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Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Foragers Diary; May 2018

May is still a good month for wild greens which I wrote about in last months foragers diary post, this months post will focus on blossoms and preparing for the rest of the foraging year.

May is a great chance to get a head start on the fruit harvest, if you work out where your local raspberry patch and other fruits grow well in advance you can beat the birds to the harvest and get yourselves a great haul of wild fruit. 

You can spot the raspberry canes early, ready for later in the year, in the background the gorse blossom can be used as it is to make a delicious drink.
You can see the currants forming already.
Blossom is another great giveaway for where fruit will follow, these rowan flowers will soon be replaced by fruit which is a marvellous source of vitamin C and can be combines with apples to make a wonderful jelly to accompany meat.

The first of the elderflowers will appear in May and although you only have a short window for collecting elder flowers at their best they may be available into the fist weeks of June as well.
One of my favorite wild treats is the root beer like drink I make each year with meadow sweet flowers. Although the gorse and elder flower will be ready to harvest now meadowsweet comes a little later but you will be able to spot the plants, the jagged trident shaped leaves growing on the end of a red stem with smaller oval leaves along it's length gives the plant away. You will tend to find it in damp areas along ditches and waterways. 

Meadowsweet leaves, the flowers which you will need for your root beer making will follow later. 

Mushrooms may start to put in a stronger appearance in May, although it is still early for most species, I normally find a few field mushrooms in May, never many but enough to improve a bacon sandwich or accompany a fry up. 

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Why The Martian is a better survival movie than The Revenant

The story of Hugh Glass is a true adventure story (PROBABLY, although it was widely reported the details of his survival have been embellished over time and were never corroborated by Glass himself). It is full of great feats of endurance and real survival and a retelling of it could have been a fantastic opportunity to look at the hardship of survival and the realities of how difficult it would have been to survive, horrifically wounded and without equipment, the harsh American frontier. 

In late August or early September 1823 Glass was in the employ of General William Ashley as a hired hunter accompanying a fur trapping expedition led by Ashley's business partner Andrew Henry up the Missouri River.  Scouting ahead of the main body of men Glass encountered a female grizzly bear with two cubs, bears are fierce in defence of their cubs and it charged him and mauled him severely. Hearing his cries the rest of the party killed the bear but thought that Glass was certainly going to die due to his horrific wounds including severe lacerations and a broken leg. Determined not to abandon him Henry ordered a litter built and the party carried Glass with them for several days but with their added burden they could not travel quickly enough and desperately needed to link up with another party to provide security against expected Indian attacks. Eventually a bonus of $80 was offered for two men to stay behind with Glass until he died and to bury him. Two men stayed, reportedly an experienced mountain man John Fitzgerald and a young Jim Bridger, later to become one of the most famous mountain men of all time, on his first expedition on the frontier. Rather than staying the two abandoned Glass when he was still alive five days after the main party left taking with them his rifle and equipment and reporting that he had died. 

When he realised what had happened Glass set out on his monumental journey to fort Kiowa, little more than a trading post on the Missouri, he could do no more than crawl to begin with and had nothing to eat but insects, a few plant roots and the occasional snake until he was able to steal part of a buffalo carcass from some wolves. Remaining camped for a time while he ate the buffalo meat and treated some of his festering wounds with maggots he recuperated a little and was able to continue his journey. He later was given a hide boat by some friendly Lakota Indians and was able to complete his journey to for Kiowa where he re-provisioned and began his search for those who abandoned him. 

When he eventually caught up with Bridger he forgave him for abandoning him, perhaps because of his youth, and then re-enlisted with General Ashley. On hearing that Fitzgerald was at Fort Atkinson he headed there. More adventures followed and for a time he was without his equipment again when he had to flee from some Rees Indians. Eventually arriving at Fort Atkinson he found Fitzgerald had joined the United States Army and as such the killing him would have meant the death penalty. The Captain in charge of the fort reunited Glass with his rifle which Fitzgerald still had but Glass wisely did not pursue revenge and left. In fact there is no evidence that Glass even had revenge in mind at all, although he did travel to Fort Atkinson that may have been purely to retrieve his rifle and as was demonstrated by his forgiveness towards Bridger he probably completely understood their decision to leave him given his condition.

The key aspects of this story to me are Glass's determination and will to survive coupled with his obvious skill as an outdoorsman, being able to navigate without map or compass the 250 mile journey to Fort Kiowa and eek out a living from foraged food on his six week journey is nothing short of superhuman, a quote by Glass when he again later lost his rifle and equipment on his way to Fort Atkinson sums this up for me;

"Although I had lost my rifle and all my plunder, I felt quite rich when I found my knife, flint and steel in my shot pouch. These little fixens make a man feel right peart when he is three or four hundred miles from anybody or any place."

For a man to be so happy and confident with so few supplies is a sign of a true outdoorsman. Being familiar with this story I was very excited for the release of The Revenant in 2015 and looked forward to the story of Glass, which I was already familiar with, being on the big scree. However I was sorely disappointed as all the film seemed to be was an opportunity for Leonardo Dicaprio to drool and groan his way to an Oscar. The overriding message of the film was not one of survival against the odds or of the hardships of the American frontier but one of revenge. It seems that there can be no other motivation in film nowadays. The remake of the magnificent seven (the original is one of my favourite films of all time) did it too inventing a backstory for Chris (I don't know or care what  Denzel Washington's character is called, in the original it was Chris), which led to him accepting to job of defending the village so he could have revenge on the badguy who had wronged him in the past. The Revenant did this too, but while I can forgive the director of the new Magnificent Seven film, it's fiction after all, I can't forgive the writers and director of The Revenant for tampering with historical fact. They invented a wife and son Glass never had and implicating Bridger and Fitzgerald in the murder of that son who never existed just to add to the revenge theme. Invented an encounter with Arikara Indians in which Glass killed several French trappers and rescued a chiefs daughter and inventing the murder of Andrew Henry (who in actual fact lived to retire from fur trading and take up lead mining dying at the age of 56 in 1832) at the hands of Fitzgerald and ultimately the death of Fitzgerald at the hands of Glass and the Arikaras.

Hugh Glass Monument.jpg
Monument to Glass Grand River Museum, Lemmon, South Dakota. By John Lee Lopez - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link
A film which could have been a truly inspiring account of survival and mind over matter turned instead into a story of revenge and violence unworthy of Glass and the other mountain men of the era. Instead a science fiction film, the last genre you would expect, embodies the hardy spirit of Glass and the mountain men much better than The Revenant does.

In the Martian Mark Watney, a NASA botanist and astronaut is stranded on Mars during a planned month long expedition when the team have to evacuate due to a massive sand storm which threatens to damage the rocket which should return them to their space craft. Missing and presumed dead after he is struck by debris he is left on Mars.

So in much the same condition as glass he is left in an alien landscape wounded and abandoned. Perhaps if the directors of The Revenant were in charge we'd have seen Watney undertake a mammoth effort to reap revenge against the crew who left him behind, or later against NASA who didn't reveal his survival to the rest of his crew for several months. But no we see in him the qualities that the real Hugh Glass must have had, of tenacity and of an application of knowledge which would ultimately lead to survival. This is why we will always need bushcraft skills, even when or if people do travel to Mars and beyond. The key skills of survival, being able to adapt, improvise and overcome, is fantastically demonstrated here as Watney makes water with the hydrogen from rocket engines, fertilises martian soil with human waste and grows potatoes inside his artificial habitat. He undertakes a massive journey in a rover vehicle heated to protect him from the freezing martian nights by a 'big box of plutonium' a radioisotope thermoelectric generator. He doesn't have to crawl, treat himself with maggots or fight wolves for discarded buffalo meat  but he does complete a journey against the odds, with incredible determination and perseverance. In fact all the qualities that Glass demonstrated in real life.

Yes I know that The Martian isn't a true story, but after all the changes neither is The Revenant, and I also accept that the true story of Glass is probably not fully known due to poor records and the Mountain Man penchant for telling 'tall tales' but the fact remains that he survived a horrific ordeal through determination and skill, something not depicted in The Revenant, instead it seems that Mark Watney was channelling Hugh Glass while I half expected Decaprio to come out with "I am Hugh Glass, father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife and I will have my vengence" a'la General Maximus in Gladiator.

That's why The Martian is  better survival movie than The Revenant. 

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

From the High Seat; Seeing Things

Isn’t it amazing that despite the boast we often make as country folk that we are far more observant than ‘townies’ that we can often be tricked by the simplest things. 

Is it a buck or a doe? It's standing on a rutting stand, so it might be a buck,but it's quite small and skinny so it might be a doe, you can't see any antlers though so what is it really? 
One occasion I remember particularly clearly occurred many years ago, at the time I was a relatively inexperienced, but very enthusiastic, deer stalker I had woken well before dawn to get down to my chosen spot well before light to await the muntjac I was sure would be there. I quietly made my way through the ditches and along the hedgerows until I was at my chosen vantage point and waited. As the sky started to grow light I saw a shape, a slightly hunch backed, dark shape moving slowly from left to right at what I thought was about one hundred and fifty yards distant. I watched it intently through the binoculars waiting for there to be enough light to allow a safe shot at what I had convinced myself was a muntjac. I never took the shot though, when it became light enough to see what I was looking at it became clear that it want the 150 yard muntjac that I thought was there but a badger seventy five yards away. The combination of the darkness obliterating the colour and making it hard to judge range had me completely fooled for the best part of twenty minutes. 

As well as showing just how easy it is to be thrown off by low light and less than ideal conditions this highlights a really important safety consideration. Scopes should not be used to identify quarry or targets. That’s what binoculars are for, while it might be common practice to use scopes to observe with, or to scan a potential target in military situations in the countryside good practice and plain common sense dictates that we don’t point our rifle at anything until you are sure it’s a muntjac not someone’s Alsatian or a fox and not just a pair of eyes that might just as easily belong to a Chinese water deer, badger or someone watching owls with night vision goggles. 

I’m sure these mistakes don’t only happen when we have a weapon in our hands though, I remember several occasions when I have been watching deer without a rifle, either as part of a deliberate census or just to take a few pictures and I have been convinced that I have been watching a buck only for it to take a step and the tree branch that was behind it no longer looks like an antler and it’s suddenly a doe. I’ve also been stood behind a student who was taking part in a deer census as part of his practical studies towards a college qualification in game management who had not noticed a group of three young fallow bucks sitting amongst a patch of gorse because all that was visible was the top of their antlers which just looked like twigs. They were only forty yards in front of him but almost completely invisible until they stood up. 

Amongst these does is a Busk with a broken antler, he blends in well, can you spot him? 
While we do sometimes convince ourselves something is there because we want it to be, we want to see something that’s in season, or bigger and better than the last stag we shot or something unique in some way, that strange abstract shape becomes that massive buck, a bit like modern art I suppose. Sometimes though we aren’t seeing things and just get distracted by something even more awesome that we were looking for in the first place. This has happened to me plenty of times out in the countryside. On one occasion, out on a stalk I was walking alongside a drainage dyke, where I have often walked before, mostly concentrating on what was in the field to the side of the dyke I was suddenly distracted by a movement in the water, not a duck or a moorhen but a mammal, jumping to the conclusion that it was a mink I began to unsling my rifle only to see it joined by another, and another and it became clear that they were too large to be mink, I got out the binoculars and it became clear, three young otters, joined a second or two later by two adults from around the bend in the dyke. I was mesmerised, all thoughts of muntjac and venison forgotten I sat on the dyke bank for a good twenty minutes, totally still and captivated by these otters. I had seen otters before in the wild but never in a family group and had never expected to see them there. After a long time they moved off and I was released from whatever spell they had me under as I stood up I saw stood not more than fifteen or twenty yards behind me a muntjac buck stood still watching me, as I moved it ran off but I didn’t care. On another occasion I lost the best part of half a days work on a deer farm in New Zealand because I was watching kingfishers catching crabs in the estuary and smashing them open against a log when I should have been feeding the deer. 

A New Zealand king fisher catching crabs.
So while I should probably not publicise how easily distracted I am to my current or future employers it’s great to work in the countryside where so many distractions can be found and where as long as we are safe a little bit of wishful thinking about the size of the buck we are looking at is absolutely fine.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Survival Knives with Built in Survival Kits

Sylvester Stallone as John Rambo is perhaps the most famous person to use one of these 'Survival Knives' but are they any good? 

John Rambo.jpg
By Yoni S.Hamenahem - Yoni S.Hamenahem, CC BY-SA 3.0Link

Generally I would say NO! the kind of survival kit that can be crammed into the handle of a knife is likely to be so small as to be fairly ineffective. It might have just enough in it to improvise a bit of fishing kit or make a single snare, light a fire (which may well be a life saver), contain a scalpel blade for skinning (although you already have a knife so why bother with a scalpel blade), or a single plaster dress a tiny wound. So while none of those things are useless you would be far better off having those things on your person because in my opinion you are just as likely to loose your knife in a survival situation as anything else. Really I suppose the kit in one of these knives is meant to be a last resort, you wouldn't willingly head off with nothing but what was contained in the handle of your knife (unless you really wanted to test your skills) and would probably have (SHOULD DEFINITELY HAVE) proper, full size, kit as well as what's in your knife should you choose a knife of this type. 

These knives are generally weaker than I am comfortable with though, the handles of the knives you will often find on Amazon and Ebay will definitely break and realistically will probably be made of appalling steel that certainly won't arrive with a decent edge and probably won't ever take a decent edge either, these knives will DEFINITELY break even moderate use putting your main tool out of action and posing a significant risk of injury. 

There are some that seem robust enough to use;

The Cold Steel Survival Edge is a no frills affordable hollow handled survival knife that as well as coming with a good sharp blade contains a small survival kit and houses a fire steel in the sheath. It is remarkably robust, almost miraculously robust, I can't quite work out how it's so strong without a full tang. Other hollow handled survival knives are far too fragile unless you move well up the price range and go for something very expensive. Even then your options will be limited and I would suggest your money is better spent else where but for the £30 you'd spent on this cold steel offering you are basically getting a hollow handled Mora. It wont break the bank and it will perform just fine. The one complaint I have about it is the handle is bit too fat, it's down to the perfectly cylindrical shape perhaps but it just feels a bit uncomfortable. Maybe I have small hands but I can handle a British army 'survival' knife which has a notoriously large handle.   

Another option is this style of knife which does not have a hollow handle but comes with a survival kit in a waterproof container attached to the sheath. In this case a Marco Polo survival knife which isn't made of great steel and has a very oddly placed bottle opener instead of a choil (not that I'm a fan of finger choils on knives, I'll explain why in a later post) but the decision to add a bottle opener there seems very odd. This design does mean I'm not sacrificing strength for a hollow handle though and the specially designed sheath contains compass and a substantial survival kit as well as being engraved with morse code and a ruler. 
The survival kit comes in this waterproof clear plastic case and contains matches, sharpening stone, plasters, fishing kit, magnifying glass and a few other odds and ends. However once you have removed it from the sheath the knife wont go back in and be held securely. But again everything in this kit is so small that it is of very limited use. 

My take on the all in one knife/survival kit package is a little different, as I've said I think a lot of the items stashed in the smaller kits are a bit too small to be useful but this kit has everything of a useful size. Instead of two plasters in a little plastic bag the pouch on the front of this sheath contains a a CAT tourniquet. If your wound only needs a plaster to fix it it's not serious enough to worry about but this will take care of large wounds that really might be a 'survival' situation. 

There is also an extra large ferrocium rod contained in this sheath, instead of using your three matches from your survival kit that have been beat up in their container for goodness knows how long and have all fallen apart to hopefully light one fire, you can use this to light ten thousand fires.
The small knife is a TOPS mini eagle combining a strait edge and a small section of serrations for tasks that the large British Army survival knife is too big for; skinning, food prep, fine carving etc...
TODAY'S LESSON; Forming Kydex

Kydex is a popular choice for knife sheath, I particularly like it because it won't ever soak up blood, grease or other contaminant and become a hygiene risk, this is particularly important for me as I often use my knives to process deer carcasses which will then be sold into the human food chain. 

Image result for chicago screws
Chicago Screws
Making your own kydex sheath is relatively simple with a heat gun, or even with the heat from the oven or toaster if you are careful. It is a thermo setting plastic so as you apply heat it can be shaped to your requirements. It doesn't take long to soften though so be careful not to ruin it by heating it for too long or burning it. 

Once softened you have two basic options for a knife sheath, you can fold it and fasten it down one edge, this style of sheath is known as a pancake sheath. The other is to take two sheets of kydex and fasten them together, like the sheath I made for my British Army Survival Knife. The kydex can be fastened together with Chicago screws. 

To form the kydex to your knife so you get a secure 'snap' fit you can press it onto the knife as it cools and regains it rigidity. I always wrap some cardboard around a knife when I do this and fasten it with tape otherwise the kydex will form so snugly around the knife that you wont be able to draw it again. Trying to press it with something solid like a book of plank of wood wont work you will need something soft which hugs the form you are trying to create, I use an old foam camping mat folded triple which I have stapled to a piece of plywood.  

These sheaths can then be attached to belts or molle webbing. My British Army Survival Knife Sheath has two strips of Kydex along the back which I then attached to a Maxpedition drop leg panel with TacTies. Smaller sheath can be fitted with belt loops of clips to attach directly to a belt. 


If I'm headed out into the wood by choice I'll take all the tools
I want or need, some people will tell you that's heavy but a
full kit with axe, whittling knife, folding saw and main
knife probably wont weigh more than five kilos, if you
can't manage that then you need to worry about more
than a survival kit
If you are in a real survival situation you are just as likely to have access to the bigger kit than the smaller and by that I mean almost zero chance of having either. Choosing to go into the wilderness an use your skills is another matter though so you may as well use the kit you really want to rather than trying to find a knife that does (or contains) everything. So my personal choice would be not to take any of these things pictured above take a bushcraft knife, an axe a folding saw, a ferrocium rod, a full size first aid kit, if you want to go fishing take a rod and spinners, if you want to catch food using traps take some snares or a rifle. 

My current first pick for a main bushcraft/woods knife.
The Eikhorn Nordik Bushcraft

If you're really in a survival situation innovation is likely to be your best and only ally.  

Take a look at what is in your pockets right now because if in the next ten second's you find yourselves in the middle of a zombie apocalypse that's all you're going to have.

A typical EDC; watch, butane lighter wrapped in duck tape, wallet (inside the wallet is a Readyman survival card), pocket knife (a griplock by Boker plus), case of plasters. 

Or think of the cliche crashed plane survival scenario what have you got in your pockets, now deduct from that any pocket knives because you wouldn't have those on the plane add a slight chance that you will locate your hold luggage which may or may not contain some survival aids and your best chance is again innovation. Making something out of nothing and the most of what you've got. 

So are 'survival' knives any good? if they are well made they may not be worse than any other knife but ultimately that's all they are; any other knife, the survival kits are fairly poor and need to be supplemented by primary gear. If you have one in a real survival situation then thats far better than nothing but if you are practising bushcraft recreationally they would be far from my first choice. 

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Bushcraft and the Law; Foraging for eggs

 If you have been keeping up with my wild food micro blog; Foragers Diary you will see that eggs have featured in a few of the recent updates. It is worth discussing the legal issues regarding the foraging of eggs for food, in a survival situation I would consider it acceptable to take and eat eggs from birds nests, however I am currently not in a survival situation and since the 1954 protection of Birds Act it is illegal to interfere with or take the eggs of wild birds, so where am I getting my eggs from?

The eggs that have featured in recent posts come from captive pheasants and partridges and most of them are destined for an incubator to be hatched and reared ready for release on to a shooting estate. A few surplus eggs though make it into my kitchen and are a lovely semi-wild addition to our diet. We collect them just as you would eggs from domestic chickens from pheasants that are captured and housed in large outdoor laying pens, these birds which provide the eggs are also released once the laying season is over, they will generally lay from the beginning of April until mid May. Each year at the end of January we set large cage traps to capture enough cocks and hens to lay eggs for us again. As pheasants and partridges are game birds this is acceptable, to catch other species of birds from the wild or to interfere with their nests and eggs though is normally illegal.

Game keepers did historically take eggs from the nests of partridges to rear themselves to improve the success of hatches and better protect them from predators but this isn't done any more although you can collect eggs from wild duck nests and rear and release the chicks under the conditions of a general licence.

There are a few pest bird species that the general licence for the control of wild birds for conservation purposes grant permission for you to destroy their nests such as;

  • Canada geese
  • Egyptian geese
  • monk parakeets
  • ring-necked parakeets
  • sacred ibises
  • Indian house crows
For this licence to apply you need to be operating under the authority of the landowner or local authority though, it doesn't grant just anyone permission to destroy the eggs and nests of these species though and it does need to be for purposes of conservation not just because you fancy a goose egg for breakfast. 

So before you head out foraging in the spring time and expect to make a delicious omelette remember that you generally can't interfere with the eggs and nests of wild birds.  

A post shared by Geoffrey Guy (@gguy_bushcrafteducation) on

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Foragers Diary; April 2018

Wild greens turned a boring ham roll on a picnic into a delicious ham salad.

I'm dedicating this month's post to wild greens, it's true that there are some greens available all year, even in Winter, most of the cress's produce have leaves all year round that can be eaten and I suppose you can make pine needle tea all year round but I am keen to provide proper meals by foraging not just a tiny taste  of something. 

The end of March and April signals the real start of Spring, the daffodils will have already flowered, blue bells will be starting and the wild food will be coming with it. DON'T EAT DAFFODILS OR BLUE BELLS THEY ARE POISONOUS!!

Sorrel is a great salad green and it's sweet lemony taste makes it suitable for deserts too. 

Sorrel is a great accompaniment for fish too, here I've stuffed the gut cavity of a lovely rainbow trout with fresh sorrel leaves and it made a delicious meal. 
Opposite leaved golden saxifrage.

The golden saxifrage has bristly leaves at it's base.

And wood sorrel

Primrose flowers can be added to salads but also turned into tea, or even frozen into ice cubes or crystallised in honey and used to decorate cakes. 

Colts foot is another excellent wild edible and yields edible leaves, stems and flowers. I often use the leaves in green quiches and as a spinach substitute but strangely colts foot produces it's flowers before it's leaves hence it's colloquial name 'sons before fathers' . The stems and flowers make a lovely sweet treat at this time of year though, the bulk of the leaves will come later. 

These Japanese knot weed stems will make a great meal, substantial enough to be a main ingredient and can be used like asparagus or pickled or fermented like sour kraut. 

Jack by the hedge or garlic mustard  is a fine ingredient for SPARING use in salads as it's taste is quite strong, it also makes a great ingredient in soups or home made green pesto. 

This is ladys smock or cuckoo flower and its flowers and leaves are a delicious peppery addition to salads.
Some fresh hog weed shoots are a great addition to soups or green quiches but I find them too hairy for salads. 
A bag of nettles, cleavers, hog weed, jack by the hedge and cuckoo flower ready for a soup. 
Softening in the pan
And the finished article garnished with ladys smock. 

I've tried to include quite a few wild greens here but even that just scratches the surface of foraging opportunities in April. One other very seasonal wild food is the St. Georges mushroom which takes it's name from St. Georges Day on the 23rd April because that's when this fungi traditionally appears. It's also one of the first of the larger fungi to appear in the year and is a great treat after little more than jelly ear and scarlet elf cups for the last couple of months.

Hunting St. Georges Mushrooms

The firm white caps and gills, faint smell of flour and the fact that they are the only large white fungi out at this time of year are good clues to their identity. 

St. Geogres mushrooms don't sweat much when cooked so they retain quite a firm texture and are absolutely delicious. 
So enjoy April, it is a great time for wild food. 

You will find a few recommendations below for those of you who want to learn more about foraging and wild food, I always say when it comes to bushcraft you are better off saving money on fancy kit and buying books instead and I stick by that, check out a few of these to learn more about wild food and foraging. 

Thursday, 19 April 2018

The knife you WANT vs the knife you NEED (part 2)

Yesterday we looked at a range of iconic knives and their designers specifications for those knives; both the successful ones and a few which do not really float my boat. I made it clear that all you really NEED for bushcraft is a Mora or similar knife, I would feel dishonest saying that you need a more costly knife to do bushcraft but because I use a knife so often I have developed certain preferences and a budget Mora or Hultafors doesn't quite meet those criteria.

A Hultafors Craftsman knife and a Mora Companion; if I had nothing but one of these I would not be at a disadvantage and these are the kinds of knives I provide for my students when I teach bushcraft. 
It's the small differences in knife design that make the difference in terms of it's suitability for an individual in my opinion; the grind, steel, blade shape, handle material, inclusion of a sharpening choil, ricasso or other features all of which might make a significant difference to the user but which, to the uninitiated, may not look or feel like a big deal.

We looked at some of the iconic bushcraft knives in yesterdays post and you will see that they are all fairly similar with a few minor differences, the nessmuk knife is the most 'different' one in line with his usage of the knife as a butchery and skinning tool rather than for wood working. We also saw some of the knives which broke the mold and discussed why they aren't really comparable to the knives of Ray Mears, Horace Kephart, Nessmuk and Mors Kochanski. Well just like all these people WANTED specific features in their knives I WANT a few specific things from mine.

So what did I WANT in my bushcraft knife? 

I have a few personal preferences and a taste for wooden handles which aren't met by the Mora and Hutlafors ranges, my first forays into finding a knife which met all my requirements involved having a go at making my own;
Clockwisee from the top; spoon knife with yew handle, walnut handle on a blade made with a heavy duty hacksaw blade, a whittling knife made with a broken silky saw blade, an Enzo trapper blade with a New Zealand silver beech and sheep horn handle (I made this one for my wife)
I went through a phase of making knives myself but my skill never matched my enthusiasm and I was never really happy with the finish on my handles (except the Enzo above; I had been saving a piece of silver beech I had brought back from NZ for years for something and was never quite sure what until my wife wanted a bushcraft knife and that special piece of wood had to be hers, it's not great by professional standards but we were happy with it, and she uses it regularly). The quality of the blades I made myself was severely lacking and I didn't have the natural talent or time to get better at it so to get the knife I really WANTED I couldn't rely on my own skills to provide it.  

Going to the length of designing and having a knife made to my own design wasn't something I took lightly, I didn't 'borrow' my Dad's copy of Lofty Wisemans SAS survival guide at age nine and immediately order a custom made knife. I didn't save up the proceeds of my paper round or first full time job to get a custom made knife. I didn't get a custom knife once I started teaching bushcraft regularly in fact I had been working in the woods and countryside for fifteen years and had been teaching bushcraft for over ten years before I went to the lengths of designing and ordering a custom made knife. This was the right way to go about the process too, by that stage I was very comfortable with my knife skills and was sure about my preferences, the grind I favoured, the blade shape I preferred, the tang and handle I wanted. If you rush into a custom knife you may find that as you use it you realise that the features you have are not what you eventually are comfortable with. I was well passed that phase when I designed a knife I knew what I wanted and have not been disappointed.  

My initial sketch of the knife I wanted.
Now I have already made it clear that my knife making skill does not match my enthusiasm and it will be clear to most of you looking at my sketch that there are some design flaws in my sketch, particularly in the exposed portion of the tang. That's another reason I got in touch with a professional, someone who could not only make what I wanted but someone who could bring their experience as a knife maker to the design process and question my wishes if they weren't really realistic, a quality obviously lacking in some of the manufacturers of some of the knives I featured in yesterdays post, you would have thought that SOMEBODY would have questioned the features of the Tom Brown Tracker Knife.

Luckily I managed to find a knife maker who asked a lot of questions to work out exactly what I wanted and who helped me refine the design of the knife I wanted to make sure it would perform well. I looked around online a lot to find someone to make my knife for me an eventually I got in touch with Tim at Ammonite knives. One of his designs I particularly liked which drew me to contacting him were his field and fish knives;

Once I had got in touch I was able to set out my ideas of what I wanted in a knife;
  • A continuously curving cutting edge; a feature which is particularly useful for carving and whittling. This makes slicing cuts for the production of feather sticks easier and provides more edge area for the same blade length.
  • A sharp point; this almost goes without saying but you'd be surprised how many knives are out there without sharp points. I don't mean by that that they are blunt necessarily just that you couldn't really describe them as pointy;
Medford Knife & Tool Praetorian P Tactical Folder Knife Tanto Point OD G-10 Handles Tumbled Blade MK030DTT-1010
Something like this medford  folder, while it's point probably is sharp a blade that narrows at the tip and tapers to a point is much more useful and indeed essential for fine carving. 
  • Full length, narrow tang; I wanted the full length for strength but a narrow tang so that my hand wouldn't have to come into contact with the tang in cold weather. For added security I wanted the tang to be secured with pins or similar through the handle.
  • Exposed pommel; not because I want to use it to crush the skulls of my enemies or use it for striking a fire steel but because I don't need the extra space on the handle. I'm not going to be holding onto the handle at the back to get a better swing for chopping so why have that extra piece of handle.
  • Lanyard hole; I don't normally use lanyards on my knives, certainly not wrist lanyards even if I am chopping vigorously with something designed for chopping like a bill hook or machete the thought of letting go and having it swing back towards me on it's lanyard is frankly terrifying, I certainly don't need that in my knife. What I do want though is a small lanyard to help pull it out of a deep carry sheath. 
  • A convex grind; I had considered a scandi grind too but decided in the end that I wanted the added strength that a convex grind would provide especially in the fairly fine point that the knife would come to. 
  • Impervious handle; although I like the way wooden handles look I originally wanted a kirinite or micarta handle so it wouldn't soak up any blood or other things which could contaminate my knife as I would be using this knife to process game. 
  • Four - five inch blade; I'm not a fan of large blades except for specific jobs and find that four to five inches is about right for an all round knife, not too big for whittling and not so small that it can't be pressed to tasks which require a little more length. 
  • Sharpening choil; large finger choils are a pet hate of mine but I do like a sharpening choil to allow me to sharpen the blade right up to the point it comes closest to the handle. 

 These are the sketches that Tim provided after I sent him my specifications and I went with the top one. My original sketch did have a slightly drop point blade but we eventually decided on the strait spine like many Scandinavian style knives. You will also notice in these sketches that once the tang narrows it doesn't widen again at the end like it did in my original sketch. Obviously my original sketch wouldn't work as the wider exposed pommel would never fit through the hole in the handle but sometimes it takes a more experienced pair of eyes to spot these things.  

Tim and I also had a discussion about the handle material, I was after something that wouldn't soak up any blood or liquid and so had originally requested a kirinite handle. Tim explained that stabilised wood was just as impervious to liquid as synthetic materials are though as they are completely impregnated with resin. With this in mind we decided on a piece of stabilised elm burl for the handle which satisfied my aesthetic preference for a well figured wood handle and for a handle that would be impervious to liquids. As the build started we also went for a buffalo horn bolster. 

A final finishing touch was added to the knife with a small metallic ammonite fossil set in resin on the right hand side. Quite fittingly the ammonite came from my home county of Kent. 

A knife isn't complete without a sheath and quite a few production knives are let down by inferior sheaths, the TOPS C.U.B is one which will be reviewed here in June which was an excellent knife in an appalling sheath. A sheath is another reason that some might upgrade from a Mora, the plastic sheaths are very hygienic but eventually loose their retention and the knives in them begin to rattle. Add to that the aesthetic appeal of a leather sheath and the preference of a lot of bushcrafters for traditional materials and leather is often a good pick for a sheath. 

I do like the look of leather sheaths and as this was a knife I WANTED rather than one which I would need in the larder for large scale food prep and game processing for sale into the food chain, I would of course use it for processing some game but  I went for a leather sheath. It was to be a deep carry sheath leaving nothing but the very top of the knife handle visible. I wanted one that I could hang on my trouser belt without it dangling as I don't like the thump-thump of a dangler style knife sheath on my thigh as I move but I also wanted to be able to convert the sheath to dangle so I could wear it on a belt outside of my winter clothing in cold weather.

While the knife was being made Tim regularly sent tantalising pictures of the progress he was making on the knife.

My blade blank, ground to shape and ready to have the edge bevels ground.
Finished blade ready for a handle

Almost finished

The finished sheath with
dangler arrangement.
It wasn't long before Tim emailed me to let me know that the finished knife was ready to send and I excitedly waited for it to arrive. Once it did I wasn't disappointed and have enjoyed using it ever since. I've had it a few months now and it's been working hard. It has dressed a couple of deer, several dozen ducks pheasants and geese and has been an excellent camp companion and general carving/whittling knife, in short i does everything a bushcraft knife should do.

The finished knife with a small lanyard I made to help withdraw it from it's sheath. 

A close up of the sharpening choil, bolster and Tim's ammonite logo
The handle including the  ammonite set in resin. 
Carving a spoon

At work preparing duck, goose and pheasant for a game curry. 
Using my knife as an improvised draw knife
This is the knife I WANT for my bushcrafting, it has all the features I want in one package and is attractive as well as functional. That doesn't mean that it will be right for everyone but it is perfect for my needs and I would highly recommend it and Tim's craftsmanship, you can check out his knives on his website at and follow him on instagram to see more of his knives;

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