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Making meat 101: How to spot a game trail

It was a laughable scene in many ways. The figure four deadfall trap had been set well, but had two major, fatal flaws.

First of all, it was tiny for a deadfall. It was great if the setter had the intention of trapping moles or fieldmice, but it wouldn’t kill a rabbit or even a squirrel, (though it might have irritated the squirrel).  Secondly, it was set on the edge of a cornfield, which is fine, but it wasn’t near any cover and was out in the open. There was what appeared to be peanut butter on the end of the trigger stick.

In theory that’s a feasible setup; however, my experience has shown me that in practice this was more than likely to be a failed set. Here’s why: In order for a fieldmouse or a mole to get to the trap and partake of the peanut butter bait, (which would have been more valuable for caloric content than the fieldmouse it might have yielded), it would find it necessary to leave the thick foliage that protects it from the threat from above, (hawks and owls), and go out into the open. As a matter of fact, it would be a rarity, as determined by the sign, for anything small enough to get caught in the trap to be in the vicinity of it.

So, in this series I am going to show you how to run an effective trapline in the wilderness using nothing but pitfalls, deadfalls, and snare traps. All made from natural materials found in the woods. But in this first section we will simply discuss location. There are two types of places to trap small game, either in feeding areas or along game trails. The game trails are easier  to spot and trap because the game you are hunting will traverse the trail out of habit and won’t require conscious thought. There is a small game trail pictured in the photograph attached to this blog. Can you see it?

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Make that fire! Three tips to get fire everytime

If you have ever had the frustration of being on a campout or a survival situation, and you weren’t able to get a fire going, then this is for you.

I learned a long time ago that there is much more to building a proper fire than simply adding heat to fuel in the presence of oxygen. Even though all of those components are necessary, there is also a certain science that has to be followed in order to find an effective fuel. For those of you who have been there, you’ll know that fuel taken from the ground will not be suitable. Here’s why:

Just as heat is attracted to cold, (this is why the ground pulls the heat from your body when you lie on it), wet will go to dry. So whenever you have your fire fuel lying on the ground it is susceptible to getting moisture, especially since the low profile will prevent there being any circulation that could cause evaporation. So, that being said, here are three tips that will give you fire everytime:

  1. Find good tinder. Tinder is the stuff that will burn from a match. My favorite tinder is a bird’s nest. Now that being said, you shouldn’t be shaking baby birds out of their nest in order to build a fire, and you shouldn’t have to. There are plenty of empty abandoned nests out there.
  2. Find a good supply of wood. A good rule of thumb is to gather at least three times what you think you’ll need. I always look for a snarl of wood that has fallen from a tree during a past storm. I generally like to gather firewood that I can break to proper size because trying to cut or saw firewood in a survival situation is a waste of time.
  3. Build a teepee fire. This is an age old design that is tried and true. The concept is to use your smallest fuel, (your tender), as the nucleus, and then build your fire up in size from there.
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Spring adventures: dodging eagle babies and more

As spring finally emerges from the frosty swell of what turned out to be a harsh winter, there are some things you need to be cautious of as you meander out on your warm weather excursions.

Of course we all know to avoid the baby skunks as we go about taking photographs or looking for deer sheds or morel mushrooms, but did you know that you need to be cautious about baby eagles too?

Evidently, the young eagles will begin trying to fly before they are ready and many actually end up on the ground after having become emboldened, (by the very fact that they are eagles I suppose), to try their wings before they are ready, and tumbling to the ground.

And so it was in such a predicament that I found myself in one fine spring day when I was just a boy. I lived near a state park in Ohio and decided that I would  forgo the farm pond that I usually fished and meander the five miles or so to Acton Lake at the Hueston Woods State Park. This was a more worthy adventure for two reasons. One: it was a state lake and required a fishing license, which I didn’t have, so it gave an additional element of adventure to my nine year old mind, and two: it was well out of earshot of my dad who was notorious for ruining my fishing forays with his various fool notions, (moving hay from one barn to the other for instance).

So it was with light heart and heavy worm can that I headed across the McQuiston’s pasture and into the wilds of Hueston Woods. I was nearly to the horseman’s camp when I came across this sweet little bundle of grey fur that looked just adorable. His little long legs and oversize yellow beak were irresistible to me as I scooped him up as he attempted to scurry off. His cute little pecks against my wrist were almost comical and though I didn’t know right then what kind of bird he was, I knew that he was a raptor of some sort and my mind was immediately filled with thoughts of becoming a falconer, raising this young bird to be my constant wilderness companion. I envisioned having a T stand built for him to perch on in my room and could just taste the wide array of small game that me and Ziggy could attain.

My, but couldn’t he howl? I was very surprised that such a little guy could work up such a piercing screech, but was confident I could train him not to shriek so. It was then that all hell broke loose.

Apparently mommy eagles don’t abandon their young when they fall from the nest because the next thing I knew I was in the fight of my young life. Here’s another interesting note. Eagles attack in pairs. Did you know that? And they are tenacious as well, being willing to follow an adversary for several miles if the atrocity committed is serious enough.

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Lynwood Park Zoo: Local attraction near Camp LeJuene

I recently found myself driving the several hundred mile trip to Camp LeJuene North Carolina to spend four and one half hours of liberty with my Marine son who was at the New River Air Base attending MCT at Camp Geiger.

Though I knew I was only going to get a few short hours with the boy, I arrived a day early and brought my two best cameras with me so that I could get some photography opportunities if any were to present themselves.  It turns out that it rained the whole way down, (except for when it snowed), and I got very few good shots even though I had driven through the Cumberland Gap, Bean Station, Tennessee, and Moravian Falls.

All that changed once I arrived at Jackonsville, NC though. It was here, while I was awaiting the opportunity to check into my hotel for the night, that I did a quick google search for local attractions. The very first listed attraction near me was the Lynnwood Park Zoo located at 1071 Wells Rd. in Jacksonville, NC, (phone number is: 910-938-5848).

This is a cash only zoo, but the price of admission is only ten bucks, so I took a chance and went. Boy am I glad I did. Not only do they have a very nice selection of animal exhibits, (which are photograph friendly), but about halfway through the exhibit, two handlers are there to give you a personal encounter with many of the more exotic and personal animals. I was allowed to handle and experience a variety of snakes, a tortoise, a very soft chicken, a blue tongue skink, and Rufus the hairless rat. I had a blast and got lots of extraordinary photographs to boot.

I can’t recommend this little private zoo highly enough, and if you are going to Camp LeJuene anytime soon, or just want to visit the Carolinas on a military surplus tent adventure with the family this year, make sure you put Lynwood Park Zoo on your agenda. I assure you that you’ll be glad you did.

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4 military surplus items you can use every day

I am a connoisseur of all things military. I absolutely love to go to the military surplus store and buy any and everything I can get my grubs on; however, most of these things end up getting pushed into my shed or garage, and forgotten about.

Now I’m not talking about the bug things, like my military surplus tent, or the humvee that was sold because it didn’t meet military standards anymore. Those of course have their uses, but today I want to talk specifically about those pieces of military surplus that you can and should use every single day.

Here are four specific items, (and where to get them), that I use every single day.

  1. A military surplus web belt. The good news is that khaki goes with everything. And if you are at all like me, then you need to wear a belt everywhere you go regardless of whether you are in BDUs or not. (If for no other reason than to anchor your inside the pants holster appropriately).
  2. A military surplus backpack with frame. I love MOLLE gear. You can do anything you want with that stuff, and I use my pack in place of luggage and a purse. Not that I ever carried a purse, but the concept is sound.
  3. A camelbak hydration pack. In case you haven’t noticed, you have a tendency to drink water everyday. And the beauty of one of these packs is that you can mix your tea, or add a squirt of MIO to your water in this pack and have it with you wherever you go. No need to use the cupholder in your car, etc…
  4. GI combat harness. I’m a photographer and a survivalist. I always have the need to have a piece of equipment handy in order to perform whatever function is at hand.
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Winter Survival: 3 tips that could save your life

We have recently gotten hit with one of the harshest winter storms that I can remember. I was eight years old during the blizzard of 1978, and this past week I was having flashbacks to then as I tried to drive a stranded motorist home in a complete white out. I was forced to turn around and go back, but it occurred to me how easily I could end up in a snowbank with the responsibility of keeping my very civilized, non-survivalist passenger in tow who only had a very thin windbreaker on and thin pants with no thermal undergarments to speak of. The temperature was around 12 without taking into account the wind chill factor. So here’s the question, what would he have done if we ended in the ditch? No problem, right? You just keep the car running until you’re rescued, right? Well, maybe; but, what do you do if you get snowed in beyond the time that it is going to take to get rescued? The vehicle is your best bet, as it is certainly shelter, but there are three things you can do to better your odds of riding the storm out in the event that you have nothing but the thin clothes on your back and you’re snowbound in your car.

  1. Consider the sacred order of survival. Specifically you need: shelter, water, fire, and food in that order. Shelter you have in the form of the vehicle, and water is plentiful in the form of snow. However, you must realize that you have to melt the snow to drink it, don’t just eat the snow because you are lowering your internal temperature when you do. As a matter of fact you should drink your pee immediately in a situation like this, simply because it is already 98 degrees and you don’t have to waste energy having your body reheat it.
  2.  Use the insulation at hand. Never forget that your car seats are made out of great insulating foam. Don’t be afraid to cut this out and line your clothing with it, creating dead air space between your skin and your clothing will keep you warmer as your body heats that dead air that is trapped.
  3. Keep the door closed. Your shelter is only going to have one source of heat when the engine runs out of gas… you. Keep your body heat inside as much as possible and if worse comes to worse then consider making a nest in the snow and trying to build a fire in it from flammable parts of your car for warmth. However, never burn what can be used as personal insulation, and make sure any smoke you create has an escape vent so you don’t breathe toxic fumes.
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Playing with baby skunks, (and dealing with the aftermath)

If you have never had the pleasure of holding or playing with a tiny baby skunk, then my heart goes out to you because you have really missed out on something. This is because skunks are adorable, especially baby ones.

I remember seeing a group of baby skunks once on the college campus I was working on with my old buddy Jaybird Young.

“I’d love to hold one of those” I gushed as the little line of furballs marched past, following their seemingly serious-minded mom.

Jaybird thought quietly for a moment, one hand resting on his chin as he contemplated. “You know”, he finally replied, “they can’t spray when they’re young like that I’ve heard”.

“You sure?” I asked suspiciously, “I never heard that before.”

“Positive!” he said.

That was the day that I discovered Jaybird Young to be a liar and a fool; or maybe I was the fool. In any event, one thing you need to know is that little skunks can spray just as well as big skunks can. And let me tell you that there is a reason that skunks only have one natural predator known of, (great horned owls), can you guess why?

Here’s a little biological information regarding skunks. First of all, the chemical that they secrete to make that smell is called mercaptons and they are the same exact substances that are found in tubers such as wild onion and garlic. This is why sometimes the aroma given off from a skunk spray is often enticing in a strange way, and sweet smelling. That is, when they are experienced from a distance, the experience is quite different when experienced up close.

If your experience with baby skunks somehow goes south, here’s a no nonsense recipe for knocking the edge off of the assaultive odor, (there is no “cure” and I really can’t be bothered with that “tomato juice” nonsense). Here’s the winning recipe:

Measure out 1/4 cup of baking soda and mix it thoroughly with about a quart of hydrogen peroxide. Add a couple of tablespoons of your favorite smelling dishsoap, (preferably something that goes well with garlic). And then wash well the contaminated areas.

 

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Kayaking 202: Turning a kayak into a photo taking machine

And so I take my final bow as I present to you my kayak, all tricked out and ready to go on lake-water adventures as I endeavor on a trip to capture the stoic visage of a family of American Bald Eagles which inhabit the local state park.

I have labored long and hard on it, (not really), and I have done all that I wanted to in order to get it seaworthy.

Here are the changes I have made to it that make it ready to capture the photos and video that I am going after.

  1. I installed a go-pro mount on the top at the bow. I discovered right off that trying to mount it with marine rivets as I did nearly everything else, because the rivets heads would interfere with the camera mount. Hopefully the gorilla glue that I utilized to mount it will hold, otherwise I’m going to be hoping that the waterproof case makes it float.
  2. I used the gorilla glue to also mount two watertight cases to the floor of the kayak. One is big enough to hold the camera that I plan to use for the kayak photography, and one to hold my cellphone. Though I could have easily drilled and riveted both of these cases in, I didn’t relish the idea of breaking that watertight seal in any way.
  3. I riveted two eye brackets into the bow in order to strap a tripod into the bow. As I shoot more and more photography, I learn more and more that I need to have a tripod for stabilization. And so I plan to utilize this configuration in order to get those photos that have so far eluded me from across the lake. Of course I’ll keep you posted! Stay tuned for the next installment of kayaking for photography…
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Kayaking 201: 3 modifications you must have for photography

Ok, so I have my kayak purchased and I have been practicing with it in my swimming pool. It is very tippy.  And while this is unfortunate, it is not a tragedy because it is very easy to get out of too. However, water and cameras don’t mix well, so I will be practicing extensively with this dude before I get any of my camera gear into it. Perhaps I will visit the local goodwill store or get online and find a nice little zoom camera like the Canon Powershot SX20 IS, which will shoot high definition video and has digital zoom capabilities that allow it to be shot at up to 500mm. I had purchased a Canon G series G1X for these romps into the lakeside wilderness, but with a $400+ pricetag, the tippiness of this kayak has left me feeling less than optimistic about taking this little camera out.

I had previously written about a cute little Sony a100 I purchased for $37 that I ended up selling for $250 to an enterprising young lad who wanted to get a start in photography. The problem with the cheaper Sony was the fact that it doesn’t shoot video and it leaves a lot to be desired in really low light. I definitely don’t want to be juggling two cameras in a kayak… but I digress.

This is a blog about kayak modifications; and here are three must have mods for photography.

  1. Fishing rod holder. As simple as cutting a hole, drilling three more, and pulling three rivets. Viola! You have a fishing rod holder. This is very important because when there is nothing to photograph you are going to need something to do.
  2. Handle and oar holder. Needed so that you can have both hands free to grab camera and tripod to keep them as safe as possible. you don’t want to be juggling a double paddled oar while trying to handle your gear.
  3. A comfortable seat. If you are going to be going after eagles like I am, you will need to have some padding on your rear. Make that seat as comfortable as possible.
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Kayaking 101: 2 things you must do before you get started

 

 

 

A Sony a100 DSLR camera equipped with a Minolta 100-300mm

I have recently grown weary of walking the same old trails and driving the same old access roads looking for fresh game and new scenery for my photography.

My wife suggested that I take up kayaking in order to get to areas of a local state park that are inaccessible in any other way. Eagles for instance, are nesting on the far side of the lake and if I use digital zoom, my expensive Panasonic FZ-80 will zoom right over there so that I can just make them out, sitting in their trees and cavorting amongst themselves. Below them I can usually find where the Great Blue Herons are raising their elegant younglings, gracefully teaching them to fish among the cattails.  And so, I began the endeavor to find my path towards becoming a water borne photographer, and it was then that I discovered that I need to do two things in order to get started. Here they are:

  1. Consider costs and find the best deal out there. Now, I don’t mean just finding the best deal on a kayak, although I do mean that as well, but consider what kind of risk you will be putting your equipment through before you get started.  I have several expensive cameras and lenses. The first thing I did was go to my agent and add some extra insurance to my equipment. I also got online and looked for some inexpensive but useful alternatives to taking my best stuff out there. I found a Sony a100 on a popular repurposing site online for $37. It’s only 10mp, but it takes legacy Minolta lenses which are extremely cheap but very sharp.  I also found a Canon SX20 IS which is only 12mp but which has a 500mm focal length, ($24, same site). Both cameras work wonderfully and if they fall into the drink, I’ll be disappointed but I won’t sob uncontrollably for several days.
  2. Learn your equipment. Go to the local university and find out where the outdoor pursuit center, and get some safety training. The last thing you should want to do is get drowned while trying to get a couple of photographs. In upcoming posts, I will take you through the process of acquiring kayaks and equipment requirements to start using them for photography expeditions… stay tuned!
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