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Quail Mountain Ranch Blog

April 11,2010

By Bud Neville

On self-reliance

The other night, I was trying to convince my 10-year-old son that I could teach him much of true survival. You know, that kind of survival that is based on self-reliance. Build a shelter, forage for food, purify water.

"Yeah right. But that doesn't help me with my pikimin game," he said vacantly, while working some video game controls with thumbs and fingers.

In fact, all of my three kids knew the basics of wilderness survival by the time they were five years old. But aside from using a downed log and leaf mold for insulation in an impromtu shelter, or rigging a snare or fish trap, there's much more about survival than just existing for a few days without groceries or modern conveniences.

These days, surival can still be about quenching thirst, sating hunger and staying warm, but instead of making due for a couple days until your rescued, we are more concerned about existing and providing for our families after being displaced from our homes, jobs and without money to purchase food. These days, it's not about emergency survival, but survival in a tough economy when you are competing with more and more people losing their homes and jobs every day.

For those of us lucky enough to keep our homes, becoming more productive is vital. Gardening year round is a great way to help insulate yourself from high grocery bills and poor quality store-bought foods and medicines. Foraging- going afield in search of high quality wild foods- is another option. Fishing can be a fine sport. For a hungry family, a trout dinner might not be in the budget through a restaurant, but for the one who can catch them himself, fish dinners are cheap.

Hunting might not be for everyone, but wild game can't be purchased legally at any price, and is the healthiest protein available.

As civilizations progressed, humans evolved from hunter-gatherers to agrarian societies. Instead of moving when game became scarce, they settled on productive land regions and started growing crops and keeping livestock and poultry.

There are few survival projects as simple and productive as the laying hen. With garden scraps and the occasional purchase of feed, a chicken can provide dozens of meals per month. If you don't think I'm talking from first hand experience, here's some of the "hen fruit" entries that have been on our menu the past couple years: scrambled eggs, omelette, fried eggs, egg salad, hard boiled eggs, scrambled eggs in rice, fried egg sandwich, egg salad sandwich, pickled eggs... not to mention all the recipes that are enhanced with an egg or two.

Raising a hog, a meat goat, a dairy goat, meat chickens-- not projects everyone knows about-- is the gist of survival these days. And it all boils down to productivity, and providing quality nutrition for less. Sure it's work; I'm reminded of two things. One, a favorite quote from a western novel: There's no one more desperate than a man who wants to work, but can't find a job. The other is daily thanks that I give to have a 7-day per week job that no one can fire me from. What's another hour or two per day building a system of self reliance that, should things change for me, will enable me to continue to feed and provide for my family?

See, it's all about self-reliance. When you don't need to depend on others for shelter, food and water, you will find a confidence that surpasses fears of job loss, homelessness and the possible collapse of society as we know it. Point is, better to be prepared and hope for the best, then bank on the government's handouts.

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March, 2011

By Bud Neville

Trailcam fun

Outdoor enthusiasts must by nature also be good trackers. If you don't consider the marks and impacts of events while you are enjoying a hike or ride in the outdoors, you are probably more in love with the idea of being an outdoor enthusiast rather than the real thing. Here's why.

The first thing we learn about finding our way once we step off human paths is how to find our way back. A rule of thumb is to glance back to see how landmarks look, because you'll want to be able to recognize them on the way back to the trailhead. Noticing, for example, that skeleton white dead pine snag on the opposing hillside will offer you a point of reference when you are finding your way back. Studying the variances in the trail also helps: here is a downed log that makes a convenient rest, there a small spring that makes for a few slippery steps. As you notice these things, you naturally notice things like a pile of bear droppings, or the scattered feathers where some predator made a meal out of a quail. These details are the footnotes in a tracker's journal.

As you enjoy the small stories from the tracks you find, your imagination can fill in the blanks of just what plot unfolded. Like a Sherlock Holmes story, you can find the clues that shows the bear has been feeding on manzanita berries, and the quail was killed by a hawk. You know this because the hawk leaves a circular scattering of feathers versus the larger predator's semi-circle. It's kind of like a little black and white newsletter of what's been happening.

Tracking is great fun, but as you prowl your own back 40, the tracks don't tell every story. You easily miss 80 percent of the activity that occurs when you're not around. During the summer and winter at our place, the tracks tell us much more thanks to soft dust during the former, and muddy conditions of the latter. One small bottleneck of our gravel driveway becomes a storybook with a surfacing of light dust revealing every animal that passes. Still, the other acres offer no such stories... unless you employ a nifty little gadget called a trailcam.

Often used by hunters to help them determine where their target animals are spending their time during certain hours of the day, trailcams have a much broader use for the landowner who wants to see what happens when he or she is not around.

Most trailcams are triggered by motion, and so only take pictures when something moves in front of the lens. We happen to have a Moultrie that offers a choice of single photos, a three-click series of photos. Some even offer a video option, and a few will call the owners cell phone with pictures! At one time, 35 mm film was the norm in trailcams, but of course, the digital photo revolution has changed that. Now, trailcams mostly use digital formats, and the once bright flash of a conventional camera bulb has been replaced with infrared technology. Supposedly, the infrared is not as noticable by the subject, but I know the animals sense the flash and or camera, I've seen it in the photos we've taken.

Placing one of these trailcams at a spot where you know animals to frequent is like turning your little tracking "newsletters" into a full color glossy magazine. You get to see just who is coming around, and sometimes you even get to see what they're doing.

When we first got our trailcam, we put it up at the water trough we provide for wildlife near my vegetable garden. What great stories! Bears, deer, squirrels and rabbits were caught in the act of living their lives. While great fun, the trailcam was pressed into even more fascinating service that proved these contraptions can be much more than a hunter's scouting tool. When a piece of fencing on the gate that protects our livestock feed from the animals got peeled back, muddy prints left on the barn wall, and grain raided, I was sure the culprit was a bear. Idea! The trailcam had a new home for a few nights, and this is what we found out:

You can click on the picture for a closer look. Through a series of about 12 pictures, three bears were caught on camera plundering our goat grain. Ironically, the bears were spooked by the first series of pics taken at just before 8 p.m. One investigated the camera, shifting the camera view in later pics.

Sure makes one think about all the different security uses of these cameras! When not pressed into security service, we'll be moving the QMR trailcam around to gather more interesting pictures. Be sure to check back to see who's been visiting!

Copyright 2008 by The Agency