Campfire Tales: Honing My Outdoor Skills
I was honing my outdoor skills because someone didn’t believe my hunting license constituted proof that I had any.
“Buying a hunting license doesn’t automatically imbue a person with wilderness survival skills,” Dawn said.
“Imbue?” My wife didn’t resort to such strong language often. We were discussing a news story about a hiker who lost his way and survived on earthworms and fungi for a week until a search party, attracted by the sound of his retching, eventually rescued him.
Was Hunting Honing My Outdoor Skills?
I had merely commented by saying that if he had been a hunter, his dinner menu might have had more savory options. That started Dawn on a rant about how most hunters would not be any better equipped to handle such an ordeal.
“Most of the time,” she said, “you walk a couple hundred yards into the woods, sit down and take a nap under a tree. You wake up only when the sound of your stomach growling tells you it’s time for lunch – a lunch that I pack for you more times than not. That kind of hunting hardly qualifies you as an outdoor survival expert.”
Normally, I let such disparaging remarks pass as I’m aware that Dawn is a deadly shot with kitchen utensils fired in an emotionally charged atmosphere. This time, however, I felt she was making an unwarranted assault on the integrity of hunters everywhere and that it was my duty to defend our ranks and to prove her wrong.
Over the next couple of weeks, I discreetly went to work honing my outdoor skills. I applied myself at improving such things as my marksmanship, physical conditioning, game stalking, off-road driving, land navigation, hatchet work, shelter building and edible plant identification.
When I was ready, I would demonstrate to her the full extent of my awesome outdoor expertise. Besides, with the hunting seasons just a few short weeks away, it couldn’t hurt to remove the rust from my techniques.
Lighting A Fire An Important Outdoor Skill
“Come on baby light my fire.” I said aloud.
“You never could carry a tune,” Dawn said as she joined me in our back yard. “Why are you crooning off key to a ball of lawn clippings?”
“Quiet!” I snapped. “It’s a tinder bundle and I’m at a critical stage. I’m trying to coax the dying ember inside into flame. It might be too late. I think the spark is gone.”
“I could have told you that,” she said. “After 30-plus years, four kids, a full-time job and all of the housework, there’s little time to keep the spark alive.”
“Hey, I do my part too,” I said. “I help with the dishes once in a while.”
“Rinsing out your bait bucket in the kitchen sink hardly qualifies as doing the dishes,” she said.
“You always seem to turn the conversation around to what you perceive are my shortcomings. I’ll have you know that right now I’m working on some important self-improvement. I’m honing my outdoor skills and fire-starting is one of the things on my list.”
“You need to puff into the tinder bundle a little stronger,” she said. “Like this.”
She exhaled into the tinder as if she whispering sweet nothings into someone’s ear. I was a little jealous. Especially when the tinder instantly burst into flame and singed off my eyebrows and one side of my mustache.
“But, obviously, you shouldn’t have your face too close,” she said. “What else are you doing here, Singe?”
Add Land Navigation To Your Outdoor Skills
“Tonight, I’m sleeping in the back yard. Tomorrow, I’m driving the 4×4 trail to Peterson’s Pond. Then, I’m bushwhacking on foot all the way to the old fire tower, navigating strictly by map and compass, once I read that section in the handbook on magnetic declination again. It can be a little confusing.”
“You’d better brush up on navigating by the stars too. It’s liable to be midnight before you make it halfway there. I’ll have Ned’s Towing beep his horn to help you find your way out when he comes up to remove your truck. Do you want me to pack a lunch for you?”
Could I Identify Edible Plants?
“No need,” I said. “I’ll live off the land. See here? I’ve gathered some edible greens.
“Half the weeds in your garden are edible if you know how to recognize them. I’ll have no trouble in the woods.
“And I’ll have you know that earlier today I stalked to within slingshot distance of a squirrel that would have been an easy target had this been a true survival scenario.”
Slingshot, Backyard Squirrels And Lean-tos
“Bushy is practically a household pet,” she said. “It’s almost impossible to shoo him away from the bird feeder. What’s this other mess?”
“I used a hatchet on those branches that came down in the last storm and built a lean-to for a shelter. I’ve got firewood enough to see me through the night too.”
“But you’ve already shown me that you can’t start a fire without a gallon of gasoline.
“While you’re honing your outdoor skills, I’d add a few more branches to fill the cracks in that shelter if you’re planning on sleeping in it tonight. The forecast is for rain.
“But it ought to help to grow the fungi and bring out the earthworms. You can add them to that poison ivy you picked.”
Hatchet: © Vladislav Zhukov | Dreamstime.com
Hunter: © Iheartcountryphoto | Dreamstime.com
Fire: © Spettacolare | Dreamstime.com
Berries: © Glinn | Dreamstime.com
Campsite: © James Mahan | Dreamstime.com
Steven Paul Barlow is a retired sergeant/station commander and former firearms instructor with the New York State Police. He is an avid hunter, fisherman, and enthusiast with all things related to firearms, knives, and survival. He has been writing on outdoor topics for more than 35 years. His collections of outdoor humor stories are available at www.BriarHillBooks.com.