Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Hunter Gatherer Challenge 2014 - Part One

Last week I completed a tough but very rewarding week living off the land. You could almost call it a re-wilding experience. The challenge was held in Wiltshire, UK and delivered by a company called Wilderness Survival Skills.

I could waffle on for ages about the trip, I'll try not to as I dont want to potentially spoil it for others that might want to attend on future occasions, but I'll give an account of my experiences and throw in some pictures as usual.

This survival/wilderness type of trip was to mainly be a solo affair. All the other trips Ive done like this, I have been working in a group with the exception of a few solo overnighters with minimal kit. Solo just means more hard graft, but that was the only problem, as being on my own most of the time meant I had no distractions and could crack on with all of the jobs. There were plenty to do as well!

First off, we were put in three teams of three, each team given a separate wood to navigate to using sketch maps drawn the night before. Here I look a little startled for some reason. Probably weighing up the huge task ahead of me. Most folks had decided to bring no sleeping equipment, no firelighting equipment, no food, and no water. Only Knife, Saw, Billy can, warm wool and cotton clothing, flint knapping kit, minimal wash kit and spare underwear allowed. Some safety items taken were phone, headtorch and first aid, and a notebook and camera were allowed to document the time out in the woods.

My team just about to head off on the first morning. It rained and the wind blew like mad, for most of the next five days! We had to make our separate shelters and beds from natural materials, light fire from our surroundings, butcher a deer, and make water safe to drink on the same day. I opted to go the whole hog and try to forage for all the firelighting  materials needed during several hours of prolonged rainfall. This was my biggest concern. More on that later.

The wood we were to stay in is on teh right of this picture. Here Dave is working out the other nearest groups position way off on the other side of the valley. We were already soaked to the skin and we hadent even started on making homes yet.

Once we knew we were in the right woodland, we went our separate ways. We kept in touch once a day or so to keep an eye on each other. This was important, as there were some dangerously tired blokes wandering about. The moral of seeing a mate was priceless at times.

As I said, drying a tinder bundle was going to be a mean feat, so after I found a spot for a shelter, I  set to looking in all the driest places for suitable combustible materials. Then collected deadwood for splitting down and feathering wood for kindling. I kept tinder close to the body and hung in trees trying desperately to dry it, while my heated body made the shelter.

I got the open fronted shelter OK for the first nights sleeping, and as a sheltered spot for friction fire-lighting using Hazel wood I had collected and carved as the rain slowed down, for the bow drill set. BY this time I was very low on energy having had no water all day or food.

Platform as a base for the fire, tinderbundle of various things, and a nice dry (on the inside) cramp ball found on Ash near the camp that day.

OK, here we go. I failed:( There, Ive said it.
 I've never felt so rubbish!! I was doing everything right had smoke, embers and black powder in abundance but they just kept on dwindling away after a few seconds of promise. Ive done this successfully so many times, even on the day from scratch and in rain. But everything was so wet, including the air as the sun was going down, My energy was spent after nine attempts, a walk in, and building up and down a hill all day and two sets and bows carved. My right shoulder and knee was done in. I literally keeled over and said thats it. Then my mate turned up, and I reluctantly excepted the offer of some help as he had a fire lit from a dry set brought from home. 

I got the cramp ball lit, and luckily with a lot of blowing and steam, got all the prep lit too and ....


I decided from here on in not to let my failure to bother me because the tinder and kindling  had worked on the first go. Also, there was the deer to sort out, and several days of wilderness living to do. I was not going to give in!
It did mean I had work to do to sort this out skills wise for the future, in case I could have found better woods, carved more of the possibly damp wood away, been more efficient with energy expenditure etc. 
Don't give up until you really cant do it any more. One chap on the course persevered and succeeded. If he can, so can you and I. Well done Dave.

Next up deer skinning and butchery. Our only source of food, but we had to earn this by making a hunting weapon capable of actually killing an animal of this size, from only materials found in the woods. We would be tested on a target on day 4 to earn our meat and win a prize.

I collapsed by the fire, skewered some fillet of loin to cook over the embers, ate and slept next to a fire of bony Oak after gathering loads of wood for the night. I woke every 1 1/2 - 2 hours to stoke up the fire.