Camping advice 120 years in the making

As many of our readers will know, we are big fans of The Project Gutenberg because we love the historical writings that are available throughout their vast collection of public domain books.  You will also know that, occasionally, we find a work that is of particular interest to us and hopefully to our readers.

Geore_Washington_SearsThis particular post is a result of some recent reading we have been doing by an author that lived well over one hundred years ago.  George Washington Sears was a writer for Forest and Stream (which later merged with Field and Stream) in the 1880s. Using the pen name, “Nessmuk” he wrote about self-guided canoe camping and other stories.

As we were reading his book Woodcraft and Camping, we found a number of pieces of advice that, interestingly enough, are still valid today.  We have summarized some of these below but, certainly would encourage you to check out the entire book or other stories by Nessmuk.

On Hunting

In hunting, “silence is gold.” Go quietly, slowly, and silently. Remember that the bright-eyed, sharp-eared woodfolk can see, hear and smell, with a keenness that throws your dull faculties quite in the shade. As you go lumbering and stick-breaking through the woods, you will never know how many of these quietly leave your path to right and left, allowing you to pass, while they glide away, unseen, unknown. It is easily seen that a sharp-sensed, light-bodied denizen of the woods can detect the approach of a heavy, bifurcated, booted animal, a long way ahead, and avoid him accordingly.

But there is an art, little known and practiced, that invariably succeeds in outflanking most wild animals; an art, simple in conception and execution, but requiring patience; a species, so to speak, of high art in forestry—the art of “sitting on a log.” I could enlarge on this. I might say that the only writer of any note who has mentioned this phase of woodcraft is Mr. Charles D. Warner; and he only speaks of it in painting the character of that lazy old guide, “Old Phelps.”

Sitting on a log includes a deal of patience, with oftentimes cold feet and chattering teeth; but, attended to faithfully and patiently, is quite as successful as chasing a deer all day on tracking snow, while it can be practiced when the leaves are dry, and no other mode of still-hunting offers the ghost of a chance. When a man is moving through the woods, wary, watchful animals are pretty certain to catch sight of him. But let him keep perfectly quiet and the conditions are reversed. I have had my best luck, and killed my best deer, by practically waiting hour after hour on runways. But the time when a hunter could get four or five fair shots in a day by watching a runway has passed away forever. Never any more will buffalo be seen in solid masses covering square miles in one pack. The immense bands of elk and droves of deer are things of the past, and “The game must go.”

The Outdoor Cooking Range

Two logs six feet long and eight inches thick are laid parallel, but seven inches apart at one Outdoor_Cooking_Rangeend and only four at the other. They are bedded firmly and flattened a little on the inside. On the upper sides the logs are carefully hewed and leveled until pots, pans and kettles will sit firmly and evenly on them. A strong forked stake is driven at each end of the space, and a cross-pole, two or three inches thick, laid on, for hanging kettles. This completes the range; simple, but effective. The broad end of the space is for frying-pans, and the potato kettle. The narrow end, for coffee-pots and utensils of lesser diameter. From six to eight dishes can be cooked at the same time. Soups, stews, and beans are to be cooked in closely covered kettles hung from the cross-pole, the bottoms of the kettles reaching within some two inches of the logs. With a moderate fire they may be left to simmer for hours without care or attention.

On the campfire

We first felled a thrifty butternut tree ten inches in diameter, cut off three lengths at five feet each, and carried them to camp. These were the back logs. campfireTwo stout stakes were driven at the back of the fire, and the logs, on top of each other, were laid firmly against the stakes. The latter were slanted a little back, and the largest log placed at bottom, the smallest on top, to prevent tipping forward. A couple of short, thick sticks were laid with the ends against the bottom log by way of fire dogs; a fore stick, five feet long and five inches in diameter; a well built pyramid of bark, knots and small logs completed the camp-fire, which sent a pleasant glow of warmth and heat to the furthest corner of the shanty. For “night-wood,” we cut a dozen birch and ash poles from four to six inches across, trimmed them to the tips, and dragged them to camp. Then we denuded a dry hemlock of its bark by the aid of ten-foot poles, flattened at one end, and packed the bark to camp. We had a bright, cheery fire from the early evening until morning, and four tired hunters never slept more soundly.

The cost of a hatchet

My witty friends, always willing to help me out in figuring the cost of my hunting and fishing gear, made the following business-like estimate, which they placed where I would be certain to see it the first thing in the morning. Premising that of the five who assisted in that little joke, all stronger, bigger fellows than myself, four have gone “where they never see the sun,” I will copy the statement as it stands today, on paper yellow with age. For I have kept it over forty years.

A woodsman,
To getting up one limber-go-shiftless pocket-axe: Dr.
Cost of blade $3.00
Fare on boat 1.00
Expenses for 3 days 3.00
Three days lost time at $1.25 per day 3.75
Two days making model, handle and sheath, say 2.00
Total $12.75
Per contra, by actual value of axe 2.00
Balance $10.75

Then they raised a horse laugh, and the cost of that hatchet became a standing joke and a slur on my “business ability.” What aggravated me most was, that the rascals were not so far out in their calculation. And was I so far wrong? That hatchet was my favorite for nearly thirty years. It has been “upset” twice by skilled workmen; and, if my friend “Bero” has not lost it, is still in service.

Note: If you have enjoyed this historical reference, remember that you can find the full book and many other great stories and reference materials at Project Gutenberg which offers over 53,000 free ebooks.

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