Miscellaneous Useful Notes

I have associated with some of the best survival skills people in the world in my life so in this blog  I have decided to share a bunch of miscellaneous notes on various topics. Perhaps some of you will recognize some of these names.

By Andre Bourbeau

This is how I smoke my bacon, hams, fish and beef jerky. I’ve got a tent about 6 feet high by 6 feet wide by 8 feet long which is closed on all sides except for a small closeable door at the bottom front and a crack at the top back. I suspend my meat from a rack at the back top of the tent (rack size is 5 feet by 3 feet), about 5 feet from

the ground.  When I’m in the bush I make a tent from a tarp or from natural materials (rotten logs, sod, moss, bark etc) of about the same dimensions (sometimes a bit smaller), but always 6 feet high with meat 5 feet high.
Then I start a small fire at the front of the tent.  Above the fire there is no meat: it’s further back.  I throw a few dry sticks on the fire to get it going, but never more than 1 foot high.  Then I throw finely split green wood on the fire and watch the tent from afar.  If smoke spills out the top back, everything is fine! If not, I go adjust the fire, which is about every half hour or so.  Sawdust instead of wood works better, but is less primitive, so to practice I do it the hard way.  Usually I just have to move the half burnt pieces to center, add a couple of small pieces of dry wood, and a few pieces of green wood. For beef jerky less than 1/2 inch wide, it is ready in about 12 to 14 hours.  The meat is dry and smoked and delicious.  If it does not crack when it bends, it is not ready and will mold.  I ate today the last of beef jerky I had smoked last summer.  It was stored on a shelf in the kitchen, simply wrapped in a brown paper bag, nothing else, and was still delicious, so it works.
VERY IMPORTANT!  Not all woods will work for this technique!  Some woods (especially conifers) give up very nasty fumes that will ruin your meat.  Woods I know for sure that work well are the following, in order of

–Apple and other woods from the Rosaceae family (hawthorn etc.)
This process both dries and smokes the meat.  It’s called heat smoking. This is my favorite way of drying meat, because around here the sun never seems to shine long enough to dry meat, and also there are so many flies- once a squirrel I had hung up without smoke was full of fly larvae when I came back with firewood in my arms 5 minutes later. I hate worms in my grub!!

By Ron Hood

One recipe I learned to enjoy…… The montegnards would catch, crickets put them in a container which had a 2 inch strip of oil painted on the inside. The oil kept the little buggers :>) inside the jar. The little guys would hang out inside the jar for about 24 hours. This gave them a chance to empty their intestinal tracts (the cause of some bitterness in the flavor). After they were “clean” they were dumped into a cloth bag which was then hung by a fire to dry (cook slowly) or left in the pot and heated in situ on a slow fire. When dried they were munched as a tasty snack or used in rice meals. Grass hoppers are prepared in the same way but it is best to pull the legs off before the feast.
In any case, either bug (or most bugs) can be crushed and added to stews. This disguises the appearance and reduces the spew factor. Ants are, for the most, part one of the best bug feasts. The formic acid pretty much disappears when they are boiled. Black ants eaten raw have a semi sweet flavor. Sorta like crunchy raw sugar with legs. We use them to sweeten ephedra tea.
Bees and wasps are OK eaten after a good boiling. The poison is basically a protein which disassembles at boiling temperatures. The stinger softens. Pounding them before boiling is effective. Bee and Wasp Larvae are delicious!
One of the most dangerous insects is in the cantharidin family (blister beetles). I doubt that you will run into those unless you pop over to the Mediterranean just to munch bug. There are of course many cautions……. Just a note. Beetles amount to about 40% of the known insects. The larvae of many beetles are very high in fat and protein and make great snacks.
When in doubt about a bug do the insect safety test. And follow these time tested rules:
–Always try to cook insects.
–Never eat bugs you find dead.
–Don’t eat ones that bite back!
–If it smells really bad, don’t eat it!
One last thought……. If you have a strong stomach,,, or at least a clear spew zone for a technicolor yawn….. try maggots. Road kills are often infested with them. Gather a handful or two, drop your prize into an old sock and rinse in cold clear water a couple of times, then boil. After about five minutes toss in a bullion cube. When it is finished dissolving, settle back to a fine hot stew of what looks like brown rice. It is really a fine meal.

By Grant Goltz

These generally consist of the inner bark portion.  Two of the most useful tree bark fibers are cedar and basswood.  Since I don’t have much experience with cedar, I will only give detailed info on basswood fiber.
Basswood (Tilia americana) is found throughout most of eastern North America where hardwood forests are present.  I believe other species of the genus are found in parts of Europe.  Although, in a pinch it is possible to collect some basswood fiber most of the year (really tough when frozen), it is best gathered in early summer when the sap is flowing.  The trees often grow in clumps, so I usually select a 4 to 6 inch tree from a clump and cut it down (don’t be too concerned about this, since these clumps naturally thin out as they grow bigger anyway – you are just helping nature).  I pry the bark off starting at the base in 2 to 4 inch wide strips.  These easily peel up the tree.  After the first strip, it is easier to get really long strips. After the strips are gathered, bundle them up in a long bunch and soak them in a lake or stream for 2 to 3 weeks.  After enough time you will notice that they get really slimey (mucilagenous) and the inner layers of bark start to separate.  When the inner bark gets really loose, strip it off and run through your hand to remove the slime.  Keep all of the layers together, you can separate them when you get ready to use.  You will notice that the innermost layers are the thinnest and smoothest.  Roll into coils and dry. It will store indefinitely if kept dry.  To use, just separate the layers and make into whatever width strips that you need.  Before using, you can boil the strips for a half hour or so to strengthen them slightly.
These are typically the fibers in the outer “rind” of the plant stem.  Some of the fibers in this group are incredibly strong.  Common plants include milkweeds, dogbanes, and nettles.  Of these, I favor the wood nettle (Laportea canadensis) over all of the rest.  It has the longest, strongest, and easiest to process fibers.  It grows throughout most of eastern North America and perhaps other areas.  Unlike stinging nettle, it is native to this part of the world. Wood nettle favors moist environments and grows best in rather rich soils under hardwood stands.  Around here the best nettles grow on the thick black “midden” soils on heavily used archaeological sites located along the shores of large lakes.  This material can be gathered any time after the stems have died in the fall.  At this time they don’t sting any more and the fibers are mature.  Just grab them and pull them up, the base of the stem weakens and they pull easily. Although the fiber can be processed by crushing the dry stems and pulling off the fiber,  more and longer fibers are obtained by soaking the stems and stripping off the outer rind.  I usually soak bundles in warm water in an old bathtub for a few hours to overnight.  After the rind is striped, it should be dried thoroughly and then “broken up” similar to processing backstrap sinew.  You can carry the processing step as far as you wish, depending on how soft and fine of fibers you want. Wood nettle can be gathered for about a six month season in this part of the country.  Unlike many plant fibers, it does not deteriorate through the winter, only with warmer,wet weather in late winter and spring.  In fact, I just gathered a big bunch Monday.  Normally, I gather it in the fall after a good frost, but last fall got too busy.  I began weaving a new fabric bag which I will be using for a pottery making demonstration in Saskatchewan in May (need to show the non-believers that the “cord” impressions found on pots are really impressions from fabric bags and not cord-wrapped paddles) and found I didn’t have enough fiber to complete it.  Since Monday was a nice day (sunny and 20 degrees (F)), we grabbed the snowshoes and took the three mile trek to gather nettle in three foot deep snow, great fun, I will for sure be out this fall.  We managed to get 900 stems in about an hour, which will produce about 3 pounds of fiber.  I have processed about 1/3 of it so far, and it is as good as gathered in the fall.  I plan to use some of the longer fibers for a few bow strings.  Most of this fiber is 5 feet long with some 6 feet, really nice stuff.  BTW, I gathered some stinging nettle a few weeks back (I could drive to it) and it was unuseable.  The fibers were weak and short and did not separate from the stem.  I also tried some some dogbane from near the house, but I got a low yield of 1 1/2 to 2 foot fibers (I was trying to avoid the snowdrift venture). The wood nettle fiber is very strong.  You cannot break a less than 1/8 inch twisted cord.  It can be processed readily and is suitable for small mammal snares if you can keep them from chewing through.  Most of the other herbaceous plant fibers are similar, though in my opinion, less desirable. I mentioned weaving bags from this stuff.  It makes a flexible fabric suited to a variety of uses.  Anyone for a nettle shirt or sleeping bag?

By Andre Bourbeau
Starting out with absolutely no gear, especially in cold climates, the first day is spent on tool and fire building (and figuring out how to get water from snow) leaving time for only minor shelter, the second day is spent on better shelter and bedding, and the third day is usually where food gathering begins.  Some weakness starts setting in unless food is available, and this weakness cycle gets worse as each day progresses, especially when expanding energy gathering tons of firewood to offset the cold and wet due to inadequate clothing.  Judgment can also diminish here, and unprepared persons can start acting foolishly and spend their last energy wandering and end up dead from hypothermia before having a chance to set up traps and otherwise obtain food.  On the other hand, if food is somehow obtainable in the first few days, survival becomes easier and easier because of the accumulation of tools, weapons, and other primitively manufactured gear (clothing, baskets, rafts etc).
Note however, that obtaining 1000 lbs of food is not an easy matter!  If you can catch 5000 eels when they migrate past the point your are on, then you will be fine.  But if there are not even insects available to eat, too bad.  We only survive if nature wills…

By Thomas J. Elpel
I have done extensive studies of patterns in plant properties and uses.  One pattern I noticed is that plants that are used as a poison to stun fish almost always contain a substance called “saponin”.  The following three paragraphs are adapted from my Herbal Field Guide to Plant Families:
Saponin is a glucoside poison, but it must enter the bloodstream to be toxic.  (A glycoside is a sugar combined with an non-sugar (a-glycone) compound.  It is called a glucoside when the sugar is glucose.) Saponin normally breaks down in the digestive system, making it harmless.  Fish, however, directly assimilate the saponin into the blood stream through their gills.  Adding a significant quantity of an herb with saponin to a small, still pond may effectively stun or kill the fish without harming the fisherman who eats them. Plants that contain saponin can usually be worked into a “lather”, and are typically used as soap substitutes.  Specific plants that contain saponin include: yucca root (Yucca spp.), buckbrush flowers and berries (Ceanothus spp.), snowberries (Symphoricarpus spp.), bouncing bet (Saponaria officinalis.) Buckeye (Aesculus), can also be used except that the fruit is used as a fish poison and many species are known to be edible after leaching to remove the bitterness.  This bitterness also suggests the presence of saponin.


By J. P. Beardsley

—Soak and scrape hide (generally flesh side only, dehair, but leave epidermis on).
—Soak in tannic acid solution (made by soaking barks rich in tannins like oak.). It is generally recommended to start with a slighly weaker solution, and go up in strength. The trick for telling when it is strong enough is to taste a bit; when your mouth “puckers up”, a bit it is strong enough. You can use acorns, spruce bark, Salix or any other source of tannic acid (including strong tea, I’m told :-). Some sources will also stain your hide, generally in various brown or russet colors. Change the baths every now and then.
—Keep soaking until done. This might be from a couple of weeks to several months. Make a small cut in the edge to test; you will at first see a distinct “line” in the center of the hide, but when it is done this will be gone. For some applications (knifesheaths come to mind) you might want to leave a bit of “rawhide” in the center, as this makes it stiffer.
—Soften as it dries. Fairly much the same way as with braintan buckskin, but I would leave the cableing alone. You now have a vegetable tanned hide.
…..And, yes, you can do the same to unsoaked pelts (just demembrane the flesh side). Might stain the fur, depending on the source of tannin. I’ve seen “redhaired” sheep-rugs.  Interesting.


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