Technology is great, and all, but you can’t beat the basics. Pioneers, frontiersmen, long hunters, and mountain men were not fictitious characters of stories and film. These were our real-life ancestors, and they lived by their own means by performing real-life skills. In the wild places of today, it certainly makes sense to carry high-tech gizmos and the latest survival gear on your outdoor adventures, but it’s not a bad idea to learn some traditional skills as a back-up.
1. Build A Trapline
Trapping was a common means for American mountain men to collect valuable furs and feed themselves at the same time. Traps can be purchased or hand built today, just as they once were. Traps should be de-scented to remove human scent and the proper baits should be selected to attract your target species. Once you are ready to set out your traps, it’s time to create a trap line. This is typically arranged as a circuit that you can walk, to visit your traps and to collect your game. Depending on the animals you are trapping, this line may run down a creek, up a ravine, along a cliff base, or beside some other natural feature which funnels the animals into a smaller area.
2. Flint And Steel
When you strike a piece of high-carbon steel against a hard, sharp stone edge (like a flake of flint), you can create a red-hot spark. Strike the stone downward across your steel, holding the stone at a 45 degree angle to scrape off steel sparks. These sparks come from the carbon in the steel, and are created by any sharp stone that is harder than the steel. Strike your sparks onto char cloth that is already sitting on a bundle of tinder, or on a separate piece of char.
3. Make Your Own Medicine
To our forebears living in remote areas, the local wild plants had to serve double-duty as food and medicine. Making one’s own medicine was a well-known practice centuries ago, but it has fallen into obscurity since the advent of the corner drug store. Dig a little, though, and you’ll find the old connections are still there. Many of our modern medicines trace their history back to where they were first discovered in wild plants.
4. Twist Up Some String
There never seems to be enough cordage, rope, or string to go around. Unless you can make your own, that is. If you are fortunate enough to have some fibrous raw material and you know cord production, you should be able to crank out string and heavier cord without any trouble. Grab a small length of fiber, and twist it until it kinks. Hold the kink, and keep twisting each bundle of fiber. If you twisted clockwise to begin the cord, then keep twisting the fiber bundles clockwise, allowing them to encircle each other counter clockwise.
5. Learn Your Lashings
The folks living a pioneer life on the American frontier knew all about lashings. By joining sticks to other sticks, they were able to create fences to keep in livestock, build handy structures for camp and farm, and even erect lookout towers to keep an eye out for hostile neighbors. One of the most essential lashings is the square lashing, which joins two perpendicular sticks together. To begin, tie a hitch to one of the poles near the place where the two poles cross. Then wrap your line around the junction of the two poles, going under the lower pole and over the top pole. Spiral outward with these wraps five or six times. Next, wrap between the poles, biting onto the previous wrappings to tighten them. Finally, use a square knot to tie the free end of the rope to the free end from the hitch that started this whole lashing.
6. Mend Your Own Gear
In frontier times, if you wanted something that didn’t grow from the earth, you had to make it. And once you made something, you didn’t want to make it again, so you had to know how to repair what little you had. This meant sewing, woodworking, smithing, and a host of other skills. Not everyone could be a master of all trades, but some working knowledge of repair was required in each group or community.