expedition, in 1913 Shackleton sorted through 5,000 applications to select the 28 men he believed would help achieve his goals. The group, a mix of experienced sailors, adventurers and greenhorns, set to sea aboard The Endurance on Aug. 8, 1914. As the unquestioned leader of the group Shackleton — or “The Boss” to his men — ran a tight ship. He believed in order and the necessity of routines to help the atmosphere and environment of the expedition. From the stories, The Boss had an intuitive way of leading men. This trait would be tested to its fullest potential in the coming months. The voyage went smoothly across the Atlantic and on Dec. 5, 1914, The Endurance and her crew pushed off from their last supply point at South Georgia island for the Weddell sea to begin their Antarctic exploration, looking to take advantage of the summer in Antarctica, which runs from late December through March. Little did they know, though, about the hardships awaiting.

As The Endurance moved south into the Weddell sea they began to encounter especially thick sea ice. The ship and her crew pushed on, slowly picking their way through the ice pack to open water. Ever so slowly the routes of escape grew less and less. Before long, The Endurance was surrounded by ice in all directions. Try as they might, the ship could not break through. Men were put to work trying to clear a path through the ice with saws and pick axes, but to no avail. By Jan. 19, 1915, it was becoming clear to The Boss the ship was stuck. A month later in his journal Shackleton noted, “The Endurance was confined for the winter …Where will the vagrant winds and currents carry the ship during the long winter months that await us?” Seems like the kind of uncertainty that can be a bit unsettling.

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At that point, all the men could do was sit and wait. The men were kept busy by cleaning the ship and performing regular chores. They also passed the time playing improvised soccer games and other forms of impromptu entertainment. Several of the men spent a good deal of time with the expedition’s sled dogs, which had been brought along the anticipated overland journey. All-in-all, the men made the best of a bad situation and spirits were as high as could be expected. This resolve would soon be tested by the ferocious elements surrounding them.

In July of 1915 the ship was becoming increasingly stressed by pressure from the surrounding ice. It moaned and creaked. Over the next few months, The Endurance would slowly crumble before the men’s very eyes. By October, the boat had nearly tipped completely sideways. It was becoming increasingly unsafe for the men to stay aboard and on Oct. 27, 1915, the order was given to abandon ship. There, on the floating sea ice, the men unloaded their gear, dogs and necessities to establish Ocean Camp, surrounding their disintegrating ship. In the sub-zero temperatures and gusting winds of 70 mph they could only watch as their ship was reduced to splinters.

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“It is hard to write what I feel,” read the journal entry of Shackleton. In the middle of an unexplored sea, floating haphazardly on ice no less, the group had just lost their ship.

By this point, the men had consumed nearly all of their food supplies, and the seals and penguins they hunted had vanished. Not only that, but they had determined that the ship has drifted over 1,100 miles trapped in the ice. Off course, food deprived, cold, and without communication or a boat, the crew could only do their best to ensure their continued survival. All of the dangers the men accepted when volunteering for the voyage were becoming more and more real. Nearly a year after being frozen in, the men had lost nearly everything and their odds of getting off the ice during the second year looked bleak.

That changed, however, by April of 1916. Incredibly, the winds had pushed the men within sight of Elephant Island, which lies on the extreme north edge of the Weddell sea. Just before The Endeavour sank, the men had managed to retrieve two of the lifeboats on the vessel. Although the boats were necessarily small, they offered the advantage of being able to be pulled around on top of the ice. Seeing some open water and an opportunity, Shackleton ordered the men to take to the boats and head for the island. In high spirits they landed and pitched camp. It was the first time the men had set foot on dry land in 497 days.

The celebration was short lived, though, as The Boss realized they were not out of the woods yet. The pack ice once again began closing in, and with no way to reach the outside world Shackleton made what likely was one of the most gut-wrenching decisions of his life. He decided to take a small crew and set sail for South Georgia Island, some 800 miles away. The ocean they had to cross contained some of the most violent waters in the world, and they fully expected to encounter 50-feet waves, ice cold water, and winds of 70 mph or more. And they were going to try it on a 22-food lifeboat called the James Caird. It had to feel like a suicide mission, but what ensued will go down as one of the greatest small boat journeys of all time.

Nearly immediately, the rough waves spilled over the sides, soaking the six men and their equipment. Clothes, sleeping bags and all other aspects of their gear became saturated with the freezing ocean water. For days on end, the small crew sailed on, soaked to the bone and battling strong winds and sleep deprivation. As ice built up over a foot thick on the boat itself, steering and balancing the small boat became a continuous chore. Although the elements tested the men to their core, their biggest threat came from the water itself.

Stranded in Sub-Zero Temps & Surviving On Seal Meat ... With No Possible RescueIn the middle of a particularly rough stretch of water Shackleton called out to the men that the sky was clearing ahead. Except that it wasn’t. Shackleton wrote:

I called to the other men that the sky was clearing, and then a moment later I realized that what I had seen was not a rift in the clouds but the white crest of an enormous wave.

During twenty-six years’ experience of the ocean in all its moods I had not encountered a wave so gigantic.

It was a mighty upheaval of the ocean, a thing quite apart from the big white-capped seas that had been our tireless enemies for many days. I shouted ‘For God’s sake, hold on! It’s got us.’ Then came a moment of suspense that seemed drawn out into hours. White surged the foam of the breaking sea around us. We felt our boat lifted and flung forward like a cork in breaking surf. We were in a seething chaos of tortured water; but somehow the boat lived through it, half full of water, sagging to the dead weight and shuddering under the blow. We baled with the energy of men fighting for life, flinging the water over the sides with every receptacle that came to our hands, and after ten minutes of uncertainty we felt the boat renew her life beneath us

With no time to waste, the crew pushed onward into the unknown. In a stroke of fortune, the crew of the James Caird managed to locate South Georgia island a harrowing 14 days after leaving Elephant Island. Bedraggled, frostbitten, sleep deprived and water logged, the small crew put ashore on a desolate shore. Shackleton knew the location of a whaling station on the island, but getting there would be a challenge. Not only were the men cold, worn down and exhausted, but the country between their landing location and the whaling station was once again blank on the map. If The Boss was to get to the station and save his crew, he would once again need to risk life and limb in order to do so.

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With two of the men in bad shape, Shackleton left one man behind to tend to their needs and he along with two other fellows embarked across the glaciers and rocky mountains of South Georgia Island. At one point the three men had to huddle together for body warmth simply to stay alive. Shackleton feared they would die if they slept, so they marched on without rest. It took the feeble group five days to cover the distance between their landing area and the whaling station. They were taken in by the station and given some very basic comforts, including a bath, shave and rest in a warm and dry bed.

True to his leadership reputation, The Boss wasted no time in setting out to rescue his two stranded parties of men. The sick men with the James Caird were fetched rather easily, but the 22 men on Elephant Island would pose a different story altogether. It would take the help of multiple governments and four ships to finally reach the stranded men on the desolate island. It was Aug. 30, 1916, when Shackleton finally gained sight of the men he had departed from some four months prior. It had been 634 days since the crew had initially headed into the unforgiving Antarctic waters — 634 days of frigid cold, wind and uncertainty. Amazingly, they all were still alive.

The legendary Shackleton Antarctic expedition was fortunate in that not a single man was lost. The story highlights the absolute tenacity of the human spirit and underscores what a person can endure. Not only that, but lessons from Shackleton’s leadership during the expedition may teach us about handling ourselves in seemingly hopeless situations. The story of Ernest Shackleton is one for the ages.

Bibliography Editors. (2016, Feb. 3). Ernest Shackleton. Retrieved Dec. 7, 2016, from The website :

Buleen, C. (2016, Dec. 7). Average Temperatue of Antarctica. Retrieved Dec. 7, 2016, from USA

Cool Antarctica. (2016, Dec. 7). Shackleton Endurance Expedition. Retrieved Dec. 7, 2016, from Cool Antarctica: (2016, Dec. 7). The Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1914-1917. Retrieved Dec. 7, 2016, from

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3 Simple Trapping Skills That Every Survivalist Should Know

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3 Simple Trapping Skills That Every Survivalist Should Know

Image source: Cody Assmann

If you ever find yourself in a survival situation, what would be your first priority? One recurring theme when reading stories of survival is the constant search for food.

Folks like the Lykovs or Alexander Selkirk all relayed a similar message that food was a constant necessity that proved unending in its demands. Not only was food harder to obtain, but their caloric expenditures would have increased dramatically as they transitioned into survival mode.

While hunting with a gun can be effective, trapping is another strategy to secure meat in the wild. In fact, trapping was a part of the Lykovs’ story. These days, trapping has earned a bad rap, with a few bad incidents making people leery of the practice altogether.

But trapping is a longstanding tradition in many parts of the country and also a great tool for animal management. Not only that, but trapping is a low-energy way of obtaining meat for the table. It targets many small game animals that tend to have large populations. I personally have eaten meat from my trapline and find it pretty tasty. Another benefit: Trapping targets animals that tend to have beautiful and useful fur.

If you’ve never trapped before, and think it might be a good skill to add to your repertoire, here are three basic traps that would be effective in any survival situation.

1. Footholds

The basic trap you’ll see people using these days is a foothold trap. As the name indicates, a foothold trap is designed to hold the foot of the trapped animal. Most folks wrongly believe traps are designed to cause severe damage to animals. They’re not. These traps aim to secure the animal above the foot, and simply hold it securely until the trapper can show up to dispatch it. I have only been trapping for a few years, but have yet to see an animal with any of the extreme injuries anti-trappers peddle as common. Watch the video below to understand this concept better.

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Footholds are useful for catching literally any animal out there, from muskrat to bear. One thing you need to consider is the size of the animal you want — and then select the proper trap. A good all-around trap is a #2 coil spring. (The number refers to the size of the trap. Smaller numbers like #1 are smaller traps, while a #4 would be big enough to hold more powerful animals.) A #2 coil spring is a nice middle-of-the-road trap that can secure most species you’d want to trap. With it you could catch raccoon, opossum and even powerful critters like beaver. In a situation where you can’t haul around a pickup full of traps, the #2 foothold can probably get the job done.

2. Conibears

A conibear refers to a square trap designed to kill the animal within seconds of triggering as an animal walks through it. One positive of a conibear trap is it diminishes the amount of ammunition you’ll need to carry and shoot on the trapline. In a situation where you need to conserve as much ammunition as possible, this added benefit can be vital. When using conibears it is important to pair the animal with the correct trap.

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For trapping raccoon, trappers generally use 160s or 220s. One popular set to ensure proper firing of your conibear is to build a bucket set. These sets require the animal to walk through a small opening in a five-gallon bucket to obtain bait in the back. When they walk through the opening, the trap fires. Using the bucket set greatly increases the odds you will get an ideal catch right behind the ears, resulting in a quick and clean kill.

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One bit of advice before purchasing and using your conibear traps is to check your local game regulations. Since conibears are designed to kill instantly, many states have imposed laws to avoid catching dogs and cats. In my home state, for example, conibears must be placed at least six feet off of the ground, or completely submerged beneath the water. Some localities have banned this trap altogether.

3. Snares

Snares of today are simply made with a length of cable and a one-way slide. Like the conibear, they are designed to pass over the animal’s head and kill the animal in the trap. More modern snares are not designed to choke the animal, but rather to cut off blood flow to the brain, killing the animal much faster. To set a snare, first determine an animal’s routine path of travel. Once you’ve located the path, find a good location from which to hang your snare. Care must be taken to build your loop to accommodate the animal you want to catch, as well as placing the loop off the ground for the same purpose.

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Snares are beneficial for a variety of reasons, including not needing much ammunition. Secondly, snares are much lighter than either of the two steel traps previously mentioned. If you are in a situation where you have to carry your traps, snares may be the best option. Their weight also can allow you to set more traps at a time. If you start trapping, you’ll soon learn it can be a numbers game, and the ability to set more traps gives you a better opportunity to find food.

Similar to conibears, snares also generally have a good deal of legislation regulating their use. Consult your local laws to check their legality.

Final Thoughts

If you can get your hands on a few traps, it may be worth your time to learn a bit about this ancient art. Not only will you learn about the natural world around you, but you may learn a skill to help you during a survival situation.

Have you ever used traps? What advice would you add? Share your tips in the section below:

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The WWII Soldier Who Disappeared Into The Woods & Lived Off-Grid For 27 Years

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The WWII Soldier Who Disappeared Into The Woods & Lived Off-Grid For 27 Years

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The day was hot and sticky — as usual. Beneath the tropical sun a hawk-faced young man crept silently through the dense jungle foliage. Thick green vegetation nearly engulfed him as he wove through the jungle floor. Sweat trickled down his face and his clothing was once again dampened. His alert eyes darted intently in all directions, always searching for the ever-present danger of the enemy. In his nimble hands he clutched a weather-beaten rifle, issued to him for one reason: to kill all of those who would threaten his emperor.

Young, and brimming with determination and nationalistic pride, the lean man knew the odds were stacked against him. His country had been losing ground in this great war to foes from across the ocean. Enemy troops were bearing down on his island, his homeland. He and a small group of fellow soldiers on the island had made up their minds. They had resolved to keep up the fight and never surrender.

Then, almost inaudibly, in the distance he heard a slow drone off to the east. Mixed with the cacophony of the jungle it was hard to determine the source of the noise, but it sounded like the hum of a plane. In this island war Shoichi Yokoi, the young soldier, had become ever-so accustomed to the sound of enemy planes. His eyes snapped to the sky, searching for the source. However, through the chaotic dancing of the treetops in the tropical wind it was hard to see much. Within a minute or so the noise increased tremendously as the aircraft flew closer. In a flash the plane zipped low overhead, deafening the jungle below. The mighty rush of air it brought with it seemed nearly to uproot the trees with its force. The young man ducked slightly, perhaps out of instinct more than necessity.

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The WWII Soldier Who Disappeared & Lived Off-Grid For 27 Years

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With the passing of the plane and its deafening tumult Shoichi noticed what looked like leaves falling from the sky. As the scattered items fell to the earth, he eventually realized they were paper pamphlets discarded by the passing plane. He pushed through the restrictive jungle foliage and snatched a pamphlet, suspended on a fern. Quickly scanning the leaflet, he discovered a shocking announcement. To his bewilderment, it proclaimed the great war was over. Just as astonishingly he read his home country, Japan, had surrendered. Confusion built up inside him and he rushed off to inform his fellow comrades.

This is where the incredible story of Shoichi Yokoi really begins. Yokoi and several of his fellow soldiers concluded it would be better to stay on the island fighting than to return home in surrender. In an action symbolic of Japanese soldiers of World War II, they would fight to the bitter end, no matter the cost. Their decision would intern their fates to the surrounding jungle of Guam. Some would lose their lives over the ensuing years, while Shoichi would struggle onward. In fact, for the next 27 years Shoichi survived expressly off the gifts of the jungle and bits of discarded waste. For the lion’s share of that time, he shared the experience with several fellow soldiers. For 19 years he and two other men lived as jungle hermits. In 1964, though, his companions met their untimely death in a great ocean flood. Following their deaths, Yokoi survived alone for eight years in solitude. How he was able to carve out a living in an unforgiving jungle home is likely to impress even the most cynical reader.

First, Shoichi’s main concern during his island solitude was finding enough food. In fact, he would later recount that finding food was a “continuous hardship.” With limited large game animals to pursue, he was forced to constantly feed his high caloric demands with small animals. He mainly subsisted on edible plants, nuts and fruits he gathered from the jungle. Additionally, he became adept at trapping eel and shrimp. At times he was also able to procure meat from birds and wild hogs. His favorite food was rat meat, but in his extreme situation of survival Yokoi couldn’t afford to be picky and ate absolutely everything he could.

When he wasn’t spending time finding food, much of Shoichi’s time was devoted to making the tools and goods necessary for his survival. Living in such extreme isolation, Shoichi was completely self-dependent and had to make literally everything he needed. He learned to use the bounty of the jungle, unknowingly in similar ways to Guam’s native peoples. He made cordage from trees, a trap for eels, and used bamboo for all sorts of things. Showing off the true power of human ingenuity, Yokoi used the inner bark of the Pago tree to weave a homespun fabric of sorts. From this he actually tailored an army uniform that held up remarkably well.

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Perhaps most impressive was the survival shelter Shoichi constructed. Using only an improvised hand trowel, he dug a deep pit in the jungle floor. Initially, he dug straight down into the ground. Once seven or eight feet down, he cleared out a space for living quarters. It had dedicated sections for sleeping and cooking, and it even had a latrine. His latrine drained into the nearby river, thus keeping his den remarkable sanitary. To avoid cave-ins he used bamboo shoots to support the roof. As bamboo was his main source of wood, it was also used to construct his ladder to enter and exit his pit. The shelter was excellently camouflaged, and even standing next to it you could barely identify the entrance.

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Another of Shoichi’s major survival lifelines was his ability to make fire. As a soldier the young Japanese may have learned a variety of fire-starting techniques. During his stay in the jungle he used two primitive methods of fire-starting. Initially he used a glass lens to focus the rays of the sun to produce fire. Eventually, though, he lost the glass lens he was using and had to adapt. With a new problem to solve, he resorted to the much more primitive method of friction fire-starting. Amazingly, Shoichi discovered how to create a coal using what he described as a bow drill set. His ability to revert to more primitive methods for survival seem to highlight an ideology within modern survivalists that modern tools eventually will give out — and the understanding of primitive ways of doing things comes into play. The ability to make fire not only allowed Yokoi to cook his food, but it allowed him to boil his water, something he did each day.

So it was for Shoichi Yokoi for 27 years. Although the rest of the world had moved on, he and his comrades held out in an amazing display of discipline, attrition and outright grit. Interestingly, Yokoi’s survival story doesn’t end with him voluntarily reentering society. In fact, the resourceful soldier was returned to civilization at gunpoint. While checking his shrimp traps one day he was surprised by two American hunters. The two men wrestled the wild man into submission and checked him in to local authorities. As his amazing story unfolded, people listened in disbelief. So much had changed during Shoichi’s 27-year expedition that the world was almost unrecognizable to him. Upon his return to his homeland he said, “The world has certainly changed, but my determination to serve (the emperor) will never change.”

Shoichi Yokoi’s 27-year jungle survival story certainly holds many lessons for modern survivalists looking to prepare for similar situations. His ability to meet caloric needs, make tools, build an adequate shelter, and produce fire allowed him to live in isolation. Driven by an unwillingness to surrender, he forged a life for himself out of the surrounding jungle. His ability to adapt, observe his surroundings for resources, and continue his lonely war was truly amazing.

What is your reaction to Shoichi’s story? Share it in the section below:

Works Cited

BisitaGuam Episode E10: 28 Years in the Jungle. 2010.

Kristof, Nicholas D. 1997. “Shoichi Yokoi, 82, Is Dead; Japan Soldier Hid 27 Years.” The New York Times, September.

“Shoichi Yokoi – the Japanese Soldier Who Was Too Embarrassed to Return Home. He Lived in the Jungle in Guam for 28 Years after the End of WWII.” 2016. The Vintage News. October 12.

“Website.” 2016. Accessed November 11.

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The Silent .22 Round That’s Quieter Than A BB Gun

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The Silent .22 Round That’s Quieter Than A BB Gun

Image source: Cody Assmann

One of the most popular topics within the survival and prepping community is firearms, and it seems there are as many opinions as there are people.

Although there is a great deal of disagreement on which guns and what type of ammo you should stockpile, there are a few calibers that frequently enter most conversations. Two that come to mind are the .22 rifle and the 12-gauge shotgun.

Both guns have proven their usefulness in a variety of situations and can be effective hunting and defense tools. Survival aside, these guns consistently rank on lists of the most popular guns in America, year in and year out. If you happen to own either a .22 or a 12 gauge, one company, Aguila, is producing some ammunition you might want to explore.

Aguila Ammunition has been churning out ammunition to suit the needs of hunters, law enforcement, sport shooters, and the military since 1961. Recently I was able to get my hands on a few of the specialty cartridges they produce. Those rounds were the .22 Colibri and the 12-gauge Minishell slug.

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What caught my eye with the .22 Colibri was the advertised silence of the cartridge. The folks at Aguila promote the Colibri as a round that eliminates the need of a suppressor. As a guy who operates a trap line, many times near cattle feedlots, an ultra-quiet .22 round was definitely something I wanted to check out. Cattle in feedlots can be spooked, and the sharp report of a .22 in the grey light of morning has always been something I’m concerned with. I’d hate to have a rancher’s expensive heifer get torn up when I’m dispatching a cheap raccoon. Needless to say, the Colibri seemed like an ideal fit for my needs. After testing the round I found out how truly quiet it is.

The Silent .22 Round That’s Quieter Than A BB Gun

.22 Colibri shot damage. Two separate shots through one-fourth inch of shoulder bone. Image source: Cody Assmann

Incredibly, the .22 Colibri is about as loud as a BB gun. Check that, about as loud as a firing pin. When I touched off my first Colibri round I was actually a bit startled by how quiet it was. It is an absolutely perfect cartridge for someone looking to quietly dispatch certain animals at extremely close ranges. On my trapline I plan to use it to dispatch small animals I catch in my footholds. As I mentioned, this will allow me to trap in closer proximity to feedlots and other similar situations. The Colibri is also perfect for introducing kids to shooting sports. Although a standard .22 has no recoil, if you happen to have a little one who is a bit spooked by the report of a gun, the Colibri may be a good round to use.

Another Aguila cartridge I was able to procure was the Aguila 12-gauge Minishell slug. Minishells are unique in that they offer the ability to load up a standard 12-gauge shotgun with more shells at one time while not totally sacrificing on power. In my backyard test I was able to punch through three 1×6 pine lumber scraps screwed together before blowing off the back of my target. Although you will obviously lose a certain amount of power in a smaller shell like the Minishell, the loss doesn’t appear too substantial in my book. At distances of 30 yards and less I could definitely see the Minishell being an effective hunting and defense round. It would be especially useful in situations where you have to carry your ammunition for long periods of time or distance.

The main advantage of the Minishell lies in the undersized shell dimensions. In my Remington 870 Express Supermag 12-gauge shotgun, I was able to load my tube with six shots in addition to one in the chamber. In contrast, when I am using standard 2 ¾-inch shells I can only load four in the tube at a time, plus one in the chamber. Even though the difference may seem minimal, two extra shots may make all the difference. The small nature of the shell also allows you to carry more ammunition in a given space. That benefit really increases the shot you can carry in a bag or store in an ammo can or safe.

The Silent .22 Round That’s Quieter Than A BB Gun

12-gauge Minishell slug damage. Image source: Cody Assmann

This space-for-power trade-off gave rise to the popular .308 cartridge after World War II. In a situation where space is one of your biggest concerns, the 12-gauge Minishell may be worth a look.

Neither of these two cartridges comes without their own set of drawbacks, though. With the .22 Colibri, you are definitely not going to be doing any big-game hunting. It is best suited for small-game animals at short ranges. With a paltry 20 grains of bullet weight leaving the barrel at only 420 feet per second, it doesn’t take a degree in physics to realize the limitations of this shot. I did test the Colibri on a few materials, including wood and bone. It proved capable of penetrating wood and around one-fourth of an inch of shoulder bone. The shoulder bone appeared to be near its limitations of penetrating power.

Also, after shooting a half box of 12-gauge Minishell, the biggest drawback I could detect was the ability to cycle the shot cleanly. With some practice I was able to compensate my draw cycle to accommodate the shorter shell, but early on I was jamming shells fairly frequently. It seems to be a challenge you can overcome if you appreciate the compact size of the shell enough.

Both the .22 Colibri and the 12-gauge Minishell are cartridges you may want to explore, as both offer unique benefits. They certainly are capable of doing the jobs they were designed to do.

Have you shot either the 22 Colibri or the 12-gauge Minishell? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below:

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The ‘Quickie’ Survival Bow You Can Carve In A Few Hours

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The ‘Quickie’ Survival Bow You Can Carve In A Few Hours

Image source: Cody Assmann


Behind finding fresh water, finding food is one of the biggest concerns in a survival situation. The easiest way to feed yourself for short-term situations is to learn edible plants, but at some point you need meat.

The ‘Quickie’ Survival Bow You Can Carve In A Few Hours

Image source: Cody Assmann

When you start discussing tools for hunting, the bow and arrow inevitably enter the conversation. Learning to make a capable bow, though, is no easy task. Bows made by bowyers today are works of art just as much as they are hunting tools. Learning the entire process takes years of practice and attention to detail. If carefully crafted and cared for, a good bow can last for years and years.

The problem is that properly curing a piece of wood (stave) for a bow takes months or years if done the traditional way. If wood is not properly dried, it will break much sooner and you will have to start over. If you find yourself in a situation where you need a bow and arrow, but don’t have years to dry a stave, you’ll need to make a “quickie” survival bow. Quickies are bows that are completed within a few hours of harvesting the wood. These bows are not designed for long-term use, as they will most certainly break at some point in the near future. However, these bows can absolutely serve for short periods of time until you can properly cure a stave.

For those interested in learning how to make a survival bow, here are the three steps you need to follow.

1. Selecting your wood

Good woods for bow-making are yew, ash, Osage orange, oak, bamboo and mulberry. You may, however, find yourself in a situation where none of these woods are highly prevalent. As I set out to make myself a quickie bow I found myself in that exact predicament. In the Great Plains where I live, trees are scarce, and trying to find a good tree for making a bow can feel like looking for hen’s teeth. With that being the case, I decided to select a much-despised tree of the plains — the Russian olive. Although these invasive trees are everywhere, they have not earned a reputation as a standout bow material. Beggars can’t be choosers, I suppose.

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When selecting any piece of wood, a piece that is taller than the shooter, straight-grained, and free of many knots is ideal. Good woods have the ability to withstand forces of tension on the back (facing away from the archer) and compression on the belly (facing the archer). Once again, the ideal piece of wood may not always be available in a survival situation, so do your best to find a piece that most closely fits the bill. I was able to find a Russian olive branch about the thickness of my arm — and fairly straight. It also had no major projecting branches. Since it was so prevalent and the piece looked good, I decided to give it a go.

2. Roughing it out

The ‘Quickie’ Survival Bow You Can Carve In A Few Hours

Image source: Cody Assmann

Once you have your piece of wood selected, it is time to start roughing out the bow. Use a tomahawk, hatchet or knife to remove large bits of wood and create a rough outline of your bow.  Be careful not to remove too much wood in this process. You can always take more wood off, but you can’t add more once it is gone. On my Russian olive bow I left the back of the bow completely untouched and it worked well enough. Bowyers will tell you this is incorrect, and they are right; this is not the correct way to make a bow you want to last for a long time. However, we are discussing survival bows and are looking to make an efficient hunting tool as quickly as possible. With the rough shape of the bow carved out, you can move onto the next step in the process.

3. Tillering

The ‘Quickie’ Survival Bow You Can Carve In A Few Hours

Image source: Cody Assmann

The next step to make a quickie survival bow is to tiller the bow. Tillering is the process of getting the bow to bend in an even arc when drawn. You can continue to work with your cutting tool, but a file is ideal for the job. If you have a file available, it is worth using. Start by bending the bow and seeing where it is stiff and where it bends easily. In the areas the bow bends stiffly, begin to remove a small bit of material with your file. A good rule is to spend more time scrutinizing your bow than you do working on it. This will help you avoid removing too much material and ending up with a bow that is too light and incapable of doing its job. Continue to remove material and check the arc of the bow until you are pleased with it. Once again, spend as much time tillering as you find acceptable for your situation. When you are pleased with the tiller of the bow, it now can be strung and ready for use.

I was able to construct my quickie survival bow in the matter of a few hours; depending on your situation you can spend more or less time on the process. If your survival situation were to be a long-term affair, you would be wise to begin drying a stave while you make your first quickie bow. You could essentially use quickie bows in the time it took your stave to dry and then construct a long-term hunting bow for yourself. Regular hunting bows are made in much of the same fashion, with attention to detail being a big key. The kind of bow you create all depends on your particular situation. However, should you decide to proceed with a quickie bow you can rest easy knowing your new survival bow can help procure some life-saving meat.  Add this knowledge to your list of bushcraft skills, and you will immediately increase your ability to survive and thrive in most any situation.

What advice would you add on making a survival bow? Share your tips in the section below:   

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The 3 WORST Animals To Eat For Survival

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The 3 WORST Animals To Depend On For Survival

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Imagine this situation: You silently enter a nearby piece of woods and move stealthily along some edge cover. You take each step with care, hoping to avoid a hazardous one that would snap a twig beneath your feet and signal your presence to the entire surrounding woods. Fate has landed you in this situation, where your survival depends on your skill with a gun and your knowledge of the land.

Up ahead your prey is feeding, unaware of your presence. Ever so slowly you lift your rifle to your shoulder and take aim.

In a survival situation like this, what animal do you imagine yourself hunting? Is it a deer? Are you fortunate enough to live in an area of elk or other large animal? How about small game animals? Not only are small game animals the most abundant, but they also typically require the least amount of skill to harvest. There’s just one problem with this plan: You’ll starve to death.

The big risk people would face in this situation is a misunderstanding of how their body works and the calories their new life would require in a survival situation. If you ever find yourself in a situation where your life depends on harvesting the bounty of nature, here are three animals you shouldn’t count on:

1. Rabbits

The truth is that if you ate nothing but rabbits in a survival situation you would die from what is called rabbit starvation. This phenomenon occurs when the human body eats only lean meats for an extended period of time. To function properly, you constantly need a variety of food sources to keep you going. Native people knew all about this. Here is a diary entry from renowned explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson scribed more than 100 years ago after living with Native people:

The groups that depend on the blubber animals are the most fortunate in the hunting way of life, for they never suffer from fat-hunger. This trouble is worst, so far as North America is concerned, among those forest Indians who depend at times on rabbits, the leanest animal in the North, and who develop the extreme fat-hunger known as rabbit-starvation. Rabbit eaters, if they have no fat from another source — beaver, moose, fish — will develop diarrhea in about a week, with headache, lassitude, a vague discomfort. If there are enough rabbits, the people eat till their stomachs are distended; but no matter how much they eat they feel unsatisfied. Some think a man will die sooner if he eats continually of fat-free meat than if he eats nothing, but this is a belief on which sufficient evidence for a decision has not been gathered in the north. Deaths from rabbit-starvation, or from the eating of other skinny meat, are rare; for everyone understands the principle, and any possible preventive steps are naturally taken.

2. Squirrel

In city parks and towns around the country, you will find a population of squirrels that, at times, seems to outnumber the people. The real problem with squirrels is that their caloric return is far too low to depend on as a major food source. One squirrel is estimated to provide around 540 calories. In a world where we spend increasingly more time manipulating a screen and sitting on our keesters, we still demand around 2,000 calories a day. Even with our modern luxuries, you’d need to consume around four squirrels a day just to calorically break even. No problem, right? Well, there is one problem. In a survival situation, you could expect your caloric demands to skyrocket. Even if your daily caloric demand only doubled to 4,000 calories per day, that would put you at needing a hefty eight squirrels a day to break even. I’m sure this wouldn’t be a problem on day one in many areas, but how about with a family of four needing 32 squirrels a day? How about on day 100 when you’ve already shot 800 squirrels? As you can tell, the math doesn’t add up, and squirrel is not something you should be depending on as your staple food source.

3. Panfish

The 3 WORST Animals To Depend On For Survival

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Trout and certain panfish find their way on the bottom of this list for the same reasons as squirrels. For example, a wild trout only provides 143 calories per fillet. Double that and you are at 286 calories per fish. Again, the amount of panfish or trout you’d have to catch in a day would be substantial if you were to try and live solely on their sustenance. Based on a 4,000-calorie diet, that would equate to around 14 fish per day to break even for one person. However, there would be an advantage of panfish over squirrels and rabbit. That advantage is that fishing is passive. In other words, you could cast a few lines each day and come back later to check your catch, with very little effort involved. Fishing doesn’t require nearly as many calories as hunting does; therefore, the calories of your panfish would go further and you may not burn 4,000 calories per day. If you were in a situation where you didn’t have to expend much energy, panfish could possibly be a reasonable food source for an extended period of time. However, you would still have to catch an awful lot of fish.

Final Thoughts

In reality, these animals all can play a minor role in a long-term survival diet, but they should not be viewed as long-term staple food sources. Keep in mind this analysis has considered diets solely composed of these animals. If you could find supplementary food items — from plants to other animals — you would decrease the negative effects. People who lived off the land for generations didn’t depend solely on these animals, and neither should we.

Do you agree? Disagree? What advice would you add? Share your tips in the section below:  

The Man Who Survived On A Deserted Island, Eating Goat, For 52 Months

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The Man Who Survived On A Deserted Island, Eating Goat, For 52 Months

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The sun shone bright overhead when Captain Woodes Rogers of the ship “Duke” stepped ashore of the jagged and timbered island in 1709. Tall peaks jutted skyward as if the Great Pyramids of Giza lay beneath a cloak of green. A soft breeze offered limited relief from the incessant heat of the tropics.

Woodes and his men were privateers employed by the British crown. Effectively, this employed the men as well-connected pirates who sailed against its enemies, namely Spanish ships of the area. This particular island lay roughly 400 miles off the west coast of Chile and was by no means a hot spot of traffic. Capt. Rogers and his men were simply passing by on that February day when they decided to drop anchor offshore. A lookout soon spotted smoke rising from its dense foliage. Smoke? Surely in this case where there was smoke, there must be man. Curious, a handful of men landed on the island to investigate. With Spanish enemies seemingly teaming the oceans, tension hung over the men on their approach.

They were greeted not by a rival Spaniard, but by something much more bizarre. A white man stepped forth from the jungle, clad in nothing but goatskins for clothing. By the looks of the shaggy beard, unkempt hair (even by pirate standards), and weather worn look of the man, the sailors could tell this man was unusual. He approached apprehensively across the beach, like a wild animal approaching gawking tourists. Each party eyed the other beneath furrowed brows in that brief moment before introductions began. Although Capt. Rogers’ men could hardly understand the unclear garbling of the wild man, he seemed to be genuinely happy to see these Englishmen and began to tell them his story. It was a story that impressed even adventurous pirates.

Who Was It?

Alexander Selkirk (born Alexander Selcraig) of Scotland was born in the late 1600s to a cobbler (Selcraig, 2005). Not much is known of the Selcraig family other than they lived in the tiny fishing village of Lower Largo in southeast Scotland. It is also known the family regularly attended services at the Largo Kirk, or church. Incredibly, proof of their attendance is manifested in the recorded minutes of the church that are still available today. You see, Alexander was a bit of a hot head and had trouble controlling his temper. The Kirk minutes mention several episodes in which the church reprimanded the young Selcraig for improper behavior. The final mention of Alexander in these documents was in 1701, after the young man assaulted his brother after a prank at his expense (Selcraig, 2005). After being publicly rebuked in front of the congregation, Alex had had enough, and was determined to leave Lower Largo once and for all.

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In those days a man with the right spirit and skills could find work privateering for the British crown. With hate in his heart and his eyes to the sea, Selcraig boarded the ship Cinque Ports and somehow became known as Alexander Selkirk for the rest of history. Cinque Ports and another ship, St. George, were bound for South America and the South Pacific. Plunder and treasure were being pillaged in the “New World,” and these ships were meant to secure these treasures for the British by any means necessary. As the ships left port, it is likely Selkirk had no idea of the adventure he was beginning.

The Man Who Survived On A Deserted Island, Eating Goat, For 52 Months

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Pirating was not an easy life. Not only did the men risk battles with other seamen and the natural adversaries of the sea, but other more real risks as well. Scurvy, fever, dysentery, typhus and a catalog of other diseases were often the most prevalent dangers a pirate faced. One could only be so fortunate to die on the keen edge of a Spanish sword, rather than the dull and painful edge of these diseases. Aboard the Cinque Ports, Selkirk faced these common enemies, but it was the ship’s captain that would eventually break him.

While out at sea Captain Charles Pickering died and was replaced by an arrogant young seaman named Thomas Stradling. Stradling never had the trust of his men and abused his power aboard the ship. Dissention grew and the young captain was looking to justify his rank and effectively snub the men into obedience. He would get his chance on a lonely island in the South Pacific off the coast of Chile.

How Did He End Up Deserted?

In 1704 the Cinque Ports dropped anchor off the tiny island in order to secure fresh meat, fish, vegetables and make repairs. For a month, the crew dutifully prepared the ship for their big voyage ahead that would take them across the immense expanse of the Pacific. The Cinque Ports was rotting, and the sailors whose lives were buoyed by that ship wanted to improve its structure more than anyone. After a month, Capt. Stradling called the men to hoist anchor and shove out to sea. It was at this point Selkirk’s independent nature boiled to the surface. He objected to the captain’s orders, citing the ship’s rotting hull as evidence it could not make the journey. Although the men had thrown their backs into the job, Selkirk was not confident of its strength. His conviction was unrelenting; in his mind the ship could not make the journey. Selkirk was so convinced of the ship’s dangerous framework he made a decision that would forever change his life.

As his blood boiled and his temper flared, Selkirk declared he would rather be cast away on the island than head out to sea aboard the ship. In an instant, Capt. Stradling saw the moment he had wanted. He speedily met the demands of the rebellious sailor and put Selkirk ashore with nothing more than a musket, some powder and lead, hatchet, knife, navigation tools, tobacco, cheese, jam, a bit of rum and his Bible (Selcraig, 2005). It was when the ship shoved off that Selkirk began to feel a great remorse for his request. He pleaded and begged the captain to allow him back on the ship. In front of the entire crew, Stradling refused the request, thus sealing his authority and demonstrating the fate of any dissenters still aboard.

It must have been a lonely feeling for Selkirk to watch the ship become a tiny dot on the horizon. Alexander found himself alone on a deserted island, and he would remain in isolation for the next 52 months of his life (BBC, 2016).

Fortunately for Selkirk, he had a few things going for him. For starters, the island was teaming with life. Rats, goats, cats, lobster and fish all abounded, but it was the seals of the island that were the most numerous. Southern elephant seals dominated the island, so thick that later explorers would record they had to shoot a number of the seals just to make a path to walk ashore. In addition to the animal flesh, the island also was abundant in a number of different vegetables the stranded man ate. Fresh water was also easy to find, as the mountainous lands afforded a number of streams that made a quick dash to the surrounding ocean. Sure enough, Selkirk would become accustomed to his island diet, preferring goat meat above all else.

Battles With Loneliness

Alexander Selkirk Alexander Selkirk Selkirk’s biggest adversary on the island was not hunger, predators or disease, but loneliness. The physiological war of isolation on people has been well-documented, and was surely the biggest threat to his well-being. Fortunately for Selkirk, he was able to pass his time pouring himself into his Bible, in addition to the number of survival tasks he would need to accomplish each day. The sailor could start a fire using his musket flints and tried to keep the flame burning day and night. The comforting effect of a burning campfire is still one of the biggest supports for a stranded person. In addition to fire chores, Selkirk also had to procure skins, tools and shelter. Eventually, he even tamed a few of the wild cats and gained a small degree of relationship with them.

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Another way Selkirk passed his time was to scan the horizon from a lookout point on a high rocky point. This vantage offered him the opportunity to look for passing ships and determine whether they were British friend … or Spanish foe.

Thus was the means by which Selkirk was able to signal Capt. Rogers in 1709. When the men of the Duke heard Selkirk’s story, they couldn’t help but feel some skepticism. Pirates like Alexander aren’t necessarily enlisted for their chivalry. Coincidentally, a man named William Dampier was aboard the Duke and actually had known Selkirk as a sailor of the Cinque Ports and could vouch for the legitimacy of his story. Dampier also informed Selkirk that his hunch the Cinque Ports could not make the journey had been proven right. The ship had, in fact, gone down off the coast of Chile, drowning most of the crew. A few men survived, only to be locked up in Spanish prisons.

Selkirk would board the Duke and eventually return home, riding a bit of celebrity status upon his arrival. For a free meal or a pint, Selkirk wandered the pubs of Britain, retelling his adventures on the faraway island of the Pacific. Eventually another Brit, Daniel Defoe, would come to learn of the Selkirk story. Defoe was a well-known author of the time, and the story simply mesmerized him. Although we don’t know if Defoe ever met Selkirk, we do know his story inspired Defoe to write one of the best novels of all time. The epic novel he drafted would prod the imagination of adventurous minds for generations to come. The renowned fictional character we know as Robinson Crusoe was born out of the real-life adventures of the lesser-known Scottish hothead Alexander Selkirk. His story of survival is truly one of the most inspiring in all of history.

Do you think you could survive on a deserted island for four years? Share your thoughts on Selkirk below: 


BBC. (2016, September 1). Alexander Selkirk – the Real Robinson Crusoe? Retrieved September 17, 2016, from The European Lifeline; History Oddities:

Selcraig, B. (2005, July 1). The Real Robinson Crusoe. Retrieved September 17, 2016, from

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DIY: The Long-Lasting, Easy-To-Make Survival Glue Your Ancestors Used

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DIY: The Long-Lasting, Easy-To-Make Survival Glue Your Ancestors Used

The finished product Image source: Cody Assmann

Bushcraft and survival skills are often the process of reverse engineering. Take fire, for example. If you want to learn how to make a friction fire, you would begin by learning how to make a bow drill set, what materials you would need, and how to actually make the coal. Eventually, you would probably figure out how to make a coal and create your first friction fire.

For a short period of time, you would be happy with this accomplishment and continue practicing the skill. Over time, though, you may become curious about other aspects of the drill set. You might begin to wonder: “How did people create the string in the bow drill?” or “What tools did they use if they didn’t have steel to shape the wood?” I can tell you from experience that as you dig deeper and deeper, you’ll truly begin to understand how little you know.

DIY: The Long-Lasting, Easy-To-Make Survival Glue Your Ancestors Used

Materials needed. Image source: Cody Assmann

Another appealing aspect of bushcraft is the real world application of the knowledge you gain. Unlike some aspects of our formal education, everything you learn in bushcraft can be directly implemented in your life. The fact is, they were all skills people used regularly. When I started making my own primitive arrows, I learned an awful lot about the lives and skills of people who depended on their arrows to stay alive. I also learned how to create a product I could take into the field and actually help me on a hunt. The skills of the past definitely are relevant today.

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During my experience in making arrows, I eventually began to reverse engineer the process. Over time, I would learn to wrap my arrows with sinew, straighten the shafts using fire, and process turkey feathers for my fletchings. One aspect of the project that really drew my curiosity was how primitive archers created the glue they needed to attach points and fletchings.

I eventually learned that ancient people sometimes used an adhesive called “pine pitch glue” that was made from all-natural materials. I learned quickly that this all-natural glue is not only an excellent way to attach feathers to my arrow shafts, but is an outstanding adhesive in general. For anyone interested in primitive skills, making their own archery gear, or developing skills for a survival situation, learning how to make pine pitch glue is about as simple as it gets.

The first thing you will need to do in order to make this primitive glue is to gather your materials. To begin, you’ll need to find a source of the material that lends its name to the glue: pine pitch. Pine pitch is a golden resin you’ll find seeping from scars, broken branches, or any piercing of pine trees. When the sap first finds its way out of the tree, it is soft and sticky and cannot be gathered. Once it has had sufficient time to dry, however, pine pitch hardens and becomes easy to gather and store until you are ready to start your project. The amount of glue you’ll need depends on the amount of glue you want to make. Around half a cup to a full cup would be a good amount for your first project.

DIY: The Long-Lasting, Easy-To-Make Survival Glue Your Ancestors Used

Pulverized charcoal. Image source: Cody Assmann

With your pine pitch in the bag, you’ll need to find some charcoal or some other filler material to bind the resin. Other examples of binding materials are wood or bone shavings, or dried dung of herbivores. Whatever material you obtain, it will need to be ground into a fine powder. It is best to use a round stone and simply grind your material until it is as fine as possible. The amount of binding material needed isn’t an exact science and will take some experimentation. I would suggest to begin with around half as much binding material as you have pine pitch. Finally, you’ll need a small stick that will carry the glue for you, a fire, and a tin can of some kind. Obviously, ancient people didn’t have tin cans, so if you’d like to stay primitive you can substitute a thin flat rock.

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As previously mentioned, the actual process for making pine pitch glue is incredibly straightforward. Once your materials are gathered and you have a fire rolling, let the fire burn down to a good bed of coals. Next, fill up the tin cup with the resin you gathered and place the tin in the bed of coals. You’ll be surprised how quickly the hard resin turns into a thick sludge of melted sap. Stir the mixture in order to make sure all of the resin is melted down evenly. If you find any additional substances such as bark or dirt in the sap, you can remove it from the mixture. These would cause an inferior product if left in the glue. Next, take your pulverized binding material — charcoal in this case — and add it to the melted resin. Stir the mixture well. At this point you now have made pine pitch glue, which if allowed to cool will become very hard.

DIY: The Long-Lasting, Easy-To-Make Survival Glue Your Ancestors Used

Melted resin. Image source: Cody Assmann

Before you allow the glue to cool, however, you need to get it out of the tin. The final step is to take the small stick you found and begin to scoop the pitch out of the tin. As the glue begins to cool it will harden and you can shape it on the stick. The shape of the pitch doesn’t matter, but many folks make it resemble a cattail. Continue to scoop more and more of the liquid glue out of the tin onto the now cool stockpile you have. Once you have removed as much glue from your tin as possible, all you have to do is wait for your project to cool. It can easily be stored and transported until needed. When you find yourself in a situation where you need to use some of the glue, simply heat it over a flame and apply it to the surface you would like to bind.

Pine pitch glue is an excellent natural adhesive. It was used extensively by ancient people to bind fletchings and secure stone, and bone points to arrow or spear shafts. It can also be used to repair holes in tents, packs, or even shoes. Really, anything you would hot-glue together can be bonded using pine pitch. Pine pitch glue may not stand out as one of the top necessary resources or skills of a survival situation. However, when you begin to think about all of the possible uses of the glue, and the utter simplicity of the process, it is easy to see how learning the process is well worth your time. Even if you never need to use this exceptional glue, learning how to make it will help you better understand the lives of those folks who came before us, and the skills they mastered to live seamlessly with the natural world.

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Ancient Skills: How To Turn A Simple Yucca Plant Into Heavy-Duty Survival Cord

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Image source: Cody Assmann

Image source: Cody Assmann


“Primitive means first, not worst” — these words ring as true today as ever. Those new to bushcraft may feel a little intimidated as they begin to learn traditional skills. As with many things, the more you learn, the more you learn that you don’t know.

Bushcraft skills require characteristics like attention to detail, concentration and patience, but with effort and diligence anyone can learn basic skills quickly. Mastering skills that allowed our ancestors not only to survive, but to prosper in their local environments, gives us a sense of connection with the past, but also allows us to gain a skill we eventually might need.

Image source: Cody Assmann

Image source: Cody Assmann

One easy way to get out and enjoy the afternoon in many states is to build cordage using the abundant yucca plant. Yucca plants are plentiful in the prairie region of the Great Plains and desert region of the Great Basin. This plant served the First Nations people of this continent in many different ways, including as food, soap and cordage. Creating cordage using this prickly prairie native can be done quickly and easily.

There are several varieties of yucca, but in my region the soapweed yucca dominates the landscape. You will only need a few tools to get started. First remember to get a good knife and possibly a full water bottle before you leave the house. The knife will help you harvest the cordage and the water bottle will help you wet the cordage if you are not working next to a water source. These are the only tools you will not be able to create out of natural material.

What You’ll Need

Image source: Cody Assmann

Image source: Cody Assmann

The next step is to find a location where yucca is plentiful; it helps if this location is close to an area with a bit of timber, as timber will be needed for tools. Once you have located the soapweed, remove several leaves using your knife. These will be used to create the cordage. Select healthy green leaves. Longer and thicker leaves will provide more material with the same effort. How many you need depends on the length and thickness of your desired cordage. Two good leaves should be able to produce about six inches of cordage of a fairly small diameter. As a beginner, I started small and worked my way into larger and larger projects.

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Once you have harvested your yucca material, you now need to begin finding or producing tools for your project. In addition to the yucca, you will need a wooden baton (hammer) and a wooden hammering surface. The baton should be of decent weight and fit comfortably in your hand. A heavier baton will make the processing easier, but the work can be done even with a lighter wood. As for the hammering surface, any smooth wooden surface should work. At this point you only need one more tool: your scraper. Scrapers can be either a piece of stone with an edge, like flint, or a split tree limb with an edge. A word of advice here: Stones with rough edges can tear plant fibers while processing the cordage, while wood will work slower but will be easier on your plant fibers. Torn plant fibers could result in an inferior product with a lower tensile strength. Once you have gathered your yucca, baton, scraper and have found a hammering surface, you are ready to begin making cordage.

Getting Started

To begin, lay one yucca leaf on the hammering surface. Take your wooden baton and begin to hammer the leaf. Use good force; you are trying to break the outer layer of the plant and get at the fibers within. Shortly, you should begin to see the plant membrane beginning to break apart. It will fray and turn a lighter shade of green. As you break up the exterior of the plant, be sure to work the edges as well as the middle portion. Continue hammering and working the length of the yucca leaf. At any point if you want to check your progress, you can stop and scrape off the plant material. Using your scraper and adequate pressure run the edge of your scraper lengthwise with the fibers of the plant to remove plant matter. You must always work with the plant fibers, as working across them will damage your fiber and reduce their strength. The plant membrane should come off easily as you scrape the length of the leaf. Make sure you remove all of the exterior plant material.

Repeat the process of hammering the plant and removing the outer plant material until one side of the leaf has been completely cleared. Next, flip the leaf over and repeat the process on the backside. This side should not take as long, since much of the membrane may be broken from your previous hammering efforts. Again, be sure to remove as much of the membrane as possible and always scrape with the grain of the fibers. Once complete, set the processed leaf to the side and begin with your next yucca leaf. Process as many leaves as necessary for your project.

Image source: Cody Assmann

Notice the “Figure 9” that has been created. Twist the “back” strands away from you. Pinch them to avoid losing the twist and pull the “front” strands toward you. Twist away, then pull toward. Image source: Cody Assmann

After you have finished processing your yucca leaves, you are ready to begin making cordage. Select a processed leaf and separate groups of the fibers. For light projects I generally get about three bunches of fibers per leaf of equal size. This should get the most out of your processed plant material and also provide adequate strength for small projects. Once you have separated the fibers, you are now ready to begin braiding your cordage. It is at this point you might want to get the fibers slightly wet using your water bottle, as the fibers are easier to work while wet and they tend to dry very quickly. All of the following steps will be described for right-handed people; for left-handed people simply reverse the hands.

Image source: Cody Assmann

Image source: Cody Assmann

To begin, select two bunches of fibers and match the middles of each. Pinch the middle with fingers on your left hand. Holding the fibers, make a 9 with the fibers, laying one on the “front” of the other. You should still be pinching the yucca with your left hand. Next, reach over the “front” strand with your right hand and grasp the “back” strand between your thumb and pointer finger. Twist the “back” fibers away from you. Twist them as tightly as you can to create a solid product. With the strands still twisted away from you, now reach over the twisted strands and grab the “front” strand with your middle finger, pressing the fibers against your pointer finger that is still twisting the “back” strand. This will take just a little practice, but after the first 5 minutes you will get the hang of it. Once you have captured the “front” fibers with your middle finger, pull them over the twisted “back” fibers toward you. The mantra is “twist away and pull toward.” Move your left hand slightly up the cord to pinch your first twist in your cordage. Repeat the process as described above, this time twisting what was the “front” away and pulling what was the “back” toward you. Twist away and pull toward you.

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Image source: Cody Assmann

Pounded and scraped Yucca ready to braid. Image source: Cody Assmann

At this point you are well on your way to making all-natural cordage like the ancients. As you work, you will begin to run out of material. The final step to learn is how to splice in new pieces of fiber into your cordage. How thick you want your cordage to be will determined when to add new material. By adding new material earlier, you can build up your cordage early to create a very strong product. If you are only making light cordage, you can wait longer before making your splice. This will allow you to get the most out of the yucca you processed. Making a splice is rather easy. Build your cordage as mentioned in the earlier steps until you get to a point where you want to add more material. While still pinching your last twist with your left hand, grab a new bundle of yucca fibers and fold in half to find the middle. Place the middle directly in the center of where your next twist will be. Next, simply include the new fibers into your twist away and also in your pull toward you. There you have it. You have created a splice and increased the length and strength of your cordage. You can continue to add length or strength to your product, depending on your needs. Once you have gotten toward the end of your project, work past the desired length by several inches and make a simple overhand knot to tie off the end of your cordage. The end you began on should be a loop, and the end you finished on should be a knot.

People of all ability levels can master this skill rather easily. It is a great way to introduce someone into primitive living skills. Not only is this skill easy to pick up, but it offers a wide range of uses when in the wild and even for projects around the house. Whether you have needed a nudge to start down the primitive skills path, or you have been living in the bush for many years, get outside and practice this ancient skill. Although it may be ancient, it still has relevance, usefulness and gratification in the modern world.

What advice would you add? Share your tips in the section below: 

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The Versatile, Do-Everything ‘Survival Berry’ The Native Americans Prized

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The Versatile, Do-Everything ‘Survival Berry’ The Native Americans Prized

Image source: Cody Assmann.

The modern back-to-basics food movement has led many people to rediscover plants used for centuries in the past.

One particularly useful plant that grows in abundance around the country is the versatile chokecherry. Due to their quick and abundant growth, along with their tart berries, chokecherries have been planted in tree rows for wind protection, for wildlife habitat and for erosion control. Today they grow in a variety of climates and regions around the country. Odds are you may not be far from this useful berry.

The many uses of chokecherry were not lost on pioneers, Native Americans, and other people who lived off the land. Lewis and Clark even ate them on their journey. These valuable plants were cherished and visited often when they were ripe.

If you happen to discover chokecherries in your neighborhood, here are four ways you can put them to work:

1. Nutrition.

The Versatile, Do-Everything ‘Survival Berry’ The Native Americans Prized

Image source: Cody Assmann:.

These dark purple, red, or almost black berries are high in fiber and Vitamin K. Today, chokecherries are most often used in jellies, vinegar, syrups and juice. They can be easily processed, but do require the removal of the leaves, stems and pits. Each of these parts of the plant contain hydrocyanic acid, posing a significantly higher risk to livestock than people, as animals are more likely to consume large quantities of the leaves. However, there have been a few reported instances of children dying after consuming too many seeds.

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Native people across America routinely smashed the fruits, dried them thoroughly in the sun, and added them to a pemmican mixture. Even though the seeds were consumed by Native people, they lost their toxicity after drying. Anyone interested in this primitive process is advised to spend time with an expert on the subject and learn more about removing the toxins. Chokecherries are not a dangerous plant, and with more modern techniques you can easily and safely enjoy these bountiful fruits in a variety of ways.

2. Archery equipment.

Portions of the tree that develop acceptable girth can be tillered to make quality hunting bows. In fact, these bows are reputed to be some of the finest bow-making materials by many modern bowyers. A good hunting wood is hard to find, since it must have two important attributes. First, the wood must have the ability to withstand tension forces on the back of the bow. Also, at the same time the back in under tension forces, the belly of the bow is being compressed. Finding a wood capable of both forces is not easy, and chokecherry fits the bill nicely.

In addition to the ability to be made into bows, the young straight shoots can be cut and made into arrows. Similar to the wood needed to make bows, arrows need a wood with particular properties. The two biggest attributes wood need to be made into arrows are straightness and spine. Spine refers to the wood’s ability to bend upon the shot and then straighten out as it flies downrange. Finding a wood with just the right amount of spine is not always easy. It takes quite a bit of experience and know-how to construct bows and arrows, but even a novice who understands the basic concepts can create bows and arrows that serve their purpose marginally well.

3. Dye.

The Versatile, Do-Everything ‘Survival Berry’ The Native Americans Prized

Image source: Cody Assmann:.

If you’ve ever picked chokecherries, then you can attest to the potential for creating a dye with the fruit. The dye from chokecherry juice can be used to identify dye-wooden objects like arrows or bows, and cloth projects, as well. Although the dye will not keep you alive in a survival situation, it can definitely come in handy for projects down the road. To make a dye, simply collect an adequate amount of berries and fill a container.

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With the collected berries in the container, you need to pulp the fruit and create a mashed mix of juice and berries. Any item placed in this mixture will take on the beautiful pinkish red color of the dye. For lighter stains, leave the product in for shorter periods, and for deeper and darker stains leave it in the dye for longer.

4. Medicine.

True to form, the versatile chokecherry has a variety of medicinal uses, as well. In the past, dried berries were used to treat a variety of bowel conditions, from diarrhea to loss of appetite. It was also given in some form to people suffering from ulcers and other conditions of a weak stomach. Additionally, the bark is reported to be an outstanding remedy for respiratory ailments, such as a bad cough. As with using any plant medicinally, folks interested in this practice are encouraged to consult an expert in the subject.

If you plan on heading out to harvest some of the bounty chokecherries offer up, then make sure to take the time to learn how to correctly identify the plant. There is a toxic lookalike called common buckthorn. Once you learn a few rules to follow and how to identify a chokecherry, don’t be afraid to enjoy all the versatility it has to offer. Whether you are looking for a nutritious treat, a beautiful deep dye, archery gear, or to sooth a medical ailment, the chokecherry offers up a gift.

What other uses have you discovered? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below:

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or cure any particular health condition. Please consult with a qualified health professional first.

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The Long-Lasting, 3-Ingredient Survival Food The Pioneers Ate

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The Long-Lasting, 3-Ingredient Survival Food The Pioneers Ate

While working cattle at my in-laws’ ranch recently I caught myself dreaming about the past, running through a checklist of things I take for granted that George – the ranch’s founder who grew up in the 1930s — never had the chance to enjoy as a kid in his small house.

The one thing I kept circling back to was food. I thought about my refrigerator at home, packed with juices, meat, cheese, fruit and everything else the average fridge contains. I imagined how my diet would change if one day somebody disconnected the fridge for good. Not only would it cause some storage problems, but it would drastically alter what foods I actually ate.

These dilemmas were an everyday reality for people of George’s day. Folks today often cite canning as the way our ancestors preserved food. It is true the generations of the late 19th and entire 20th century put excess food away by canning. But canning has only been around for a little over 200 years. How did people preserve food prior to that?

The answer is through a variety of methods. Many foods were dehydrated or salted to extend their shelf life. One food that people, especially explorers, found especially useful was hardtack. It seemingly lasted forever.

The Long-Lasting, 3-Ingredient Survival Food The Pioneers Ate

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Hardtack refers to a type of biscuit or cracker that can last an extraordinary length of time. This bread is made with very little water, no yeast, and will keep in storage for years if kept dry. Hardtack’s ability to stay in storage for years without spoiling or molding was probably its greatest attribute. It is also lightweight, nearly indestructible, and contains an abundance of carbohydrates which makes it ideal for a person on the move.

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Hardtack is one of the oldest known foods we have. If you sit down and enjoy a piece, you’ll be sharing the same cuisine feasted on by Roman legionaries, Egyptian sailors and crusaders — just to name a few. Known around the world by different names, the title of “hardtack” became well-used by the early 1800s. Patriot fighters during the Revolutionary War, pioneers and frontiersmen such as Daniel Boone, and mountain men like Jim Bridger and Jedediah Smith would have known the unyielding strength of a hardtack biscuit. In fact, the food was so common to the mountain men they simply referred to it as a “biscuit” rather than differentiating between it and the softer textured bread we know today. In the past, hardtack was generally enjoyed after dipping it in coffee or soup to moisten and soften the bread. In many circumstances I’m sure they were happy to have something to eat.

Making hardtack is extremely easy and only takes a few minutes. If you’ve ever thought about making hardtack, want to get a better feel for what table fare in the past would have been like, or are intrigued by foods that can last indefinitely, give this recipe a try.


This recipe is one I got my hands on after browsing the book Wildwood Wisdom by Ellsworth Jaeger. Jaeger was a very experienced woodsman who put the book together after a life spent learning skills we would dub today as bushcraft. His four ingredients are as follows:

  • 5 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Water
The Long-Lasting, 3-Ingredient Survival Food The Pioneers Ate

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In the book the entire recipe reads as such:

Mix the dry ingredients, and then add just enough water to make a stiff dough. Roll out the dough to about ¼-inch thickness and cut it into sections. Bake them in a greased pan until the hardtack is bone-dry.

That is the entire recipe for making hardtack. Jaeger doesn’t divulge cooking time in his recipe, but I can attest it will take around 1 hour and 10 minutes to cook at 375 degrees Fahrenheit. If you have your oven preheated, it will help. Simply put the rolled and cut dough into the oven for 35 minutes. After 35 minutes, you can flip the pieces for another 35 minutes. When you pull it out of the oven, you’ll likely be surprised how incredibly hard this stuff is. If you choose to use this recipe, there is one thing to note. The sugar in the recipe should be considered an optional ingredient. By adding sugar to the mix, you decrease the shelf life of the product, since sugar does not store as well. If you leave out the sugar, then you are left with three ingredients:

  • 5 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Water

I’m not entirely sure why Jaeger included sugar in this recipe, other than it was probably a recipe he had personally used before. Anyone looking to preserve their hardtack for an extremely long time should avoid using sugar.

Hardtack is a food everyone interested in history, camping or survival should know how to make. It is extremely simple and only takes a few minutes of preparation. Once you have made a batch, it can keep for years at a time and provide you with the energy you need to keep moving forward. It also can offer a glimpse into the lives of those shadowy figures who came before us and struggled to build the world we know today. I’d encourage you to take a few minutes to prepare yourself some of the indestructible camp bread known as hardtack.

Have you ever made hardtack? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below:


Jaeger, E. (1945). Wildwood Wisdom. Bolina, California: Shelter Publications. (2014, July 11). Hard to Swallow – A Brief History of Hardtack and Ship’s Biscuit. Retrieved July 26, 2016, from Military History No:

Wier, S. (2014, July 1). Biscuits, Hard Tack, and Cracker in Early America. Boulder, Colorado, US.

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3 Survival Uses For Bones, Straight From The Native Americans

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3 Survival Uses For Bones, Straight From The Native Americans

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People living in a self-reliant or survival situation must be resourceful. That seems obvious, but it is worth remembering.

This point is constantly reinforced when you watch someone on a survival show learn about living a more natural existence. As we’ve previously covered, creativity is a must in a survival situation, and that promotes resourcefulness. Resourcefulness refers to both finding new resources to use as well as fully using the resources you have. In other words: Waste not, want not.

One resource routinely discarded, but particularly useful, is the bones of animals after the hunt. Most folks today don’t give bones a second chance after dressing a carcass. It’s either a short trip to the dump or off to a deep hole for the coyotes and flies to pick clean. But in a situation where you must be completely self-reliant, you can’t afford to let all of the potential uses of bones go to waste.

If you ever do find yourself in that kind of situation, you’ll want to know these top three uses of bones.

1. As a cutting edge

Prior to the importation of iron to this hemisphere, Native people needed to be innovative to find a cutting tool. A cutting edge is simply one of the most used tools for primitive skills. It is common knowledge that stone materials, such as obsidian and flint, were widely used for cutting tools. What is known to a lesser degree is the use of both bone and copper by Native people for cutting tools, as well. Fresh bones take an edge very well and were used for knives, arrowheads, needles and spear points, as well — anything that needed a cutting edge.

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The processing of bones is very simple. Cutting tools can come from a variety of bones, but big leg bones work well. Bones can be split by smashing between two rocks or cutting lengthwise if you have access to a saw. Smashing tends to produce small chunks well-suited for arrowheads, while cutting in halves creates ideal material for making larger points. Once you have your bone pieces broken to size, you simply start to file it to shape using a modern metal file, or a hard stone of some kind. When you have your general shape it’s only a matter of honing the cutting side to a sharp edge. You’d be surprised how fast you can knock out a sharp bone point.

2. As heavy working tools

3 Survival Uses For Bones, Straight From The Native Americans Heavy-duty bones, such as shoulder bones and pelvic bones, also can be put to work. Native American people would have used these bones for heavy labor, like scraping hides, to be tanned or turned to rawhide. Scraping can be a rather labor-intensive process, and the heavy-duty bones would have stood up to the test just fine. It also has been said that rib bones were used for scraping hides, and with their concave nature that seems to be a likely scenario.

Bones were used for farming purposes by many people. Eastern woodland tribes depended heavily on agriculture for their sustenance, and farming takes a lot of work. Bones were used as shovels and bound to handles to make crude hoes, as well. These bone tools would have been quickly exchanged for steel and iron tools, but they were the tools used by millions of people prior to the importation of harder metals.

3. As nutrition

Heavy leg bones are packed full of nutritious bone marrow, which has omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. It can be cooked in several different methods or boiled and made into a broth. This broth has been used by doctors around the world to treat a variety of diseases, from digestives issues to cancer. It is also consumed throughout the world by different cultures for its taste and nutrition. The Native Americans, too, ate bone marrow. I would doubt that most Americans have ever even considered eating bone marrow, but in a situation where food is tight, you can’t afford to let a single thing go to waste.

Next time you return home from a successful hunt, be thankful for the meat you’ve been blessed with, but also take advantage of the bounty of bones, as well.

What survival uses would you add for bones? Share your tips in the section below:

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4 Survival Lessons From The Family That Vanished For 42 Years

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Reality is often different from our vision of it. For example, I recently went on a bear hunt out west. In my mind I envisioned picturesque skies, beautiful weather and numerous bear sightings. But in reality the hunt was much different. It snowed on me practically each day — and enough one day to smash my tent. My rain gear proved inadequate against the amount of rain and snow it was up against, and finding bear would be like finding hen’s teeth. After a week I finally ended up scoring a bear, but not without unexpected trials and tribulations. Such might be the case in an extended survival situation.

I would wager that many folks envision their survival situation similar to my pre-bear hunt mindset. One only needs to look at the story of the Lykov family – who disappeared into the Russian woods for 42 years without anyone knowing — for evidence of what to expect. Their story of true self-reliance provides insight for those who may seek a similar path. After analyzing the Lykov story, we can see four survival lessons that stand out for those who want to make it in the wilderness.

1. Food can be scarce

The mother, Akulina, starved to death one unexpectedly tough year, and a general absence of food was present. Annually, the Lykovs held a family meeting to vote on whether to eat all the food or save some for seed. It is worth noting that here in North American, Native American tribes typically expected to experience times of intense hunger each year. The fact of the matter is that making all of your own food can be difficult, and unexpected challenges pop up. Sure, the Lykovs battled an unfriendly environment for agriculture, but every region has its own challenges.

2. Meat is a luxury

Even if the Lykovs had taken a gun along on their 150-mile trek into the wilderness, it wouldn’t have been without its own set of challenges. For one, they would have had to conserve their ammunition to last for years. (That is, unless they carried a flintlock and could produce their own gunpowder and shot.) Additionally, after hunting game in their immediate area, animals would have moved off and the Lykovs would have had to venture further and further for game.

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Hunting has always offered up good rewards in terms of calories, but also requires more movement to pursue game. (You also need a way to preserve it.) It would definitely take balance and razor sharp land management to live in one spot and consistently hunt for game. Another option would have been to produce a primitive bow and arrow.


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One bonus of a primitive bow and arrow would be the decreased impact on local animal herds. Due to its quiet nature, a bow would be less likely to scare away game. On the other hand, having a primitive bow and arrow (instead of a gun) substantially decreases a hunter’s chance at success.

3. Expect your modern goods to wear out

Much of the modern gear we would initially use will fall apart. For years and years, the family used the same kettle and pots. Ever so slowly, rust overcame the metal, and soon the cookware became useless. In addition, their clothes had become rags, and were only held together by leftover sacking and cloth they had woven from hemp. Anyone who is preparing for an extended self-reliant situation should take note and plan their gear accordingly.

4. Bushcraft knowledge is mandatory

At the point when your food is gone and your house is caving in, knowledge in bushcraft can kick in to save the day. We see this from the Lykovs’ understanding of what foods they could eat when times were lean. This also becomes apparent when their cookware deteriorated. They needed to figure out how to cook without metal ware and using only the resources within their local range. The solution they came up with was to use birch bark containers for cooking, an acceptable method, but one with drawbacks. The family also fashioned their shoes out of birch bark when their leather shoes gave out. Like anyone living in a long-term survival situation, they had to adapt to the resources they had on hand and do the best they could.

The Perks

So far we’ve covered the doom and gloom portion of survival lessons from the Lykov family. It is worth noting the positive experiences of the family. For one thing, Karp and the rest of his family were free once they fled into the forest. They were free to spend their time how they wished, free to worship in accordance with their beliefs, and free to do as they darn well pleased.

Also, we can see the Lykovs preferred their self-reliant situation to a more plugged-in existence. After their discovery by the team of geologists, the family continued to live in their remote mountain cabin with sporadic contact with the outside world. To this day, Agafia, the last remaining family member, has chosen to live a self-reliant life by choice. This should serve as clear evidence that this type of life may be difficult, but some people enjoy it and thrive on it.

At the end of the day, by understanding both the challenges and benefits of living such a life, you can be better prepared to deal with any survival situation that is thrown at you.

What survival advice would you add after reading the Lykovs’ story? Share your tips in the section below:

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The Forgotten Fire-Starting Ingredient The Pioneers Used

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3 Natural Materials For Starting A Fire in a Pinch (The Pioneers Used No. 1)

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Fire has rightly earned its reputation as one of the most important aspects of survival. Anyone with experience in bushcraft and primitive living will tell you fire is not only essential for the direct benefits it offers, but also for other skills: making primitive glues, tanning and arrow making are just a few examples. This is beside the fact that meat cooked over a fire is much more palatable and safer to eat as well. Fire is simply a necessary component of any survival situation.

In reality, we live in a world where fire starting is ridiculously easy. For a few bucks you can buy enough Bic lighters to last you for years. Even with that being the case, though, some people want the ability to start a flame in other ways – say, when they don’t have a lighter. One of the simplest ways that was extremely popular prior to the invention of matches is flint and steel.

Flint and steel has been used for fire since before Roman times. It is the fire technology with which our frontier was opened, and men like Daniel Boone and other mountain men used it. The process is incredibly simple and effective. All you really need is a piece of steel and something to strike it against that throws a spark. Flint works superbly for this purpose and is the most popular material for the job. There is, however, a secret ingredient our ancestors used that plays the biggest role in this process: char.

Char refers to any natural material that has been “charred,” a process we will dive into in a moment. Charring certain natural materials changes their chemical composition. I’m no scientist, but the technical term for this change is called “pyrolysis.” Regardless of the name, most bushcrafters are only concerned with one thing: It works. Once charred, certain natural material will catch a spark from the flint and steel and create an ember. From this ember, a person who understands the basic elements of fire can create a blaze in a few short minutes. It is almost spellbinding the first time you see it in action.

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To be sure, not every natural material can easily be turned into char. Here are three popular natural materials for making char.

1. Rotten wood

3 Natural Materials For Starting A Fire in a Pinch (The Pioneers Used No. 1)People who were removed from civilization for an extended period of time had to use materials they could find. One of the best char materials, and most abundant ones, is rotten wood. Rotten wood is typically scattered all about, so one huge benefit is not having to pack it with you as you go. When selecting wood, try and select small pieces that are punky, or in other words, porous and light. It is best to look for suitable material near creek beds or in low-lying locations. These locations have more moisture, which helps to rot the wood faster. Rotten wood would have been the most popular choice of char material for experienced woodsmen and frontiersmen.

2. Cattail

A third popular material for making char is cattail. Cattails are abundant in many parts of the country and make suitable char material. When you are gathering cattail for char, you want to be sure and get full heads that have not begun to release their seeds. Before you make the char, you will need to pull the seeds from the plant and get only the cattail “fluff.” Cattail fluff is an easy-and-abundant way to make char, but keeping the fluff together can be a challenge. I would not recommend cattail fluff for a first-time firemaker, but after practice it can be used easily.

3. 100 percent cotton

Most people are introduced into the world of flint and steel through what’s called “char cloth.” Anything 100 percent cotton works just fine. Beware of any shirt blended with synthetics, as these will not catch a spark like natural cotton will. While cotton is popular today, and historically was used as well, it wasn’t the most popular method for people removed from civilization; they would soon run out of it after significant time in the wild. In our modern world, we can get cotton cheaply and easily enough that it is the best option for beginners.

3 Natural Materials For Starting A Fire in a Pinch (The Pioneers Used No. 1)For anyone interested in making char cloth, the process is fittingly simple as well. You can accomplish the task in 10 simple steps:

  1. Find a fire-resistant container of some kind that can be closed. An Altoids tin has become the iconic flint-and-steel container of our day.
  2. Punch a small hole into your container or tin.
  3. Get a fire going and get a good bed of coals burning.
  4. While your fire burns, break your char material down to a size that can fit in the tin.
  5. Fill the tin with the desired amount of material. For efficiency sake, it is best to fill the tin fairly full.
  6. Close the lid and place the tin on the coals. At this point it is worth noting that you don’t actually want the material to catch fire. It needs to bake more than anything, and coals serve this purpose the best.
  7. char 4Soon, the tin will begin to smoke. This means the charring process has started and things are moving along just fine.
  8. Once the tin has quit smoking, that means your char is made and you should remove the container.
  9. Allow the container to cool for a few minutes before opening the lid.
  10. You should now have char material made that will catch a spark for your next fire-making adventure.

As you can see, making char is an extremely simple process, but nonetheless invaluable to know for long-term self-reliance escapades. Learn the ins and outs of the flint-and-steel fire-starting method and you are not only learning a skill to help you develop more self-reliance, but you also are carrying a torch from the past.

What advice would you add? How do you make char? Share your tips in the section below:

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The Family Who Dropped Out of Society for 42 Years — Without ANYONE Knowing

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The Family Who Dropped Out of Society for 42 Years -- Without ANYONE Knowing

A modern movement toward self-reliance has inspired people to unplug from society and to live more simply, removed from the trappings of modern life. But how off-grid are they really? How long could they last completely isolated? Time itself can reveal any weakness or flaw in a person’s self-reliance.

There is a tale from the other side of the world that illustrates the concept of true off-grid living. It includes all of the important concepts for a true off-grid experience: wilderness, isolation, material scarcity, wild abundance and time.

No Hollywood movie would have to change a thing in the story of a remote family – the Lykovs — who cut the bonds of society and lived truly off the grid.

The story of the Lykov family begins in post-Bolshevik revolution Russia. As many studious historians are aware, Vladimir Lenin and his bloody band of Bolsheviks took command of Russia in November of 1917. Looking to fulfill the “dream” of a communist state, the Bolsheviks implemented all aspects of a planned government in what became known as the Soviet Union. One aspect of communism the Bolsheviks energetically pursued was the spreading of their atheist beliefs across the new nation. Religions of all kinds were harassed and persecuted, and religious practitioners were even murdered.

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It was in this setting a young man named Karp Lykov found himself. Karp was a member of the Old-Believers, a sect of Christianity that had been popular in Russia. Although Christians had a history of oppression in Russia, Karp had never experienced anything like Lenin’s reign of terror. One day while Karp was working on a government-controlled farm, a member of the new state’s armed police force executed his brother in front of his eyes. It was then that Karp committed himself to flee the oppressive government, at all costs.

The Family Who Dropped Out of Society for 42 Years -- Without ANYONE KnowingLeaving would not be easy. For one thing, Karp had a young wife and two children under the age of ten. For another, the Lykovs would face serious punishment for an attempted escape if captured by authorities. Finally, the area Karp would take his family, the Taiga, was some of the wildest land in the world. As one of the largest forests in the world, the Taiga had been known to swallow up people whole. It was the type of place you sent someone you wanted to get rid of. This immense forest was home to numerous creatures, but the main opponent of the Lykovs would be something less foreboding: cold. For nine full months a year, much of the Taiga is at risk of frost. It would challenge them in their attempt to raise crops from year to year.

With the deck stacked against them, Karp and his young family dove headlong into their escape in 1936, fleeing to the forest to save their lives and religious beliefs. They were loaded down with what little they could carry: the clothes on their back, a handful of pots and pans, seeds for crops, a family Bible, and, strangely enough, the components of a spinning loom. Over time the family would build several shelters, each time pulling up roots and moving deeper into the reclusive wilderness. Eventually, they made their home in a remote mountaintop more than 150 miles from the nearest settlement.

As the family retreated ever deeper into the Taiga, they added more children to the mix. Soon, there would be two more Lykov kids — two who would now know the outside world until well into their lives. More children meant more mouths to feed, a problem constantly present.

The Lykovs survived mainly on the crops they raised which included rye, potatoes and seeds of hemp. The area proved to be a difficult place for cultivation, and one year the family lost all of their crops to a June frost. They then turned to the forest for their food. With an abundance of berries and nuts to gather, they were able to eat well during the summer and fall months, but as winter clenched the isolated family in its icy grip, things got bad — very bad.

Before the end of one particularly bad winter, the family was reduced to eating leather and bark to survive. This was the year Karp’s wife, Akulina, would choose to see her children fed rather than herself, and would die of starvation.

Of course, the Taiga did offer up countless varieties of creatures the Lykovs would have been able to eat. Reindeer, moose, beavers and a plethora of smaller creatures appeared to be ripe for the taking. But when they fled to the Taiga, the family had failed to take any sort of weapon with them. Not only had they not taken anything with them, but they also had never built weapons, such as a bow and arrow. Although the family did eat meat occasionally, their means of obtaining it were rather crude.

The Family Who Dropped Out of Society for 42 Years -- Without ANYONE KnowingFor most of their time living in isolation, the family would get meat by setting primitive traps — mainly pitfalls. Once their son Dmitry, who was born in the forest, reached maturity, he actually practiced an ancient hunting strategy called persistence hunting. When hunting, Dmitry would chase animals in the forest until they simply collapsed from exhaustion. Although not easy, this method has been proven to be a realistic way to obtain meat. However, meat would always be considered a luxury at the Lykov residence. In reality, their diet was a monotonous repetition of the same dishes.

Life continued much the same for the Lykov family each year they lived in isolation. They would do their best to store up food in the summer months, reach a point of near starvation in late winter, and, if they were lucky, they would repeat the process the next year. The family claimed to hold a meeting each year and vote to either eat up all the seed, or leave some for planting. In addition to their farming, the family would do their best to support their collapsing cabin, repair their tattered clothing with forest material, and try to find a way to replace their slowly deteriorating metal cookware.

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Then, one day, life would forever change for the Lykov family. In 1978, a group of geologists employed by an oil company were scouting new lands by helicopter. As the group flew close over the treetops, they were astonished when they saw a settlement high on the mountainside. With no place to land the chopper, the team retreated back to the nearest town and prepared for an overland expedition. After days of walking through the thick brush, the team of geologists eventually relocated the site. They stumbled upon the Lykov family home and were greeted by the surprised Karp with a gruff: “Well, since you have come this far you might as well come in.” It had been 42 years since the family had fled into the forest.

Over the course of time, the geologists would come to learn the story of this isolated family. The two youngest family members, Dmitry and Agafia, would for the first time in their lives meet someone other than a family member. The Lykovs would hear of the world events they had missed, including World War II. Eventually, the Lykovs would learn of the technological advancements that had been made over the past four decades. As the family began their reconnection with the outside world, they struggled to incorporate new innovations into their strict religious beliefs. Many times they would marvel from a distance but not allow themselves the opportunity to partake fully in the conveniences.

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Today, all but the youngest family member, Agafia, have passed on. Well into her 70s, Agafia continues to live in her forest home. She has sporadic contact with the modern world and even ventures to town now and again. She prefers the clear water and clean air of the mountains, and spends much of her time as she was raised.

The story of the Lykov family is an amazing off-grid tale. Completely dependent only upon themselves, the family could not have been further from modernity. Their life was a mix of extreme hardship, self-reliance, and the freedom such a life affords. For someone looking to move off grid, it offers multiple lessons, and it can teach us much about living in isolation. Like so many people of the past, the Lykovs were able to pass the real test of self-reliance: the test of time.

What is your reaction to this story? Could you do what they did? Share it in the section below:


Chacko, R. (2014, October 4). Top 10 Largest Forests in the World. Retrieved May 31, 2016, from List Dose:

Dash, M. (2013, January 28). For 40 Years, This Russian Family Was Cut Off From All Human Contact, Unaware of World War II . Retrieved May 31, 2016, from

Eniscuola. (2016, May 31). Taiga biome. Retrieved May 31, 2016, from Eniscuola:

Fraizer, M. (2016, May 31). Good News, Endurance Runners; One Scientists Says We’re Not All Nuts. Retrieved May 31, 2016, from No Meat Athlete:

History Channel. (2016, May 31). Russian Revolution. Retrieved May 31, 2016, from History Channel:

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How To Make A Lightweight, Take-Down Bucksaw You Can Carry Anywhere

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Image source: Cody Assmann

Image source: Cody Assmann


“If you don’t have the right tool, make it.”

This advice was given to me by full-time bushcraft instructor Doug Hill a few years ago and has really stuck with me. What Doug what alluding to is the simple fact that tools make our lives easier. With them we can perform jobs we could not otherwise accomplish, and in an easier fashion. People interested in survival or self-reliance need to be selective about the tools they carry. Tools take weight and space, two valuable commodities for a person who is living light.

Another bit of advice buried in Doug’s motto is to recognize what you can’t recreate in nature. Important tools such as steel knives and hatchets that cannot be recreated easily in nature are items that should find their way into your survival or backwoods kit. Other items, such as an extra hatchet handle, fire starting materials, and even shelter, should be created when you need them.

That being said, I recently watched a video of Ray Mears on a canoe trip into Canada. Ray’s philosophy on gear is going light; it is what his show is all about. On this particular episode, he was demonstrating how to make a canoe paddle in the bush if his would happen to break. After he had selected the proper tree for the job, he unrolled a tiny package from his pack and revealed a decently sized bucksaw.

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After seeing this clip I decided I, too, needed to learn how to make a bucksaw. After all, half the problem with saws in the backcountry is the space they take up, and their awkward shape make them hard to pack. Also, I wasn’t going to be making just any saw; I wanted to learn how to make a take-down bucksaw so it could fit snugly away like Mr. Mears’ saw.

If you like the possibility of taking a saw with you into the wild, then follow along and learn how to make a take-down bucksaw in nine easy steps.

1. Gather your materials

Before you actually start to make a take-down bucksaw, you need a few supplies. You will find most of the stuff for the project lying around your house, or in the junk pile of any construction crew. You will need the following items before getting started:

  • Bucksaw blade. I ordered a 24-inch blade
  • 2×4 lumber 15 inches long
  • 1×2 lumber 22 inches long
  • Scrap lumber 9 inches long
  • 5 feet of rope/paracord
  • 2 2-inch bolts and nuts

Tools: Hammer, chisel, saw and drill.

2. Rip the 2×4

Image source: Cody Assmann

Image source: Cody Assmann

To begin the construction of your saw, you will need to cut the 2×4 in half. These will become the handles of your saw.

3. Notch your brace

Image source: Cody Assmann

Image source: Cody Assmann

With your 2×4 ripped, the next step to make a take-down bucksaw is to notch your 1×2. The 1×2 will be the brace, or horizontal piece, of your saw. In order to do this, measure a square 3/8ths of an inch in each corner of your 1×2. These will be removed to create the notch. Going much bigger may decrease the strength of the wood and isn’t really necessary in the end. I used a small saw to make my cut and a chisel to clean up the edges.

4. Slot your handles

Image source: Cody Assmann

Image source: Cody Assmann

You will want the brace (1×2) to insert halfway up your handle. Measure 7 1/2 inches up the handle and make a mark. This will be the center of the slot you are soon to cut out. With your slot located, place the notched 1×2 centered on the mark, then trace out the shape of your slot around the notch. This will ensure a snug and custom fit to your saw.

With the size determined, the next step is to clean out the slot of material. Use your chisel to remove the wood from the slot. The closer you can come to matching the shape of your notch, the more snug the saw will fit together. Repeat on your other handle.

5. Drill the handles

The next step to make a take-down bucksaw is to drill the hole for the pins that will secure your blade. You will want to use a drill bit a shade larger than the bolts you will use. If you order the same blade, I used a 5/16-inch drill bit and ¼-inch bolts. Drill a hole in the center of your handle at least two inches from the bottom. Getting too close in to the edge can cause the wood to split and ruin your handle. Repeat on the other handle.

6. Cut your blade slot

Image source: Cody Assmann

Image source: Cody Assmann

Now you need to use the handsaw in order to cut the slot for the saw blade. Mark the center of your handle on the side you just drilled your holes. Cut a vertical slot down your handle past the drilled portion. Repeat the process on the other handle.

7. Drill rope holes

You are now getting very close to having a custom take-down bucksaw for your next excursion. One of the final steps to make a take-down bucksaw is to drill a hole on the opposite end of your blade, big enough to allow your rope to pass through. Once again, aim for the center of your handle and at least two inches from the edge. Repeat on the other handle.

8. Lace your saw

Next, simply lace your rope through each handle and tie together. The string should be loose at this point. It will be tightened in a moment.

9. Set up your saw

Image source: Cody Assmann

Image source: Cody Assmann

Finally, to make a take-down bucksaw come to life, simply assemble the saw together. Fit the brace into your handles and slide the blade into place, securing it with your bolts. After that, take your scrap lumber and begin to wind the rope around and around until the blade becomes taught. When the tension has become sufficient, simply “lock” the scrap piece off against the horizontal brace. A bucksaw is an ingenious design and works by drawing the top of the saw together to spread the bottom of your saw. This puts tension on the blade and holds it together, ready for work.

There you have it: Nine simple steps to make your own take-down bucksaw. The end product is very light, and breaks down into a compact package ready for backcountry use. If you’ve ever wanted to take a saw into the bush, but never thought you had the space, simply make your own take-down bucksaw and you will be happy to pack along this handy tool on your next outing or long-term experience.

What advice would you add? Share it in the section below:

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The Lowly Garden Superfood You Can Survive On For 6-Plus Months

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The Lowly Gardening Superfood You Can Survive On For 6 Months

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The lowly potato. This dull tuber seldom ranks high on a list of superfoods. It won’t make headlines as the next “it” food. In fact, the most commonly known fact about potatoes is knowledge of the devastating Irish potato famine. Combine their blandness with recent diets that suggest eliminating carbohydrates is the silver bullet to weight loss, and the potato doesn’t stand a chance. Truth be told, potatoes may be the ultimate food source. Folks with a survival garden or looking to become self-sufficient should exploit their myriad of benefits.

Potatoes’ characteristics make them an ideal crop for self-sufficient gardens. For starters, potatoes grow well in a variety of soil types. Generally known for their success in sandy soils, potatoes also do well in other soils. The important thing to remember is to plant in any well-drained soil. Plant in waterlogged soil and you’re asking for problems with this root crop. Most productive garden plots have acceptable soil for potatoes.

The second major benefit of potatoes is they are possibly the easiest crop to save and replant. Anyone with experience in seed-saving will validate this statement. Other seeds must be separated from the fruit, cleansed of plant gunk, dried and then packaged for storage. Saving potatoes for seed is a much simpler process. Of course, you also can simply plant the potato itself to grow more potatoes. The ease of storing and growing potatoes is a huge benefit for someone in a survival situation. They simply save work.

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Finally, and this is essential, spuds are an absolutely excellent food source. Potatoes provide vitamins and minerals like potassium, fiber, B6, and vitamin C, just to name a few. The fact is potatoes are so nutritious you can live on them exclusively for months with no problems. Don’t believe it? In 1927, a study was performed by researchers at the school of hygiene in Poland to understand the benefits of potatoes. During the experiment two individuals, a man and woman both in their 20s, committed themselves to an all-potato diet for six months. Throughout the experiment the duo only ate potatoes for every single meal, although at some point they began cooking the potatoes in oil. Researchers realized the pair was burning more calories than they consumed and needed more energy. Fat from the oil added a bonus energy source but did not contribute any other nutritional value.

The Lowly Gardening Superfood You Can Survive On For 6 Months

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At the end of the six-month experiment, the pair were reported to be in great physical shape and fully nourished. Most shocking, the test subjects did not report any desire to add other foods to their diet. The study reported, “They did not tire of the uniform potato diet and there was no craving for change.” In their conclusion, the researchers summarized the study as “an experiment … in which two adults, a man and a woman, lived over a period of 167 days in nitrogen equilibrium and in good health on a diet in which the nitrogen was practically solely derived from the potato.”

In his book The New Self-Sufficient Gardener, John Seymour advises self-sufficient gardeners to invest heavily in potatoes. He advises planting potatoes in at least one-third of a garden. This is by far the largest proportion of any crop. In his rationale, he cites the nutritional value of potatoes and their outstanding ability to keep people alive.

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History also displays the effectiveness of the potato. In South America, the Inca in the 1400s and 1500s were able to build the largest and most powerful nation in the Western Hemisphere using the potato as their staple crop. Upon the back of the lowly potato, they built thousands of miles of stone roads, conquered countless neighboring tribes, and constructed impressive temples. When you take into consideration the strenuous mountain lifestyle of these people, their potato-fueled exploits are that much more impressive.

For anyone serious about taking control of their food supply, the first step is to get your hands on some seed potatoes. Not all seed potatoes are created equal, and there is one major pitfall to avoid. Seed potatoes for a survival garden should always be certified disease-free. By investing in disease-free seed potatoes, you can help avoid a disaster like what befell the Irish. Obviously, this is important, especially for long-term survival.

All total, it is hard to deny the effectiveness of potatoes, especially in a survival garden. Their exceptional nutrition, combined with their ease of growth and storage, make them invaluable to someone who grows their own food. Not only are they promoted by some of the top self-sufficiency experts today, but the ultimate test of history proves their effectiveness as well. Whether it is potatoes for survival, or potatoes simply to take control of your food supply, it is hard to deny the power of the super spud.

What advice would you add for growing potatoes for survival? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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