Author Topic: Quest for Fire  (Read 7886 times)

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Offline Old Philosopher

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Quest for Fire
« on: August 08, 2014, 10:55:07 PM »
Not to be confused with the 1981 movie of the same name, this is about this deals with how we go about finding material suitable for our fires.

Not sure where this quest will lead, but Punty's post below, and Nuke's post in the same thread, got me wondering how different folks go about procuring fire - in their region?


Quote
"Now, I spent last week in the bush for 7 days. End of July, but it rained every day except for 2, scattered showers, and everything was pretty well soaked..the air was humid so nothing really dried out well between showers.

   A few things I learned....

1. I had a CRKT Woods Kangee. It's a great hawk, and splits wood better than other hawks, but with teh short handle (about 15 inches, I think), I just wasn't comfortable...it was hard to get a good swing and split maple...the head would just bury itself with minimal splitting.
    I busted out the laplander, cut myself a baton, and then broke out Binky (my BK9), and it felt much easier to split wood with it, and safer, frankly.

2. Tons of spruce around, and I used a lot of dead spruce branches for starting fires, but when I cooked with it, it was soot city! Turned my entire cook kit black, and I couldn't cook directly over the flame for my pork chops, which I would prefer.
 
    Thus, it's easy to get a fire going in my area with what can be foraged, but for cooking, I want dry hard wood. This is where being able to split up things like dead oak or maple come into play, and my BK9.  Even branches don't create a very good fire unless they are split, bark just doesn't sustain fire very well, and stripping the bark just makes the branches burn in a smoldering sort of fire.

3. I carved a wooden cup and spoon out of maple, dead but still somewhat green. To get to the wood you want, you have to split the wood...and controlled splitting is best....i.e. batoning.

   So, if I want a campfire, I can get it going without tools. But if I want a cooking fire, or a smokeless fire, or a sustainable hot fire to get a hot coal base, split hard wood works so much better.

   We often talk about wood processing and tools to do it, but sort of generalize fire. Fire can't be generalized so easily. A simple fire for warmth and light is one thing. A fire that will burn hot and long and produce a solid coal base is something else, you can't just grab dead branches and evergreens for good cooking coals....you need hardwood, and you need it split. A few unsplit branches in there are fine, but try getting a good coal base with nothing but hardwood branches. It will burn slow and cool, be hard to keep going, and the first coals will turn to ash before the rest of the wood becomes coal.

    So, what sort of fire you want determines what sort of fuel you need, and what sort of fuel you need determines what sort of tools you need....especially in damp conditions."
We've all watched endless videos of batoning branches to get piles of firewood of gradated sizes. We've learned all about saws, axes, and various tools hauled into the woods to make little sticks out of big sticks. We know about feather sticks, and shavings, and other 'crafty' tricks.  But what do YOU do?really?

I grew up, and still play, in the boreal forests of the Pacific Northwest, from the Olympic Rain Forest, to the west slopes of the Rocky Mountains. Along the Washington coast, the woods are never dry. On the east slopes of the Cascades, or the Kootenai Range, the woods are nearly always dry. Conditions vary, but some things are constant.

I've never relied upon an axe to forage for firewood. A machete is about all the horsepower I ever felt I needed. That, or a hefty belt knife. Most all my firewood is scrounged "as is", either dead branches, or standing deadwood saplings.  Dry, dead twigs can be broken off conifers under the shelter of the main tree cover. Before the days of PC, it was affectionately known as "squaw wood", because it doesn't take much effort to gather a pack board full of the stuff.  On those same branches, you can find different types of dead moss, a great tinder. Almost every fir, hemlock or spruce has good sized dead branches low down on the trunk. If they are out of reach, just throw a light rope over them and pull to break them off.
Rotting stumps can often be kicked apart, yielding dry punk wood, and even fatwood if you're lucky.
In pine country, pine needles catch fire like they were soaked in kerosene. A good place to find dry pine needles in wet weather is ant hills. Ants aren't stupid, and they don't like wet feet, so a digging stick in an ant hill will usually produce ample material
.
As for larger dry wood, I mentioned standing deadwood. Don't waste your time/energy trying to bust open wet deadfalls that have been laying on the ground. You can break off an armload of dead, standing saplings in half the time (and effort) than trying to split a log that's been soaked by rain and snow.  I was taught from an early age, "If it's on the ground, leave it be."  Concentrate on windfalls that are leaning, or suspended above last year's snow level.
 
Larger poles can be broken into 3-4 foot lengths by laying one end on a log and just stomping on them. Don't try to break 'em off shorter that about 3 feet, or you might catch a flying chunk in the shin!  I use 3-6 foot logs to feed a "star fire" lay
.
Anyway, that's a couple of my tricks. Got any you want to share?
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Offline Moe M.

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Re: Quest for Fire
« Reply #1 on: August 09, 2014, 07:53:00 AM »

  Sit down, have a cup of coffee,  rest,  you must be tired after all the work.    >:D

  Seriously,  In my area of the country and especially in my area of New England the woods are fairly dry most of the time compared to the Pacific Northwest's rain belt,  and we have a pretty good mix of Hard & Soft woods,  so finding decent campfire wood is not usually a problem unless you happen to be in a designated camping area or camp ground that is heavily foraged.
  Most of the time you can find both hard and soft woods in the same area,  so is not unusual to scrounge the lower dead branches of of pines, spruce, and cedar for tinder and kindling,  and forage dry and standing dead hard wood for when your fire is going good.
  Like you,  I usually don't have to do a lot of processing with axe or knife to get enough wood to start and sustain a good campfire,  there's usually enough stuff in the three foot or under range or that can be broken easily to that size that you don't need a cutting tool.
  I don't mind sharpening my knives, hatchets or hawks, but it's not my favorite pass time, so if I can get by without using them frivolously I will,  the one tool that I do count on quite a bit is a good folding saw,  I've found that when it comes to cutting fire or shelter wood to length a saw will outcut a knife or small axe most any day,  and with a lot less calorie loss.
  Now I'll get to the heart of what I think your OP is about,  everyone here that knows my posts know by now that I'm not a big fan of Mora knives or of big tactical/survival knives,  they may be just the tool for some folks and I don't begrudge them for using them,  and I'm sure that in different parts of the country they are the right tool for the job,  for where I am and how I camp they just aren't needed, you mentioned that your go to wood processor is a Machete,  while a great tool,  in my area if you see someone with a Machete in hand or in the bed of their truck you know they are either cleaning up around their house or they are Landscapers/grass cutters.
  My first "woods" knife was a US Marine Corp. Ka-Bar that my uncle brought back from the war and gifted to me when I was about six or seven years old,  I built a lot of forts and camps in my local woods with that old and beat up knife,  but as I got older and started fishing and hunting on my own I learned that it wasn't the best choice for a good all around woodsmans/sportsmans knife,  later, when I got old enough to hunt with the big dogs it was reaffirmed that most of them felt that any knife with a blade over six inches was more a hinderence than a help.
  That's not to say they don't have their place,  they do come in handy in some situations,  but for my woods and my style of enjoying the woods, not so much.

 Another conformation for me that I'm not "off trail" with my thinking is watching the various "Survival" shows, the people who star in them,   and what they carry,  people like Cody Lundin, Ray Mears, Dave Canterbury, Bear Grills, and a few others prefer a knife with blade lengths of 4" ~ 6" inches,  although there are exceptions,  Myke Hawks and his wife and Joe Tedi seem to favor the longer more tactical blades,  but that could be because of their military backgrounds.

 But the bottom line is it comes down to personal preference and "to each his own".        :shrug:
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Offline kanukkarhu

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Quest for Fire
« Reply #2 on: August 09, 2014, 09:05:42 AM »
I'm glad these fellas weighed in first as their experience will set the bar for a lot of people who have drank the "batonning/wood processing with your bacho, GB axe and woodlore knife" kool aid...

(Phew, that was a mouthful!)

And before someone takes offence, please understand that I mean absolutely NO OFFENCE... And.... Sometimes I do that kinda thing too. I'm not opposed to new ways of skinning the cat.

But, as I said in the post Ol P alluded to, I have had the NEED to baton wood (with my knife)  for a fire only once that I can recall. And even then, it wasn't a "survival" situation.

Are we talking camping out, bush cooking or a rendezvous? Then I think Punty's post makes good sense. If you don't want a smokey, sooty fire, maybe take your saw and process away. Knock yourself out! :)

If you're stopping on an epic day-long grouse hunt and want a fire to boil up and maybe fry something, I don't think you will care much about hardwood coals.

If your talking keeping warm in a survival or other less controlled setting, personally, I don't see the calories burned up processing wood worth the effort, myself. YMMV.

Of course, this depends on where you find yourself.

In my neck of the woods (mainly boreal forest) wood dry enough to burn abounds. Standing dead hard wood is harder to find. But I've never had a problem scrounging more than enough wood for a fire. I burn my big logs in two; I generally don't saw or chop. I break wood between the notch of two trees. Honestly, I rarely need to process wood at all.

As far as dry wood, there's almost always dry thumb sized and smaller wood that, with attention to tinder, will catch and deliver fire... IF you know where to look.

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Offline Old Philosopher

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Re: Quest for Fire
« Reply #3 on: August 09, 2014, 10:31:03 AM »
I'm glad these fellas weighed in first as their experience will set the bar for a lot of people who have drank the "batonning/wood processing with your bacho, GB axe and woodlore knife" kool aid...

(Phew, that was a mouthful!)

Yeah, but it was worth it! :lol:

...

As far as dry wood, there's almost always dry thumb sized and smaller wood that, with attention to tinder, will catch and deliver fire... IF you know where to look.
I guess that is really the thrust of this thread. We have 3 people weighed in here who could apparently get by easily with a pocket knife with a 4" blade, ostensibly for cutting cordage, or whittling chopsticks. ;D

So for the crowd that may have been tainted by Nuke's "kool aid", just where DOES one look for suitable firewood, without having to launch a full scale logging operation?  One of the main reasons for Forums like ours is to pass on information to the benefit of all.
FWIW, Les and Cody are the only two people I've seen gathering "squaw wood", and explaining what they were doing. 
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Offline wolfy

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Re: Quest for Fire
« Reply #4 on: August 09, 2014, 11:15:52 AM »
From the 1956 edition of HANDBOOK FOR BOYS, the Official Boy Scout Handbook and attributed to Ernest Thompson Seton....

"First a curl of birch bark as dry as it can be,
Then some twigs of squaw wood, dead, but on the tree,
Last of all some pine-knots to make the kittle foam,
And there's a fire to make you think you're settin' right at home."

Good advice for sure, IF you happen to be on a canoe trip in the Northwoods, but that ain't workin' here in Nebraska!  We have it just about as easy, but our materials are a bit different.  We have an abundance of very good hardwoods to select from up here in the northeastern part of the state. Lots of dead, standing timber and easily harvested downed branches, etc.  It would be unusual to have to venture farther than a few feet from the firesite, in the places I camp, to obtain all of the firewood I would need for a three day camping trip.....or need a tool to do it! 8)    A saw is nice for sectioning a wrist-sized oak limb (you ain't gon'na snap that stuff over your knee 8)), but I SELDOM need an axe for anything here.  A SAK or Opinel will suffice for making a few shavings for tinder, but I seldom even need to do that.....just grab a handful of loose cedar bark, rub/roll/squish it into a loose wad, and you're good to go! 

I've got the tools and the know-how for travel in in the North and the West, from experience gained through camping in those regions, but truly, I've never been anywhere yet, that was as easy to build and maintain a fire in than right here in God's Country! :camp:
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Offline kanukkarhu

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Re: Quest for Fire
« Reply #5 on: August 09, 2014, 12:21:11 PM »
Good stuff, Wolfy! :thumbsup:

I want to make sure that people know I'm not knocking knives, axes or saws for fire wood. My "kool aid" reference was tongue in cheek. In fact, I carry an axe all the time up here, especially in winter. And I do use a knife to split small kindling once in a while... It's just not my go to method, and if I was in any way stressed or lost, or... Whatever... I'd revert back to the wood gathering as I was taught.

Now if I wanted a certain kind of fire, I'd get the axe out. If I was staying long term (a weekend) I'd also use a saw and axe. I'm not real convinced I like smacking my knives through logs.

I like the allusion to Lundin and Stroud, by the way.
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Offline Old Philosopher

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Re: Quest for Fire
« Reply #6 on: August 09, 2014, 12:52:01 PM »
I'm not knocking all of those tools, either, especially a good belt knife. I always have my Leatherman and folder on me, so carrying a small knife is a moot point for me. My avatar shows my new 'brush buddy'. Big enough to take down a small sapling, or remind a predator that I went down fighting.
Another reason for starting this thread had to do with survival. Unless you're one of The Club (e.g. like members here), you're probably not going to have a felling axe, or saw in the trunk of your car when it leave you stranded somewhere. Hence, a little information on how and where to find firewood with minimum equipment.

Another comment on smoky cooking woods.  All the conifers are resinous. Some are worse than others when it comes to retaining that resin which produces soot and creosote. Some of these woods that appear dead, and even dry, will produce a lot of creosote. It sticks like tar to your utensils and food.
I was schooled never to add pine, spuce or fir wood to a cook fire. Hemlock is not so bad, and cedar is actually used to 'plank' fish and red meats. Tamarack (larch) is a deciduous conifer (:shocked:), and burns as clean as hardwoods.  We use larch for all our open flame outdoor cooking.
If you're getting creosote (soot) from coniferous wood, it ain't seasoned enough. That's another reason for harvesting vertical deadwood. The sap and resins have had a chance to drain to the roots, and the wood will burn cleaner.  If this wasn't true, you wouldn't find fatwood at the base of old snags.

Winter. Ah, yes...winter. Squaw wood is still plentiful, as is birch bark in some areas. Anything else is going to take some ingenuity. Anyone from the north country knows that wood splits/breaks more easily when it's frozen. So that's a plus, but it takes -20F to make it brittle. Otherwise it's just wet, like everything else in sight.
In my area we're blessed with dry snow. Unlike the soggy crap that falls along the West Coast and soaks everything worse than the rain does, cold temps and powder snow is not a handicap.  My cord wood at the cabin can have 6" of snow sitting on it for a couple months, but when you knock the powder off, the wood is still mostly dry. The same is true for sticks out in the forest.
The only real difference around here between summer and winter wood gathering is that you have to hunt harder, and gather much more just for the BTUs to keep warm.
Anyone have any winter wood tips?
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Offline kanukkarhu

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Re: Quest for Fire
« Reply #7 on: August 09, 2014, 02:05:53 PM »
Good post, Ol P. :thumbsup:

I find cooking over pine is fine (for me) because I don't cook over a lot of flame. Great point about standing dead wood! :thumbsup:

Wintertime here is also cold and dry, so "if it's high, it's dry" is the word. Standing dead conifer is my go to. 
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Offline Old Philosopher

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Re: Quest for Fire
« Reply #8 on: August 09, 2014, 02:14:32 PM »
Good post, Ol P. :thumbsup:

I find cooking over pine is fine (for me) because I don't cook over a lot of flame. Great point about standing dead wood! :thumbsup:

Wintertime here is also cold and dry, so "if it's high, it's dry" is the word. Standing dead conifer is my go to.
I don't have much trouble cooking over conifers, either, so my old lesson has been modified.
I have my main fire, and my cook fire off to the side. I rake or carry coals to my cook fire, so freshly burning stuff is rarely in it. You don't get steaks that taste like spruce boughs when all you have for heat is the burning embers.  If I have to add fuel to the cook fire for some unknown reason, it's usually alder, birch, aspen or willow branches. (Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a dead aspen tree? I think the stupid things live longer than bristlecone pine. :P)
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Offline upthecreek

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Re: Quest for Fire
« Reply #9 on: August 09, 2014, 03:48:34 PM »
Finding wood here in the foothills of Virginia isn't a hard task but I like a sizable fire to sit by so I process wood with an axe. Last Feb when the bullies met up I think it was about 20 degrees. You won't keep a warm fire for 4 men kindled with a knife in that situation unless you know something I don't. Of coarse knowing something I don't often isn't a big task. But I will keep my axe with me if I'm in anticipation of warming by a fire.

Creek   :fire2:

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Offline WoodsWoman

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Re: Quest for Fire
« Reply #10 on: August 09, 2014, 05:39:32 PM »
If its a quick hot fire to get water boiling I did try the stems off of cattails, broke down into six inch pieces.  I used Sixfooters stove.  Just the stems gave me nice hot flames to get a mug of water going.   Cottonwood bark sheets are good for a winter fire base.  That same bark can be flaked for smaller tinder and scraped for a tinder ball.

I did learn something new about the ants and needles.  I didn't know that.

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Offline woodsrunner

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Re: Quest for Fire
« Reply #11 on: August 09, 2014, 06:54:45 PM »
in winter i'll usually knock down about eight standing dead conifers....approx 5 inches in diameter, drag them into camp and feed them into the fire as needed....to take down the trees i'll use a tomahawk or a rather large knife, othertimes a folding buck saw.

this will usuall last me a couple nights...i like creosote flavored deer liver...as long as the coffee tastes good then i'm a happy camper :)...woods
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Offline Reallybigmonkey1

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Re: Quest for Fire
« Reply #12 on: August 09, 2014, 07:40:17 PM »
 Theres lots of ways of fire starting here in North Georgia but my sure fire go to method is pine knots. This area is ate up with pines and the pine knots are everywhere. Summer can be tricky for depending on pine needles due to the humidity and rain. The needles off the Loblolly pines dont do well when wet or damp but the pine knots or fatwood works year round with a lighter or ferro rod. Most can get by with dead branches or leaning dead trees for fuel they are everywhere. I never leave the house without a machete or axe in the winter for fuel processing.
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Offline Punty

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Re: Quest for Fire
« Reply #13 on: August 09, 2014, 07:43:18 PM »
in winter i'll usually knock down about eight standing dead conifers....approx 5 inches in diameter, drag them into camp and feed them into the fire as needed....to take down the trees i'll use a tomahawk or a rather large knife, othertimes a folding buck saw.

this will usuall last me a couple nights...i like creosote flavored deer liver...as long as the coffee tastes good then i'm a happy camper :)...woods

  Please tell me you sweep the chimney from time to time...lol.

   For clarification, my reference above was not an overniter or anything, it was a short break on a beach on a canoe trip. A large fire wasn't what I was looking for, just something to make coffee, some instant mashed potatoes, pork chops, and mushroom gravy. :)

  Also, I was wary of a storm moving in at any time, so I wanted a fast fire to cook over, but sustained for maybe 20-30 minutes, not too large, especially since it was of vague legality.

  For the record, I used a piece of welder's blanket underneath so I could just slide it into the water when done. When I left the beach was spotless. :)

  It was a beautiful spot though....not a soul in sight, literally, maybe 5 feet of rocky beach, a fallen birch tree on the sand, driftwood piled on shore just ten feet away, and spruce trees lining the high water mark.

   It was a campfire lover's dream of a spot.
If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength: but wisdom is profitable to direct.
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Offline PetrifiedWood

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Re: Quest for Fire
« Reply #14 on: August 09, 2014, 08:01:08 PM »
Growing up in Louisiana where more people have boats than ATVs, finding dry wood really depended on the weather. It rained often enough that it wasn't a sure thing to find dry materials. I mostly used a torch to get my campfires started, but back then I didn't know of a more natural way.

Here in the very dry pinyon juniper woodlands juniper bark and grasses make great, easy tinder and dead dry sticks abound. When you live in an area that has frequent burn bans and draconian fireworks restrictions ( for good reason) it is easy to get a fire going.

Offline Old Philosopher

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Re: Quest for Fire
« Reply #15 on: August 09, 2014, 08:30:55 PM »
Finding wood here in the foothills of Virginia isn't a hard task but I like a sizable fire to sit by so I process wood with an axe. Last Feb when the bullies met up I think it was about 20 degrees. You won't keep a warm fire for 4 men kindled with a knife in that situation unless you know something I don't. Of coarse knowing something I don't often isn't a big task. But I will keep my axe with me if I'm in anticipation of warming by a fire.

Creek   :fire2:
Sounds like one of our many elk camps. Four guys, base camp, comfort way up on the list.
Chainsaw and splitting axe. 1-2 hours of noise and humpin' and then 4 days of relaxation without having to scrounge wood.
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Offline Punty

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Re: Quest for Fire
« Reply #16 on: August 10, 2014, 07:29:59 AM »
Sounds like one of our many elk camps. Four guys, base camp, comfort way up on the list.
 1-2 hours of noise and humpin' and then 4 days of relaxation without having to scrounge wood.

 :shocked: :shrug:

  Now, if I wasn't such a classy and respectful guy, I would make a "friction fire fellowship" joke. ;)
 
« Last Edit: August 10, 2014, 07:38:19 AM by Punty »
If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength: but wisdom is profitable to direct.
Ecclesiastes 10:10

Offline woodsrunner

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Re: Quest for Fire
« Reply #17 on: August 10, 2014, 08:33:03 AM »
Sounds like one of our many elk camps. Four guys, base camp, comfort way up on the list.
 1-2 hours of noise and humpin' and then 4 days of relaxation without having to scrounge wood.

 :shocked: :shrug:

  Now, if I wasn't such a classy and respectful guy, I would make a "friction fire fellowship" joke. ;)
 
:rofl: :lol: :lol: :rofl: :cheers: :tent:...woods
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Offline Old Philosopher

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Re: Quest for Fire
« Reply #18 on: August 10, 2014, 08:37:19 AM »
Sounds like one of our many elk camps. Four guys, base camp, comfort way up on the list.
 1-2 hours of noise and humpin' and then 4 days of relaxation without having to scrounge wood.

 :shocked: :shrug:

  Now, if I wasn't such a classy and respectful guy, I would make a "friction fire fellowship" joke. ;)
 
What? I stopped being a 'purist' at about age 40.  And with a dose of "Whiteman's fire stick" you can dispense with tinder and go straight to kindling when you're cold and tired. ;D
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Offline wolfy

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Re: Quest for Fire
« Reply #19 on: August 10, 2014, 08:42:01 AM »
Sounds like one of our many elk camps. Four guys, base camp, comfort way up on the list.
 1-2 hours of noise and humpin' and then 4 days of relaxation without having to scrounge wood.

 :shocked: :shrug:

  Now, if I wasn't such a classy and respectful guy, I would make a "friction fire fellowship" joke. ;)
 
:rofl: :lol: :lol: :rofl: :cheers: :tent:...woods

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Offline woodsrunner

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Re: Quest for Fire
« Reply #20 on: August 10, 2014, 08:47:59 AM »
Sounds like one of our many elk camps. Four guys, base camp, comfort way up on the list.
 1-2 hours of noise and humpin' and then 4 days of relaxation without having to scrounge wood.

 :shocked: :shrug:

  Now, if I wasn't such a classy and respectful guy, I would make a "friction fire fellowship" joke. ;)
 
What? I stopped being a 'purist' at about age 40.  And with a dose of "Whiteman's fire stick" you can dispense with tinder and go straight to kindling when you're cold and tired. ;D
LOL....me thinks Punty's mind was in the gutter....and certainly not on purity!...woods
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Offline Old Philosopher

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Re: Quest for Fire
« Reply #21 on: August 10, 2014, 09:01:38 AM »
 :coffee: Too early in the morning. :P
Besides, we usually hunted on Little Bald Mtn, not Brokeback Mt.   8)
Don't bother walking a mile in my shoes. That would be boring. Try spending 30 seconds in my head. That will freak you right out!!

Offline wolfy

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Re: Quest for Fire
« Reply #22 on: August 10, 2014, 09:03:47 AM »
:coffee: Too early in the morning. :P
Besides, we usually hunted on Little Bald Mtn, not Brokeback Mt.   8)
   :duel::thumbsup: TOUCHE'  :hail: :rofl: :cheers:
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Offline upthecreek

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Re: Quest for Fire
« Reply #23 on: August 10, 2014, 09:12:14 AM »
:coffee: Too early in the morning. :P
Besides, we usually hunted on Little Bald Mtn, not Brokeback Mt.   8)

too late..  :rofl:

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