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Hoods In The Woods
Wow, the time has gone on, I ended up finding this article in the press (on line) about the program I worked with for 6 Years… I spent an average of 145 days in the Woods with this program… Hiking, Canoeing, Camping and more… How many we saved and some that we did not.
As an Eagle Scout, Navy Veteran and prior EMT, I would like to say THANK YOU to all those who put themselves on the line each day for our family, friends, and country. For the people of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Hawaii and the places affected by Wildfires in the west and all the places too many to name… I offer you my prayers on behalf of myself and my family – concern, and Prayers for your recovery and strength – God Bless!!!
John Elden Gibbons
From the Press
Press Articles 2
Tracking: a pastime with varied purposes
By JOHN GIBBONS, Outdoor Tips
While I was walking through the woods with my 5-year-old son Jared recently, we were checking out animal tracks. The day before, he had asked me when we were going back into the woods.
Jared and I have been tracking since he was 3. Tracking is an activity for both young and old, but especially for kids because they are so curious. That leads to the question: What is the goal of tracking?
Tracking can have nothing to do with hunting or trapping, as it is so often thought. However, that skill is useful for both. The first goal of a tracker should be to identify the animal and then try to figure out what the animal is doing. Consider how it walks, where the tracks lead to, then maybe even track the animal for a while. Winter is an excellent time to do this because there is snow on the ground.
Tracking is useful for identifying animals in your area. The first step is to make a list of all the animal tracks you find in one outing. A good book on tracking, such as Peterson’s field guides are great places to start. These books illustrate the tracks and help you identify them. Next, get a book on good techniques of tracking, like one by well-known survival writer Tom Brown Jr.
The most important thing is just get out there and learn the easy tracks like rabbits and deer, then identify as many more as you can. The rest will follow.
With knives, size matters
By JOHN GIBBONS, Outdoor Tips
In the woods, tools can make your life easier. If you want to build a fire, you need a saw and an ax.
A saw alone will help you do a lot of work. Splitting wood with an ax or hatchet will make your fire burn better.
Always gather dry hardwoods. A winter night camping with a hardwood fire made from hardwoods like beech, oak or maple makes for a great atmosphere.
This brings me to thoughts on camp knives. What would be the best selection of knives to take on a camping trip?
Many types of knives are useful in camp. A pocket knife will do 80 percent of the work needed around camp. It can cut up game, cut rope, used to whittle or do kitchen chores.
A good multi tool comes in handy to fix stoves and lanterns. A multi tool will work well as the only knife because it has a pocket blade in it.
If you want to split wood into small kindling, an ax or hatchet will do a good job, but a large fixed blade knife can be used for this job. A sheath knife or folding lock knife with a larger blade of 4 to 6 inches can do all of the chores a pocket knife will do.
However, a pocket knife is not going to be useful to split wood when you really need it. If the wood is wet or if you need fine kindling wood, a large knife can tackle this job. If I could only have one, I would take a large sheath knife or folding lock blade knife.
Many people do not like lock blade knives. I like the low profile they put out when carrying them in public.
My pick for the best all around knife is a large folding lock blade knife. Or why not take all three with you if you can?
In the end, the best knife for you is the one you have on you. It does you no good if you leave it at home. Many people will argue with me about which is the best knife. I expect this. We should agree, however, on one thing — your knife needs to be sharp.
In a survival situation I want a larger fixed blade knife 5 in minimum.
Dine on pine: needles, bark
By John Gibbons, Outdoor Tips
With Christmas fast approaching, my thoughts turn to evergreens. I wonder have you ever tried pine-needle tea?
The white pine is easily identified by its five needles in a cluster. This tree is found throughout the North Country.
To get started, clip about a teaspoon of the ends of the new growth needles. You can use any part of the needle, but the new shiny green growth is the best for tea.
Next add a cup of boiling water to the clippings. Steep this tea for about 10 minutes. It is best to strain the water into another cup. This separates the needles from the liquid. Use a metal strainer for this operation.
Sweeten the liquid as you would any other tea, and you have a surprisingly tasty beverage. This tea does not taste like turpentine or something equally bad, and it is high in vitamin C.
In a survival situation, the pine tree will also provide food where no other is available. Take a cue from the native Americans who inhabited this area: Adirondack means bark eater. The inner bark of the white pine is edible.
Start by taking a hatchet and pounding on a square section of the tree with the blunt end. Next cut a patch of the bark in a square. Do not go all the way around the tree. This will kill the tree.
Then, peal back the bark, exposing the inner bark. Many times the inner bark will come with the outer bark of the tree as you peel. If not, pull the inner bark off the tree.
This inner bark needs to be dried or boiled to process it for use. If boiled it can be eaten as is or with other things such as bullion for flavor. This makes kind of a wild noodle.
If dried, the bark can be pounded into flour and used to make ash cakes, a dough cooked in the ashes of the fire to make a biscuit. It can also be eaten as it comes off of the tree.
However, processing it makes it more palatable.
Have a great Christmas and don’t forget that white pine. It is not only for decoration. It could save your life.
Campfires: Here’s how — and how not
By John Gibbons, Contributing Writer
A long time ago, the only way to cook food in the woods was with a campfire. Now we have backpacking stoves and liquid fuel. Campfire cooking seems to have become a lost art. Some say this is a good thing.
Campfires can cause forest fires and deplete the forest of wood in overused camping areas, and campfires are banned in some areas of the Adirondacks.
However, to be skilled in the outdoors, a person needs to know how to build a safe fire. Fires are indispensable in an emergency, to say nothing of the feeling you get from standing around one. Though I have gone several nights in the dead of winter without a campfire, the nights with a campfire were always more cheerful.
It is important to keep the area around the fire free of debris. This creates a safety zone. Piling mineral soil onto a tarp will create a base for your fire that can be scattered after use.
You do not need to put rocks around in a ring. This just creates scarred rocks. Remember to keep the fire small and never burn wood larger than your wrist.
Gather only dead and downed wood. Do not peel birch trees for tinder. This hurts the tree and leaves a scar. You can usually find birch bark on the ground. Consider using other tinder. Fine-shaved pieces of wood from dead and down trees make great tinder. A saw and an ax or hatchet will go a long way to help gather and, if need be, split good dead wood.
What is the best fire? A tepee fire or a log-cabin fire is what I recommend. A tepee fire has sticks piled vertically in a circle to form a tepee. This fire is great for making a hot fire or producing good cooking coals.
Always cook food on the coals of a fire. The log-cabin fire is formed by placing sticks horizontally in a criss-cross manner. This fire puts out a lot of warmth. It burns slower and is a good fire for sitting around. So what is the best fire? It depends on its use.
Bean-hole beans: a campsite staple
By John Gibbons, Outdoor Tips
No camp experience would be complete without making baked beans in a bean hole. In days gone by, beans were a staple of camp life. Now we have dehydrated foods and lots of canned goods.
In the old days, you used dried goods in camp. If you want to reach for a little piece of history, make some camp beans. Don’t forget the bannock, bacon and coffee to round out that traditional experience.
To begin, Take a pound of dry navy beans and wash them. Be sure to pick out any stones.
Soak these beans in water overnight. In the morning, put the beans in your pot and cover them with two inches of water. Put the kettle on to boil.
Simmer the beans until the skins pop open when you blow on them. Take them off the stove and drain the water. Reserve two cups of the bean water.
This should take about 45 minutes.
While the beans are boiling, dig a hole in the ground. The hole should be one foot deeper than the size of the pot and 1½ feet larger in diameter.
Line the hole with rocks. Do not use river stones, as they may explode.
I get asked the question: Do you have to line the hole with rocks?
The answer is no, but it will work better with the rocks.
Next, build a fire in the hole. Let the fire burn down to coals. Shovel out the coals.
Next, add the following to the beans:
Now, add the two cups of water, plus enough to cover the beans. Stir the mixture up and place the pot with the lid on it and handles up in the hole.
Shovel the coals back in around the pot and cover with coals and a layer of dirt. Leave the handle out so you can find it.
Cook for six to eight hours.Carefully uncover the pot. If you have never had beans cooked this way, you are in for a treat and you will experience a little piece of history.
The cattail can be the staff of life out in the wilds
By John Gibbons
My grandfather, Euell Gibbons, was enamored of the common cattail. I was thinking about this as I was hiking around the Paul Smiths Visitor Interpretive Center early last fall. I was impressed with the number of cattails in the bog area.
If you want to enjoy wild foods, you really need to learn about only 20 plants. A good place to start is by reading Grandpa’s book “Stalking the Wild Asparagus.”
The first and one of the most important wild foods you should learn is the common cattail, Typha latifolia. Grandfather called these plants “the supermarket of the swamps.”
You will find these plants in wetland areas. They are common in the Champlain Valley but harder to find in the Adirondack Mountain areas.
The cattail is easily found by locating last year’s stalks, which are long, sword-like leaves. Then look for a cigar-shaped, furry seed head sitting atop a slender reed, a sign of last year’s crop. In the spring and summer, the cattail leaves are green, but they turn brown in the fall.
The cattail has five edible parts.
The young shoots can be cooked like asparagus. They are referred to as “Cossack asparagus.” The green seed pods can be boiled like corn on the cob and are called “cat on the cob.”
The pollen that forms on the seedhead can be mixed with flour to form a great additive. The rootstock, or rhizome, can be opened and mashed in a slurry of water. The water is then poured off, and what remains is a wet flour that can be used to bake with.
Finally, a soft spike at the end of the rootstock can be boiled and eaten.
The cattail can provide food in a survival situation, either raw or boiled. It can provide a source of flour and an additive to extend flour.
It can also help in other ways by providing reeds for baskets or mats. The fluff that forms on the seed head can be used as an insulation in the fall or winter by stuffing it into your clothing.
The same fluff will help catch a spark when using spark-based fire starting. Add a mixture of birch bark and fluff together to get a fire started.
The cattail is an important plant. It is one of the first you should learn.
Take no chances: pack survival kit
By John Gibbons, Contributing Writer
I am writing this with a hot cup of coffee in hand. I think about how warm and content I am. Instead, I could be outside, cold and in need of protection. This got me thinking about what we really need in an emergency or survival situation. It also made me think of the statement, “Anyone who goes afield should take a survival kit with him or her for emergencies.”
Why take a survival kit? A good survival kit will provide the necessities when you really need them. Every good survival kit should start with clothing. Start out by wearing and taking clothing that will keep you warm and comfortable during a night out in the woods. This may mean carrying a down jacket in a day pack. Always layer your clothing so you do not overly perspire. Getting wet cools you down. Carry a wool hat and mittens.
Many people have died because of exposure. Exposure is hypothermia, a cooling of your core temperature to the point of death, or hyperthermia, the heating of your body temperature to the point of death. Exposure is the No. 1 cause of death in a survival situation.
The next important cause of death is dehydration, lack of water. If these two problems are taken care of, a healthy person could live several weeks with hunger as the side effect. Learning to fish, trap and gather wild foods will aid in preventing hunger. However, it is no guarantee of eating.
So what should you bring? The correct clothing, a multi-tool knife, a collapsable water container, water-purification tablets, a magnesium fire starter, fire-starting fuel (Vaseline and cotton), 50 feet of parachute cord, a small compass, two large garbage bags (contractor’s size) for shelter, 25 feet of wire for snares (22 guage), 25 feet of fish line, fish hooks, two rubber worms, sinkers, a small metal pot or cup and a bandana that can be used as a bandage. Add more if you want. When you think about what could happen to you, a survival kit just makes good sense to take along.
Sparks can fuel the flames of survival
By JOHN GIBBIONS
Fire is very important in a survival situation. Without fire you cannot purify water, regain lost heat or cook food.
I remember the first time I made fire with flint and steel. I struck a small piece of flint that I purchased from a black-powder dealer to a steel file. The spark shot down onto a mixture of Vaseline and cotton. It lighted right away. The key is to guide the steel down across the flint. In this way you can aim the shower of sparks.
You can make the Vaseline and cotton mixture by smearing a gob of Vaseline onto three all-cotton cotton balls. Then simply work the Vaseline into the cotton. I store my mixture in an empty 35 mm film container. I keep it in the top pocket of my vest with an artificial flint called a magnesium fire starter. If you have never used one of these little gems, I suggest you buy one. They are inexpensive and can be found at many sporting goods stores.
The magnesium fire starter takes some practice, but once you learn to use it, you will never want to be without one. The fire starter has an artificial flint imbedded into a block of magnesium. Magnesium is scraped off a block on the starter with a knife or quartz rock. These scrapings are best piled on to a small amount of birch bark.
Buff the bark by rolling it back and forth with your hand against your pants leg. This will break up the fibers. Now make a little nest with the bark and scrape the magnesium onto the bark in a little pile. Using a knife or quartz rock, scrape across the artificial flint to make a spark. Direct the spark onto the pile of magnesium. This takes a little practice. The pile will light and set the birch bark ablaze.
Why not just use a lighter?
I have found in windy and wet conditions that using the Vaseline and cotton mixture with a fire starter will work every time. A lighter tends to blow out, can run out of fuel, and will deteriorate with age. The magnesium fire starter will stay ready when lighters and matches become ruined.
The next step is true flint and steel. By learning these skills you just increase you chances of starting a fire when you need one. But remember, you have to practice.
Bread on open fire rounds out breakfast
By JOHN GIBBONS
Taking an old-time camping trip can be a great way to appreciate how our forefathers did it. A couple of years ago, my friend Rick and I canoed to Little Square Pond in the St. Regis Canoe Area for a three-day trip. We were going in by canoe, and we carried only a tarp to sleep under and planned to cook on an open fire.
We brought with us only the basics that included the three traditional old-time camping staples — beans, flour and bacon, the latter the cured kind that keeps well.
At camp, I boiled the bacon in a few inches of water in the frying pan and then fried it to a golden crisp.
Then I made that traditional trail-bread bannock for our morning meal to go with the bacon. The recipe is really simple. Here are the ingredients:
To make the bannock, combine the dry ingredients and work the water in a little at a time until you have a stiff dough. If it’s too soft, work in a little more flour. Make it into a ½-¾-inch-thick round loaf about the size of the bottom of a medium frying pan. Drop the loaf into a hot, well-oiled fry pan and cook. When the bottom is brown flip it over and cook the other side. If you have an open fire, you can prop the pan up on a log and cook the other side without flipping it. Expose the uncooked side to the heat of the fire while it’s still in the pan.
I like to use my pot lid over the frying pan while the bread cooks to make a little oven.
The bannock tastes much like an English muffin. Use a toothpick or wood sliver to poke into the bannock to check for doneness, much like a cake. Try this at home in your kitchen. If you add more water to the mixture you get a passable flapjack recipe.
John Gibbons is the grandson of wild foods legend Euell Gibbons. He is the author of “An Adirondack Guides Cookbook.”