For Wilderness and Urban Safety: Attach a whistle to your child

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You can only yell for help as long as your voice lasts. Here’s why you need to carry a whistle.

by Leon Pantenburg

To keep your child safe in the city or in the wilderness, the proper training and a whistle, may be the most important tools.

Attach whistles to outdoor and everyday gear, so you’ll have one if needed.

I carry a whistle at all times on my keyring. For an easily-carried auditory signalling device, there is nothing better. A whistle blast is not normal: People tend to look in the direction where the noise came from.

Shouting for help, during an emergency,  will last as long as your voice does. (Remember Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet floating on that door after the ship went down in “Titanic“?)

And screaming, whooping and hollering won’t carry as far as a shrill whistle, and may be mistaken for something other than a call for help.

In an urban situation where everyone is talking and making noise, a whistle can cut through the background din to draw attention in your direction. (And here’s an interesting survival scenario:  If you end up in a dark movie theater and the lights go out completely, whoever has a flashlight instantly becomes a leader! If you also  use a whistle, you will be viewed as the person in charge.)

A good safety practice is to attach a whistle to every child on every outing. (My kids were so used to this. When my daughter was younger and went to the mall, a whistle was clipped to her backpack. If she felt threatened or in danger, she had been trained to blow it, wherever she might be!)

These whistles are less-likely to freeze during cold weather since they don’t have a pea in them.

Here are some whistle training rules to teach your child:

  • The whistle is not a toy. Never blow the survival whistle for fun, and only use it if you’re lost.
  • In an urban or wilderness situation, don’t move around once you think you’re lost.
  • Stay in one place and blow a series of three blasts. This is the universal distress signal.
  • After you blow the three blasts, wait awhile, and blow another series. Searchers may be trying to signal back, and you won’t hear them if you blow continually.
  • If  lost in a crowd, stay in one place and blow three blasts on your whistle. Keep doing this regularly until you are found.

* A really good wilderness safety reference book for parents  is “I Sit and I Stay.” In the book, author Leah L. Waarvik gives whistle-training and other safety tips for kids if  they get lost outdoors.

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Knife review: The L.T. Wright Genesis is a Kephart-style workhorse

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The biggest endorsement for a knife is to use it constantly. So this one comes highly recommended.

by Leon Pantenburg is a sponsor. I did not get a free knife for this review, and neither KSF or L.T. Wright Custom Knives had any input in this review.

For nearly 20 years, my Cold Steel SRK did most of my hunting/bushcrafting work. An inexpensive fixed blade, it fit my budget and knife needs for backcountry big game hunting.

Horace Kephart

But knife people never cease looking for that perfect, do-it-all blade. Along the way, I read books by Horace Kephart, and liked his go-to knife. And that is what first attracted me to the L.T. Wright Genesis. The Genesis is a Kephart-design workhorse.

Kephart was a prolific writer and one of the pioneers of camping/outdoor skills. His outdoor writings were published regularly in national publications such as Field and Stream. Kephart’s first edition of Camping and Woodcraft was published in 1906. In it, Kephart described his EDC knife:

“Its blade and handle are each 4-1/4 inches long, the blade being 1 inch wide, 1/8 inch thick on the back, broad pointed, and continued through the handle as a hasp and riveted to it. It is tempered hard enough to cut green hardwood sticks, but soft enough so that when it strikes a knot or bone it will, if anything, turn rather than nick; then a whetstone soon puts it in order.”

Horace Kephart's original knife.

Horace Kephart’s original knife.

“The handle of this knife is of oval cross-section, long enough to give a good grip for the whole hand, and with no sharp edges to blister one’s hand. The handle is of light but hard wood, 3/4 inch thick at the butt and tapering to 1/2 inch forward, so as to enter the sheath easily and grip it tightly.”

Here are the Genesis specs:

  • Overall Length: 9″
  • Sharpened Edge: 4.25″
  • Steel: 1/8″ A2
  • Grind: Flat Ground
  • Other Features: Thumb scallops, 90° Spine

 I got a Genesis about two years ago and put it to work. It has received constant use, doing everything from wood carving to cleaning fish, to cutting sod and sprinkler irrigation PVC pipe to slicing up an apple pie and shredding tinder.

Here’s my thoughts.

The handle is designed for a working tool.

The handle is designed for a working tool.

Handle: The Genesis has a generous, oval cross section handle, that a working tool should have.

My 22-ounce framing hammer, hatchet, shovel, machete and axe all have similar handle designs, and that is proven to be the best for hard work. Slim, ergonomically-designed handles are all well and good on some blades. And they look nice.

But a handle that fills your hand won’t give you blisters. It’s also easier to grip, meaning it takes less effort. This reduces fatigue while using.

Handle length is 4.75 inches. This is big enough for those of us with working man hands to use comfortably and safely. If you have to wear gloves while using the knife, you’ll appreciate the length.

The handle features thumb scallops on each side, providing more more comfortable control during close up work. I got my Genesis handle in green, blasted micarta, because the material resembles the weathered wooden pilings on the Mississippi River. The handle is also available in ironwood.

The epoxy isn’t just on the scales, but around every bit of the hardware, according to the KSF catalogue, including the threads of the brass nut, to ensure a completely sealed scale set.

The Spear point is a good choice for a working knife.

The Spear point is a good choice for a working knife.

Point: My favorite point depends on the job the knife will be used for. On an all-around knife, a spear point may be the best choice. (Here’s how to choose a knife point.)

The spear point works well for drilling in wood, and the belly makes it useful for gutting big game or cleaning fish.

In fact, the first job I used my Genesis for was gutting a bass that had swallowed a hook and couldn’t be released. The Genesis would not be my first choice for a specialty fishing or  hunting knife, but it can certainly do the job.

The Genesis, top and GNS are both top choices for a workkhorse knife.

The Genesis, top and GNS are both top choices for a workhorse knife.

Grind: The Genesis comes with a scandi or flat grind. I opted for the flat grind, because I like the increased slicing ability. This becomes important if you’re looking for a blade that might end up doing big game processing.

My GNS is in scandi grind, because I anticipated using it mainly for bushcrafting.  As a bushcraft knife, it would be hard to improve on the GNS.

Spine: A bushcraft knife, or one that may end up being used for one should have a 90-degree spine. This becomes very useful for shredding tinder and scraping a ferro rod, and saves the sharp edge. I’ve done extensive wood carving, using my thumb on the spine, and didn’t find the edge to be uncomfortable.

This Bark River leather sheat was wet formed to make a more authentic-looking sheath.

This Bark River leather sheath was wet formed to make a more authentic-looking sheath.

Sheath: The Genesis comes with an excellent leather dangler sheath. I have several, use them frequently and really like them. But I decided to convert one of my Bark River sheaths into a dangler, so one-handed use would be easier. I wet-formed the sheath and added a D ring, and now I have a dangler that more closely resembles the original Kephart sheath.

Lanyard hole: Use a lanyard to attach your knife to your belt, button hole or pack.

Drop a knife in deep snow or water, and chances are it’s gone. The Genesis has a lanyard hole, and mine has a piece of fluorescent orange paracord in it.

Steel: My Genesis is in A2. This tool steel is easy to sharpen and maintain the edge of. It is also reasonably priced. Recent additions to the L.T. Wright line include a Genesis in CPM 3V.

A2 will develop a patina after extended use, and that’s fine with me. I like seeing a knife that shows some honest wear and use. After noticing some uneven staining on my Genesis and GNS, I used a vinegar and lemon mixture to force a patina. It worked just fine.

The most recent patina on my Genesis came from when I was moving a few weeks back. The blade was being used for everything from breaking down boxes to cutting rope to whatever else was needed. My wife borrowed it to cut an apple pie for lunch, and the knife was left in the sink while we hauled another load. Several hours later, it had a new pattern.

Blade length: A four-to-five-inch blade is perfect for a working knife. Given my druthers, I’ll take a five-inch blade for just about everything. At 4.25-inches, the blade length is just about right for this design.

Made in the USA: All L.T. Wright knives are made in Ohio. Call the factory, and you can talk to a Midwesterner. The craftspeople make a living wage, pay local, state and federal taxes, and contribute to the local economy. Buy local, buy American!

Do you need a Genesis?

I have a lot of knives, and several in my collection could do the same jobs that a Genesis does. But if you’re starting out and want a user, the Genesis would be a solid choice.

A couple years ago, I was teaching firemaking to a group of ladies participating the “Women in the Outdoors” project in Redmond, Oregon. Several of my knives were available to use for processing tinder, whittling etc. (Part of the seminar was to help ladies choose their hunting/survival knife.) The Genesis proved to be one of the most popular tools, even for women with small hands.

So far, there have been three Genesis’s on Alone. Carleigh Fairchild’s Genesis looks like it is a flat ground A2 blade. One was carried by a Chris Weatherman in Season 1, as well as by last season’s runner-up, Larry Roberts.

And my Genesis gets regular use, despite the plethora and variety of knives I own, test and review.

So do you need a Genesis? Well, I think so.

Check out the rest of our L.T. Wright knife reviews.

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Should you shovel the snow off your roof?

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The snow has been falling endlessly in Central Oregon, it seems, and it isn’t going anywhere. Should you shovel your roof?

by Leon Pantenburg

Disclaimer: I’m no subject expert, and you need to pay attention to what your local authorities advise on this topic. Serious injury can result from sliding off a roof, and structural damage can result as a result of excess snow accumulation.

In the 18 years I’ve lived in Bend Oregon, I’ve never seen snow like this. Since the first snowfall, around the beginning of December, we’ve had below-freezing temperatures and record accumulations.

In years past, we’d have about four snows annually that would require shoveling. Then it was over.  But this year has been unusually bad.

I know I need to shovel my driveway and sidewalks, but what about the accumulation on the roof? Doesn’t the snow weigh a lot, and won’t it cause structural damage to the roof?

Every topic, issue and argument has two sides. Some believe that roof shoveling is not necessary. Others urge people to remove the roof snow to prevent damage later from melting snow and ice dams created by freezing water in gutters.

Here are thoughts from both sides:

Eric Lui, a professor of structural engineering and mechanics at Syracuse University, said a roof built according to state building codes should be able to withstand the weight of any snow that could accumulate on it. In most cases, Lui doesn’t think roof shoveling is necessary (Read the complete story.)

The Bend Fire Department recommends that a qualified professional remove the extra loading, according to a Jan. 10, 2017 post. (Read the whole story.)

The snow needs to go, according to Bend Fire because:

If the vent for a gas furnace or water heater gets covered, it can force carbon monoxide back into the house.

If a rooftop vent for a gas appliance  gets covered, it can force carbon monoxide back into the house.

· Deep snow on a roof can bury a gas appliance flue, causing the exhaust to enter the home. This condition can introduce carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless poisonous gas in the building.

· Excess snow on the roof can weaken and possibly collapse a structure, particularly an older building with a shallow-pitched roof.

· Snow melting on a roof can refreeze into ice dams, which force subsequent snow melt to leak into the structure.

· Melting snow can freeze into icicles, which can cause serious injury if they fall on people.

Here’s some thoughts:

Is it feasible for you to shovel you roof? For me, personally, it isn’t. I have two prosthetic knees and climbing ladders is a thing of the past. I’m not getting up on a slippery roof to shovel snow!

Do you have the right equipment? There are roof rakes, made specially for removing accumulations, and other specialized tools that can do the job safely and effectively. But this assumes you can get to the area safely. You may have to take a standard snow shovel and have at it.

This segues into:

Is your house roof shovel-able? By this, we mean, can someone safely get to the area to be shoveled? If you have a two-story house, you’ll need a long ladder to even get to the work area. Most of us don’t have such ladders, and this is one instance where improvisation is a bad idea.

There are enough dangers associated with winter storms. The experts agree: Don’t put yourself in danger shoveling a roof if you don’t have the right tools and skills.

Should you remove the snow on your roof? You decide, based on local research.

And don’t do something stupid!

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Review: Check out the Zoe Crist Santa Fe – it may be the hunting knife you need

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Kniveshipfree is a sponsor of, but I don’t get free knives from the company, nor do they have any input in any knife reviews.

by Leon Pantenburg

I’m always looking for a good hunting knife. So when the Zoe Crist Santa Fe became available last year, I got one and tried it.

There are many things I like about the knife, but the handle just wasn’t comfortable for my large hands. The handle rubbed between my index and second fingers, and for extended use, it wasn’t going to work.

Phil Brummett in his natural environment.

Phil Brummett in his natural environment.

In such cases, I pass the knife on to an experienced outdoorsperson and ask them to wring it out. (Check out Bob Patterson’s review of the Bark River Trakker Companion.)

Several months ago, the Santa Fe went to my friend Phil Brummett, a fellow Boy Scout volunteer, former scoutmaster and skilled wilderness survival guy.

Phil is also a Central Oregon fishing guide, and is on the water a couple hundred days a year. Any knife that can meet his standards has to be really good. And Phil’s hands are smaller than mine.

Here are the Santa Fe specs:

  • Overall Length: 9.5 Inches
  • Blade Length: 5 Inches
  • Steel: 1095 Carbon Steel @ 58-60rc
  • Blade Thickness: .174 Inch
  • Weight: 8.125 Ounces
  • Made in the United States of America

Here’s the good stuff:

Overall length is about right for a hunting knife. My favorite blade length in a hunting knife is about five inches. A four-inch length is fine, and six is very usable, but five inches just seems to work out best for Phil and me. (My go-to Ambush Tundra has a 4.5-inch blade.)

Steel: 1095 is a good, durable choice, and it won’t break the bank like some of the super steels. Phil commented the Santa Fe’s edge-holding ability is great, and re-sharpening is easy.

1095 high carbon steel will stain or rust if not cared for properly.

1095 high carbon steel will probably stain and may rust if not cared for properly.

A concern for some buyers is rust. Carbon steel can develop rust overnight if the humidity is high, the blade is put away wet, and the knife is ignored.

In Phil’s case, the knife is used in wet circumstances more often than not. Most of the time, that includes blood and fish slime. But Phil wipes the blade off after using it, and had no issue with rust.

Patina is another matter. Any carbon steel blade, over time, will develop some patina, or discoloration. Phil’s knife shows some, probably because it has cleaned a lot of fish and been used for a lot of bushcrafting. Both of us like the appearance – it shows honest use and wear. And it looks cool. Phil wouldn’t let me polish the patina off.

Spine: The spine is ground at a 90-degree angle, like an ice skate for the half of the blade next to the handle. It tapers down to a sharp point with the swedge.

This spine grind is useful for processing tinder or scraping a ferrocerrium to create firemaking sparks. The spine is one of those parts of a knife that is generally forgotten, but learn how to use it and it can be useful.

Grind: The Santa Fe comes with a full height convex grind, which is my personal favorite. I’ve had a couple of Tundras re-ground into full height convex, because that grind works so well for me.

Belly: The belly is from the tip, and includes the curve that blends into the straight edge. Though not designed to be a skinner, the Santa Fe would work fine. Phil commented that the blade design works well for cleaning steelhead salmon and other large fish.

Point: The clip point with swedge is outstanding. It combines two of my favorite designs. For field dressing big game, I like the clip point for that initial cut to open up the abdomen, without nicking the entrails. The swedge makes the under-the-tail work of field dressing a whitetail easy.

The handle is well designed, but doesn't work for my large hands.

The handle is well designed, but doesn’t work for my large hands.

Handle: Like I mentioned, the handle design isn’t the best for me. It could probably be reworked with some sandpaper so the finger grooves were more comfortable. That also means the Santa Fe might be perfect for you if your hands are smaller!

You can get your choice of handle materials. For a user, I generally opt for micarta, since it is apparently bullet proof. But I also love the natural look of wood, and have a definite weakness for desert ironwood and curly maple. Get what you want.

Sheath: The knife comes with a sturdy leather dangler sheath that secures the knife well. Both Phil and I like this  setup – you can wear the knife on your belt, under a coat, very comfortably. You can also get in a car and fasten your seatbelt with it on. This becomes really nice when you’re getting in and out of a truck or drift boat all day.

So do you need a Santa Fe?

If you’re looking for a good hunting knife that can handle many hunting/survival tasks, the Santa Fe could be your best choice. The knife retails for $187.47. This is a good price for a solid piece of cutlery that will last for many years.

Any reservations I have about the knife are strictly personal, based on ticky, nit-picky opinions I developed from a life-long, obsessive-compulsive need to find that one perfect knife for everything.

But Phil needs a Santa Fe. I offered to swap him out another knife (and I have A LOT of high quality blades with different designs) for the Santa Fe if it didn’t do everything he wanted his knife to do.

Phil opted to hang on to his Santa Fe.  I think he made an excellent choice!

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Try this practical method to build a survival snow cave

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Just about every survival manual shows how to build a snow cave. But the reality is that most people don’t have the skill, tools or time to effectively use this technique. This book, “Snow Caves For Fun and Survival,” by Ernest Wilkinson, may help.

by Leon Pantenburg

One of my favorite Boy Scout outings is Winter Skills Day, when we go out in the gorgeous Oregon backcountry to practice building emergency and survival shelters in deep snow. One of the more interesting lessons has come from building igloos and snow caves.

How to make a snow cave, starting to build a snow cave

I was able to quickly excavate this snow cave, using a piece of plexiglass and a small shovel. There was plenty of room for another person to work at the same time.

Igloos, IMO, require skill, a lot of time, building technique and the correct snow conditions. Most people in a survival situation will have none of these things. This rules out igloos as a practical survival shelter for the average person.

Same thing with snow caves – we see a drawing in the book, and there is little discussion about the realities of burrowing into a snow drift to make a shelter. The general idea, according to most authors, is to dig sideways into a drift, and then up. A minimum of  two to three cubic yards of snow must be dug out and removed out the small entrance hole.

Several problems crop up immediately when using this model:

  • The small entrance severely limits the digger’s ability to remove snow.
  • Only one person can effectively work at a time.
  • The cramped quarters limit what tools can be used, and the efficient use of them.
  • The snow in a drift is usually hard packed and difficult to remove.
  • You will probably get really wet wallowing around in the hole while attempting  to shovel out the loose snow.

To further test conventional snow cave techniques, I asked my 17-year-old son, Dan, to make a snow cave by himself on an outing.  A skilled outdoorsman, Dan has helped build many igloos and emergency shelters in deep snow, and knows exactly what to do. But even with the proper tools, and youthful enthusiasm and endurance, it still took over two hours to make a single-sized snow cave.

When the cave was completed, Dan was tired, wet and cold. Spending the night in that shelter, in his condition, would have been a rough experience.

 “Snow Caves” can help you learn how to build and use these shelters. Author Wilkinson is a former Search and Rescue member, and an  experienced Colorado mountain guide, specializing in snowshoe treks and winter camping. (This post started out as a book review, but I wanted to test some of his techniques first!) According to the book liner notes, this backcountry experience lead Wilkinson to develop his own shelter-making techniques that save time and energy and increase comfort and safety.

Wilkinson’s technique is simple: cut out blocks from the front of the drift to the width of the cave. Excavate. Then, use the removed snow blocks to create a front wall.

boy scouts in snow cave emergency shelter

These scouts were well-protected from the weather in this snow cave.

I tried this technique at the Boy Scouts annual Winter Skills Day. Taking only some minimal tools, (a piece of Plexiglas, machete and small shovel) I started digging into the wall of snow next to the parking lot. Using the Plexiglas, I quickly outlined the width and height of the cave.

Within 15 minutes I was about three feet into the bank. (Another person working would have speeded things up – I could handed the snow blocks out more easily.)

Once the desired depth and width was achieved, it would have been simple to dig out a trench in the middle for a cold well, thereby creating two benches for sleeping.

But within half an hour, working alone, the cave was big enough for two people to take shelter from a storm. Blocking in the front was quick and easy. Maybe most importantly, I didn’t get wet or expend a tremendous amount of time and energy in the process.

Covering the front with a tarp was also an option. With my space blanket and tarp from my Ten Essentials kit, and a candle to heat the interior, it would have been possible to survive a night out in the deep snow. It could even be reasonably comfortable!

Like any survival technique, this should be tried and practiced before you consider a snow cave a viable survival shelter for you.

Check out “Snow Caves For Fun and Survival”  here.

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Don’t lose your gear: Pop a top for equipment safety

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Hanging on to your tools may be critical. Here’s how to rig small items so they don’t get lost.  

by Leon Pantenburg

I learned a valuable lesson the hard way a few years back when my wife and I dumped a canoe at the top of a rapids. (Read the story)

Prevent loss of small critical survival items by attaching a poptop, and securing them to a clip or lanyard.

Basically, it amount to this: You keep the stuff that is tied down or secured. You lose the stuff that isn’t.

But some small items, such as butane lighters, Chapstick or some survival knives, don’t have a way to attach a lanyard or safety snap. (Here’s how to make a lanyard.)

Here’s an easy way to fix that.

Take an aluminum poptop and attach it to the small item with a piece of bright tape. Then, whenever you use that piece of gear, clip or attach it to a lanyard. Attach the lanyard to your belt, button hole or zipper fob.

Get into this habit and you’ll never drop or lose that critical piece of gear.  This is particularly important in areas with a lot of snow, like where I live in Central Oregon.

Add several feet of duct tape and a poptop to a standard BIC mini lighter and you have a firestarting kit. Secure the lighter to a lanyard with the poptop.

Add duct tape and a poptop to a standard BIC mini lighter and you have a firestarting kit. Secure the lighter to a lanyard with the poptop.

I frequently am out in areas with several feet of accumulation, and dropping a butane lighter in these areas of deep snow virtually guarantees permanent loss. Even if you can find the lighter again, chances are the cold will disable it for several minutes.

And what about that all-important knife? Drop one in deep snow, and it’s almost guaranteed you won’t see it again. Putting a lanyard on a survival knife is one of the smarter things you can do for winter survival in deep snow.

Either of these situations is a problem if you desperately need to build a warming fire and your hands are numb!

Avoid potential emergencies caused by losing gear by thinking ahead!

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Encourage preparedness mindset with this book: “The Unthinkable”

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Suppose that significant other isn’t into preparedness. What is the first thing to do to get them thinking about the possibility about the “unthinkable” happening?

Hand them a copy of this book.

by Leon Pantenburg

Amanda Ripley’s “The Unthinkable” is not about disaster recovery: It’s about what happens in the midst  of one – before emergency personnel arrive and structure is imposed on the loss. It’s about the human reaction to disaster and how you should act if you want to survive.

Survival Book Review: The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes and Why By Amanda Ripley

This is a  fact: Nine of 10 Americans live in places at significant risk of earthquake, tornado, hurricanes, terrorism, or other disasters. Tomorrow you may have to make significant decisions to save yourself and/or your family. Or maybe you could have to make those decisions before you finish reading this!

It may be in an urban or  wilderness survival situation. Or you may have run to the grocery store for a gallon of milk when the earthquake or tornado hits.

Regardless of where or when the incident occurs, you will have to take decisive actions to survive.

But the overwhelming response, of the great majority of people, to that concept is something along the lines of:…I, personally, will not be affected by any of those emergencies…. And even if a disaster happens, it somehow won’t threaten or engulf  me or my family… But if it does, there’s nothing I can do anyway, so there is no need to prepare…

This is denial. If that continues to be part of your mindset, then you have just gotten into the first phase of a deadly, downward behavior progression that could cost your life.

The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes and Why” Amanda Ripley, an investigative journalist, writes about the human psychological reaction to disasters. Ripley covered some of the most devastating disasters of our time, and retraces how people reacted. She interviews leading brain scientists, trauma psychologists and other disaster experts. She comes up with the stunning inadequacies of many of our evolutionary responses.

Ripley’s book is not about disaster recovery: It’s about what happens in the midst  of one – before emergency personnel arrive and structure is imposed on the loss.

Ripley describes a “survival arc” everyone must travel to get from danger to safety. The survival arc’s three chronological phases of denial, deliberation and the decisive moment make up the structure of the book.

And while the path to survival may resemble a roller coaster rather than an arc, Ripley writes, it’s rare that anyone gets through a disaster without passing through these main stages at least once.

If you’ve ever thought about a disaster and possible reactions to it, then you’re on the right track. Ripley starts the survival arc process with the thought “I wonder what I would do if…”

Here’s the survival arc progression, according to Ripley, of a typical reaction to a disaster situation:

Denial: This can’t be happening. This isn’t happening to me. It’s all a bad dream. I’m imagining this. In a moment everything will be all right.

Denial is the most insidious fear response of all.“The more I learned, the more denial seemed to matter all the time, even long before the disaster, on days that passed without incident,” Ripley writes. Denial can manifest itself in delay.  Or it can cause people to freeze or become immobile in disbelief. Many, if not most, people shut down in a crisis, quite the opposite of panic. Denial can paralyze you.

Deliberation: We know something is terribly wrong, but don’t know what to do about it. How do you decide?

The first thing is the realization that nothing is normal. We all think and perceive things differently. We become, Ripley claims, superheros with learning disabilities. At this point, you need to have some training, or prior “What If?” planning  to fall back on. The overwhelming tendency will be for your mind to go blank, and you won’t have clue on what to do next. Let’s hope you learned the STOP mindset  exercise. (See story link below).

Your brain may be like the computer that has lost all its connections. Remember STOP as one of those vital links. Embed the acronym, and how to use it, into your psyche. To get through the deliberation phase and on to the decisive moment, you will have had to rely on your survival mindset and prior training.

The Decisive Moment: You’ve accepted that you are in danger, deliberated the options and
now it is time to make a plan to do something. If you’re in a group, about 75 to 80 percent of the crowd will do nothing, according to John Leach in “Survival Psychology.” Another 10 to 15 percent will do the wrong thing, and only about 10 percent will make the right decisions. And these people who react appropriately will do so because of previous training.

Anybody with a “Be Prepared” mentality hopefully moves quickly through the initial denial phase. We’ll also hope that you have read and studied survival techniques so you will be able to deliberate effectively and move on to the decisive moment phase. But even if you think you’re prepared mentally for surviving a disaster,  “Unthinkable” is a book you need to read.

The book  is not about stockpiling food, tools, weapons or prepping. You must understand what goes on in your head during a disaster before you can use your tools. You’ll need information and techniques to respond correctly. Some of that information can come from “The Unthinkable.”

The book’s information is a powerful survival tool. It should be in your prepper or survival library.

“This awful catastrophe is not the end but the beginning. History does not end so. It is the way its chapters open.” St. Augustine.

Click here to listen to earthquake expert geologist James Roddey on Radio

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Best hunting knife? We review the Cross Knives All Around Hunter

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Pete Winkler’s recent win on the History Channel’s “Forged in Fire” just proved what some of us already knew: Winkler, owner of Cross Knives, produces some excellent blades.

by Leon Pantenburg

Knivesshipfree is a Survivalcommonsense sponsor. I didn’t receive any free knives, and make no promises on any equipment reviews other than that I will be fair. Many of the knives I review are for sale at a reduced price.

I was a visionary (I claim) when it came to Cross Knives. Long before “Forged in Fire” show featured Pete Winkler, I thought his knives looked really good. I ordered a Little Gent because it was such a pretty knife, and specs showed it was made of top quality components.

The Cross Knives All Around Hunter is a well designed hunting knife.

The Cross Knives All Around Hunter is a well designed hunting knife.

When I opened the box, the workmanship proved to be impeccable. But the handle proved to be too short for my large hands, so I returned it.  (Knives Ship Free allows return of products within 30 days of purchase, no questions asked.)

I then ordered a Lil Whitetail Hunter and ran it through its paces. (Check out the review.)

After various whittling, carving, bushcrafting, etc, the finale came when I went deer hunting in October. I didn’t kill anything but time, but a youngster I was hunting with got his first buck.

The Cross Knives Lil Whitetail worked well for field dressing this mule deer buck.

The Cross Knives Lil Whitetail worked well for field dressing this mule deer buck.

I used the Whitetail on the mule deer very effectively, using it to gut the buck, split the ribcage and for some of the skinning. The knife performed flawlessly. Most people would have been happy to let it go at that.

But the Whitetail would be a better hunting knife, IMHO, if it had a little longer blade than the four-inch  version that comes with it.

Nit-picky, ticky and probably obsessive-compulsive. I know. But that’s how I am when it comes to hunting gear that might be needed for survival tasks. My favorite blade length for a hunting knife is about five inches, and anything less leads to a nagging concern that I might be happier with a different knife…

So when the All Around Hunter came out, I ordered one immediately.

The Lil Whitetail, top, and All Around Hunter show a strong family resemblance.

The Lil Whitetail, top, and All Around Hunter show a strong family resemblance.

It arrived, in stabilized mesquite. When I opened the box, it was love at first sight.

Here are the specs:

  • Model Name: All Around Hunter
  • Handle Material:
  • Overall Length: 9.26 (235mm)
  • Blade Length: 4.53 (115mm)
  • Blade Thickness: 0.15 (3.59mm)
  • Weight: 7.9oz.
  • Blade Steel: A2 Tool Steel
  • Made in USA

The good stuff:

Appearance: Don’t buy a knife because it’s pretty. Buy it because it will work well for you. The Hunter has the best of both worlds. The stabilized mesquite handle with the custom pins is drop-dead gorgeous. It’s the kind of knife you’ll be proud to carry. In fact, some people might decide it’s too pretty to use hard, and decide to keep it at home in the safe. Not me. And don’t you be one of those people.

The All Around handle works well for my large hands.

The All Around handle works well for my large hands.

Handle: At 4.73 inches, the handle fits my large hand very well. It is well designed, and the stabilized wood proves to be almost tacky when it gets covered with blood or other slippery fluids. I could use the similar-sized Whitetail handle with complete safety, even though I had to reach inside the buck’s abdominal cavity, through the blood, to cut the esophagus during field dressing.

Steel: A2 and CPM 3V are my favorite knife steels, and frankly, I can’t tell much difference in edge-holding ability. CPM 3V is less likely to stain, but that doesn’t bother me one way or the other. A2 appears to be a little easier to re-sharpen in the field, but again, neither steel will probably need it.

All things considered, I generally give the nod to A2, just because of the lower initial cost.

Point: A drop point with a thin tip is a superior point configuration for a hunting knife. It allows the initial piercing of the carcass to get the field dressing started, and the lower point keeps it from hitting the entrails when making the cut that opens up the abdominal cavity. For skinning around the shoulders and neck, this configuration is hard to beat.

Blade length: A four-to-five inch blade is about perfect for my hunting needs. Like anything, this is subject to individual preferences.  (Does blade size matter?)

This 4.53-inch blade will do just fine.

Spine: I like a 90-degree spine. That allows you to scrape a ferrocerium rod to make firemaking sparks or to shred tinder. Save the sharp edge for other tasks.

Sheath: The knife comes with a sturdy leather sheath that is also handmade. Like the knife, it is good-looking.

Based on my experience with the Lil Whitetail, I have nothing but high expectations for the All Around Hunter.

My big game season was a bust this fall. I didn’t draw an elk tag, and because of various tasks associated with selling my house, I only got to hunt for deer on opening day. My usual hunting party had to get along without me this year.

But Oregon has a spring bear hunt, and I have a tag. There is also the potential for turkey hunting. I’ll be using the All Around Hunter. and I’ll let you know how the knife ends up working out.
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Don’t get lost: Tune up your compass

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There is no substitute for a good compass, and the ability to use it. Since getting lost is generally the reason for most wilderness emergencies, stay found to stay out of trouble!

A map and compass are basic navigation tools in the backcountry.

In this article, navigation expert Blake Miller tells you how to check out and make sure your magnetic compass is safe and ready to go.
by Blake Miller

Recently, I was watching a rifle expert on one of the many outdoor cable shows.   This gent is a noted ballistics expert, writer and occasional backcountry guide.  During a segment of the interview he was demonstrating what was in his day pack.  It kept my interest, had the ten essentials, and all was going just fine until he brought out his compass.

It looked like a wonderful antique, might have come across the Great Plains and Rockies with Lewis and Clark –but in terms of reliability- it was questionable. The sad part is, he spent absolutely no time discussing key factors of having a reliable compass.  He touched his compass and quickly put it down.

And touching a compass is about all that most people do too.  Hunters preparing to go afield will spend hours with their rifle at the range evaluating their zero, adjusting optics, and measuring the initial velocity of that hot new round.  Navigation takes time to get dialed in, too.

Navigation is not “rocket science” but it takes practice.  It is a perishable skill.  The analogy that I use in my wilderness navigation classes is that you can hop on a bike after not riding one for ten years and head on down the road.  But trying to triangulate after ten months can be a chore.

For starters, you need a decent compass.  Leave the $5.00 compass on the shelf at the store.  (For more information on buying a compass check out my article on selecting a compass.)

This compass is adjusted for declination

Here are a few recommendations for a compass tune up:

      • Store your compass in a safe spot.  Keep the compass off the dash of the rig, away from flashlights and the GPS.  Let’s not take a chance that an electrically induced magnetic field will degrade your compass.
      • Compare your compass with another to verify that the red needle is pointing to magnetic north.   Take it a step further and find a road in town that is aligned north/south.   Most likely it will be aligned in degrees true; as in true north.  Again, verify that the compass is pointing correctly.  Do this for every compass you own.
      • Is the compass leaking? Is there an air bubble floating in the compass housing?  I “deep six” (toss) those units.
      • Brush up on your compass navigation skills.   June Fleming’s book “Staying Found” is a excellent read.   Visit  Practice shooting a bearing, triangulating your position and orienting your map and compass to your surroundings.
      • Review the components of a Topographic map.  Start with the USGS’ site here.
      • Insure you have the compass adjusted to the correct declination. Practice with your children.  Give them a good education with a map and compass before you give them a GPS.

Don’t depend on your friends being the navigation experts.  Make it a goal to exceed their skills.  You might find that your initial impression was mistaken. Instead of a “sense of direction” develop the skill of navigation.

Practice with a compass is essential to safe wilderness travel.  To quote Fleming, “The key to knowing where you are, is constant awareness.”

Blake Miller has made a career out of staying found and knowing where he is at all times. His formal navigation training began when he joined the U.S. Navy in 1973. He served as an officer aboard several Navy ships over his

Blake Miller

20-year career; many of those tours included the duty of Navigator. Blake began working with satellite navigation systems at sea in 1976, culminating with the then-new satellite positioning systems aboard the Battleship WISCONSIN in early 1990.

In 1998, Blake started Outdoor Quest, a business dedicated to backcountry navigation and wilderness survival. Blake has taught classes to wild land firefighters, state agency staffs, Search and Rescue team members, hunters, hikers, skiers, fishermen and equestrians. He regularly teaches classes through the Community Education programs at Central Oregon (Bend) and Chemeketa (Salem, OR) Community Colleges.

As a volunteer, Blake teaches navigation and survival classes to students in the local school districts, and conservation groups. He is a member of a Search and Rescue team.

If you have any questions about land navigation or wilderness survival, you can contact Blake through, or you can go to his website.

Contact Information:



Phone: 541-280-0573


To hear the Blake Miller interview about choosing a magnetic compass and GPS on Radio, click here.

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Check out these ten top everyday carry knives

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Every survival/preparedness-type has opinions about the best survival/hunting/bushcraft/etc knife. But what about the knife you carry every day and use for everything?

by Leon Pantenburg

I belong to the “big knife, small knife” school of thought when it comes to packing cutlery. I want a four-to-six inch blade for a hunting knife, a seven-to-nine inch filleting knife for fish and a 12-to-18-inch machete or parang for chopping. (Actually, a better chopping tool is a hatchet or small axe!)

But I also take along a smaller, handier knife to do a lot of everyday tasks. This small knife will be carried most often and subsequently, get more use. So it needs to be chosen with care.

The Hawk is a user knife, able to handle a variety of tasks.

The Hawk is a user knife, able to handle a variety of tasks.

Don’t underestimate the smaller knives.

Last month, I was driving home from a Boy Scout campout, when a car ahead of me hit a deer. After checking on the occupants of the car (they were shaken, but unhurt) the driver and I followed the injured buck.

It had two broken legs, internal injuries and was in agonizing pain. We dialed 911, and found the state police would be at least half an hour getting there. So we put the deer down with the only tool available – my Kellem Hawk. The three-inch blade worked quickly and efficiently to end the animal’s suffering.

In another instance,  I volunteered to help cook at the Azure Standard company picnic. We found there were 120 pounds of chicken quarters to be cut up. I had the only practical knife available, my L.T. Wright Next Gen.

The Next Gen opened up a pallet of boxes, and when the blade was cleaned, cut up 80 pounds of chicken. (We grilled 40 pounds of quarters for the big eaters.) Everyone who used the Next Gen loved it. The blade was still sharp at the end of all that work.

Here’s my preferencs in an EDC knife: I have certain standards. The blade should be between one to three inches long, with a user point.  My (glove-size) large hands require a minimum four-inch handle and I prefer a bulky diameter. The material should be safe to use, even when wet. And durable.

For users, I prefer micarta because it seems to get tackier and “grippier” when wet. But I have a real weakness for beautiful wood, and own and use many knives with curly maple and desert ironwood handles.

We further break down the category into folder and rigid blade. (Check out my prejudices.)

Here are some of my current favorite rigid EDCs:

Old Hickory three-inch paring knife: My sister, Karla Pantenburg Moore, is a one of the most knowledgeable homesteader-types I know. Her go-to knife for many homestead tasks is a three-inch Ontario Old Hickory paring knife. The knives are cheap, reliable and do the job.

L.T. Wright Patriot: This is a great choice for people with small-to-medium hands. I don’t like a three-finger grip on a user knife, and that was the best I could do with the Patriot. But the cute little knife can be a real workhorse in the right hands, and any L.T. Wright knife is bulletproof. (Check out these video reviews)

Two favorites: The L.T. Wright Next Gen and WM1 are both workhorses.

Two favorites: The L.T. Wright Next Gen and WM1 are both workhorses.

L.T. Wright Next Gen: This is one of my favorite small knives. It has a three-inch blade, and a 4-1/2 inch handle. For me, it is just about perfect.

Fallkniven WM1: Fallkniven has a sterling reputation for quality cutlery, and the WM1 Sporting Knife upholds that tradition. A smallish fixed-blade knife, the WM1 is compact enough to take everywhere, but large enough handle many big knife tasks.

I carved a spoon with the WM-1 and found it to be a very good carver with its 2.75-inch, convex grind. It would also work for a neck knife.

Kellam Hawk: The Hawk™ features a beautiful dyed curly birch handle with a 3″ razor-sharp carbon steel blade. This knife has a full-tang construction with a brass bolster. These knives are hand made in Finland. The knife comes with a swinger-style dark brown leather sheath. As mentioned, this knife can handle just about anything.

Pocket knives

The Great Eastern slipjoint has a generous handle and two well-designed blades.

The Great Eastern slipjoint has a generous handle and two well-designed blades.

Great Eastern Slipjoint: I got this because I love classic, traditionally designed cutlery. The knife is big enough, with its four-inch handle, and 3-1/8-inch blades to be used comfortably for a lot of tasks. If need be, it could do a fine job of field dressing and skinning a deer.

Swiss Army Classic: My overall, most-carried knife ever is the tiny Classic. It rides on my keychain, and is used multiple times every day for everything imaginable.

I met a through hiker on the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon a few years back, and a Classic  was her choice for a backpacking knife. It was the only knife she had carried since leaving the Mexican border several months earlier.

The Swiss Army Knife Tinker is inexpensive, and can do the jobs of a much larger knife.

The Swiss Army Knife Tinker is inexpensive, and can do the jobs of a much larger knife.

Swiss Army Tinker: I carry a Tinker on my belt everyday, even when I’m at work at my college office. The Tinker goes for under $20, and has just about everything I need in a pocket knife. Frequently, you can find a combo deal on pairing the Classic and the Tinker.

Most Swiss Army knives have toothpicks and tweezers in the handle, and these are some of the most useful tools imaginable.

The Opinel, top, and the Puma Birdhunter, bottom, both offer a lot. The folding fish knife in the center is also a useful design.

The Opinel, top, and the Puma Birdhunter, bottom, both offer a lot. The folding fish knife in the center is also a useful design.

Puma Stockman Birdhunter: This three-bladed knife is one of the best small game knives ever. The different styles of blades are ideal for gutting and skinning upland game or birds, and the handle is comfortable for wood carving.

Opinel: This French import is inexpensive and has a unique, revolving ring for securely locking the blade in place. Opinels come in all sizes. The smallest Opinel, No. 2, has a 3.5-cm blade and the largest knife, No. 12, a 12-cm blade.

I find the carbon steel blades hold an edge very well, and if the blade it wiped off after use there shouldn’t be any problems with rust.

Honorable mention:

These knives are in their own categories, and bear mention because this is my website and I like them.

Bark River Gunny: The 3-3/4-inch blade disqualifies this knife from consideration, but the Gunny remains one of my most-used knives.

Bark River Gunny with a curly maple handle

This Bark River Gunny with a curly maple handle.

Mora 840 Companion: The blade is just under four inches, so that puts it in the mid-size group. But the cost and quality make it a knife that everyone can afford to use.

Leatherman WAVE: This multi-tool has all sorts of really cool gadgets, including a quality blade. The blade is about three inches long, and it can serve as a small game knife.

I’ve heard of people field dressing deer with the WAVE, but that is nothing I intend to try. The collection of tools make this one of the handiest EDCs available.

So that’s my EDC knife list as of right now. My choices are probably different from yours, and my list tends to change and evolve as I check out new products.

Probably the only thing to remember about any EDC knife is that it’s useless if it is left at home, or in the vehicle at the trailhead. The only valuable EDC/survival/bushcraft/etc knife is the one you have with you!
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Don’t be left in the dark – prepare for power outages now!

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A survival situation can develop in your home when the power goes out. The backup plan must include emergency lighting.

A survival situation can develop in your home when the power goes out. The backup plan must include emergency lighting. (Pantenburg photos)

If you live in the areas affected by the recent massive winter storm, let’s hope you are prepared for power outages. Here are some tips to keep you from sitting in the dark.

by Leon Pantenburg

This brings an important topic to the forefront : What happens when high winds, heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures combine to knock out the electricity in your home?

Emergency preparedness means you should have backup systems or plans for heat, lighting and water. If you’re lucky, the power won’t be off long, but batteries are gone after a few days, unless you have a way to recharge them. A generator will only work until it runs out of fuel.

Let’s hope you’ve already insulated your water pipes to keep them from freezing. Click on insulate pipes to learn what to do.

One of the more important aspects of urban survival during winter storms is lighting. Without a lighting plan, you could end up in the dark from when the sun sets at around 5:30 p.m. until dawn. The right lighting supplies can make this situation more bearable.

This scenario is familiar to Tom Dumalt, manager of Globe Lighting in Bend, OR.

Dumalt lived in the Milwaukee, OR., area from 1978 through 1981, he said, when days-long power outages were common. While various battery-operated light sources work well, Dumalt also recommends stocking up with plenty of candles and matches because emergency power only lasts so long.

For the long term, candles may be one of the best choices, he said, because they’re cheap, easily available
and easy to use safely.

And if you’re a scrounger/recycler/prepper, candles are something that is always on the “To-Buy” list. And they have a place in any urban survival kit.

When buying candles for a potential power outage, all you’re really

A single candle may provide enough lighting in some power outage situations.

A single candle may provide enough lighting in some power outage situations.

concerned about is quantity.  The aesthetics and mood of a romantic candle-lit dinner will soon wear off, and everyone will soon be more concerned about seeing what is for dinner.

Great places to find really cheap candles are garage and rummage sales and thrift stores. It doesn’t matter if the candles are outdated Christmas or novelty candles, odds-and-ends from a dinner party, or clunky art projects – all they have to do is provide light. Buy all you can find and stockpile them.

Another good lighting choice is the old-fashioned kerosene lamps our grandparents used. My urban survival kit includes several such lanterns and lamps, plus a supply of kerosene to fuel them. A standard Deitz lantern, according to the manufacturer, will burn up to eight hours on one tankfull of fuel. 21st Century Inc 210-32060 Hurricane Lantern No. 30

Other garage sale treasures can include old Coleman gas lanterns. These run on Coleman camp fuel or (in some cases) unleaded gasoline, and they can be dirt cheap. I was given several once after an estate sale, when nobody would buy them. Repairing them was not difficult, and if I can fix one, so can you.

Generally, the reason gas lanterns don’t work is because of a worn-out pump or from being clogged from dirty fuel. Sometimes a good cleaning is all they need. Repair parts are dirt cheap too, so there is no reason you can’t have several. Coleman Two-Mantle Dual Fuel Lantern with Hard Case

Before you lay in a stock of lighting sources that require combustion, consider how safe they are, and if they will work for your intended purpose.

Probably the first consideration is carbon monoxide. This odorless gas is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in America, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. Carbon monoxide results from the incomplete combustion of fuels such as wood, kerosene, gasoline, charcoal, propane, natural gas and oil.

This means a gas, kerosene or propane-powered lantern has the potential to be life-threatening in a closed, well-sealed space, says Gary Marshall, deputy chief with the Bend Fire Department.

The red kerosene and Coleman gasoline lanterns can provide a source of efficient lighting, but be aware of potential carbon monoxide problems.

All of these light sources must be used in a well-ventilated area only, Marshall said. Remember, if the electricity is off, so is the fan motor in your furnace, and there may not be a way to circulate air.

Both the American Red Cross and the Bend Fire Department recommend an emergency illumination source that is battery-powered.

In any emergency lighting situation, you should be prepared with battery-operated lamps or flashlights, Marshall said. Be very careful with candles or any open flame.

An important part of any emergency preparations is The Plan. Come up with a plausible lighting scenario for your area, then decide how you will handle it.

Think about your lighting needs when there is no electricity, Dumalt advises. When the sun comes up, will you need a light source to work? If so, can you move the work area to take advantage of sunlight?

Look at window placement as it relates to lighting, he added. Would the best idea be to shut down other areas of the house, and move into a central area that is more easily lighted and heated?

Another consideration is what the lighting needs are when the sun goes down. Decide what area you’ll be in when it becomes dark, Dumalt said, then think about the most effective way to light it for different activities. A single candle might be enough to light one area for certain activities, while more light might be needed later for cooking, bathing or washing clothes.

In some cases, such as two people reading together, a single candle will be enough, Dumalt said. In situations where it can be done safely, you can use a candle or lamp to save batteries.

While you’re picking up candles, stock up on extra batteries, too, and be sure to check your flashlights or electric lanterns to determine which batteries they require.

Here are some emergency power outage tips from the American Red Cross:

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Prepare for the monster ice and snow storm in four hours

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So here’s the deal – the nationwide ice storm, with arctic temps  is on the way and expected to hit by Thursday morning. You haven’t prepared for such a disaster, and there is a good chance the power will go out. What can you do, right now, to prepare your home and family for the blizzard?

by Leon Pantenburg

Patterson storm photo edited copyright

Snow, wind and cold temperatures will hit the east coast this weekend.

To start with, DON’T PANIC! To survive a winter storm inside your home you need food, water, warm shelter and lighting.

If you get  busy, you should be able to make all these preparations in about four hours or so.
Food: Let’s hope you have a several-day supply. If not, go shopping immediately. You will have to battle crowds, but grocery stores don’t keep much in the back room. If the highways are blocked, the store will run completely out of food in a day or two. It could be several days before more supplies can get in.

Do off-grid cooking in the garage, some well-ventilated area or outside. The carbon monoxide from lighted charcoal, a gas stove or propane cooker can be deadly in a closed, sealed area.


coleman duel fuel stove

Don’t use a camping stove inside to cook or heat a room!

Heat: You may not have any heat at all  if the electricity goes out. And if you don’t have some sort of  non-electric heater, it’s going to get cold inside.
But you can survive. Start by  cutting down on the area that needs to be heated. If you have a fireplace or wood stove, make that the center of the home for the next few days, and get lots of wood inside. Move everyone into that area, and seal off the rest of the house. The idea is to have everyone in one room to conserve heat and light.

Hang blankets over doors, and roll up towels to put at the bottom of doors and windows. Cardboard, cut to fit, is a great insulator, but it blocks the light. Stop the wind!

Then, take all the blankets, sleeping bags, warm coats etc and put them in that central room. Pretend you’re camping – everyone make a warm bed or place to stay. It may get cold in the the house, but you’ll survive in the warm room.

Be careful not to seal the room too well. If you’re using anything with an open flame, it will emit carbon dioxide, and it must be properly vented. Carbon monoxide poisoning can be fatal.

Snow may block the streets and roads for days.

Snow may block the streets and roads for days.

Water: Store as much as you can while the power is still on. Fill your bathtube, and all the empty containers you have while the water is still running. If you can still get bottled water, stock up as best you can. In a pinch, you can empty your water heater – it will have up to 60 gallons of water in it. (Here’s how to gather the water in your plumbing system.)

– The drinking water should be kept some place where it won’t freeze.

– You should still be able to flush the toilet by pouring water in the commode tank. Otherwise, you better have a five gallon bucket to use as an emergency latrine.

Lighting: Make the best use of whatever light sources are available. Get all the spare candles and lamps together  and inventory what

A single candle may provide enough lighting in some power outage situations. Check out thrift stores and garage sales for good deals. (Pantenburg photo)

A single candle may provide enough lighting in some power outage situations. 

you have. Then, conserve your resources, and use them wisely. Several people may be able to use the same light source simultaneously in activities such as reading or playing a board game around a lighted candle or lamp.

Here are a few other tips for survival living inside your house:

– Don’t waste batteries. Use flashlights sparingly, and this is not a time to depend on electronic games! Schedule regular radio listening times, for favorite music programs. Or know where to find a show that gives an upbeat, positive spin to the depressing, emergency situation.

– Have lots of board or card games around. Many of them can be played around a  single lighted candle. (During one memorable Iowa blizzard many years ago, my entire family played Monopoly for nearly three days straight! I went bankrupt several times!)

– Have a big selection of good books to read. Don’t rely on a Kindle! When the batteries die out, so do the stories. Find books that can be read aloud, and let the kids do some of the reading.

– Useful craft projects, that contribute to the overall well-being of the group, can be appreciated.

Nobody wants a power outage. But the right attitude and some preparation can keep the situation from becoming too bad. Besides, when it is all over, there will be all these war stories to tell. Who knows –  maybe the enforced family time will have proven beneficial!

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Nine tips for getting and keeping hunting access on private land

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Finding a place to hunt can be really tough. Here are a few tips that might help you get onto that prime habitat.

by Leon Pantenburg

When I was growing up in Iowa, my dad and several of my uncles were farmers. My access to good hunting in Central Iowa was virtually guaranteed.

Learn how to access private lands through common sense and courtesy.

Learn how to access private lands through common sense and courtesy.

My hunting party, which generally consisted of me, my brother Mike and Bob Patterson, had the hunting thing down. (We generally hit my Aunt Edna and Uncle Henry Adams’ place about mid-morning. We’d stop by the house first to say “Hi” and let them know where we would be hunting. Edna would have cinnamon rolls and coffee ready by the time we checked back in!)

But others weren’t so lucky. On opening day of pheasant season, our farm house would be swamped with people wanting to hunt the cornfields.

Dad and my uncles might or might not give access to hunters, and whether or not permission was granted depended on a lot of variables.

Here are some hunting access tips I picked up.

Start early: Scouting for prime hunting spots needed to start well before the opening day. Make a list of locations, and plan out a hunting route. Don’t spend opening day driving from farm to farm and road hunting. Decide where you hope to hunt, then go visit the landowner before the season starts.

Unless absolutely necessary, don’t ask on opening day: Landowners are typically swamped on opening day with people they’ve never seen before wanting access. It gets so bad in Iowa sometimes, that farmers put signs on their mailboxes stating words to the effect of:  “Don’t even bother to ask.”

Assuming there is no sign, it’s time to make

The initial contact:

Make a good first impression: NEVER have a firearm in view when you’re talking to a farmer. Your hunting clothes may be patched and worn (Mine are!) but you don’t need to look like a bum. You are trying to show the landowner that you are a responsible person, and worthy of using his land.

Introduce yourself and state what you want: Don’t waste the landowner’s time. If permission is refused, thank him or her politely, and wish them a good day.

All parts of a cattail are edible, but don't mistake them for the poisonous iris.

The best wildlife habitat may be along streams and rivers.

Take a kid hunting: Youngsters need to learn how to approach land owners. Take the kid with you when you go to ask permission. They need to learn the ropes, and besides, most farmers are really open to the idea of  letting kids hunt.

If it looks like the landowner may be leaning toward granting you access, then:

Establish credibility: Present a card with your phone number, vehicle license plate number and contact info. Point out that you appreciate the opportunity to hunt the land, and that you respect his property.

Here’s something that really helps. Bring up that you will absolutely close every gate, and that you know how to cross a fence.

Nothing hacks off a farmer faster than seeing someone crawling over the wire between two posts. That stretches the wire, and makes the fence sag. Cross right next to a post, and before climbing unload your firearm. EVERY time.

Offer to build up some sweat equity: Farmers generally need seasonal help. Offer to invest some time working for the farmer in exchange for hunting privileges. You’d be surprised how well this works. Even if the landowner doesn’t have something for you to do, he may be impressed that you offered.

 If you’re allowed to hunt, treat it like a precious, perishable privilege, which it is. Ask or check in every time you hunt on the land.

This is a mosquito breeding ground, and camping near it guarantees swarms of biting insects will find you.

Respect fragile ecosystems and make sure you don’t harm anything.


Leave the property better than when you found it: Come back to your vehicle with a garbage bag full of trash you picked up and that is bound to make a landowner smile. If the roads are muddy, walk. Don’t tear up the land.

Stop in at the end of the hunt, and let the landowner know you’re gone, and thank them again.

Then, during the off season:

Remember the landowner: If you’ve harvested a deer, take them some backstrap or steaks. Share the birds or waterfowl  you’ve harvested.

Send a Christmas card, along with a small gift – after all, being able to hunt on private property is someone’s gift to you. Respect and appreciate it, and you may be able to use that gift for years.

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Check out my new ultimate EDC knife: Bark River Gunny/Bravo

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Sometimes,  a couple small tweaks can change something from almost perfect to WOW!

by Leon Pantenburg

Knives Ship Free is a sponsor. I didn’t get free knives, and don’t get a special deal on any company’s products.

My favorite everyday carry knife kinda depends on what I’m doing and where I’m going. My L.T. Wright Genesis gets worked hard when I’m doing bushcraft stuff. The Ambush Tundra is my favorite hunting knife. But for day-in, day-out EDC carry, I tend to reach for my Bark River Gunny. It just works well.

I don’t get a special deal on any company’s knives, and I won’t use a knife that can’t be depended on. And I have a lot of really good, high-quality knives from different manufacturers. All of them get regular use.

The Bravo/Gunny, bottom, takes some of its design from the Gunny

The Bravo/Gunny, bottom, takes some of its design from the Gunny Hunter.

But those of us who wear size large gloves and bigger can’t use just any knife. Many otherwise excellent knives just don’t work because the handle ends up being too short.

That was the case for my favorite curly maple handled Gunny. It is a great knife for me most of the year. But when it gets cold, and I have to wear gloves while using it, the handle proves to be just a tinge on the small size.

Naturally, that lead to another quest for cutlery perfection.

When I’m testing a knife, and  something isn’t just right, I’ll sometimes loan it out to an experienced outdoorsperson and get their feedback. Frequently, what works for me, doesn’t work for others. (For example, the BR Trakker handle just wasn’t comfortable, so I sent it out for a second opinion.)

The Bravo handle fits me well, and is big enough to use safely with gloves on.

The Bravo handle fits me very well, and is big enough to use safely with gloves on.

I got a Bravo LT about three years ago, used it, and loaned it to my brother Mike, with no  other instructions than “Use it and tell me what you think of it.” (Mike has been my hunting partner for some 38 years. He got a Lon Humphrey Sterling for his 50th birthday.)

Mike gutted and skinned a buck with the Bravo, and was very complimentary about the edge-holding ability and overall design. But he mentioned that the tip needed to be thinner to skin around the front shoulders and head of a deer.

And both of us prefer a clip point with a swedge for a gutting knife.

Based on Mike’s feedback, and my own use of the Gunny and the Bravo, I decided I needed a Gunny with a Bravo handle.

Well, that isn’t a factory option, but BR has a satisfaction guarantee that is next to none. I contacted the company and asked how much it would cost to have my Bravo re-ground to resemble a Gunny Hunter.

That’s part of the satisfaction guaranteed warranty, I was told, so give a detailed description of what you want done, and send it in. Total cost = $15.

So my instructions were explicit. Don’t touch the handle. Shape it like Gunny Hunter: Swedge, clip point and full height convex grind.

The end result is just a bigger Gunny, with a large enough handle for people with “ham hocks” hands.

To say I like is a tremendous understatement!

Most people won’t understand the difference between the Gunny/Bravo and the Gunny or the Bravo. They might wonder why I’d bother with a re-grind when both knives are stellar performers.

Well, it probably wouldn’t matter. But there are some things I don’t compromise on, and at the top of the list is outdoor equipment I depend on. When a knife of piece of outdoor gear is just right, it makes the intended task easier and safer.

I’ll let you know. But right now, it feels like the Gunny/Bravo is going to be “just right.”

Check out our other survival knife reviews.

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How to pitch a tarp to survive in heavy winds

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How will you pitch a tarp so it can handle really nasty weather? Here’s what to do.

by Robert Patterson

In  June  of 2016 I went with a friend to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area for six days of camping, canoeing, and fishing.  After arriving at our second day’s campsite, and making a run to fill up the water bladder, the wind started to blow.  It came up steadily and consistently until it was blowing 30-40 mph.

Over the next three days it blew consistently at 30-40mph.  The gusts must have been 40-50+mph at times.  It kept us camp bound for three days.


A tarp over a picnic table makes a great central gathering spot during rain.

Severe storms were forecast. Other than our tents, a tarp was the only shelter and we weren’t going anywhere soon.   Since we had each taken a personal tent, we didn’t really have one tent to hang out in during inclement weather, so the gathering place was under the tarp.

Bottom line: we’d much rather be sitting out under a tarp than cooped up in a tent.

Here are some considerations for pitching a tarp (also called rain fly) and meeting the challenges presented by relentless wind.

Tarp shape

There are basically two shapes – square and rectangle.  OK, there are also some funky batwing looking things floating around, too.  You won’t know what works until you get one and learn how to pitch it.  Just in case, I have three or four of each.

Tarp size

Bottom line: The bigger the tarp, the more dry area you have.  And, the bigger the tarp, the heavier it is.  Heavier material is generally stronger, but it’s also heavier.

Consider the kind of trip, expected weather, mode of travel, and priorities.  How many people/how much stuff do you have to cover?  What’s more important area coverage or weight?  There are hundreds of different types and materials – not to be covered here.

Most people buy tarps that are too small. The splash zone around the edges cuts back on the coverage.

Remember the splash/blow-in zone around the edges?  The higher you pitch the tarp, the larger this zone is.  For practical purposes, unless the tarp is right down on the ground, figure on a wet zone of two feet.


The basic tenant is people always choose a tarp that is too small.  Remember, the area around the edge is a splash/blow-in (or wet) zone that is always wet in a rain storm and even worse in a high wind.

I have two “go-to” tarps.  Both are taffeta nylon, which is heavier than rip-stop but stronger.  One is 12’x12’ and the other is 12’x16’ – I use the 12’x16’ the most.  I’m looking for a larger one, but I’m not going to pay $400 for it.

I consider 12’X12’ the absolute minimum for two people and have often taken my 12’x16’ on solo trips.  It’s a great comfort when the weather turns bad and you’re going to spend a lot of time under it.

The camp site

During summer, when bugs are a major consideration, I try to camp on a point that is pointed into the wind coming across the lake.  Of course, the minute you get set up in such a campsite, the wind will switch.  Don’t bother to change campsites, because you know what will happen – again.

Pitch the tarp into the wind, or it may "kite."

Pitch the tarp into the wind, or it may “kite.”

In a perfect world, after finding the perfect campsite, the tarp would be pitched so the edge into the wind can be lowered next to the ground, which also slopes away from the tarp toward the lake.  This arrangement will minimize the wet zone on the windward side.  It will keep the wind from blowing under the tarp and or causing the tarp to “kite”.

The more movement as the tarp blows around, the more likely it will be damaged or come down.  A tight tarp is a stable tarp, and a lot more comfortable to be under.  This set-up also keeps the rain draining away from the tarp rather than running underneath it and through your living area as it would if it drained on the uphill side.

To make this picture easier to see:  Both the land and the tarp are slanted downhill toward the lake and the wind is coming in off the lake.

 Pitch it high / Pitch it low

Pitching a tarp high will give good head room and room to move around. In a wind, it will also allow the wind to catch the tarp causing it to “kite” or billow up like a parachute.  This works well on a balmy day where you’re mostly using the tarp for shade and the wind isn’t too strong.

If you pitch the leading edge into the wind low, the wind will drive the tarp down.  This is best for inclement weather when you are trying to keep yourself and your stuff dry.  It doesn’t work well over a fire.

Remember the splash/blow-in zone around the edges?  The higher you pitch the tarp, the larger this zone is.  For practical purposes, unless the tarp is right down on the ground, figure on a wet zone of two feet.

In a really kicking storm, I like to stake the leading edge right down to the ground, or even lay a log on it.  Hence eliminating what is usually the largest wet splash/blow-in zone.


The tarp has to drain.  Pitch it flat and it will “pond” – water will collect in a big puddle in the tarp.  The weight of the water may cause the tarp to rip or come crashing and splashing down.

Support poles keep the center from pooling with water or snow.

Support poles keep the center from pooling with water or snow.

In your campsite management, try to designate a drainage area.  Preferably away from the area you and your campmates will be occupying and make that the low area of the tarp.  Both terrain contours and the wind should be considered in making this decision.

Other methods of controlling drainage and interior room include mid-tarp supports.  The dark tabs in the middle of the tarp are for tying extra support ropes to.  By raising specific parts of your fly, you can eliminate ponding areas and address wind issues.  The use of topside cords on the tarp keeps the underside area clear and open for use.


This patch allows the support to move with it, eliminating the need to reset it after heavy gusts.

Another method is using a support pole underneath the fly.  Of course, having a pole in the middle of things under the tarp puts some limitations on the use of the area.  The other consideration is the tarp material, as poles tend to wear and sometimes even poke holes in the fabric.  Wear patches work very well to protect the tarp material. 

In conjunction with the patch I sewed on a couple of loops of climbing web in an “X”, and a cord run through the ends of the loops.  A pole end is placed in the middle of the X, the ends of the web are folded over the end of the pole, and the cord ends are tied around the pole.  If the wind is strong enough to pick up the tarp, the pole will be picked up with it instead of just falling down and needing to be reset.  When the fly settles back down, the pole will automatically be set back in place.

When sewing patches and tie tabs on your tarp, be sure to place a backup piece on the underside for strength.  During the height of a storm in BWCA, the main tie tab on my tarp ripped right out taking a chunk of the tarp fabric with it.  This creates a great deal of excitement for about five seconds.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, the tab had only been sewn to the tarp material and not through the bottom patch.    


There are hundreds of configurations to pitch a tarp in.  These can be covered in another article.  I typically use the standard “A” frame configuration, or some variation, for 95% of my use.

This pitch has the best of all worlds – amount of protected area, strength, and versatility.  The best advantage is it can be changed from fair weather to storm mode very quickly and altered in the middle of a storm to accommodate changing conditions.  I avoid pitching a fly in diamond configuration – that is tying the corners to the main trees and out to the sides.  In my experience this form will give you the least usable room and peripheral coverage from storms.

g the tarp correctly will determine how well it will p

Determine your rigging in advance.  If you pitch a tarp for fair weather, also figure out a configuration for storms.  Often you have very little time to “baton down the hatches” when weather turns sour.  You will notice a lot of cords just hanging around in some of the pictures.  Those are ready for switching to storm mode. 

Any point that gets tied “UP”, should also get tied “DOWN” when you’re expecting high winds.  Any cords tied to a point on the tarp that will be above your reach when the fly is raised, will have to be in place before the tarp is raised – plan ahead.

The “A” frame pitch can also be flipped over itself and out the way when not needed.  If the tarp is over your fire pit, half of it can be flipped out of the way when you want to have a fire.  Holes burned in the tarp create their own problems.

This method also works when the wind get too severe.  Simply flipping half of it over the other will allow you to leave the tarp rigged up, and give the wind a lot less area to work on.

Knowing how to make a simple A-frame tarp shelter is a basic survival skill.

Finding two trees the right distance apart can be a real challenge!

I guess I failed to mention the most important consideration when pitching a fly – the position of available trees.  Two for the center ridge, and one 45 degrees off of each corner doesn’t happen very often – or ever.  You’ll just have to figure out how to use what Mother Nature gives you.  (Are you getting the idea that this process involves a whole lot of insight, foresight, creativity, imagination, and innovation?) But, at a bare minimum it’s best to have two good trees with usable branches.

The ridge line is the main support.  It can be two cords tied to center grommets on opposite sides of the tarp, one cord stretched all the way across between two trees with the tarp thrown over it, or cords used to support a ridge line pole which actually supports the tarp.  Tying to the two center grommets is kind of self-explanatory, as is throwing the tarp over a ridge pole hung between two trees.

When using a continuous ridge line, the fly can be held in place with prusiks placed on each side of it.  A prusik is a loop of cord tied on to another line.  When the loop is pulled on it will bind and hold, and when the knot portion is pulled it will slide on the line it is tied around.  (Find a climbing book because there’s no room to do a knots class here.)  A fly connected in such a manner can be slid back and forth on the ridge line and secured into the desired position without having to jockey the main ridge lines and retie them each time, as on using two lines on the center grommets.  It also makes it easier to position the tarp around the fire.  (The left end of the “S” clip link would get clipped to the tarp.)

Use this setup to keep individual grommets from ripping out in heavy wind.

Use this setup to keep individual grommets from ripping out in heavy wind.

Take a good climbing or rescue class and learn some proper knots.  Unless you already have a good working knowledge of knots, books will be of limited value in expanding your horizons.   If the wind is high, your rigging will get jerked around to the max and you’ll soon learn if you did it right.  All knots should be finished with a quick release, which means you push a bight through to finish it rather than the plain working end.  When it’s cold, or rainy, or both, the quick release allows you to quickly untie the knot with one pull rather than picking at it in adverse conditions.

Which takes us to the rigging for the corner of the tarp.  I didn’t invent this method, I just adapted some climbing techniques for a different purpose.  I use a self-equalizing anchor which spreads the stress out over three grommets rather than putting it all on the corner grommet.

Take about 8 – 12 feet of paracord and tie one end to the grommet adjacent to the corner.  Pass the other end of the cord through the corner grommet and tie it to the next adjacent grommet.  There will be two loops between the three grommets.  Put one loop over the other and clip them together with a carabiner.  (I use cheap keyring type carabiner found in any hardware store.)  The carabiner is then tied to an anchor.  This rigging can slide back and forth allowing for a directional pull that isn’t exactly in-line with the corner.

When choosing an anchor for high wind, look for something that is “bomb proof”.  That is, if a bomb goes off next to It, it will still be intact.  You may be in trouble, but the anchor will hold.  Due to the amount of jerking around the tarp gets in a high wind, tent stakes are often pulled out rather quickly.  Digging a little hole under a tree root works well.

Take what works for you, master it, and make it yours.

Happy camping!

Bob Patterson at waterfall on Blue Earth River, Minnesota.

Bob Patterson kayaking at a waterfall on the Blue Earth River, Minnesota.

Robert Patterson is on my short list of people to go into the wilderness with. Bob is a skilled outdoorsman, an avid deer hunter, and for more than two decades,  has done an annual solo, two-week canoe trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

His career choices make Bob a great guy to review gear. A retired firefighter and first responder, Bob was also an EMT,  and his job required he be out in all sorts of nasty, cold Minnesota weather. (Bob knows his foul weather gear and is my go-to guy for questions about winter camping, rain gear or other survival clothing !)

Bob is also a retired member of the National Ski Patrol, and a certified rope rescue instructor.

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Another look at the Bark River Trakker Companion

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One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to knives.

by Leon Pantenburg

What works for me may not work for you, and vice versa. This is particularly noticeable when it comes to hunting knives – different handles are for different-sized hands. If the handle doesn’t fit you, it may be uncomfortable to use, and worst case scenario, potentially dangerous.

The Bark River Trakker Companion is designed for the smaller bushcrafting tasks.

The Bark River Trakker Companion is designed for the smaller bushcrafting tasks.

That was my situation when I did the initial review of the Bark River Trakker Companion. I have large hands, and must have at least a four-inch handle on a knife to use it comfortably.

I tried and tried, but the Trakker Companion just didn’t work for me. So I sent the knife off to another experienced gear tester, my old college roommate Robert Patterson, of Mankato, Minnesota. (Incidentally, Bob has smaller hands than I do!)

Bob is on my short list of people to go into the wilderness with. Bob is a skilled outdoorsman, an avid deer hunter, and for two decades,  did an annual solo, two-week canoe trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

His career choices make Bob a great guy to review gear. A retired firefighter and first responder, Bob was also an EMT,  and his job required he be out in all sorts of nasty, cold Minnesota weather. (He knows his foul weather gear!) Bob is also a retired member of the National Ski Patrol, and a certified rope rescue instructor.  He’s my go-to guy when I have questions about winter camping, rain gear or other survival clothing.

I sent Bob the Trakker Companion with no instructions other than “Use it, and tell me what you think.” Here’s Bob’s comments:

By Robert Patterson 

I recently had the opportunity to try out the Bark River, Trakker Companion fixed blade knife.  The name, Companion, is very fitting as this is a great utility knife that a person would carry with them every day.  Its shape, size, and sturdy blade, easily make it your “go-to” knife to do the multitude of cutting chores on a daily basis.

The Bark River Trakker Companion comes in a variety of handle materials. This is black and green micarta. ( photo)

The Bark River Trakker Companion comes in a variety of handle materials. This is black and green micarta. ( photo)

The Companion felt very nimble with a balance point between the first and second fingers, making it easy to use especially in fine work like carving sticks for a figure-four trap and food preparation.  The blade is stout enough to easily split kindling.

Bark River obviously takes pride in manufacturing this knife.  The handle has good symmetry but also shows attention to hand crafting.  The metal and wood interface is extremely precise, giving it a smooth feel.  It’s also very sturdy with a four-millimeter spine, full tang, and solid rivet construction.

The blade has a good utility shape that works well from whittling to skinning.  The taper from spine to edge gives it strength and an edge that is easy to keep sharp.  The square corners on the spine are sharp making it very effective for use with a ferrocerium rod in creating a good spark for starting a fire.

The model I received has a dark curly maple handle, which is really beautiful wood with a tiger stripe appearance that serves pretty well for camouflage too.

The handle is grooved for the first two fingers.  It does not have a finger guard, but the Companion’s contoured shape gives it secure control even when slimy.  The size of the handle is for small hands, which I have.  It fits me very well, but will give the person with large hands some serious manipulation control issues. (Editor’s note: Like Leon!)

The Companion comes with a unique ambidextrous sheath.  It is a full-length sheath with a friction fit.

Bob Patterson in gear-testing mode.

Bob Patterson in gear-testing mode.

I love it.  The knife can be left with the butt exposed for convenient access, or shoved farther in for extra security.  With the straps on the back of the sheath, it can be worn either vertically or horizontally.  The sheath is stitched with heavy nylon and riveted.  The rivets are hollow which allows it to be lashed to pack straps for easy access where it won’t interfere when wearing a pack waist belt.

The sheath is not waterproof treated and quickly absorbs any liquid leaving water stains – or worse.  I would suggest treating the sheath before taking it out in the field.

Overall, the Companion is a utilitarian workhorse that should provide the user with a long life of service.  Just keep in mind the size of the handle is best suited for smaller hands.

(Editor’s note: I talked to Bob on the phone recently, and he mentioned that there is a 10-point buck hanging around an area he hunts. Blackpowder season starts soon, and the Trakker Companion will hopefully get used for field dressing!

The bottom line – for any outdoor equipment – is ALWAYS: It has to work for you!)

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Blackpowder review: Lyman Great Plains rifle may be the best choice for the traditionalist

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Anyone wanting an authentic-looking mountain man rifle need look no further than the Lyman Great Plains Rifle.

by Leon Pantenburg

The Great Plains Rifle came with the best possible endorsement from Charles Crowther, a rifle making master.

I made this .50 caliber Lyman Great Plains Rifle from a kit in the early 80s. It's one of my favorite hunting rifles.

I made this .50 caliber Lyman Great Plains Rifle from a kit in the early 80s. It’s one of my favorite hunting rifles.

Charlie got me started in the blackpowder addiction. I met him when I was a reporter for the Vicksburg Evening Post, in Vicksburg, Mississipi. Charlie made longrifles from scratch, and in 1982, I was assigned to write a story about his hobby.

Charlie didn’t sell his rifles, and I couldn’t have afforded one if he did. (Here’s how I finally got one.)

I had bought a .54 caliber Thompson Center Renegade for deer hunting in Mississippi, before I met Charlie, but the rifle and I never bonded. It was too modern-looking and shiny, and it didn’t fit in with how I thought a longrifle should look. I couldn’t find an authentic-looking finished rifle, so I decided to assemble and finish one from a kit.

Charlie recommended the Great Plains Rifle as “the one I’d get if I was making a kit rifle.”

I was fine with that – I had been eyeing the kit for a while. The Lyman was a replica of the famed Hawken of mountain man fame, and I had wanted one since I saw the movie “The Mountain Men” with Charleton Heston and Brian Keith.

Half the fun is acquiring or making authentic accouterments to match the rifle.

Half the fun is acquiring or making authentic accouterments to match the rifle.

Someday, I wanted a Pennsylvania rifle with patchbox, curly maple stock and a flintlock for squirrel hunting, but until I could save up for it, I would use a Great Plains Rifle.

So I ordered a .50 caliber percussion kit from Mid South Guns, in Wagrum, North Carolina, and by mistake, two arrived. The company offered to pay for return shipping, but I decided to buy the extra kit, and finish it too.

My brother Mike was graduating from high school in a few months, and that was his graduation present. We’ve hunted all over the country with those rifles.

Here’s the Great Plains Rifle specs:

  •   32″ barrel with 1 in 60″ twist for patched ball and hunting loads. Barrel is 15/16- inch wide.
  • Adjustable double set triggers
  • European walnut stock
  • Hawken style percussion “snail” with clean out screw
  • Separate ramrod entry thimble and nose cap
  • Adjustable rear and primitive sights
  • Percussion coil spring lock with period-correct lock plate
  • Available in .50 and .54 caliber flint or percussion, and come in factory assembled or kit form.
  • Weight: 9 pounds
  • MSRP ranges from $769.95 to $839.95. Kits are considerably less – shop around and you may find a deal.

Assembling and finishing the kits were well within the skills of anyone with reasonable woodworking skills and some basic hand tools. I finished the stock with linseed oil, and browned the barrel with a commercial browning solution.

I like looking at authentic, traditional black powder firearms in natural settings.

I like looking at authentic, traditional black powder firearms in natural settings.

When it was done, my Lyman looked just like I wanted it to. The finish was authentic, I think, and the walnut and steel held up well to extensive use in the woods and swamps of Mississippi. The dull finish was a great camouflage in the deciduous woods I hunted, and I soon acquired or made accouterments to match the rifle.

Once the Lyman was finished, Charlie and I went to the range to sight it in.

For a load, I settled on a 180-grain, .495 caliber round ball, with a .15 Thompson Center cotton patch. After considerable experimentation, I settled on Crisco for my patch lube.

I use Goex FFFG powder, at Charlie’s recommendation, for higher velocity. (I’m not telling how many grains.)

To find the best load, Charlie said, start out with a mild load, and keep adding powder to the charge until the rifle report starts to make a crack when fired.

The load and rifle has always been much more accurate than I can shoot. Generally, at 50 yards off a bench rest with sandbags, it would group three balls into one ragged hole. I did shoot several 2-to-3 inch groups at 100 yards, which was outstanding for my vision and iron sights. (Tip: Get some Whiteout typewriter correction fluid and paint your front sight with that. It makes seeing it a lot easier in dim light.)

Again at Charlie’s recommendation, I sighted the rifle to hit dead-on at 100 yards, which made it dead-on again at about 13-15 yards. I check any rifle I’m going to use before every hunting season, but the Great Plains Rifle’s sights have never needed adjustment.

Here’s the good stuff:

Design: For offhand shooting, I don’t think the old longrifle design has been improved upon. In heavy timber or cover, where a quick, offhand shot may be all you get, the Lyman’s balance and well-designed stock does really, really well. The stock fits my 5’10’ height really well. The crescent-shaped buttplate and the drop at the heel puts my cheek right on the stock so the sights are aligned.

All this design work makes for a fast-handling, quick-pointing rifle, and allows for an accurate first shot. And it’s the first shot that brings home the bacon, anyway.

Caliber: The.50 caliber round ball is a deer killer. If I were exclusively hunting elk, I’d opt for the .54. As it is, I’ve shot through both shoulders of a whitetail buck  with the .50 at close to 100 yards. Several other deer at various ranges up to 100 yards dropped in their tracks from a well-placed ball from the Lyman.

Rugged: The mountain men typically carried an extra lock with them on long trips so they could replace a broken one. Other than the lock and trigger mechanism, there isn’t much that can go wrong with the rifle.

I’ve hunted all over the country with the Lyman, in all sorts of weather, and it has never failed to fire when called upon.

Good looks: Several other hunters have commented that the Lyman looks like an original. That’s what I intended. As a die-hard history nerd, I like having authentic-looking gear, because I like to set it up at camp or during breaks and look at it. That means there also has to be an authentic replica knife, period-correct powder horn and an old-timey shot bag.

Fun accouterments: Half the fun of setting up a blackpowder hunting system is coming up with the accessories. I’ve used replica knives, made my own powder measures and ball starters and in general, totally enjoyed the DIY aspect.

Some knife makers have figured out there is a real nostalgia market for the classic knives that go with the colonial frontier and Rocky Mountain fur trade eras. They’re putting out some classic knives made with modern materials.

So do you need a Lyman Great Plains Rifle?

Well, I do.

The actual kill is a very minor part of hunting for me. I’m there for the experience, and nothing makes for a better hunting experience than using the primitive tools of the pioneers.

To quote me, regarding the blackpowder experience:

Here’s how my ideal, bucket list scenario would  play out: It’s mid-morning in Campbell’s Swamp, Mississippi, and I’ve bagged several squirrels. I stop by a spring where the water gushes out of the ground between two rocks. I have no hesitation about drinking my fill. Then, I prop Annabelle (my flintlock, but it could also be the Lyman) up against a hickory tree. I sink the Grenfell tomahawk in the tree next to the rifle, and hang the hunting pouch and horn on it. I looking at the ensemble.

I take out the C.T. Fischer knife out and gut and skin the squirrels. I place the carcasses in a culinary-quality mesh bag carried for that purpose. I wash the knife and my hands, then take out some hardtack I baked and some jerky I made from a deer I killed last year.

Then I’ll lean back, eat lunch and take in the surroundings. Annabelle and I fit in.  I listen to the rippling water and the sounds of the woods. A quick gust of wind causes a few leaves to fall from the trees. A squirrel chatters up on the ridge, showing the morning feeding time may not be over. I watch quietly, because a buck just might come nosing along the treeline, on the way to get a drink.

I may or may not go after another squirrel. Or if I find some fresh sign, I might go deer hunting.  I may go rambling. It’s all about feel. I’m thankful to be where I am, and wouldn’t change a thing.

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Veterans Day Tribute: Marine recalls bloody WWII battles in the Pacific

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Thank you Veterans!

I met World War II Marine Tom Teela, of La Pine, OR, while interviewing his grandson, Kyle Thompson. Thompson, a combat-wounded Marine,  who had just returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan.  On Veterans Day, 2016, we are pleased and honored to re-post Tom Teela’s story of war in the Pacific.

by Leon Pantenburg

The 18-year-old Marine had been riding around in circles in a landing craft all night, waiting to land on a smoking, bomb-cratered coral atoll code named “Helen.” The embattled second Marines on shore were clinging to the narrow beach in the face of repeated counterattacks from the Japanese defenders.

U.S. Marines wait aboard a Coast Guard manned combat transport at Tarawa for the invasion barges that will take them ashore. Beyond the rail Coast Guard coxswains can be seen

U.S. Marines wait aboard a Coast Guard manned combat transport at Tarawa for the invasion barges that will take them ashore. Beyond the rail Coast Guard coxswains can be seen maneuvering loaded barges. (National Archives, Coast Guard)

Earlier that day, the Marine commander on shore had radioed that: “The issue is in doubt,” and the Marines ashore were clinging onto the beachhead through sheer tenacity.

“We had seen the smoke and heard the battle, from the railing of the ship, and wounded were being brought on board,” says Thomas Teela, 86, of La Pine. “We were in the reserve, and wondered why they didn’t send us in.”

Teela was a teenager during WWII, but like many of his generation, felt that he should serve in the Armed Forces. He was born in Havre, Montana, in 1925, and enlisted in the Marine Corps in September, 1942, at age 17.  By the time he was old enough to buy a beer legally, Teela had been in some of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific, survived two suicidal “Banzai” charges, and been wounded at Saipan.

Teela, like most people during that time, was concerned about what was going on overseas.

“I’d been following the war in Europe and felt we needed to stop the Germans,” he said. “My father was a World War I Marine, and he’d been wounded at Belleau Wood. He was also the head of the local draft board, and I knew I would probably be drafted.”

The Marines specialized in amphibious assaults, Teela said, so he knew he’d probably end up in the Pacific.

During World War II, the American first priority was victory in the European theater of war. But the Pacific could hardly be ignored, or put on the back burner.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec.7, 1941, Japanese forces expanded rapidly. On April 9, 1942, U.S. forces on the Bataan peninsula in the Philippines surrendered unconditionally to the Japanese. This was followed by the unconditional surrender of U.S troops on Corrigador on May 6. This effectively removed most of the resistance in that area, and the Imperial forces advanced rapidly on Australia. The Japanese suffered a decisive defeat at the Naval battle of Midway on June 4-5, but it didn’t stop them from landing on Gona on New Guinea. In September, the First Marine Division invaded Tulagi and Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.

In the meantime, Teela was sent to San Diego for training.

“Boot camp was fine until the first morning,” he recalls. “It started with this bugle blowing to wake us up before dawn. It was quite a shock. I wondered what I’d gotten myself in for.”

Training lasted eight weeks, and upon completion, Teela was sent to Mare Island Naval Shipyard  (25 miles Northeast of San Francisco) and assigned to Military Police duty. From there, Teela was sent back to Camp Elliot near San Diego for infantry training. Much of the training was related to amphibious assault, he said, and some of it involved climbing up nets, and disembarking with full combat gear.

“We ended up carrying up about 50 to 60 pounds,” he said. “We all carried two bandoleers of ammo, some extra clothes and food. When I see all the gear they carry today, I wonder how they can even walk around!”

After another six weeks of training, Teela was assigned to the Third Battalion, Sixth Marines, Second Marine Division, and he and 7,000 other troops were sent to New Caledonia. The Marines stayed briefly at a training camp. The next stop was Wellington, New Zealand.

The American strategy was in the Pacific was called “island hopping”  whereby selected islands were secured by allied forces (usually the Marines). These islands would have some strategic value (like an airfield or anchorage) which helped to move the fight closer to Japan. Many islands were bypassed because of significant Japanese defenses. The idea was to shorten the distance to Japan and establish forward land bases for supply purposes.

The result was that amphibious assault forces had to attack heavily-fortified islands, and the defenders had plenty of time to prepare for an invasion.

Tarawa: Code-named “Helen,” Tarawa Atoll was a one-square-mile tract in the Gilbert Islands, located in the critical central Pacific region.  In the Battle of Tarawa (Nov. 20-23, 1943) the heaviest fighting occurred on the Japanese-held island of Betio. Betio was less than three miles long, no broader than 800 yards at its widest point and contained no natural elevation higher than 10 feet above sea level. Everywhere there were pillboxes, nearly 500 of them, most fully covered by logs, steel plates and sand.

Marines seek cover amongst the dead and wounded behind the sea wall on Red Beach 3, Tarawa. (National Archives, Marine Corps)

Marines seek cover amongst the dead and wounded behind the sea wall on Red Beach 3, Tarawa. (National Archives, Marine Corps)

The 18,000 U.S. Marines sent to the  tiny island were expected to easily secure it; however, problems quickly arose.

“The first group went in on AmTracs (Amphibian Tractors), and some of them got to shore,” Teela said. “But low tides prevented some U.S. landing crafts from clearing the coral reefs that ringed the island.”

Japanese coastal guns pounded the snagged vessels and desperate Marines gave up trying to free the boats and instead waded toward shore – hundreds of yards away – through chest-deep water, amidst heavy enemy fire.

“Our ship was about two miles out, and we couldn’t see anything,”  Teela said. “But we could see explosions and the airplanes going in.”

Later in the day, Teela and fellow Marines got into a Higgins boat (a shallow-draft, landing craft with a ramp bow) and “went in circles.”

“We rode around in the dark, and when the sun came up they sent us in,” Teela recalled. “We didn’t meet any resistance, but we could hear the shells going overhead.”

When the boat started scraping coral, the ramp dropped and the Marines got out in the chest-deep water and headed toward shore.

“It was about a 15 to 30 minute hike,”  Teela said. “We were under fire, but we went to the right of where the main action was going on and came ashore on a sandy beach. We didn’t take any casualties.”

Teela and several other Marines went along with a flamethrower team to attack a pillbox further down the beach, which housed a machine gun.

“The flames went through the slits, and we could hear the screams,” Teela said. “We shot them as they came out.”

Teela admits that his next recollections “are real hazy.”

“We were trying to make contact with the other Marines and we dug in,” he said. “Then, there was a counterattack.”

That night the Japanese troops made one final attack on the Sixth Marines —  a suicide Banzai charge, according to The Marines were able to hold off the attack for a while, but when they radioed for reinforcements, were told that they would not get them. The men were barely able to hold their positions against the charging waves of soldiers, the report added. A gruesome aspect of banzai counterattacks was that if the Japanese ran out of ammunition or failed to overrun the enemy, then they committed suicide

A Marine from 1st Marine Division uses a flamethrower to clear a path through what was once a thick jungle in Tarawa - 1943 (National Archives, Marine Corps)

A Marine from 1st Marine Division uses a flamethrower to clear a path through what was once a thick jungle in Tarawa – 1943 (National Archives, Marine Corps)

“We had pretty much stopped them by then (that morning) ,” Teela said. “Then we pulled back and they were hit by our air power.”

The Marines finally took the island after a bloody, 76-hour battle in which both sides suffered heavy casualties. The Marines sustained nearly 3,000 casualties, but of the 4,700 Japanese defenders, only 17 survived.

Teela’s unit was taken back to the ship, and their next job was to take the island of Apamama, that was part of the Beito chain. They boarded Higgins boats and assaulted the beach, he said, but there was no resistance because all the defenders had committed suicide.

“We were in one of those south seas island setting like you see in the movies,” Teela said. “We built a defensive area right next to a beautiful beach.”

The Marines were given a short time to rest up and relax after their ordeal on Tarawa.  The natives were friendly and appreciative that the Japanese were gone, Teela said, but the Marines had orders not to fraternize.

“The Japs had mistreated the natives badly,” he said. “We all followed orders.”

Still, every Saturday night, there would be a big bonfire, and islanders would participate in their native dances. The Marines spent Christmas on the island, then departed for Hawaii for more training. After landing in Hilo, on the big island, the Marines were loaded on trucks and taken about 70 miles to the training base named “Camp Tarawa.”

“It was named to honor our men,” Teela said. “The Second Division had lost about 1,000 Marines at Tarawa, and had about 3,000 wounded.”

But there was not a lot of time for resting.

“We started training again, and we’d go out all day and do all sorts of exercises,” Teela said. “We trained a lot in the sugar cane fields, so we figured we were headed for some place in the jungle.”

After practicing amphibious landings on Maui, the Marine boarded ships and headed for Saipan in the Marianas Islands.

Saipan was another of those islands that couldn’t be bypassed and had to be taken. The assault on Saipan began on June 15, 1944. An armada of 535 ships, according to, carrying 127,570 U. S. military personnel (two-thirds of whom were Marines of the 2nd and 4th Divisions) converged on the island.

A Marine advances on a cave on Saipan (National Archives, Marine Corps)

A Marine advances on a cave on Saipan (National Archives, Marine Corps)

“We headed for the island during the night, and when we woke up, there was the whole fleet,” Teela said. “The shelling was so intense, we figured there wouldn’t be anything left alive by the time we got there.”

Teela was in an AmTrac and headed toward the beach in the first assault wave. He doesn’t recall being particularly frightened at that point.

“It was a beautiful day, and I could see all those AmTracs headed for the beach,” he said. “I thought we were invincible.”

But then an accident came that most likely saved Teela’s life. His AmTrac hit a coral reef, simultaneously as a large breaker hit the vehicle. The AmTrac flipped over backward on the Marines, and they ended up trapped underneath.

“I was under the AmTrac and saw air bubbles rising, and thought I was going to die,” Teela said. “My thoughts were about my parents getting a telegram about me being dead. I dropped all my equipment and got out from underneath the AmTrac and stood on the reef.”

Several Marines drowned. A ship picked up Teela and took him back to the fleet, where he spent the night on a Navy vessel.

“All you ever see in combat is what is right in front of you,” Teela said. “I didn’t know what was going on shore.”

The next morning, another AmTrac took Teela to shore, where he rejoined his unit. The rest of the first wave was nearly decimated when they landed. By nightfall of the first day, the Second Marine Division had sustained 2,000 casualties, according to unit records.

“There had been a big Banzai charge the night before, and bodies were all over in front of the position,” Teela said. “I missed all that fight and all the fighting the first wave did.”

Teela’s unit was supposed to move forward up to a ridge that morning and take a defensive position.

“We got about three-quarters of the way up the hill when we were told they (the Japanese) were coming,” he said. “We were under fire the whole time so we dug in and waited.”

The attack never materialized, he said, and for the next few days, the Marines kept pushing forward.

On June 27, Teela was wounded in the face and hand. He was in a fighting position, and had piled rocks up in front. He was aiming his rifle, and looking over the sights, when some sort of explosion occurred directly in front of him.

“All I saw was the explosion,” he said. “There was a lot of debris, and it hit me in the trigger finger, in the face, and a chunk of coral hit me in the nose.” Teela was sent back to an aid station, where he received a shot of morphine and a cup of coffee, before being sent to a hospital. He spent three days in a hospital ward, then was released to go back to his unit.

The fighting continued until July 9, when organized resistance on Saipan ceased.  The Marines got a 10-break, Teela said, then they were loaded up for the next assault. The taking of Siapan made Tinian, only 3.5 miles southwest, the next logical step in the Marianas.

Tinian control would put the home islands of Japan within striking distance of U.S. bombers. The 2nd and 4th Marine divisions landed on July 24, while the naval forces bombarded the island and artillery was fired across the strait from Saipan.

On July 31, the Japanese launched a suicide Banzai charge, according to the United States Marine Corps History Division, which resulted in many casualties. The American forces numbered 389 killed and 1,816 wounded. Japanese casualties were enormous, with 6,050 killed, 236 POWs and 2,500 evacuated.


Marines wade ashore on Tinian (National Archives, Marine Corps)

Marines wade ashore on Tinian (National Archives, Marine Corps)

“We advanced to the end of the island, and saw Japanese civilians committing suicide by jumping off cliffs,” Teela said. “The emperor told them if they committed suicide, they would go to heaven. They expected us to torture them to death.”

After Tinian was secured, Teela was sent back to Saipan, and transferred to a scout/sniper platoon. They “did a lot of shooting,” Teela said, in preparation for the invasion of Okinawa.

Once again, Teela and fellow Marines boarded a ship and headed for Okinawa. He witnessed Kamakazi attacks on ships, but was in the reserve and didn’t take part in the battle. Teela’s unit was sent back to Saipan, where they continued training.

“Our next big goal was the invasion of Japan,” he said. “We would be in the initial beach landing.”

Civilian and military casualties were expected to be extremely high, but the invasion never took place.

Teela was returning from a patrol one afternoon on Saipan when he heard about an atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima. Shortly after that, another atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.

“The peace agreement was signed after that, and we were sent to Nagasaki for occupation duty,” he said. “We didn’t know anything about radiation. Maybe it contributed to my good health!”

Teela was honorably discharged from the Marines in November, 1946, and went back home to Montana. He worked for the Great Northern Railroad, from 1946 through 1955. He went to work for the Immigration Border Patrol, then transferred to the U.S. Customs Service. He retired in as head of the Customs Department at Los Angeles International Airport.

Teela married his first wife, Betty, in 1946, and the Teelas moved to La Pine in 1982. Betty died of cancer after 46 years of marriage. Teela married his wife Donna in 1994.

We can’t thank these WWII servicemembers enough, so let’s allow that respect to include ALL veterans of ALL American wars: Thanks, and God bless you! Widgets

Why you should make a mini survival kit part of your wardrobe

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I hadn’t dumped a canoe in years, so unexpectedly entering the water just above the John Day River’s Clarno rapids was quite a shock. I righted myself, pointed my feet downstream and tried to follow the course originally set for the canoe.

by Leon Pantenburg

The Central Oregon rapids last about three-quarters of a mile, and we’d managed to hit a rock cross-ways right at the head. My wife, Debbie, paddling in front, was also thrown out of the canoe. Her head bobbed above the rapids as she navigated the whitewater. Several minutes later, I pulled myself out in the slack waters of an eddy. From downriver, Debbie waved to show she was OK.

Integrate these items into your wardrobe and "wear" them every day. You may be grateful you did!

These items are easily carried on an every day basis

Picking my way over the rocks toward her, I did a mental inventory of my survival tools. Everything we had, all of our fishing, camping and survival gear, was headed downstream toward the Columbia River. It was a hot day, with no danger of hypothermia, and the other members of our float party were at the scene.

Neither of us was injured, and  it was not a survival situation. But if we had been alone, here’s the survival tools we had left:  I didn’t lose my hat, glasses or the GPS in my pocket.

But the Mora knife was gone from its sheath on my belt, and the butane lighter in my left front pants pocket had disappeared.  A whistle was attached to my life jacket. I had charcloth in a plastic bag, firestarter and my key ring survival gear, except for the flashlight, still worked. Debbie had a whistle, too, but her survival gear was somewhere downstream. But even soaking wet, we could have started a fire to warm up and signal for help.

You could get dumped out of a canoe, thrown off a horse that runs away or be in a shopping mall or hotel when there is a power failure. In these cases, all you’ll have is a survival mindset and the tools in your pockets or on your person. But a little planning can help a lot if you make some basic survival tools part of your wardrobe.

This is what I carry on a daily basis: These items are on a separate key ring that clips to my car keys or belt loop.

On the keyring: LED flashlight, fingernail clippers, whistle, Boy Scout Hot Spark and Classic Swiss Army knife. The other, large Swiss Army knife rides in a pouch on my belt.

On the keyring: LED flashlight, fingernail clippers, whistle, Boy Scout Hot Spark and Classic Swiss Army knife. The other, large Swiss Army knife rides in a pouch on my belt.

    • LED flashlight: This is one of the most-used items.  A flashlight could be what gets you out of a dark, fourth floor hotel room that is filling with smoke! It may also require leadership training before using. In any dark emergency situation, the person with the flashlight automatically becomes the leader!  Make sure you get an LED light with an on-off switch. Otherwise, you’ll get really tired of pinching the light to make it work.
    • Nail clipper: Until you have torn a finger or toenail on a camping trip, with no way to trim it, you can’t imagine how important a clipper is. In a pinch, it works as a tweezers to pull out splinters.
    • Whistle: A necessary signaling device, since you can only yell until your voice gives out. A whistle can be heard at a great distance, with less energy expended than shouting for help. The universal signal for distress is a series of three, equally-spaced blasts.
    • Magnesium or ferro rod: In this case, a Boy Scout Hot-Spark firestarter is the chosen tool. It can be used with cotton balls and petroleum jelly, or Chapstick, or Purell hand cleaner,  to start a fire.
    • Swiss Army Classic model knife: This knife’s capabilities are much bigger than its size! A classic has a knife blade, scissors, screwdriver blade, tweezers and toothpick. Most important, it can be carried with you at all times.

In my left hip pocket:

    • Bandanna or 100% cotton handkerchief: This item can do a hundred different tasks, including wiping your nose! Other common sense uses include shredding as tinder for the magnesium stick; signaling, and improvising a head covering or sun shade. I always carry at least one, and prefer to have several along.

In my right hip pocket is my wallet with the usual driver’s license, credit cards etc. These survival items are designed to fit in the credit card holders:

Firestarter, charcloth and a signal mirror can all be carried in a wallet.

Firestarter, charcloth and a signal mirror can all be carried in a wallet.

    • Charcloth: If you can catch a spark, from any source, on a piece of charcloth, then you should know how to blow that spark into an ember, and then a fire. Charcloth should be carried in a waterproof plastic bag.
    • Waxed firestarter: A credit card sized piece of this material, also carried in a waterproof plastic bag, will supply several minutes of flame when lighted with a match or some flame. The firestarter supplies that link between ignition and getting tinder and small sticks to burn.
    • Signal mirror: I made this mirror out of a piece of flexible mirror material (available at most auto repair stores), and purposefully sized it to fit a credit card holder. In addition to signaling, the mirror can be invaluable for locating something in your eye or directing light into a hard-to-see area. The plastic covering on the mirror face is left on for protection. Directions for use are on the back.

In my left front pocket:

    • Butane lighter: I don’t smoke but always carry a small lighter. It’s easy to “Flick your Bic” to light a fire, or make a signal at night, especially if you’re injured. (You can also use it to show your age at a concert!) Wrap it with a couple feet of duct tape, and you have added another survival tool.
    • Chapstick: Get the kind with sun protection, and you can use it for lip, face, ear and skin protection. Chapstick works as a firestarter when combined correctly with a shredded cotton bandanna.

In the right front pocket:

    • Hand cleaner: Keeping your hands clean may keep you from getting sick later. Purell liquid handcleaner also works well as a firestarter with the shredded bandanna.

In my shirt or jacket pocket:

      • Notebook and pen or pencil: You may need to write down map or GPS coordinates, phone numbers or leave directions and you’ll need something to write on. Don’t forget to leave a note telling someone where you went.

These items may help you get by in an emergency situation, but don’t rely entirely on them if possible. Always take your Ten Essentials on any outing, and know how to use them.

Please click here to check out and subscribe to the YouTube channel, and here to subscribe to our weekly email update – thanks! Widgets

Survival lights: We check out the 5.11 XBT A2 compact flashlight

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by Leon Pantenburg

I remember when I got my first Mini-Mag flashlight, some 25 or so years ago. It was a major technological advance for my backpacking and big game hunting activities.

Before that, there were a series of expensive, not particularly effective lights. And they were heavy. One was powered by D batteries and it was a ral boat anchor. Because they were heavy and bulky, there was always the temptation to leave them behind.

The 5.11 XBT A2 is a sturdy, rugged survival flashlight.

The 5.11 XBT A2 is a sturdy, rugged survival flashlight.

But the Mini Mag was compact, lightweight and powered by AA batteries. I used that light for the next 10 years or so, and the Mini Mag served heroically. It was in my hand on many hikes out of the mountains after dark after a long day of elk hunting. It lighted the way to and from the river on fishing trips. Most memorable is the time I field dressed a deer with it clenched in my teeth like a cigar. Drooling is not cool.

I eventually went to headlamps and have never looked back. But I was interested in the 5.11 XBT A2. This is the same company that distributes my favorite 511 pants.

Here’s the specs of the XBT A2:

  • Aerospace grade aluminum
  • 6.188″ long, 1″ diameter head, .938″ diameter body
  • Weight with batteries: 5 oz.
  • Cree® XPEB LED
  • Regulated circuit for maximum output
  • Limited Lifetime Warranty
  • 256 lumen output
  • 2.5 hour run time
  • 119 meter beam distance
  • Momentary and steady-on modes
  • Tailcap switch
  • Water- and impact-resistant construction

Like most of my lighting gear tests, the XBT is used on my nightly dog walks. This time of year, that means in the dark. The dog and I are out for about 20 minutes, twice a day, and that gives a lot of day-to-day use experience.

Here’s the good news:

Compact and easy to carry: I can leave the XBT in my coat pocket and basically forget it’s there. If it’s needed, I have the light.

Rugged: The light feels bulletproof, without being overly heavy and bulky. It won’t break if it gets dropped and it looks like it will take a lot of hard use and abuse.

The pocket clip and on-off switch are designed for people who use lights as part of their daily routine.

The pocket clip and on-off switch are designed for people who use lights as part of their daily routine.

Pocket clip: This is a big deal if you use this light at work. My Dad was a carpenter at the Iowa State University residence halls. He carried several tools every day including his KeySafe and a Mini Mag in his left breast pocket. He relied on the light several times a day. Anybody who uses a light frequently needs to have it close to hand, and this clip is one way to do that.

Batteries: AAs are available virtually anywhere. A plus for me is that the XBT and my GPS use the same batteries, so I don’t have to carry different sizes.

Water resistant: I don’t need a SCUBA light, but I do need a deer hunting light that won’t die if it is dropped into the creek. The XBT will do just fine.

Not so hot on:

No variable switch: This is going to be an attraction to some users. The light is either full on or off. You either get the 245 lumens of light or nothing. Personally, I like variable levels, since I like to read in my tent and the full beam is too brilliant. Likewise, if I’m following a clear trail in the dark, I don’t need the full brilliance. In fact, the dimmer lights don’t kill your night vision as much as the high beam will. I would also want the variable settings because they don’t require as much power.

It’s not a headlamp: I really like headlamps for hands-free use. But if you like this light and also want a headlamp, you can find elastic headbands that fit the light and convert it to no-hands use.

Somestimes you may prefer a hand-held light. For following a blood trail after dark or looking for a landing on the river, you may need to constantly move the light around. Your choice.

Do you need an XBT A2?

You need a good, rugged light when you get off the pavement. Within the perameters we’ve discussed here, the XBT is an excellent choice, and it will probably last you for a long time.

Please click here to check out and subscribe to the YouTube channel, and here to subscribe to our weekly email update – thanks! Widgets


10 tips for taking better hunting photos

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That once in a lifetime photo of your trophy didn’t quite turn out like you planned? Here are some tips to help capture that elusive moment.

by Leon Pantenburg

I’ve made my living as a newsguy for most of my career, and much of the time was spent behind a camera. My Journalism degree has a photojournalism emphasis and I carry a quality point-and-shoot  camera on a daily basis, along with a notebook and pen. Old habits die hard.

In my current day job as an instructor/mentor of a community college student newspaper, I teach all aspects of journalism related to newspaper publication and social media promotion. That includes photography.

This photo show safe firearms handling and respect for the downed animal.

This photo of me and my 2015 elk shows safe firearms handling and respect for the downed animal.

So quality photos are important to me – and to you – when it comes to getting that photo of your trophy harvest.

Here’s a couple tips before we get started:

  • Get a quality compact, waterproof and shockproof point-and-shoot camera and carry it with you whenever you go out. Murphy is just waiting for you to leave the camera in camp so you won’t have a way to record your harvest. An easy-to-carry camera means you’ll take it along.
  • Take along a lightweight tripod. The camera’s self-timer lets you take photos of yourself and the game animal but there has to be a way to hold the camera. Also, in low light settings the tripod can hold the camera steady.
  • Make sure the battery is charged, and the card has lots of room on it.
  • Take lots and lots of photos. Tell a story with your images. Sure, the harvest is important, but take some other photos that tell us more. This can include pictures of the camp, the skinning process, scenic areas you hunted in, what you wore etc. Everybody loves looking at photos.

Here are ten tips for better hunting photography:

Read the manual first : Elementary, but good advice. How often do people having problems with electronic gear that could have been solved by checking out the manual?

Way too often.

Good taste: Make sure your photo is not tacky, and doesn’t make you look like a fool. Don’t put a beer in the dead bear’s paw, a hat on the elk’s head or show a lot of drinking or partying going on. The antis are looking for anything they can find to make hunters look like jerks. Don’t help them by posting such photos on Facebook.

It's amazing how many people like this photo of my hunting boots!

It’s amazing how many people like my hunting boots photo!

Not enough context: I want to see some of the background, and preferably where the animal was downed. A mule deer harvested in the Oregon high desert is night-and-day different from a whitetail killed in a southern swamp. We like to see the difference. Closeup is nice, but show us what the place looked like.

Not natural: I know how to use Photoshop and all sorts of editing software, but I don’t like it for photos that are essentially documentation. If the light was foggy and muddy, that shows the hunting conditions. Likewise, it takes an expert to make a photoshopped image look like it wasn’t messed with.

Bad lighting: The best hunting times – dawn and dusk – are the worst photography times. Make sure your camera has flash capacity, and don’t forget to use it. Also, know how to use the ISO setting to compensate for bad light.

Basically, the higher the ISO number, the faster the camera can shoot and the better it can capture low light images. On the other hand, that bright scenic should have a lower ISO for better color saturation and sharpness. Know the difference, and how to set your camera.

Camera shake: One of the most common reasons for fuzzy photos in low light is that the shutter speed was too slow. Ways to boost shutter speed include opening the aperture wider, boosting the ISO number higher and using a tripod. Most of the time, the  automatic setting will work just fine, but in low light, be careful. (See “Read the manual first” above.)

Detail shots can help tell the story of the hunt.

Detail shots can help tell the story of the hunt.

Avoid distracting background: Bloody paper towels after field dressing, trash etc. take away from the focal point of the shot. We probably don’t need to see the gut pile. Also be aware of branches growing out of heads, or other objects that appear to be in the background, but might take prominence.

Show respect: Nothing detracts from a photo, IMHO, than evidence that the hunter doesn’t respect the animal. Position and pose the animal in as natural a setting as possible. One of my pet peeves is the deer with the tongue hanging out of the side of its mouth. Tuck the tongue back in the mouth.

Be safe: Make sure the firearm is unloaded before you take any photos. It’s easy to get excited and possibly forget your safe gun handling skills.  Make sure it doesn’t look like you’re pointing the firearm at yourself or another hunter.

Practice: Everything gets better when you practice it. Take along the camera and take photos for fun under challenging situations. It will pay off later.

Hunting is expensive, in time and money. Take a little extra time to set up and take quality photos, and you’ll have memories to enjoy for years to come.

Please click here to check out and subscribe to the YouTube channel, and here to subscribe to our weekly email update – thanks! Widgets


Knife review: Kellam Hawk is traditional puukko design with modern materials

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by Leon Pantenburg

I bought this knife to review. At the time of publication, Kellem Knives had no sponsorship relationship with

I’m a sucker for old time knife designs, especially when they are re-created with modern materials. IMO, this makes for a time-tested, utility design that will do the job.

I particularly like the Scandinavian Puukko design, so that’s why I got a Kellam Hawk.

The Kellam Hawk

The Kellam Hawk

The puukko is a Finnish knife, and the name lends itself to the Finnish word “puukotta,” which means “to stab/knife.” The prefix, “puu” means “wood” in Finnish. The design of the puukko is attributed to the indigenous Sami people, who created several knives to use for day to day tasks; the puukko was the smaller option, used to skin fish or animals.

“Although historical records vary, the puukko dates back about 1000 years. Both men and women carried (and carry) puukkos, although the sizes change depending on the person, as the puukko handle is meant to fit the hand size of the user. (From: EDC History: Pukko – A simple knife with a rich history.)

The old design is getting some attention from modern knifemakers. I recently reviewed the Battle Horse Knives Feather Stick, another knife with the Puukko design, and it worked out really well.

Here’s the Hawk’s specs:

Product Details:

  • Blade: 3″ Carbon Steel
  • Handle: 4.5″ Stained Curly Birch
  • Full Tang construction
  • Dangler-style leather sheath
  • Total Length: 7.5″

Grind: Convex is my all-time, go-to favorite grind, but scandi is a close second or third. For a beginner, it is the easiest to learn to sharpen on. The bevel is sharpening guide – all you do is lay it flat on a whetstone and hone away.

The scandi is also a great woodworking grind, and a practical choice for someone looking for a bushcraft knife.

The Hawk handle fits my large hands very well.

The Hawk handle fits my large hands very well.

Handle: I have big hands – size large gloves – and many otherwise excellent knives don’t work for me because the handle is too short. I don’t like two or three finger grips. IMO, they don’t give a secure grip for hard work, and I’m concerned they might twist in my hand.

The 4.5-inch handle fits my hand really, really well. It is made of dyed curly birch, a common wood in Russia and Scandinavia, with nice figure. The wood makes a handle that doesn’t transfer heat or cold. This is a consideration for a knife that will be used in Finland’s frigid winter.

The diameter is large, which gives me a good, solid grip. When wet or slimy from cleaning fish, or bloody from butchering, the handle seems to get “grippier.”

A comfortable, safe handle is a really important aspect of a user knife. Pretty doesn’t cut it (pun intended) when there are lengthy cutting tasks to be done.

Steel: The high carbon steel holds a wicked edge. I don’t know exactly what it is, but the Hawk’s steel held up nicely to normal cutting and bushcraft tasks.

Traditionally, Blade materials can vary from the three-layer approach, which combines strong and flexible steels, to composite designs. Most are made with Finnish steel, Ovako 100Cr6, which is equivalent to U.S 52100 bearing steel, according to Nordic knife blog Nordiska Knivar.

Spine: I would like the spine to be ground at a 90-degree angle, like an ice skate, so it could be used for processing tinder or scraping a ferro rod. It isn’t. But a few passes on a grinder could fix that.

Sheath: The dangler-style, form-fitted leather sheath holds the knife securely. Almost too securely. It requires a slight twist to loosen the Hawk. It’s a consideration – the knife won’t fall out, but it’s a  two-hand job to remove it. This might be a deal-breaker for some users.

I find this annoying, but you can get used to the tight sheath.

Full tang construction with a brass bolster. I prefer a full tang on any rigid blade knife, even though I’ve never needed that extra strength. In fact, one of my favorite user knives, the Mora 840 Companion, has a plastic handle and a three-quarter tang.

For the strongest knife available, though, get a full tang.

Hand made in Finland.

The Hawk is a user knife, able to handle a variety of tasks.

The Hawk is a user knife, able to handle a variety of tasks.

In actual use, the Hawk lives up to the Puukko’s user reputation. It went along on the Fremont District’s Webelos Woods, a Boy Scout outing, recently. It was used to whittle sticks and do the assorted tasks associated with camping.

On the way home, on an isolated section of highway, I saw a fast-moving car hit a deer up ahead of me. The front end of the vehicle was demolished, and the hood popped. The air bag deployed and the radiator was steaming.

After checking out the driver and passenger for injuries, (they were shaken, but fine) the driver and I followed the injured buck. It had dragged itself across the road and was severely injured.

It was still alive, with two broken legs, probable internal injuries and it was in agonizing pain. We called 911. Rather than wait a possible half-hour for the Oregon State Police to arrive, we ended the deer’s suffering with the only tool available – the Kellam Hawk.

The knife worked quickly and humanely for the sad, but necessary task.

That’s the mark of a good knife. It gets the job done.

Do you need a Hawk?

Everybody needs a good knife. The Hawk is based on a proven design, with quality materials. The Hawk has proven to be a very useful tool, and one that can be used in a variety of situations, from slicing a bagel at work, to hunting and fishing.

The knife retails for $74.95, and that’s a steal for a handmade knife. If you’re looking for a good-looking user, that you can work hard and pass down to your grandchildren, the Hawk is a really good choice.

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How to clean a knife-sharpening strop

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One of the best ways to sharpen a convex grind knife is with a leather strop and abrasive emulsions. Here’s how to clean the strop.

by Leon Pantenburg

I thought I knew how to sharpen a knife. After all, I’d been doing it successfully since I was a kid. I regularly sharpen all the knives in my hunting camp, and have been teaching sharpening to Boy Scouts for years.

Then I got a convex grind knife. I could still sharpen it with a stone, steel and strop, but heard there was a better way.

I found that in this series of videos from (KSF is a sponsor.) I watched the videos, did what they said, and it opened up a whole new world, and set a new standard for sharpness.

Cleaning the strop is easy - just erase the residue.

Cleaning the strop is easy – just erase the residue.

My emulsion sticks are from KSF, so I don’t know what the other standards are. I did get some similar sticks from Harbor Freight that work just fine. The black appears to be about 3,000 grit, and the green is about 3,500 to 4,000 grit.

I suppose you could go to an auto parts store and get some abrasives used for grinding valves. They should work, but I don’t know what the variances would be.

The basic idea is to use a black (coarse) emulsion on the strop until you get a shaving-sharp edge. Then you polish with the finer green. Even finer emulsions can follow, depending on how obsessive-compulsive you are about knife edges. If you’re like me, that means taking it to an insanely-wicked-sharp edge.

Nobody needs to whittle paper from phone book pages, but it is fun to show off with!

Truthfully, I get all the working edge I need with the black emulsion and a plain leather stropping. The wicked edges don’t last long under hard use. For butchering or wood carving, that standard of edge is overkill and takes too much time to maintain.

At some point, metal residue will build up on the strop, and that will affect how well it sharpens. I discovered these cleaning techniques on Facebook, and thought I’d pass them on. All you need is a Pink Eraser™ or some 320 grit wet-dry sandpaper.

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Five knife fads and fashions that need to go away

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Cutlery goes through fads and fashion cycles just like anything else. Here are a few that need to fade into the sunset.

by Leon Pantenburg

Everybody has opinions. These are mine from working with knives for many years. I’ve seen fads come and go, and here are five (mostly related to rigid blade knives) that seem to be going strong right now.

Thick blades: As best I can tell, thick blades – say over 1/8-inch – are a recent innovation. Check out historic fighting knives in museums, and you’ll find that for the most part they are pretty thin. There’s a reason for that – most of the knives used for fighting on the frontier, or in earlier times were utility knives of some sort.

These authentic trade knives are on display at the Museum of the Mountain Man.

These authentic trade knives are on display at the Museum of the Mountain Man.

Steel was expensive, and a settler, trapper or longhunter might only have one knife. It would be handmade to his specifications by the local blacksmith, and the knife owner would get something that worked for the most tasks.

Since the knife might be called upon to butcher game, cut vegetables, whittle sticks, fight with etc. the most cost effective and useful thickness would be chosen.

Check out the original mountain man and trade knives from the 1830s – thin was in. And the colonists in the mid-to-late 1700s – they were called “Long knives” because of the long blades they carried. The best representation of these tried-and-true designs is in your kitchen knife rack.

IMO, the idea of thick blades goes back to World War II when quality steel was at a premium. In 1942, the Ka-Bar was adopted by the Marines Corps, and many other service branches. This iconic blade was thick for extra strength because good steel was scarce and needed for other things.

With today’s super steels, there is no particular need for a thick blade. If you anticipate doing a lot of prying or twisting with the blade, get a crowbar.

The guthook ruins the looks and uses of this Case knife.

The guthook ruins the looks and uses of this Case knife.

Gut hooks: A really quick way to ruin a good knife design, IMHO, is to add a guthook. I’m not sure exactly where this idea came from, but a guthook is one of the most specialized grinds imaginable.

Originally, I guess, the idea was to use the hook to make a specialized cut down the belly of a downed big game animal without piercing the entrails.

This guthook uses replaceable blades and costs about $20.

This guthook uses replaceable blades and costs $20.

Other than that, there is no reason for that grind. One cut per big game animal is not enough reason to permanently screw up a blade.

And don’t overlook this – the hook is a dangerous accessory that might pierce a hand or clothing or get hung up on a sheath. And field dress a bear or late season elk – you’ll find that the hook gets easily jammed with hair.

Sharpening that guthook takes skill and a specialized file you might not have along in the backcountry. If you must have a gut hook knife, get a dedicated one for about $20.

This Columbia River Knife and Tool folder would be more effective with a fine edge.

This Columbia River Knife and Tool folder would be more effective with a fine edge.

Serrated edges: The best way to screw up the most useful carving part of a blade is to get one with about an inch of serrations right next to the hilt.

The serrated portion might be handy if you’re cutting a lot of zipties or  anticipate cutting seatbelts, like an EMT might need to do.  In those cases, you need a specialized first responder knife, with a blunt tip and full serrations on the blade.

The only serrated knife I currently own is the bread knife in the kitchen. It works well for cutting bread, and that’s all it’s ever used for.

Choils: I love historic cutlery, and I’m the type who hunkers down next to a display case to study the details. I have never seen a choil on a historic knife, and don’t see the need for one. Like serrations, the choil takes the most useful carving section of the blade out of commission.

Proponents claim a choil allows the user to “choke up” on the blade to do fine carving or other tasks best suited to a smaller blade.

The choil on this ESEE-3 blade is not necessary or useful.

The choil on this ESEE-3 blade is not necessary or useful.

So let’s think about this: I’m going to “choke up” on this sharp blade to do fine carving or something. I’m supposed to put my trigger finger next to a razor-sharp edge, negating the protective hilt and handle.

In decades of small game, deer and elk hunting, I’ve never choked up on a blade to gut or skin an animal. I’ve also never needed a choil for wood carving or cleaning fish. Or anything.

I got an ESEE-3 a couple years ago to see if I had maybe been missing out, and to try using a choil before condemning them outright. Didn’t work. I wish the ESEE-3 didn’t have the choil at all.

A better choice than a choil would be to get a knife suited for the task, with a well-designed handle.

Saw blade spines: These never work. For a saw to cut, the tips of the teeth have to be offset from each other, and protruding from the side of the blade surface. Otherwise, teeth will clog up with saw or bone dust and have to be cleaned about every couple strokes. This also means the teeth will cut into the sheath every time the blade is pulled out or put back in.

Any of these lightweight saws are a better choice than a saw blade spine.

Any of these lightweight saws are a better choice than a saw blade spine.

In addition, a three-to-four inch saw surface will have a stroke of about and inch or two. It will wear out the user and be really ineffective.

Both saw teeth and a gut hook make the spine of the knife dangerous, and keep you from using it to process tinder or scrape ferro rods.

Again, rather than screw up your knife, get a folding saw and take that along.

Black blades: So the idea behind a black “tacticool” blade is that no glimmer of light will reflect off a polished surface to give the user away. This presumes, I guess, that said knife will be used for fighting. (Incidentally, stats show the rarest form of modern combat is knife fighting. It usually means the combatant has run out of ammo.)

And a knife has to have a black blade to look badass at the militia meeting, right?

This Cold Steel SRK has served me well for more than 20 years.

This Cold Steel SRK has served me well for more than 25 years. It started out with a black blade.

The first thing I did to my Cold Steel SRK some 25 years ago was to take that black paint off the blade. While the coating may offer some protection from rust, proper maintenance offers complete protection. The coating inevitably wears off, it affects the slicing ability and looks awful.

IMHO, a more likely scenario is you will drop the knife and have trouble locating it. If you’re in mud or the dark, this worsens the situation.


If you’re considering investing in a knife, think first about what you might be using it for. Consider the handle, and what it’s made of; the quality of the steel, the grind, blade length and the point configuration. Don’t forget to consider spine configurations. It should have a sturdy sheath.

Once you’ve considered these aspects, you are ready to choose a piece of cutlery. Then you can decide how fashionable your knife needs to be!
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Tool review: Huron 13-inch Half Hatchet

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Looking for a good, usable hatchet? Check out this Huron.

by Leon Pantenburg

BARCO industries supplied the product used in this review. I was not paid to write this, and  at the time of publication, there is no sponsorship relationship between the company and

 “A woodsman should carry a hatchet, and he should be as critical in selecting it as in buying a gun.  The notion that a heavy hunting knife can do the work of a hatchet is a delusion.  When it comes to cleaving carcasses, chopping kindling, blazing thick-barked trees, driving tent pegs or trap stakes, and keeping up a bivouac fire, the knife never was made that will compare with a good tomahawk.  The common hatchets of the hardware stores are unfit for a woodsman’s use.  They have broad blades with beveled edge, and they are generally made of poor, brittle stuff.  A camper’s hatchet should have the edge and temper of a good axe.  It must be light enough to carry in one’s knapsack, yet it should bite deep in timber.” – Horace Kephart, from Camping and Woodcraft, 1917

I moved to Mississippi in the early 1980s, to a house that was 90-percent heated with wood. I helped cut several cords of firewood every fall, and loved it. I learned to fell trees, use a chainsaw and split wood. We used axes and hatchets, and knowing how to sharpen them was part of the skill set. Like anything, having the right tools, properly maintained, made all the difference.

But I’m lukewarm on recommending that anyone get an axe or hatchet.

Annabelle, tomahawk and knife

My squirrel hunting gear includes a handmade pipe tomahawk.

The hatchet, or hand axe, has been around since somebody tied a rock to a stick and made a weapon. The hand axe was popular with the Vikings and other fighters in the Middle Ages, because it was a fearsome weapon, and cheaper to make than a sword. In North America, the natives carried tomahawks as weapons.

Today, I don’t carry a hatchet much, but I have several that are used as needed. I carry my pipe tomahawk the most, and that is generally when I’m hunting with a blackpowder rifle. It’s more for nostalgia than anything else.

My most recent acquisition is  a Huron 13-inch Half Hatchet. Forged in the USA by BARCO Industries, each hatchet gets profiled, sharpened and finished in Michigan. The handle on the Huron is flame-treated, then finished with Linseed Oil and the head is outfit with a handmade, holster-style sheath.

This 13″ American hickory handled half hatchet features a generous cutting edge and a solid smooth-faced hammer. Forged stateside by BARCO Industries, each hatchet gets profiled, sharpened and finished in Michigan. The handle on the Huron is flame-treated, then finished with pure Linseed Oil and the head is outfitted with a handmade, holster-style sheath.


  • Head Type: 1.25 lbs Half Hatchet pattern pattern
  • Head Material: 1060-1078 grade alloy steel
  • Shaping Process: Open faced die drop forged
  • Bit (Edge): Tempered to final hardness of Rc 50
  • Handle Material: American Hickory; Grade A
  • Hang: Wood wedge with juxtaposed steel wedge
  • Overall Weight: 2 lbs.
  • Sheath Material: 100% top grade leather, Antique Brass hardware

Here’s the good stuff:

Steel: A softer steel is the best choice in a hatchet head. A soft steel will bend, rather than chip, when it hits something hard. It is also easier to sharpen, and maintain a good edge. While the Huron could be honed to shaving sharpness, that edge wouldn’t last long when chopping wood. For chopping and splitting firewood, the Huron holds an edge nicely, and is easily re-sharpened.

Huron hatchet

Huron 13-inch Half Hatchet

The 1060 carbon steel in the head, with a RC of 50, is a good hardness for a hatchet. It is hard enough to hold and edge, but soft enough that the steel will fold over, rather than chip, if a knot or hard piece is hit.

Head style: Among my hatchet collection is a modern Estwing double-bitted, a Plumb carpenter’s axe, an Estwing Sportsman and a custom, handmade pipe tomahawk that matches my flintlock rifle. I also have a full-sized axe that sees use in camp.

My most-carried hatchet is the pipe tomahawk, but the most useful pattern is the half-hatchet pattern. The hammer side will be the most used part of the hatchet, because it will be used for driving tent stakes, pounding on things and a multitude of hammer tasks.

Handle:In making a new axe-helve, do not bother to make a crooked one like the store pattern.  Thousands of expert axe men use, from preference, straight handles in their axes,” – Horace Kephart.

I haven’t used a hatchet as much as I’ve used a 22-ounce framing hammer. Roughly of the same weight as the Huron, I’ve swung a hammer for hours at a time while roofing and putting on siding. (One reason I have large hands!) A straight handle works best for me, as far as being able to control the head. Like anything, get used to the weight and balance, and real accuracy soon developes.

It’s the same concept with a hatchet. A hatchet cuts with momentum and velocity, and you will develop efficiency through use.

Huron hatchet sheath

The Huron’s leather sheath protects the edge and the user.

Weight: At two pounds, the hatchet is not so heavy as to be overly burdensome. It is in the same ballpark as a heavy duty machete or parang. In jungle or swamp, the long knife may prove to be more useful. In hardwood, deciduous timber, the hatchet will prove to be more useful.

Edge: The grind on the blade appears to be convex. This is a good profile for a chopper, and the the extra steel behind the edge means it will be strong.

Not so hot on:

Leon mounts the soapbox: The Boy scouts have banned hatchets, and some troops and camps ban sheath knives. Ostentatiously, it is because the tools are presumed to be dangerous. Well, ANY cutting tool is dangerous in the hands of an untrained person.

The scouts make a big deal about teaching knife and axe safety, and every scout must carry a Totin’ Chip before carrying any piece of cutlery. If the scouts can’t teach cutting tool safety, to the point where certain categories of tools must be deemed unsafe, then what is wrong with the program? (Leon’s rant is over).

Do you need a Huron hatchet?

Well, I think to the untrained user a hatchet or axe is dangerous. Don’t buy one to add to your camping gear, and never practice with it.

A hatchet or axe requires velocity to chop and cut, and one can cause serious injury if it ricochets off the wood. A better choice, for the casual user, would be to get a good saw, and use that for wood processing.

If you know what you’re doing, a hatchet and/or axe can be a valuable survival tool. So if you decide to go that route, get a good one.

The Huron is a quality tool, and at about $149, it is priced competitively with other high quality hatchets. The Huron will prove to be an investment, and properly cared for, it can be handed down to your grandchildren.

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Review: Cross Knives Lil Whitetail Hunter

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A knife named “Lil Whitetail Hunter” is bound to be a hunting knife. Here’s what I found out about this Cross Knives blade.

by Leon Pantenburg

Teddy had dropped a three-by-four mule deer, the young hunter’s first. The 15-year-old made a fine shot, with his bullet taking out both lungs and part of the spine. The buck died almost instantaneously.


The Cross Lil Whitetail worked well on this western mule deer.

We were hunting along the John Day River in Oregon’s high desert, and Teddy  and his Dad had been blanked the previous two years. I got to go along on the hunt – every real hunting party needs an “old timer” along to dispense wisdom or something, and in general, hang around the campfire. Occasionally, we earn our keep.

Despite having watched various Youtube how-tos, Teddy didn’t know where to start when it came to field dressing the buck.

“I’ll gut it, and you watch and learn,” I commented, and daubed his cheek with blood. “I going to kill another buck this afternoon, and you get to take care the next one.” I got to work with the Cross Knives Lil Whitetail Hunter.

Around this time of year, as deer seasons start to open around the country, the new deer hunting knives come on the market. But some of us already know what we want.

Cross Knives are handmade by Pete Winkler, the same craftsman who re-handles knives for Bark River Knives. Handle materials vary, and feature different  selections of bone, wood, and synthetic materials. They’re pretty. But they’re made to be used, and these knives are as functional as they are good looking.


The Cross Knives Lil Whitetail is designed for deer hunting.

The Cross Knives Lil Whitetail is designed for deer hunting.

  • Model Name: Lil Whitetail Hunter
  • Handle Material: Stabilized mesquite
  • Overall Length: 8.27 (210mm)
  • Blade Length: 3.63 (92mm)
  • Blade Thickness: 0.15 (3.6mm)
  • Weight: 5.6oz.
  • Blade Steel: A2 Tool Steel
  • Made in USA

High-quality leather sheath included

Here’s what I liked:

Handle: Mine is in stabilized mesquite – it’s a good-looking package. The handle is a good size for my large hands, and it never got slippery, even though my hands and forearms were bloodied from gutting the animal. I was able to split the ribcage with the blade pretty easily, because I could hold it so well. Needless to say, Winkler’s knives are gorgeous. They’re almost too pretty to use. Some people might be tempted to keep this knife in a display and never use it. Some people. Not me.

Steel: A2 is one of my favorites. I find it to have excellent edge-holding ability, and it is easy to sharpen in the field. In fact, I never needed to touch up the blade, even after gutting the buck, splitting the ribcage and skinning.  You can take along a sharpener or strop, but you probably won’t need it.

Sheath: A beautiful leather sheath comes with the knife, and it secures the blade safely and well.

Point: I’d like the point better if it had more of a drop. As it is, I would prefer less of an upswept point. Again, that’s just my preference – the point makes for a better belly on the blade for skinning. The design was really good for skinning around the front legs and neck, and probably worked better than a drop point may have. You make your choices.

Grind: Convex is my favorite grind because the edge is so strong and lasts so long. The whitetail has a full profile convex, and it’s easy to maintain the edge. Once you learn how to use a strop, the procedure is pretty straight forward.

Blade length: At four inches, the blade is about right for a hunting knife. I personally prefer a little longer blade, say about five inches. This is strictly a matter of personal choice – veteran elk hunters I hunt with use everything from a three-inch folder to an eight-inch Bowie.

Other ticky stuff:

After using the Whitetail hard, I notices the edge had rolled and there was some very minor chipping on the belly of the blade. It had been used to disjoint the hips and quarter the carcass, cut off the legs and cut the deer in half. The spinal column was cut twice, and the edge had to go through six rib bones. Then it was used for a lot of skinning. That’s some serious field use, and the blade held up extremely well.

The edge was still very usable, but I haven’t noticed this on other knives I use with A2 steel. It took a few swipes on my grandpa’s butchering steel to dress up the edge, then it was stropped on a leather strop with Bark River black compound. The edge was soon back to hair-popping sharp.

FYI – I find stropping the blade on a leather strop with black compound, followed by a few strokes on a plain leather strop, makes the best edge for my needs. While it’s fun to shave hair and whittle paper, that edge is not going to last all that long in actual use. My experience is that you can generally get as much edge as you need with the black compound.

All in all, there was basically nothing I could find wrong with the Whitetail, and there was a whole lot that was right.

The Whitetail is worth looking at if you’re doing a lot of whitetail hunting, and it will do just fine on elk or bigger western deer. In addition to being a very useful knife, it is also very good looking.

When it comes to the Cross Knives Lil Whitetail, what’s not to like?

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Review: L.T. Wright Knives H.E.R.O, a blade for special people

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For some of our wounded warriors, the hardest battle begins when they get home. This knife is designed to help.

by Leon Pantenburg

I love L.T. Wright knives – I’ve tested several and they’ve always been way above par. My Genesis is my go-to bushcraft knife, and the Next Gen is another well-used tested performer. The whole line is bulletproof and ready to go to work.
But the company outdid themselves when they designed and produced the HERO (Helping Everyone Reach the Outdoors).blademagazineltwkhero_page_01

All too often our veterans and public safety professionals get hurt in the line of duty and L.T Wright want to do something for those men and women that allows them to return to the outdoors after an injury or loss of a limb.” – from the company website.

A proven knife design was adapted to provide a way for someone with missing fingers or limited grip to safely use a knife, the company claims.  L.T Wright added a hook near the blade that accepts an elastic lanyard that will assist the user in holding on to the knife.

The HERO was featured on the cover of the December 2015 Blade magazine.

I ordered one to check it out. It has been used for various bushcrafting activities and worked quite well.


  • Total Length: 8″
  • Blade Length: 3.5″
  • Blade Thickness: 1/8″
  • Handle Material: Black Resitin – Matte
  • Blade-Steel: D-2 Tool Steel Steel
  • Made in USA

Out of the box, the knife was shaving-sharp, and showed the superb quality I expect from L.T. Wright.

Here’s the good stuff:

Blade thickness is 1/8-inch and that’s a good choice for an overall knife. The D-2 steel is tough and combined with the thickness, the blade should be virtually unbreakable. (Don’t go trashing your HERO blade and sending me a photo. Anything can be broken if someone tries hard enough!) I like e thinner blades, but that is strictly personal preference, based on how I use knives.

Blade length: Different tasks require a variety of lengths. IMHO, the three-to-four-inch blade is the do-it-all length. It is short enough to be handy, but long enough to do just about anything.

Steel: The D2 tool steel is tough and holds an edge well. It is easy to sharpen, and should not get stained badly over regular use. Clean your knife after using it, and there will be no problems.

The elastic lanyard helps secure to handle to the hand.

The elastic lanyard helps secure to handle to the hand.

Handle: The design here is incredible. Designed so it can be readily grasped, the handle is easy to hold, and big enough to be safe, The elastic lanyard  can be hooked around the back of the hand to secure the handle to the hand.

Point: The narrow spear point is an excellent choice for a utility knife. It would be my first choice for a bushcrafter, or a knife that might be called upon to do everything.

Sheath: A sturdy leather dangler sheath makes for easy, comfortable and safe carry.

I took the HERO on an Oregon mule deer hunt the first weekend in October, and it was used for gutting and skinning on a nice buck.

The handle never got slippery, even though it got really bloody. The design of the handle kept it from slipping in my hand. The knife was handy.The HERO is not designed to be a hunting knife but it worked well.The HERO is not designed to be a hunting knife but it worked well.[/caption

The ticky other stuff: This knife is designed for bushcraft, and as such, is not going to make the best hunting knife. There is not enough belly behind the point to make the HERO a superior skinning knife, and I want more of a drop point for gutting a big game animal.

The Scandi grind is good for woodworking and such, but is not the best choice for a knife that will be used for slicing. IMO, a convex grind is the best overall grind.

Do you need a HERO?

It’s a great knife. I like it a lot. But I have a lot of other, more specialized blades that work better, for me, on different tasks. I use the best knife for the job.

But the HERO could be the best choice for the person who had problems holding a knife, and who needs a good, overall-use knife. The HERO could be the difference, for that person, of being able to use a knife outdoors or not.

And that’s the idea behind the HERO – to provide a tool that can help overcome some physical challenges. In some instances, the HERO may be the very best knife for the job.

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Why do you hunt?

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Every hunter will probably come across someone who questions, or possibly attacks, the activity of hunting. Here’s how to answer.

by Leon Pantenburg

Start by being nice and respectful: The person with the questions may be honestly seeking info and might be considering joining our ranks.

All the uniformed person might know is that you (a hunter) intend to hunt and kill an animal and eat it. And that sounds like something a Neanderthal would do.

So what’s the allure? Why bother? Isn’t hunting inhumane? What’s wrong with people who kill things to have a good time?  How can you be so heartless? And it goes on…

Here’s some common questions and my responses. Think what yours might be… 

Why do hunters say “harvest,” instead of “kill”?

I was dressed entirely in wool on the cold November day I harvested this bull elk.

I killed this bull elk last year on a cold November day in the Oregon high desert.

One definition of “harvest”  according to Webster, is “to catch, take, or remove for use.”

Game animals are a crop, and they are managed so they are in balance with the habitat. (As a side benefit, when you enhance habitat for game animals, other non-game species also benefit.) Every fish and game department in the country uses hunting as a game management tool.

Tags issued are based on scientific data, and are allotted in specific areas to regulate how many are killed.

Hunters are bloodthirsty wackos with a need to kill something.

These psychos don’t last long as hunters. It takes way too much time, effort and energy to legitimately pursue game animals. There is not enough killing to satisfy someone’s bloodlust.

In Colorado, for example, the 2016 success rate for elk harvest was about 30 percent for residents and 45 percent for residents. In Oregon, where I hunt, the success rate on elk is about 15 percent.

Apply this to football –  who would go to a game where there is at best a 30 percent chance of someone scoring a touchdown?

Then why do you have to kill something? Can’t you go out in woods and just hike around?

I can, and I do. I’m outdoors year round, and love the seasonal changes. But there is something about pursuing wild game that is embedded in human DNA, and there is nothing like hunting to make me feel alive.

Frequently, hunting ends up being a walk in the woods carrying a bow or a firearm. I’m fine with that.

Hunting is a cruel blood sport: Mother Nature is cruel. In the wild, animals don’t usually get a humane death. They may die from starvation, a broken leg or be ripped apart by wolves, coyotes, cougars or other predators. Their eventual death may be a painful, lingering one. The swift bullet or arrow is the quickest, least painful way to go.

Trophy hunting is bad: It depends on the situation.

To an African villager whose crops are decimated by overpopulated elephant herds, a hunter who culls the herd is a godsend. That hunter will have to buy an expensive hunting permit and hire local people to guide, track, skin and process the downed animal. (Tourism promoters point out that every tourist dollar turns over in a community seven times!) If an animal is killed the meat is traditionally given to the nearest village.

Outlaw trophy hunting, and this economic boon goes away. If no trophy hunters are allowed, villagers will do what they have to to protect their crops and villages.

There are no legal seasons for endangered species. Today, every wild animal is managed and regulated by fish and game departments to make sure they don’t become endangered.

Here are some other aspects the non-hunter might not think about.

Hunters pay for conservation:  Fact is, over 90 percent of  habitat management funds are generated from fees from hunting and fishing licenses.

All hunting-related expenditures in Nebraska totaled $527 million in 2011, according to the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation 2011 National Survey (revised in 2013, the latest information available).

This is a mosquito breeding ground, and camping near it guarantees swarms of biting insects will find you.

Anytime wildlife habitat is enhanced or preserved, all the animals benefit.

When a habitat is improved or restored, it benefits many non-game animals. As far as financially supporting wildlife and habitat restoration goes, the antis aren’t even in the picture.

Success is not guaranteed: Unless you’re hunting in a fenced enclosure, nobody can promise you’ll even see a game animal. I’ve hunted several seasons in Idaho where I never saw an elk.

Hunting is a family tradition. My Dad taught me hunting ethics. With the exception of sparrows and starlings, feral pigeons in the barn that ruined cattle feed, and rats in the corn crib, I never killed anything we couldn’t eat.

My brother, Mike Pantenburg, has been my hunting partner since he was 12 and passed his hunter safety class.  Some 35 years later, we still try to hunt together every fall.

Hunting season, since time immemorial,  has been a time for the tribe to gather. These events strengthen family bonds.

Hunting puts you in touch with nature: My friend, Lily Raff Macallu, wrote “Call of the Mild,” a memoir book about a big city woman learning to hunt. Lily took up fishing after moving to Oregon, and said it opened up a whole new world of awareness. Instead of seeing a river as a water flow, she started seeing the structure in it, the different currents, and all the things that contribute to fish habitat. She took up hunting to gain the same awareness on land.

I like to know where my food comes from: I’m a meat hunter, and could care less about trophies. I will kill the first legal animal that comes along.

My wife and daughter love elk meat. When I go elk hunting, my instructions are to harvest a cow or a spike (if legal), because the meat tastes better. The elk I killed last year was born and grew up about 15 miles from where I live. It lived its whole life in the Oregon high desert, and was wild and free until it was killed.

And those are my reasons for hunting. I still have trouble sleeping the night before opening day, and still get that feeling of awe and respect as I stand over a downed big game animal. And I don’t ever want to get over that.

headnet Leon Pantenburg Mugshot

Leon Pantenburg

Leon Pantenburg has been an avid hunter, backpacker, canoeist and fisherman all his life. After a career as a journalist, he moved to Bend, Oregon, where he currently is a newspaper and journalism instructor at Central Oregon Community College. He is the author of the website and Youtube channel, and is owned by two black Labs.

Living off the land – here’s the reality check

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So when everything goes down, you plan on using your wilderness survival skills to live off the land. Here’s the reality check.

by Leon Pantenburg

I admire and respect people who take the time and effort to learn hunting, foraging and trapping skills to glean sustenance from the wild. That skill level is much beyond what I could ever hope to  achieve. But I am an avid hunter and fisherman, and I have learned a few things here and there.

Squirrel hunting can be challenging, but the meat is tasty and nourishing.

Squirrel hunting is challenging, but the meat is tasty and nourishing. Sometimes a fleeting glimpse through the tree tops is all you’ll see.

In the early 1980s, I was young, single and lived in Mississippi, along the big river. My weekends were devoted to hunting and fishing, and I did very well.

During my best year, I legally killed two deer, several dozen squirrels and several limits of ducks, probably about 25. I rented a freezer locker for all this meat, and I basically lived off what I had killed.

I also did well fishing, and had a stockpile of bass, crappie and bluegills.

My standard lunch was a gumbo, chowder, stew or jambalaya I made before hand and carried in a thermos. I worked on my wild game recipes, and friends at work joked about the Yankee from Iowa who had moved to Mississippi to “live off the land.”

But even with that experience and success, there was no way I could survive long term, even if I could develop the necessary foraging skills.

Many times, despite my best efforts, I would get skunked fishing or might miss a shot.  I never went hungry because of that, but that would be a different story if I was depending on harvesting my dinner. And even with the best and most efficient equipment, there are times when it seems as if all the game animals have vanished. Or there are days fishing when you can’t buy a bite.

I never got into trapping animals or netting fish, and that would have been an additional way to gather protein. But that is another skill set that would somehow have to be learned.

So when someone comments that he will “just learn to live off the land” as a hunter/gatherer when a disaster or long term emergency hits, I have to shake my head.

Here is an excellent post from Wood Trekker that gives the facts about this idea.

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How to clean an elk heart and make fajitas from it

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When it comes to comfort foods, Mexican-style is one of my favorites. Here’s how to make one of my favorite dishes, using elk heart.

by Leon Pantenburg

To say you’re making fajitas is more of a statement of purpose than a firm commitment to a recipe.

Basically, a fajita is a a stir fry recipe, where the meat is cooked quickly, mixed with vegetables, then served over rice.

One reason the dish is so popular is that you don’t need a premium cut of meat. In fact, you can use some of the tougher pieces, or an organ you wouldn’t normally think to use.

This bull elk carcass was boned out with a Sportsman. It never needed sharpening

This bull elk carcass was boned out to get every usable shred of meat.

Like elk heart.

It’s been a long time since I recovered a heart from a deer or elk, since that is my target of choice. When hit through the heart, the animal may drop in its tracks or run for a short distance before dying. The last two deer I shot were hit through the heart and lungs, leaving a bloody slurry in the ribcage.

I finally recovered an intact heart from the elk I killed last year. I didn’t hit exactly where I aimed, but the bullet still took out both lungs and part of the liver. The bull dropped in its tracks.

Everything is used, so I packed the liver and heart in large plastic bags and hauled them out. If nothing, else my two Labs would love them.

To make fajitas, slice the meat thinly, then marinade it for a while. Sear it in a hot cast iron pan, then add vegetables. The dish is fast, east to make and it really hits the spot at home or in the hunting camp.

Here is a good fajita recipe from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

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What’s the best light for deer hunters? Here are several choices

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A flashlight should be part of your Ten Essentials emergency gear and your deer hunting equipment. Here are several that do the job for me.

by Leon Pantenburg

Every deer hunter has been in the woods in the dark, either after dawn or dusk. Successful hunters have probably field dressed a deer solely by the light of a flashlight. And all of us have probably wondered if there were better choices for lighting.

In the early 80s, when my deer hunting addiction started, we carried heavy flashlights with two D batteries. When the Mini Maglite came out that used two AAs, we though we were going lightweight! Mine was about the size of a big cigar.

After  field dressing a Mississippi buck in pitch darkness with the Maglite clenched in my teeth, I started looking for headlamps. Drooling on a flashlight is not cool.

Today, there are incredible lights on the market, and choosing one for hunting, backpacking, fishing or any outdoor activity can require some comparison shopping.

Think about this before you invest:

Batteries: Something has to power the light. I like using the same batteries for all my lights and the GPS, to cut down on the number needed. For me, that is AAs or AAAs. But some of the new, compact light use tiny, specialized batteries, and they might not be that easy to find at some isolated rural country store. Plan accordingly.

Weight: Lighter is better. When something is too big and heavy, it tends to get left behind. Look for the lightest, most compact unit that will provide the light you want.

Power: Lumens are the measure of how bright something is. The more lumens, the more light. You don’t want or need a 1,000-lumen light most of the time. (FYI: 60-watt incandescent bulb = 800 lumens) The best choice is some sort of  a variable lumen light. You’ll find yourself using the lowest setting the most, since it uses the least power.

Durability: The light should at least be water repellent.  Nasty weather is a given on any hunt, and if you’ve never field dressed a big game animal when it’s raining or snowing, you will. The unit should also be able to take cold temperatures. Even if the light is waterproof and not supposed to freeze, cold will affect the batteries.

LEDs: My Mini Maglite had a place for a spare bulb, and in using it for more than a decade, the spare was never needed. That said, I wouldn’t look at a light that didn’t use LEDs. They last forever. You might find a cheaper light that uses bulbs, but you’ll be sorry when it lets you down.

So what is the best light for every deer hunting situation?

Beats me. I carry three different types of lights, and each has its own niche. Here are some thoughts, and some products I have tried, tested and suggest.

Keychain: These are the cute little lights you find in the cash register lanes and quality models retail for around 10 bucks. I carry one of these on every keychain, and several in my office daypack.

These are your backup. They can supply adequate lighting for walking a trail, and are incredibly handy around camp, or for a trip to the latrine.

LED light has on-off switch so it won't accidently turn on.

This LED light has a reliable on-off switch. It won’t turn on inadvertently.

Two years ago, I shot an eight-point buck right at dusk. It was hit hard, and did its death run right into a several-acre patch of head-high weeds. Finding it was a nightmare in the dark.

Two of the hunters were brand new to the game, and neither had a flashlight. My spare keychain lights worked much better than nothing.

Buy a good one. Get one with an on-off switch. Avoid those that require a constant squeezing pressure to keep lit. Get one with a switch that you don’t need to constantly hold. Avoid those that  can turn themselves on.

Blatant commercialism here: I looked a long time to find these keychain lights, and they have proven to be more reliable than any other I’ve tried. They are the standard light for any of the Survivalcommonsense emergency kits.

Another light I discovered at a preparedness seminar is the Pak-Lite. It weighs no more than a standard nine-volt battery. The two-LED light fits on the nine-volt, and that’s all there is to it. (Ageism test – do you remember when they were called “transistor radio” batteries? Do you know what a transistor is? :-))

The Pak-Lite has two LEDs and is powered by one nine-volt battery.

The Pak-Lite has two LEDs and is powered by one nine-volt battery.

The Pak-Lite story began when Barclay Henry, 20 years old at the time, decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail 2,600 miles from Mexico to Canada. Barclay told me at a preparedness expo that he asked his younger brother, Benjamin, then 15,  to make him a small, lightweight flashlight that would last the whole trip. Barclay didn’t want to carry extra batteries or bulbs.

Pak-Lite was the result. He used the same light and battery the whole PCT hike, Barclay said, without changing a single battery or light bulb!  I’d call that field testing!

Headlamp: If I could only carry one light it would be some form of headlamp.

This Black Diamond Spot headlamp worked well when I needed to field dress a deer in the pitch darkness.

This Black Diamond Spot has worked well, and is carried in my hunting daypack.

Here are several I’ve tried and use.

Black Diamond Spot Two:  I’ve used this Black Diamond with complete satisfaction for about five years now. I field dressed two deer in pitch darkness in a Mississippi swamp solely by the light of the Black Diamond, and it worked wonderfully.

One of the bucks was way back in the tangles, and had to be packed out.  I gutted, skinned, quartered and cut off the legs and head with a good knife and by the light of the headlamp. The 75 lumens the Black Diamond puts out was entirely adequate for all the butchering work, and the hump out.

The Pelican 2765 LED Headlight is small enough to fit in a fanny pack, with no auxiliary battery pack, but it still manages to kick out 105 lumens. It has variable settings, ranging from low, suitable for reading in your tent, to the full bore spotlight.

The Pelican 2475 is another high performing headlight.

The Pelican 2475 is another high performing headlight.

Black Diamond Icon: This is an extreme sport light, and is superb for spelunking, rock climbing, and any situation where a spotlight might be needed. It is a variable, with settings ranging from a reading-in-the-tent setting to spotlight. The four AAs produce 320 lumens in the high setting.

The battery pack balances at the back with the light. The weight doesn’t seem excessive, but it might get to be a burden during long term use. Also, carrying the requisite extra batteries means you have to carry a minimum of four, and 12 would be better.

Spending several hours looking for a downed big game animal, or a long hike to a trailhead could wear out the  batteries. Take that into consideration before investing in any light.

A hand held flashlight earns its keep  when a blood trail has to be followed after dark, or you need to scout rough terrain. These lights are typically brighter than some of the smaller ones, and their value comes into play when you have to light up a large area.

I typically don’t carry a large flashlight, but here are two worth taking along.

Olympia RG245: This little unit puts out light way beyond what you’d expect. It produces 245 Lumens with five light settings: High, Middle, Low, Strobe, and SOS. The beam distance is 122 meters, according to the light specs. Peak beam intensity is 3,845 Candelas.

A dependable flashlight should be part of every emergency kit.

The Olympia RG245 is small and powerful.

I like the little light, but if you get one, make sure to take along the right batteries. It uses CR123 rechargeable batteries, or something compatible with them.

While you can get these at most box stores and every Radio Shack, the batteries might be in short supply in the backwoods.

Mini Maglite: I haven’t used the latest, updated LED model, but I carried a mini for about 15 years. At the time, the mini-mag was state-of-the-art, and compared to its predecessors, it was lightweight and incredibly efficient.


The Mini Maglite is inexpensive, uses common batteries and has a time-tested design.

A headband was available, allowing the user to convert the light into a headlamp. I got a Mini Mag headband shortly after the aforementioned incident field dressing the Mississippi buck.

The latest Mini Mag incarnation has the same look and size, and the same simple operation: Just twist the head to turn it on, turn it off and focus the beam.

The Mini-Maglite produces 111 lumens, is powered by two AAAs, and has a beam distance of 104 meters.

Like anything, what works for me might not work for you. And you probably have some choices of your own when it comes to lights.

So while we may not agree on what particular light to carry, we can probably agree on this: Take spare batteries, let someone know what area you’ll be in and be thankful you can go hunting!

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Review: The Black Lens novel takes on sex trafficking, prostitution and drugs

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Can a novel change the world? Maybe this one will help.

by Leon Pantenburg

Disclaimer: “The Black Lens” author Christopher Stollar is a friend, and we both worked for The Bulletin newspaper in Bend, Oregon.

For me, the first novel that changed my perception of the world was Huckleberry Finn. That was in the sixth grade, and ultimately, Mark Twain would send me on a  journey down the Mississippi River, just like the main character.

Then it was Atlas Shrugged. This made me re-think my political views, and helped shape my philosophy of life.

The Black Lens tackles to topic of sex trafficking, drugs and prostitution.

The Black Lens tackles to topic of sex trafficking, drugs and prostitution.

Now, there’s The Black Lens, by Christopher Stollar. I’m still processing this

The Black Lens is about sex trafficking, and the setting is La Pine, Oregon, a town I’m very familiar with.

I reported about south Deschutes County, Oregon, for “The Bend Bulletin” for more than a decade. La Pine was my town. I covered school board meetings, city government, crime – you name it. I knew everybody, and – I thought – knew everything that was going on. After I left full-time work with the newspaper, I continued to freelance for the Bulletin in the area. Stollar covered the area after I moved on.

In many ways, the south county beat fulfilled my journalism school pipe dream of moving to a small town in the mountains and editing the local newspaper.  I thought, and still think, that La Pine is a great place to raise kids.

But La Pine has many areas of gut-wrenching poverty, which rival any American poverty pocket. La Pine has its share of drug and social problems and no town is ever without its underbelly of crime, graft and corruption. But the average person doesn’t see much of that.

The main character, Zoey, has a terrible home life, and goes to South County High, which in reality would be La Pine High School. This makes her a prime choice for being recruited into a prostitution ring.

Zoey goes to a party, drinks a drugged glass of something, and passes out. Then Zoey is blackmailed on social media with a series of porno photos she’s in.  The plot worsens, as Zoey and her  special needs sister, Camille are dragged into into a downward spiral of drugs, sex trafficking and prostitution.
Seeking to break out of the awful cycle, Zoey contacts the local newspaper reporter who covers La Pine. He is, naturally, interested in the story and helps the girls uncover a sex trafficking conspiracy that reaches high in the school system and Deschutes Sheriff’s Department.  It is nice to see small town newspaper reporters finally get some well-deserved credit for the work they do!

The ending kept me up reading way past my bedtime, to see how it came out.chris-stollar

Anyone familiar with Central Oregon will recognize the places mentioned in the book. There is no “Jugs” strip joint at the edge of town, but the fictional location is loosely based on a cabaret in Bend. We know which truck stop Stollar is writing about, and the location of the trailer park Zoey lives in. And the descriptions of walking through the snow to the Dairy Queen across the highway during a snow storm are absolutely spot on.

I ran into Stollar recently at a presentation at Journey Church in Bend. He was on a book tour designed to raise awareness about sex slavery, and was working with the Guardian Group, an organization that fights sex trafficking.

All the book’s research was done in Ohio over a five-year period, he said, and Stollar interviewed police officers, social workers and  more than a dozen victims. All the names and places are changed to protect the sources, he said, and the main character is based on the story of a real life victim.

Every major plot point, he said, is based on fact.

“It is rare for a person to be kidnapped like in the movie Taken,” Chris said.  “Many of the girls get trafficked through people they know. Often, the victim stays at home, continues to go to school and is trafficked on weekends or after school. One victim said she was trafficked at age 13. ”

Profits from sex trafficking, Stollar says, are in excess of $150 billion per year, making exploitation a major industry. Human trafficking is currently the second largest and fastest growing crime industry, according to the Guardian Group.

The book was set in La Pine, he said, because rural Central Oregon is a great example of  “It could happen anywhere.”

“Two weeks ago, several people were arrested in Central Oregon as part of a prostitution sting,” Stollar said. “Look at the personal ads on social media – you’ll find sex trafficking in your area. Pimps are very good at using social media.”

Stollar chose fiction as his platform, because he “loves storytelling,” and because he saw it as a vehicle for raising awareness.

“Think about Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or  To Kill a Mockingbird, ” he said. “These books brought attention to issues that needed to be thought about.”

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, is published in 1852.  It sold 300,000 copies within three months and was so widely read that when President Abraham Lincoln met Stowe in 1862, he reportedly said, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!”

To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960,  won the Pulitzer prize for fiction. On critic called the book “… the most widely read book dealing with race in America, and its protagonist, Atticus Finch, the most enduring fictional image of racial heroism.” If you haven’t yet, read it.

The Black Lens could have a similar impact – it is superbly written, and is getting a lot of attention. It recently made it into the Kindle books Top Ten Crime Thrillers.

But the book is not an easy read. It made me feel gritty. It is disturbing. It is hard and raw. Stollar’s wordsmithing skill  is that good.

Above all, it made me wonder what I could do to help.

“Sex trafficking a dark topic nobody wants to talk about,” Chris said. “But it’s in every community. It’s not going away.”

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Ten reasons to eat rabbit meat, and one award-winning rabbit recipe

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Rabbit meat is usually overlooked as a protein source. It shouldn’t be. Here’s why rabbit should be on your menu.

by Leon Pantenburg

My brother, Mike Pantenburg, and I were looking for unique main dish for a Dutch oven cookoff. But this wasn’t just any cookoff – we had qualified for the International Dutch Oven World Championships in Sandy, Utah.

The Pantenburg Brothers Cooking Team has never been beaten in Dutch Oven competition, in the "having fun" category.

The Pantenburg Brothers  Dutch oven team has never been beaten in the “Having Fun” category.

After a lot of consideration and discussion, we decided to go with rabbit. Mike tweaked the rabbit recipe in a couple other cookoffs, and we did well enough to qualify for the world championships.

To my surprise, rabbit was considered unique at the contest. The other teams used the standard beef, pork or chicken. We got a lot of attention from the spectators and TV crews, but we didn’t win. We did place in the top ten, after two days of intense competition.

(We realized we were out of our league as soon as we saw several Dutch oven catering companies in the competition. First prize was $5,000, but the bragging rights were more important to the pros. They had fancy food service quality equipment, and we had the coolers we took to elk camp!)

But back in the 1940s and 1950s rabbit meat was as common for dinner as chicken is today. My aunt Mildred raised a lot of rabbits, and my dad hunted rabbits and squirrels for the table during the Great Depression. It was the meat that got many people through the tough times.

You can generally substitute rabbit for chicken in just about any recipe. An older rabbit, like an older chicken, will probably be tougher than the younger ones.

The technique for frying fish outside is similar to frying chicken: Start with hot oil, cook quickly, and keep the oil temperature from cooling down. (Pantenburg photos)

Rabbit can be fried just like chicken. (Pantenburg photo)

Rabbits are the most harvested game animal in the United States and the most widely distributed prey animal in the world. Unregulated, rabbit populations can quickly overpopulate a habitat area and cause extensive damage. In Australia, rabbits were introduced, and quickly became overpopulated. Today, they are considered a vermin, and periodic eradication efforts have to be made.

Rabbit hunting is a good way to start out the youngsters. Bag limits are generous, and success is pretty much guaranteed.

As with any game meat, how it will taste depends on how the meat is handled after the animal is killed. I like to gut a rabbit or squirrel as soon as possible. I generally carry a pair of latex gloves, a culinary plastic bag, such as rice comes in, and a good small game knife.

Cleaning a rabbit is easy. You don’t need to “skin” it, since the hide generally just pulls off. You’ll use the knife to slit the belly and pull out the guts. I can skin and gut a rabbit in a couple minutes, and it is an easily-learned skill.

Ideally, I’ll be near a spring or creek so I can wash my hands afterward.  Typically, I’m not, so I’ll take along several single pack hand wipes.

The faster the meat is cooled and washed, the better it will taste

So why eat rabbit meat now? Here are ten good reasons from Rise and Shine Rabbitry

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Check out these ten skills that helped my family survive the Great Depression

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What lessons from the Great Depression might apply today? Here’s how my family got by.

by Leon Pantenburg

The stock market crashed in 1929, the economy tanked, farm prices dropped and my grandfather, Peter Pantenburg, lost the family farm in central Iowa. My people have been in that area since my great-great-grandfather, James Hallowell got a land grant after the Civil War and  homesteaded in the late 1860s. My great-grandpa, Charles Hallowell,  plowed the prairie for the first time in the 1870s with a John Deere breaking plow

Leo Wirth moved his family to Wesley, Iowa to find work. Here's some of the kids, in the late 1930s: Vincent, Alina, my mom, Mary and Eldon.

Leo Wirth moved his family to Wesley, Iowa to find work. Here’s some of the kids, in – I think – the mid 1930s: Vincent, Alina, my mom, Mary and Eldon.

My dad’s family went from being prosperous farmers to homeless in a matter of months.

My mom’s family had a similar story. Grandpa Leo Wirth also lost a farm, and he had a large family to feed.

Both families were destitute, but they weathered the storm and stayed intact. There are a lot of lessons learned about coping with economic disaster.

To put this in context: By 1930, according to four million Americans looking for work could not find it; that number had risen to six million in 1931. Meanwhile, the country’s industrial production had dropped by half.

By 1933, when the Great Depression reached its nadir, according to, some 13 to 15 million Americans were unemployed and nearly half of the country’s banks had failed.

The United States didn’t come out of the depression until 1939, at the beginning of World War II.

Despite the hard times, both families stayed intact. All their children turned out to be upstanding, successful people.

Eldon, Vincent, Fritz, Leo in 1940s

My uncles Eldon, Vincent and Fredrick and Grandfather Leo Wirth, probably in the late 1930s in Wesley, Iowa.

Here’s some of the lessons learned.

Never give up: Leo moved his family to Wesley, Iowa, because he found work managing a gas station/garage at a Standard Station. Pete and Leo took whatever work they could find and did any jobs that were available. Neither sat around waiting for someone to help them out. Nobody expected any government help, and both men would have felt it demeaning to take assistance from anywhere.

Figure out your resources, and come up with a plan:  Even though it was a good crop, Pete’s corn was not worth harvesting in 1930 with the low prices. So the family burned corn for heat one winter.

Some of the displaced farmers headed west, or to other areas to look for work. Others tried to stay in place. Take an inventory of your resources and assets, and use that list to decide what to do next.

Subsistence hunting and fishing: My dad was 11 in 1929. He was too small to be much help farming, but he was an excellent small game hunter. Dad hunted all the time, and frequently, the rabbits and squirrels he killed became the main course for the evening meal.

His marksmanship got really good. Years later in the Army, that skill got Dad a job training troops and teaching rifle and pistol. Dad’s primary hunting firearm was a single shot .22 rifle. He used .22 shorts, because of the low price and noise, and he only shot once before moving along. (It’s difficult to locate a single shot by sound.) Still, he got caught poaching once.

Leo's butcher knife is a treasured heirloom, that my sister Karla still uses.

Leo’s butcher knife is a treasured heirloom my sister Karla still uses.

But don’t depend on hunting or fishing. Hunting and foraging can supplement the food supply, but heading for the hills and “living off the land” won’t work. Have other ideas and plans to put food on the table during emergencies.

Have a skill or supplemental job: All farmers, it seemed, had some sort of side occupation. Leo was a butcher, and he would travel to farms to process cattle and hogs. He frequently got paid in meat. (Leo died when I was seven or eight, but I remember him skinning a pig and tending his bees.)

Charles Hallowell and his daughter, Alice Johnson, used their musical skills to survive. Charles played the violin at bars, dances, parties and other social events. Alice accompanied him on the piano, or played another violin.

They made enough to keep ends meeting, and to take in Pete’s family temporarily. ( It’s in the DNA – today, I play Charles’ fiddle in an old time string band at the High Desert Museum near Bend, Oregon. We do some of the same tunes Charles did. Check out how grandpa’s fiddle sounds on “Over the Waterfall.”)

Everybody, including the kids and old folks, had a job they could do based on their abilities. These tasks could be anything, from gathering eggs, to snapping beans, to helping with the harvest to working in the garden. Every little bit helped.

My great-grandfather, Charles Hallowell, sometime in the 1940s.

My great-grandfather, Charles Hallowell, sometime in the 1940s.

Stick together: Pete’s family moved to another farm north of Ames, and got a new start. I grew up on that farm, and my dad bought it in the 1960s. (I hunted the same hills and timber he used to hunt as a kid, but I never had the pressure to be successful!)

Other neighbors were not so fortunate, and many of them had to hit the road (Think “Grapes of Wrath”). Our next door neighbor, Jo Stahlman, was born in Foley, Alabama, when her family moved south to find work.

Make do: Fix, repair, recycle and reuse. Clothing was patched, handed down and used up. When it finally reached the rag stage, it might be made into a quilt.

That went for just about everything. Money was scarce, and fixing or mending something didn’t cost anything.

Garden: While millions of Americans went hungry, my relatives gardened like they always did. Every farm had a large plot, and many families were largely fed off the produce. Fruit orchards and berry patches were common,

There was virtually no market for livestock, but farmers could and did raise animals for their own tables. As far as I know, places like Iowa and other midwest states, which didn’t have the severe droughts of the dust bowl areas, fared better than many areas.

Raise chickens and rabbits: Farms back then were more diversified, with a variety of food raising activities. Every farm had a flock of chickens for the eggs and meat.

Rabbit meat is one of the most nutritious meats available, according to Rise and Shine Rabbitry, and rabbits can produce six pounds of meat on the same feed and water as it takes a cow to produce one pound of meat.

My grandmother Sophie Wirth, with my Aunt Irene and Uncle Eldon, probably in the middle 1930s.

My grandmother Sophie Wirth, with my Aunt Irene and Uncle Eldon, probably in the middle 1930s.

Both of these animals can be raised in small spaces and are productive and prolific.

Preserve food: Every farm wife knew how to can and preserve vegetables, and every farmer had a pantry. My relatives, being of mostly German extract, made lots of sauerkraut, and pickled many other vegetables.

Canned and smoked meats were also important. Just about every farm had a smoke house, where meat was preserved by smoking. This included hams, of course, but bacon, sausage and other smoked meats last a long time, and could get you through the winter.

This probably explains why bratwurst and sauerkraut is one of my favorite comfort foods. That’s also in my DNA.

Build a root cellar. These were the family’s food insurance policy. They were generally an area under the house, like a basement, where canned foods could be stored. The temperature, being underground, was generally pretty consistent, and it allowed for long term storage of root vegetables. Hence the name.

The root cellar was an essential way to keep carrots, turnips, beets, parsnips, potatoes, and other root vegetables fresh through the winter months. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, to work properly, a root cellar must be able to hold a temperature of 32º to  40º F and have a humidity level of 85 to 95 percent. Ground temperature stabilizes at 10 feet deep, according to the almanac.

My Aunt Irene, 82, recalls that Grandma Sophie Wirth frequently ended up feeding extra mouths at the table.

“He (Leo) was known for supporting siblings in anyway he could,” Irene told my cousin Lisa Faust Swenson. “On weekends, anywhere from one family, to all his siblings’ families, would show up for dinner. Grandma would just keep taking food from the root cellar to make sure all were fed.”

It took World War II to bring the country out of the Great Depression. There are still arguments what caused it, and who is responsible. That discussion can take place somewhere else.

We’ve all heard that cliche’ about “Those who don’t learn from the lessons of the past are doomed to repeat them.” And I think the lessons learned from my families’ survival of the depression are valid today.

Here’s the bottom line:  You have to be part of a tribe, family or larger group that cares about the individual. Stick together. Learn how to produce, preserve and store food.  Learn job skills and how to get by.

And maybe the most important lesson: Never give up!

(Note to all my relatives: I did the best I could with what there was to work with. I remembered stories I’d heard, and in particular, loved talking with Great Aunt Alice about family history.  If you’ve heard other stories on this topic, or if I got something wrong, let me know!)

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What are the best choices for backpacking knives?

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by Leon Pantenburg

Elk Lake, Oregon is one of the major re-supply places for through hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail. Every year, a handful of  long-distance hikers will walk border-to-border on the trail. They generally start in Mexico in April, and start trickling in to the Elk Lake Resort about August, en route to Canada.

The tiny Swiss Army Classic may end up being one of the most useful knives in the backcountry!

The tiny Swiss Army Classic may end up being one of the most useful knives in the backcountry!

I was eating lunch at the Elk Lake Resort, and noticed a young lady trekker loading her pack for the next section. She opened her re-supply box, sliced a chunk of cheese, opened several large packages and cut a shoelace, all with her tiny, Classic Swiss Army knife.

“It’s all you need,” she commented. “I have to go lightweight and I don’t carry an ounce that isn’t needed.”

I carry a Swiss Army Classic on my keyring everywhere.   And for lightweight hikers, who go long distances with minimal equipment, a Classic may be a reasonable choice. On a well-traveled trail like the Pacific Crest or Appalachian, you’ll seldom be isolated from other hikers for very long.

But that doesn’t mean you don’t need a knife for backpacking. Get separated from the group, off the beaten path in the backcountry, or in some sort of wilderness survival situation and you may desperately need the appropriate knife.

If I could only pick one tool to take along in the wilderness, it would be a knife. But which one is best for your backpacking needs? How do you balance weight versus practicality?

The Best Knife?

I bought a Buck folding hunting knife in 1976 and that Buck and I bonded. It was in my pack when I hiked the John Muir

Trail in California; the Thorofare Creek loop of Yellowstone, Death Valley and on several other long hikes in various western mountain ranges.

But the Buck was retired when I moved west and my needs changed.

Today, I carry two knives dayhiking and backpacking: The Swiss Army Classic and a Mora-style knife.  Combined weight of both knives is about four to 10 ounces (Depending on how much duct tape you wrap around the Mora sheath!)

Swiss Army Classic

If it is legal, I have a Classic with me at all times. It features minuscule size, and a collection of tools that can’t be beat. Because it is so convenient to carry, you will take it along. You will go from wondering what good the dinky knife is, to wondering how you got along without it!

The Mora Knife

Mora is a brand. Currently, the rage among some survival schools is some form of the Mora, a small, Scandinavian-style sheath knife with a four-inch blade and a large, easy-to-hold handle. Personally, I think they’re great, and I generally have some variation of the classic Mora at hand.

This Mora cleaned this limit of trout and was shaving sharp at the end of the job.

This Mora cleaned this limit of trout and was shaving sharp at the end of the job.

Several years ago,  I was looking for a small, inexpensive sheath knife that could be recommended to Boy Scouts. (Be wary of folding knives, even if they’re lockblades!)  The knife had to be an all-around, do-everything tool. It would be used for a variety of tasks, and  needed to be lightweight and small enough to be carried conveniently.

Because excellent Moras are available for prices ranging from $10 to $15, I bought several versions and put them through their paces.  Long story short – over the years, the troop has bought 90 Mora 840 Companions for the scouts to use.

If you want a sturdier – but somewhat heavier – version of the Mora, there are several available. Recently, I ran this Battle Horse Knives Feather Stick through its paces.

Here is what a backpacker gets from the combination of the two knives:

Classic: The tiny blade does most of the trips mundane cutting tasks, saving the Mora’s edge for larger jobs. The knife has a tweezers, scissors, toothpick and a fingernail file (I grind the tip to fit my glasses hinges). You will use these tools much more than you ever imagined!

Mora: Backpackers will mainly use their knives for slicing bologna, spreading peanut butter and cleaning the occasional panfish. The Mora’s four-inch blade is just the right size for these jobs, and you won’t have to clean the goo out of the hinge after every use! The larger knife is also perfect for those unanticipated tasks that come up on the trail.

This very useful duo will take care of most of your backpacking knife needs. The combination has served me well for several years of backpacking, and is worth considering!

Stuff that works: My Buck 371 folder served me well for decades

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Us equipment users find good gear and use the hell out of it. That’s what happened to the Buck folder I bought 40 years ago this month.

by Leon Pantenburg

In the summer of 1976, I was a new Iowa State University graduate, completely broke and unemployed with no real prospects of landing a high-paying job. But I had world traveler plans and was wild to experience the wilderness and mountains of the western United States.

I bought my Buck folder in 1976, and it served me well. ( photo)

I bought my Buck folder in 1976. ( photo)

That summer, I backpacked several hundred miles in Wyoming and several parts of the Sierras in California. Hiking the complete length of the John Muir Trail fanned my backpacking interest and curiosity into a complete and uncontrollable addiction. (Read my trail journal.)

I had to invest in gear. Balancing needs with my budget meant some serious comparison shopping had to happen. (FYI: Minimum wage in Iowa at the time was $1.60 an hour.)

I spent $105 on a Kelty Tioga backpack and $85 for a hollowfill sleeping bag. My boots cost $25 (as best I recall) and came from the War Surplus Store in Powell, Wyoming.

There was a lot of shopping around before I bought a new Buck 371 folder for $25 on August 31, 1976, at the Ace Hardware Store in Lovell, Wyoming. That knife was carried and used extensively until I opted for a rigid blade and bought a Cold Steel SRK in 1991.

I wore out the boots and the sleeping bag. But a good knife, properly cared for, is virtually impossible to wear out or screw up. Before it was honorably retired in 1991, that Buck was my indispensable tool.

That folder went on backpacking trips in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, the Pryor and Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming, the Thorofare Creek Trail loop in Yellowstone, numerous hikes in California, and on countless canoe trips, including one through the Okeefenokee Swamp in Georgia.

A much younger Leon at a silver mine in the Beartooth Mountains in Montana.

A much younger Leon at a silver mine in the Beartooth Mountains in Montana.

That Buck was my everyday carry knife on my 1980 six-month, end-to-end Mississippi River canoe voyage. (Check out the river story.) The blades stayed sharp, despite being used for virtually everything a canoe knife can be used for.

The knife rode in a leather sheath on my hip, and I put it on with my pants in the morning, and removed it when I crawled into my sleeping bag at night. Along the Mississippi, a knife sheath on a belt didn’t get a second look.

The next year, the Buck became my hunting knife when I became addicted to whitetail hunting in Mississippi. It was used on many deer, and was frequently loaned out at deer camp because I kept it razor sharp.

Then the Buck accompanied me on backpacking and bicycling trips and deer hunts in Virginia and upstate New York.

Though the knife was used constantly and never let me down, it was replaced with a Cold Steel SRK when I took up backcountry big game hunting in Idaho in 199o.

Here’s the specs of the Buck:

This Cold Steel SRK has served me well for more than 20 years.

This Cold Steel SRK served me well for more than 20 years.

Steel: Buck’s standard blade material, according to the Buck Company, is 420HC because it combines “excellent wear resistance of high carbon alloys with the corrosion resistance of chromium stainless steels.” An exclusive heat-treat process for superior corrosion resistance, the company claims, creates “excellent tensile strength, hardness and wear resistance.”

Handle: The injection molded black valox handle fit my hand well.  Even though it frequently got bloody and slimy, the handle didn’t get slippery and unsafe to use.

Blade points: The clip and drop point on the blades proved to be excellent choices. The clip was used most often, with the most common task being slicing apples and spreading peanutbutter on crackers. The drop blade was kept razor sharp and was used mostly for cleaning fish. Over the years, that blade got thinned down a lot from constant sharpening.

No lock blade: In the early 70s, the Buck 110, with a lock blade, was really popular. Deer hunting buddies of mine still use theirs. It’s an excellent knife, though a little heavy for my tastes. I understand that a lockblade MIGHT be safer, but otherwise, I didn’t really see the need.

I don’t trust the safety on a firearm or the lock on a folder’s blade. Use any lockblade like it doesn’t have a lock.

Size: The Buck was too big and thick to carry comfortably in a pocket, but I didn’t care. I always carry my pocketknife in a belt sheath if at all possible. My Swiss Army Knife Tinker rides on my belt every day, and it’s not a big knife.

Blade length: Both blades were about 3-1/2-inches long, which is about the ideal size for a do-it-all knife. I’d prefer a shorter blade for small game processing and whittling, and a longer blade for butchering. The best blade length depends on what you’ll be using the knife for.

While the Buck worked very well in the southeast, I had some reservations about it continuing as my western hunting knife. Here’s why I went to a rigid blade hunting knife.

Backpack hunting in the Idaho backcountry requires pack weight be kept to an absolute minimum. Kill a deer or elk several miles back in the mountains and you’ll have a real job getting the meat out before it spoils.

You need a lightweight, but sturdy knife,  with the most efficient design possible. Any butchering gear must also double, if necessary, as survival tools.

Folders are more fragile than rigid blade knives. If a folder is going to break, it will do so at the hinge. Murphy says that will happen at the worst possible time.

And chances are, if you’re ever going to get into a survival situation, it will be in the backcountry, and you may need that knife desperately.

So the Buck was retired with honors, and for several years, it remained in a box with several other retirees. (These included my Mississippi River fillet knife, a Shrade lockblade folder and several others.)

And then it disappeared, somehow. I don’t have a clue where it went, unless the Buck got lost during a move.

I’d give a lot to find that grungy, well-used pocket knife. You don’t want to give up on stuff that works.
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Tanka Bars: Try this ancient Native American recipe for modern energy and nutrition

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Tanka Bars blend ancient recipe and nutrition with new packaging and marketing.

by Leon Pantenburg

Disclaimer:  Azure Standard is a sponsor. I bought these products to test and try out. This is my opinion and nobody had any input into the content.

I want to know where my food comes from. And I want organic. Add some historic ingredients and sound nutrition and I’m sold. Tie all that up in with attractive, easy-to-carry  packaging and somebody take my money!

Bison at Yellowstone National Park.

Bison at Yellowstone National Park. (Bob Patterson photo)

Those are just some of the reasons I like the Tanka Bar. The Tanka Bar tastes good, and only has 70 calories for a one-ounce bar.

Slightly smoky tasting and sweet, this isn’t that chewy, tough jerky that requires good teeth and strong jaw muscles to eat.

The recipe goes back to prehistoric times: buffalo meat and berries. And like the original, the Tanka Bar has no nitrates, and no antibiotics or added hormones.

“We started with the traditional recipe for wasna and thought to modernize it. We tried all sorts of ideas to improve on wasna, but each time we added something to the mix, we went further away from what we intended,” the website claims. “It could not be improved! We came full circle to see that the traditional flavors of meat with fruit were perfect.”

The bison was much more than a source of food for the Natives. According to Lakota elder Virgil Kills Straight, on the website:

“In the Lakota language, the word ‘tatanka’ is translated as ‘buffalo’ or ‘buffalo bull. However, according to native Lakota speakers, the literal translation is something more like ‘He who owns us.’

“The four-leggeds came before the two-leggeds. They are our older brother, we came from them. Before them, we were the root people. We came from them. We are the same thing. That is why we are spiritually related to them. We call them in our language “Tatanka,” which means “He Who Owns Us.” We cannot say that we own the buffalo because he owns us, ” Kills Straight explains.

The Tanka Bar is a traditional recipe energy bar.

The Tanka Bar is a traditional recipe energy bar.

Here are the Tanka Bar specs:

Calories 70
Calories from Fat 15
Amount/Serving %DV
Total Fat 1.5g 2%
Saturated Fat 1g 4%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 15mg 6%
Sodium 260mg 15%
Total Carbohydrate 7g 2%
Dietary Fiber 1g 2%
Sugars 6g
Protein 7g
Vitamin A 0%
Vitamin C 4%
Calcium 0%
Iron 4%


  • buffalo
  • dried cranberries (cranberries
  • sugar)
  • water
  • salt and less than 2% of flavorings
  • red pepper
  • granulated garlic
  • granulated onion
  • lactic acid starter culture

If you’re looking for a trail food that supplies quick energy and are tired of the whole grain commercial brands, take a look at the Tanka Bar. They go for about $2 each, which is a steal for a nutritious snack. (Lays original potato chips go for $1 per bag in the vending machine outside my office.)

Put these in a kid’s lunchbox and maybe they won’t be tempted to go after the junk food.

I like the whole concept of Tonka Bars. You might like them too.

Read the story of the bison and its connection with the Indian people.

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Why don’t all Boy Scouts carry and use fixed blade knives?

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Some scout troops and camps have a blanket ban of sheath knives. I think that’s a bad idea and here’s why.

by Leon Pantenburg

I get it when parents are concerned about their boys handling sharp objects that could cause great  harm. And it makes sense that knives, axes and fire should be handled with extreme care.

pocket knives

I love pocket knives, but don’t think they’re the best or safest knife for scouts

But one of things we do as scouters is teach young men to act safely in the outdoors. That means working with tools that could be dangerous in untrained hands.

But I don’t get how some camp directors ban sheath knives from camps, or that some scoutmasters won’t let the boys carry any knife but a folder.

Here’s the Boy Scouts’ take on sheath knives:

“Q. What is the official BSA regulation on carrying sheath knives?
 The Boy Scout Handbook, Bear Handbook, and Webelos Handbook contain the program for the safe and responsible use of knives. The BSA believes choosing the right equipment for the job at hand is the best answer to the question of what specific knife should be used. We are aware that many councils or camps may have limits on the type or style of knife that should be used. The BSA neither encourages nor bans fixed-blade knives nor do we set a limit on blade length. Additional information is found in the Guide to Safe Scouting.”

No scout can carry any knife until they earn a Totin’ Chip, which means they have had several hours of training and hands-on experience using knives, saws and axes. Each scout has to have that chip on them at camp if they’re carrying a knife.

If the scout is seen acting in an unsafe manner with his knife, he is warned and a corner of the chip will be cut off. When all four corners are gone, the scout has to take the Totin’ Chip class again before being allowed to carry a knife.

Since knife safety training is a requirement, then, every scout with a knife has been trained and we assume he knows how to safely use any knife.

Here’s why – IMO – sheath knives are the best choice for scouts:

These Boy Scouts crowded into an igloo during a winter campout. They have bragging rights.

These Boy Scouts crowded into an igloo during a winter campout. They earned bragging rights.

Learn knife safety: So you’re going to require a kid to learn knife safety, then tell him he can’t use a sheath knife safely? Hmmm…what does that do for the credibility of the Totin’ Chip training?

Cooking: To earn the (Eagle required) cooking merit badge, scouts have to prepare food outdoors. If they have to use a folder for some of the food preparation, inevitably, some of the food will get in the blade channel. There may not be time or enough water to effectively clean the knife effectively. Next step: food poisoning.

Cleaning fish: The Fishing merit badge requires a scout catch a fish, clean it and then cook it. Sure, he can use a folder. But the same concerns about cleanliness in the blade channel should be there.

Also – a folder handle is typically smaller than a rigid blade knife. Some fish scales and slime on the pocketknife handle may create a potentially dangerous situation.

Pocketknives fold on fingers: An informal poll among other scoutmasters in the district pointed this out: The most common cause of cuts on scout outings is when a blade folds on a finger.

The scouts require a lock blade on a folder, but that is no guarantee of safety, especially with kids who have beginner knife handling skills. Unless you want to invest a lot of money in a folder, you may end up with a sketchy lock.

The day was cold, but these Troop 18 Boy Scouts stayed warm because they dressed correctly for the weather conditions.

The day was cold, but these Troop 18 scouts dressed correctly and stayed warm.

Several years ago, a scout at one of the Fremont District camps had to make an emergency room visit after the lock on his folder failed. It cut his fingers severely.

And what about those flipper or gravity assist folders? IMHO, those are dangerous. Inevitably, scouts will get into fast-draw contests or they will flip their knives to show off.  That potential problem is averted with a rigid blade knife.

Cost: Scouting is expensive, and there is always the temptation to scrimp on things when you can. A well-meaning parent or grandparents may buy a cheap folding knife, and think that because it has a lock blade, it is safe.

In reality, a cheap folder can be one of the most dangerous knives for a kid. On some folders, the hinge may be the most expensive part of the knife. Break that, and you have two pieces and a disabled survival tool. If you’re lucky nobody got hurt.

Better handle: Rigid blade knives have more ergonomic handles than most folders. A thin profile folder, designed to be carried in a pocket, may be harder to grasp and more uncomfortable to use.

But scouts of all sizes in Troop 18, in Bend, Oregon, have used dozens of full-sized Mora knives for more than a decade, with no problems

Carving: The wood carving merit badge requires a lot of whittling and carving, and that means knife handling. The steel in that cheap folder’s blade probably won’t hold an edge very long, making it dull quickly. If the blade has a serrated edge, it will be really difficult to use. A dull knife is dangerous because it will slip while cutting.

Troop 18 bought 50 Mora 840 Companions for the scouts to use.

In 2016, Troop 18 bought 50 Mora 840 Companions for the scouts.

Cost: Several  years ago, after the aforementioned scout cut his fingers at camp, the late Dr. Jim Grenfell and I set out to find the safest, most efficient knife for scouts use. Jim, incidentally, was a UCLA dentistry instructor who took up blacksmithing and knife making upon retirement.

Long story short: After a lot of testing and research, we chose the Mora 840 Companion as the best beginner knife for scouts.  It offered low price, great blade steel, and ergonomic handle.  We got a big discount because we bought in bulk.

The troop bought 40 and sold them to the scouts for $8 each. This year, the troop got another 50, at a cost of $10 each to the scouts.

Get a scout an inexpensive Mora for his first knife.

Get a scout an inexpensive Mora for his first knife.

The Moras are cheap, reliable and safe. The troop has figured out a way to modify the sheaths so they’re even safer.

One of our former scoutmasters is a very successful big game hunter. He could easily afford a better knife, but he has used his Mora on deer, elk, moose and hogs because it is so effective.

Here’s what I’d suggest to camp directors and troops regarding rules for  using sheath knives:

  • ALL knives are subject to camp director/scoutmaster approval before being allowed on the premises. All knife rules and requirements should be published well before camp begins. It goes without saying that no applicable federal, state or local  laws will be violated.
  • All sheath knives must have a sturdy, safe and secure sheath.
  • All sheaths for knives must be worn on the side or behind the hip.
  • Establish a maximum blade length: A four to five inch blade is all anyone needs for 99 percent of all camp tasks. It is a good compromise of compact carry and efficiency.
  • Buy Moras for the scouts in your troop, then modify the sheaths for safer carry. Get all of them the same color and make it part of the uniform.

When it’s all said and done, scouting has never had more challenges. According to BSA statistics, enrollment continues to decline. Out of every 100 kids who start scouts, 30 will drop out the first year.

One very visible thing that sets us apart from other youth programs is the emphasis on outdoor skills. We owe it to the kids to make their scouting program exciting, dynamic and fun.

Sean Jacox honored me with an Eagle Mentor Pin when he achieved the highest rank in scouting.

Sean Jacox honored me with an Eagle Mentor Pin when he achieved the highest rank in scouting.

Leon Pantenburg has been a scout volunteer for almost 20 years, and has been an active assistant scoutmaster with Troop 18 in Bend, Oregon since 2001.

Leon is a merit badge counselor for cooking, camping, wilderness survival and backpacking, along with others.

In 2007, he has received a district award of merit for the survival firestarting program he initiated.

He has been awarded three Eagle Mentor Pins, two 50 Miler patches and has more than 100 nights of camping with scouts. He loves snow camping and has not missed a Freezoree since joining Troop 18.
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Go squirrel hunting to learn wilderness survival skills

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How do you learn  the basic survival skills of marksmanship, stalking, concealment and skinning and processing game animals? Take up squirrel hunting.

by Leon Pantenburg

Many people don’t know how to get started hunting. But they may be thinking it’s time to learn.

There could be a variety of reasons – to supplement your diet, to harvest clean, organic, non-GMO meat, to practice wilderness survival skills to get outdoors more etc. The reasons are as varied as the participants. (A good point-of-view comes from Lily Raff McCaulou, a city woman who took up hunting when she moved to rural Oregon. Her book “Call of the Mild” is a reasoned look at hunting.)

This .40 caliber flintlock rifle is similar to those made about 1800 in Pennsylvania.

This .40 caliber flintlock rifle is my favorite squirrel gun

But there are added benefits. You can learn survival skills that might come in really handy if  The Shinola Hits the Fan.

Start by taking a hunter safety class, and learning firearms safety.

Then take up squirrel hunting.

Squirrels are the second-most harvested small game in the US, after rabbits. They are in virtually every state, and most places have liberal limits.

A 10-year-old kid with a .410, an old guy with his equally ancient Winchester 97 or the modern longhunter with a flintlock can all be successful and get a lot of enjoyment out of the same activity.

Here are some of the survival skills that go along with squirrel hunting.

Marksmanship: The average adult tree squirrel will weight on average about one pound. The target size is small. They move quickly, and are masters of concealment. If one spots you, you probably won’t get a shot.

Using a shotgun doesn’t guarantee success. A squirrel running through the trees tops, offering only fleeting glimpses of its bushy tail is a challenging target.

A rifleman has  more challenge. If you restrict yourself to heads shots only, your target is the size of a walnut. If you can consistently make a head shot, at a range of between 10 to 30 yards, you’ll have no problem taking a deer at similar ranges.

If you want to get really good with your centerfire rifle, work up some reduced loads and hunt small game with it. (Just about every reloading manual has some suggested low velocity loadings. DO NOT make up your own!)

These three long guns are good, reliable choices for the beginner with no experience.

The Ruger 10/22 (top) and Remington 870 pump action shotgun are good squirrel guns. The Remington 700 bolt action rifle can shoot reduced loads for small game.

Up the ante and go hunting with a blackpowder rifle. The epitome of squirrel hunting challenge, to me, is using a flintlock rifle, like the colonial frontiersmen.

Talk about trophy hunting –  your success rate may go down, but when you do drop one there is a real feeling of accomplishment.

I gave up bowhunting squirrels after a couple of unsuccessful tries. Not only could I not hit one, but I also usually lost the arrow. If you’re a hardcore bowhunter, though, use small game blunts and have at it.

Stalking: We’ve all seen city parks with the fat, complacent squirrels. (Here, the best hunting tool might be a slingshot.) But go to a public hunting area, and the squirrels have been educated. You might not even see one. This is where you learn to walk quietly on dry leaves, blend in with trees and brush and stalk close enough for a shot.

This skill transfers to big game hunting. And, God forbid, if you ever get involved in some sort of guerilla war situation, you’ll know more than many of your opponents.

Use camouflage:  Some hard core hunters wear head nets or camouflage paint to hide their faces.  There nothing like a bright, shiny face, peering up into the tree, to spook a squirrel.

Me and my brother Mike Pantenburg all cammied up to go elk hunting. (Bob Patterson photo)

Me and my brother Mike Pantenburg, all camied up to go elk hunting. (Bob Patterson photo)

I tend to wear a broad brimmed hat, and lower my head to hide my face. If it hot and buggy out, a head net is welcomed and hides my face.

Camo patterns are seasonal, and you’ll learn what works best at different times of the year. You’ll quickly figure out what keeps you warm or cool, and how comfortable the clothing is. Needless to say, this could be invaluable if you ever have to bug out somewhere.

Firearms: Use a firearm hunting and you’ll inevitably get better using it and become more familiar with the operation. And don’t discount squirrel hunting firearms for self defense.

Shotguns loaded with slugs or buckshot may be the best short-range self defense weapon ever devised. And a .22 rifle, in the hands of a cool survival mom with the will to use it and survive is a formidable weapon.

Don’t underestimate the killing power of a .22 rifle. As an Iowa farmboy, I’ve humanely dispatched injured pigs and other large farm animals with a single, well-placed .22 slug. (Here’s how to pick the best firearm for your needs.)

Patience: A good hunter is a patient one. There is generally no instant gratification in hunting, and the successful hunter invests time in researching the animal, learning its habits and habitat and practicing marksmanship. Patience is not learned quickly. 🙂

The Berkey Sport Bottle worked well with the rest of my hunting system.

Try out all your gear.

Check out all your gear: You’ll use your firearm, cam0, hunting knife, boots and clothing, but other gear goes in the mix. That GPS, map and compass will get used heavily, so your navigation skills stay current. You’ll learn where to find water, and read wild animal sign. Bad weather will teach you how to take shelter.

Wear your hiking boots and socks hunting, and it’s easy to decide if they will work out. Use that new daypack and take along some of the freeze dried food to try out. Experiment with trail mixes.

You won’t just be using the hunting equipment.

Learn how to process game animals: Rabbits and squirrels are easy to skin, gut and quarter, and this experience can be applied to larger animals.

On his first hunt to Idaho, I was trying to explain to my cousin Marion how to gut a deer. As kids in Iowa, Marion and I had hunted small game together a lot, but this was his first experience with big animals. My explanation was not going too well, judging from the puzzled look on Marion’s face.

“OK – think of a deer is just a big rabbit,” I said. “Just gut it like you would a rabbit or squirrel.”

Marion understood instantly, and had no trouble later on.

The right accessories can make Dutch oven cooking much easier.

Dutch ovens can make outdoor cooking easy and the food can be delicious!

Cooking: Survival food has to be tasty, and cooking over a campfire is another skill that has to be learned. Cook an older squirrel on a spit over a campfire, like many Youtube videos and survival show, and the result will be a meal that is as tough as a boot and tastes like one.

Learn some good, basic small game recipes and get a Dutch oven. Make cooking the animal part of the outdoor experience. (Here’s a go-to squirrel recipe.)

I’ve hunted all over the country for deer, elk and small game.

But give me a choice of any day hunt, and I’ll probably take a deciduous forest full of oak and beech trees at dawn. The squirrels will be moving in the trees and I’m there to harvest a few with my flintlock rifle.

Learning survival skills should be fun, and squirrel hunting is one of the best teaching environments around!
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Go-to recipe: How to make squirrel mulligan

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Some recipes, like this one, are old friends.

by Leon Pantenburg

Recipes trigger memories sometimes, and that’s what happened when I came across this mulligan recipe. The date on it is December 16, 1989, it has a 3.5 star rating out of a best possible four.  I remember why I cooked it.

Annebelle lock

My favorite hunting rifle is a flintlock.

At the time I lived in Washington D.C., and frequently hunted at Quantico Marine Base, south of the city.

For a country type such as me, weekend hunting trips helped me keep my sanity amid the Beltway hustle and pressure associated with a stressful job.

Shotguns were required to hunt on the base, but there was a loophole that allowed blackpowder rifles for small game hunting. Blackpowder is my favorite method of hunting anyway, and my .40 caliber flintlock was my ticket to small game heaven.

All hunters were required to check in at the gate before dawn, and each was  allotted 160 acres to hunt on for the day. I had scouted the land, knew where the hickory and oak groves were, and usually got my favorite spot.

There is something about drifting through a hardwood grove just after dawn, wearing a powder horn and shot bag and hunting with a genuine longrifle that makes it impossible to worry. The smell of the damp leaves, and  ker-flu of the flintlock firing, followed by the fog of powder smoke were part of an incredible experience.  Harvesting a squirrel was a bonus.

On this particular day, I was flinching just right when I pulled the trigger, and had killed three squirrels with three headshots. I dressed the squirrels and headed back home through the insanity of the  Beltway traffic.

Later that week, I was looking for a recipe to use three squirrels, and found this one. It’s a winner!

Squirrel Mulligan

3 squirrels, dressed

2 onions, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped

2 russet potatoes, diced

4 Tbs chili pepper

salt to taste

pepper to taste

dash of Louisiana hot sauce

1 c cooked rice

Stew squirrels in water until tender. Removed meat from bones. Place meat into broth, and bring to a boil; add remaining ingredients except rice. Cook 45 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Add rice and serve.

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Best survival firemaking method | Use cotton balls, Vaseline and ferro rod

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Here is my go-to firemaking method for survival situations and how to use it.

by Leon Pantenburg

It has been over 15 years since I started any wilderness campfire using any ignition method other than flint and steel.

Part of the reason is to keep my survival skills polished, and the other is that flint and steel is just so effective. I’ve used the method successfully in driving rain and snow, wind and zero degree temperatures. But the old time method would not be my first choice as a survival fire making tool during an emergency.

My number one choice is a combination of cotton balls infused with petroleum jelly and ignited with a ferrocerium (also frequently referred to as a flint or magnesium) stick.

Firemaking kit

This firemaking kit is cheap, simple to make and effective.

The method has a lot going for it as a survival fire starter: the small, one-handed-opening container I use holds three infused cotton balls, weighs virtually nothing, and doesn’t take much space. The infused cotton balls can be lit with virtually anything that produces a spark or flame.

Properly infused cotton will burn for several minutes, and that alone will help coax a campfire out of damp tinder and wood.

Here is how to use the system:

Before you go:  Get some extra-large 100-percent cotton balls and petroleum jelly. Pack as much jelly as you can into the cotton. Carry these in an easy-to-open, but secure container. Make sure these are close to your ferro rod for easy and quick access.

While not crucial, I like to take along an aluminum foil yogurt container top, too. (Survival Expert Peter Kummerfeldt taught me this trick, and I promote it shamelessly.)

To use:

  1. Remove a pinch of the fire starter from the container, and fluff it up as much as possible. The size of the pinch depends on a variety of circumstances, including dampness of the materials, weather, and the severity of the situation. If you desperately need to start a fire to prevent hypothermia, use a lot. If  the emergency in not particularly severe, take some extra time to gather more tinder and small sticks and use a tiny pinch.

    Survival Common Sense Cotton Ball Firestarter

    Infused cotton balls are cheap and effective.

  2. Place the cotton on the aluminum foil. The infused fluffed-up cotton will be sticky, so it will stay put on a flat log or rock, too. I like the aluminum foil trick because the concave foil makes the melted jelly pool, and that adds significant burning time.
  3. Point the end of the ferro stick at the base of the cotton. Get the stick as close a possible.
  4. Place the striker on top of the mag stick at a 90 degree angle. Position the edge at about a 45-degree angle, as if you want to whittle off some magnesium.
  5. Draw the ferro rod back sharply, while holding the striker in place. There is tendency for people to want to “whittle” the mag stick with the striker. This works just fine. For beginners, though, I recommend drawing the ferro stick back, so you don’t scatter the firestarter if your hand slips.
  6. The shower of sparks should ignite the cotton ball. The cotton ball can also be used as fire starter with any other flame or spark source.

If you’ve done everything right, this process should take hardly any time. The  initial fire ignition should burn for several minutes. All you need to do is add, in this order, small twigs, larger branches and finally logs. Gather all these, and have them ready before you ignite the cotton ball.

Then, congratulations – you have a warm fire, and can think about the next step in your survival plan.

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Check out these 12 top knives for deer hunting

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A perennial reader favorite every fall is the update on the best hunting knives for deer. Here are some blades worth checking out.

by Leon Pantenburg

We’re not looking for the best survival knife or the best bushcraft blade here, but rather a cutlery tool that can do the job of gutting, skinning and quartering a deer. By extension, though, the knife should also work well on elk, bear, hogs, exotics or whatever big game animal is harvested.

The knife should be lightweight, easy to carry and have a reliable sheath. The steel should hold an edge. In a pinch, the knife should be able to handle survival knife jobs, such as whittling, processing tinder and cleaning fish.

I can’t check out every new knife, and I don’t have the time or money  to legally kill enough animals to use every knife in actual field conditions. And although I was lucky enough to legally kill three bucks in 2014, and a bull elk in 2015, there are years when you appreciate why it’s called hunting, and not killing!

But even during years when I didn’t down an animal, I usually ended up helping process other, luckier hunters’ kills. So take my thoughts for what they’re worth.

Let the campfire discussion begin…

My prejudices:

No Folders: I love pocket knives. For years, a Buck model 317 folder was my go-to knife for southeastern hunting. But any folder’s weak point is the hinge. Break that, and the knife is disabled. A knife that might have to do double duty as a survival tool needs to be sturdy.

buck folder

A Buck 317 worked well for me. 

Blade length: A blade between four-to-six-inches is my preference. Ask any professional butcher what he uses on a daily basis, and he’ll probably recommend a longer blade.

No choil: A choil is a ground out space on the blade, by the handle. Proponents claim the choil allows you to “choke up” on the blade for fine work. The choil eliminates one of the most useful areas of the blade, right next to the guard, IMHO, and reduces the cutting edge.

Safe Handle: A non-slip handle is paramount. Inevitably, the knife will get covered with blood and body fluids during a gutting operation and a slippery handle is dangerous. A well-designed handle, made of micarta or wood, that fits your hand is going to be safer than a soft, rubbery, smushy handle that doesn’t.

In no particular order, here are some good choices for the big game hunter, whose hunting knife might end up doing duty as a survival knife. I tested and reviewed them, or am in the process, and several will be going on big game hunts.

The Tundra makes a great skinning knife.

The Tundra makes a great skinning knife.

Ambush Tundra: Based on the Canadian leaf style blade design, this is the hunting knife I would design for me. Made by Bark River, the Tundra has a generous handle that fits my hands very well.

I liked my original Tundra with the green micarta so much I got another one with a desert ironwood handle. Just because I could, and I wanted it.

Pete Winkler Whitetail

Pete Winkler Whitetail

Cross Whitetail: Pete Winkler is the knifemaker at Cross knives, and he is producing some beauties.

I’m currently checking out his Whitetail model, and am really liking it. With a 3.71-inch A-2 steel blade, the knife features a full-sized handle that fits my hand very well.

The drop point and generous belly on the blade shows a design a deer hunter would approve of. I’m taking this one hunting.

Lon Humphrey Sterling: All Humphrey’s  blades are hand forged from 1095 high carbon steel. The tempering process leaves the steel with an unequaled edge-holding ability.  The Sterling sucked me in immediately when I saw the forge marks and thought how a curly maple handle would so match my flintlock longrifle.

Lon Humphrey Sterling knife with flintlock rifle

The Sterling matches my flintlock rifle so well that it looks like a museum display.

The knife in hand was everything I hoped for. It is scary sharp and I’ll bet it holds an edge forever. The handle is a nice size, and I could safely use it, even with gloves on.

I liked the knife so much I got my brother, Mike, one for his birthday. He’s also a history nerd and blackpowder hunter, and Mike appreciates the craftsmanship and aesthetics of a hand forged blade. Between the two of us, we should blood a Sterling this season.

Bark River Mountain Man: Another classic, the Mountain Man pattern comes from one of the most researched and distributed knives in American history.

This replica of a Hawken rifle and the Mountain Man knife fit together really well.

This Hawken rifle replica and the Mountain Man knife fit together really well.

During the fur trade era, about 1825-ish through the end of the 1830s, barrels of these types of knives were shipped west and sold to natives, trappers and settlers. If there had been a market for a different design, someone would have tapped it. As it is, you’d be hard pressed to find a better user knife.

The Bark River version combines the old design with new materials and super steels. My two are regulars in the kitchen, and they work well for everything.

Zoe Crist Santa Fe: My Santa Fe is currently on loan to a friend of mine, Phil Brummett, who is a fly fishing guide and skilled woodsman. He’s also a former Scoutmaster and still active in the outdoor skills training for scouts. He’s on my short list of people I want to go camping with.

This Zoe Crist Santa Fe has real potential as a hunting knife.

This Zoe Crist Santa Fe has real potential as a hunting knife.

Phil’s knife is used to clean fish, whittle sticks, for bushcraft tasks as needed and a multitude of things associated with making a living outdoors.

The only instructions Phil got were to use the knife as he normally would use any knife.

I was attracted to the Santa Fe because of the design, the shape of the blade and the A2 steel in it, and maker’s reputation for quality work.

More on this knife later.

The Feather Stick, top, is based on the time- tested, classic Scandinavian design, exemplified by the Mora 840 Companion

The Feather Stick, top, is based on the time-tested, classic scandi design.

Battle Horse Knives Feather Stick: Based on the classic Scandinavian design, this knife has a time-proven design record of usefulness. One of my hunting buddies, a physician who could easily afford a better knife, has used his $15 Mora 840 Companion on deer, elk, moose and hogs.

When he sees my Feather Stick, he’ll probably upgrade.

Bark River Trakker Companion: I love the blade design, but the handle doesn’t work for me. The four-inch convex grind blade has a drop point and will work very well for gutting and skinning. Why wouldn’t it? It’s a Bark River.

The L.T. Wright Next Gen (top) and Rouge River are great user knives.

The L.T. Wright Next Gen (top) and Rouge River are great user knives.

L.T. Wright Rogue River: The company sent me this knife after I requested they re-grind my GNS into a full convex grind. While I love the GNS as a bushcraft tool, the thick blade with the scandi grind isn’t the best choice for a butchering/skinning knife.

The Rouge River  has a thinner, flat ground four-inch blade with a good belly on it. The well-designed micarta handle and drop point would make this a good hunting knife.

L.T. Wright Next Gen: With a three-inch blade, this wouldn’t be my first choice if I could only take one knife. But the Next Gen has a generous micarta handle that fits me well and it is a proven user.

The thicker blade and scandi grind don't make this the best knife for slicing.

The thicker blade and scandi grind don’t make the Forest Knife the best choice for slicing.

Forest Knife: Made by the American Knife company, this knife is patterned after what survival guru Mors Kochenski recommends for a bushcraft knife. It will work well for processing a deer, but it wouldn’t be my first choice because of the thick blade and scandi grind.

But the Forest Knife might be the best choice for someone who is mainly interested in bushcraft, with an occasional deer hunt thrown in.

The four-inch blade on this Bark River Snowy River worked very well on this elk.

The four-inch blade on this Bark River Snowy River worked very well on a bull elk.

Bark River Snowy River: The aforementioned physician who uses a 840 now has a Snowy River. He helped gut and skin my elk with it, and it was evident he really liked it.

The knife has also been used successfully on wild hogs, and the Elmax steel continues to hold a really sharp edge. I may strop the blade at hunting camp, but that’s mostly because of my obsessive/compulsive need to sharpen every knife around me.

Hall of Fame:

Check out last year’s best deer hunting knives.

You’ll see some of my old favorites and some knives that are worth considering, just because they work so well.

My preferences in deer hunting knives will most likely be different than yours. You’ll see a definite pattern here.

I want a rigid, four-to-five-inch, clip or drop point with a blade of high carbon or tool steel. The handle needs to be at least four inches long, of a material that is durable and non-slip. Within those perimeters, there are a lot of variations.

All of us have opinions, and reasons for those opinions. And that’s why campfires are so much fun!

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Check out these 12 nutritious edible weeds available just about everywhere

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Gardening can be hard work. Here’s some edibles that grow wild – and free.

by Leon Pantenburg

Who doesn’t want free food?

If you know what you’re doing, you’ll  find all sorts of goodies to supplement your diet.

If you know what you’re doing.

Take cattails, for example. All parts are edible, and the plant is

All parts of a cattail are edible, but don't mistake them for the poisonous iris.

These are cattails. Always look for the cigar seed head.

widely distributed – I’ve found cattails in swamps with standing water, and around stock ponds in the desert. But there is a dangerous look-alike iris plant that is poisonous. (Here’s how to tell the difference.)

Or dandelions:

Everybody knows what they look like. For most homeowners with a lawn, the plants with the bright yellow flowers  are a nuicense.

But during a disaster when the food gets short, dandelions can provide vitamin C and greens to supplement an otherwise bland storage food diet.

Be careful where you harvest them, though, and make sure the plants haven’t been hit with some lawn care herbicide. I used to pull dandelion leaves and feed them to my daughter’s rabbits. The rabbits preferred dandelions to all other foods.

Here are 12 edible “weeds” that can be found in vacant lots, in woods or any place where the herbicides haven’t taken them out.

DON’T eat anything you can’t positively identify.


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Leave a note and save your life!

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If nobody knows you’ve gone, or where to look, or when you’re expected back, it could be a long wait  to be rescued!

by Leon Pantenburg

A detailed note, left behind before any outing, should be Standard Operating Procedure. The note could end up being a lifesaver.

The memo book is the base for a hip pocket notebook. Along with the writing implements and a bandana, this is a group of everyday carry items. (Pantenburg photo)

A memo book could be one of your most important survival tools.

Before writing anything, though, consider who the note will be entrusted to. It must be a reliable person who can be relied upon to contact the proper authorities if you don’t show up as scheduled.

The standard style for an informative news story (which is what this note is) is based on the “Five Ws.” This model is taught in journalism schools, and the name refers to: Who, What, Where, Why and When.

Answer all these questions, and you will give the search and rescue folks a better chance of finding you quickly.

WHO: Start with your name and cell phone number. Also include the names of other people in the party and their cell phone numbers. The phone numbers can be critical: if one cell doesn’t get coverage, another might. Or one phone could be damaged or run out of battery power. All the numbers increase your chances of communication!
Include the make, model, year and license number of the vehicle you’re taking.

WHAT: The purpose of the outing is to do…Fill in the blank, and be specific. A mountaineering expedition to scale a peak differs tremendously from a fishing expedition to the lake at the base. Knowing the purpose of the trip helps narrow down where a lost person might be. It can also help emergency personnel prepare themselves more effectively for the search.

WHERE: I like to use GPS coordinates here. Put the coordinates (and the datum) down of where you intend to park your vehicle, waypoints of your route and your destination. Even if the weather gets nasty and your GPS won’t work, rescuers will have a good idea of where to look. A map left with the “Five Ws” note could be very helpful if you don’t use a GPS!

I always carry a pencil and notebook in my compass setup. (Pantenburg photos)

I always carry a pencil and notebook in my compass setup. (Pantenburg photos)

WHY: An important question, and one that will help rescuers know where to look. A wildflower photography or fishing trek may not cover a lot of ground. Rescuers will know to concentrate their efforts around the WHERE.

A 20-mile jaunt on the Pacific Crest Trail, though, means you’re ambitious, possibly lightly-clad and equipped and capable of covering a lot of ground. The search may have to be expanded. WHY also provides a clue as to how prepared the lost persons might be.

WHEN: You anticipate getting back at what time?  When should the person with the note contact rescuers?An additional insurance aspect is to take a piece of aluminum foil, step on it with the shoe you will be wearing to leave a footprint. Include the foil with the note. Searchers can then eliminate obviously bigger or smaller footprints with different tread patterns on the trail.Put the note, map and footprint in a gallon ziplock bag. Write the name of the missing person or party on the bag with a felt-tip pen, and hand the package over to rescuers.

Survival common sense is a combination of many small, inter-related skills and techniques. An informative note before leaving on your trek is a good place to start.

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Four more maps for emergency evacuation survival

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A recent post “Survive this: Six maps you should have for urban disaster evacuations” was very popular. Here’s four more maps.

by Leon Pantenburg

Last week, we published a story on six basic maps to have when planning an urban evacuation. Apparently, a lot of you were interested – the post went viral, and got thousands of views.

Along with the views came feedback and suggestions.

Here are four other maps that may work in your areas:
From Weedhopper: Railroad map. Check with the department of transportation office for your state. Virginia will give you one for free…just email them in Richmond. (Get your own area by going here:

From ME: Sectional Charts or Aviation Maps. VFR maps are accurate and show visual points of reference such as railroad tracks, bodies of water, rivers, power lines,major roads, cities etc… You can actually download the whole maps free through the FAA, or buy them for about $8 each on-line. They show all the towers too.. which are great points of reference. (Here’s the link:

From Steve: Another source for FREE maps is the USGS. They have topo maps, rainfall maps, and plenty of others also. If you live in Texas then you can use University of Texas library for topos that you can customize for your area. (Check them out here:

Irrigation district maps: Every irrigation ditch probably has an access road that goes along it. In Central Oregon, this road can take you through a lot of isolated desert areas, where this may be the only road. For those of us in arid areas, these roads could prove to be an uncrowded route away from a population center. This is what my area irrigation map looks like:

Disclaimer here: Don’t rely on a GPS or any electronic device as your only navigation tool. They are as reliable as the batteries in them. Get a good baseplate compass to go along with your map, and know how to use it. Widgets Widgets

How to choose the right knife for small game hunting

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You can skin and field dress squirrels, rabbits, upland game and smaller animals with many different styles of knives. Here’s how to pick one that can do the job, without breaking the budget.

by Leon Pantenburg

Harvest a limit of squirrels, rabbits or upland game, and you’ll soon learn what knife works best for field dressing and cleaning the carcasses. Some skill and a sharp knife makes the job easy; a large, unwieldy piece of cutlery makes it a chore.

I made this knife and cardboard sheath 40-some years ago. The blade is quite usable and the sheath still does its job quite well! It doesn't work all that well for small game cleaning.

I made this knife and cardboard sheath 50-some years ago. It doesn’t work all that well for small game cleaning.

Generally speaking, when it comes to processing small game, smaller is better. A large Bowie-style knife is a really bad choice for this task, and it only takes one session with your large  survival knife to prove that.

Likewise, the wide, stubby blade of a big game skinning knife isn’t the best choice either.

During my formative years of small game hunting in Iowa, I was enamored with the concept of  a large hunting knife. I couldn’t afford one, so that lead, at age 13,  to my first foray into knife-making.

After a lot of grinding and work, I made a clip point hunting knife with a six-inch blade. I didn’t have any leather, so a temporary sheath was made out of cardboard and tape. Today, 50-some years later, that combo resides in my gun cabinet.

Though the blade held an edge well, but it didn’t take long to figure out it was too big for much besides stabbing bears and hand-to-hand combat. I habitually carried a pocket knife, as all farmboys did, and ended up using it for all my small game work. A standard middle-sized Stockman with a clip, a sheep’s foot and a spey blade was all I ever needed until I took up big game hunting.

Before buying anything, here are some attributes to look for in a small game knife:

Ease of sharpening: In Iowa, the daily bag limit for rabbits was 10, and my hunting buddies and I might limit out. The same thing could happen with pheasants or quail. A successful hunt could mean a long processing session. A three-bladed pocket knife was a good tool choice, because when one blade got dull, I could switch to another. But no matter what knife you choose, it needs to be easy to sharpen and must hold an edge well.

These folders (from top) Bucklite, Winchester Trapper, Puma Bird Hunter and Opinel have all worked well as small game knives.

These folders (from top) Bucklite, Winchester Trapper, Puma Bird Hunter and Opinel have all worked well as small game knives.

Easy to carry: When small game hunting, I like to field dress the animal as soon as it is killed. That means the knife must be at hand, and easy to get to and use.

In small game animals, there isn’t much skinning involved. You pull the hide off rabbits and squirrels and most other animals under about 10 pounds, so a skinning-style blade is not necessary.

I also prefer to stop sometime about mid-day and skin and completely take care of the carcass. Then it is placed in a cloth or culinary plastic bag, such as rice comes in, and cooled.

Comfortable handle: Many smaller pocket or rigid-blade knives don’t have very ergonomic handles. Especially in a pocket knife, the handles tend to be thin and slim for easy carry in a pocket.

I like a bigger handle for a user work knife, and many of the pretty, good looking handles on smaller knives won’t be comfortable to use for extended periods of time.

Here are some of my favorite small game knives:

Pocket knife:  I’ve already stated my affection for pocketknives, but don’t, on principle, like a folding blade for hunting purposes because of the potential for folding the blade onto a finger. I also don’t like how blood, guts, fur and feathers can gunk up the hinge, or get in the space where the folded blade resides. If your knife is intended to be an all-purpose tool, it could end up being very unsanitary for cooking.

That said, I frequently carry my three-blade Puma Bird Hunter small game hunting, because it is so handy and the steel holds an edge so well. Sometimes, I’ll take a lockblade Buck Lite, because it is really lightweight and holds an edge well.

Opinel: Made in France, the Opinel is an inexpensive, wooden-handled folder with a twist-lock blade. That makes it, IMO, one of the safest lockblades on the market. It comes in several sizes, but my favorite, and the one I use the most,  is the three-inch blade model. The drop blade point and belly on the blade makes it a useful tool.

Get a scout an inexpensive Mora for his first knife.

An Mora 840 Companion is a great knife for a beginner.

Mora:  A Mora-style knife is inexpensive. Since there is no hinge to pay for, the manufacturing investment is in the blade. I have several Mora-styles I regularly use, but the Model 840 Companion is a favorite because of the price and design.

C.T. Fischer Full-Tang Bushcraft knife: Everybody who likes knives should have a couple nice ones. A few years back, I treated myself a handmade, custom four-inch, full tang Bushcraft, and have no regrets.

I love the knife and in addition to being a wonderful small game hunting knife, it is also an all-around tool. The steel is superb and the handle is incredibly well-fitting for my large (glove size) hands.

Here are some other knives I’ve tried that work well for small game processing:

The L.T. Wright Next Gen, top, Battle Horse Knives Feather Stick and C.T. Fischer bushcraft make excellent small game knives.

The L.T. Wright Next Gen, top, Battle Horse Knives Feather Stick and C.T. Fischer bushcraft make excellent small game knives.

L.T. Wright Next Gen and Patriot. The Next Gen, with its three-inch blade and generous handle has proven itself to be a fantastic every day carry user knife. The handle fits my large hands well and the blade is a good length.

The Patriot is designed to be an outstanding small game knife. Unfortunately for me, the handle is too short. But for people with small or medium-sized hands, it might end up being your favorite knife.

Battle Horse Knives Feather Stick: This newbie relies on the tried and tested Scandinavian pattern that is at least 1,000 years old. It looks like a Mora 840 Companion with upgraded steel and handle materials.  I’ve used an 840 for a lot of fish cleaning and squirrel skinning and the design works. The Feather Stick should work even better.

The Vortex, top, and the Gunny Hunter show a strong family resemblance.

The Gunny Vortex, top, and the Gunny Hunter show a strong family resemblance.

Bark River Gunny: I have owned three, and a Gunny is my most-carried knife. I like everything about it, and while there are possibly better knives for small game processing, there’s no question the Gunny can get the job done.

When it comes to processing small game, there is a wide assortment of choices. When you get right down to it, an Exacto knife with interchangeable blades would work just fine. Or you could use a Stanley utility knife from Walmart.

But what fun would that be? And how would you be able to justify shopping for and buying another knife?

Make your knife choices based on the kinds of game you anticipate  harvesting, the conditions you will hunt under and what you like. That will end up being your favorite small game knife.

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How to start a survival fire with a flintlock rifle

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The frontiersmen, longhunters and settlers who relied on a flintlock rifle, shotgun or pistol knew how to start a fire with the firearm. Here’ one way to do it.

by Leon Pantenburg

A died-in-the-wool history nerd and old time equipment fanatic like me is always checking out new old gear, and trying to figure out how the oldtimers got along. It’s probably some sort of character defect.

This .40 caliber flintlock rifle is similar to those made about 1800 in Pennsylvania.

This .40 caliber flintlock rifle is similar to those made about 1800 in Pennsylvania.

But a Boy Scout asked me one time at a flint and steel firemaking demonstration, what would you do if you had one arm disabled? Could you still start a fire?

Sure, I commented, just as long as I have my flintlock.

The flintlock was the primary ignition system for firearms for almost 200 years, according to The Firearms Guide. 

The very first true flintlock firearm was developed by Frenchman Marin le Bourgeoys, The Firearms Guide claims, who designed it for King Louis VIII. Flintlock muskets, pistols and rifles were the mainstay of every European and American army from 1660 to 1840.

I got into muzzleloading firearms in the early 80s when I did a story on a Vicksburg, Miss. riflemaker. Charles Crowther was a wildlife biologist, whose hobby was making Pennsylvania long rifles. His specialty was crafting the firearms from the mid-1700s through the 1850s.

Charles gave me my current longrifle (check out the story), named Annebelle, and I have used it extensively for hunting and target practice.

Anyway, I was sitting under a beech tree one morning, waiting for a squirrel to come around to the other side of the trunk, when the thought came to me.

Lon Humphrey Sterling knife with flintlock rifle

This modern Lon Humphrey Sterling knife matches my rifle and looks like it could have been forged by an old time knifemaker.

I am proficient starting fires using flint and steel. But what would I do if one hand or arm was disabled? Could I still make a fire to keep from getting hypothermia?

I dug out some charcloth from my kit, UNLOADED my rifle and started experimenting. I found that the flintlock worked really well with charcloth, and was almost infallible.

Now, this technique requires a flintlock to work, naturally, but I like to think of this as a survival mindset exercise.

If you’re always thinking about how to use the available resources for survival tasks, then you’ll be better prepared for emergencies.

In this case, the technique is just another cool way to start the campfire, and the conversations that will go on around it!

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Survive this: Six maps you should have for urban disaster evacuations

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What kind of maps do you need to function in urban and/or wilderness situations?  What happens during a disaster where you are forced to evacuate  and need to travel by road, then go off road and finally cross country?

by Leon Pantenburg

I never go anywhere off the pavement without a compass and topographic map of that area.

But let’s assume an urban disaster scenario, where you need to leave your home. What maps do you need to get to safety? (And don’t just plan to rely

The triad of wilderness travel is the GPS, map and compass. Don't take a GPS without a map and compass, and make sure you have the right map along.

The triad of land navigation is the GPS, map and compass. Don’t take a GPS without a map and compass, and make sure you have the right map for the area.

on a GPS. They are as reliable as their batteries, and constant use could mean the unit is soon powerless. Also, any electronic device can break or just quit working.)

Start your navigation plans with a good compass. I prefer one with a clear baseplate that is designed to work on maps. Invest in a good one with declination settings, and then learn how to use it. The smaller compasses that come with some survival kits are only useful as backups and  for giving you a general direction.

City map: Your evacuation from your home will start with this map, so get one with the finest detail possible. This map can help you figure out alternative street evacuation routes if bridges and/or overpasses are closed. Also, gridlock on major highways and freeways is a given, so you might need to plot a course around them.

Topographical map:  A topo map is a three-dimensional view of an area. Looking at it, you can get an idea of the terrain. Here’s a good description.

According to the Geospatial and Analysis Cooperative of Idaho State University: “The concept of a topographic map is, on the surface, fairly simple. Contour lines placed on the map represent lines of equal elevation above (or below) a reference datum.

Topographical maps show the terrain features of an area.

Topographical maps show the terrain features of an area.

“To visualize what a contour line represents, picture a mountain (or any other topographic feature) and imagine slicing through it with a perfectly flat, horizontal piece of glass. The intersection of the mountain with the glass is a line of constant elevation on the surface of the mountain and could be put on a map as a contour line for the elevation of the slice above a reference datum.That allows me to create a custom map of wherever I want to go.”

I have the National Geographic mapping software for my home state of Oregon, so I create a custom topo map for every outing. I print them out on standard-sized letter or legal-sized paper. These sizes fold nicely in half and fit in a quart Ziploc plastic bag. This bag, in turn, rides in  the thigh pocket of my BDU pants. The map is easy to pull out and check, which means it will be.

During an urban evacuation, you might need to go cross-country through a park or open space to avoid crowds or other potential dangers. The city map may give street details, but it may not show water obstacles or other physical barriers. With your topo and compass, you should be able to plot a course effectively.

State Highway map: This gives the big picture of your situation. It shows major highways and roads, and gives general directions. It is useful for figuring out where to go once you escape the urban scene.

Forest Service map: I carry this in my car in central Oregon. Commonly referred to as a fire road map, this is a large overview of the national forests and public lands. Most importantly, it shows fire and logging roads.  The map doesn’t show if the roads are improved or not, so don’t depend on this map to tell you if you can drive on it. In some instances, the roads may have overgrown into trails. You may be able to hike or ATV them in the summer, or in the winter, snowshoe or operate a snowmobile.

These maps are particularly useful for big game hunters. Kill an animal, and you need to know where the nearest road or trail so you can get the meat out. It can also help you figure alternative routes in wilderness areas. Once you get to the rural or wilderness areas, a good compass, this map and the appropriate topos will be worth their weight in gold.

These four maps should help you get out of town. Here are some others that could also prove to be useful:

History maps: I combine my map and history obsessions and buy any historical map I come across. Some of them, such as the Oregon Trail or Lewis and Clark maps show the routes used by historical figures. While the trails may be obscure right now, that doesn’t mean they aren’t useful. Overland pioneer routes were established because wagons or pack trains could cover them. Those trails might be a good thing to know at some point.

River charts: My fishing and map nerd-ism combine again with these charts. Every navigable river in the United States has detailed charts showing river terrain, danger areas, and topography of the stream. These charts allow a traveler to plan a river evacuation or trip. I carried a set of Mississippi River charts on my end-to-end journey in 1980. It was easy to plan overnight stops, or decide where to pull out.

On smaller rivers, such as Oregon’s John Day, or the  Deschutes River, the maps can show take-out points, landings and water dangers.

 Hunting maps: Put out by your state fish and wildlife departments, these are useful to anyone who goes into the wilderness areas. I carry one to see the boundaries of my hunting unit, road closures and to some extent the terrain.

None of these maps are of any value if you don’t know how to read and use them. A good training activity that includes some exercise could be to take your compass and maps, create a possible evacuation scenario and practice navigating somewhere using alternate routes, streets and cross country travel.

So check out these maps, practice with your compass, and give some thought to how you might get out of town if you had to. Widgets Widgets

Review: Merrell Capra Rapid Hiking Water Shoe

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Here’s a solid shoe designed for the canoeist, kayaker or anyone who does a lot of water activities, and who might need to portage heavy gear over muddy trails.

by Leon Pantenburg

I was not paid to write this review, and at the time of publication Merrell has no sponsorship relationship with

If you think accumulating shoes is a gender-specific syndrome, then you haven’t seen my boot collection. I have everything from flip-flops to  arctic quality snow boots.


The Merrell Capra Rapid Hiking Water Shoe is a rugged lightweight that will hold up to rugged trail work.

In my defense (and if my wife happens to read this) it’s because I wear shoes every day, and one style won’t work for everything.

That is particularly true if you go some place like the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on the Northern Minnesota border.

I did a nine-day canoe trip there several years ago, and footwear was critical. In the Boundary Waters, the canoeist will be portaging heavy loads on muddy trails between lakes. Shoes get soggy and stay that way. Still, you need a shoe that has a good tread design, and that won’t slip around on your feet.

A pair of military-style jungle boots were my choice of footwear, and they were OK. I usually ended up carrying the 70-pound canoe, and the boots provided the necessary ankle support on the sometimes muddy trails. The boots were heavier than needed, and weighed even more wet.

On a backpacking trip in the Yellowstone backcountry in the late 70s, I crossed Thorofare Creek multiple times over several days. I wore Adidas running shoes, which never really dried out. But this saved my leather boots from staying wet, and I thoroughly appreciated my camp shoes.

I recently tried out a pair of Merrell® Capra Rapid Hiking Water Shoe. This is a shoe designed for canoeists, kayakers, river rafters or anyone who needs foot protection in a wet environment.

Here are the specs:

  • Durable synthetic and mesh upper materials.
  • Quick-drying hiking shoe featuring cord-and-lock lacing system and triangular side cutouts with mesh underlay
  • Printed pull-on loops at heel and tongue
  • Rubber foam and mesh lining for cushioning
  • Perforated EVA removable footbed to control moisture and drainage
  • Water distribution ports in midsole and outsole to manage water distribution
  • Vegan-friendly construction.

    A better choice than the Capra for a hiking shoe is the Merrell Ventilator.

    A better choice than the Capra for a hiking shoe is the Merrell Ventilator.

  • Protective toe rand.
  • Tongue and heel pulls.
  • Breathable textile lining.
  • M Select™ FRESH technology reduces odors.
  • Perforated EVA removable footbed helps control moisture and drainage.
  • Drainage channel in outsole to manage water evacuation.
  • Molded nylon arch shank.
  • Merrell air cushioning in the heel for added shock absorption and stability.
  • SELECT GRIP outsole for multiple terrains, wet and dry, 3.5 mm lug depth.
  • Weight: 12 oz
  • Imported (Made in Vietnam)

about a mile every night with my dogs, so the Capras were broken in in the desert. The shoes kept the sand and dirt off my feet reasonably well. For full-blown desert hiking, I would add a pair of ankle high gaiters to keep those annoying tiny trail rocks out.

Recently, I went dayhiking with a bunch of Boy Scouts on the Paulina Creek Trail in Central Oregon. The trail runs along a creek with a series of waterfalls, and it was a perfect situation to check out a shoe designed for creek crossings and portaging.

Here’s what I liked:

Lightweight: The Capra doesn’t weigh much, but it is sturdy enough for hiking with reasonable loads. This means they will go along on the next backpacking trip. I carried about 15 pounds, and had left room in my pack to help out the little guys if their loads got too heavy. ( The scouts did just great – they didn’t need adult backup.)

The shoes were comfortable and I didn’t have any problem with blisters or rubbing. I wouldn’t want to substitute these shoes for sturdy hikers if I were carrying a heavier load, though. The additional weight could overpower the Capra sole and result in sore feet.

Quick drying: The mesh upper, with four water distribution points, really works. I waded the creek several times to check out how quickly the shoe would dry out. I don’t think I’ve worn a shoe or boot that dries quicker.

The speed lace system is quick and effective.

The speed lace system is quick and effective.

Speed lace: I haven’t used speed laces much, but I like these. It’s very easy to tighten and loosen the shoe with the system, and they will be really handy if you’re doing a lot of portaging.

Sole design: I waded in the Deschutes River in Central Oregon, and in stream beds with rounded, slippery rocks. The Merrell select wet grip soles are great, and are some of the best water soles I’ve tried.

Heel cup design: The heel upper is a cup that secures your foot. I didn’t notice any undue sliding around, even when the shoes were new.

Socks: I got my Capras big enough to wear a pair of socks with. If you anticipate hiking a river trail, or using these shoes for hikers, a pair of socks is a great idea. I wear wool socks year round, and they are comfortable in the Capras. I don’t anticipate wearing these shoes in snow and cold weather, but you can never tell what might come up. If need be, wool socks and Capras would be reasonably comfortable in cool weather.

Cushioning: These are not designed for trail running or trekking. The cushioning is minimal, and designed to dry out quickly. Know that when you’re considering investing.

Not so hot on:

Not made in USA: Many quality products come from overseas. But anything not manufactured here means that local, state and federal taxes might have been avoided. The foreign workers may have been exploited, and these folks certainly have no stake in an American community. Buy USA whenever possible. Support American small business.

Other than the manufacturing origin, I couldn’t find anything I didn’t like about these shoes. It remains to be seen how well these shoes hold up over extended use, but my experience with Merrells is that they wear like iron and and won’t let you down.

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Review: Battle Horse Feather Stick may be the ultimate Scandi knife

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Love your Mora™ knife, but want something tougher? Check out the Battle Horse Knives™ Feather Stick™.

by Leon Pantenburg

I was not paid to do this review, and at the time of publication Battle Horse Knives™ had no sponsorship relationship with™

Nobody appreciates the Mora-style knife more than me. (Mora™ is a brand, virtually synonymous with the Scandinavian-style, fixed-blade knife.)

The Feather Stick, top, is based on the time- tested, classic Scandinavian design, exemplified by the Mora 840 Companion

The Feather Stick, top, is based on the time- tested, classic Scandinavian design, exemplified by the Mora 840 Companion.

The Boy Scout Troop I hang out with has bought 90 of the Mora 840 Companions, over the years, for the scouts to use. This purchase recommendation came after I bought a couple and torture tested them.

I typically don’t abuse knives. But these were going to be issued to inexperienced kids, and any scout worth his salt can screw up an anvil. So I batonned one through a hard, knotty chunk of firewood, twisted the blade, stuck it in a tree and wiggled it back and forth, dulled and sharpened the blade and in general, displayed a total ignorance of knife handling and use.

The knife wasn’t tested to total failure –  anything will break if you work at it long enough – and I was satisfied that the 840 would be a safe tool for scouts.

But though I love the design,  I always wanted an upgrade, with a full tang blade, micarta handle and a solid leather sheath. And some of the adults who used and appreciated the 840 also mentioned they would like a tougher knife.

So when I saw the Feather Stick, I ordered one immediately. It arrived the day before a backpacking trip with scouts, so the newbie went along.

Here are the Feather Stick specs:

1/8″ O1 tool steel
8 3/4″ Over all length of knife
3 7/8″ Cutting edge
15/16″ Over all height from sharp edge to spine

Mine came with a green bead blasted micarta handle, but there are other options.

I used it, and here’s what I found out.

I like:

The design: The Feather Stick looks, feels and handles like a Mora clipper.

Moras are made in Sweden. But the original Scandinavian knife design probably goes back about 1000 years, to some Viking-type, who was looking for a useful, everyday tool. It wouldn’t be particularly useful in battle, or for raiding, pillaging and plundering, but everybody carried a small knife as part of their wardrobe. The knife would be used for everything.

And so this knife design evolved to what it is today, and that’s what I like about it. You would be hard-pressed to find a more tested, practical blade/handle combination that can do just about everything.

I have used my 840 for everything from whittling and cooking  to cleaning fish and skinning deer. The 840 may not have always been the best knife for a specific task, but has always served admirably.

The handle fits my large hands very well, and is also good for smaller hands.

The handle fits my large hands very well, and is also good for smaller hands.

Scandi grind: My favorite grind is the full convex. I like it so much, I have had several Scandi grinds re-ground into full convex.

But for bushcraft, wood work and ease of sharpening, it is really hard to beat the Scandi. This becomes particularly important for the beginner. If he/she can’t keep the knife sharp, it soon becomes a chore to use it. With a Scandi grind, lay the bevel flat on the stone and it becomes the sharpening guide.

Handle: IMHO, this handle design is one of the most ergonomic on the market. Everyone, from the smallest 11-year-olds to ham-handed people like me can use the handle safely. I’ve done extensive whittling and carving with my 840, and never had any problems whatsoever.

For a user handle, I want micarta. It’s bullet proof, and gets tacky when wet. I’ve used several micarta handles where they got immersed in blood, or covered with fish scales and slime. They were always safe to use. But I also really like wood handles, so pick your favorite.

I love green, because of my Irish heritage, and I particularly like the bead blasted green. The texture and coloring remind me of the pilings on the Mississippi River.

The Mora sheath, top needs to be modified for safe carry. The Feather Stick comes with a leather dangler.

The Mora sheath, top needs to be modified for safe carry. The Feather Stick comes with a leather dangler.

Sheath: My biggest complaint about a 840 is the crappy plastic sheath they come with. Granted, in a knife that sells for less than $20, you can’t expect much. Troop 18 came up with a way to modify the standard sheaths to make them safer.

The Feather Stick comes with a stout leather dangler sheath. IMHO, a dangler is safer and easier to carry than just about anything else.

Steel: The Feather Stick comes in 01 tool steel.

According to Speedy Metals Information: “O1 tool steel is a low alloy cold work tool steel that must be oil-quenched in heat treatment. O1 contains small amounts of manganese, tungsten, and chromium, giving O1 adequate toughness for normal tool and die uses. O1 has deep hardening properties with fine grain structure with unusual toughness.”

I haven’t used 01 before, so I’ll continue to check it out. My initial testing shows the O1 holds an edge very well, and maintaining that edge shouldn’t be hard.

Point: The Feather Stick has a drop point, with a hint of a clip to it. My favorite point is a clip with a swedge, but for an over-all knife, a drop point is stronger and more practical. (Here’s how to chose a knife point.)

Blade length: IMHO, a four-inch blade is about perfect for an everyday carry or do-it-all knife. I want a shorter blade for carving and small game processing, and a longer blade for butchering and bushcraft. Decide what you’re most likely to use the knife for and choose accordingly.

The Feather Stick, top, has a 1/8-inch thick blade, and the spine is sharpened at a 90-degree angle.

The Feather Stick, top, has a 1/8-inch thick blade, and the spine is sharpened at a 90-degree angle.

Full Tang: Any rigid-blade knife that might be used as a survival knife (and that means all of them) should have a full tang. This option makes a stronger knife, and one that is less likely to break under extreme conditions.

Spine: The spine is ground at 90-degree angles, like an ice skate, so it can be used to process tinder and scrape a ferrocerium rod. This could come in handy and save your sharp edge.

Made in the USA: All Battle Horse Knives are made in Cambridge, Ohio. Call the company (like I did) and a pleasant person with a Midwestern accent answers.  The employees make a living wage, pay local, state and federal taxes, and contribute to their community. Support American small business and keep jobs here!

I didn’t like:

…hmmm…still working on that one. The knife is just about perfect for someone who wants a Mora-style knife.

Ok, how about this – the “Feather Stick” doesn’t sound like a real macho blade. The knife is not very “tacticool”. It might not look very badass at the militia meeting, or clipped onto your body armor.

So do you need a Feather Stick?

Comparing a $15 Mora to a $150 Feather Stick is so apples and oranges. Somebody will (justifiably) argue that you can buy 10 Moras for the price of one Feather Stick.

Sure.  But will you take along multiple Moras into the wilderness on the off chance that one might fail?

Here’s my take: If you like a Mora-style knife, but want a beefier version with premium steel, then you need to invest in a Feather Stick. Remember, (the old mossy cliche′) the best survival knife is the one you have with you.

If you’re going to rely on a Mora-style knife as possibly your only available survival knife, don’t you want the one with the best possible quality?

You decide.

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Backyard Bounty: How to eat the wild plants in your yard

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Ever look at the weeds in your yard and wonder if you could eat them?
Me either. Not until now. Most of us don’t have a clue.

by Leon Pantenburg

I always associated foraging for wild plants with wild places, or at least, weedy overgrown areas. Many people know that cattails are edible, but don’t know much about other wild plants.The weeds in my yard are a nuisance, and I didn’t give much thought, other than getting rid of them.

But maybe we should start learning about edible wild plants. After all, knowledge is key in surviving anything. There is no better place to start learning about edible plants than in your backyard, under a controlled situation.

Learning about edible wild plants (or any survival skill for that matter) should be done in a controlled environment, not after the disaster occurs!

This guest post by Abby Quillen describes and illustrates some common plants that might turn out to be really important!

All parts of a cattail are edible, but don't mistake them for the poisonous iris.

All parts of a cattail are edible, but don’t mistake them for the poisonous iris.

So much of what we used to know about living day to day has been lost. How many of us, in a pinch, could make up a shelter or go without a visit to the grocery store for a few days? These are all lost talents—but you can get some of that knowledge back. A good place to start is foraging for things to eat in your own back yard.

What you might call a week may be a plant with enviable nutritional properties. Plantain and broadleaf, for example, are all the target of chemical extermination, but they can be eaten and supply various vitamins. The same goes for the bane of the lawn lovers—dandelions.

We lost our need to eat plants like these when we domesticated plants and animals. That’s led to a lot less species variety in our diets. However, before you dive in with a clippers to what’s growing out back, familiarize yourself with some of the poisonous counterparts, too.

This graphic is a good place to start your journey to more backyard eating. Check out eat the weeds.

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Make a fishing lure from a kitchen spoon

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One of the most useful, and  effective fishing lures is the spoon. Here’s how to make a good one,  for pennies, from recycled materials.

by Leon Pantenburg

This spoon fishing lure was made from a common kitchen spoon. It works very well! (Pantenburg photo)

This spoon fishing lure was made from a common kitchen spoon. It works very well! (Pantenburg photo)

I started making fishing lures many years ago after balking at the price to replace those lost when fishing around rocks, trees and snags.

One the best, and most effective  fishing lures under a variety of circumstances, is the spoon. As the name implies, the spoon fishing lure is shaped like a spoon you eat with.

After a fishing trip where I lost a bunch of lures, I looked at a standard culinary spoon. With a little effort I decided I could come up with an interesting – and cheap – fishing lure.

The first commercial fishing spoon was apparently made by the Eppinger company, which has been making the Dardevle spoon since the early 20th Century. Knockoffs have probably been around for nearly as long.

The history of the Dardevle name is an interesting one…according to the Eppinger website, the first fishing spoon was originally named the “Osprey” by inventor and company founder Lou Eppinger. Toward the end of World War I, its name was changed to Dardevle in honor of the “Teufelhunden”, or “devil dogs,” a nickname given to the 4th Marine Brigade by its German foes during the Battle of Belleau Wood in 1918.

The classic Dardevle is a distinctive red-and-white striped model, and is a deadly lure for pike, muskellunge, bass and trout…in fact, most fish that eat other fish. I have used a spoon to catch all these fish, and have also used one to land perch, crappie and smallmouth bass.

The classic red-and-white Eppinger Dardevle spoon has caught fish for generations of fishermen, and has a proven track record. You can make your own variations for pennies.

The classic red-and-white Eppinger Dardevle spoon has caught fish for generations of fishermen. You can make your own variations for pennies.

Frugal fisherman that I am, it didn’t make sense to spend upward of $5 on a lure, when I could make a pretty good substitute  with a little effort. The raw material is easy to find: Old culinary spoons of various sizes can be found at thrift stores, garage sales or any place that sells junk. The other hardware and decorative items can be bought at any sporting goods or craft store store.

Here’s how to make a spoon lure:


1- spoon. The size depends on what you want to catch, or what you found at the thrift store or garage sale.

2 – steel split rings

1 – treble, single or weedless hook

1 – swivel

decorating paint and colored and/or reflective tape

Cut or break off the handle of the spoon (and save it for another project). Drill a small hole at either end of the remaining spoon bowl, and attach a split-ring through the holes. At the larger end, attach a hook through the ring; at the smaller end, attach the swivel, which will keep the lure action from causing line twist. Paint and/or attach reflective tape to the convex side of the lure.

I used my homemade spoons extensively on a nine-day canoe trip through the northern Minnesota Boundary Waters several years ago. On several lakes, the red and white with silver tape pattern was the number one producer on northern pike. If you are fishing the edges of weed beds, use a weedless hook with a  bucktail or streamer, and get ready for a hit!

My inherent penny-pinching cheapness – frugality, I prefer to call it – came from my dad, who grew up during the Great Depression. But, this trait is valuable in the preparedness/survival field.

Save money on things you can make, and invest the savings on items you can’t compromise on.

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Survival fire making videos: What ignition system should you carry?

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In elk hunting, it’s the hope of bagging one that sucks us hunters out in crappy weather into remote mountainous areas. The day was bitterly cold in Idaho’s Selway wilderness, the snow was knee deep and there were miles between us and the nearest road.

Being able to make a fire under adverse conditions can be critical to survival.

by Leon Pantenburg

Back at camp, the first order of business was to start the fire. I took out my waterproof match container and tried to light a strike-anywhere match on the side. All the matches had been replaced a couple months ago, but not one of the 20 in the container would light.

Then I tried my backup butane lighter. Because of the cold, it didn’t work either. Luckily, we had backup matches, and the fire was soon thawing us out.

“So suppose one of us had gotten hurt and couldn’t move – what would we do to start a fire?” I asked my partner. We agreed it could have been fatal.

That frigid hunt was in 1993, and for years, I experimented to find a reliable firemaking method.

In 2002, as part of a project for Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, Oregon, Dr. Jim Grenfell and I set out to find the ultimate, practical fire ignition method that would work for the average person.

Criteria to be tested were: ease of operation, ability to use one-handed (in the event of an injury), reliability, widespread availability, durability, practicality and ease of carry. We ruled out any items that seemed to rely on expensive, gee-whiz technology.

Over the course of the next several months, we laboriously tested and re-tested conventional firemaking methods. When something showed promise after initial testing, we turned the Scouts loose on it. If the method survived the torture test, we’d ask average outdoors people to try and then comment on the materials.

Here’s what we found:

A firebow may be as effective survival firemaking tool for a trained individual, but would not be a good choice for most people.

A firebow may be as effective survival firemaking tool for a trained person.

Fire bow or other primitive wood friction methods were not even in the running. In a survival situation, even if you have the time and skills to make and use a fire bow, you’d first have to find the materials to build it. If rubbing two sticks together to fire was easy, or even just moderately difficult, the native peoples would never have developed ways to carry a live coal between camps!

The people who depended on the friction method for twirling up a fire carried their own specialized sticks with them. Even in a forest, you might not be able to find dry, suitable materials to build your kit.

Matches: Best case scenario: You should be able to make one fire with every match, right? That points out a real problem with matches: there is a finate number of them, and when they’re gone you’re out of luck. And what if you use all your matches to make one fire because of a low skill level?

Every brand and type of match we tried was unreliable as a survival tool. But if forced to make a recommendation, I’d say the best match choice is the REI Stormproof matches. They work well under many adverse circumstances, but you can only carry a few (10, with striker strip) in a standard match case.

waterproof match case: Always keep survival matches in a waterproof case, and rotate them.

Keep survival matches in a waterproof case, and rotate the stock regularly.

The advantage is that most people can strike a match, and you can get them anywhere.

The disadvantages are that matches deteriorate over time and fail, even if they’re waterproof. While coating the heads with paraffin or other sealants will work for awhile, that doesn’t make the matches dependable. Most regular book matches are useless if damp, or if they’re even exposed to moisture.

Another critical aspect is the abrasive strip on the match box or book. If it gets damp, wet or worn out, the matches won’t work. And one brand of match may not ignite on another’s abrasive strip!

Even strike-anywhere matches don’t necessarily light when struck on an abrasive surface. Try standing in knee-deep snow, during a snow and sleet storm and finding a dry, abrasive surface to strike a match on!

Butane lighter: I carry a butane lighter in my pants pocket, another in my jacket pocket and a third in my pack. If a quick fire is needed, the idea is to flic a Bic and get the job done. A standard Bic lighter, according to my tests, will have about an hour’s worth of flame in it. But I don’t trust any butane lighter, and you shouldn’t either.

The Achilles heel is temperature. The boiling point of Butane is approximately -0.5 C at sea level, according to (This boiling point will drop with an increase in altitude given the reduced pressure).

This means that as the lighter nears freezing, less gas will be vaporized inside of the lighter and will make it hard to light. And the higher in elevation you are, the less chance you have for ignition!

lighted butane lighter: Butane lighters work great when they work! They can't be depended on in survival situations.

Butane lighters work great when they work!

My experiments show that placing a butane lighter in ice water (33 degrees) disables it almost instantaneously. If the lighter is removed from a one-minute ice water bath, and placed in a 70 degree area, several minutes will pass before it is warm enough to function.

This time varies on the size, brand, and make of the lighter. If you warm the lighter in your already warm hand, it can take at least  90 seconds under ideal conditions, and probably closer to four minutes, to make it functional.

So,  if you fall into an icy river, wade to shore and desperately need to make a warm-up fire, your butane lighter won’t work for what seems like an eternity. In a situation where your hands are freezing, you may not be able to warm the lighter quickly. Your cold, numb fingers may not be able to work the wheel, either. By the time the lighter is warm enough to fire, you may not be able to use it.

Any lighter’s durability is suspect. All it takes is one grain of sand in the wrong place and the machinery is disabled.

And don’t forget this little tidbit: if you inadvertently drop your butane lighter into a campfire, an explosion will follow!

A magnesium block, with a ferro stick attached on top, can be a reliable firemaking method. (Leon Pantenburg photo)

A magnesium block, with a ferro stick on top, can be a reliable firestarting tool.

Magnesium block:

A favorite of the survival shows, the magnesium block with a flint stick on top, has some merit. The idea is to shave off pieces of magnesium into a small pile, then ignite it with a spark from the flint stick. The magnesium block is waterproof.

The problem in the system is that it takes a long time to scrape enough shavings off the block to ignite, and it’s really easy to scatter the pile if you bump it or the wind comes up.

A magnesium block is OK, but not your best choice.

Zippo-style lighters: For a while, this appeared to be the winner. I filled my Zippo with lighter fluid to the saturation point, then sat down to see how many fires it would make before it failed. Over the next two days, (this is probably a comment on my social life), the total number of lights was 974!  When full of fluid, the Zippo worked immediately after a one-minute ice water bath. It came out the freezer overnight and fired on the second try. I sealed the hinge and opening with a piece of duct tape, and left it alone for a month, and it still fired.

The fuel supply of a Zippo-style lighter tends to dry out quickly, making it non-functional.

The fuel supply of a Zippo-style lighter tends to dry out quickly, making it non-functional.

But the Zippo-style lighter was wildly inconsistent in other areas. A fully saturated lighter dried out completely in three days in the desert. Having it sealed didn’t matter. And sometimes, for reasons I couldn’t figure out, the Zippo just wouldn’t light.

While you can fuel a Zippo with gasoline if need be, the system is too unreliable to recommend.

Ferro rods or sticks: I carry a ferrocerium stick on my key ring survival gear and have several in different parts of my gear. When used in combination with cotton balls saturated with petroleum jelly, the system is nearly foolproof.  Put the cotton balls in a plastic case or ziplock bag.

But it takes some effort to learn how to use it, and like anything, there is no substitute for practice. Using a flint stick with only one hand can be done, but not as easily as using a butane lighter.

At the end of all this research, Grenfell and I concluded that there is no ultimate firemaking tool, and you should never rely on just one type.

So here’s the best recommendation: take at least three different methods. Environment  factors that might disable one method should not  affect all of them. So, include a fire tool out of each of these categories:

Ferro stick, cotton balls and petroleum jelly: If  forced to pick just one method of firemaking, this would be

Cotton balls, petroleum jelly and a ferro rod are effective firemaking tools.

Cotton balls, petroleum jelly and a ferro stick are effective firemaking tools.

it. With practice, the combination is quick and reliable. But without a lot of practice and experimenting, you probably won’t be able to use it with one hand. If you’re disabled or unconscious, an untrained person might not be able to figure out how it works.

Butane lighter: If you’re lucky and can keep your lighter warm and dry, a butane lighter may take care of all your firemaking needs. Many kids can’t operate a butane lighter without practice, so some training  may be needed with your juvenile outdoor partners.

REI Stormproof matches: Most folks don’t need instruction on how to light a match, so it’s a good idea to include matches. Invest in premium matches that may work when you need them, and rotate your stock regularly. Be sure to take along the abrasive strip from the match box, and store all matches in a waterproof container!

No matter which firemaking methods you use, take along charcloth and firestarter in a waterproof plastic bag! If your Zippo or butane lighter leaks or runs out of fuel, you can use the wheel and flint to make a spark that can be caught on a piece of charcloth. Also, any other ignition methods that involve sparks can be used with charcloth.

Firestarter should be compact, durable and easy to carry. It can make the difference between dying of hypothermia or getting a fire going with damp tinder and kindling!

One last suggestion: Include a road flare in your survival gear. It is a fantastic signaling tool, burns for at least 15 minutes and will ignite virtually anything! Widgets

–> Widgets

Start with these basics for your wilderness survival gear

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You don’t have any wilderness experience, but you want some.  So what do you take along to make sure you get back? 

by Leon Pantenburg

One of the most common questions from wilderness newcomers  is: “What gear will I need?”

And that’s a really good question! Walk through any sporting goods store and you’ll notice a bewildering array of gear, stuff, doo-dads, knick-nacks and junk. The buyer must decide which is which.

Depending on what store it is, and the salesperson, you could end up buying some very expensive – and unnecessary – items. In some stores, the salespeople work on commission and push high-priced gear. Or you might end up with a clerk who is covering the counter for somebody at lunch.

So, here’s where to start. The Boy Scouts of America have been preaching the gospel of survival common sense for 100 years. Who actually coined the term “Ten Essentials” is probably unknown. But there is no question that a facsimile of  this basic list is the basis of all emergency preparedness kits. Get your Ten Essentials first.

Here is a list of the Boy Scout Outdoor Essentials, and product suggestions. Check out the links for more info on any of the topics. Look at these ideas, and then decide what will work best for you.

Strong family resemblence; from top: Next Gen, Genesis, GNS and the Rouge river

Any of these bushcraft knives would work very well as part of your Ten Essentials.

  • Knife:  The best knife is up to your personal preference, but you must have some sort of cutting edge along. The only survival knife you have is the one you have along!
      • First Aid kit:  (A first aid kit should go along on every outing, even if you never use it.)
      • Extra clothing: (This will depend, of course, on the climate, time of year and where you are. Clothing needs for my high desert area are much different than for those people in the tropics.)
      • Rain gear: You have two choices for protection from the rain: rainsuit or poncho. I use both, depending on the circumstances.  I hiked the John Muir Trail with a poncho for rain protection. It rained nine days straight! The poncho kept me dry, even though I was expending a lot of energy to hike. I prefer a rainsuit while hunting or fishing, because it won’t flap in the wind, and a rainsuit offers better protection while sitting or standing for long periods of time. Decide what’s best for your needs.
      • Water bottle:  Water is an absolute necessity. I generally carry a Nalgene or other rigid water bottle to drink out of. In my pack, I’ll carry several soft bottles to replenish my Nalgene. The soft bottle are protected in the pack, and

        This combination works well. The rigid Nalgene in the middle is used for drinking and the Paltypus soft bottles store extra water.

        when empty, can be rolled up. The softies  weight virtually nothing, and  take up hardly any space. And if you find a water source, and need to re-supply, you’ll have ample containers along.

        Make sure to include some system of chemical purification or a water filter.

        I’m not a big fan of the water bladder systems, for no really good reason, but they are great for kids because the drinking tube encourages drinking. (And the novelty of  using a bladder water system will keep them well-hydrated until the newness wears off!)

      • Flashlight or headlamp: (I field-dressed a deer shortly after darkness fell  one evening, holding my mini-maglite in my teeth. It was pretty gross – talk about drooling on your gear…) Anyway, ever since that experience I carry a good headlamp. A headlamp leaves your hands free if you are spelunking, end up walking out to the car in the dark, scrambling over rocks etc. Besides, if the lamp is on your head, chances are less that it might be dropped and broken.)
      • Trail food: This is another personal preference. I like to make most of my own, because of my inherent cheapness and a Depression-era mentality inherited from my Dad. But in all my packs, I have several Clif bars, some jerky, sardines, and hardtack.  The gourmet food comes from the Dutch oven. The emergency food is fuel.
      • Matches and firestarter or other methods of ignition – you should have several different types.
      • Sun protection Sunscreen is an item that needs to be in every survival kit, regardless if you’re in the arctic or the tropics. I carry the tube type, because it is less messy to apply.

These are basic navigation tools: compass, emergency whistle, map and GPS. 

    • Map and compass A GPS is also useful, but not without a map and compass! Always include spare batteries for your GPS!

This is the bare bones list, and you should expand and add categories to fit your individual needs. For example, my Ten Essentials includes some method of shelter, such as a tarp, trash bag, bivey sack etc., and I always carry at least 50 feet of parachute cord or light rope, and four aluminum tent stakes.

Neither the scouts, nor I, recommend including fishing gear as a survival tool! Many of the items, such as  the knife, first aid kit and Clif  bars, have multiple memberships in my different  specialized survival kits. Another necessity is the proper size spare batteries for any device that is battery-powered.  It’s a good idea to get battery-operated items that all use the same size.

Your outdoor essentials list can also vary seasonally. I always include a snow shovel and  insulite pad on my winter showshoe treks.

My summer and winter extra clothing choices would also be different. An extra stocking cap is always a good thing to have along, but in the summer, a broad-brimmed hat for sun protection is a necessity.

Some items you shouldn’t cut costs on are boots or hiking shoes; a sleeping bag, and a reliable shelter.

Use this Outdoor Essentials list to form the basis for your own survival kit, then read and research to get new ideas. Your survival kit, if it’s anything like mine,  will probably end up being an evolving project. After every outing, think about what you used, what you didn’t need, and what you wished you had. Then adjust accordingly.

The best survival kit or gear in the world is worthless  if you don’t know how to use it, and just having a survival kit won’t save you. In fact, it might give you a false sense of confidence that could be deadly!

Start your wilderness preparation by reading a credible survival book, or taking a class from a competent instructor. Be wary of any survival-related internet blog or website. Just because someone has a website, doesn’t mean they know anything! Don’t get your survival training off a prime-time survival “reality” show.

Then practice with your equipment. Learn how to make a fire, or pitch your shelter in your backyard. Try out your sleeping bag on a chilly night on the deck to make sure it’s going to be warm enough. Make your mistakes at home, so you won’t in the backcountry, where a screw-up can kill you.

And let this be your mantra: “My survival kit won’t save me. My equipment or gear can’t save me. I will save me.” And  include common sense with every outing!

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Worth Reading: “Survival Psychology” gives the mental baseline for survival

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BOOK REVIEW:  Survival Psychology by John Leach

One idea survival book authors may be able to agree upon is that mental attitude is critical. Countless documented cases  prove  your attitude and reaction to the situation,  not your gear, is the most important factor is staying alive.

by Leon Pantenburg

Some twenty years before the rash of “reality” or “Survival” shows, or anybody had ever heard of Les Stroud or Bear Grylls,  psychological studies resulted in a book about people’s  reactions  in emergency situations.

“Survival Psychology” by John Leach, PhD, of the University of Lancaster, England, was a groundbreaking study, that today is a reference source for many wilderness and urban survival bestsellers. If  some of Leach’s writing or thoughts sound familiar, it is because you’ve read or heard them before!

Swampy Lakes Trailhead is on the edge of thousands of acres of wilderness. Many visitors deny they will ever need emergency gear or training.

Leach studied survivors’  reactions, including those of Union prisoners at the horrific  Andersonville prison during the Civil War;  to shipwreck survivors; to people who made it through plane crashes and natural disasters. Distilled down to one sentence, here’s what Leach found: Psychological responses to emergencies follow a pattern.

One goal of  SurvivalCommonSense is to help you develop the survival mindset to stay alive. So, start with the baseline knowledge of what happens to people, mentally, in a survival situation.

Until you know what might happen in your mind, or in the heads of the people around you, there’s no way to come up with a plan to survive.

Survival situations bring out a variety of reactions – including some that make the situation worse.

Leach’s studies show that only 10 to 15 percent of any group involved in any emergency will react appropriately. Another 10 to 15 percent will behave totally inappropriately and the remaining 70 to 80 percent will need to be told what to do. The most common reaction at the onset of an emergency is disbelief and denial.

Here’s the typical disaster reaction progression, according to “Survival Psychology”:

Denial: The first reaction will probably be: “This can’t be happening to me!” But an emergency, disaster, accident or crash can happen to anyone, and it can result in a situation where your life is at risk.

This disbelief can cause people to stand around, doing nothing to save themselves. The 80 percenters in any survival situation will have to be ordered to help themselves.

Panic: Once you get past denial, there is a strong chance you may panic. This is when judgment and reasoning deteriorate to the point where it can result in self-destructive behavior. It can happen to anyone. To avert this problem, realize it may happen, and use the STOP mindset exercise.

Hypoactivity, defined as a depressed reaction; or hyperactivity, an intense but undirected liveliness: The depressed person will not look after himself or herself, and will probably need to be told what to do. The hyperactive response can be more dangerous because the affected person may give a misleading impression of purposefulness and leadership.

Stereotypical behavior: This is a form of denial in which victims fall back on learned behavior patterns, no matter how inappropriate they are. The Boss may decide to continue in that role, even though he/she has no idea of what to do. Sadly, the underling may also revert to that subordinate role, even though he/she may be better prepared mentally.

Anger: A universal reaction, anger is irrational. Rescue workers frequently come under verbal and physical attack while performing their duties.

A few years ago in Central Oregon, the Search and Rescue team rescued a man who had dumped his raft just before going over a waterfall. Miraculously, he saved himself  by clinging to a mid-stream boulder. During the whole rescue effort, the rafter denied he was in trouble. After being plucked from the rapids, he flipped off the rescuers, and walked back to the parking lot. He never thanked anyone for saving his life.

Psychological breakdown: This could be the most desperate problem facing a victim, and this stage is characterized by irritability, lack of interest, apprehension, psycho-motor retardation and confusion. Once this point is reached, the ultimate consequence may be death.

So, according to Leach, one key to a “survival state-of-mind” is to be prepared and confident that you can handle an emergency. This brings up another deadly behavior pattern: lack of preparation. People don’t prepare for emergencies (see denial), Leach writes, for three reasons: Planning is inconvenient, preparations may be costly and an ingrained folk myth says to prepare for a disaster is to encourage it.

This is all too common in Central Oregon.

Last November, I was at Swampy Lakes snow park near Bend, getting ready for a snowshoe trek. An older couple pulled up next to me, tourists, apparently, from the looks of their inappropriate clothing and rental equipment. They had no survival gear of any kind that I could see.

They struggled to put their snowshoes on, then asked if there were any maps around. I gave them one of mine, and offered to orient it for them with my compass.

They declined.

They also didn’t want the book of matches and a packet of firestarter I tried to give them. And here comes the quote that keeps the Search And Rescue teams busy:

“We’re just going out for quick outing,” the lady said. “We’re not going to do any of that wilderness survival stuff.”

…And she was absolutely right.

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Peter Kummerfeldt: How to choose the best saw for a survival kit

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Peter Kummerfeldt’s gear has been tested and refined over five decades of hands-on, in-the-field use. He choses a saw – every time – over an axe or hatchet for use in the backcountry,  Here’s why.

Three different types of saws: From left, is a Gerber folder; a Fiskar sliding blade, and a double-edged Pac-Saw Wyo.

by Peter Kummerfeldt

Cutting tools, in all of their variations, have been an integral part of my life. In my world the term “cutting tool” encompasses knives, saws and shears.

It does not include axes and here’s why. Nobody knows how to use them safely anymore!

In grandpa’s day someone had to fell trees, chop the wood into manageable lengths and then split it into pieces suitable for the kitchen stove or the furnace. With rare exceptions that’s unnecessary today. People of that era became very proficient in the use of axes.

When I began my Air Force survival instructor career we were issued an axe and instructed in its use. We were expected to be able to cut the wood needed to keep our students warm in the field regardless of the weather conditions. We, too, became very proficient with axes.

Today the only time axes are used are those all too infrequent opportunities we have to take the family camping or perhaps during the annual hunting trip. The gear is gathered and off we go to the woods.

In the hands of an inexperienced person an axe, be it hand axe or larger, is an accident looking for a place to happen! And happen it will! Axe injuries are often severe sometimes including amputations! Leave your axes at home and take a good saw!

I have never found myself handicapped because I chose to carry a saw rather than an axe. I can’t think of anything that I can do with an axe that I can’t do with a saw.

How, you ask, are you going to drive a tent peg with a saw?

My answer: “I’ll cut a chunk of wood and use it as a mallet!”

There are many saws available some of which are very useful and others not so much. Let’s take a look at a variety of them starting with the least useful.

Survival Wire Saws. These holdovers from WWII are still found in many survival kits and are commonly sold separately under the Coghlan’s brand. Avoid them. They don’t work.

Pocket Chain Saws. There are several varieties of these but only one that works well – the Pocket Chain Saw. This saw comes packed in a tin containing not only the saw but also two steel handles as well. Unlike the others this saw will cut through a four- inch limb in a couple of minutes with minimal effort on your part. The downside of this device is that it takes two hands to make it function. Being able to operate any tool with only one hand or arm is a distinct advantage when the other limb is injured.

The Swiss Army knife and Leatherman Waves have handy, small saw blades.

Folding Saws. Again there are many varieties of small folding blade saws. The smallest of these includes the three or four-inch long blades found on Swiss Army style pocketknives. The short blade length makes this type of saw totally impractical for producing firewood but may have some “improvising” utility. (Making needed “things” out of other available material.)

Longer folding saws may be more useful but again are limited by their short blade length. If you decide to carry one of these saws, select on that cuts both on the “pull” and on the “push.” Check the hinge carefully. Some are prone to loosen allowing the blade to fold back onto your hand causing injury.

Bow Saws. Generally bow saws have a longer blade than folding saws making them a more useful cutting tool. Two limiting factors should be considered: Bow saw blades are thin and narrow which makes them subject to bending and then breaking. Secondly, the height of the bow from blade to the top of the arch dictates the depth of the cut that can be made before the log being cut has to be re-positioned.

Non-folding Pruning Saws and those saws used for light tree limbing are very useful tools for cutting wood and snow blocks and for dismembering animal carcasses. An eighteen- inch blade length is ideal. This length is very efficient allowing for a full extension of your arm when sawing. The aggressive saw teeth do not bind up and quickly cut through large diameter wood without it having to be re-positioned. Beyond periodically tightening the screws that attach the handle to the blade and an annual sharpening this type of saw requires minimal maintenance.

Carpenter Saws, a longer version of the pruning saw, are equally suited to producing large quantities of firewood quickly. The drawback to a carpenter saw is length. Typically 24 inches long this type of saw is too long to fit in a backpack but is suitable for a vehicle survival kit or perhaps those who travel by horse.

Shears: When traveling beyond the limits of the tree line either by ascending to higher altitudes or moving toward the higher latitudes, where the only available fuel for fire will be scrubby willow and alder, shears work better than a saw for collecting firewood.

When selecting shears pick the kind where the upper blade cuts onto a flat surface – the anvil. The alternative, the type, where one blade passes by the other, tends to jam frequently. Select shears that ratchet rather than the type that require hand-strength to cut through apiece of wood.

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Book review: The Survival Medicine Handbook – what to do when help isn’t on the way

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What happens during a medical emergency when dialing 911 is not an option? What is your next move?

by Leon Pantenburg

Most first aid and medical manuals will tell you to seek a medical clinic or hospital as quickly as possible when an emergency occurs. It’s sound advice.

But what happens when 911 isn’t an option? Maybe there has been a major earthquake, tsunami or natural disaster, and the roads are out, and Life Flight helicopters are grounded. The cavalry isn’t coming.

The survival medicine handbookThis is when reality hits with a resounding thump, and you realize the only person available to deal with the medical emergency is you. And you will have to rely on whatever training you had.

This is the concept behind “The Survival Medicine Handbook,” Third Edition, revised and expanded by Joseph Alton, MD and Amy Alton ARNP.

Better known as Doctor Bones and Nurse Amy, the duo is widely known in the preparedness industry as the go-to couple for all things medical. Their stated goal is: “To put a medically prepared person in every family for any disaster.”

First aid manuals are a dime a dozen, and come in all shapes, configurations and sizes. There is a plethora of information about taking care of injuries on the trail. But most of the ones I’ve seen, including those designed for Third World areas, always end up recommending the readers to seek modern medical help.

That’s where this manual is different. What happens if a disaster overwhelms emergency responders? Or if a catastrophe, such as a flood or earthquake, prevents entrance into an area?

The Survival Medicine Handbook is based on the assumption that outside help won’t be available.

Read it from that standpoint.

I found the book to be a wealth of information and a treasure trove of simple tips for improvising. The reader will learn such tips as:

Improvisation may be key in dealing with a medical emergency.

Improvisation may be key in dealing with a medical emergency.

Improvise butterfly and wound closure bandages – from duct tape. I knew how to use butterfly bandages from a first aid class I took. I carry duct tape in every emergency kit I have, and tried this technique as soon as I read about it. The concept works really well.

Make a water filter out of a plastic soft drink bottle.

Items to include in a survival dental kit.

How to handle a mass casualty event when medical personnel are overwhelmed.

Essential oils and herbal teas: In a long term survival scenario, nature may be your only pharmacy. It is imperative to learn the medical benefits of plants that may grow in your garden. A whole section is devoted to identifying and discussing some of these plants.

Allergic to bee and/or wasp stings? You probably won’t know until one stings you. Learn how to identify and treat anaphylactic shock.

Q: So how would this book fit into your preparedness planning?

A: By starting you thinking about survival scenarios where there is no outside help.

Dr. John Leach wrote in his groundbreaking “Survival Psychology” book, that  in any emergency, 80 percent of the people present won’t have any idea what to do, 10 to 15 percent will do the wrong thing, and 10 to 15 percent will act appropriately. This small group will react, based on what training they have had.

You want to be in the group which is in the know.  A good place to start is by reading this book. It is full of practical, sound advice on how to handle many basic medical emergencies.

But no book is a substitute for a first aid class. The best investment in your family’s well-being is to have several members trained in basic first aid. One is not enough. The trained person might be the one needing help.

The next investment should be in some medical books – not downloads – that can be used as reference materials when the electricity goes down and the batteries run out.

I review a lot of preparedness books, and my wife generally peruses them, too. After the publication has been read and reviewed, it is generally donated to the local library.

But, at my wife’s suggestion, we’re keeping “The Survival Medical Handbook, Third edition,” and it will go into our survival/preparedness library. We’ll be ordering another as a gift to friends who live part-time on an isolated ranch in the Oregon high desert.

That’s the highest recommendation I can give a book. Get one.

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How to make a wound closure bandage with duct tape

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Have to improvise a wound closure device? Try duct tape.

by Leon Pantenburg

The more you learn, it seems, the more you realize how much more there is to learn.

That’s what happened after my first Wilderness First Aid class for Boy Scout leaders and volunteers. I got home after completing the class, and went through my first aid kit with a fine tooth comb. I threw out some things, but added many more.

Butterfly bandages or Steri-Strips are used to close wounds.

Butterfly bandages or Steri-Strips are used to close wounds.

One item I added was Steri-Strips. These are an H-shaped adhesive strip designed to close wounds. They adhere to the sides of the wound to pull it together. This, in some cases, can eliminate the need to suture or puncture the skin.

But suppose you run out or have to improvise this wound closure?

I was reading the third edition of “The Survival Medicine Handbook” by Joseph Alton, MD and Amy Alton ARNP when I found this simple method for improvising a steri-strip out of duct tape.

Here’s what you do:

This demo bandage shows how to improvise a butterfly bandage with duct tape.

This demo bandage shows how to improvise a butterfly bandage with duct tape.

Before doing anything, clean the wound and the area around it as best you can. This is where individual alcohol or other sterile wipes come in really handy.

Measure the wound to be closed.

Start out with a large size piece of duct tape.

Cut an “H” out of the tape.

Fold the center tabs inward – the idea is to create an area that won’t stick to the wound.

Trim the ends to fit the area.

Draw the edges of the wound together, and close it.

Naturally, you don’t want to rely on a makeshift bandage unless it’s absolutely necessary. Get some first aid training, make a complete emergency medical kit, and practice using it.

But this technique with duct tape might come in really handy at some point. Let’s hope you never have to use it!

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Storage food recipe: How to make country hash brown breakfast

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Survival food is sustenance that can be made easily during a survival or emergency situation with simple, long-term storage food items, cooked outdoors, using off-the-grid methods.

Country Hash Brown Breakfast

2 c potatoes, hash browns, dehydrated
3 Tbs onions, chopped, dehydrated
2 Tbs, mixed peppers, chopped, dehydrated

Dutch oven cooking is simple and delicious.

Dutch oven cooking is simple and delicious.

1 tsp sale
4 Tbs mushrooms, sliced, dehydrated
12 Tbs scrambled egg mix, mix with 12 Tbs water
1/2 c sausage, crumbles, freeze dried or canned, or use sausage TVP
1/2 c cheddar cheese, grated, or freeze dried mozzarella cheese, grated freeze dried

In medium pan, bring to a boil 6 cups of water, add potatoes, onion, mixed peppers and mushrooms, lower heat to medium, allow to cook until vegetables are tender, remove from heat and add sausage and let stand for five minutes to rehydrate.  Drain well.

Ina medium bowl, mix scrambled egg mix with water until smooth, set aside. Over medium heat in a large skillet, add a tablespoon of oil, add drained vegetables, slowly add scrambled egg mix and start to scramble. Continue cooking until eggs are almost set.

Sprinkle with cheese and stir again lightly. Turn off heat and let eggs finish setting up and cheese melt. Serve with your favorite breakfast toast.

For variety, you can also serve this with tortillas as breakfast burritos, and serve with salsa.

– From “Jan’s Fabulous Food Storage Recipes: Converting Stored Foods into Usable Meals” by Jan LaBaron

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Rain suit or poncho: What is the best rain gear for your outdoor survival needs?

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It rains outside, so carrying rain gear should be a no-brainer. But what is the best rain suit for your needs? Or, is a rain suit the best choice?

by Leon Pantenburg

Rain follows me. Over Christmas break, 1977,  John Nerness and I went backpacking in Death Valley, CA. Packing rain gear seemed like a waste of time – after all, the average annual rainfall is 2.36 inches. Some years it doesn’t rain at all.

Bob Patterson at waterfall on Blue Earth River, Minnesota.

Bob Patterson kayaking at a waterfall on the Blue Earth River, Minnesota. (Bob Patterson Photos)

But two days before Christmas, we ended up at the bar at Furnace Creek, waiting out a rain storm that washed out the road.

On my John Muir Trail through hike, it rained nine consecutive nights, with intermittent showers during the day. In Louisiana, during my 1980 Mississippi River canoe voyage, the rain lasted more than 40 hours at one stretch.

The moral of the story is you never truly know what the weather might hold and it’s always best to prepare for anything. And you better prepare for the worst!

I use and appreciate good raingear. But choosing the best for your needs may depend on different circumstances.

Essentially, rain gear choices boil down to two: poncho or rainsuit. I use both, depending on the circumstances and activity.

To help pick your raingear, here are some aspects to think about:

  • Anticipated temperatures: A summer rainstorm, where the temperatures won’t get much below 70 to 80 degrees is a lot different than a mixed sleet/rain storm, where the temps are hovering around freezing.
  • Activity: Sitting on a deer stand in the rain won’t generate near the body heat that hiking through the woods will. How much activity will you be doing, and how much heat will that generate?
  • Budget: You get what you pay for. Wearing a cheap rainsuit  or poncho during an extended rainstorm is guaranteed misery. The material may tear or the design may be inadequate to the conditions. Most frequently, hard use may cause it to leak at the seams.
  • Packing: How bulky is the gear? If  it takes up too much space, you might be tempted to leave it behind on a sunny day. Several hours later, you may end up really regretting that choice!

Poncho: A good poncho is my first choice for backpacking. I like the large, hooded ones that completely cover the pack and the hiker. You can work up quite a sweat hiking on some trails, and in those circumstances, wearing a rainsuit can feel like you’re inside a damp, cold plastic bag.

I’ve also worn a camouflaged poncho in a tree stand hunting whitetail deer in the rain. The poncho kept my blackpowder rifle dry so it would fire when needed.

But a poncho is not ideal.  A large poncho allows you to keep you and your gear reasonably dry. I say “reasonably” because wearing a poncho in the wind is like wearing a sail that whips around, exposing you and your gear to the rain. Wearing a poncho while paddling and portaging a canoe can be miserable.

Bob waits for the storm to blow over at Lake Agnes.

Rain suit: I have used several rain suits, and never found one that was entirely adequate. On my Mississippi River canoe trip, I spent the last month in almost  constant rain. My cheap plastic rain jacket was miserably ineffective.

But a rain suit is only as good as its design and composition, and on this matter, I defer to Bob Patterson, of Mankato, Minn.

Bob and I were  college roommates, and have done many, many camping, backpacking, climbing, canoeing and hunting trips together. Bob retired after a career as a fire fighter/emergency response professional, where he was outside in all weather conditions. He  is a regular at the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Northern Minnesota.

Here are some thoughts from Bob on rain suits:

It only takes a couple of hours for a sunny swimsuit trip to turn into a cold, wet, miserable experience.  This is what happened in 2009.  We were headed for Lac La Croix on the Canadian border in the Boundary Waters

In the two miles it took to cross Lake Agnes, the wind came up, making it too rough to safely canoe any farther.  The timing was close.  We just made it to the campsite we were shooting for.

For the next one-and-one-half days, we were held prisoner in the campsite by a 40-mph wind.  Temperatures dropped and periodic waves of rain were pushed through the area.  Proper clothing made the difference between making the best of a tolerable situation and suffering through a miserable one.

One note on waterproof/breathable material.  I still have at least 50 jackets, parkas etc., and have owned many more, made of about every kind of waterproof/breathable material on the market.

If you are going to use the coat for doing any work in the rain, get one with ventilationThere is no waterproof/breathable material that will transport perspiration fast enough to keep you dry on the inside if you’re putting out any kind of effort.  It doesn’t take much effort – cutting fire wood, walking with a pack, walking without a pack, pitching tents – to work up a sweat.

I prefer pit zips, but they also make side zips, pocket vents, back vents, and host of others.  The bottom line is:  to remain comfortable and dry, you have to get the moisture out, and material alone won’t do it adequately.

Keep your paddle in the water.

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Survival Recipe: How to make Buckaroo Beans with storage foods

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Anyone with storage supplies of  dried beans needs innovative ways to cook them. Here is a favorite starter recipe  from the Central Oregon Dutch Oven Society.

by Leon Pantenburg

People getting started in Dutch oven cooking are often kinda intimidated when it comes to participating in a Dutch Oven Gathering or cookoff. One of the fool-proof recipes that is usually recommended to these folks is Buckaroo Beans. This recipe, from Amber Franks, and published in the Central Oregon Dutch Oven Cookbook, Volume One, makes use of several kinds of beans.

Dried or storage foods can easily be substituted for the fresh equivalents. Another nice aspect of this dish is that the beans can be cooked and simmered over a campfire in a Dutch oven.

Check out the recipe – you’ll find yourself making it even when you don’t need to prepare a meal under survival circumstances!

Buckaroo Beans

1 lb ground beef

1 large onion, chopped

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp dry mustard

1/2 c ketchup

2 tsp vinegar

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp each of oregano, basil and dill

2 (14 oz) cans of kidney beans

1 (6 oz) can baby lima beans

1 (24 oz) can Boston style baked beans

In a 12-inch Dutch oven, brown hamburger with the chopped onion. Add seasonings and beans (undrained except for the lima beans). Mix together and add ketchup, vinegar and  Worcestershire sauce. Cook at about 325 degrees for about one hour.

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Knife review: The L.T. Wright Rogue River is a solid, do-it-all performer

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The Rogue River is a prime contender in the all-around camp knife category. Here’s why you should take a look at one.

by Leon Pantenburg

L.T. Wright supplied this knife for field testing. I was not paid to write this. The company has no sponsorship relationship with, and had no input into this review.

Talk about branding.

As soon as I heard about the L.T. Wright Rogue River I knew I had to have one. I live in Oregon, and the Rogue is about 100 miles from where I live. Several years ago, my wife and I did a week-long camping trip along the Rogue. It was summer, and I was already eyeing the river with the idea of doing some fall steelhead fishing along it.

The L.T. Wright Rouge River is designed to be a do-it-all camp knife.

The L.T. Wright Rouge River is designed to be a do-it-all camp knife.

If the knife lived up to its name, it would have to be as rugged as that whitewater river, and as tough and enduring as the people who float it.

The Rouge River was designed, according to the L.T. Wright website, to be “…small enough to be unobtrusive, yet large enough to meet the demands of outdoor life.”

That’s a tall order for any knife.

Right out of the box, the Rogue River grabbed my attention. This is my fifth L.T.Wright, and the Rouge has the craftsmanship I expect from the company. The blade was hair-popping sharp, and finish and craftsmanship is superb.

Here are the specs:

  • Total Length: 8 2/3″ (220mm)
  • Blade Length: 4″ (104mm)
  • Blade Thickness: 1/8″ (3.07mm)
  • Blade-Steel: A-2 Steel
  • Other Features: Ground Spine, Lanyard Hole, High-Quality Leather Sheath

I field test knives by using them for their intended purposes. In this case, the Rouge would be expected to perform all the tasks a camp knife would do, as well as “other duties as assigned.”

This can be anything from cleaning fish, to spreading peanut butter on crackers, to cutting rope to slicing a summer sausage. The knife handled all those jobs quite well.

The good stuff:

Toughness: A user knife has to be tough. For me, that means a quality steel blade bonded to a bulletproof handle. My Rouge has A2 steel and a micarta handle.

For me, this is the near-ideal combination for a tough knife. A plus was the green handle – a nod to my Irish ancestry!

The handle is a good fit for my glove-size large hands.

The handle is a good fit for my glove-size large hands.

Handle: The design of a handle is more important than the material in it. If a   handle doesn’t fit YOUR hand, it doesn’t matter how ergonomic it is for anyone else. I wear size-large gloves, and my right palm measures four inches across. The Rouge handle fits me just fine.

It is also large enough in diameter for me to get a good solid grip on it. (This is consistent through all the L.T. Wrights I own. Thank you, L.T., for making a handle for those of us with working man hands!)

Micarta, contrary to reason, gets more tacky when wet. This is important in a handle that may get bloody, slimy from fish goo and wet from slicing tomatoes.

Something else to consider when buying a knife – can I use it safely wearing gloves? In extreme cold, you don’t want to remove your gloves to make feather sticks or do other survival-related cutting tasks.

Point: The blade has a drop point, with the blade tip located about three-quarters up the blade from the cutting edge. This is a sturdy, useful configuration. It works well on a hunting knife, while still serving efficiently for overall use.

Blade length is just about perfect for an all-around knife. Four inches is a good choice for a knife that will be called upon to do just about anything. From the practical point of view, four inches is the minimum needed to scrape the bottom of a peanutbutter jar.

Blade thickness is 1/8-inch, which is a good compromise, and OK with me. For my tastes, it could go thinner and that would make it a better slicer. Thicker would be too much and turn the Rogue into a less-versatile pry bar.

Strong family resemblence; from top: Next Gen, Genesis, GNS and the Rouge river

Strong family resemblance; From top: Next Gen, Genesis, GNS and the Rouge River. All show some honest use.

Blade grind is another personal preference. The rouge comes with a flat grind and mini-bevel. It works very well for slicing and everything else. But – personal preference – I wish it was a full convex grind. I also prefer chocolate over vanilla, dogs over cats, and steaks well done.

Spine grind is something you don’t think much about until you need one. The Rouge spine is ground at 90 degrees, like an ice skate, which makes it usable to process tinder and shred pitchwood or scrape ferro rods for firemaking. Learn how to use the spine and you’ll save the primary edge.

Sheath: The Rouge comes with a sturdy leather sheath that protects the edge and the user. I particularly like the option of making the sheath into a dangler. IMHO, a dangler sheath is safer and more comfortable to carry than just about any other version. The Rouge sheath also has the option of being worn directly on a belt, if that is your preference.

Lanyard hole: Any knife I could be using in deep snow must have a lanyard hole. This is where the bright paracord or long streamer goes. Drop a knife in several feet of snow, and you’ve lost it. There are a lot of reasons to put a lanyard on a knife, and if you don’t have some way to attach it, you’re out of luck.

Made in the USA: All L.T. Wright knives are made in Wintersville, Ohio, by American craftspeople. Call the shop (like I did), and a pleasant person with a Midwestern accent answers. The company and workers pay taxes and support their community. Support American small business!

On a personal note, I appreciate it when American-made knives are named after American places. Somebody make an Okefenokee, Yellowstone, Teton or Atchafalaya!

And the bottom line is:

The Rouge River is a solid performer with no particular bells and whistles. If you’re looking for a well-built tool designed to work, the Rouge is for you. It can do just about everything well, and excels in some areas. You will like the knife, and use it a lot.
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Five tips to make a better feather stick for firemaking

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Suppose you need to start a fire, it’s been raining, and all the sticks are wet. Here’s how to make dry firestarting materials.

by Leon Pantenburg

It had rained hard all afternoon. I was in my tent, field testing a sleeping bag, when I was awakened by the rain stopping. The rain was part of a nine-day canoe trip in the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota, with a bunch of Boy Scouts.

Outside, one of the scouts was tasked with starting the evening campfire. But the rules were that he had to use a traditional flint-and-steel kit, and only natural materials found in the surrounding area. He walked out into the dripping forest, and picked the driest sticks he could find.

There weren’t many. But several feather sticks were made, and very quickly, a blazing campfire was going.

Making a feather stick is a survival firemaking skill that goes back to pre-history. The concept is simple: Whittle shavings off a stick, but leave them attached. The shaving stay dry, and ignite easily. The whole concept is easy.

But like everything, there is usually a more efficient way of doing things.

Here are five tips for making better feather sticks.

Find a soft wood, if possible: Pine, willow, aspen and other softwoods are easier to whittle, and ignite easily. Hard woods are more difficult to carve, and take more effort. You’ll have to use what you can find, but in a mixed tree forest, go for the softest wood.

Pitchwood can usually be found at the base of a dead stick on a live tree.

Pitchwood can usually be found at the base of a dead stick on a live tree.

Get a dead twig off a tree: If a stick is growing, it is going to be too green to use as an ignition material. In wet areas, the only dry wood may on a standing tree. Locate the dry side of the tree, and only pick sticks that snap crisply when broken. Sticks on the ground will absorb moisture, making them damp.

A bonus with pine trees is that the inch or so of the dead stick next to the living tree may be pitchwood. This is highly flammable and also waterproof. (Here’s how to find pitchwood.)

Whittle long, thin shavings: The thinner the better. remember, a feather stick is supposed to take your fire from the first ignition to a blaze. Don’t carve thick shavings.

Use a sharp knife: This sounds like one of those “well, duh…” pieces of advice. But until you’ve tried it, you can’t appreciate how hard it is to shave wood strips with a dull knife. Ditto with a serrated blade. If you’re going to get a knife that will be used for a lot of bushcraft and woodworking, get a blade with a scandi or convex grind. IMHO, these are the best edges for woodworking.

Make several feather sticks before trying to start the fire.

This fire starting technique is hardly rocket science, and anyone can do it with just about any knife. Incidentally, making feather sticks is a great way for younger kids to get started wood carving. Once the youngster learns safe knife handling, put him/her to making a bunch of feather sticks, and then let them start the campfire.

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Five tarp tips to make your emergency shelter secure and safe

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Tarp shelters can make a rainy campout much more bearable. In some emergencies, a tarp might save your life. Here are a few tips for making your tarp shelter more secure.

This simple A Frame tarp shelter is a quick emergency shelter, and can provide ample protection.

This simple A Frame tarp shelter is set up between two anchor points.

by Leon Pantenburg

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I hiked the 225-mile John Muir trail and completed a two-week southern loop of Yellowstone using the same piece of plastic visqueen as my only shelter. At the time, I was in my early-20s, just out of college, broke and trying to backpack long distances. My gear choices were directly related to my financial resources!

Today, even though I have several backpacking tents, I still frequently use a tarp. In some cases, such as making certain snow shelters, or when you need to go light, a tarp may be the best shelter choice.

Tarp shelters are only limited by your imagination. Regardless of how you’re rigging yours, here are a few proven tips I’ve learned that can help make your shelter more secure.

This timber hitch knot is effective for securing one end of a tarp. The harder it's pulled the more secure it gets. The knot is easy to untie.

This timber hitch knot is effective for securing one end of a tarp. The harder it’s pulled the more secure it gets. The knot is easy to untie.

1 – Start by learning a few simple knots, and practice tying them until you can produce an effective  knot in the dark or in bad weather. Chances are, that’s when you’ll most desperately need a quick emergency shelter, and you don’t want to be fumbling around.

A very simple, effective shelter is the A Frame.  Basically, the A Frame is  a line set up between two anchor points, with a tarp draped over it. An A Frame looks like a pup tent without ends.

These two knots will help you quickly set up a line between two anchor points.

Use a timber hitch first to secure one end of your line. This friction knot is simple to tie, and the more pressure is put on the knot,  the tighter it gets.

This trucker hitch allows the center line to be tightened by pulling on the tag end.

This version of a trucker hitch allows the center line to be tightened by pulling on the tag end.

Use a trucker hitch at the other end. This hitch allows you to tighten the centerline effectively by pulling on the tag, or loose, end of the cord. This hitch allows you to stretch a rope as tight as a banjo string. View the video.

2 – Choose your campsite with an eye toward pitching a tarp. Try to have at least one solid object to secure one end. Always check for dead or fallen branches above and around any potential tarp site! Ideally, the ground should be slightly slanted so rain will drain easily. You may have to dig trenches around the sides to aid drainage.

3 – Insert a small stick in a rope loop in the grommet.

The concept is simple. The line is threaded, double, through a grommet, and a stick is placed in the loop. This anchors the tarp at a particular point on the line, while at the same time allowing the rope to move and be tightened. The tarp can be evenly tightened and the stick/rope combination protects the grommets from being torn in heavy winds.

During one windy, rainy campout, we used this technique (I learned it  at a PeterKummerfeldt  survival seminar) to secure a tarp over the

Use a small stick to help secure the main center line. When pressure is put on one end, the line will tighten evenly, keeping the grommets from being torn out.

Use a small stick to help secure the main center line. When pressure is put on one end, the line will tighten evenly, keeping the grommets from being torn out.

cooking area and gear. The rain continued for two days, and the sticks and paracord kept the tarp taut and effective so the water drained off easily. In another instance, during a two-week campout, I left a tarp set up in this manner for 14 days. Other than the paracord stretching some, there were no problems at all.

Aluminum tent stakes weigh virtually nothing. Combined with a tarp, and about 25 feet of paracord, the items can be made into an effective emergency shelter.

Aluminum tent stakes weigh virtually nothing. Combined with a tarp, and about 25 feet of paracord, the items can be made into an effective emergency shelter.

4 – Take along aluminum tent stakes. They weigh hardly anything, and can be used to stake down the corners and sides of the tarp. While I typically use rocks to anchor the corner of a tarp, sometimes there aren’t any handy.

5 – Don’t forget your walking stick, ski poles or trekking poles as potential  supports for a tarp shelter. In a pinch, you can use a pair of these sticks or poles to make an A-frame shelter.

6 – Keep your corner grommets from tearing out. This tip came from my friend Bob Patterson, of Mankato, MN. Bob is a retired firefighter, and knots, ropes and lashings are his thing.

The idea here is to disperse the stress and strain, so the corner grommet doesn’t get torn out by a blast of wind or prolonged gusts. Basically, you thread a piece of paracord between the three grommets on a corner. The loops that result are threaded through a carabiner.  With the stress dispersed between three grommets, there is not an instance when the full brunt of a gust can be focused on one grommet. Check out the video.

All these tips can contribute to an efficient shelter that can get you out of the nasty weather quickly.  That hasty tarp shelter may be what tips the scales in favor of your survival.

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How to video: Find pitchwood, a natural, effective firestarter

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If you live in an area with pine trees, you probably have access to pitchwood, one of the most effective waterproof  firestarters ever. Here’s how to find it.
by Leon Pantenburg
Pitchwood is a resin-infused piece of pine that is waterproof and highly flammable.

Pitchwood is a resin-infused piece of pine that is waterproof and highly flammable.

In the northwest pine forests where I hang out, there is generally lots of pitchwood. If you know where to look, it is usually simple to find enough of this flammable material to get a good fire started quickly, regardless of the weather.

What is pitchwood? (Also commonly referred to known as Fatwood or “fat lighter,” “lighter wood,” “rich lighter,” “pine knot,” “lighter knot,” “heart pine” etc.)
According to the Forestry Forum: “…pines produce resin/pitch as a defense mechanism for wounds or insect attack.  When the bark is wounded, the tree pumps out resin to protect the wound from fungal attack or to expel an offending insect.
Over time as the heartwood forms with age, excess resin over the tree’s needs is shunted into the heartwood.  Over more time, this resin can totally permeate the heartwood to create a “pitch soaked” condition.  This high concentration of resin creates a very decay resistant heartwood.  If the tree dies and falls over, the sapwood (the living functioning part of the wood), decays fairly rapidly.  However, the pitch soaked heart can last for decades.”
A dead branch on a live pine tree will probably have some pitchwood at the junction.

A dead branch on a live pine tree will probably have some pitchwood at the joint or junction.

This resin-impregnated heartwood becomes hard and rot-resistant.  The joints where limbs intersect the trunk, can also be harvested. Most resinous pines can produce fatwood.

Fatwood is scar tissue of a damaged or injured pine tree, according to Forestry Forum. A lightning strike will scar a tree sometimes top to bottom without necessarily killing the tree.

The result scar of burnt bark will “scar” over with resin. Once hardened, the wood and bark around the area becomes rich with the flammable hardened resin.

Again, resin will harden forming “scar” tissue rich in fatwood. Hard yellowish resin can be found around the wound area. This can then be scraped off and used as a fire starter

So if you’re in a forest with pines, you should be able to find pitchwood.

Here’s where to look:

Find a dead branch on a living tree: This is usually the easiest place to find pitchwood. Saw the branch off even with the trunk, then saw off a three-inch chunk. That will probably be pitchwood, and you can split it into tiny pieces to help get the fire lit.


Look at the center of what appears to be a decayed pine stump. It may have pitchwood in it.

Stumps: A retired forester friend of mine told me to look for old stumps that were about waist high. That indicates the tree was cut in about the 1930s with a hand crosscut saw. In other parts of the country, just keep an eye out for old pine stumps. If they haven’t rotted, there is a chance there may be some pitchwood in the middle.


Pine knots can usually be found on the forest floor near a decayed pine tree trunk.

Pine knots: These are the preserved branch parts of an otherwise rotted tree. Because they are impregnated with resin, they last a long, long time, and you may be able to pick them up off the forest floor.

Once you get the hang of survival firemaking, you’ll automatically start looking for natural firestarters. On pine trees, just look for a wound that has a yellowish crust on the outside.

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Camping recipe | Try this bacon and onion foil wrap for a tasty campfire treat

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Foil wraps make campfire cooking simple and fun. This recipe is easy to make, and will be a snap to cook over a grill or campfire.
by Leon Pantenburg
This recipe was posted by a high school friend of mine,  Terri Harriman Gallahan. (And here’s how to make foil wraps.)

Bacon and Onion Foil Packet Potatoes

Foil wraps are a great way to start out beginners in off grid cooking.

Foil wraps are a great way to start out beginners in off grid cooking.

2 to 3 sheets of heavy-duty foil
1 packet onion soup powder
10-12 baby red potatoes, thinly sliced
12 slices of cooked and crumbled bacon
1 small onion thinly sliced and diced
1 cup cheese (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons butter
Sour cream for serving (optional)

Spray each sheet of foil with cooking spray. Top each piece with equal portions of potatoes, bacon, 1 packet onion soup powder and mix. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add 1 tablespoon of butter to each serving. Wrap securely.

Grill for 20 to 30 minutes. Or you can bake it in the oven, at 350° for about 35 minutes or till done. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Serve in foil, topped with sour cream if desired.

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10 ways to use a bandana as an urban/wilderness survival tool

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I carry a bandana, or handkerchief, everywhere. Here’s why you should, too.

by Leon Pantenburg

I’ve carried a handkerchief all my life as part of my every day carry items, and never thought anything of it. My dad always carried one, and he told me to, so I did.

The memo book is the base for a hip pocket notebook. Along with the writing implements and a bandana, this is a group of everyday carry items. (Pantenburg photo)

A handkerchief is part of my every day carry stuff. 

Back then, every gentleman carried a handkerchief, and one was considered part of proper apparel. Handkerchiefs were largely decorative, could have embroidered monograms, and weren’t really designed for real use.

At the other extreme is the wilderness – you never know when you might need a piece of cloth. Outdoors, you need a bandana – a larger, brightly-colored piece of cloth that will be used hard.

But times have changed. Recently, I came across a Facebook post which questioned the need for a handkerchief/bandana at all. With today’s easy access to tissues, toilet paper, disposable handy wipes and other similar products, there is no need – some claim – for the old-time apparel accessory.

Wrong thinking.

Here are 10 reasons to carry a handkerchief/bandana.

To loan out: To quote Rhett Butler (to Scarlett O’Hara): “Take my handkerchief, Scarlett. Never, at any crisis of your life, have I known you to have a handkerchief.” (Check out this final scene on the video – “Gone With the Wind” is a classic. Old movie buffs get it.)

I always carry two handkerchiefs when I go to a funeral or wedding – one for me and the other to loan out or give away. With everything else going on, many people won’t think about a handkerchief until it’s too late.

Pass a clean handkerchief down the row to someone in distress and in need of emotional support, and you’ve made their day better. It’s a nice thing to do.

In the backcountry, there are innumerable uses for a bandanna. I carry several, and bandannas are part of my emergency kits.

A shovel and toilet paper (in a waterproof container) are vital aspects of any backcountry privy construction. (Leon Pantenburg photos)

You can’t depend on TP being in the porta potty. (Leon Pantenburg photo)

Toilet paper: Taking care of number two can become your number one priority in the backcountry. Always carry toilet paper. But if you forget – or there is none at the campground outhouse – you’ll need to improvise, and be glad to have a bandanna.

Carry water: Use that bandanna to soak up moisture or filter sediment out of a water source. Suppose you gather water in a plastic bag – how would you carry it? One choice might be to tie the four corners diagonally to form a sack and carry the water container in it.

Head covering: Those of us follicly-challenged guys can verify that getting the top of your head sunburned is really painful. It is also dangerous – too much wind and sun exposure can contribute to heat stroke. A wet bandanna, worn pirate style, can offer a lot of protection to those thinning areas.

Bandanna headbands to sop up sweat are another traditional use.

Wear a bandanna as a neckerchief or underneath your baseball cap to shade your neck. Wear it like an old west robber to cover your nose, cheeks and the rest of your face.

Markers for trail: If you need to flag a path to something, tear up that brightly colored bandanna to make streamers. Flagging tape should be included in your gear, particularly if you’re big game hunting, and may need to mark a path to a downed animal.

The denim material is "cooked" in an airtight container until it is black. Then it will catch a spark.

Charcloth can be made from a 100-percent cotton bandanna.

Make charcloth: I usually wear wool or synthetic clothing outdoors, and charcloth made from them won’t catch a spark. But my 100-percent cotton bandanna has enough raw material to make numerous fires. If you need to make charcloth, start tearing off strips and charring it as needed.

Emergency first aid: Take along a first aid kit, and only use a bandanna as a last resort. But if necessary, a bandanna can be improvised into a sling, a splint, a pressure dressing, to help clean a wound etc.

Wipe your fingers: I carry single pack wet wipes with my EDC gear. (You never know when there might be a chance encounter with a gooey chocolate doughnut, or you’ll need to clean your hands.) Generally, wet wipes wors fine. But get off the pavement hiking or camping, and you don’t need a single use item.

Bandanna colors can represent many things: This grey bandanna shows support for brain cancer research

Bandanna colors can represent many things: Grey shows support for brain cancer research.

Tie a bandana on your belt when setting up camp, and you’ll have something to wipe your hands on. Tie a bandana on a kid’s belt around camp, and they might wipe their fingers on that instead of the front of their shirt. Maybe.

Show your true colors: Bandanas come in any color under the sun, and your favorite can express a sentiment. Lavender and purple, for example shows support for research of Alzheimer’s and of all types of cancer.  Grey, my favorite, shows support for brain cancer research.

Oh  – and a bandana/handkerchief is a great thing to have along anywhere to wipe your nose!

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Foil wrap campfire cooking | Make easy, tasty fuel for outdoor energy

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In an emergency, let’s hope you have food and know how to cook it. But what happens if you end up with a fire, some food staples, and a piece of aluminum foil – can you combine those to make a tasty meal?

All you need to make a foil dinner is aluminum foil, food and a heat source.

By Leon Pantenburg

In a survival situation, food should taste good. When (fill in the acronym) happens, previously-fussy eaters will find that hunger is the best sauce. But the same diet everyday will soon grow monotonous. (Really, how many MREs can you eat before all the entrees taste the same?)

Most people will eat whatever is available because they are hungry. But what about the old folks, little kids and toddlers? Diet monotony, or bland, repetitive tastes can cause them to just quit eating.

Obviously, this is dangerous – without the food energy, their bodies can’t produce warmth, they will grow weaker and their mental outlook and the group morale will deteriorate.

So food preparation in survival situations is important, and tasty food can start with just a piece of aluminum foil. (I carry a big piece in most of my survival kits!)

As part of a survival scenario, consider where you might be when disaster strikes, and what your needs

might be.  If I’m hunting, fishing, hiking or participating in some other vigorous activity, then food is fuel. At the end of the day, I want a lot to eat, fast, and taste is not so important. If convenience is the major consideration, I’ll eat whatever is available. Frequently, that might be something like jerky and hardtack.

But if I’m at a Central Oregon Dutch Oven Society outing, a group devoted to outdoor epicurean cuisine, then gourmet-style food prepared outside in a cast iron pot over coals is the reason for being there.

The lowly foil wrap can fit quite well into either category, and a well-prepared prepper or survivalist should know this

Hardtack, a very simple. long-lasting survival ration, is very easy to make and has the taste, texture and consistency of a fired brick!

Hardtack, a very simple. long-lasting survival ration, is very easy to make and has the taste, texture and consistency of a fired brick!

survival technique.  A wrap is nothing more than food bound up in aluminum foil and cooked over campfire coals or on a grill over charcoal. The wrap can be the main course, a side dish or a dessert. Foil wrap food can be as simple as a foiled baking potato or ear of corn on the cob or as complicated as a delicate salmon fillet smothered with fresh herbs and vegetables.

At elk or deer hunting camp, we frequently prepare a simple foil wrap of sliced potatoes and onions seasoned with some garlic and gobbed with butter the night before. We hunt all the next day, and whoever gets to camp first starts the fire. By the time everyone gets back after dark, there is a nice bed of coals to use with the Dutch ovens and foil wraps.

The wrap is tossed on the coals, biscuits are popped out of the tube into a Dutch oven, and elk or deer backstrap is sliced, dredged in flour and fried. Total time for a great meal is about 30 minutes.

Foil wraps are simple and fun and are a great way to make lunch with your kids. A wrap can make a nice meal to take along on an outing or day hike. A foil wrap stored in a plastic bag can be perfect for a noon meal in the backcountry. And everyone can make their own, dictated by their own tastes.

As a cooking merit badge counselor for Boy Scout Troop 18, I frequently run across youngsters who, according to their parents, are very fussy eaters.

Wraps can change that. Let the youngster decide what ingredients go into a wrap for lunch or dinner, but make sure there are veggies, some soup for a broth and fish or meat. The novelty of building your very own fire, and cooking over it, plus the positive peer pressure of the other kids will overshadow previous food prejudices.

In wilderness cooking, every recipe should start with soap and water or hand sanitizer. Even though the cooking conditions may be primitive, sanitation shouldn’t be, and a case of dysentery or giardia can taint those otherwise great memories.

Food preparation with foil wraps is simplicity itself, and for short day trips, all the cutting and dicing can be done at home. For longer trips, some dishes can be pre-made, wrapped and frozen. Insulate the frozen food well, place it in the bottom of your pack, and it should thaw out in time to make a fresh, hearty meal for the second night out.

To wrap the food, place it in the center of a rectangular piece of heavy duty foil, then bring the long edges together on top. Fold the long edge over once, then continue roll-folding until it’s snug over the food. There should be several inches at each open end that are clear of food.

Dutch oven cobbler

Dutch oven cobbler

Then, roll the ends in tightly, compressing the food and making sure that each end has at least three complete rolls. This prevents juices from escaping during cooking and gives you something to hang on to when turning the packet.

Sometimes, depending on what’s cooking, you’ll want to double wrap the packet. To avoid any leakage while transporting, put the completed package in a plastic bag. Then, when you’re done eating, put all the leftovers and used foil in the bag and carry it out. (Sounds like a tasty MRE, right?)

Temperatures for foil wrap cooking are best learned through experience and will depend to a certain extent on what is in the wrap. But a good rule of thumb is that the coals should be hot enough that you can place your hand an inch above the grate for about five seconds, but no longer, without discomfort.

You may put the wrap directly in the coals of a campfire, but make sure the fire isn’t too hot. A good idea is to rake some coals away from the flames and place the wrap directly on them. Obviously, you’ll need to watch the wrap closely.

Food is a critical item among preppers, survivalists, outdoorspeople  and anyone who needs energy. Storing and preserving food is a consideration for whatever disaster and/emergency might happen.

But regardless of what stockpiled food you may have or what you cook, a little planning, preparation and foil can make a great meal.

And that’s a wrap.

Try these recipes with your kids, or outdoors beginners to teach the foil wrap technique:


2 TSP butter or margarine

1 English muffin, split

12-inch square of foil

3 TBS canned pie filling, any flavor

Butter the outside of the muffin and place down on the shiny side of the foil. Top with pie filling. Butter the other muffin half and place on top of the fruit. Roll the foil over the muffin and make sure the ends are securely rolled.

Cook for about 15 minutes, moving the packet every few minutes. When done, the outside of the muffin should be browned. Be careful the filling will be extremely hot. Let cool before eating.


18-inch square of foil

2 whole small carrots

1 TBS of margarine or butter

1/2 tsp of dried herb mix

1/4 tsp lemon pepper or garlic pepper

Fresh fish fillets, about four to five ounces

Lay foil shiny side down on flat surface. Peel carrots and slice 1/4-inch thick. Arrange down the center of the foil. Cut butter into pats and distribute over the carrots. Place fish on top of the carrots and sprinkle the herbs and lemon pepper over the fillet. Cut the remaining butter into pats and distribute over the fish.Fold the foil around the fish and place the packet fish side upon coals. Cook for about 15 minutes, then flip and cook another eight to 10 minutes.

To serve, carefully open the packet; serve directly from the foil or transfer all the contents to an individual plate.


18-by-24-inch piece of heavy duty foil

1 TBS of barbecue sauce

1/4 small onion

5 ounces of lean ground beef or venison

1/4 tsp seasoned salt or garlic salt

1/2 small baking potato

1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced into pennies

Fold the foil in half, shiny side in. Place the barbecue sauce in the center. Peel onion, slice and arrange over the sauce. Combine ground meat and seasoned salt, mix well and form into oblong patty, about 4-by-3-by-3/4 inches and place on top of the onions. Peel potato and carrot and slice both 1/8-inch thick. Top patty with potatoes and carrots. Fold foil over the ingredients and be sure to seal the ends very well.

Place packet on grill or coals, and turn and rotate every 10 minutes. Total cooking time should be about 35 minutes.

To check for doneness, open packet. Vegetables should be tender and meat should be medium-well.


Pie filling

White or yellow cake mix

Pats of butter or margarine

This is a beginner recipe that is very popular with kids or first-time campers and adapts the time-honored dump cake to foil.

Place several tablespoons of pie filling on the foil, then top with cake mix and pats of butter. Fold the ingredients into the foil and place on the grill. Cook about 10 to 12 minutes on one side, then flip and cook another 5 to 10 minutes.

Video: How to wet form a leather knife sheath with water and a sponge

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So you want to customize that brand new leather knife sheath, but don’t want to spend a lot of time doing it. Here’s a way to wet form a sheath that is quick and easy.

By Leon Pantenburg

I have a lot of leather general-purpose knife sheaths, and generally, they work very well. Since they have to fit a variety of similar-sized knives, the general-purpose need to be relatively generic. Once the sheath has stretched and shrunk in the proper places, it probably will fit like a glove.

wet formed sheath 2

I wet-formed this leather sheath on my new Lon Humphrey Sterling. It was easy, and took hardly any time or effort.

But think about it: You’ve just invested in  a high-end or custom knife, and you want a sheath that REALLY fits. And you don’t want to wait a long time. Aside from ordering a custom leather piece, what can you do?

I saw this post and had to try out this technique of wet-fitting a leather sheath. You probably have all the materials you need in your kitchen.

I took my latest Lon Humphrey Sterling and followed the directions. It worked like a charm, and I’m deciding which knife/sheath combination to do next.

Want to wet form your own leather sheath? Here are step-by-step directions from KnivesShipFree.

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Reader feedback | On dryer lint, batonning firewood, finding directions by tree moss and other survival stuff

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Feeder and viewer feedback is greatly appreciated!

by Leon Pantenburg

I wouldn’t know what readers want more info about if there weren’t responses. Here are a few comments we’ve gotten about a variety of topics.

On Dryer lint as a survival firestarter? No way!

Dryer lint is just OK as a firestarter.

Dryer lint is just OK as a firestarter.

Leon, your article was very helpful. As a player in the fabric industry, I would like to add a few points and explain for many of your readers why results are great for some and iffy for others. The key to using dryer lint is choice of fiber. Cotton is perfect. All other fibers are not. Cotton blends aren’t good, either. Wool self extinguishes because of the lanolin contained therein. Synthetics don’t burn, they melt. Bottom line, pure cotton lint is great, and is the same as a cotton ball. But you have to keep it separate from all other fibers. – Steve Lee

I believe the point here is that dryer lint is unreliable, not that it can’t work. I prefer to use natural materials from the environment for starting fires but I always carry a supply of emergency tinder to use if I need that fire now and I don’t have time to gather what I need. I also practice building fires with those materials. If you are packing something for that purpose, you want it to be something that you know will work 100% of the time and dryer lint is not it. Try lighting it with a flint & steel. It might work this time, but not when you really need it. I attempted to light some lint out of my dryer a short time ago. I flamed for about 2 seconds then went out.

As was said earlier, modern fabrics are treated with flame retardant chemicals and won’t burn long enough to get your fire going. Cultivate knowledge of your environment so you won’t need something like dryer lint to start your fires, but also carry something that is 100% reliable because it is easy to become over-confident in your ability. I like char-cloth or cotton balls half soaked in paraffin wax. They light easily with a flint & steel or an ember from a bow drill and burn for several minutes even in wet conditions. Knowledge AND experience is power. – Aaron Benham

I’d thought about dryer lint as a tinder, but then as you noted, it’s not JUST cotton. Dirt, pet hair, human hair and worst synthetic polyesters. Clothing made from the later “engineered” material are created to be flame retardant or non combustible at all. Newer clothing is treated to be flame retardant also. So, you may be trying to start a fire with what might equate to asbestos tinder. Don’t think that’s gonna work too well…- Dave Whitford


“Because lint is unreliable” as I stated earlier. In my personal experience – it hasn’t ever been unreliable. But by all means, it’s your site, so keep repeating that it is.

“The bottom line is” that dryer lint is free and cotton balls are not. They are indeed cheap, but not free. Additionally, because as a trained EMT, I would not use cotton balls as a wound dressing unless they were the only option so the concept of carrying cotton balls specifically as wound dressing with an additional purpose of fire starting is – well – a non starter for me.

And of course, I would never put dryer lint on a wound, but then again this article isn’t about how to treat wounds. – Keith

Response – Lint in unreliable, IMHO, but people think they can depend on it for firemaking and they can’t. I tested hundreds of pieces of lint to arrive at this opinion. The bottom line: Cotton is so cheap, there is no savings using “free” lint. As long as cotton balls are less than a penny apiece there is no point. Many medical prescriptions come with cotton in the bottle, and that’s free, too.
Also, you can use cotton balls as part of a medical dressing, but never put dryer lint on a wound.
Dump the dryer lint

Splitting firewood by pounding a knife through it  is another sacred cow people have strong opinions about. Basically, with the correct wood and technique, you can split wood with virtually any knife.

Batonning firewood:

In the last 40 years, I have trained everything from Boy Scouts to U.S. Marines in survival skills/tactics…hiked the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, twice…found myself in 3 very real survival situations…taken part in more than 319 wilderness search and rescue operations….and spent a total of 3,353 nights (the combined equivalent of 9 years of my life) out in the wild, in every weather condition imaginable. Yet oddly enough…not once in those 40 years, has the need to beat my knife through a log with a stick ever been necessary. – Wilderness Endurance

“testing your knife for batoning wood should be done through the center, not a tiny piece off the edge. are you saying that therefore also testing how well an axe splits wood is pointless? because lets face it, any axe can split wood. not a test of how sturdy the blade is, but a test of how well it can split wood” – John Johnson
“The thing that’s ridiculous about batonning for survival is this: where the hell is all this saw-cut firewood coming from when you’re in an emergency survival situation out in the wild? The only reason to split wood rather than just finding smaller pieces for kindling is that the smaller pieces are wet. How are you doing these cross-grain cuts in big, wet logs when you’re out in the wilderness with just a knife? If you’re cutting logs like that successfully, you probably have an axe. If you have an axe, you don’t need to baton. It’s such a made-up thing, when I was a kid nobody ever even thought about doing that. You just always carried a forest axe when you were going out in the woods.” – aaaa

Response: The debate continues…

Survival Myth Busted: Finding directions by tree moss:

I have found the moss on the tree to be completely bogus and I hate that people have been told this for decades and believe it. Kind of a urban myth in a way. – Omega Tactical and Survival

Soooo…what happens in Oregon is the norm and nothing else is possible? Great, then I guess all

According to my compass, the moss was on the west side of this stump. (Leon Pantenburg photo))

According to my compass, the moss was on the west side of this stump. 

beaches are covered in rocks and “gooey”ducks and really pale people. If it comes to survival in a triple canopy situation, I’d grasp at any straw for a chance to live. I’d rather take a chance on moss than do nothing. But the sun always comes up every day, and without it the moss wouldn’t do jack. So just use the sun if you’re lost. Don’t rely on the direction of water if you’re on terrain or near the continental divide or fault lines. Always use the sun. – Big L

Response: Great philosophy – provided the sun is out. I also noticed this moss incongruity in Iowa, Minnesota, Mississippi, California and other states where I thought to look. I would never place my faith in moss for finding directions. If you’re already lost, you need to stay put! You could go in the wrong direction, further widening the search area for SAR.

Solar lights:

Solar lights have come a long way in the last few years, and wonder if they are worth adding to an “essentials” list yet?
Solar yard lights would make for a nice camp lantern with renewable (free) light. Am experimenting with going solar in my tent light. Some companies ( d.light for example) make solar lanterns being used in underdeveloped nations, and they are increasing the battery life to last for “years”. – Aaron

Response – I’m working on a solar, inflatable lamp review right now. I like them, and they’re safe for kids to use inside tents.

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Try this hardtack recipe for emergency food that lasts indefinately

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As a long term survival food,  hardtack has a proven track record.

by Leon Pantenburg

Hardtack is a traditional military ration that consists basically of flour, salt and water, baked into a cracker. Recipes abound, and it is possible to buy commercial versions.

Hardtack was a staple of military rations during the Civil War.

But the prepper/survivalist should consider using making hardtack. It is a good way to use up any surplus flour, and done correctly with the right recipe, the hardtack can last a long, long time.

The finished product is usually tastes pretty bland, but I was so hungry on one Idaho elk hunt that it tasted great! Peanut butter and jam helps make hardtack into a tasty snack.

This hardtack recipe was sent in by a Survivalcommonsense Youtube viewer, Thomas Emard. It is worth adding to your preparedness recipes. (I love it when readers/viewers send in recipes and survival tips!)

If you want to make the longest lasting, nutritional hardtack, here is the original British thrice-bake method for naval use. Life expectancy is indefinite. Keep it dry and it will last well over 100 years.

Thrice-baked British Hardtack


-10 Cups Whole Wheat Flour (I use Enriched)
-3.5 Cups Water (Filtered is ideal)
-3 Tablespoons Iodized Salt (Starting to see a pattern?)
-2 Tablespoons Salt Set-Aside


hardtack c Hardtack can be baked into whatever shapes are convenient.

Hardtack can be baked into whatever shapes are convenient.

-Preheat Oven to 250.
-Combine Salt and Water; stir until salt is no longer visible.
-Combine Flour and Saltwater into a dry dough. You should have to compress the dough in your hands for it to stick together.
-Place on heavily floured surface; roll out to 3/4 inch. A hardtack cutter is only $10. Invest in one.
-Cut with cutter, or with knife into roughly 3″x3″ squares.
-Create the ‘docks’ (holes). At least 16, but I use 25.
-Sprinkle tops with 1 Tablespoon of set-aside salt. Flip and sprinkle with remaining 1 Tablespoon.
-Bake on ungreased sheet for 3 hours; flip hardtack halfway through.
-Turn off oven and let cool with door closed. Remove hardtack when oven has fully cooled.
-Reheat the oven to 250 degrees. Bake again for 3 hours, flipping halfway through.
-Turn off oven and let cool with door closed. Remove hardtack when oven has fully cooled.
-Reheat the oven to 250 degrees. Bake a third time for 3 hours, flipping halfway through.
-Turn off oven and let cool with door closed.
-Let hardtack cool and harden for 3 days. Ideally, in the oven, but a counter top works just fine.
-Package and store. Salt and Desiccant packs are excellent preservers.

If kept dry, this will provide basic nutrition for an indefinite amount of time. We have hardtack from the Roman Empire that is still edible. Plan ahead, package properly, and this is a very cheap way to bulk up your supplies. I spent $50 on ingredients and I made over 5,000 crackers. So much that I actually gave a few boxes worth away to friends.

Keep in mind, the addition of ANYTHING else (honey, berries, butter, lard) will significantly reduce shelf life; from centuries to months.

By the way, Encamped Bread is a great alternative if you’re not on the march/in a survival situation. Same mixture, but bake at 250 for 15 minutes. Tack comes out soft and chewy, a great bread for collecting soup broth.

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Knife review: The Benchmade Griptilian is a hardworking, durable folder

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What’s a reliable, high quality lockblade folder? Check out the Benchmade 551 Griptilian.

by Leon Pantenburg

Knivesshipfree is a sponsor. The company did not supply a free knife for this review, and I was not paid to write this review.

I prefer to carry a rigid blade knife whenever practical, but there are times when a folder is the best choice. I don’t leave the house without a pocket knife, and which one depends on what I’m doing.

The Benchmade Griptillian is a sound choice for an all-around folding knife.

The Benchmade Griptilian is a sound choice for an all-around folding knife.

The urban pocket knife may be called upon to slice a bagel, spread peanut butter, open mail etc. In my case, I’d add  cutting the plastic bands that hold bundles of newspaper together. But my pocket knife must also work well outdoors in a wilderness setting.

My son Dan, a former Boy Scout, carries a knife every day also, but his knife needs are different. He lives in the Portland, Oregon area and plays in a band that tours regularly.

Dan uses a folder when setting up and tearing down the stage setups. One-handed opening is a plus, he says, when carrying gear and needing to cut something. His knife opens boxes, cuts duct and gaffer tape and does everything a utility needs to do.

We’re not the only ones who like this knife. The Griptilian is the recommended folder for several Search and Rescue teams, and these folks don’t mess around with gear that might not work in a pinch.

I also have criteria for picking a folder, based on years of use, experience and prejudice. If you’re interested in what I judge a folder on, click on pocket knives.

Here’s what I found out about the Griptilian:


Overall Length: 8.07″
Closed Length: 4.62″
Blade Length: 3.45″
Blade Thickness: 0.115″
Handle Thickness: 0.640″
Weight: 4.62oz.
Pocket Clip: Tip Up, Reversible
Lock Mechanism: AXIS® locking mechanism
Blade Material: 154CM Stainless Steel
Blade Hardness: 58-61HRC
Blade Style: Satin Finish, Modified Drop Point

Here’s the good things:

Handle: The 551 has a grip texture molded handle. The material doesn’t appear to transmit heat or cold. It also is comfortable in my hand, so extended whittling sessions are not a problem. The clip fits nicely in the hollow of  my hand, and so far, it hasn’t caused hot spots and subsequent blisters.

It comes in a variety of colors, which is important for camouflage. My daughter’s Griptilian has a pink handle. It looks cute, and generally doesn’t concern casual viewers. Dan specifically wanted a high visibility orange handle, so the knife could be easily spotted if it was left somewhere. Besides, what gang banger wants to steal a knife that can be seen?

Blade design: The point is a modified drop point, and that is a good choice for a knife that will be expected to do everything. At 3.45 inches, the length is handy for small tasks, but still able to do hard work. It would work quite well as a small game and deer hunting knife.

The AXIS is one of the best blade locks on the market.

The AXIS is one of the best blade locks on the market.

Blade lock: I don’t trust the safety on any firearm, or the lock on any folder. But the AXIS is one of the best blade locks on the market, IMO. It is smooth, locks up like a safe, and is easy to engage and disengage. With a little practice, the Griptilian can be opened and closed one-handed. With a little more practice, the knife can be opened as fast, or faster, than a flipper or assisted opening knife.

Dan’s Griptilian has had hard, extended use, and the lock is still tight, with no sign of wobble.

Steel: A pretty knife with crappy steel is a waste of money. The Benchmade Griptilian is made of 154CM and it’s excellent for this blade.

When Dan brought his Griptilian home after two months of hard use on the road, the blade was not particularly sharp. But all it took was a quick stropping to bring it back to hair-popping sharp.

Made in the USA: Benchmade knives are made in Oregon City, Oregon. This means the business and employees are state and federal taxpayers who contribute to their community. Support American small business!

The Griptilian retails for about $100. This is a fair price for a quality piece of cutlery that will last a long time.

Derrick Bohn, owner of Knivesshipfree, sells a lot of knives. He says the Griptilan gives the “best bang for your buck.”

“I suppose the best recommendation of these knives would be that when people come into our store and ask me to suggest a modern folder, I point to Benchmade — always,” Bohn said.

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Dr. Bones and Nurse Amy: What to do in the case of an active shooter

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After the Orlando mass shooting, many people are wondering what to do if caught in such a situation. Here is some sound advice from two medical experts.

By Leon Pantenburg

A few days before the Orlando tragedy, I was at the Mother Earth News Preparedness Expo in Albany, Oregon, and ran across a new bleeding control kit. I interviewed the creators of the kit, Dr. Bones and Nurse Amy, of the widely known and respected Doom and Bloom.

I already thought such a kit would be very valuable. After all, a person can bleed to death in minutes, long before that 911 call brings an ambulance. And what if you’re in the backcountry, miles from the nearest help?

And what if you’re on the scene of such an event as Orlando? The answer, obviously, would be to help to the extent of your abilities. A complete first aid kit will help but: “What should you do in this situation?”

Here’s what Doctor Bones and Nurse Amy recommend.

Dr. Bones and Nurse Amy are highly trained and experienced medical professionals.

Dr. Bones and Nurse Amy 

Joe Alton, M.D., aka Dr. Bones, is a physician  and fellow of the American College of Surgeons and the American College of OB/GYN.

Amy Alton, A.R.N.P., aka Nurse Amy, is an Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner.

Together, they’re the authors of the #1 Amazon bestseller in Survival Skills and Safety/First Aid “The Survival Medicine Handbook,” well-known speakers, podcasters, and YouTubers, as well as contributors to leading survival/homesteading magazines.

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Best beginner knife? We review the Mora 840 Companion

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What do you need in a beginner knife? Check out the Mora 840 Companion.

by Leon Pantenburg

One of the most common questions I get concerns recommendations for a first knife. That topic was discussed in another post: Ten things to consider when buying that first knife

About 12 years ago, Boy Scout Troop 18, in Bend, Oregon bought 40 Mora 840s in bright orange for the boys to use. The troop sold these to the boys for $8 each. Last year, the troop bought 50, and these are in constant use. They went for $10 each.

Troop 18 bought 50 Mora 840 Companions for the scouts to use.

Troop 18 bought 50 Mora 840 Companions for the scouts to use.

I have not seen any of these Moras break or fail in any way, despite the hard wear put on them. The boys use them for everything, from cleaning fish to Dutch oven cooking.

One of the adult leaders, former scoutmaster and Eagle Scout Pat Simning, has used his Mora for field dressing moose, caribou, deer, elk and wild hogs.  After last year’s elk hunt, Pat upgraded to a Bark River Snowy River.

My original 840 is still used frequently. It is a great canoe trip knife, and cleans fish nicely. It works well for whittling and just about any other task thrown at it.

If you are looking for an inexpensive, user knife to get started with, take a hard look at the Mora 840 Companion.

Mora is a brand. The town of Mora, Sweden has been a knife-making center for centuries. Smiths in Mora developed a basic, functional style that became known as the “Mora Knife.” Until recently there were two remaining large companies in Mora, K.J. Eriksson and Frosts of Mora. They have merged into “Mora of Sweden.”

These are several of my favorite Mora-style knives.

These are several of my favorite Mora-style knives.

Mora knives place function before style. They have the flat Scandinavian grind that goes cleanly to the edge, and come from the factory very sharp.

A Mora specialty is the laminated carbon blade. This is a three-part sandwich, with a core of high carbon steel protected by sides of tough lower carbon steel.

Here are the 840 Companion specs:

  • Fixed blade outdoor knife with 4.1-inch high carbon steel blade
  • Limited lifetime manufacturer’s warranty; Made in Sweden
  • Patterned, high-friction grip makes the knife comfortable to hold and easy to handle
  • Blade length: 4.1 inches (104 mm);
  • Blade thickness: 0.08 inch (2.0 mm); Overall length: 8.6 inch (218 mm); Weight w/ sheath: 3.9 oz. (110 g)

Here’s the good stuff:

Price: You can get an 840 for about $20 just about anywhere. Buy them in bulk, as the scouts do, and the knives are substantially cheaper. The Moras are designed to be almost-disposible utility knives, so you don’t have to worry about getting too attached, or bonding with your knife. But it’s OK if you do!

Design: The Scandinavians came up with their basic knife design back in the days of the Vikings. The Vikings were proponents of the big knife/little knife theory.

Their big knife might be a broadsword or some other long, sharp, pointy object, designed to cause great bodily harm. But their small knife, according to my research, would be a do-all, Mora-style blade. This small knife did the majority of the work because it was so handy, and was carried everywhere.

These are several of my favorite Mora-style knives.

After cleaning an eight-trout limit the handle on this Mora was still easy to use safely.

Handle: Knife makers hear constant bellyaching from me because they make knives with too-short handles. My palm measures four-inches across, and many otherwise excellent knives just don’t work for me.

The 840 handle is perfect for my hands, and it also works well for kids’ smaller grip. The rubber handle doesn’t get slippery during use, and the contours are almost perfect.

Blade length: The 4.1-inch blade is another excellent choice. For all-around use, it is really hard to beat a four-inch blade.

Point: The 840 has a slight drop point, which is a good option for an all-around user. Price being what it is, you can alter the point however you want to.

Grind: The Scandinavian Grind is a wide flat bevel that runs to the edge of the blade, according to Ragweed Forge, and there is little or no secondary bevel. This is a great grind to learn how to sharpen on. The bevel itself is the guide. Lay the edge so it is flat on a whetstone, and use a slicing motion. I think the scandi edge is the easiest to sharpen.

Steel: The Morakniv company uses blades of 12C27 stainless steel, UHB-20C carbon steel, Triflex steel, or very hard (HRC61) carbon steel laminated between softer alloyed steel. The 840 blade is made from the laminate, and its edge-holding ability is excellent.

Know this:

  • The 840 is not a full tang knife. It appears to be about a 3/4 tang. It will not be as strong as a full tang, and you (probably) won’t be able to drive it into a tree and stand on the handle.
  • The sheath is not safe to carry as is, IMO, and needs to be modified before it can be safely used. (Here’s how to modify it.)

IMHO, your first knife should be a rigid blade, and inexpensive. You won’t know exactly what you want and need until you use a knife some. The 840 is a good place to start, and if the pattern, design or handling aren’t suitable, you’re only out about 20 bucks.

If you do like the Mora style, you can find high end knives in that pattern.

Or maybe you’ll decide to stick with the 840, since it meets all your needs. In either situation, you can’t go wrong starting out with a Mora 840.

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Survival first aid | Check out this new emergency bleeding control kit

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Emergencies involving blood loss could occur anytime and anywhere, and you must be ready to deal with them.

by Leon Pantenburg

I was not paid to do this review, and has no sponsorship or advertising  relationship with Doom and Bloom™.

Probably the best time investment I ever made was to take a 20-hour Wilderness First Aid class required by the Boy Scouts for adult leaders. I used those skills twice, and I’m convinced the class saved me from having a massive, possibly fatal, heart attack. (Here’s the rest of that story.)

This Bleeding Control Kit contains the latest, most up-to-date tools for stopping bleeding.

This kit contains the latest, most up-to-date tools for stopping bleeding.

Stopping bleeding is a first aid skill that can’t be underestimated. From industrial accidents to natural disasters to terrorist attacks, lives are lost because someone can’t stop hemorrhaging. Often you only have seconds to get bleeding under control.

That’s why you might consider adding the First Aid Bleeding Control Kit by Doom and Bloom™. The kit  is compact, lightweight, and has the equipment necessary to save a life in any circumstance.

Over the past several years, Doom and Bloom™ has emerged as probably  the most respected website for emergency preparedness medicine.

Joe Alton, M.D., aka Dr. Bones, is a physician  and fellow of the American College of Surgeons and the American College of OB/GYN.

Amy Alton, A.R.N.P., aka Nurse Amy, is an Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner.

Dr. Bones and Nurse Amy are highly trained and experienced medical professionals.

Dr. Bones and Nurse Amy are highly-trained and experienced medical professionals.

Together, they’re the authors of the #1 Amazon bestseller in Survival Skills and Safety/First Aid “The Survival Medicine Handbook,” well-known speakers, podcasters, and YouTubers, as well as contributors to leading survival/homesteading magazines.

I ran into the duo at the Mother Earth News Preparedness Expo in Albany, Oregon recently. I had appeared on one of their podcasts, and really enjoyed meeting them face-to-face. (Check out our interview – Survivalcommonsense comes on about 8:30 into the podcast.)

This was before the Orlando shooting tragedy, but I was already interested in some sort of a bleeding control kit.

The idea for this specific kit came about, Amy said, because of the potential for injuries where stopping bleeding quickly is a dire necessity.

Contained in a bright, easy-to-open Mylar bag, this kit contains materials proven to be highly effective in controlling bleeding, she said,  including the SWAT tourniquet, compression dressings, gauze bandages, bandage scissors, and special hemostatic (blood-clotting) pads.

Most impressive, from my layman’s point of view, are the directions. These are included on waterproof 8.5 x 11 two-sided paper. They are simple, step-by-step numbered instructions that correspond to the numbered items.  Images of the item to be used and demonstrations of the required action, are along side the written instructions. This creates easy-to-follow steps, Amy said, with little chance of error.

“Anyone can use this kit, even someone who doesn’t speak English, “Amy said.

The instructions are presented in a way that is intuitive to non-medically trained people, she added, such as teachers, law enforcement officers, students, homeowners, parents, and employees.

This kit weighs 14 ounces and is approximately 6 x 9 inches. Several can be packed into an average medical bag or pack.

The Doom and Bloom Bleeding Control kit can help stop traumatic blood loss.

The Doom and Bloom Bleeding Control kit can help stop traumatic blood loss.

Here’s what is in the kit:


1 BANDAGE SCISSORS/SHEARS (to cut away clothing and expose wounds)

1 H&H COMPRESSED GAUZE 4.5 inches X 12 feet


1 SWAT (stretch, wrap and tuck) TOURNIQUET

2 CELOX-EMS 4 X 4 INCH HEMOSTATIC (blood clotting) PADS

1 MYLAR BLANKET (To keep victim warm) 52 inches X 84 inches

1 H&H COMPRESSION BANDAGE (Used over gauze to provide pressure directly on wound)

1 RED PLASTIC BAG (For waste disposal, or could be used as an improvised chest seal)


This kit is one of those products I don’t want to try out, and I can’t think of a way to realistically field test it. In such cases, I rely on the proven experts, and get their feedback.

I trust Dr. Bones and Nurse Amy for their educated, common sense approach to emergency and preparedness medical emergencies. If you are setting up a first aid kit (And everybody should!) go with proven gear.

And go to your local Red Cross, community college or somewhere and take a basic first aid class. This is one preparedness skill you REALLY don’t want to learn on the job!

Please click here to check out and subscribe to the YouTube channel, and here to subscribe to our weekly email update – thanks! Widgets


Can on a biomass stove? Sure – Check out the SilverFire Super Dragon stove

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Is it possible to can food on a biomass stove? Cooking for a lot of people and want to use a biomass stove? Check out this latest SilverFire biomass stove – it can answer both these questions.

by Leon Pantenburg

SilverFire is a sponsor. I was not paid to do this review.

“What about canning on a biomass stove? Can the heat be regulated well enough to use a pressure canner?”

This question has come up frequently. I used to say “no” because regulating the heat on a biomass stove was an iffy proposition. And with standard biomass stoves, the constant fuel feeding would be a really tedious chore.

This SilverFire forced air stove can regulate cooking heat very effectively.

This SilverFire forced air stove can regulate cooking heat very effectively.

But this latest innovation from SilverFire will change all that.

Biomass stoves are the wave of the future, IMHO. They are fueled with biomass materials, and produce intense cooking heat. The advantage over other types of stoves is that they operate on twigs, wood chips, small sticks and virtually any form of organic material. The downside is that many biomass stoves require almost constant fuel feeding, and the cooking temperature varies quickly with the fuel intake.

I stopped by the SilverFire booth at the June Mother Earth News Preparedness Expo in Albany, Oregon in June. I  found the company had addressed the canning issue with their newest stove, the SilverFire®Super Dragon with Pulse Width Modulater Fan Speed Control.

Several stoves were set up and working. I am familiar with the whole product line, and use them regularly. The SilverFire Scout® is my stove/cooking setup for backpacking – provided there are no fire closures in the area. My Survivor® is another winner.

I’ve used the Dragon Pot® extensively on Boy Scout campouts, and find it works well even when the temperatures are in the single digits. (Check out these SilverFire video product reviews.)

But the Super Dragon may top all these. It kicks out heat like a blow torch, and the output can be regulated with the twist of a dial from simmer to too damned hot.

Here’s some of the nuts and bolts about the Super Dragon:

The Super Dragon is a top lit updraft gasifier. It is simple to operate.  Insert vertical positioned fuel into the combustion chamber; next place a little tinder on top and light.  To fine tune the  flame adjust the primary and secondary air control knob on the stove.  These regulate air flow through mechanical orifices, designed in the fan housing.

This system works really well in all the SilverFire toploaders.

There are no electronic parts to fail, except possibly the commonly-available and durable 12V (0.48A) blower fan.  Super Dragon’s operate somewhat like a LPG gas stoves.

An off grid product should work without electricity, IMHO. The more gadgets and doodads added, the more complicated the item becomes, and more prone to failure. So I was curious to see how this forced air  fan could be powered.

Todd Albi demonstrates the SilverFire Scout at the Mother Earth News Preparedness Expo.

Todd Albi demonstrates the SilverFire Scout at the Mother Earth News Preparedness Expo.

Todd Albi, owner and designer of the SilverFire line of  biomass stoves, said the Super Dragon came about because people wanted more control over the heat output, and needed a way to regulate temperatures. They also needed high, sustained heat. This heat had to be accurate enough to work with a pressure canner.

This issue was solved with a fan powered with 110-volt AC adaptor that comes with every stove, a concentrator ring, and a cast iron trivet with pot supports.  This stove is designed for large volume pots, not a small pot.

The Speed Pulse Width Modulater (fan) is included with the Super Dragon stove for accurate heat control for canning, and low power cooking for delicate cooking (pancakes, crepes, eggs,  etc…).  Just plug in the PWM into the Super Dragon fan housing, add power cord and the dial control will allow you to set the fan speed at what ever setting you need.

In addition to the AV/DC option, the small fan easily runs off any 12 volt DC battery pack or small portable solar panel.

This solar panel easily powered the Super Dragon electric fan.

This solar panel easily powered the Super Dragon’s electric fan.

Albi was running the stove with the fan powered by a solar panel from Harbor Freight. The fan has a 12 volt input, meaning, it could be run off virtually any motorcycle, truck, forklift etc. battery. And Albi claims that means the stove fan could run almost indefinitely.

“The fan only draws three watts. The dome light on a truck pulls 12 watts,” Albi said. “You could get years of use off one forklift battery.”

The Super Dragon is easy to light, easily adjusted, lightweight, and cooks very rapidly.  Thin tight packed fuel produces a very rapid boil.  If you want to slow the cooking process down (e.g. slow cooking with cast iron) add thicker, dense fuel into the combustion chamber.

Dense material takes longer to burn, and is ideal for slow cooking on the charcoal ember selection setting.  Combustion in the Super Dragon produces minimal emissions, if using dry fuel.  The only residue left is minute fine ash, due to the efficient combustion.

I like the SilverFire line of products, and have recommended them for a variety of uses. For the prepper or preparedness types, who want the ability to can food when the power goes off, this is a really good investment.

Also, IMO, a good biomass-powered stove should be in every preparedness kit. The SilverFire Super Dragon is a good choice.

Please click here to check out and subscribe to the YouTube channel, and here to subscribe to our weekly email update – thanks! Widgets




Best EDC knife? We review the Bark River Gunny Vortex

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I didn’t need another Bark River Gunny. But I couldn’t pass up this latest addition to the Gunny line.

by Leon Pantenburg

KnivesShipFree is a sponsor, but the company did not supply a free knife and I was not paid to do this review.

I remember hearing something to the effect of  “If you really like a piece of equipment, buy two. The company will surely quit making it.”

Well, I just got my third Gunny, the Gunny Vortex, and so far it’s looking really good.

The Vortex is the latest in the popular Bark River Gunny line.

The Vortex is the latest in the popular Bark River Gunny line.


  • Overall Length: 9.5 Inches
  • Blade Length: 4.7 Inches
  • Blade Height: .90 Inch
  • Blade Thickness: .156 Inch
  • Blade Steel: A-2 tool Steel @ 58-60RC
  • Weight: 6 Ounces
  • Made in USA

High-quality leather sheath included.

My introduction to the Gunny came when I ran into a Texas big game guide. We talked knives and guns, and he recommended a Bark River Rampless Gunny for a deer hunting knife.

Years later, I got my first Gunny. After using it for awhile, I sent it back to the factory to get a full height convex grind, and clip point with swedge. That knife was later given to my sister, Karla Pantenburg Moore, one of the most savvy homesteader types I know.

My second Gunny is my most-carried EDC knife. (A very, very close second is my L.T. Wright Next Gen.) Most recently, it was used for opening boxes at the Mother Earth News Preparedness Expo in Albany, Oregon.

I was helping out at the Azure Standard booth, and we went through several dozen boxes of samples, catalogues and products. Dr. Bones and Nurse Amy had no knives, since they had to go through TSA at the airport, so I opened a box for them. (Check out the interview we did.)

Unboxing the Vortex showed the quality I expect from Bark River. The knife was hair-popping sharp, and finish was impeccable. It will be used later today to trim some elk meat, and if I get to go fishing this weekend, the Vortex will go along.

Here’s the good stuff:

Handle: I wear size large gloves, and any handle less than four inches long won’t work for me. The Gunny handle fits me really well. I’ve used Gunnys for virtually every out door task and never had a problem hanging onto the knife. This includes cleaning fish, where the handle got bloody and slimy.

The Vortex fits my glove-size large hands very well.

The Vortex fits my glove-size large hands very well.

Micarta is my first choice for a user knife, but I have a weakness for curly maple handles. They match the stock on my flintlock rifle, and the wood makes a durable, longlasting handle. Also, maple won’t break the bank. Strange as it may seem, the stabilized wood does not get slippery when wet with blood or fish slime.

Steel: The Vortex comes in A2. I’ve used A2 and CPM 3V extensively, and I can’t say that I can tell much difference. After the Mother Earth expo, I cleaned the tape residue off my Gunny’s CPM 3V blade and the knife was still really sharp. A few passes on the plain leather strop restored the edge to scary, wicked sharp.

But I’ve also used A2 a lot in my BR Sahara. Two years ago, I field dressed, skinned and quartered a whitetail buck without needing to sharpen the blade. Then I carved the Thanksgiving turkey. I finally stropped the blade because of this obsessive/compulsive thing I have about really, really sharp knives.

Grind: The Vortex comes with a full convex grind. That’s my first choice  in most of my user knives. I’ve sent knives back to the factory to have them reground to full convex. For everything from field dressing elk to cleaning panfish, convex works best for me.

But, a better choice for a dedicated bushcraft knife might be the scandi grind. In my experience, the scandi is a really good selection for a knife that will be used mostly for wood working, tinder processing and splitting firewood. It’s also easier for the beginner or newcomer to sharpen.

Point: The Vortex has a slight drop point, which is a good choice for an overall knife. My favorite remains a clip point with a swedge, and there is always the potential of my Vortex getting sent back to the factory for a re-grind. (Bark River will modify knife grinds and point for the cost of shipping and handling – $15.)

The Vortex, top, and the Gunny Hunter show a strong family resemblance.

The Vortex, top, and the Gunny Hunter show a strong family resemblance.

Blade length: The 4.7-inch blade is a good choice for a hunting/survival knife. My personal favorite blade length is about four to four-and-one-half inches long.

Blade thickness: The Vortex is .156 inches thick, which is a good choice for an all around knife. I personally prefer thinner blades for what I will use a knife for outdoors.

Sheath: The Vortex comes with a sturdy leather sheath that protects the edge and the carrier from each other. I modify virtually every sheath I get. I wet form the leather, to make it fit the knife better, and then add a D ring to the belt loop. These modifications are simple to do, and can add greatly to comfortable carry.

Made in USA: Every Bark River knife is made in Escanoba, Michigan, by American craftsmen. These folks, and the company, pay taxes and contribute to their community. Quality control and customer support has proven to be outstanding. Support American small business!

The jury is still out:

Both the Bravo Vortex and the Gunny Vortex come with “the handle slabs with a unique thumb index detent for use holding the knife in side grip and for indexing in the hand without having to look at the knife,” according to the BR website.

I haven’t had occasion to use these, and have not felt the need for such a modification. So, I will use this option whenever possible and let you know how it works out.

Do you need a Gunny Vortex?

It all boils down to is what you’re looking for in an overall, every day carry knife. I love my Gunny, and the Vortex will have to provide serious additional benefits before it replaces my standard Gunny.

Basically, the Vortex is a Gunny with a longer blade, with a detent in the handle. It’s the knife for you if a longer blade is preferred. And I can see where that longer blade could be handy, especially with a knife that may end up cleaning fish.

Price difference between the two is a wash – in A2, both knives start out at about $190.00.

If you’ve narrowed down your knife investment choices to either the Gunny Hunter or Vortex – congratulations! You will love either model, and may ending up getting one of each. That’s not a bad thing.

Please click here to check out and subscribe to the YouTube channel, and here to subscribe to our weekly email update – thanks! Widgets





D-Day: A La Pine, Oregon veteran recalls Omaha Beach landing

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Ahead of the amphibious assault soldiers lay “Fortress Europe.”  Behind them was the rising sea. At stake, was the final outcome of World War II. Here is the story of an American hero.

D Day Landing on Omaha Beach in World War II

Soldiers head for Omaha Beach from the Higgins Landing Craft.

by Leon Pantenburg

June 6, 2016 marks the 72th anniversary of D-Day. Today,  I honor my friend, Bob Shotwell, 92, of La Pine, Oregon, by re-posting his recollections.

As a member of the 149th Amphibious Combat Engineers, Private Shotwell landed in the first wave of the Dog Red section of Omaha Beach.

I was privileged to interview 12 Central Oregon World War II veterans for a Bend Bulletin Special Section “Vanishing Heroes,” which was published on Veterans Day, 2004.

Here is an excerpt from Private Shotwell’s story as he heads toward Omaha Beach at dawn in a Higgins landing craft.

“The noise was deafening. Big guns fired, engines on vehicles roared, men shouted and geysers of water erupted around our craft. It seemed like mass confusion.”

Still, Shotwell said he wasn’t really scared.

I felt excited, probably because I had no combat experience at all,” he said. “Like most kids, I had this feeling of invincibility and I though nothing could happen to me.”

These images of Omaha Beach were shot by Robert Capa, who landed with the 16th Regiment of the U.S. Army First Infantry in the first wave.first wave of

These images of Omaha Beach were shot by Robert Capa, who landed at “Easy Red” beach with the 16th regiment of the U.S. Army’s First Infantry.

That feeling “evaporated” as the boat stopped and the front ramp went down. The Germans had every inch of the beach presighted for accurate firing of mortars, machine guns, and 88mm cannons.

The slaughter started before the soldiers disembarked, and the first wave was almost decimated.

“Bits and pieces pop into focus…a hand. An arm with no body around it. A foot. A helmet with a head still in it,” Shotwell said. “I wondered if the next shell would be mine.”

By late afternoon, enough equipment had come ashore that the engineers could start clearing the wire. In the face of heavy fire, Shotwell and other engineers blew holes in the wire and advanced to the bluffs.

They stopped at nightfall, and Shotwell, exhausted, “slept fitfully” about halfway up the cliff.

By nightfalll of  June 6, about 175,00 Allied military personnel were ashore in France. But the cost had been very high – some 4,900 died on the beaches and  in the battle further inland that day.

Of the 40 combat engineers who landed at Dog Red in the first wave, only four were alive at the end of the day. The next morning, Shotwell reached the top of the cliffs.

He looked out to sea, over the armada of 5,00o anchored ships, with a sense of disbelief, and surprise that he was still alive.

“So this is France, I thought,” he said. “I had no idea of what I had just been a part of.”

Shotwell went on to fight in four major combat actions before the war was over. He was recommended for the Silver Star for his part in the crossing of the Rhine River in Germany.

Like many veterans, Shotwell rarely mentions his service, and initially, was reluctant to let me interview him for the “Vanishing Heroes” project.

His memories have “thankfully softened,” he said.

“War memories are best held in limbo,” he said. “They take on a softer glow that way. Most of my memories of World War II are of the pleasant things. I try to forget the bad things.”

But Shotwell does remember an attitude which helped him and his buddies get through the hell of Omaha Beach.

“We didn’t want to make a D Day type landing on some American beach, and we didn’t want to make a combat crossing of the Mississippi, and we didn’t want that kind of fighting going on in some small town in America,” Shotwell said. “We were thankful we could be the line of defense between our enemies and our homes.”

We can’t thank these WWII servicemembers enough, so let’s allow that respect to include  ALL veterans of ALL American wars: Thanks, and God bless you! Widgets

Best bushcraft knife? We review the American Knife Company Forest Knife

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Check out this bushcraft knife.

by Leon Pantenburg
Mors Kochanski needs no introduction to hardcore wilderness survival practitioners. He’s a Canadian bushcraft and wilderness survival instructor, naturalist and author, and his established skills and experience in boral forest survival helped set the standard.

The American Knife Company Forest knife is based on a tried and tested pattern.

The American Knife Company Forest knife is based on a tried and tested pattern.

Kochanski’s preferences in survival blades is very specific, and I think he’d like the Forest Knife from American Knife Company.

“The knife, in my opinion, should be unbreakable,” Kochanski writes in Bushcraft. “Therefore, it should have a full tang, and the handle should be made of something that will be unbreakable, and the blade should be of a thickness that you feel would take a lot of abuse … I would say it’s a serious disaster if your knife breaks while you’re using it… You should be able to try hard to abuse it, and it should serve to do all the things you need to do in survival … a knife that is very heavy to the feel and a continuous curvature, definitely almost all the way, and no real hint of a guard.”

Echoing Kochanski’s points, I’ve noticed that Cody Lundin prefers the Mora Classic (also 4.25” blade, 2/25” thick!), and Ray Mears prefers his custom knife with a 4.33” blade (4/25” thick).

I had just finished re-reading Bushcraft when the Forest Knife came out a few months ago, and noticed how it seemed to be built to Kochanski’s specifications. Curious, I ordered and tried it out.

Here are the specs:

  • Overall Length: 8.975 inches
  • Blade length: 4.250 Inches
  • Cutting Edge Length: 4 Inches
  • Blade Steel: A-2 Tool Steel @ 58-60RC
  • Blade Thickness: .140 Inch
  • Weight: 5.875 Ounces

Here are some of Kochanski’s blade requirements, and how the Forest Knife shapes up to them.

Unbreakable: I’d have to deliberately abuse this knife to the point of  breaking to test this, and that seems really counter intuitive. After testing at least a dozen blades with A2 steel,  I’ve found the material to be virtually unbreakable.

The same with micarta. It is my handle material of choice for user knives that will not have an easy life. Micarta gets almost tacky when wet, such as when the knife is being used to clean fish or gut game animals.

The combination of an A2 steel blade, with a micarta handle makes a near ideal combination for durability.

No real hint of a guard: Kochanski comments that in his 50 years of teaching, he has never seen a knife injury due to the lack of a guard on a knife.

The Forest knife handle doesn't have a guard, and it doesn't need one.

The Forest knife handle doesn’t have a guard, and it doesn’t need one.

A well-designed handle doesn’t need a guard, IMO, and a guard or hilt could affect how handy the knife is to use. For a fighting knife, a hand guard of some sort is probably a good idea. But really, knife fighting  is probably the last thing you’ll ever use a blade for (pun intended).

The Forest Knife has a well-designed, 4.72-inch-long smooth micarta handle that fits my (glove size) large hand well.

Continuous blade curvature: Check.

Point: The upswept point makes the knife handy to skin and drill holes in wood. It’s a good choice for a knife designed primarily for bushcraft.

Grind: The scandi grind is designed to be good for woodworking and all-around use. I find the grind easy to sharpen, and recommend it for beginners.

Easy to Sharpen: Use a knife and it will get dull. The better the steel, the longer this takes. A2 has great edge-holding ability, but at some point you’ll have to sharpen it.

The A2 and scandi grind are easy to work with. Basically, you use the angle grind for the guide, then either scrape or strop the edge on a stone. (Here’s more about sharpening.)

Full tang: Yep. The blade steel runs all the way through the handle, making it the strongest possible combination.

Lanyard for long tail: I like the option of adding a lanyard. In deep snow, which I’m in frequently during the winter, dropping your knife means it will probably be lost. And if your fingers are cold, you are more liable to fumble any tasks that requires fine motor skills.

Also, a bright lanyard may help you find that knife if it’s dropped in the brush. Use a lanyard to tie your knife to you and it won’t be lost.

The thicker blade and scandi grind don't make this the best knife for slicing.

The thicker blade and scandi grind don’t make this the best knife for slicing.

Thickness of blade: The 1/8-inch thickness is a good compromise between thin and too chunky. I wish the blade was a little thinner, because I think that makes a more effective blade that slices better.

Good steel is not fragile. In nearly 50 years of woods and wilderness rambling, I’ve never broken a blade, and I generally carry a thin blade.

Given that, I think a bushcraft blade should be a little thicker, just because of the tasks it might be called upon to do.

Should be able to shave wood and debark sticks: The Forest Knife is a good woodworking tool. The grind and ergonomic handle make it comfortable to use for long whittling sessions.

Pommel for hammering: The Forest knife has a solid pommel and it should take hard use with no problems. Personally, I won’t hammer with the end of a knife unless there is no other option. I generally have a hatchet or axe handy that can do any pounding or hammering job.

But if you are stuck in a crashed car or airplane and need to break a window to get out, you’ll use whatever you have. Hopefully, your knife can take the abuse.

The sheath has magnets in it, and holds the blade securely.

The sheath has magnets in it, and holds the blade safely and securely.

Sturdy sheath: A knife designed for constant carry should have a comfortable, sturdy sheath that protects the edge and the user. The Forest Knife sheath is superb, with magnets in the leather for secure carry. But the knife is still easy to remove to use.

The sheath can be carried horizontally or vertically. I like the squared end. To the casual observer the end may look like a pliers case when the end peeks out from under your shirt tail.

The good stuff:

I’ve carried this knife off and on for several months now, and I like it a lot. It was my knife of choice when I went camping in January in about four feet of snow. It was used frequently, and often when I was wearing gloves.

The generous handle always felt safe and secure in my hand. Incidentally, those of us who wear size large gloves appreciate a larger handle –  one too short or too thin is not safe to use in the cold.

I don’t like the Forest Knife for kitchen use, but then again, that’s not what it was designed for. The scandi grind and thick blade don’t make a good slicer, and it is not the best for cutting meat or cleaning fish.

But, it does more stuff well than the average knife that gets taken out into the woods.

Do you need a Forest Knife?

That depends on what you intend to use a knife for. It’s an OK knife for food preparation, and as a fishing knife. It would work fine as a hunting knife, and would be a passable skinner.

But the Forest Knife is outstanding as a tool for processing wood, tinder and related survival tasks. It excels in stripping bark off willows or poplar branches for making snowshoes, fish traps etc. The design makes it handy for drilling holes. The knife carries comfortably in its secure sheath.

The Forest Knife retails for about $250, more or less, depending on the handle. If you’re looking for a dedicated bushcraft knife, this would be a good choice.

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Check out these five top choices for camp shoes

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Your camp shoes allow you to take off those heavy, hot hiking boots you walked in all day backpacking. But you don’t want just any pair of shoes. Here are five choices.

by Leon Pantenburg

Want sensual feelings in your feet? Then take off your hot, sweaty socks and boots after a long hike, and walk barefoot on a wet sandbar. Guaranteed ahhhh…. feeling.

These flip-flops, river sandals and running/trekking shoes may all work as camp shoes.

These flip-flops, river sandals and running/trekking shoes may all work as camp shoes. Mine show heavy wear.

That being said, I won’t wade a creek barefoot with a pack or hang around camp with no foot protection on.

All it takes is to step on a broken beer bottle or thorn, and you may end up in a survival situation.  Even if you don’t step on glass, your foot might slip off river rocks and bruise or twist your foot. I also won’t hang around camp barefoot.

The answer is to have a lightweight pair of camp shoes. But not just any foot covering will do. You put on your camp shoes to hang out in camp, or to safely ford a creek. And if your boot fails (as one of mine did 12 days into a hike through Yellowstone’s backcountry) you would need a backup.

Thorofare Creek in Yellowstone is one of the most isolated places in the lower 48 states.Or what happens (like it did to me 12 days into Yellowstone hike) when your boot’s sole separates? Or you have to cross and

Here are five choices for camp shoes:

Crocs: These are the equivalent of slippers for around the camp. They offer some protection from stubbing your toes, and the soles are pretty sturdy. But they are bulky and heavy, and hard to pack along.

Crocs are not the best choice for camp shoes.

Crocs are not the best choice for camp shoes.

Flip flops: These are better than nothing, and that’s about all you can say. The only protection they offer is to the sole of your foot.

River sandals: Last October, I waded the John Day River in Oregon before dawn on opening day of deer season. My intention was to hunt the canyons all day if necessary, and return at dusk. For hiking, I would wear Danner Cougars, that were safely strapped to my daypack.

If I killed a deer, I would need to ford the river with a heavy load. The river sandals were lightweight and protected my feet on the wade over and back. They were easy to tie onto my daypack, and rode easily for several hours. If I killed a deer, I’d wear my Danners to ford the river on the return trip with a heavy load.

River sandals wouldn’t be my choice as backup hikers. Trail debris, and those danged tiny rocks get between your foot and the sandal, and you have to stop and remove the rocks. They also don’t offer much protection for your toes. River sandals are just OK for camp shoes.

Water shoes may be a good choice if a lot of wading is anticipated.

Water shoes may be a good choice if a lot of wading is anticipated.

Water shoes: These are form-fitting slippers, designed to dry out quickly. They work fine for kayaking and

canoeing, where you might be getting in and out of the canoe, portaging from lake to lake. They don’t have much support, and be careful when you’re hiking in them.

Running or trekking shoes: These are my favorites, because I generally have a pair that have been retired from active use. While they are heavier than some other choices, they may end up being worth their weight.

In 1977, I did a 14-day hike through the Yellowstone backcountry. I took the Thorofare Creek and South Boundary Trail trail after hiking along Yellowstone Lake, through one of the most isolated areas in the lower 48. Several days in, the creek became a several -mile slog through standing water, because the beavers had created a series of ponds. I hiked for a couple days in my soggy Adidas, and they were as comfortable as possible, under the circumstances.

Twelve days into the hike, the sole separated from my boot, and the Adidas became my only hiking shoes. I walked into the Old Faithful Inn area in a snowstorm, thankful to have packed the running shoes.

It’s easy to overpack, and end up with a heavy load that takes the joy out of  backpacking. But it would be worse to hurt your foot, or not have a backup pair of foot coverings.

Pick what you want, but think about alternate footwear, and how you may end up wearing them before you go!
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Thick or thin? What’s the best blade design for you?

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One of the things to consider before investing in a knife is how thick the blade should be.

by Leon Pantenburg

I’m that guy who hunkers down by a museum display case to check out a knife, powder horn or some pioneer artifact. Besides being a history nerd, I also have a more than passing interest in knives. I’m really passionate about historic knives.

This Bark River Saex combines an old design with modern materials.

This Bark River Saex combines an old design with modern materials.

IMO, you can tell a lot about practical knife designs by what kind of cutlery was carried for day-to-day use. Used to be, steel was expensive and hard to come by. A family might only have one or two knives, and they were used for everything. Subsequently, the designs tended to be extremely practical.

For example, the Saex design apparently was developed by European  peasants several hundred years ago. The Scandinavian EDC was a four-inch fixed blade with a design that goes back a thousand years to the days of square-sailed wooden ships and Viking raiders.

Probably no design was more researched and used than the Green River and Russell knives carried by the mountain men during the 1830s. These knives were a hot trade item, and sold by the barrel.

The Mountain Man, bottom, bears a strong resemblance to the replica Russell.

The modern Bark River Mountain Man, bottom, bears a strong resemblance to the well-used replica Russell.

The buyers knew what they wanted. Essentially, the trappers, Indians and settlers wanted a butcher knife, with a six-to-eight-inch blade. The knives frequently came without a handle, and the buyer would fabricate one out of wood, bone or leather.

I’ve seen originals of all these knives, plus swords and daggers from medieval periods. (Incidentally, I’ve never seen a choil on a knife made before the twentieth century.) Many of these originals resembled the inexpensive, but excellent, modern Old Hickory carbon steel butcher knives.

The point is that all these well-used originals had relatively thin blades, by today’s standards, even the butcher knives used to process buffalo and other big game.

On the other hand, thicker blades came to be associated with fighting knives. The original Bowie knife was designed in the 1830s for knife fighting, and took part of its design from the butcher knives widely used at the time. The Bowie had a thicker blade, with a pronounced hilt as a hand guard and to keep the hand from sliding onto the blade.

The World War II Marine Ka-Bar has a thick spine. But I think this was more because of steel shortages than anything else. The reasoning, IMO,  was probably that a lesser quality steel had to be thicker to withstand the rigors of combat.

A few years back, I sharpened a Ka-Bar from the the WWII era, and it was quite a job. The steel just wouldn’t hold an edge like it should.

Today, you can get any shape, style, design and handle you want. It seems like there are two schools of thought on blade thickness here: thick or thin.

For the sake of discussion, let’s call a thick blade anything over 1/8-inch.

If you’re thinking about investing in a knife that will have to do a multitude of outdoor survival-related tasks, what do you want in thickness: Thick or thin?

Here are some thoughts:

What is the main purpose of this knife, or what can you expect to use it for?

This Cold Steel SRK has served me well for more than 20 years.

This Cold Steel SRK served me well for more than 20 years.

In 1991, I bought a Cold Steel SRK to use as a backcountry big game hunting knife. My blade budget was limited, but I needed a reliable hunting knife that could gut, skin and quarter an elk or deer. Because I would be far from the roads, weight was an issue.

The knife also might be used in a survival situation, so it would need to be sturdy and hold an edge well.

My SRK was used hard in the Idaho backcountry for more than 20 years. It was the only knife I carried, other than a Swiss Army Classic, and it did everything.  The SRK  has field dressed more than 50 deer (it was loaned out a lot) and has been used on elk. Never, during this field work, did I need a thick blade.

Better slicing: I bet you’ll slice more potatoes and tomatoes with your camp knife, than you will stab bears. You will probably clean more fish than field dress elk.

Thin blades slice better than the thick ones. They also work better for butchering and skinning game animals.

A better story concerns Pat Simning, one of my hunting buddies. Several of us adult scout leaders bought $8 Mora 840 Companions several years ago when the troop bought a large quantity. Pat has used his Mora on deer, elk, caribou, moose and wild hogs. He is a physician and can easily afford a better knife, but he likes the thin blade’s slicing and skinning ability. (I let him try out my Bark River Snowy River on the last elk hunt. It’s his now.)

And don’t forget spreading peanut butter on crackers – this may be the most common task for any field knife!

Batonning wood: I think this is another fad, like choils. Who came up with this idea that you need to chop wood with a mid-sized knife? If I foresee the need to chop wood, I’ll take an axe. As it is, you can baton firewood with virtually any thickness of blade, including a butter knife.

Lateral strength: A thick blade has it over a thin blade when it comes to twisting or prying open ammo cases, rations boxes or other combat-related tasks. Military people should consider that when knife shopping. For the rest of us, though, probably the only situation where lateral strength is in the picture would be in field dressing and quartering a deer or elk.

The right knife can make all the difference when handling a downed big game animal.

The right knife can make all the difference when handling a downed big game animal.

Disjointing the hind quarters on an elk or deer is pretty straightforward – you cut the muscle around the leg until you can bend against the joint. Then, it’s relatively simple to cut the connective tissue and ligaments around the joint and pop the socket out.

I’ve done this many times with different knives, and never once did the blade fail. In nearly 50 years of hunting, fishing, long distance backpacking and canoeing,  and other outdoor activities, I’ve never broken a blade.

Toughness: All things being equal, it would seem that a thicker blade is tougher than a thin one of the same steel. But a thin blade of high quality may be more durable and able to resist user stress than a thick, lesser quality blade.

I prefer thinner blades. With today’s superior steels, a blade doesn’t need to be thick to be tough.

But you may decide you want a thicker blade.

Whatever. Above all, the blade design you choose has to work for you.

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Try these three fantastic Dutch oven venison recipes for campfire cooking

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Venison and Dutch ovens go together like peas and carrots. These recipes are delicious, easy to prepare and virtually foolproof. And, they’re delicious!  

by Leon Pantenburg

Cooking venison outdoors in a Dutch oven just seems so natural. After all, you’re celebrating a successful wild game harvest in the great outdoors, and what’s not to enjoy?

chicken fried steak

Chicken fried steak is a good way to cook a tougher piece of venison

Great venison taste starts as soon as the animal is down. The more quickly the carcass can be gutted, skinned and cooled, the best tasting the  meat will be. (Click here to read about keeping your venison from tasting gamey.)

But once the meat is taken care of, how do you cook it? Cookbooks abound, but here are three proven, go-to venison recipes I have cooked many times.

High Speed Venison is probably my favorite go-to recipe. The ingredients go on every hunting trip, and many camping outings. It’s quick and easy to make

Chicken Fried Steak is another go-to recipe if you have a cut of tougher meat. The “chicken fried” part, I assume, comes from cooking the seasoned, tenderized meat like you would fry chicken. Serve with mashed potatoes, gravy, steamed broccoli and sourdough biscuits and you have serious comfort food!

Venison stew is one of those dishes that works best when it cooks slowly for a while. In hunting camp, a simmering Dutch oven of stew will be appreciated by hungry hunters who might be coming back to camp at different times. Have hot biscuits ready, and you’ll have happy campers.

Making stew is simple: Start with a good base, add favorite vegetables and whatever else might be needed to make a good mixture. Stew is the traditional dish to use tougher cuts of meat in, since the long, slow cooking will tenderize just about anything, Add biscuits or some sort of quick bread, and you’ll soon convert tired, hungry hunters into happy campers.

Leon Pantenburg is an avid Dutch oven cook, judge, teacher and a charter member of the Central Oregon Dutch Oven Society. Along with team mates Linda Stephenson and Michael Pantenburg, he has been a two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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Edible plants video: How to tell look-alike poison iris from cattails

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You won’t starve in the wilderness if you can find cattails. Every part of the plant is edible. But don’t mistake a toxic look-alike, the poison iris, for the edible plant. Here is how to tell the difference.

by Leon Pantenburg

Look for the cattail head, regardless of the time of year. Toxic iris plants' leaves resemble the cattail's, but the iris don't have a similar head.

Look for the cattail head, regardless of the time of year. Toxic iris plants’ leaves resemble the cattail’s, but the iris don’t have a similar head.

Cattails have long been called the “survival supermarket,” because all parts are edible. If you look around, chances are you’ll find patches

of cattails in just about any swampy area. Paradoxically, the cattail may be one of the most prolific plants in desert areas. All cattails require is a constant source of moisture.

But there is a dangerous look-alike, called the Iris, which sometimes grows in the same swampy areas. Know the difference before you eat anything.

A rule of thumb is to look for the distinctive cigar-shaped head. The iris don’t have those. If you see a patch of what appears to be cattails, but there are no cigar heads, the plants may be irises.

This is an iris plant. (Thanks to Carol, an avid gardener, for sending this in!)

This is an iris plant. (Thanks to Carol, an avid gardener, for sending this in!)

     The iris is a common flowering plant that grows from rhizomes or bulbs, according to The rhizomes or bulbs contain a toxic chemical called irisin which can cause various symptoms if ingested.

Irises are considered to have low toxicity and skin irritation upon skin exposure is usually mild.   Here are the symptoms of iris poisoning:

If you’re lost overnight, chances are you won’t need to forage for food. But if you get to the point where you need to get some sort of sustenance, look for the cattail head. Don’t ingest any  plant unless you are positive it is safe.

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Five reasons to try wool socks for summer hiking comfort

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It may seem counter intuitive, but the best socks for hot summer hiking may be wool.

by Leon Pantenburg

I wear wool socks year-round for hiking. People get it in the winter, but wool in the summer seems a little strange. willie and joe socks cartoon

Well, the Bedouin nomads in the Arabian and Syrian deserts have been adapting to one of the harshest climates on earth for thousands of years. They wear long, wool robes to cope with the extreme heat and cold of desert nights.

According to OPB Lawrence of Arabia, Bedouins make their own clothes from the wool of their camels, sheep and goats. The design of the clothes is both functional and fashionable. They figured out that wool is a great material to regulate body temperature, and we can learn from them.

In my experience of learning things the hard way, what doesn’t work well is hiking in 100 percent cotton socks in waterproof or water resistant boots. Your foot perspiration will soon soak through the sock, and the boot will hold the moisture in. You’ll end up walking in perpetually soggy socks that soften your feet and cause blisters. Sore feet are a given.

These heavy Dachstein wool socks will add another ten degrees to your boot insulation.

These heavy Dachstein wool socks will add another ten degrees to your boot insulation.

Wool socks come in different thicknesses and styles, and they are worth considering if you’re planning a long trek, or just want to have comfortable feet on a desert hike. And wool dress socks may prove to be more comfortable in the office than other options.

Here’s five reasons why wool may be the best sock material for you:

Wool insulates well: That means the material keeps your feet warm, but also will keep your feet cooler. Your feet sweat normally, and hot temperatures will just make things worse. You’ll need a sock that can insulate from the ground and ambient heat, as well as providing padding.

Wool breathes: Waterproof or water resistant boots may be fine in colder weather, but they can be an abomination in hot weather. What works for me for desert hiking is a pair of Merrill Moab Ventilators, Head wool socks (from Costco) and ankle high, breathable gaiters.  Since the shoes and socks breath, and the gaiters keep out the sand, dirt and trail debris, this combination is comfortable, lightweight and practical.

torch socks 3

These Torch Merino wool hiking and biking socks work well with these Merrill shoes for desert hiking.

Wears well: Wool is tough. The socks I use regularly hold out well, and I can generally get at least a season of heavy use out of them. The premium wool socks can last a long, long time if you take care of them, and don’t wear them around the house as slippers!

Reasonably priced: Heavy wool socks for winter activities are an investment, and they don’t come cheap. You really get what you pay for.

But every fall, I buy a three-pack of Merino wool crew socks from Costco, and they’ll last me through a season of hunting, fishing and camping. They wear very well, and homeless people need warm socks. Recycle your good, used wool socks where they will be appreciated.

Comfort: I find wool socks to be the comfort kings. In the outdoor world, that’s about all I wear. In my indoor life, where I may wear a coat and tie to work, wool dress socks are standard.

You can get cheap socks at the bigger box stores for about a buck a pair, and for kicking around town they’ll probably be just fine. But it’s poor logic to buy good hiking boots and then wear cheap cotton socks in them.

Buy wool socks. You’ll be glad you did.
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Bone broth | Old time recipe reduces pet joint pain?

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Ever wonder what that magic ingredient was in grandma’s soup that made it so good-tasting and nourishing? Chances are it was bone broth, and your pet might benefit from it, too.

by Leon Pantenburg

I still use the 15-foot canoe that carried me all the way to the gulf.

In her younger days, Belle went everywhere with my family. This is a fishing trip on Oregon’s John Day River.

“Gotta go check in with the old bitch,” was my announcement at the end of class.  I teach newspaper production and writing at a local community college.

Immediately, some students think gangsta rap and assume the worst. They exchange wary glances, wondering who I am disrespecting. The English majors, or students who’ve heard this before,  groan and roll their eyes.

That comment is good for a yuck once a term, and then it rests until the next batch of students arrives.

My office supervisor is a Lab named Belle. She’s held that position, along with other responsibilities, since she was 12 weeks old and my kids picked her out at the Humane Society shelter. She is absolutely superb in her number one job requirement, which is hanging out with me. Belle will turn 16 in August.

The hiring committee picked Belle out of all the other puppies at the shelter.

In 2000, the hiring committee (my kids) chose Belle out of all the other puppies at the shelter.

Other duties include sleeping in my home office next to the computer,  listening as I read first drafts aloud, and assuring her human doesn’t spend too much time on the computer before going outside. She also walks me about 1-1/2 miles every night, in all sorts of weather. Three years ago, Naga, another black Lab, came on the scene as a trainee and eventual successor.

Like any old dog – in human years she’s almost 112 – Belle has developed a few age-related problems. She has a little more trouble getting up these days and doesn’t run and bound around like she used to. She is already on an arthritis medicine to ease the aches and pains in her hips. But Belle still insists on taking me and the trainee on the nightly walk.

Several weeks ago, I was making lentil soup, and had thawed out some elk bone broth to use as a base. I dribbled some broth on Belle’s food, and she seemed to do better on the walk that night. I started adding broth to her food regularly and the improvement has been very noticeable. Belle is more frisky, shows more energy,  doesn’t sleep as much and gets up from her bed easier.

This is no surprise to anyone in the know about bone broth. The broth is loaded with vitamins, nutrients and taste. (Here’s more info on making and using bone broth.)

To make bone broth, you first boil, then turn down the heat and simmer bones in water. I used elk bones from last year’s harvest, and broke them open with a hammer. You can probably get beef or pork bones from any butcher or supermarket.

Making bone broth is easy - just boil bones in water.

Making bone broth is easy – just boil bones in water.

The elk bones were put in my shrimp boil pan on the outdoor propane cooker, then simmered for several hours. Water was added as needed. This causes the nutrients to leach out. These nutrients include minerals from the bones but also the nutrients that are contained in the meat, skin, bone marrow, cartilage and tendons that attach to bones.

When you decide it’s done, let it cool, then strain out the bone splinters and other leftovers. Mine ends up being a thin gravy, and it’s a superb base for stews and  soups.

For your senior dog or cat, the broth might  supply nutrients that help ease the aches and pains of growing old. And even if it doesn’t, the broth adds a good taste to otherwise predictable dog or cat food.

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