Monday, 17 October 2011

Choosing The Right Tools and Equipment. History and Survival.

Choosing The Right Tools and Equipment. History and Survival. © Keith H. Burgess.

As occasionally happens, the articles that Karl, Ross and myself come up with are often connected in some way. No doubt that is because we think in much the same way. The difference between myself and them is 300 years, but even so these two woodsmen still think in terms of practicality and often look to the past for inspiration.

Before I even read Ross’s blog today I had decided to post on survival, equipment and how to approach one’s choices of same. Ross made the comment that more and more people go into the bush equipped as if they are going into a life and death situation [or similar words]. Now personally I think that is how one should approach the task of selecting one’s equipment and tools, why? Because [A] one never knows what could happen out there and I think it is better to be prepared for the worst [as it happens I have found myself in several survival situations over the years and have been very glad I was equipped to handle the situations!], and [B] because I am an 18th century living historian, and that is exactly how a woodsman in the mid 18th century should be thinking. To think any other way would be folly.

So those of you who wish to emulate an 18th century woodsman or woods-woman, whether you be a Ranger or a militia member, hunter or trapper, you need to carry the tools and equipment that these people carried 300 years ago. Yes there is room for personal choice, but those choices must be within the realm of authenticity. If you want to carry a 1lb throwing knife, then do the research. Because most woodsrunners carried ordinary butcher knives.

I have said this before; your tools have specific uses. You do not need a knife that is capable of cutting down trees, you need a hunting knife that is capable of skinning and butchering, and perhaps at times used for fighting. You need to throw something? Throw your tomahawk/axe. It is designed to do the heavier work. You want to carry more than one knife? Fine, this is documented. I myself carry a hunting knife, a back-up legging knife and a jack knife for making kettle hooks and trap parts. All three have a purpose and they are light and useful.

Do not carry a percussion gun because a flintlock makes you flinch! Get over it. I have no doubt that some woodsrunners flinched 300 years ago until they got used to it. The fact is that the flintlock is the most practical arm to use, and it is a good survival tool. Woodsrunners and Mountain Men did not use percussion guns or rifles. Do you think they would risk running out of those percussion caps knowing that they had to wait a full 12 months before the traders returned to the mountains? No matter how many of those caps you have, if they get damp they won’t work [same goes for modern primers!]. But a piece of rock can be found anywhere that will create a spark, and if the lock breaks and you have run out of spare parts you can easily convert your flintlock into a matchlock or a tinderlock.

Good practical inexpensive second hand butcher knives.

Don’t go overboard with “spare” items, the chances of you losing tools, providing your equipment is well thought out, is minimal. You will need to make some compromise between minimum weight and maximum self-reliance. Look after your tools, and instead of carrying two of everything, learn the primitive skills that you would need if you were to lose those tools. If like my gear your equipment and tools are also your “Bug-out bag”, then by all means stash a spare fire steel and a spare butcher knife aside ready to be picked up on the way out the door. But rather than carry extra weight in tools, carry the weight in gunpowder, food and water.

Keep your foods simple, choose from those items that have been documented. Dried peas, dried corn, flour, popcorn, oats and dried meat. If you carry any fresh foods make sure you eat them first. If your gear is your modern survival pack, then pack some vitamin tablets if you have to “bug-out”. Vitamin C should be on the top of the list. Always carry your personal medication. There were pill containers in the 18th century and they carry easily in your weskit pockets. Carry a kettle, because it can be used for catching rain water, boiling water, cooking, foraging for berries, and preparing a brain mixture for tanning skins.

Think about how much lead you are going to carry. Mostly you will find that your round ball can be retrieved from shot game and remoulded using a ball mould and a light lead ladle. You can make your own gunpowder in the wilderness providing you can find the ingredients, but this is not likely. So I suggest you carry extra gunpowder. I have several leather gunpowder wallets/bags. When empty of gunpowder, this wallet contains spare plant tinder. I also have several large powder horns for other people to carry. Think about any others who might accompany you on an historical trek [or bug-out]. Though I think that most should be fully equipped and self reliant, there may be some members that you can use as “baggage carriers”.

Junior tomahawk. My three children learnt how to use and throw an axe using this small tomahawk/axe.

The woodland Indian women were baggage carriers, why? Because the warriors could not afford to be too encumbered with heavy items if they were expected to protect the women and children. The warriors carried their tools and weapons, and very often a small pack & a blanket. The women and children carried the rest. Likewise colonial settlers would travel in the same way. Scouts could not afford to be too burdened with baggage. Mostly it was the men who carried the guns and perhaps some other tools. The women carried what they could. This is not to say that women did not carry guns, I have no doubt that if there were an extra gun then a woman would carry it. Women like Mrs Pentry dressed as her husband did in woodsrunners clothing and she carried her gun and other equipment. Likewise Mad Ann Bailey was well known to be totally self-reliant in this respect and often acted as scout herself.

A no-frills English trade gun.

So think hard on what you and perhaps your family carry. There is no need for the purchasing of expensive items; in fact the opposite was far more common in the 18th century. Damascus blades and carved gun stocks would have been out of place 300 years ago. Most woodsrunners were not wealthy in regards to money, but the majority were probably very practicle.

Another no-frills flintlock in .32 calibre. No patchbox, just a grease hole in the stock.


Karl said...

Well said Keith...

Yes I'm a little more modern in my outlook, however the past is my teacher as much as the present... I learn far more from the old time books and the like than I find in most modern manuals.

Be a pragmatist when it comes to woodsmanship, learn from as many sources as you can and take only what is useful to you as an individual, never take anothers word for it until you have tried and tested it for you, it may work well for them but be a failure for you...

Great write up...




Ross Gilmore said...

Great article as always. You are one of the few people these days who writes with a good amount of knowledge about the tools and skills of the past. Your posts are always a great place to learn.

Gorges Smythe said...

I enjoy reading your thoughts, and the advice is all valid.

deRek said...

Excellent overlook Keith on gear. I trend to go for the older style of gear, 1 because i know it works, and 2 its just as effective and half as expensive as the high speed future tacticool tech some refuse to leave home without.