A Few Thoughts on Fur Clothing

A few recent discussions about fur clothing have sparked some new thoughts in my mind.

Today was a cold day on the Nebraska prairie. Northern winds howled as the sun crested the horizon to the east. A thin crust of ice made the blacktop slick as I cruised to my trapping grounds. Along the way I picked up my trapping partner. He is a student in my freshmen Geography class who jumped at the chance to ride along on the line. He has been a great help, and I surely think he is enjoying the experience.

We’d had a good day despite the cold conditions, and the traps were still firing after the winter rain. One of the traps had a coyote pinched and put a smile on both our faces. After a few pictures we had him dispatched and resting in the pickup bed. Even after our brief exposure, I could tell my partner was getting cold. Not only was the wind chilling, but he had underdressed just a tad for the conditions. Although I didn’t have much to offer for clothes to help him warm up, I did have a pair of beaver fur mittens in the back. I told him to go ahead and put them on. He didn’t put up much of a fight, and soon we were walking to our final check.

After just a few minutes he noted with pleasure he was beginning to feel his fingers again. That was good to hear. Just a few minutes later he once again mentioned how warm his hands were feeling. Shortly thereafter we were marching back to the pickup and he couldn’t help but talk about the difference the mittens had made. It all got me thinking about fur clothing, its history, and its great performance in cold weather.

It seems today most folks in America under-appreciate fur clothing, or don’t know much about it. In fact, in most of my lifetime, fur has not at all been a popular clothing choice. As a kid I remember seeing news reports of anti-fur protests and people getting paint splattered on their fur coats. The 1990’s were certainly a time when anti-fur sentiment ran high.

Raccoon fur mittens.
Fur products like these are an example of clothing that allowed us to live in much colder climates.

However, historically fur has proven itself time and time again and has been one of the most popular clothing materials. In fact it’s hard to imagine civilization if humans had never put fur into to use. Without fur, settling out of the tropics would have been difficult at best, and impossible as people moved further and further away. Even with the relatively mild winters in my region, life would have been impossible without fur. Most of Europe and Asia would also have been uninhabitable by the people who eventually created the foundations of our modern world. It’s time we recognize the reality that without fur clothing, civilization as we know it could not have existed.

In fact, up until recent times, fur clothing was absolutely vital in areas with colder climates. You can bet that each Lakota lodge contained more than a few buffalo robes to last winter. In fact, I remember once hearing a story that US cavalrymen would swap nearly everything they owned for a prized buffalo coat rather than their army issued coat. In the same train of thought, just recently the Canadian Mounties have requested genuine muskrat hats for their uniforms. For a time this group of lawmen were persuaded by animal rights activists and switched to wool head gear. However, just a few short years later they have asked for their fur hats back, citing the superiority of real fur in every category.

That is just one story of people rediscovering the effectiveness of fur. In a recent National Geographic story, another author also points out that while many in the US have forgotten about fur, other countries are increasing their demand in a hurry. The story also suggests that many people are finally getting over the social stigma that became attached to fur in the 1990’s. The author goes so far as to say in some cities you will be more looked down upon for texting while walking than for wearing fur. Hopefully as more people begin to once again wear fur, they will quickly see the benefits.

That’s just what my young friend was finding out with the mittens he was wearing. Fur clothing is just hard to beat. I realize that I do try to sell a few fur products every now and then, so I could imagine some may see ulterior motives at work in this post. In reality, while I’d like to sell a few more mittens and hats, that’s beyond the point. And even if I never sold another pair, I’ll never not have a pair before winter begins. They are just incredibly warm.

Although some people may still dub fur as a cruel way to clothe ourselves, I would argue otherwise. To me it’s just part of the cycle of life. Also, most anti-fur people have never trapped, and many don’t really understand how traps work. I’ll even admit that before I began trapping, I carried many false notions about it as well. Proper trapping requires a trapper to pair the correct trap to their target animal. The result when trapping with footholds is a trap that simply pinches the foot and holds the animal until the trapper shows up. These days most states also have mandatory check laws, which means the animal will be held for only a minimal period of time. There have been multiple occasions when the animal appeared to be almost sleeping I approached the catch circle.

I’ll admit that my thoughts on trapping are my own opinion, and are just that; an opinion. What isn’t an opinion is the historical truth that trapping animals for their fur is an age old human tradition. In our modern world, most folks will never get to experience this ancient practice. Some, however, are proud to carry on the old tradition and a bit of the knowledge people have learned over the millennia. Trapping forces you to deal with facts rather than debate opinions and theories. You may think spot X is good for a set, but you thinking it is a good location, and it actually being a good location, are two very different things.

At the end of the day, I’d hope you would take a new look at fur clothing. Fur has proven itself throughout history, and is just as effective as it ever has been. While you’d be free to browse my small collection available, I’d rather encourage you to grab some traps and make it yourself. The lessons, insights, and reality check the entire process will give you is perhaps the most beneficial of all.

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I hope you enjoyed this article about the history of fur clothing and its use today. I’d like to hear your comments on this topic in the comments section below.

If you found this article interesting you may enjoy this story about a primitive tanning technique one tribe used to create soft fur garments.

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Living Off the Land; Modern Tramping Trip

Truly learning to live off the land is a big challenge even with some simple modern gear.

The first of this December found me marching beneath a canopy of ponderosa pine and surrounded by the skeletal figures of barren cottonwood and ash trees. A small stream meandered lazily by, ice clinging stubbornly to the edges. Songbirds flitted between naked stems of wild rose above green grass daring to rise from the prairie beneath my boots. Mother Nature seemed unable to make up her mind whether it should be winter was beginning. With my pack strapped to my back, temperatures in the low 40’s seemed about as ideal as you could ask for. With plans for a primitive tarp shelter in my future, I was thankful nighttime temperatures would be staying in the 20’s. My timing on this trip was seemingly just right.

As I pushed deeper into the tract of public land, my mind wandered here and there. It drifted from things that have popped up in my life, to days gone by, to more philosophical thoughts as well. Like many folks, I find my thoughts grow more clear and focused the further I can get from the road. Eventually my thinking returned back to the task at hand.

I had set aside this weekend to try and learn more about what it takes to provide for myself each day. Stories of ancient hunter-gatherers, longhunters, and mountain men have always captured my imagination. The more I’ve learned about them, and experimented with their style of living, the more my appreciation has grown for their accomplishments. Over time though, I’ve realized comparisons between our modern lives, and their past lives, are near impossible. With modern hunting laws, we are unable to operate with the world in the same way they did. On the other hand, when I pitch my camp for the night, I give no thought to choosing locations that could avoid a war party of enemies. Each generation of people heading to the woods faces their own challenges, and can’t be truly replicated thereafter.

That being said, by heading into the woods to live on the nourishment of the land, even for a spell, we can share some common threads of experience with past people. Hunger is hunger, no matter what year you were born or where you live. Cold is cold, and the heat from a campfire warms the bones in the same way. It also takes many of the same skills to try and forge a living from the wild. Knowing where to camp, where to hunt, and knowing how to stay warm and dry still are important skills. Those of us who want to keep this old way of life alive, breath life into it by getting out and living it as best we can.

One thing that really stands out to me about those ancient hunters was their ability to stay alive in the wilds. It takes more effort than most folks imagine to actually provide for yourself completely. It is also important to understand we’re talking about really providing, not just extended starvation. Learning to capture your calories in ways you are expending less than you are consuming is no small task. It is easy to tough out being hungry for a few days in comparison to actually feeding yourself. People interested in this concept may appreciate this popular Youtuber who delves into the topic pretty thoroughly.

Realizing such, I decided to hedge the odds in my favor and pack along modern gear with me on this trip. I also decided to drag along a half dozen body gripping traps to try and improve my odds at landing some food for the belly. Trapping is a great passive activity to secure food, and modern steel traps are superior in almost every regard to any sort of primitive trap. Their one downside is their overall weight, a fact my legs and shoulders fully realized on the hike in. My hope was the effort it took to pack them in, and make my sets, would be offset by the increased chance of landing a decent sized animal each night. In addition to my traps I packed a pump action Remington 870 and a pocketful of shells.

Camp

As I tramped further from the pickup, I eventually came across an ideal campsite. With running water close, lots of small firewood handy, and some protection from the wind, I dropped my pack and started to setup camp. Since I was trying to stay as light as possible, and have a camp that could last for an extended period, I had packed a tarp to help make my shelter. In addition to using the modern tarp, I also decided incorporate the concepts of a debris shelter into the shelter. The tarp made the construction go much faster, and the debris made the shelter much warmer. By blending ancient knowledge with modern gear, I was able to construct a pretty comfortable shelter.  It would keep me comfortable as the nighttime temperatures dipped just below freezing.

Tarp/Debris Shelter
This simple tarp shelter uses a blend of modern gear and traditional knowledge to make a comfortable night’s stay.

Once I had my shelter built, it was time to get my traps out. Simply showing up to an area you’ve never trapped before, and setting your traps within walking distance, isn’t necessarily the greatest recipe for success. Add to that I’d only be out two nights, and I wasn’t entirely confident I’d catch anything at all. Regardless, the first day I was able to get four leaning tree sets out before the sun sank behind the horizon.

The Successful Hunt

Fortunately while I was returning to camp, my dog Huck winded a cottontail in some brush. As he darted out into the open I was able to draw a bead on him and connect with the shot. Thankful I’d have something to eat for the night, I butchered him on the spot then headed back to camp.

I started my fire with a ferro rod and charred punk wood, and soon had a decent blaze going. First off, I boiled my water, and then turned my attention to cooking the rabbit. The hot meat tasted good on an empty stomach, and the full moon cast a bright light around my camp as I admired my view. If I’ve learned one thing from my primitive camping it is that the experience increases your sense of gratitude for the little things in life. A paltry rabbit seemed like quite a gift. A warm fire made me feel just right. The simple song of the coyote capped the moment and I was content. I was thankful for the cold air in my lungs and the warm wool blanket waiting for me in the shelter. Learning to be thankful is probably the biggest benefit from these sorts of trips. With hopes for a productive night, I tucked myself into the shelter and got cozy.

Day 2

The next morning found my empty stomach urging me from sleep. Within just a few minutes I stepped into the frosty morning and headed out to check my line. If you’ve trapped long enough, you may realize the odds of success on such a short line, in the middle of wild lands, is slim. That being said, you can’t catch anything if you don’t have them out. Unfortunately for me, the traps turned up empty and I returned to camp having expended a good deal of energy for no reward. Was the trapline going to be a bust?

Unwilling to admit it wasn’t a good idea; I got my final two traps out and hoped for the best. In truth, these two sets appeared to be the most promising. I had some time to scout around and was able to setup on good sign.  It had only been a few hours and most of my days work was done, the problem was I hadn’t eaten a thing yet.

After returning to camp, I decided to break out an age-old woodsman cuisine; parched corn. My goal was to spend my time “living off the land”, and I had mixed feelings about the corn. Sure, I had grown it myself, and parched it as well, but I wasn’t gathering it during my stay. In the end, I swallowed a handful and decided that should last me for the day. If Daniel Boone used it as part of his diet, I supposed I wasn’t less of a woodsman for using a handful.

The rest of the day found me tending to camp chores. Beefing up my shelter, sharpening my axes and knives, and boiling water all made the minutes turn to hours. I also took the time to roast some cattail root, but found the rhizomes were not yet full of the starches they will have in several months. Before long, it was time to head out on an afternoon hunt. I again faced the dilemma that my activities needed to have a positive caloric return.

My dog and I hunt for several hours and saw only two cottontail rabbits. Fortunately one of them fell victim to my 870 again, and I would once again have warm meat in my belly to end the day. It was another great day to give thanks.

Dog, shotgun, and cottontail
Supper both nights was a simple cottontail.

Snow moved in the second night and the traps were once again empty. Unfortunately I had to pull out early in the morning to meet a family obligation, so my 2-night expedition had run its course. Packing along the traps had proved fruitless, but I still have to imagine over time their benefits would outweigh their cons. Still, on this particular venture they cost me much more energy than they provided.

Overall the modern gear expedition was enjoyable and scratched my ever-present itch to be in the quiet places. Not long ago men and women roamed these exact same lands, completely independent from the trappings that bind us to civilization. Things have certainly changed, but the same basic challenges remain. While Mother Nature provides, she certainly can be a bit stubborn. The energy it takes is not always repaid, and a single hunter on his own is put to the test. Even with modern gear, meeting your daily needs is a worthy challenge.

Living off the Land 2-Day Diet: Modern Gear

2 Cottontail Rabbits
3 Cattail Rhizomes
1 Handful Parched Corn
Water

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I’d love to hear any stories you have about living off the land in the comments section below.

Also, thanks for taking the time to read this article. If you like the content you may enjoy reading this article about the 27 foods eaten by mountain man Zenas Leonard.

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Family Recipe: Uncle Dean’s Famous Smoke Rub

Smoked venison

Uncle Dean’s famous smoke rub may easily become a family favorite.

Few things bespeak traditions like a family recipe passed down. Although I can’t claim this recipe comes from the “Old World”, it is one that my uncle gave to me. We use this rub on almost all of our smoked wild game recipes with only minor alterations. It would work well on the grill as well, but the rub combined with the smoked flavor is about as good as it gets for smoked venison.

Ingredients

Here are the ingredients you will need for Uncle Dean’s Famous Smoke Rub:
1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
1/4 Cup White Sugar
2-3 Tbs Salt
1 1/2 Tbs Cumin
2 Tbs Chipotle (or substitute any rub of choice)
1/2 tsp Black Pepper, Garlic Powder and Onion Powder

Steps

We first like to tenderize the meat.

Next we soak it in milk over night or for at least a couple of hours.

When it is done soaking in the milk we rinse off the meat and pat it dry so the rub mix will stick.

Now it is time to add the rub. We usually place the meat in a large zip lock bag and shake, or combine the rub with meat in a bowl. The meat does not necessarily have to marinate in the rub, but we like to let it set for at least a couple of hours.

The meat is then ready to head to the smoker.

It’s best to have your smoker preheated before you put your meat on to cook. When it comes to smoking the adage is “low and slow.” Keeping the heat low and cooking it slowly will lead to great tasting stuff.

Our smoker doesn’t get much lower than 225 degrees, so that is where we set it and let it preheat.

Once it is up to temperature we go ahead and lay the meat on the racks. We typically allow for around three and a half to four hours of cook time for smoked venison and add our wood chips the last hour.

Once the temperature of your meat is up to par, 180 degrees for venison, it’s ready to enjoy!

So next time you get together for a family gathering, have some friends over, or just want to dine on delicious smoked venison, use Uncle Dean’s Famous Rub to give your wild game a delicious taste that will have your mouth watering.

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I’d love to hear any other smoking recipes you like to use in the comments section below.

Also, thanks for taking the time to read this article. If you like the content you may enjoy using this traditional recipe for dandelion greens.

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The Legend of Wendigo: The Trapper’s Demon

Wendigo

The legend of Wendigo is one that has frightened trappers and hunters for centuries.

The trapper’s attention snapped into focus. He scanned his surrounding for imminent danger. Surely his mind wasn’t playing tricks on him. Wind howled through the black night, sweeping snow through the endless silhouettes of black spruce. It was hard to tell for sure, but he swore he had seen it. Gripping the smooth stock of his trusty flintlock had always given him comfort, but this night was different. Would his gun even be up to the test?

Suddenly he caught a slight movement through the torrent of gusting snow. His eyes squinted hard to focus on the area. Being only as thick as a piece of birch bark, his adversary was near impossible to see. Though, with dagger-like fangs and ripping claws, it could sure enough kill him. His pulse quickened with the thought. How do you fight such a beast? Could it even be killed?

Hearing a noise behind him, he wheeled around to see it’s source. Now facing the wind, his capote hood was ripped from his head. Stinging snow pelted his face as he strained to see into the night. His heart was racing now, his chest rising and falling with every terrified breath. Bringing the butt of his rifle to his shoulder, he stared down the barrel aiming into the empty night.

Movement to his left. He swung the gun to fix his aim. Nothing there.

Now he caught motion to his right. Instinctively he swung the rifle and his finger squeezed the trigger. BOOM! The shot echoed through the black, sending a plume of blackpowder into gale. As it cleared he swore he saw a creature running to his left, circling his current position. Now, with his gun empty, he realized how defenseless he was. His only option was to bolt into the forrest.

He ran into the night, floundering through knee deep snow. Dodging through the maze of trees he lifted his legs high to gain extra ground. Suddenly he felt something grab at the sleeve of this blanket coat. Screaming, he tore his arm away and continued his mad dash through the woods. His legs pulsed with the effort, and his lungs filled with breath that was never enough. Keep going, he thought to himself.

Unexpectedly, he tripped on a branch that had been covered by the snow. His momentum carried him forward, and he fell hard on his chest. Instantly he rolled to his back, and then he saw it.

Through the blackness approached the yellowish figure. At least 15 feet tall, saliva dripped down its fangs from its open mouth. Heartless tawny eyes froze the man to the ground. The trapper knew his fate. Wendigo was always hungry. Hungry for human flesh. Slowly, stepping deliberately, the creature moved in on his fallen prey. The trapper slowly tried to grab for his knife. Wendigo moved closer. He felt his finger grasp the worn handle of his trusty knife. I may still have a chance, he thought.

Wendigo trudged one step closer.

The trapper waited.

Another step.

Just as he was beginning to draw his knife, the creature leapt at him with lightening speed. The force of the blow was like being kicked by an elk. Something ripped into his flesh, and he felt warm blood running down his chest. Pinned to the ground he saw the ghoulish head of his foe rise up till they were face to face. Blood dripped from the fangs onto the dying trapper. Then;

blackness.

Coming from the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain region, I never heard the legend of Wendigo until reading a book called The Beaver Men by Mari Sandoz. In the book she describes how the early French Voyagers of the North Woods told stories about this great demon of the forrest. Perhaps their fears were based on real events they saw in their lives. It could also be a few skittish men were influenced by the tales of the Native people they were staying with. Historically, the legend of Wendigo is likely Pre-Columbian, though we will never know for sure.

Legend has it, Wendigo were once human. Their transformation occurred as a result of their choice to turn cannibalistic. In fact, according to tradition, Wendigo aren’t a race of beings like Sasquatch, rather their ranks are constantly being renewed as people become Wendigo. What’s more, is that Wendigo are apparently easier to kill while in transitional form, which leads to another remarkable story. That of Jack Fiddler.

Jack Fiddler was a Cree who made a name for himself by killing Wendigo. By the early 1900’s, Fiddler had claimed to have killed 14 of the beasts during his life. Time has neglected to record much of his first 13 kills, but reports show his last was against an 87 year old woman who was “in transformation.” By this time the Canadian Mounties were establishing a real presence among the Cree, and when they found out about the murder Fiddler and his son were taken into custody. He revealed that oftentimes tribesmen asked him to kill their family members when they showed signs of change. If done according to ritual, the human would be saved, albeit killed, from becoming a Wendigo. Fiddler escaped the jail only to hang himself the next day.

There are those out there who still believe Wendigo is prowling the North Woods in search of their next meal. Others pass it off as hog wash, along with all the other stories of unexplainable beasts. In the end, the legend of Wendigo is a classic ghost story that has been spun countless times across the generations. It is part of the folk lore of the outdoors and may be a good way to make your new camping companions a bit uneasy.

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I’d love to hear your thoughts on the legend of Wendigo, or any other great ghost stories told by outdoorsman, in the comments section below.

Also, thanks for taking the time to read this article. If you like the content you may enjoy this article showcasing a poem written by mountain man Rufus Sage.

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“The Book” on Primitive Trapping

Figure 4 deadfall

If you’ve ever been interested in learning primitive trapping techniques, this primitive trapping book is right up your alley.

Primitive trapping is a bit of a touchy issue these days. Some people argue they are invaluable survival tools, while others shudder at the mere mention of them. If fact, several years ago I had a fellow who wanted me banned from a social media group just for posting a primitive trapping video. He claimed I was giving too much fuel to the anti trappers out there. On the other hand, there are probably tens of thousands of resources out there about building primitive traps. One popular Youtuber who demosrates the effectiveness of primitive traps is Tom McElroy. If you are into primitive trapping and have never watched his stuff, you’ll likely be impressed with how effective he is.

Figure 4 deadfall
What are your thoughts on primitive traps? Some see them as almost too dangerous to bring up, while others celebrate their extensive history.

As a guy whose made some primitive traps, and even caught mice, I know where I stand on them. Primitive traps were used for tens of thousands of years as a survival tool for sure, and certainly could be used again if the builder was competent enough. History seems to prove that. The flip side of the coin is that we have steel traps these days that are just too good to pass up. First nations people readily swapped for steel traps when they had the opportunity for obvious reasons. They are just better for catching animals. Whatever your interest is in primitive trapping probably determines how you view them. Personally, I see them as a great way to learn about the lives of our ancestors, walk in their moccasin tracks for a few steps, and also a tool to help a guy out in a pinch. Not ideal, but possibly a help.

Recently while stumbling across the web I came across a primitive trapping book that really caught my eye. It is a resource made available by the excellent website masterwoodsman.com. The book itself is a pdf. file you can get without downloading it and is titled Deadfalls and Snares and has a copyright date of 1907. It was penned by author A.R. Harding and may be the most complete primitive trapping book you could hope to get your hands on. Click on this link to access the book in its entirety.

Harding starts off the book proclaiming some of the advantages of primitive traps from his eyes. Many of the same arguments he used over 100 years ago are still the ones you hear in advocacy of those traps today. Not only do they allow the trapper to travel light, but they highlight bush skills and can be extremely effective. In fact, these sorts of primitive traps were so popular during this time that one trapper in the book is quoted as saying;

“In my opinion trapping is an art and any trapper that is not able to make and set a deadfall, when occasion demands, does not belong in the profession.(Pg. 17)”

Strong words for sure, but as you can tell the man was likely convicted after a life of experience.

One thing is for sure, if you are into primitive skills, this primitive trapping book is a goldmine of information. It not only discusses a few dozen types of traps and sets, but has some decent illustrations as well. Although many are advanced designs, they might get your imagination going. You may also be surprised by the variety of animals the author claims can be taken with a primitive trap as well. Again, at almost 250 pages, you may not be able to get through the whole thing quickly. It’s also worth noting anytime you discuss primitive traps that checking your state’s regulations is important.

Although primitive trapping may be a hot button issue, hopefully you can appreciate this primitive trapping book for many reasons. It is a great historical resource that can help reveal some truths about primitive traps that we may have forgotten. It is strange to think about how popular these traps used to be, even at a time when steel traps were readily available. Personally, I also think learning about them increases knowledge of bushcraft, trapping, and our shared heritage as well. Even if you don’t plan on setting any primitive traps soon, this book can still be an enjoyable read.

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I’d love to hear your thoughts on primitive trapping in the comments section below.

Also, thanks for taking the time to read this article. If you like the content you may enjoy this article about Primitive Trapping as described by mountain man Zenas Leonard.

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Leave No Trace Camping; The Harmful Side Effects

If you are looking for an interesting read about Leave No Trace camping, this article from masterwoodsman.com is a good choice.

Recently while stumbling around the web I came across a great article from masterwoodsman.com about Leave No Trace camping. The article is titled “Leave No Trace Killed Woodcraft…Almost” and can be accessed through the link. It is certainly worth the time to read if you have a few minutes.

Basically the author, Christian Noble, gives a solid dissertation on the harmful effects of the Leave No Trace (LNT) camping protocol that is so popular today. Generally is seems his beef with LNT is not the environmental impact, but the negative human and cultural impact it has. He states LNT has created a society of visitors to nature, not participants. One good section reads:

“Inevitably, groups wanting support (and protection) for wilderness meant supporting some sort of recreational access. Minimal impact camping was born. A new “modern” wilderness ethic based purely on aesthetics. There was no working knowledge (read understanding) of nature needed. All one had to know is that if nature was altered, it was wrong.”

Another good excerpt:

“Instead, we should learn about nature as a participant. By doing to so in a respectful manner with the proper guidance, you will find a conservation ethic allowing you to tread lightly across the landscape the way it was intended by our Creator.”

Tripod cooking.
A pot of water comes to boil over an open fire using resources from the immediate area. Certainly not LNT.

In my personal opinion, I think the author is touching on something big here. While LNT does do a good job protecting our environment, it has degraded the body of knowledge we had. Most folks no longer look to nature as a place as a place they were created to live, but rather a place where they can go visit from time to time. Also, when most people do head into our wild places, they do so with a pickup load of gear from their favorite sporting goods store, or with a giant camper with electrical hookups. While I can’t/won’t demean people wanting to get out and experience nature in those ways, personally I’ve found much more satisfaction heading out with less.

The best part of this article is the balance it provides. Many times in life the sweet spot is where balance can be found. Noble rightly argues for the use of LNT practices in certain areas. Here is an excerpt:

“Don’t get me wrong, in high traffic and sensitive areas I am a huge fan of treading lightly, even using a stove. Personally, I use a supercat stove I make from used diced chili cans with denatured alcohol for fuel, when and where it makes sense.”

The reality is that in a world of 7 billion people, and 323 million in America, we can’t all go building lean-tos at our favorite destination. If that were the case, we would soon not have much nature left in those areas. On the other hand, if people do not practice living hands-on in the world, the working knowledge our cultures have gained about “survival” is threatened to be lost as well. Everything in moderation.

Finally, it seems worth excerpting one more quote from the article:

“We are NOT visitors here on Earth. This is our home and the home of our ancestors.”

How true. It seems this fact is being lost and more people are seeing themselves apart from nature, rather than our home. If you take the time to read the Softtracks About section, you should be able to grasp our thoughts on the subject. Practicing skills of self-reliance may not be the norm these days, but can truly reveal some great insights if you are willing to put the work in.

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I’d love to hear your thoughts on this great article concerning its harmful side effects in the comments section below.

Also, thanks for taking the time to read this article. If you like the content you may enjoy this article about building a primitive shelter.

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Primitive Tanning Techniques from Mountain Man Zenas Leonard

Buffalo Hunt painting.

People interested in primitive skills and history might appreciate Zenas Leonard’s account of primitive tanning used by the Crow.

One of the primitive skills I find most useful in daily life is tanning. Tanning not only allows you to use more of each animal you harvest, but can help you to create useful products. Over the past few years I’ve made moccasins, quivers, pouches, and plenty of hunting equipment. Few things are softer and have a more comfortable feel that good brain tanned buckskin. It is a process that I enjoy and it also has real world application.

Raccoon fur mittens.
Primitive tanning can be useful to make beautiful products like these fur mittens.

Usually while brain tanning, I often wonder about how people of the past did primitive tanning. With the luxury of steel fleshing knives, plastic buckets, and other specially made tools for the job, I think about how Paleo people would have done it. I imagine the process certainly would be more difficult. As luck would have it, while reading the journal of mountain man Zenas Leonard I came across an entry that described in detail the process used to brain tan buffalo hides.

The entry comes on page 57 of his 59 page journal. Near the end of his time in the mountains, Leonard takes the opportunity to live with a band of Crows. One interesting dimension of Leonard was his fairly good eye for, and interest in, anthropology. He not only enjoyed living with the Crow, but he was eager to learn about their lives, and record it as well. His journal begins by describing the buffalo hunting process and all the rituals that surrounded it. One who wonders about bygone days can get a clear picture of what a buffalo hunt may have looked like from reading the journal.

Leonard next records how buffalo hides were cared for after several had been killed. He records;

“The Indians would go out in large companies and kill a great number of these animals (buffalo), when it would be the duty of the women to follow after and gather up the hides, which they would convey to the camp, and dress them ready for market. It is the duty of the squaws to dress the buffalo robes alone, which is done by stretching the hide tight on the ground and there let it dry, when they have a piece of iron or sharp stone, fixed in a stick, making a tool similar to a foot-adze, with which the cut and scrape the fleshy side until it becomes thin and smooth—after this they have a mixture composed of the brains and liver of the animal mixed together, in which they soak the hide a couple of days, when it is taken out and again stretched on the ground, where it is beat and rubbed with a paddle until in becomes perfectly soft and dry.”

If you are interested in primitive tanning you no doubt find the passage interesting at least. Still though, this passage raises a few questions in my mind.

First off, he says they “soak the hide a couple of days” in the brain and liver mixture. I have to wonder what is it soaking in? They didn’t have plastic buckets? I wonder if the hide was saturated and then folded upon itself to retain the moisture. That would make sense, and would be similar to the way I tan fur-on garments, except only one side is being covered in the tanning agent. Secondly I wonder if the paddle method is better, or worse, than the regular breaking method I normally use? Breaking is no doubt the most difficult step in the process and this method could be useful.This may be one of those questions I’ll have to answer by experimenting on a small hide.

Again, tanning is a great primitive skill to understand. It has utility and extends the bounty of the hunt. People have tanned differently all across the world to meet the same goal; material for clothing and gear. This particular primitive tanning method is laid out in plain fashion by mountain man who witnessed the process firsthand. For those folks interested in such things, we are fortunate he took the time to record it.

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If you have experience with this primitive tanning method, I’d appreciate your thoughts in the comments section below.

Also, thanks for taking the time to read this article. If you like the content you may enjoy this article about the Mountain Man Possibles Bag.

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