Today I have a treat for everyone. Luke Banter, one of my readers and a regular commenter here on the blog contacted me recently as it turns out we grew up quite close to each other in Ontario. We chatted some more and he shared with me an experience he had growing up that most of us would consider completely “bugging out” where he escaped to rural Northern Ontario to live off the land for a summer.
I told Luke that if he ever wanted to do a recap of the story for me I’d be happy to share it on the blog. He did his part and provided me the story in incredible detail, so now I’m doing my part and sharing it with everyone who enjoys a good survival tale! Below is Part 1 – please note names have been changed to protect the identities of those involved. Enjoy!
Growing up in Northern Ontario in the beginning, I didn’t know of urban life. In rural Thunder Bay, Hunting, fishing and trapping were mainstays, along with large gardens, with the understanding that these things needed daily attention. The reality is it’s a lot of work, although growing up this way it didn’t really seem like it. It was seen as just living I suppose. After I turned 7 we moved to a farm in Southern Ontario to start family farming. I think my family had a plan to extend their knowledge, and Oxford County appeared to fit for them. Reading was really important in my family, and educating yourself through what others had left behind as printed knowledge from their trials and tribulations.
At the age of 10, I had joined the local 4H program and started a Rabbit farming project that ended up being a 450 count profitable business in short order (breed like rabbits is an accurate term), and again more valuable knowledge. Rabbit farming amongst our dairy operation, was extremely rewarding. We had a variety of livestock, including chickens (eggs), pigs, goats, a sheep or two, ducks, and a few others. Horses were an important addition a few years later, as we used them for numerous things, including hunting. I would have to say we were rural preppers or homesteaders for sure. We preserved everything from meats, vegetables, and fruits, and smoked a lot of things too. Fish and wild game, and of course pork and beef all made their way into the smoker. We had a well that we could pump manually or with the wind mill, and we made some modifications to acquire electricity later on (interesting project).
We could have lived for a year without a problem. The only catch was fuel, as we only had a month supply of that and the farm had 25 head of milking livestock. Fields would have to be dealt with to keep up to the demands of the farming operation. So there were a few draw backs to that, but my father always said the worst case scenario would be to let it go and make jerky.
As for camping, well we never referred to it as “camping”, rather staying out. Staying out was done since I was really young, as young as I can remember, and what most people see as camping, I see as something for city folk. Staying out is more like bushcraft, where you a roughing it, and using more of your surroundings to acquire your accommodations.
At 15 almost 16, I wanted to “stay out” for an extended stay, and try it for the whole summer. I wanted to do it for the Personal Challenge, to put my skills to the test, and to have a moment in life (pretty deep eh!). So when some of my friends spent the summer chasing girls, and working the hay fields, I was checking slips, cutting firewood, hunting, and foraging. And again, there is a lot of work to this, but when you know what you are doing and having the confidence, it is more like “living” then work.
I spent an afternoon or two speaking with my father and grandfather about the trip I was planning. I also spent nearly 5 months planning for all I thought I would need. My father suggested that my mother would not be very keen on the idea. And I suggested she think I was visiting Brad and his family, or at least for the first week. He suggested his butt would be in the dog house for long while. (I suggested “Lucky” our black lab would enjoy the company). Some friends thought I was nuts and some even said you will be back by July 1st (and these friends knew me). Then there was my best friend who said “Be careful, and can’t wait to see ya in September!”
After school had ended near end of June 1992’ I headed to the highway to hitch I ride north. I found myself at my destination with only 4 different rides (use a sign). My destination would be the French River, and more so Noelville, Ontario, in the beautiful Boreal Forest of the Canadian Shield. The terrain and general area was exactly what I was looking for, and I was familiar with it from moose hunting. I did have friends in the area who knew I was coming (Brad). I met up with my friends at their home, and laid out my route of travel and the area I would be seeking to set up base camp. This is always important on any stay out, to let someone know where you are going, intended duration, and not to stray from that plan.
I would not have communications, and no GPS. There was great confidence in my trip from most of my friends and family (minus mother as she didn’t know yet), but the Great North on the best of days has its dangers. We had established an emergency plan, and Brad would check in on me on Fridays at noon, at a pre-determined location. If I wasn’t there in 30 minutes, he would fire his shotgun at 30 sec intervals 3 times, which I would respond with 1 shot 30 seconds after words, to let him know I was fine and on my way. If I was in trouble 3 shots at 10 second intervals followed with whistle blows. And a flare shot if needed. Otherwise I was on my own. So to say there was some risk, yes there was. I had come with everything for my stay out, except staple foods. These would be purchased in Noelville, at the local grocery store which allowed for me to buy the bulk food caches I would require. This also allowed me light travel getting to the French River from home.
Now I should speak of my list of gear, and perhaps start with the knowledge part. My knowledge of wilderness survival started with my youth. This was obtained through daily life, staying out, hunting and fishing, reading, and of course learning from others. Learning from and watching others, is a great way to obtain great information. There is however a need to filter this information to keep what is good and useful from that found not to be. Good common sense and trial and error can accommodate this. But most important is “doing”. GET OUT and DO IT!
Next, the tools, equipment, and general gear are very important to consider. What I decided to equip myself with was the following list. This was checked rechecked, researched, crossed out, put back on the list… well you get the idea. (Keep in mind, 16 yrs old, and 1990’s)
A Large military ALICE rucksack (similar but nothing too fancy)
Tarp (black canvas) 12×10
Cargo pants x1
Long sleeve shirt
Long wool sweater
2 extra pairs of underwear / 2 socks wool / 1 pair long underwear set
Pair of *Kangaroo Hiking boots
Winter military jacket/ winter hat/ winter gloves.
*Savage 24J Combination .410 & .22 Magnum O/U (passed down from my father)
Axe Double head (flat file)
Bowie Knife/ sharpening stone
Mess kit/ small cook pot/ small fry pan/ 2 tin cups/ 2 sets of utensils (I would make wooden spoon)
Small Grill (1ft x 1ft)
1 large cook pot and 2.5 gallon pale and 50 ft of marine rope (from my friends in Noelville)
200 ft of binder twine (similar to Jute) I found out …100 would have been just fine.
25 ft of snare wire (set of 10 snares)
2 rat traps (never used them)
Block of wax 2 lbs
Flashlight *Maglite (AA) / 8 extra batteries (AA)
Needle nose pliers
Garbage bags / smaller plastic bags (large bread bags)
10×10 thick plastic sheet
First aid Kit / Vitamins / Tylenol / Bug Repellant /Soap/ 2 flares/Magnifying glass / rubber cement / 6 “s” hooks
Flask of brandy (courtesy of my grandfather for medicinal reasons)
Fishing gear “small tackle box” Spool of 8 pound fishing line, with screw eyes for making pole
Extensive sewing kit
Deck of cards / Harmonica (never really learned how to play, but kept the bears away I’m sure)
Approx weight 50 lbs
Now on my person … and how I dressed (what is in my pockets)
Swiss Army Knife
Small battery AM/FM radio (crap reception with 2 stations)
Magnesium and Flint block
Waterproof matches (more in the pack)
Map of area (was hard to get)
Money / ID/ Emergency contact info
I was dressed in Cargo Pants, t-shirt, and Wool Sweater, and of course underwear, socks, and my favorite ball cap. And wearing a pair of (if I remember right) Merrell Hiking Boots. And a pair of deer skin gloves. And a Timex watch fixed with small compass. Sunglasses and a brass whistle. I travelled with 1 liter of water in a steel canteen, on my belt.
Approx weight 150lbs
Store Bought Caches of Staple foods
Sugar /2 pounds
Flour /5 pounds
Rice / 5 pounds
Navy Beans /3 pounds
Split peas / 3 pounds
Salt / 1 pound
Spices (Pepper, cayenne pepper 1 lb*, garlic, onion, celery, basil, and cinnamon powder) *read cayenne pepper keeps bears and wolves away.
Rolled oats / 3 pounds / Whole cornmeal / 2 pounds
Alfalfa Seeds / 2 pounds (YES)
Chewing Gum / 4 packs (big league chew) / Chocolate chips/ 1.5 lbs / 1 can of Coolaid* (just because okay)
Approx weight 30 lbs
Total Weight: 180 lbs
And that’s where we’ll leave it for part 1! If you’d like to continue the story you can find Part 2 here. Luke has also been kind enough to provide everyone with his email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Also be sure to check him out on his YouTube channel here!