Self-reliance is a growing trend nowadays and rightfully so. Our current culture has grown soft and too dependent on others. We aren’t saying that modern society is a failure, it isn’t. We are saying that the modern common person is not nearly as capable of taking care of themselves as our past generations. In an ongoing effort to better ourselves, many of us seek out training in various skill sets medical, firearms, trades, and for this instance primitive skills.
Randall’s Adventure & Training (RAT) started as a survival company specializing in expeditions into the Peruvian Amazon. Over time they set up a training center in Alabama and host training in wilderness survival, land navigation, tracking, SAR, Rope techniques, and various types of Law Enforcement training. Once RAT had moved more operations to the United States they teamed up with ESEE knives to produce the tools necessary for such harsh environments.
This year was the first year RAT/ ESEE offered a course in Idaho, although ESEE knives have been produced in Idaho Falls since their inception. The Idaho Backcountry Bushcraft course started with a tour of the ROWEN Manufacturing headquarters (where ESEE is made). Look for a future Small American Business article highlighting the Rowen Family and ESEE knives. The facility tour was informative and showed the processes each knife goes through; laser cutting the material, heat treating (a proprietary method they kept secret) cleaning and grinding, sharpening etc. All students picked any blade they wished and were then instructed to complete the knife by adding the correct grips. I opted for the new ESEE PR4 designed by lead instructor Patrick Rollins. After our knife selections we had pizza then headed out to Walmart for supplies before going into the mountains. Once we reached our mountain training area we set up camps, had meals, and were given a formal block of instructions on knife safety. From there we finished out the day watching the incredibly talented James Gibson, of Knob Creek Forge, carve a spoon while teaching us carving basics.
The first full day of training started with a safety brief by the EMT in the class about hydrating and again knife safety. To familiarize us with the nomenclature of certain cuts we began work on a “try stick”. There are several different variants of try sticks but the overall purpose is to practice different types of cuts and notches that are commonly used in bushcrafting materials. We had a discussion on the importance of shelters in survival situations and the general rule of 3. A person can survive 3 minutes without air, 3 hours in harsh weather, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food. As a class, we decided a lean-to style shelter with a raised bed and fire “reflector” would be best. As a group, this task only took us a couple of hours and during construction, we discussed how the workload would impact a single person or a couple. Shelter building takes a decent amount of effort and that is one of the reasons it should be one of the first considerations for energy expenditure.
After shelter construction and a lunch break, we began the instruction block on friction fire methods. We began practice on bow drill fires, a task that is more difficult than it appears. Wood selection plays an important role in friction fires and for this exercise, we used good old cedar fence boards. Whittling down our drill and hearth board then carving out the necessary notch size for production and collection of the coal. We used jute twine and natural materials for the tinder. One of the more difficult aspects of the hand drill was placement and size of the notches to ensure dust collection. Coordination is key when using the bow drill to keep a good rhythm and maintain control of the bow and drill.
The hand drill portion as much easier. We constructed the hand drill much like a modern drill that would use a bit. A dowel and a hollow reed are put together and secured allowing the changing of “bits” which are the friction portion on the hearth board. The hearth board and bit were cedar. The hand drill offered much more control and was easier to get a coal in less time than the bow drill.
We also learned about the fire board technique where the builder uses two relatively flat boards and a cotton ball with wood ash rolled into it. Start by rolling the cotton ball/ ash into a doobie. Place it between the boards and roll it vigorously until it begins to burn. This process is very easy and takes only a few minutes. An ESEE Prostaff member, Caleb Olander from Arizona, was on hand to demonstrate another method of friction fire that used your mouth to stabilize the spindle allowing both hands to control the speed and stability. This offered more control over other methods and also seemed less strenuous.
The day came to a close around the campfire with an informal block of instructions from James Gibson on knife maintenance and sharpening tools.
The third day started with instructions on natural cordage techniques. Utilizing the two strand twist method as well as lashing. We also worked on gorge hooks for fishing, which is a type of choke hook the fish swallows and becomes lodged inside of it. To aid as sinkers a demonstration was done on drilling holes in rocks using flints and our hand drill setups. River rocks wedged in a simple stick vise were relatively easy to penetrate and easy to keep control of. We rotated on the hand drill to minimize work effort and to let students understand how the grinding of the rocks felt. Before we broke for lunch we had a competition for making fire the fastest with our previous days’ bow drill setups. The winner took less than five minutes to get an ember and flame and was awarded an ESEE knife of their choosing.
After lunch, the next activity was to make a pair of sandals. Each student made a template of their feet and used it to cut from a rubber material. This was a very simple process and was used as an opportunity to talk about protecting oneself from natural elements, especially the feet. As with several of the teachings, we were encouraged to discuss how this skill can be applied to a variety of scenarios.
Toward the end of day three, we had another competition for who could get fire the fastest with the hand drill method. The winner took less than five minutes to produce an ember and flame and was awarded an ESEE knife of their choosing. The day came to a close with everyone talking around the fire about different outdoor experiences. Patrick Rollins was asked what the worst thing he had ever eaten was and he didn’t hesitate when he answered “sloth”. He stated he couldn’t describe it very well and he never wanted to eat it again.
The last day of class we spent the morning around the fire learning how to make pine pitch. Heating pine sap and mixing it with wood ash to create a glue. James Gibson performed a flint knapping demonstration and gave each of us a small blade made of flint. We coated the handle portion of these blades in pine pitch to give us some grip and we used them to practice with our own “try sticks” like before but with much more difficulty. Primitive arrow/spear making was then shown with the appropriate notches on the shaft, a flint arrowhead, and pine pitch applied for a finished product.
For the afternoon we learned about trapping techniques both modern and primitive. Patrick Rollins instructed us on creating a figure four deadfall device and Caleb Olander taught the Paiute deadfall technique. We set up each students devices and triggered them manually. The Paiute deadfall was tricky to set up but was much easier to trigger than the figure four.
For modern traps, we learned about leg holds and how to employ them effectively against different types of critters. The most time was spent on how the area around the trap is to be set up and treated to minimize human scent.
After lunch, we were given a lesson on fish hook carving and construction. James Gibson demonstrated the technique and then turned us loose. At the end of the exercise, our hooks were judged and the winner was selected. Not to brag too much but my hook was the best looking and won, I happily picked an ESEE Junglas as my prize.
This brought our class to a close and we all packed up and said our goodbyes.
For me, this was my first exposure to a formal Bushcraft and primitive skills class. The instructors were fantastic and spent plenty of time with each student discussing techniques and applying them. ESEE knives have a phenomenal track record for many years as hard use blades. Being able to experiment with all of the different models and use them in the field was great and I plan to buy a CR2.5 now having experience with small blades performing big tasks. The chosen PR4 at the beginning of the class performed all tasks with ease and proved itself as an excellent all-purpose tool. For another review of an excellent ESEE product check out this post on the ESEE 5.
We did you guys a solid, gonna save you some money on some CFF stoke.
Declare for Morning Wood!