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Making a legacy: How military surplus carries on tradition

It was with mixed emotions that I drove the boy to the Armed Forces Career Center for the final time.

He is, as I write this, in the process of becoming a United States Marine. I couldn’t be more proud of him and I was assaulted with a plethora of memories during that long final drive as I tried to offer him my advice on how to survive boot camp, forgetting for the time being that if he is at all like me, he wasn’t paying a bit more attention to what I was saying than the man in the moon. That’s because he is the type that wants to sort things out for himself, and he also knows that the boot camp I experienced in 1992 is not the same boot camp that he will experience on Parris Island in 2018.

However, we did have a great opportunity to relive some exciting moments that we shared together over the last 22 years.

His first deer for instance. This was a three day deer camp that culminated in his shooting the biggest doe I have ever seen straight through the heart with his brand new Mossburg 20 gauge shotgun that he had gotten for Christmas that year. I had just watched him allow a much smaller doe to creep past us, right underneath the deer stand we were sitting in. He had simply watched her go by, unable to move fast enough to click the safety off and fire the shot that would have made meat for the family for the winter. I was quietly chewing his ass, when he suddenly snapped off the safety, threw the shotgun to his shoulder, and blasted past my ear without a word of explanation. I was a little pissed, thinking that he had simply done that for dramatic effect in response to my chastisement, and then I saw the blood spatter in the snow. A spatter which ended in a steaming pile of nearly a hundred and fifty pounds of fresh venison. That was a great day for me, because being squeamish,  I offered him the chance to clean all the guns when we shoot in exchange for my dressing the game that we shoot. He soon discovered that we shot much more than we hit.


And so I look forward to the times that we can spend in his deer camp, telling his war stories to his sons as we sit in his grandfathers old military surplus army tent. This is what memories are made of.

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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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Beaver Sign: 3 things you must know about beavers


I was recently visiting a favorite fishing spot, which I haven’t been to in a couple of years. As I was walking down the trail to the pond, I came across two rough looking characters who were dressed in blue jeans and wife beaters. They both grinned maniacally at me as one of them pulled something from his pants pocket.

“So it’s come to this”, I thought as I contemplated my chances against the two husky but out of shape and overweight fellows. I knew I could at least outrun them but it is unfortunately not in my nature to run. I was at least a little relieved when the fellow who had went into his pocket unrolled a handkerchief to reveal a rumpled Morel mushroom. “I fount one” He grinned at me through snaggly teeth and ratty beard, as his companion looked on approvingly. I nodded my acquiescence, and moved on down the trail at a steady pace. It was then that I saw the damage that had been done to the once beautiful lake… it was completely trashed!

Not by the two miscreants, they had only been hunting mushrooms. No! The lake had been trashed by beavers. There were literally no trees that had been left unmarred. Many had been stripped of bark, while others had been gnawed down completely. There were large piles of limbs and branches, (dams) all over the lake. It was a mess. Therefore, for those of you who are uninformed, here are three things you must know when camping in beaver country.

  1. The little rodents are dangerous. Not only will they drop a tree on your tent, they will eat you up if you bother them. Those huge, curved teeth that they are able to gnaw through trees with will go through your flesh and bone with no problem.
  2. They will kill every tree they can get to. There is a reason that the pioneers nearly eradicated these creatures from the face of the earth beyond the need for fur hats.
  3. They are sneaky and hard to find. One of the tricks of locating these creatures, (they will make many lodges and move from lodge to lodge), is to watch the lodges on a frosty morning sand look for one that is steaming. They usually sleep about 9 deep and the vents that they put in their lodges will steam on cold mornings from the breath and body heat escaping.  In the summer watch for the cloud of mosquitos hovering around the vent, attracted by the carbon monoxide being released.
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4 must do tips for varmints

As spring blooms upon us, so does the annual varmint hunts. I speak of course of the wanton shooting of groundhogs, prairie dogs, muskrats, coyotes, field mice, rats, possums, skunks, moles, and other such vermin as are legal to hunt and fun to shoot. I purposely failed to mention either wild dogs or feral cats for obvious reasons that will become apparent as you  read further into this post.

Many people love to hunt varmints for various reasons ranging from target practice to revenge. These creatures are destructive by their very nature, and as such have made bitter enemies with mankind. There is the quandary however, of what exactly to do with varmints after you have successfully hunted them. Here are 4 ways to justify varmint hunts.

  1. Eat them. This is not as nasty as it may sound with the exception of maybe the coyotes and skunks. Muskrat and possum are very tasty if cooked right and both have a very dark, fatty meat. Groundhogs, prairie dogs, mice etc… are good eaters too, and are especially good cooked over an open fire.
  2. Sell them. Ok, you’re going to ask: “who the hell would buy a dead woodchuck?” Well, I’m glad you asked. Most taxidermists will put them to good use for you, They may not give you much if anything, but the hides are useful for taxidermy pieces.
  3. Skin them. Though the fur isn’t worth much anymore, the skins can be used for all manner of crafts and especially for traditional fly tying. There are lots of “outdoorsy types” who will purchase fur and skins for their own nefarious purposes.
  4. Make your own dog food. Why not buy a grinder especially for you K9 friends and grind the flesh and bones of these various varmints, (as well as a few road kill deer), to make a healthy, natural food source? It is more fitting for their digestive tracts than kibbles, and cheaper as well.
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Photo By: The Cross and the Switchblade

In 1958, after a wave of Hollywood driven rhetoric, the Switchblade Act came into effect which essentially took the ability of millions of honest Americans to have a spring assisted knife from being carried on the person. It had a lot to do with the gang violence of New York, and the knee jerk reactions of politicians and bureaucrats who believe in the demonization of everything. Thank God the movie “Gangs of New York” hadn’t been made yet or we would have one hell of a time getting hatchets and meat cleavers… but I digress. There is a new bill in the works which will reverse the act of 1958 and make switchblade knives a legitimate set of working tools again. The Knife Owners’ Protection Act of 2017 was drafted by Arizona Representative Andy Biggs to counter this asinine offensive against cutlery freedom in the nation, which limits the ability for interstate trade and travel with switchblades. Nearly 40 states in the union have already legalized the use of switchblades in one form or another according to Knife Rights Chairman, Doug Ritter, as quoted in a recent article in Knife News. Switchblades are a long time favorite of law enforcement, the military, preppers and survivalists. They are also pretty popular with people with disabilities. Here are three good reasons to invest in a switchblade for survival beyond the fact that they look cool as all hell.

  1. The psychological effect. This effect doesn’t just work in favor of the bearer of the knife by scaring the shiz-izzle out of a potential adversary, but it also emboldens the bearer and elicits a feeling of power whenever wielded as a defensive weapon. Much the same as a policeman’s asp.
  2. It offers an excellent backup weapon. Let’s face it, we’re all vulnerable to catching a round and I have seen plenty of footage where a fellow man at arms caught a round which disabled him and which was soon followed up with a coup de gras… not good! A one handed man’s knife can come in very handy in a situation like that.
  3. They are highly collectible. Not only are these things effective, they are highly collectible if they are well made and produced reputably, specifically German and Italian manufacturers, Boker Knives being a prime example. They are perfect additions to the arsenal whether you are on a full blown survival trip, a military surplus tent adventure, or a family camping endeavor. There are even military surplus switchblades available though federal law prohibits their being sold.
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Photo By: hivewire3d

Though it’s usually military families, or prior military personnel, there is a movement afoot that is as old as the taming of the horse and the invention of the wheel; that of the nomadic lifestyle. The newest twist on this way of life is reminiscent of the Vardo caravans of Gypsy lore. And the fact of the matter is that it isn’t really a new lifestyle, rather it is one that comes and goes in it’s appeal depending on the going culture. Many of us, for example, can remember the free loving spirit of the 1960’s and the allure of Haight-Ashbury that drew so many of the countries youth away from the Viet Nam war and into a nomadic culture of free existence and community living. And though that movement has died for the most part, and was replaced by the yearning for a house in the suburbs and a nine to five, so does the dream come alive again, many times it seems on the heels of a war. It was after WWII that we saw a rise in the biker clubs of the 1950’s and following Viet Nam that we saw the hippie movement. And now, in the wake of the war in the Middle East, we are seeing a new nomad emerge from the ashes, gather his horse and wagon, and drive off into the horizon to live closely with nature. In this instance horse and wagon has been replaced by mini-van and RV. In the 1960’s we saw the VW Micro-bus, and post WWII the Harley-Davidson motorcycle. And so the question is posed regarding what makes veterans of foreign wars so adept at the nomadic lifestyle? What is the allure that draws such men and women into a wandering existence, traveling light and sleeping at night beneath the desert sun, or pitching a military surplus Army tent in the mountains? The answer I think is defined in one word: “freedom”. Many find freedom – true freedom- for the first time in an Army base on a foreign land. And once they get a taste of that freedom, they become possessed by the notion of it and it drives them then… into the wilderness.

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So, in our last post we discussed why it can be important to boil water in a survival situation, but we did not delve into the methodology of boiling said water, so, in this insert we will discuss three very easy yet effective methods of boiling water in a wilderness situation. Now notice, I said wilderness situation and not necessarily survival situation. The fact is that the only way I’ve ever been able to get water to boil in a survival situation, (one where I didn’t even have so much as a tin cup to boil with), is the hot rock method. So here are three methods that you can use to boil water in the wilderness.

  1. Fresnel Lense. I’ll mention this first because it is the least practical; however it is probably the most fun, rewarding, and the greenest. The Fresnel Lens harnesses the power of the earth’s sun to boil your water or to otherwise cook your food. This would be a great apparatus to have for a military surplus tent adventure, family camping trip, or any other planned outing. It is kind of big however, so in order to get one together that will be effective you will need to have room in your camper, truck or Subaru.
  2. Fire and iron. Or aluminum, or steel, or ceramic, copper, tin, brass or anything else that can withstand the heat of a fire or cookstove. Most non-ferrous metals other than lead, zinc, etc… The trick here, regardless of the heat source, is to get the water hot enough to boil by getting the vessel hot. This is how we boil water all over the world, the most common method.
  3. Hot rocks. This is the easiest method when in a survival situation because you can use a wood container, clay, mud or even a thick leaf container, or bark, to hold the water while it is being heated to boiling by placing egg sized hot rocks in it. The rocks should not be sedimentary, rather you should use igneous or metamorphic rocks.
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The art of kleptoparasitism, though not very chivalrous, can be quite profitable in a survival situation. The act is so prolific globally that there are actually tribes of indigenous Africans who still practice the stealing of another’s meat to this day. Even some who will fight lions off a kill. Though I’m not a proponent of trying to steal a fresh kill from a grizzly bear or a pack of wolves, there are several cases where I can see the advantages to taking another’s food in a survival situation, and can think of at least two incidents where I would do it unequivocally; and one other where I would do it grudgingly, depending on the situation. Here are the three times I think that stealing is ok.

  1. When you are robbing the hoard of a gatherer. In this instance I’m thinking specifically of squirrels and their nut caches. Though in reality I would want the squirrel and his nuts, I would just take the nuts if that is all I had. A good way to find caches is to wait for a light snowfall and follow the ambling tracks as the little varmint scampers about checking on his stashes.
  2. When you are robbing a bird of prey. This takes more luck than skill, as most birds of prey are hunting at night. However, if you are in a survival situation and you see a hawk, eagle, or owl make a kill on the ground, prepare to beat it away from that fresh meat; however, take care that you prepare for a fight, these things are pretty badass.
  3. Other humans if the situation applies. From a moral standpoint, this would require either dire consequences or an act of war whereas I was looting the reserves of an enemy. I could live with myself in either situation, providing I wasn’t taking their resources strictly from laziness, or if others more needy than they were depending on me.
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Photo By:

Three people in their early 20s were found dead of gunshots wounds in a home in Florida after they were attacked during a Super Bowl party, police say… ¹ A 39-year-old woman and a juvenile girl were found dead Monday morning at a home in Highlands Ranch. ² Eight members of a single family were executed in their homes in a matter of hours… ³

One thing is certain my friends, and that is the fact that this is still a dangerous world, and it is seemingly getting more and more dangerous and volatile as time goes by. You are not safe in your homes anymore, if you ever were, because criminals do not hold anything sacred these days. Everyday, if you look, you can find a story about a home invasion that has left one or more, (sometimes all), of the members of a single family dead in their own domicile. As I sit here in my sun room writing this, overlooking the pool and sipping a hot cup of java, I have in my waistband a Glock model 17, fully loaded and charged, in a DeSantis inside the pants holster. (There is an extra magazine in the pouch attached to the holster). Near me, leaning against a table, is a Remington™ 870 fully loaded and ready to roll with 00 buckshot. I am home on a day off and am catching up on my writing; however, even when I am home I am always armed and am always prepared to commit to violence if need be. Many would think that I am paranoid… perhaps they are correct, however, I think the people mentioned in the above excerpts from recent newspapers would disagree. I think if they could do it over again, they too would have been armed and ready. If you think about it objectively, you can probably relate to the fact that we as Americans have had it too easy for too long, in direct contrast to those in our ancestry who always had to worry about someone forcing their way into their cabin, teepee, or house in an attempt to take their lives or possessions.

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