Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Maintaining a Straight Course in the Wilderness

Of course the best way to stay on course in the wilderness is with a compass, but you may be in a circumstance where you need to travel through the wilderness and you don't have a compass.  You would think that traveling in a straight line would be an easy thing, but it is not.  It is very common for people who are lost in the wilderness to walk in circles.  If you think this would not apply to you, try the following experiment:

1. Go out into a large field, parking lot, or other unobstructed area.  It's a really good idea to have a friend with you to stop you from running into something or walking out into the street.
2. Take a sighting on an object or landmark on the opposite side of the field.
3. Put on a blindfold and walk in a straight line toward your landmark.
4. When you take the blindfold off, I guarantee that you will be nowhere near your goal.

You see everyone has one leg that is a little shorter than the other, and everyone has one leg that is a little stronger than the other.  The difference in the stride of your right leg and your left leg may be tiny, but over the course of thousands of steps it is enough to cause you to move in a curved path.  Eventually you will curve all the way around and end up back where you started.

The only way to stay on a straight course without a compass is to use landmarks.  You need to begin your journey from a recognizable landmark, sight on a distant landmark, and walk toward it.  Turn back on a regular basis and note the location of your starting landmark.  When you reach your goal, look back to the landmark that you started from, then turn to the front and select another landmark that will keep you moving in the same direction.   This method will work over long distances if the country is fairly open.

If you are in dense forest you can use the same method on a much smaller scale, sighting from tree to tree in a straight line.  It is time consuming, but not as time consuming as walking for two days only to end up back where you started from.

Legend has it that the early Spanish explorers could only cross the vast, treeless plains of North Texas by driving stakes in the ground and sighting from stake to stake in order to keep a straight course.  This is supposedly where the name of this region, the "Staked Plains", came from.  I doubt if this legend is true because compasses were widely used by this time, and I can't imagine a large expedition that would be without one; but it makes a good story, and it would be a very practical way to cross an area with no natural landmarks.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Make a Cane Arrow with Split-Shaft Fletched

The split-shaft fletched cane arrow is one of the quickest and easiest types of arrow to make.  You will need the following tools and materials to make this arrow.

A piece of cane (bamboo or river cane) that is about three feet long and about the size of your little finger on the large end

A dried hardwood shoot about three-eights inch in diameter and about a foot long

A wild turkey tail feather

A yucca leaf

About a teaspoon of pine sap

A sharp knife

Pictured below: Materials needed to make a cane arrow with split cane fletching

A cane arrow shaft consists of two parts; the main shaft which is made of cane and the fore-shaft which is made of hardwood.  The cane portion of the shaft will be twenty-four to twenty-eight inches long, depending on your personal draw length.  To make the cane portion of the shaft you will need a piece of river cane or bamboo that is about the thickness of your little finger on the large end.  It should be several inches longer than you need the finished shaft to be.  This will give you some leeway in positioning the cane joints on the finished shaft, and it will also make the shaft easier to straighten.

You want to select the straightest canes that you can find for making arrows.  This will save you a lot of work when you straighten the shafts.  To straighten the shafts you will need to heat them gently over flame or coals and then bend them straight and hold them until they cool.  Canes can be straightened at the joints or in between the joints, whichever is necessary.  Be sure and heat the shafts slowly so the do not scorch or burn.  Rubbing grease or oil on the shafts before you heat them will help keep them from scorching.  To check the straightness of a shaft you can sight down the shaft and turn it slowly.  Any kinks or curves will be quickly visible.  Be sure and wear gloves or use pot-holders when straightening the hot shafts.

Now we need to cut the shaft to length.  It is very important where you locate the joints in this kind of arrow.  The large end of the cane will be to the front of the arrow, and the hardwood fore-shaft will fit down into the hole in the cane.  In order for the fore-shaft to have a solid base to rest on, you want to have cane joint located about two inches back from the front of the cane.  The back of the cane is where we will have our nock, and where we will insert our fletching; so you need to have a joint about an inch from the back of the shaft.

The string nock at the back of your arrow can be created by shaving of a about a half inch sliver of the cane on opposite sides of the cane.  This will leave a nice little nock.  You will need to use your knife to smooth down and flatten the part of the nock that comes into contact with the string.  If it is left sharp it may cut the string.  Pictured below: top, straightened and smoothed cane; bottom, close-up of the finished nock

Now place you knife blade down into the bottom of the nock and very carefully split the cane down to the last joint on the back of the cane.  This is where you will insert your fletching.  Pictured below: splitting the cane

We are going to fletch this arrow with a wild turkey feather.  Be sure to select a feather that has a good vane on both sides of the quill, and make sure that the vanes don’t curve too much.Take your turkey feather and cut a five inch section across the width of the entire feather.  Pictured below: top, Wild turkey  feather; bottom, section cut from whole feather

Very carefully open up the split in the back of the arrow shaft and slide the quill of the feather into the hole in the cane.  The vanes of the feather will stick out of the splits on each side of the shaft.  Pictured below: feather in place in cane shaft

When you have the feather positioned where you want it, take some yucca leaf fiber and wrap it tightly for about a half-inch in front of and a half-inch behind the feather.  Coat the wrappings with a little pine sap to help hold them in place and protect them from moisture.  Use a sharp knife or a flint flake to trim the fletchings to the desired shape.  Pictured below:  finished fletching

Now we need to put a fore-shaft into the front of the cane.  The fore-shaft is the only part of the arrow that will penetrate your target so it needs to be long enough to do some damage.  You will want about six to eight inches of fore-shaft to stick out of the cane.  Since you need to add the two inches that will fit down into the cane, the total length of the fore-shaft needs to be eight to ten inches.  You can just cut a fore-shaft to length, sharpen the point, and call it done; or you can use a larger diameter stick and whittle out a wooden broadhead type point.  Drop a little pine sap in the front of the cane and insert the foreshaft.  That's it.  Pictured below: front of cane shaft with foreshaft glued in place

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Good Trick for Notching Arrows without a Saw

If you don't have a Swiss army knife with a saw blade it can be a little tricky to cut the nocks on the back of arrows.  It's even harder to cut the deep notch needed to attach a stone or glass arrow point.  There is a way to make those notches with nothing but a knife blade.  This was taught to me by the old man who was my mentor in the wilderness.  I'm not sure where he learned it, but it's a pretty good trick.

First of all you need to cut your arrow shafts about six inch longer on the front and back than you want the finished arrow to be.  The reason for this extra length will become apparent in a moment.

Now to cut a nock in the back you need to take your knife and make a couple of little cuts on opposite sides of the shaft at the point that you want to be the back of your arrow.  Make these cuts about one-eighth of an inch deep.

Now turn the shaft 90 degrees, drop down about three-eighths of an inch, and make two more cuts on opposite sides of the shaft.

Now for this next part you really need to look at the picture because it's kind of hard to explain.  You're going to grab hold of the extra shaft length above the soon-to-be nock and pull it gently toward one of the top cuts.  Then you're going to push it in the opposite direction toward the other top cut.  As you rock the shaft back and forth, the grain of the wood should separate and run down from the two cuts.

Now start rocking the part that you are holding again, but this time you want to rock it ninety degrees from how you did the first time.  In other words, if you were pushing forward and backward the first time; now you want to be rocking from side to side.

Put some more pressure into the motion until the bottom cuts snap and come loose.  You should now be left with an arrow that has a nock in it.

Do the same thing on the front of the arrow only make the notch longer, about three-quarters of an inch.  This will give you a nice deep notch to seat an arrowhead in.

I wouldn't use this method to make a nice finished arrow, but for a quickie, survival type arrow it's a good trick to know.