Friday, January 28, 2011

A Quickie River-Cane Arrow

If you have access to river cane you can make some quick and effective arrows out of it. River cane is native to North America. Bamboo is not native, but it has escaped cultivation and is widely available in the wild. River cane makes better arrows because it is round. Bamboo has a tendency to have a groove or flat area on one side of the canes, which does not contribute to good flight. If you use bamboo to make arrows you must select the canes carefully. There are other native canes that can be used to make arrows but they are weaker than river cane. So I'm going to make my arrow out of river cane. Pictured below: River cane arrow at full draw.

Let me describe a cane arrow before we start gathering materials. A cane arrow has a cane shaft that is about as long as the distance from you armpit to the tip of your middle finger. Inserted into the front of the cane is a hardwood foreshaft that goes down into the cane about two inches and extends out from the cane about six to eight inches. This hardwood foreshaft may be sharpened to a point, or it may be notched and a metal, stone, or bone point attached to it. The rear of the cane is notched to fit your bow string. Feathers are tied to the cane using natural fiber, string, or animal sinew. If you can't find any feathers you can actually use leaves as fletchings. You can make arrows without fletchings (the Bushmen don't use fletchings on their arrows), but you will have to experiment to get the right balance between cane and foreshaft.

So, let's build an arrow. The first thing is to select the best canes that you can. This will save you work in the long run. Select canes that are as strait as possible. Do not select canes that have short joints. Look for canes that are not too tapered. The large end of the cane should be no larger in diameter than your little finger. Cut your canes a few inches longer on each end than you will need them. Canes that are not straight (which is nearly all of them) can be straightened by heating gently and bending them straight. Don't burn the cane. Hold it over coals rather than a flame, and keep the cane moving and turning so that it doesn't burn. Pictured below: Unstraightened piece of river cane.

When you have the cane as straight as you can get it, let it cool, then use your knife and/or a sandstone rock to smooth down the joints. You are now ready to cut the cane to length. First we'll cut the front end where the foreshaft will be inserted. You want the larger end of the cane to be the front of the arrow. Cut the cane so that you have about two inches of cane in front of the last joint. This way when you insert the foreshaft, it will rest on the cane joint. This will help to keep the foreshaft from being pushed down into the cane when the arrow strikes its target. The easiest way to cut the cane is to run you knife blade all of the way around the cane several times in order to score a groove into the cane. The cane should snap off cleanly when you bend it at the score mark. Pictured below: Straightened cane with joint smoothed down.

Now we need to cut of the back of the cane so that we'll have the proper length shaft. Stick the front of the cane (the end that you just cut) up under your armpit. Now extend you arm straight down. Where your middle finger touches the cane is the proper length. Cut the cane here. To cut a nock for your bowstring, take your knife and slice into the cane about a half inch from the back and shave a little off of both sides of the cane. Use your knife point to clean out the resulting U-shaped nock. Pictured below: Finished nock.

The foreshaft can be any straight piece of hardwood that is eight to ten inches long and about a quarter inch in diameter after the bark is removed. I usually use huckleberry, yaupon holly, or privet; but anything will do as long as it is solid and strong. Remove the bark, trim one end down so that it will slide all the way down into the first joint of the cane, and sharpen the other end to a point. You can fire harden the point by holding it over hot coals. Don't char the point; you just want to drive the moisture out of it to make it harder. You can just stick the foreshaft down into the cane, but I prefer to put a little heated pine sap on the foreshaft and glue it down into the cane. When the pine sap hardens it will hold the foreshaft securely in the cane. Pictured below: Foreshaft glued into front of cane.

In a survival situation any kind of feathers that you find in the woods will make a good fletching, but if you are just making arrows for practice you need to make sure that you are using legal feathers. A hawk or vulture feather that you find laying in the woods can end up costing you $2000 in fines if a game warden gets involved. I make sure my feathers are legal by buying them at the hobby store. You can buy chicken, duck, pheasant, and other feathers in packages.

The purpose of the fletching is to put some drag on the back of the arrow. With the back wanting to go slower than the front, the arrow will travel in a straighter course. Nicely split and glued feathers look nice on an arrow, but they are not at all necessary to make the arrow perform properly. As you can see from the photo below, I have taken two whole feathers, trimmed some off of the back, and used yucca fibers to tie them, laying flat, on opposite sides of the shaft. I put a little melted pine sap on the yucca fibers to hold them more securely in place. Pictured below: Fletching tied on with yucca fiber and sealed with pine-sap glue.

This arrow will now fly straight, and should be capable of killing small game. Total time on this arrow, not counting gathering materials, is about an hour. Pictured below: Finished green-wood bow and river-cane arrow.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Quickie Greenwood Survival Bow

I decided to do an experiment to see how quickly I could make a bow and arrow that would be capable of killing small game. I've made a lot of bows and arrows over the years. I've always taken the time to cure the wood and taken several days to shape and tiller the bow. I've always tried to produce a quality bow with a smooth finish. The same for my arrows. Carefully selected shafts, heated and straightened, knapped points, and fletchings and points attached with sinew and rawhide glue. So my experiment was going to be a big change. Here I am looking for "will it work" and "how fast can I build it using only a knife and hatchet?" And so, I started my experiment.

I decided to make my bow from what we call cedar in East Texas (it's really juniper). I selected juniper because it is fairly easy to work, it is readily available, and it has fairly good cast even when it is green. The down-side is that it is pretty brittle, and I would never make a cured bow of juniper unless I was going to put some kind of backing on it. This bow will probably work well for a while, but after it dries out it will probably break. But hey, the whole point is to simulate a survival situation where I make a quick workable bow that will last for a few days, or maybe a week. So, cedar it is.

Since cedar is abundant on my farm it only took me about 20 minutes to locate a suitable piece of wood. I selected a limb about an inch and a half in diameter without any side branches coming off of the portion that I wanted to use. The limb was also slightly curved. The curve was smooth and even throughout the length of the limb and I thought that this would give my bow a slight re-curve and help add a little power. I used the saw blade on my Swiss Army knife to cut the limb off. I then sawed off the other end of the limb and was left with an inch and a half diameter stave about four and a half feet long. It turned out to have a little jog in one end, but it wasn't too bad, and I decided that the stave would probably make a decent bow. Pictured below: Cedar limb that I cut for the bow.

One reason that I selected a fairly small stave is that I didn't want to have to remove a lot of wood in making the bow. Remember........ limited time and tools. I turned out that the stave was just right. I was able to use my hatchet like a splitting wedge and split the stave cleanly. I stood the stave up on end, placed the hatchet blade across the end, and used a piece of wood to tap the hatchet/wedge down through the stave. Cedar is a straight grained wood, so once I got it going it continued to split right down the middle. Pictured below: Scraping bark from stave.

I used the blade of my knife to scrape the bark off of the stave, and took a look at what I had. Being a tree limb, the stave was obviously tapered, so one end of my stave was thinner and narrower than the other end. If I was making a quality bow, I would have my straightedge and pencil and be measuring out dimensions. Under these circumstances I took my hatchet and started wacking away. Of course I did all my cutting on the belly and sides of the stave; never on the back. First I shaped the narrow end of the stave to a fairly smooth taper, then I started at the middle and worked toward the other end. When both ends of the stave were tapered about the same I started flexing the bow to see if the bend was even on each limb. It wasn't. Next came my knife and removing a little wood at a time to try and balance the limbs. When the limbs were pretty close I turned the knife blade up perpendicular and began scraping and smoothing things up a little. Last step on the bow was cutting the nocks. I used both the saw and blade on my knife to do this. Total time on shaping the bow; an hour and fifteen minutes. Pictured below: Belly of bow roughed out flat.

Now to make the bow shootable I needed a bow string. I walked back to where I knew a yucca plant was growing and cut about ten leaves off of it. I split the leaves into strips of fibers a little less than a sixteenth of an inch thick, and twisted the fibers up into a bowstring. For directions on how to make a bowstring see my post for Feb. 24, 2009. Total time to gather yucca, split it, and twist up the bowstring: one hour and thirty minutes. Pictured below: Yucca plant, yucca leaves, splitting yucca leaves into fibers, twisting up yucca fibers, and finished yucca bow sting.

I strung the bow, and it was pretty close to right-on. The limbs were bent pretty evenly. There was a little jog in one limb, but nothing to bad. It had good flex when I pulled it back, and although I wouldn't recommend it for bear hunting, I think it should easily take rabbits, coons, possums, and (if I was in a true survival situation) I would even try for a whitetail deer with it. Total time on project: about three hours.

Now I need to make a couple of arrows.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

My "On Person" Survival Kit

You can make preparations for an emergency by storing food, water, fuel, and medicine in your home. You can have a bug-out bag packed and waiting by the door. You can have survival equipment in your vehicle. And as luck would have it you won't be at home or in your vehicle when the need to survive arises. That's why I carry some basic survival equipment with me at all times. Now don't get the idea that I walk around with a backpack and utility belt all the time. I look about as normal as any person that you'd run into at the grocery store (more normal than a lot these days), but I am prepared.

For one thing I always carry a Swiss Army knife which is something a lot of "normal" people carry. This way I have a knife, two screwdrivers, a hand saw, a leather awl, tweezers, and a couple of other little gadgets with me at all times. I also keep a disposable cigarette lighter in my pocket, even though I don't smoke.

On my keychain I have a metal match, a fire striker that looks a lot like just another key on the ring, but can be used to strike up a fire with great ease.

My wristwatch is just a regular digital model that my son gave me. He knew that I would like it because it has a small compass attached to the wristband. The compass is accurate too. I made sure to check that.

In my wallet is my fishing license which comes in a little cardboard envelope. Also in the envelope is a card that holds 3 fish hooks, a needle, and about 10 feet of mono-filament fishing line; an a little sealed plastic bag with some cotton that has been coated with Vaseline. This make an excellent fire starter.

My most important survival tool that I always have with me is my brain. Knowledge and attitude are always the keys to survival. With them your chances of survival are good. Without them, it doesn't really matter what else you have.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Wet Weather Fire Building

Building a fire in wet weather presents special problems. Dry tinder and kindling are difficult to find, and even the driest materials that you find will be somewhat damp due to humidity. Igniting these materials requires more heat and longer burning time from your tinder. It also helps if you can locate highly flammable materials that will ignite in spite of high humidity.

In nice, dry conditions you can be a little lax in your fire building technique and still get a good fire going with little trouble. In wet weather everything must be perfect. You must choose your fire building location carefully, you must locate the best and driest materials for your fire, and you must have a near perfect fire lay. Finally you must be ready to protect and nurture the first flames of your fire until they have developed enough to become self-sustaining. Failure in any one of these areas means that you will have no fire.


Wet weather fires need to be on high ground to avoid flooding. Also, don’t dig a fire pit for your fire. Normally safety considerations would preclude building a fire under overhanging limbs, but sometimes the finer points of safety must yield to survival. I have found juniper trees to shed water better than any tree in my area, so when building a fire in the rain I look for a big juniper tree with the lowest limb eight to ten feet off the ground. Use common sense in a situation like this. Keep your fire small, and avoid using fuel that produces a lot of sparks. Of course, the fact that it is already raining will make the danger of a spreading fire very low. A big advantage of building your fire near a juniper tree is that you will have a ready supply of tinder in the form of juniper bark.


The best way to make sure that you have dry tinder is to carry it with you. One of the best and most compact sources of tinder is jute rope. Jute rope is medium brown in color and separates easily into very fine fibers. Jute rope was widely used at one time for making macramé plant hangers, and it is still available in hardware and hobby stores. A piece of one-quarter inch jute rope that is two feet long takes up hardly any room in a pack or jacket pocket. That same two feet of jute, when separated into fibers, will make a bundle of tinder the size of a soccer ball. Jute is highly flammable, in fact it burns a little too fast. Your tinder will burn a little longer if you mix the jute fibers about fifty-fifty with dried grass, shredded cedar bark, dry pine needles or some other form of natural tinder. If you can’t find any dry natural tinder, stick with straight Jute. If you mix the jute fibers with damp tinder, the jute will absorb moisture and become difficult to light. You will be better off using straight jute and making sure that your small kindling is the kind that will ignite rapidly from burning tinder. Pictured below: Jute rope and shredded jute.

Another very helpful item to carry in your pack or pocket is a beeswax candle stub. I stress beeswax because beeswax candles burn so much longer than paraffin candles. A one inch stub of beeswax candle will burn for up to forty-five minutes; long enough to dry out and ignite damp kindling.

Very effective fire starters can be made by filling an old toilet paper tube with a mixture of sawdust and melted paraffin See my post of December 2008 for exact instructions on how to make these fire starters. Throw a couple of these fire starters into your pack, or the pocket of your jacket before you go into the woods. When you get ready to use these fire starters, all you have to do is peal back a little bit of the cardboard along the spiral seam around the tube. Light this protruding bit of cardboard just like it is a wick. In a matter of moments the entire fire starter will be burning, and it will continue to burn for quite some time. You should have no trouble igniting damp kindling with one of these handy little devices. Pictured below: Paraffin fire starter.

Gathering natural tinder in the wilds is a fairly simple matter in dry weather. It becomes more difficult when the weather is damp and rainy. Rain is usually accompanied by wind, and if the wind is blowing from only one direction, most tree trunks should be fairly dry on one side. This is the side of the tree that you want to go to when you are looking for tinder and kindling.

One excellent source of dry tinder is the inner bark of the cedar or juniper tree. Look to the dryer side of the tree and start peeling off strips of the long brown fibrous bark. Just beneath the course outer bark, is a layer of softer inner bark. Because it is protected by the outer bark, and because you are removing it from the dry side of the tree; inner bark is usually dry and ready for fire starting. pictured below: Cedar bark on tree and shredded in hand.

The bark of the River Birch tree is excellent for wet weather fire starting. It is not fine enough to be ignited with flint and steel or a fire-bow-drill; but if you can apply a flame to it, this bark will burn like it has been soaked in kerosene. It is, in fact, very rich in oil as you will be able to tell by the black smoke that it puts off when burning. One tip about River Birch bark; don’t pack it tightly into a fire set-up. It will not burn well unless you leave it fairly loose where the oxygen can get to it. Pictured below: River birch bark on tree and in hand.

Many kinds of grasses have highly combustible seed heads on them in the fall and winter. Look for soft, downy seed heads on tall grasses. Some of these are so combustible that they will light even in a pouring rain. Dry cattail down does not make good tinder by itself, but it can be mixed in with other tinder to help catch the initial spark and spread it.


The hardest part of building a fire in wet weather often comes after the initial flame has been ignited. All too often, a person will take great pains to locate good tinder and get it burning, only to have their fire fail because the flame does not spread to the selected kindling. This can be extremely disheartening, especially if the tinder was hard to locate and ignite. Once you get that first flame, it is important both physically and psychologically to have it become a self-sustaining fire. To turn your flame into fire, you must use the right kindling. It must be dry, combustible, and small enough to ignite from the tinder.

The term kindling does not mean a specific size of wood. It merely refers to the wood that is ignited by burning tinder and then, in turn, ignites the larger fuel logs of a fire. In size, kindling may range from matchstick size to sticks that are two inches in diameter. The most common mistake in fire building is trying to start off with kindling that is too large. The initial layer of kindling that is placed over your tinder should be very small, no larger in diameter than a matchstick, and there should be a lot of it. This is important in any weather, but it is doubly important in wet weather. The next layer of kindling should be only slightly larger, and the layer after that only slightly larger again. I cannot stress strongly enough that each layer of material in your fire set-up must increase in diameter very gradually over the layer below it. This is the only way that you can be sure of your initial flame growing into a fire.

One of the best-known sources of dry kindling is squaw wood. Squaw wood refers to the very small, dead limbs that stick out from the lower trunks of trees. Trees that grow in thickets tend to overshadow their lower limbs. These limbs die but remain attached to the trunk. They are off of the ground, so they don’t absorb ground moisture. The foliage above them protects them, to some extent, from falling rain. To find good squaw wood just look to the dry side of the tree and start snapping off the brittle twigs that you find there. If they don’t snap, you don’t want them. Pine thickets are a great says be at the center where the pinesap has collected and concentrated itself in the wood. Rich pine will remain after the entire rest of the stump has turned to dust. The presence of rich pine can be confirmed by its smell. It has a strong turpentine aroma. Rich pine is extremely flammable. It will even burn after it has been submerged in water. Split a piece of rich pine up into varying sizes of kindling and lay it over your tinder. It will catch easily and burn for a good while, enabling you to ignite other kindling that may be a bit damp. Rich pine gives off a black, resinous smoke as it burns. Do not breath this smoke as the resins may damage your lungs. Do not cook over rich pine. The resinous smoke will impart a bad flavor to your food and may upset your stomach. Pictured below: Rich pine log and piece of rich pine burning.

If you have an axe you can always find dry wood by splitting open logs and removing the dry wood from inside of them. This method is hard work, but it is sure fire. You can split the dry inner wood up into varying sizes of kindling and even small fuel logs. Once you have these pieces of dry inner wood burning well, they will produce enough heat to dry out and ignite the damper portions of the log that you have split.

Fuel Logs

If the weather is wet it is very helpful to split fuel logs. This exposes the dry inner wood, which can be placed in contact with flames first. As the dry wood catches and burns it will help to dry out the remainder of the fuel logs. Fuel logs should be added as soon as possible so that all available heat can be used to dry them. Additional fuel logs should be lain as near as possible to the fire so that the heat will start to dry them even before they are added to the fire. Try not to lay the “fuel logs in waiting” directly on the ground where they will soak up water as fast as you can dry them out. Lay a couple of small logs down as a support and set a fuel log on top of and across them. Lay your fuel logs so that the sides are exposed to the fire, and rotate them regularly so that they dry on all sides. Once a fire is burning well, you can put some pretty damp logs on for fuel, and they will still ignite; but be careful not to put too many on at one time, or you may kill your fire. Use only very dead wood for fuel. Soft woods like pine and willow will ignite at lower temperatures than hardwoods like oak and hickory, but hardwoods will release more heat, burn for a longer time, and produce better coals. If you have access to both kinds of fuel, place some softwood on the fire first and then, after it catches well, add your hardwood.

Wet Weather Fire Lay

The teepee fire lay is excellent for wet weather. Each succeeding layer of material in the fire lay protects the layers below it from moisture, and the conical structure of the teepee fire lay helps shed water as the fire ignites. Pictured below: Teepee fire lay.

To start a teepee fire lay you will need three sticks to serve as the base of the teepee. These sticks should be about a quarter of an inch in diameter and about a foot long. Shove the bases of these sticks into the ground with an equal distance between them to form a tri-pod. The sticks should slope in at a forty-five degree angle and should cross about two inches from the top. This will leave you with eight inches of space inside the tripod for tinder. Fill the interior of the tri-pod with the driest and finest tinder that you can find. Rather than placing the tinder flat on the ground, try and push it up into the top of the tri-pod leaving a hollow, or small cave, at the bottom of the tinder. This is where you will ignite the fire, so it should face into the wind.

Now begin leaning small sticks of kindling vertically around the tri-pod. Use very small, very dry twigs for this. Cover the outside of the teepee completely will twigs except for a small opening on the upwind side that will give you access to tinder. Add additional layers of kindling, gradually increasing the size of the kindling with each layer. The final layer of kindling may be as large as three-quarters of an inch in diameter.

Lighting Your Fire in Wet Weather

When you have gathered all of the necessary materials and prepared your fire lay, it is time to ignite the fire. If you have a candle stub or a fire starter with you, you can place it into the small tinder cave inside of the teepee and ignite the fire starter. If you do not have a fire starter, you will need to take a small handful of dry tinder and light it outside of the teepee. When this bundle of tinder is burning well, shove it into the tinder cave inside of the teepee. If your materials are dry, and your fire lay is correct, the flames from you tinder should spread rapidly through the kindling; and you should have the beginnings of a good fire. When it is apparent that your fire is going to catch, you should begin adding larger pieces of kindling and then fuel logs on the fire. Try to add the driest wood that you have first so that the heat from this material can dry and ignite some of the damper wood that you will be forced to use. Pictured below: Lighting teepee fire and teepee fire burning.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Homemade Tomato Soup from Your Food Storage

This is a recipe for homemade tomato soup that I make entirely from ingredients in my food storage. Why, you ask, don't I just keep canned tomato soup in my food storage? Well, I do; but I only keep a couple of cans. The reason for this is that tomato soup can only be used for tomato soup. Stewed tomatoes and tomato sauce can be used in lot of different recipes, so I keep more of them on hand. Besides, this soup tastes so much better than canned soup that there is no comparison. Here's the recipe:

1 can stewed tomatoes (sliced or whole)
1 small can tomato sauce
1 cup water
2 tablespoons dehydrated onion
1/2 teaspoon dried garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cooking oil or canned butter

1. Soak the dehydrated onion for 1/2 hour until it is soft then drain
2. Open stewed tomatoes and chop fairly small. Be sure to same the juice
3. Open tomato sauce and have it ready to use
4. Heat oil in a cook pot and sauté onions until translucent. Add garlic and pepper to sautéing onion.
5. Add chopped stewed tomatoes, tomato sauce, and 1 cup of water to sautéed onions.
6. Add salt and stir.
7. Let soup simmer for 20 minutes, then taste and add salt and/or pepper as needed.

A couple of notes: (1) when you make this with tomatoes fresh from the garden, it is even better, and (2) if you have dried tomatoes from you garden, you can substitute a handful of crushed dried tomatoes and another cup of water for the stewed tomatoes.

That's it. Once you've tried this recipe you'll never eat canned tomato soup again.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Bugs and Snakes - If You're Really Hungry!

Every culture has its own prejudices concerning what foods it will and won't eat. In some oriental countries snakes and cats are considered a delicacy, but cheese is considered disgusting. In certain parts of Mexico exotic dishes are made out of the fungus that grows on corn, and many Native American tribes ate raw liver and boiled dog but would have been horrified at the thought of eating fish or pork. If you are living off of the land, however, you must put aside your food prejudices and take advantage of whatever is available that will keep you alive. Yes, even creepy-crawly things. You might be surprised at how tasty some of these critters really are if you will just judge them by taste and not emotion.

Grasshoppers are an abundant source of protein. In many native cultures they are a regular part of the diet. The best time to hunt for grasshoppers is in the cool of the morning when they are lethargic and easy to catch. You can walk around with a bag and pick them off of foliage as easily as picking berries. When the sun warms them up they are considerably harder to catch, in fact you may burn more calories trying to run them down than you will gain by eating them.

To prepare grasshoppers for consumption you should remove the wings, legs and head. You may cook grasshoppers by roasting them on a heated flat rock, or by skewering several of them on a sharpened twig and cooking over an open fire. Always cook grasshoppers in order to kill any parasites that may be living in the insect's digestive tract. Cooked grasshoppers do not taste bad. I think they taste a little like filberts or brazil nuts. I personally like them with a little honey on them. I understand that this is also how John the Baptist preferred his grasshoppers.

Grub worms are disgusting to think about, but in truth they don't taste bad at all. To prepare grubs just pinch of the yellow head (I don't think there's anything harmful about the head, but it is kind of bitter). The only time I have eaten grub worms, we roasted them in a skillet with a little salt. They swell a little as they cook and the outside turns a light brown. I thought that the grubs tasted like lobster. They are a good source of fat, which is the hardest food substance to find in the wild.

Many people have eaten snake meat as a novelty, and you have probably heard that it tastes like chicken. I guess that it depends of what kind of snake you are eating. I have eaten banded water snakes, rattlesnakes, copperheads, and water moccasins and I really didn't think that any of them tasted like chicken. The snakes that I have eaten seemed to have fairly stringy meat (maybe a little like dark meat turkey) and a lot of bones. Water moccasin, which is my least favorite, has a distinctly fishy smell. But if you are hungry, which I was on at least one of these occasions, a snake can taste pretty good.

A friend of mine who went on an extended desert survival trip said that small lizards were his most consistent source of protein. I have never tried a lizard, so I can't vouch for their taste; but I guess if I were hungry enough they would taste pretty good. Like the old mountain men said, "Meat's meat." One word of warning, don't ever eat the meat of a poisonous snake that has bitten itself. I have heard on the one hand that cooking will kill the poison, and I have heard on the other hand that people have died from this. My rule is don't take unnecessary chances.