Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Mykel Hawke's "Hawkechete"...a unique and rugged woods tool.

About a year ago, I received a Mykel Hawke designed "Hawkechete" [hawkebrand.com] as a gift. Mykel Hawke is a former Captain in the U.S. Army's Special Forces, a survival skills instructor, author, and host of television programs such as DISCOVERY CHANNEL's "Man-Woman-Wild". He has brought his experience and outdoors knowledge to the table and designed some unique and unconventional woods tools, the Hawkchete being one.

"Hawkechete" processing kindling

The Hawkchete is, as it's name implies, a machete. It is constructed of carbon steel and weighs a little under 2 lbs. The blade has a black epoxy coating and is about 18" in length, with an overall length of about 23.5" including handle. the handle is a black rubber material and is "Universal" in shape, meaning it is the same shape in the hand regardless how it is held. It incorporates a lanyard hole and a short double guard to prevent the hand from sliding forward onto the blade.

The blade stock is 5/64" thick by my measure and is somewhat flexible, like any machete. The Hawkebrand.com website states the machete is built by CONDOR, a very reputable tool and knife company located in El Salvador.

The most unique feature of the machete is it's unusual shape and cutting angles. It offers the user two choices...held in one way it presents as a Khukuri stye blade. Reverse it and it presents as a Parang style machete blade. The cutting edge of the Khukuri measures at  about 17" while the Parang measures 13" of cutting edge.

All edges are razor-sharp. No, I don't mean very sharp; I mean RAZOR-BE-EXTREMELY-CAREFUL-SHARP! The Hawkechete has cutting edges both top and bottom and if you are using one you must be aware that it will cut in two directions, forward and backswing, so extreme care must be used when working with it.  This is especially true if the blade becomes stuck in wood; if you try to free it forcefully, it can suddenly come free and a sharp edge come at you or someone beside you. This is not a criticism of the design! Just an advisement to slow down and plan cuts and think your actions through, just as we should with any edged tool....the last thing one needs is a serious laceration when one is far afield and immediate medical care is not an option.

Since I was planning a camping trip for next week, I decided to get a jump on it and use the Hawkechete to make kindling for starting my campfires. Since the Hawkechete is double-edged, batoning isn't an option, so I used it like a small splitting camp axe, biting into the wooden log and then pounding the log on a stump and driving it up through the blade. Oak, Eucalyptus, it didn't matter....the Hawkechete split them all and maintained it's edge throughout. I managed to fill a 5 gallon bucket with split kindling.

After an hour of banging away with the blade and annoying the neighborhood mutts, I found no loosening in the handle. For the most part the blade was unharmed except for two very small dents which may've been inadvertent contact with the concrete pad below my stump anvil. 

I then decided to try making some curled shavings. Near the handle the blade becomes narrow-waisted and slightly curved with a straight 3" section. It is only sharpened on the inside and is ideal for use as a draw knife or for carving. Using this section I was able to produce curls for a tinder nest. Unfortunately, I was unable to ignite the curls using my ferro rod, buts was able to do so after adding some shredded jute to the nest. One could easily craft a feather stick using this feature.  

In conclusion, I would opine that the Hawkchete is a unique, unconventional, and useful woods tool, but that it must be used with the caution due any double-edged blade. I would recommend that anyone considering purchase of a machete try as many different patterns and sizes as they can access and find that which best suits their purposes.

Below, I have placed two videos made today using the Hawkechete and discussing it's features, and making fire with wood shavings processed using the Hawkechete. I hope you find them useful and informative. 


Happy Hiking!


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Coon Creek Trail day hike with KILIMANJARO GEAR

Had the day off so I took a dayhike on the Coon Creek Trail in Montana de Oro State Park. Carried gear in my Kilimanjaro Gear deployment bag and used the Kiligear BALLAST multi-tool on the outing.  Trailhead coordinates: N 35 15' 2 8.41" W 120 53' 12.44"  .  A great outing, beautiful day, sunny and 79 degrees Fahrenheit. Best of all, no snakes!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Make your own walking stick...it's easy!

A few days ago I was working at one of the park's I maintain, when I noticed a sapling laying on the ground.  Upon closer inspection I discovered it was a Sycamore and had been snapped off near the base. The sapling had stood in a shelter location, and it has dropped it's leaves, so I am pretty sure it was a deliberate act of vandalism and not an action of wind.   I notified my supervisor and then set about cutting up and removing the tree.

Vandalized sapling
Removing the branches, I got down to the trunk and it occurred to me that the tree might be useful for a walking stick. I thought I could make it into something equally beautiful and useful, and in that way, it would have a small victory over the vandals that snapped it off. Having policed up all the branches, I put the trunk aside in the bed of my truck and went back to other duties.

Having a hiking stick on trails is very wise. It can be used to balance oneself on loose or steep terrain. You can use it to drag dropped articles back to you, rather than reaching into brush and getting snakebit or stung by nettle. Finally, it can be used as a means of defense against predators. Even the aboriginal peoples here in California understood their usefulness and made walking sticks for their elders. I have made several and been talked out of a couple by friends, so I am always looking to make extras. 

Trunk before being roughed-out
Today I decided to set about making the walking stick. I began by removing the bark and roughing out the shape using a Bolo knife. This is a very useful blade. The heavy belly of the blade is an excellent chopper and it was easy to remove large, tough knots along the trunk. The narrow recurved waist makes an excellent drawknife blade for carving and shaping. The holes in the Bolo blade allow a grip for use as a scraper and removing the remaining inner bark.

Roughed out shaping complete
Having shaped it out in the rough, I set to work with a 4-in-Hand wood rasp refining shape and then smoothing the roughness out.
Having completed that I used sandpaper to smooth the stick. I like my trail stuff a little rustic, and so I do not go overboard and sand until a glass polish is achieved. After all, it's going to get dropped, nicked, scratched, and dented with use. I just want it functionally attractive.
Having sanded it to my satisfaction, I used a pencil to draw a creeping vine pattern on the stick, which I then woodburned over.
Penciling a vine pattern
The final step was to apply a coat of OLD ENGLISH wood oil, and that really brought out the glow.
The finished stick!
I am very pleased with this finished stick. It measures about 48" overall and I would place the weight at around a pound or a little over. It has a nice rounded heavy end near the top, which will serve nicely as a cudgel were I attacked by a dog or other animal on the trail.

Close up detail
Tomorrow I will seek a rubber chair tip for the end and it will be ready for the trail or street!
Happy hiking!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Learning from YOUTUBE - SIGMA 3 SURVIVAL SCHOOL Youtube "Spoke Basket" lesson

I enjoy watching YOUTUBE videos demonstrating wilderness survival and bushcraft skills, and sometimes I take advantage of the lesson and actually try it out. Such was the case with this excellent tutorial from SIGMA 3 SURVIVAL SCHOOL instructor Josh, instructing viewers on how to craft a "Spoke Basket":

This morning, after getting off work, I went to a nearby micro-wilderness and tried this method using a common material growing abundantly in the creek bed there, Willow. I didn't have time to craft Yucca cordage, nor was there any in this area anyways, so I opted to shortcut and tied my spokes together using Jute cordage:

Tying the spokes together
I was excited for the skill practice session and got started right away. When I was pretty far along I realized I had skipped a step and failed to cut one of the spokes off at the base and leave 9 spokes rather than the instructed 10. I also took a step not instructed and bound the spokes together at their tops, weaving the green willow pieces in between the spokes. It just made it easier for me than trying to bend and manage the spokes as I went:
Binding the spokes up
As I worked on the project, I could not help but be mindful that I was standing on ground where Aboriginal peoples had hunted and gathered starting 9,000 B.C. It was a beautiful sunny day. A frog gently croaked nearby, birds sang songs and made calls. Somewhere not too distant, a Red-Tailed hawk screeched. Maybe the real benefit of the primitive project is being outdoors, and being reminded what a precious gift the natural world is.  The basket began to come together, though a little crooked here and there and somewhat porous. Nonetheless, it'd hold berries and acorns, and that was all I'd intended so it was good by me:
Basket coming together
I had some interesting experiences selecting material. New green branches or shoots fractured easily and were worthless. Too dry and they snapped too. It was necessary to choose seasoned, live Willow branches, flexible but not prone to fracture. For a cutting tool I had carved a wooden handle and fitted a steel Survival Point made by my friend Dan at HARDWOOD HOLLOW BUSHCRAFT & TACTICAL. It was easy enough to just trim the leaves off the Willow branches with just a few quick strokes of the blade.
Once I reached the size and depth of basket I wanted, I bent and tucked the spoke ends into the rim of the basket as demonstrated on the video. The final step was to craft a handle, and again I used Jute cordage as a shortcut and tied the handle on:
Finished product  
I have to admit, it's a bit rough, but I was pleased with this first effort. Total time spent was maybe 2 hours. I think next time I will take my time and be a bit more careful in material selection.  Seems like in spite of my efforts, branches would sometimes fracture or ends slip out of the spokes [which might be due to the missed step] but that might just be the nature of such baskets.
So, I hoped you have enjoyed this post. I close by offering my thanks and appreciation to Mr. Josh and SIGMA 3 SURVIVAL SCHOOL for sharing their knowledge.  Be sure to visit the  SIGMA 3 SURVIVAL SCHOOL website and their YOUTUBE channel.
Happy Hiking!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

National Trails Day - hike up Bishop Peak Trail

June 6, 2015 was the date for the AMERICAN HIKING SOCIETY's annual event,  "NATIONAL TRAILS DAY" .

This annual event is billed as, "...the country’s largest celebration of trails.  National Trails Day events will take place in every state across the country and will include hikes, biking and horseback rides, paddling trips, birdwatching, geocaching, gear demonstrations, stewardship projects and more..."

Checking their website, there did not appear to be any events in my immediate area and, due to work, I didn't have the time to volunteer to host a local event, however, I decided that when I got off work I would go out on a trail and celebrate the day.

I was fortunate to have a short shift that morning, so I decided to hit Bishop Peak Trail, a favorite of mine:

Bishop Peak, San Luis Obispo, CA
Bishop Peak is a volcanic peak located in San Luis Obispo, CA. Part of the Morro's, a chain of volcanic peaks, Bishop Peak is 1,546' elevation and is the tallest of the chain of peaks. The trail is about a 4 mile round trip. Additional information is available on the Hike's Peak.com website.

The trail is just a couple of miles from my workplace. It was an overcast morning and driving to the trailhead, I could see the peak was shrouded in low clouds and fog:

Overcast Peak
I started the hike at about 9:20 a.m. with a 15# daypack loaded with hydration bladder, medical kit, and other items. The hike up was pretty dim, but the cool weather was nice and kept me from breaking a sweat: 
Cal Poly State University, center of photo
The trail is very popular with students from the local state university, and there were many groups of students hiking the trail that day. It is a boulder and rock strewn trail and one must be careful to avoid tripping. I used trekking poles on this hike and did see a young male hiker who was descending take a fall and tumble down the trail. I cannot say whether he tripped or slipped, but fortunately he didn't suffer any apparent injury and was assisted back to his feet by his companions:
Typical section of Bishop Peak Trail
The peak has three distinct points composed of boulders, and for this reason was named because of it's resemblance to the Miter hat worn by a Bishop [The town was originally a Mission founded in 1772 by Spanish Missionaries and was named Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, for "Saint Luis, the Bishop of Tolosa".
I finally made it to the summit at about 10:45 a.m. In the photo below, you can see Cerro San Luis Obispo, another of the Morro peak's, situated behind me. It is also an excellent hike if you are visiting in the area:
The summit
Cerro San Luis Obispo, a closer view
I decided to take a break and sat down and enjoyed the view and ate some trail mix. By now the sun had come out *somewhat* and it was now nice and warm:
Break time...trail mix!
After my short break I started back down at about 11:05 a.m. By now the sun was coming out and the trail became very warm:
Hiking back down
As I got to a cattle gate I caught a bit of color out of the corner of my eye and spotted this rainbow colored Lizard called a "Skink" crawling around on the ground:
"Skink" Lizard
I passed a group of cows that were lazing in the shade under a grove of Oak trees:
Shade-tree Cattle
As I descended the trail, I gathered litter I found along the way. Collecting litter is just one way we as hikers can "give something back" for the privilege of enjoying open space trails. Many open space properties, like Bishop Peak Reserve, were donated by ranch families who respected and treasured these lands, and we should have no less reverence for the gift they have shared with us. Mostly lost or discarded plastic water bottles, I managed to fill a cereal box liner bag with recovered trash. I always save my cereal box liner bags and re-purpose them for litter collection, because they are tough and tear-resistant:
Litter bag
I completed my hike at about 12:15 p.m. We're very blessed here in San Luis Obispo County with many trails and natural open space areas to hike and enjoy, and hopefully next year I will be in a better position to perhaps sponsor or coordinate a local National Trail Day event.
Happy Hiking!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

"Scaling" your gear...determining what to take for a safe dayhike.

Often when I go out hiking I always find myself studying other day hikers to see what gear they might be carrying. In my observations, this usually this means little or no gear whatsoever. I would say the average day hiker carries a cellphone and *maybe* a  half liter bottle of water. This might be acceptable for some hikes, but I am always surprised when I am 5 or 6 miles out on a back country trail and encounter someone with nothing...no water and no gear whatsoever.

The further out you go, the more gear you should take.
Anyone who follows this blog knows that this is an especial pet peeve of mine, and that I have often suggested that there is "No such thing as a day hike"; in other words, plan & prepare for an overnight stay. My wife is an experienced obstacle racer and trail runner and we have had several discussions about this. She is of the opposite opinion; that you really don't need any extra gear...just a bottle of water and a knife is adequate for most outings. And for some people that may be all right.

In this blog post, I am going to provide some thoughts and ideas for selecting and scaling your gear for the level of hike you are taking to ensure a safe and enjoyable outing.

To begin, I think we need to consider is "What is the purpose of gear?" Basically, gear is intended to facilitate the outing so that it is done safely, comfortably, and enjoyably. The reverse is also true: too much gear can make an outing unsafe [pack weight impair balance or exhaust bearer] and/or unenjoyable. Some people develop "Kit Mentality", in which gear becomes the focus of their outing, rather than enjoying the natural outdoors.

What we are talking about is "Scaling your gear"; Striking a balance, and taking only what might be needed given the dynamics of the hike we are planning..  

Next, I think we need to define what types of hikes we might find ourselves on. I consider hikes to be of three levels:

LEVEL 1 - Short hikes, usually less than 3 miles [5K] total distance, on heavily foot trafficked trails within more or less constant sight of a community or habitation. These would be hikes in open space areas, such as public parks, located within or adjacent to an urban or suburban area. Trails are well defined and cared for. Cellphone service is assured, and you can easily reach a location where you can signal assistance [yelling, whistle, mirror flash]. These are outing of less than 2 hours duration.

LEVEL 2 - Medium hikes which will usually be less than 6 miles [10K] round trip with moderate traffic [occasional mountain bikers and/or hikers].  These would be trails that will take you out of sight of roads or habitation. Trails are worn and intermittently marked with the occasional sign. A map is useful but not necessary.  Cellphone service will likely be spotty and unreliable.

Can you yell this far and be heard?
LEVEL 3 - Long hikes more than 6 miles [10K] in one direction on isolated trails with little or no likelihood of encountering other hikers if assistance was needed. These would be outings of several miles and several hours duration which would take one well out into wilderness or back country regions. Trails may be very rarely marked, not maintained, overgrown, and a map is an absolute necessity.  Cellphone service would likely be non-existent.  These are day long outings. 

Next, I am going to provide some suggestions of what I would recommend one take for each of these levels of outings:

For a LEVEL 1 hike, I think one probably can pull off a hike with, as my wife has suggested  little more than a bottle of water and a knife. Of course, having your cellphone along is very helpful. In the photo below, I show items carried on a recent L1 hike: A fleece jacket, water bottle, wallet cutting tool, sun hat, warm knit cap, small flashlight, cellphone. A pack is not required...all of these items can easily be carried in one's pockets.

Light kit for a quick hike
On a LEVEL 2 hike, I think a small day pack or hydration pack or fanny pack will suffice. Besides those items shown in the L1, carry a few snacks, extra water, a whistle and a small First Aid kit [read cuts and scrapes].

Finally, on a LEVEL 3 hike I recommend you "go heavy" and treat it as an overnight stay, just in case that becomes a reality. In the photo below I have laid out my kit for such an outing. We see that the kit covers First Aid, shelter material, fire making, hydration, food, signaling, cordage, and many other useful items for surviving a night or two lost or injured on a trail.

Overnight Trail Kit
I think we need to consider that there are always variables that we need take into account, and should always adjust our kit to accommodate:

- Weather: Hot or cold conditions, precipitation. It may be that you live in a region where weather can change dramatically and quickly. In that case it might be wise to carry a bit of extra clothing, perhaps a jacket with hood.

- Fitness: Your level of conditioning [or lack thereof] medical issues, required medications. Do not exceed your ability. If invited on a hike assess to determine whether it is within your ability. Make any hike host aware of your limits or medical issues in advance of the hike. 

- Terrain: elevation gain, trail conditions and strata [loose rocks, deep sand, etc.] not only affect shoe choice, but whether a hiking stick or trekking poles should be carried. Obviously these would not be needed on a flat, smooth park path.

- Dangers: Dangerous wildlife has increasingly been seen coming into the front country of many areas. You don't just see them in the back country anymore. Be aware of tracks and how to deal with wildlife should you encounter them on the trail.

Coyote track along trail
A final word: Nothing I have said here is intended to dissuade anyone from carrying more gear should they decide to do so. In my own case, I prefer to always carry a day pack equipped with some extra clothing,  a GRABBER "Sportsman" reflective blanket, extra water, some food, medical supplies, a sheath knife, signaling and fire making tools; essentially everything needed to spend a night on the trail if it were necessary to do so and to care for myself or render aid to another were an injury to occur.  I have on at least one occasion provided water to a person suffering dehydration. I have arrived late at 2 injury scenes where help was being provided, but expect someday it may fall on me to help with a trail injury victim. 
I hope you have found this article helpful and useful.
Happy Hiking!

Monday, May 4, 2015

ACTION WIPES - Powerful trail hygiene in a compact pouch!

About a month ago, Nic Beem, owner/operator of S.L.O. Camp `N Pack Army Navy Outdoor Store asked me to try out a product he is now carrying on my next outing. The product is called ACTION WIPES and is billed on the website as, "...a refreshing, natural travel wipe for the entire family as well as athletes, campers and people on the move!" The wipes come in a sealed foil pouch, like a wet-nap, that measures a compact 3" by 5" and weighs only .5 ounces, so very light in the pack as well. 

Nic said they are made with a proprietary formula that uses Tea Tree Oil, so they are an alcohol free body cleanse, are completely natural and additionally have bug-repellent qualities...I especially like that! Nic gave me 2 wipes to try out. I checked out the company's website and it stated the wipes were invented by Martha Van Inwegen after she recognized the need for, "a natural wet wipe to clean and refresh the body after a ride, run, hike or a long plane ride."

Skipping ahead, this past weekend, me and my buddy Chris hiked into the Santa Lucia Wilderness to do an overnight camp out, so I took the packets of ACTION WIPES along to give them a try in the field. Water can be scarce and/or suspect where we were headed due to Mercury mining operations in the region, and we had to conserve the water we carried for consumption; there would be no trail bathing with water.

On the Trail

My pack load...46 pounds
The hike in was warm, about 82 degrees and we were mostly hiking sun-exposed trails. I had a 46 pound pack load, and it wasn't long before I was breaking a decent sweat. After a couple of hours of hiking we arrived at out campsite and set up for the night. Winds were strong and sustained all throughout the day, so there was a fair amount of dust in the air.

My tarp shelter
Having established our camp, we set about to have some fun. We spent some time throwing knives at a target plank I'd brought along, as well as exploring the local terrain and mineral rich rock formations in the area, which hosted a Cinnabar mining operation.
Throwing blades [I broke the target plank...whoops!]
Interesting rock formation with a Yucca
 Plant [also called The Lord's Candle
And Spanish Bayonet].
As evening fell I decided to wash up and change into some dry socks and clean moisture wicking long underwear. I cannot stand to sleep dirty and itching in a sleeping bag, so I was anxious to try out the ACTION WIPES and get a comfortable night's sleep. I stripped down and opened the package, removed the wipe, and unfolded it. It opened into a large 9" X 10" square wipe, and was saturated with the solution. The wipe itself is a very soft fabric material, not that abrasive paper one usually gets in a typical foil wrapped wet-nap. I also later discovered the wipe is very tough...more to follow on that.
The unfolded ACTION WIPE
I found the Tea Tree Oil fragrance very pleasant and began wiping myself down, top to bottom. The wipe was completely adequate for cleansing my entire body and I also rubbed my scalp/hair to ensure no hitch-hikers were hiding there. The ACTION WIPES web page bills each wipe as having the cleansing equivalence of a 25 gallon shower. Given the drought, it's been a long time since I helped myself to a 25 gallon shower, but I will say I felt completely clean after wiping down.  Clean again, I enjoyed a very pleasant and itch-free sleep that night.
Packing out the next morning, I took the spent wipe and placed it in my pack. Upon arrival home I began cleaning my gear, which had been soaked and dirtied by a thick fog that had rolled in during the night. I used the fabric wipe with a bucket of soap to clean my camp tarps and other gear. It not only held up, but it retained the Tea Tree Oil scent even after 2 bucket loads of soapy water. It occurred to me that I probably could have dampened the wipe with fresh water and re-constituted or at least extended the life of the wipe, and thus my camp bath, the night before had I wished to. The spent wipe certainly would've functioned as a camp kitchen scrub for my mess kit and utensils.
Having cleaned my gear, I then placed the wipe on the dashboard of my truck and allowed it to completely dry. I then decided to see if it would take a spark from a ferrocerium rod and function as an emergency tinder for lighting a fire. On the third strike, the dried cloth ignited and burned very well for about 1 minute.
ACTION WIPE as fire tinder
Even after the wipe appeared consumed, it continued to smolder with bright red embers for a few minutes, and likely could have been blown back into flame.
Red-hot embers still glowing in fabric
In conclusion, I think this is an excellent product of great use to the outdoors enthusiast who wishes to perform personal hygiene at the end of a trail run or a day's hiking and where water is not abundant or need be conserved. Plus, it is compact, lightweight, and easily stowed in a pack.  I am convinced of this product's utility and will definitely be adding some to my pack kit for future trail outings.
If you wish to purchase some ACTION WIPES and are not in the local area and thus are unable to visit S.L.O. Camp `N Pack, not to worry! You can order ACTION WIPES online direct from the company, or you can visit Nic's excellent online business CNP TACTICAL and order through them, as well as peruse their quality line of outdoor and tactical gear products.
Happy Hiking!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Frederick Burnham - The King of Scouts

Frederick Burnham
Sketch by Robert Baden-Powell
Since a young age I have always been interested in the great Frontiersmen and Scouts of history; the Pathfinders like Jedediah Smith and Joseph Walker who found the passes and forgotten trails that opened the West to the settlers who followed. Of course, there were many, some not so well remembered. One of the great Scouts I have always admired is Frederick Burnham, who was a great adventurer and the man who inspired Lord Robert Baden-Powell to form the Boy Scout movement. Here's his story:

Burnham was born in 1861 on a Sioux Indian reservation in Minnesota. As a baby he narrowly escaped death during a raid on his town by Sioux warriors. As a child, Burnham learned woodcraft skills from the Native Americans. Later in his teen years his family moved to California. There he took a job as a dispatch rider for the WESTERN UNION TELEGRAPH COMPANY. His travels on the trails of California and Arizona brought him into contact with old-time Cowboys and Frontiersmen who shared the skills of Scouting and Tracking with him. Always hungry for adventure, Burnham soon joined the U.S. Army as a Scout-Tracker in their efforts to capture the Apache leader Geronimo.

Apache ambush
During his U.S. Army experience, Burnham came into contact with experienced Scouts like the infamous Al Sieber, who advanced his knowledge and skills. Burnham credited an old Scout named "Holmes" with teaching him desert survival skills, such as celestial navigation and locating water.
Burnham was briefly drawn into the Arizona Cattle Wars of the Tonto Basin. It was there he learned to use a revolver, to shoot equally well with either hand, and while on horseback if necessary. Burnham soon left that melee, disgusted by the wrongs and injustices he had witnessed there.
During the 1880's Burnham held many jobs, working cattle, mining, and working as a lawman. At age 23 he returned to California and married. He tried farming, but the hunger for adventure was strong. The American West had been pretty much pacified by this time and Burnham cast his eyes overseas. In 1893 he sold his belongings and moved his wife and child to South Africa where he joined Cecil Rhodes pioneers.
Upon arrival in South Africa, Burnham learned that a war had begun between the Pioneers and the Matabele native peoples as led by King Lobengula. Burnham joined the British South Africa Company as a Scout and participated in the several of the conflicts of that era. It was during that time Burnham met Robert Baden-Powell and together they discussed ideas for teaching bushcraft skills to youth which would later form the basis for the Boy Scout movement. Years later, Mount Baden-Powell and neighboring Mount Burnham in the San Gabriel Mountains would be named for them and Burnham is referred to as "The Father of Scouting".
Scout Burnham [L] in Africa, 1896
Burnham left Africa to join the Alaskan Gold Rush. When the Spanish-American War broke out he rushed home to volunteer, but that brief conflict ended before he arrived. He returned to Alaska to prospect for gold and was there when he received a telegram from the British Commander in Africa requesting he return and serve as their chief of Scouts in the Boer War Campaigns.
Burnham was ambushed and badly wounded while scouting for the British, and was sent to England to convalesce. He received several awards, including the British Empire's second highest award, the Distinguished Service Order [D.S.O.] and was hailed by the British press as "The King of Army Scouts".
Major Burnham, D.S.O.
After healing from his war wounds, Burnham returned to private life and used his outdoors skills in mineral and petroleum exploration, served as a security director for a Presidential border visit, and worked at wildlife conservation efforts. He retired to ranch life in Santa Barbara, CA.
Major Burnham died in Santa Barbara in 1947. He and his wife are buried together in the Three Rivers Cemetery, Tulare County, CA. 
Major Burnham left a legacy of service to Our Nation. His son served in the Vietnam War, and his Grandson, Russell Burnham, also entered the U.S. Army and was selected as the U.S.Army's SOLDIER OF THE YEAR in 2005:
Spc. Russell Burnham,
In the interest of brevity I have left out many details of Maj. Burnham's life. It is fascinating reading and the story of an incredible life of action, adventure, and family, and of a man who left a legacy for generations of Boys to grow up with outdoor skills and values still available today,; values very badly needed in today's morally-confused world.
Maj. Burnham's own book, SCOUTING ON TWO CONTINENTS, is still available in print.

Friday, February 20, 2015

"Spring Fling" ... Throwing Knife Fun

About 20 years ago I was very active in attending Buckskinning or "Mountain Man" reenactment events. These were gatherings where folks would dress like the Trapper's of the 1820's Rocky Mountain Fur Trade era, shoot muzzleloading rifles and muskets, throw tomahawks and knives, and generally just have great fun! I especially enjoyed knife throwing, and used a heavy Bowie style made from a truck spring.

My "Primitive" Thrower

A little history: I first became enthralled with knife throwing watching my Dad throw. He'd been a Paratrooper in WWII and learned the skill in the military. I remember him telling me how he had acquired an M1 carbine bayonet because of the dagger blade shape and balance, and how he felt it made a good combat/fighting knife. He'd worn it on his hip, opposite of his M1 Garand bayonet. Several times as a youngster, I had seen him pick up a knife, test the weight in his hand, and then make a "Cold Throw" and stick it.

Anyways, today the pre-Spring weather was so beautiful and I was feeling nostalgic, so I dropped into my favorite shop S.L.O. Camp `n Pack to see what they might have in the way of throwing knives.  They had a selection from inexpensive to high quality [expensive] throwers. I selected a set of  UNITED CUTLERY "Screaming Arrow" throwers.

I chose these because they have a blade edge measuring 3" in length, permissible under local ordinance for the park I wanted to throw at. Additionally I could find no references or language specifically prohibiting knife throwing in a park or open space. I should be lawful as long as I practiced safely, away from people, and not damaging any public property in the process.

After purchasing the throwing knife set, I drove out to the park and selected an isolated spot where I could be safe and easily see if anyone started to approach and create an unsafe situation. I brought along some small planks for targets; it would be unlawful and injurious to throw into a live tree. I braced my target against a dead tree, sadly killed by the Pine Blight that went through here several years ago.

The knives were lighter than I was used to, and it took awhile to get my throwing distance set, but once I did the little knives started sticking consistently...great fun!

Sticking it!
One thing about these knives was their light construction. The tips bent and this was easily remedied with a twist from the pliers on my multi-tool. But that's okay...these were designed to be thrown and used, not kept pristine.

Bent tips, easily straightened.

After I got home, a few raps with the hammer and a little work on my sharpening stones and the knives were ready for my next outing.

Straightened and re-sharpened
Technically, you don't really need to sharpen throwing knives, since the intent is to put them point-in to a target, but I like getting a "stick", even if it is under or over rotated, over a "miss".

There's so much to possibly learn about knife throwing, I could not hope to cover it all here. But I will cover a few tips I have found useful:

- Throwing knives come in all sizes. Some people like smaller ones, say 6, 8 , or 10 inches. Others like larger 12 to 16 inch blades. Just remember, the larger the heavier, so pick something you can comfortably fling...!

- Throwing distances will vary depending on the length of the knife and the technique of the person throwing it. The handle is a good indicator of range. If your knife hits the target with the handle up, move forward a few inches [too much rotation before hitting the target]. If the handle is down, back up a few inches [too little rotation].

Over-rotation, upper right knife

- Note your leading foot location and mark the spot, so you can place your foot in that same exact place every time you throw. I like whittling wooden stakes and driving them solidly into the ground to form a "gate" [see photo below].

"Throwing Gate"

- Don't "snap" your wrist when you throw your knife. I like to think "Fling"...just an easy "flip" of sorts. To my mind, it's like golf. If you try to "power hit" it rarely drives the ball as far as if you focused more on technique.

- Get in the habit of "flinging" it exactly the same way each and every time you throw. Be consistent on every aspect of your throwing...consistent stance, focus, grip, wind up, release and follow-through are hugely important.

- To get a smooth release, don't mentally think of releasing the knife...just relax your grip and allow it to slide out of your hand. Other wise you'll end up releasing too late [throwing into ground] or too early [throwing over target].

- A properly balanced knife will throw equally well from the handle or the blade. The balance point should be at or near the center of the knife. Generally, a knife that is handle heavy, throws better when gripped from the blade and a blade heavy knife throws better gripped by the handle.

- Targets:  For smaller knives you can practice on a box with layers of cardboard cut and packed into it. Heavy blades will stick well in soft wood planks, or log rounds. Unless extremely sharp, my experience is light knives won't stick bounce off these. Avoid hard wood rounds [Eucalyptus sucks!].

- Knives are pretty easy to lose if you throw outside in deep grass or leaves. I once lost a treasured one that was a Father's Day gift from my daughters and searched for HOURS until I found it buried in sand. Choose a location where they're not apt to become easily lost.

- Finally, CHECK LOCAL LAWS AND ORDINANCES BEFORE STARTING KNIFE THROWING ANYWHERE! In some jurisdictions [such as parks] weapons of any kind are prohibited.

Anyways, there's just a little bit of info on knife throwing. In conclusion, I have to say I personally do not see this as a practical skill either for combatives or hunting, but rather, just an outdoors sport based in some aspects of history. I see it more as a recreation, something to pass time at camp or for the "Seneca Run" at a Mountain Man Rondy.

Hope you all get outdoors and enjoy the Spring weather as it arrives!


Friday, January 16, 2015

Kilimanjaro Gear Trail Hike

Dayhiking with KILIMANJARO GEAR 3-Way Modular Deployment Bag #910103 and BALLAST Multi-Tool #910053. Gathered some Hummingbird sage and made a woodsman's tea along the way. Check out my review of this great trail gear at GoblinRanger.blogspot.com and visit their website at Kilimanjarogear.com. 
Also, for an excellent Bug-Out Bag gear checklist, visit S.L.O. CAMP N' PACK

Monday, January 12, 2015

Dayhiking with the KILIMANJARO GEAR "BALLAST" multi-tool

So today after work, I went out to the park where I volunteer [ADOPT-A-PARK] to check the trails and collect litter. I decided to see if I could find a few tasks I could test the KILIMANJARO GEAR "BALLAST" (tm) multi-tool on. I spotted a fallen Oak branch and tried out the little saw blade on it. Worked pretty well. The saw blade is less than 2" in length, so you are pretty much relegated to branches no more than an inch or so:

Saw blade function worked well
After that I tried out the blade on whittling a point and no surprise there because it was sharp as delivered: 
Whittling with straight blade
It was a beautiful day outdoors. We'd just had some rain the night before and everything was fresh and green, like this Hummingbird Sage [love the tea from this]:
Hummingbird Sage makes a nice tea with
Decongestant medicinal properties 
I saw a lot of Dusky Footed WoodsRat dens scattered off the trails in the woods:
WoodsRat den
I wore the knife and sheath to work last night at my second job [stock clerk] pulling pallets and stocking shelves...lot of movement. I checked the sheath and just as I'd expected the flimsy web loop was already stretching. The stitching was starting to stretch as well:
Stiffer belt loop fabric needed
The sheath needs a thicker/stiffer piece of nylon, sewn flat against the backing...such that you can barely slide belt through. It'll stretch a little with time, but this is not going to last. You'd have to carry it in a pack to avoid losing it.
I found a downed green Willow branch so I used the straight blade and the serrated blade to craft a tent peg and a spindle for bow drill [when it's dried] and they worked just fine:

Camp craft whittling
I attempted to sharpen my pruners with the file blade, but the file is too soft and couldn't scratch the pruner's blade. In fact, the double-cut checkering started wearing away. I tried it as a wood rasp and it worked okay, so that's the most you can expect from the file function. That was a disappointment:
File will function as a wood rasp

I also tried the Phillips Head screwdriver out. I tried screwing a wood screw into some Douglas Fir 1 X 3. This is one of those "Half Phillips" in which the cross tips are ground short so it doesn't require as much space in the handle [and thus a slimmer handle profile]. These are stinkers because they slip out of the Phillips slot, but worse, the Phillips blade kept collapsing under pressure because it does not lock. So, I gotta say, there's room for improvement here. But KILIMANJARO GEAR does offer a Lifetime Warranty [original purchaser/no abuse] and that's not bad! 

Anyways, it was a good outing. Oh, and I managed to gather up about a pound of litter from the park and trails. Last time I added it up a couple of months ago I figured I'd gathered over 50# of litter:

Take some litter out with you. Leave the
Trail better than you found it! 
I've got some more testing to do on this multi-tool, so we shall see. It's an attractive design and I really like it, but there's a few things as mentioned that I'd fine-tune to make it an even better product.
Have a great week!