The Book of Camping & Woodcraft

A Guidebook For Those Who Travel In The Wilderness

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Publisher Description

MY one aim in writing this little book is to make it of practical service to those who seek rest or sport in the wilderness, or whose business calls them thither. I have treated the matter of outfitting in some detail, not because elaborate outfits are usually desirable, for they are not, but because in town there is so much to pick and choose from. Thereafter, the body of the book is mainly given up to such shifts and expedients as are learned in the wilderness itself, where we have nothing to choose from but the raw materials that lie around us.

As for camps situated within easy reach of towns or supply-posts, every one, I suppose, knows best how to gratify his own tastes in fitting them up, and prefers to use his own ingenuity rather than copy after others. Real woodcraft consists rather in knowing how to get along without the appliances of civilization than in adapting them to wildwood life. Such an art comes in play when we travel “light,” and especially in emergencies, when the equipment, or essential parts of it, have been destroyed. I am not advising anybody to travel with nothing but a gun and ammunition, a blanket, a frying-pan, and a tin cup; but it has been part of my object to show how the thing can be done, if necessary, without serious hardship.

Woodcraft may be defined as the art of getting along well in the wilderness by utilizing nature’s storehouse. When we say that Daniel Boone, for example, was a good woodsman, we mean that he could confidently enter an unmapped wilderness, with no outfit but what was carried by his horse, his canoe, or on his own back, and with the intention of a protracted stay; that he could find his way through the dense forest without man-made marks to guide him; that he knew the habits and properties of trees and plants, and the ways of fish and game; that he was a good trailer and a good shot: that he could dress game and cure peltry, cook wholesome meals over an open fire, build adequate shelter against wind and rain, and keep himself warm through the bitter nights of winter—in short, that he knew how to utilize the gifts of nature, and could bide comfortably in the wilderness without help from outside.

The literature of outdoor sport is getting us used to such correlative terms as plainscraft, mountaincraft, and even icecraft, snowcraft, and birder aft. This sort of thing can be overdone; but we need a generic term to express the art, in general, of getting on well in wild regions, whether in forests, deserts, mountains, plains, tropics or arctics; and for this I would suggest the plain English compound wildcraft.

In the following chapters I offer some suggestions on outfitting, making camps, dressing and keeping game and fish, camp cookery, forest travel, how to avoid getting lost, and what to do if one does get lost, living off the country, what the different species of trees are good for (from a camper’s viewpoint), backwoods handicrafts in wood, bark, skins and other raw materials, the treatment of wounds and other injuries, and some other branches of woodcraft that may be of service when one is far from shops and from hired help. I have little or nothing to say, here, about hunting, fishing, trailing, trapping, canoeing, snowshoeing, or the management of horses and pack-trains, because each of these is an art by itself, and we have good books on all of them save trailing.

I have preferred to give full details, as far as this book goes. One’s health and comfort in the wilds very often depend upon close observance of just such details as breathless people would skip or scurry over. Moreover, since this is not a guidebook to any one particular region, I have tried to keep in mind a variety of conditions existing in different kinds of country, and have suggested alternative methods or materials, to be used according to circumstances.

In the school of the woods there is no graduation day. What would be good woodcraft in one region might be bad bungling in another. A Maine guide may scour all the forests of northeastern America, and feel quite at home in any of them; but put him in a Mississippi canebrake, and it is long odds that he would be, for a time,

Perplexed, bewildered, till he scarce doth know His right forefinger from his left big toe.

And a southern cane-cracker would be quite as much at sea if he were turned loose in a spruce forest in winter. But it would not take long for either of these men to “catch on” to the new conditions; for both are shifty, both are cool-headed, and both are keen observers. Any man may blunder once, when confronted by strange conditions; but none will repeat the error unless he be possessed by the notion that he has nothing new to learn.

As for book-learning, it is useful only to those who do not expect too much from it. No book can teach a man how to swing an axe or follow a trail. But there are some practical arts that it can teach, and, what is of more consequence, it can give a clear idea of general principles. It can also show how not to do a thing—and there is a good deal in that. Half of woodcraft, as of any other art, is in knowing what to avoid. That is the difference between a true knot and a granny knot, and the difference can be shown by a sketch as easily as with string in hand.

If any one should get the impression from these pages that camping out with a light outfit means little but a daily grind of camp chores, questionable meals, a hard bed, torment from insects, and a good chance of broken bones at the end, he will not have caught the spirit of my intent. It is not here my purpose to dwell on the charms of free life in a wild country; rather, taking all that for granted, I would point out some short-cuts, and offer a lift, here and there, over rough parts of the trail. No one need be told how to enjoy the smooth ones. Hence it is that I treat chiefly of difficulties, and how to overcome them.

This book had its origin in a series of articles, under a similar title, that I contributed, in 1904-6, to the magazine Field and Stream. The original chapters have been expanded, and new ones have been added, until there is here about double the matter that appeared in the parent series. I have also added two chapters previously published in Sports Afield.

Most of these pages were written in the wilderness, where there were abundant facilities for testing the value of suggestions that were outside my previous experience. In this connection I must acknowledge indebtedness to a scrap-book full of notes and clippings, the latter chiefly from old volumes of Forest and Stream and Shooting and Fishing, which was one of the most valued tomes in the rather select “library” that graced half a soap-box in one corner of my cabin.

I owe much, both to the spirit and the letter of that classic in the literature of outdoor life, the little book on Woodcraft by the late George R. Sears, who is best known by his Indian-given title of Nessmuk. To me, in a peculiar sense, it has been remedium utriusque fortunes; and it is but fitting that I should dedicate to the memory of its author this humble pendant to his work. Horace Kephart.

Dayton, Ohio March, 1906.

Sports & Outdoors
8 March
Ravenio Books

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