By: Jeff Csatari
Happy Birthday Boy Scouts!
The Boy Scouts of America celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. Since 1910, more than 83 million American boys have worn the khaki, recited the Scout Oath, learned to “Be Prepared,” and scoured the countryside searching in vain for left-handed smoke shifters.
Taut-line hitches and square knots?
If not, here’s a refresher: how to eat a pine tree and do other neat stuff you learned in the Boy Scouts, then forgot as soon as you noticed girls.
Vintage Scout photos and illustrations courtesy of the Boy Scouts of America
Start a Fire with a Flashlight
No matches? No Bic? If you have a fresh flashlight battery and some very fine steel wool, you’re in business. Roll the wool between your hands into a cigarette shape. Then pull the ends apart gently so there is only a fine mesh of steel wool in the center. Now touch one end to the battery’s top, the other to the battery’s bottom. The current will make the wool in the center spark and burn. Touch some tinder to it and you’re cookin’.
Sharpen a Knife
A sharp knife is a safer knife, since a dull knife is more likely to slip off what you’re cutting and cut you. To hone a keen edge, first get yourself an Arkansas whetstone (it’s the best). Coat the top of the stone with some vegetable oil. The oil picks up the steel filings and floats them away as you sharpen. Lay the blade on the stone so its back edge is tilted about one-third of an inch above the stone. Stroke forward lightly but firmly, in an arc, as if slicing into the stone. Then turn the blade over and draw it toward you the same way. Repeat until you can easily slice a piece of paper.
Hide from Bugs
When the mosquitoes are dining, switch to light-colored clothing. Wearing dark colors, especially navy blue and black, is like ringing the dinner bell. To repel no-see-ums, try applying Avon’s “Skin-So-Soft,” a moisturizing lotion that for unknown reasons keeps the little devils away. It’s a lot more pleasant to wear than those greasy deet-based repellents.
Avoid Being Struck by Lightning
If you’re caught out in an electrical storm and you feel your hair standing on end, immediately squat down low and draw your legs to your chest so that only the balls of your feet are touching the ground. Lightning usually strikes the highest objects in its path, so low spots are safer places.
Make KP a Breeze
Rub a bar of soap or liquid detergent on the bottoms and sides of pots and pans before putting them on the fire. The soot will be easier to wash off.
To turn a pancake over in the air with a flourish, sweep the frying pan forward, up and around in a smooth looping-the-loop motion.
Avoid Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac
Remember this mnemonic: “Leaflets three, let it be; berries white, poisonous sight.” And stay away from anything that matches that description.
Make a Solar Still for Water
You can get about a quart of water a day by this method. Dig a cone-shaped hole about 3 feet deep and 3 feet in diameter and line it with fresh-cut green plants. Place a cup in the bottom of the hole and cover the hole with a sheet of plastic. Secure the plastic with rocks placed around its edges and put a small stone in the center of the plastic to create a valley above the cup. When the sun warms the still, plant moisture will condense on the plastic and drip into the cup.
Fillet a Fish
This technique works best for trout, bass, bluefish, flounder, and panfish.
First, sharpen your fillet knife. You’ll mangle the meat if it’s dull.
1. Place the fish on its side and your hand firmly on its head.
2. Make an angled cut just behind the gill cover down to, but not severing, the backbone.
3. Turn the knife blade flat and push it along the backbone toward the tail without cutting the rib cage. Pull the meat back and cut the rest away from the rib cage. You’ll be slicing through the stomach skin to free the fillet. Then, fillet the other side of the fish.
4. Skinning: Lay the fillet skin-side down on a board. Hold the tail down with your hand. Starting at that end, work the knife between skin and meat using a slicing motion.
Build a Fire with One Match
The key to building any fire is to start small and let it “breathe.”
1. Make a ball of tinder (brown pine needles, dry grasses and white birch bark, which contains an oil that helps it burn even when wet).
2. Lean about six pencil-sized sticks on the tinder in teepee fashion.
3. Light the base of the tinder. As the flames rise, add more pencil-sized sticks one at a time so you won’t smother the fire. Blowing at the base of the tinder helps. Add larger sticks as the fire grows stronger.
Stay Warm in a Sleeping Bag
Common sense might lead you to believe that bundling up with every piece of warm clothing you have will keep you warm in your sleeping bag. But you would be better off stripping to the skin or wearing only long underwear. That will give your body heat a chance to warm the air inside your sleeping bag, which will keep you comfortable. In the morning, change out of whatever you slept in. Those clothes will be damp from perspiration and will chill you as soon as you step outside.
Remove a Fishhook from a Finger
If you or someone else is snagged by a fishhook, get to a doctor for removal. If you are in the backcountry and can’t reach medical help, here’s what to do:
Snip the line off the hook. If the barb is embedded, push the hook farther in until the barb comes through the skin. Snip off the barb with pliers or nail clippers. Work the hook shank back out through the point of entry.
Wash and bandage the wound.
Cook a Caveman Steak Without Utensils
Flatten a bed of hot coals with a stick. Then place a steak directly on the coals. Turn after three to five minutes. Wait another five minutes, then brush off the ashes and dine. Mmmm.
Bake Bread on a Leaf
Mold some biscuit dough into the shape of a potato. Wrap the dough in two large, green leaves. Push aside the coals and place the bundle on the hot ground. Cover with hot ashes and bake for about 10 minutes. Test with a stick.
Roast Corn Without Utensils
Peel down the husks just enough to remove the silk, then close up the husks again. Soak the corn in water, then place it directly on hot coals. Roast for about seven minutes per side.
Keep from Drowning
You’re in the middle of a lake, the boat sinks and you don’t have a life preserver. No problem. Make one out of your trousers. While treading water, slip off your pants and tie a knot in the end of each leg. Hold the waist of the pants in one hand under water. Inflate them by cupping air in your other hand, pushing it under water and releasing it into the pants. When the pants are inflated, hold the waist closed and lean across the crotch.
Sing to Bears
When hiking in bear country, yodel, talk loudly, or sing. Making noise allows the animal to move away before you get there.
If a black bear enters your camp, bang on a pot to scare it away.
If a black bear noses you awake at night, don’t make any sudden moves, but don’t play dead, either. Talk to the bear in a calm, deep voice to let it know you are not a road kill.
If you encounter a grizzly bear, stay calm and try to back away slowly while speaking to the bear. Never turn your back. And never run. You won’t win the race.
If a grizzly charges, stand your ground. They often make mock charges. Climb a tree only if you can climb at least 10 feet before the bear reaches you. As a last resort, curl into a ball, covering your neck and head with your arms. Leave your backpack on for protection. Many people have survived bear attacks this way.
Tie a Square Knot
Good for tying cord around a package or bundle of newspapers, and also for tying first-aid bandages. Hold a rope end in each hand. Twist the left-hand rope end over, behind and under the right-hand rope. Then twist the same end as before over, behind and under the other rope end. Pull tight. Remember, “left over right and under, right over left and under.”
Tie a Double Half-Hitch Knot
An easy knot for tying up a boat to a pole or tying a clothesline between two trees. Pass the end of the rope around the pole. Bring the end over the rope, under and through the loop you just formed. That’s a half hitch. Then do the same in front of the first half hitch you created.
Tie a Taut-Line Hitch Knot
This knot is tied on a line that is tight, such as a tent guy line. It’s also good for tying down luggage on top of a car, because it won’t slip as long as the rope is tight. Pass the rope around a tent stake or roof rack. Bring the end under and over the tight line and twice through the loop you just made. Then, again, bring the end of the rope under, over and through the new loop you formed, and tighten the hitch. You can tighten or loosen the line by pushing the hitch up and down the line.
Tie a Bowline Knot
An important mountain-climbing knot that’s also useful for lowering someone from a burning building. It forms a loop that won’t slip under strain. Make an overhand loop in the rope about 20 inches from its end. Push the end of the rope up through the loop, around the standing part of the rope and back down through the loop. Then tighten. Practice while chanting this famous Scout saying: “The rabbit comes out of the hole, hops around the tree and goes back down the hole.”
Eat Like a Bear I
If you ever get lost in the woods, rescuers will probably find you before the buzzards do. Still, it’s wise to know what you can—and can’t—eat out there. No good Scout would dream of eating anything he couldn’t positively identify, and neither should you. Before you try any of the ideas below, remember these rules of foraging:
1. Go by the description, not just the name. While you’d call that cone-bearing tree a pine, how do you know it’s not a hemlock? To be sure, consult an edible-plants guidebook, such as Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide, by Thomas S. Elias and Peter A. Dykeman, or A Field Guide to Eastern Edible Wild Plants, by Lee A. Peterson.
2. Eat only the safe part of the plant. In some cases, the seeds may be fine while the leaves are toxic, and vice versa.
3. Test first. Eat a small amount (about one teaspoon) of any plant you’re considering for dinner. Wait about three to four hours. If you’re feeling fine, go ahead and harvest a meal-sized portion.
Now that you know the rules, here are some plants to try:
Eat Like a Bear II
Greens: Watercress is ideal for a salad. But don’t bypass dandelion, young goldenrod, black mustard or chicory leaves. By summertime, some greens turn bitter. Boiling them will help cut the bitterness. Also, clip the new shoots off the common milkweed plant and boil them until they are tender. Eat them as you would eat asparagus.
Cattail on the cob: Boil the young green flower spikes of cattail plants and eat them like corn on the cob. The white parts of the stalk can be eaten raw or cooked. Also, the thick root of this plant can be roasted.
Sumac punch: Cut the red flower clusters off a staghorn sumac plant (shown at left) and soak them in a cup of cold water. Add a little sugar, and you have a drink that looks and tastes like pink lemonade, if you use your imagination.
Pine-needle tea: Chop up a handful of lodgepole pine needles and steep in some hot water for a fragrant tea. Also, you can eat the inner white bark of certain pine trees, such as lodgepole and Scotch pine, raw or boiled. Strip the brown bark from the tree and scrape out the inner white pithy bark. Some pine seeds can be eaten, too. Pinon pine nuts are especially good.
Find North Without a Compass
With a stick: Press a stick into the ground and angle it directly toward the sun so it doesn’t cast a shadow. After a while, the sun will create a shadow of the stick that will point toward the east. Drawing a perpendicular line across the shadow will give you north and south.
With a watch: Holding an analog watch flat, place a twig upright against the dial at the point of the hour hand. Now turn the watch until the twig’s shadow covers the hour hand. A line halfway between the hour hand and 12 points south.
By the North Star: Search the night sky for the Big Dipper, then locate the two stars farthest from the dipper’s handle. An imaginary line through them points almost straight at Polaris, the North Star, which is not as bright as you’d expect with a name like that, but pretty easy to find nonetheless. Polaris is also the last star in the handle of the Little Dipper.
Forecast the Weather
Here are some old sayings that’ll help you read the sky for signs of fair or foul weather:
“Red sky at night, sailors’ delight.” Dry, dusty air often creates a glow at sunset.
“Red sky in morning, sailors take warning.” Dry air is being pushed east by moist air coming from the west.
“If smoke goes high, no rain comes by.” High air pressure, a fair-weather sign, allows smoke to go straight up.
“If smoke hangs low, watch out for a blow.” Low air pressure will keep smoke from rising very high.
“Mackerel scales and mares’ tails make lofty ships carry low sails.” Cloud formations that look like fish scales and wispy tails warn of a change in the weather.
Dry Your Wet Boots
Never put your boots close to a campfire to dry them. The heat can crack the leather or melt synthetic uppers and rubber soles. Instead, speed drying by stuffing the boots with small, fire-warmed rocks placed inside socks.
Tighten a Loose Ax Head
If your ax handle is made of wood, soak the head in a bucket of water for a few hours. The wood will swell and tighten the ax head temporarily. For a more permanent remedy, drive a wedge into the wood in the ax head.
What did you learn in the Scouts? Share your favorite tip or memories!