Monday, 26 September 2016

Catching Crayfish

North American Signal Crayfish
Crayfish are a wonderful delicacy, and in the right locations you can catch 20 to 30 in a couple of hours by simply tossing a trap into water where they’re present. Please be aware that you need a license to capture native white clawed cray fish. In many waterways, an invasive species, North American Signal Crayfish are also present, and these are a pest. They spread a disease which harms native stocks, and damage river banks and eat salmon and trout eggs.
You need three things to catch non-native crayfish in England and Wales:

1. A lawful trap;

2. The landowner’s permission;

3. Consent from the Environment Agency in England or National Resource Wales (this is free). This application form should be used.

White Clawed Crayfish
Once your application is approved, you will receive identity tags for your traps and a catch return form. Please be aware that if you catch crayfish without consent and using equipment which does not meet the Government requirements you may be prosecuted. If you catch a North American signal crayfish by mistake and throw it back in the water, this in itself could be a criminal offense. The maximum fine is £40,000 and you could face a year in jail.

If you want to catch crayfish in Scotland, contact Marine Scotland on 0300 244 4000. North American signal crayfish are still relatively rare in Scotland, and licenses may be more difficult to obtain than in England. If you’re going to catch them, do it legally. The risk to the environment from breaking the law (and to you personally if prosecuted for unlawful trapping) simply isn’t worth it.

Identifying Species: The colour of white clawed crayfish claws is lighter on the underside than on the top (hence the name) and the claws are smaller relative to the size of its body. The bottom of North American signal crayfish claws are red with a prominent white or bluish patch in the claw joints (and the claws are large!).

Compliant Traps: Crayfish traps must conform to specific criteria. This is to stop other species such as otters from being caught and drowning. Trap entrances must be no more than 95mm wide, be no longer than 600mm, be no wider than 350mm and have mesh no wider than 30mm.

Be cautious of buying collapsible traps online. Some are not UK compliant. I like the Swedish Crayfish Trap, which is! If you want one which collapses for convenient transportation, don’t buy the ‘luxury’ ones online which tend to be too long (over 600mm). Jackal Outdoors sell one which is the right legal length and width.

Baiting Crayfish Traps: Fish heads, cat food or even salami is used. Most crayfish nets have a small zipped or drawstring bag for you to put the bait in. You’d be amazed at how many you can catch in some waterways, with 80 being caught by one friend in an afternoon.

Placing Traps: In the South of England, crayfish have spread all over the river system. You’ll find it easier to get a license in the south than in the north or Scotland. Place the baited trap in the water course (some take a can of cat food, drill holes in it and use that as the bait. Weight it down with a couple of stones inside to stop it floating away. Tie a length of paracord to the net and stake the other end down firmly on the river bank. It really isn’t harder than that. Come back and check in a few hours. Make sure you wash and disinfect the trap thoroughly to stop the risk of transferring crayfish diseases to other water courses.

Preparing Crayfish: Boil them, skewer them and cook over a campfire, or put straight onto a barbecue. Mr Mears shows you how to humanely despatch them in the video below. You’ve done the difficult part… you’ve got your license, get permission from the land owner, bought a suitable trap, waited patiently… was it worth the effort? For a bucket full of baby lobster… HELL YES!

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Preparing Acorns for Food and Medicinal Uses

I don't know why I have been ignoring acorns all this time. But this year, out of no-where, it suddenly struck me that I should give them a try. Oaks are quite plentiful in my region and acorns are not in short supply. This is how I unexpectedly found myself filling my pockets with acorns earlier this fall. Acorns actually make for easy foraging - their size (at least that of the more common species) is such that bags can be filled rapidly without too much effort.

But before you start picking, it may be worth your while to familiarise yourself with the different species that grow in your area. Usually, where there is one type of oak there are several. Oaks and acorns come in many different varieties, shapes and sizes and not all are equally good for eating, despite the fact that all of them are edible.

Acorns are rich in tannins, a bitter, acrid substance which has been used for tanning animal hides. Tannins are very astringent and in large doses they are toxic to the kidneys, liver and digestive tract. They also interfere with the absorption of iron. This is why foragers prefer to search out species of oak that are naturally sweeter and lack the high levels of tannins. Fortunately, in most parts of Europe the species that has the lowest tannin concentration is also one of the most widespread. In the United States there is a greater range of species and all of them, even the bitterest have been used for food by Native people.

Acorns represent one of the biggest (and most widespread) calorie jackpots in the annual wild plant food harvest, if you can beat the squirrels to them. These high calorie nuts were a staple crop to many of our ancestors around the Northern Hemisphere and we can still rely on them for food today. Coming in at 2,000 calories per pound, this abundant food crop is too valuable to ignore. You can even use them to make medicine. Here’s how.

Acorns for Food

An occupational hazard of collecting acorns is collecting Acorn Weevils…keep an eye out and do your best to leave any with tiny black holes. A good trick on getting your harvest home is to chuck everything in a sink of cold water to see if any acorns float, a high percentage of those that do have been eaten by Weevils, discard these ones.

To prepare palatable acorns, crack them out of their shell and break any large pieces into “pea-sized” chunks. Then soak these acorn chunks in cold, warm, or even hot water to remove the bitter and irritating tannic acid. Note that some books instruct us to boil acorns, but this locks in some of the bitterness. You’ll have the best results with warm water.

Soak the acorns for a few hours. If the water was safe to drink, taste a piece of acorn to see if it is still bitter. If you don’t like it, dump off the water (which should be brown, like tea), add fresh warm water, and soak the acorn pieces again for a few hours. Repeat this a time or two, or three depending on the acorn’s bitterness. Once they taste okay (in other words, bland), let them dry out for a few hours. Then you can run them through a grain grinder, flour mill, or use the classic mortar and pestle to make acorn flour. Add this flour to existing recipes; or try your hand at making acorn porridge, cookies, crackers, or biscuits.  

Acorns for Medicine

Remember the brown tea-like water you poured off the first soaking of acorns? Well, don’t throw it out just yet. Even though it seems like we’re brewing up some kind of medieval potion, crushed acorns and hot water can provide a great remedy for inflamed and irritated skin, as well as toothaches. You can use the first water you pour off from the process of soaking described above. Or you can make a liquid that’s more concentrated by boiling crushed acorns (shells and all) in a pot of water. A handful of crushed acorns in one pint of water will make a small batch of strong medicinal fluid. Soak a clean cloth in this dark brown water, and apply the wet cloth to rashes, ingrown toenails, haemorrhoids, and any other inflamed skin ailment. Leave the cloth in place, and repeat this treatment as needed. For tooth troubles, simply swish the bitter water in your mouth, holding it in there as long as you can. Repeat as need, but do not swallow, as this acidic water will give you an upset stomach.

Ever try to eat acorns without leeching the bitterness? Or perhaps used them as a flour or animal feed? Please tell me about your experience in the comments.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Finding 6 Great Tinder Sources in the Wild

Tinder is dead, dry plant-based material that is capable of turning a spark into a flame. Without some form of tinder, sparks and small flames cannot grow to be fires. Lucky for us, there are always materials relatively close at hand in the wild that can be used as tinder. Any natural tinder used for fire making should have several things in common.

First, it should all be dead—but usually not rotten—plant-based materials. Rotten plants tend to lose more and more of their fuel value as they decompose. There are always exceptions, but just remember to always use dead plant-based materials.

Second, it should be as dry as it possibly can be. In rainy weather, this might mean finding a few scraps at a time, even one leaf at a time, and keeping the tinder dry while you search for more.

Third, it should be light, airy and have a lot of surface area for its mass. In other words, it needs to be fluffy. Materials that are not fluffy should be processed in some way to increase their surface area so that they can start burning quickly and easily.

1. Grasses

Most species of grass can be used alone or mixed with other types of tinder for good results. Use tan or brown leaf blades and seed tops that are obviously dead. Some of the stems and stalks can help too. Most dead grasses make excellent tinder, providing they died on their own, and are very dry. Live grass that is cut and then dried retains a lot of nitrogen and water, which are naturally flame retardant. That means lawn clippings and hay aren’t too good for tinder. Grass is very vulnerable to dampness, and it may not light or stay lit if it is damp.

2. Leaves

Most dead leaves from trees and plants can be used as good tinder. Leaves’ tolerance to dampness varies among the different types and their level of decay, but leaves are usually somewhat dampness-resistant.

If it’s not raining, leaves are best harvested up off of the ground. Frequently, twigs with dead leaves still attached can be found hanging on branches and shrubs in the woods. Also, many members of the beech family (red oak, white oak, beech, and others ) hold on to a lot of their leaves through the winter.

When it is raining; look under leaning tree trunks, rock overhangs, in hollows at the bases of trees, in the dry centre of piles of brush and leaves, under evergreen trees and other sheltered spots to find dry leaves. Leaves usually catch fire the best from an open flame. Sparks tend to just bounce off them.

3. Pine needles

The dead needles from most pines and similar evergreens like cedars and cypress can be used as tinder. Pine needles handle dampness very well, perhaps better than any other tinder. Because of the small amount of flammable pitch in the needles, they should burn well unless soaking wet or rotten.

4. Inner and outer bark

This is my favourite type of tinder for any fire-making method. The dry inner bark from countless dead trees and plants can be isolated and processed into some of the best tinder materials. The dead inner bark from trees and branches of tulip poplar, cedar, juniper, mulberry, some oaks and other woods can be processed into great tinder. Some outer bark can also be used, such as cedar, juniper and finely shredded paper birch.

Inner bark can be processed by pounding, tearing, twisting, scraping, or buffing. Fibrous outer bark can all be processed in the same way. Pounding is usually the best way to fluff up barks, except birches, which should be shredded as finely as possible. Bark tinder can be the longest and steadiest burning tinder, great for most conditions.

5. Weed tops and seed down

The dead tops from many plants can be used as tinder. Some tops, such as goldenrod, have several grades of tinder in their top. Goldenrod has a fine down that is surrounded by papery chaff on slender twigs. These mixed grades of tinder can burn furiously.

Seed down can also be used as tinder. Things like thistle, cattail,  milkweed down, and even a few trees like cottonwoods make a fluff that can be used. These are very useful with spark-based fire starting methods like flint and steel.

6. Wood Shavings

Another type of tinder can actually be made from your fire wood itself. Wood shavings can be the driest tinder around in perpetually wet areas. The wood inside of standing dead wood is usually dry under the bark and below the surface of the wood.

Fine wood shavings can be scraped from most dead, dry hard and softwoods with a knife or even a stone scraper. The wood needs to be dead and dry in order to be scraped and burned properly.

Don't use dangerous tinder

All smoke is carcinogenic, so be careful not to breathe much smoke when handling and blowing on tinder. However, there is some good looking tinder that should not be used at all because of its toxic smoke. Black locust inner bark is toxic and can cause a headache when used. Large, old poison ivy vines are covered with a fuzzy brown fiber that looks like a tinder source, but even handling the fuzz will cause a rash to those allergic. Burning any part of poison ivy, poison sumac or poison oak can be even more dangerous. The smoke can carry the toxic oils into the lungs, and cover exposed skin and clothing.

Got some other suggestions for natural tinder? Let me know in the comments.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

How to Use a Flint and Steel

As a follow on to my review of the Wilmas Steel Flint Striker, I thought it would be advantageous to write a brief tutorial on how how to use a flint and steel.

Sometimes I feel like I’m speaking a different language when the subject of true “flint and steel” comes up. For many people, ferrocerium rods and magnesium bars have become synonymous with flint (thank you, Jeff Probst). The Swedish Fire Steel makes other people think that ferrocerium can also be called steel. These days, it’s hard to have a nice conversation about fire starting without everyone getting really confused.

I’d love to clear all this up, so let’s talk about the real flint and steel fire kit—the one that was used by our ancestors  long before matches were ever invented.

Flint and steel is an early fire making technique that dates back to the first days of metal experimentation in Europe and Asia. This fire starting method creates a red hot spark by striking a piece of high-carbon steel against a hard, sharp stone edge (like a flake of flint). The steel shaving is ignited by the friction of striking steel and stone together. This steel spark is immediately caught in fire-charred material, then placed in dry tinder and blown into flame. Easy, right? Well, there is the unpleasant learning curve. Or, as I like to think of it, the part where you are scraping off more knuckle than steel. Just remember that practice makes perfect. 

The Equipment 

A Steel Striker

The striker is a piece of high-carbon steel that creates sparks when it is struck by the edge of the stone piece. Steel strikers are often worked by a blacksmith to achieve the right hardness and also to make the steel into a comfortable shape. Efficiently shaped strikers have been hammered into “C” shapes, “D” shapes and “Horse shoe” shapes over the centuries. Strikers are often made from old files, machetes and other tools, though some of these tools and some knives have the right hardness and carbon content to strike sparks without being modified.


The Flint can be almost any type of stone that is harder than the steel striker. The piece should fit comfortably in your hand and pose no danger of cutting you. The striking edge of the flint should be 90 degrees or less, though an edge less than 45 degrees will work best. Some of the most common stones in use are flint, chert, jasper, granite, and quartz, just to name a few. You can take a look at our stone tool butchering post if you’re wondering how to break the stone into flakes. (link to stone tool butchering post) 

Char Cloth 

The char cloth is some form of blackened, plant-based material for catching and feeding a spark. Cotton and linen are traditional American frontier char cloth materials; however most flammable plant fibres, tinder, some shelf fungi and punky, rotten wood can be turned into “char cloth." To make char cloth, you’ll need a metal container that is nearly air tight, with just a few small holes poked in it by a punch or nail. Fill the can with the material to be charred, and place it in the center of a campfire for five minutes.

Smoke and maybe some flames should begin to jet from the few small holes in the container. After a few minutes, usually three to five, the smoke should almost stop jetting out. At the 5-minute mark, use a stick to carefully roll the hot container out of the fire and let it become cool to the touch. The char cloth should be black and fragile, but not burned to ash. It should catch sparks well. If not, it may have been a poor material to use or it may need further charring. If it is not yet blackened and fragile, it will certainly need further charring.

Can you just grab some chunks of charcoal from a campfire to use as char? No, sorry. Charcoal was created in an oxygen-rich environment and it does not behave the same as true char cloth. Char materials must be created in a low-oxygen environment in order to work properly, or work at all for that matter.


Strike the stone downward across your steel, holding the stone at a 45-degree angle to scrape off steel sparks. These sparks come from the carbon in the steel, and the sparks can be scraped off by any sharp stone that is harder than the steel.

The sparks can be struck onto char cloth that is already sitting on a bundle of tinder.

If you used cotton cloth for your char, you can also wrap the char cloth around the edge of the flint, strike through the brittle cloth, and then place the burning char cloth into the tinder. 


If you are having trouble striking sparks:

Change the angle of the flint 
Use a sharper edge on the flint 
Strike harder or possibly softer with the striker 
Change your striking motion

If the sparks will not catch on the char cloth:

Strike the sparks closer to the char cloth 
Change the angle at which you are striking sparks 
Change out the char cloth with a different material

Got any helpful flint-and-steel tricks? Let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Wilmas Steel Flint Striker

Wilma’s natural products are made in the forest region of Swedish Lapland utilising the old knowledge and techniques that have been used for centuries by the forest people who have lived and worked there.

Their  steel striker is no exception and is a high quality steel for creating sparks by striking a piece of flint.These sparks come off at approx 400 degrees and are hot enough to light a piece of char cloth or other tinders and thus generate fire.

This Steel Striker is made according to a very old Nordic design and is ideal for all forms of traditional ‘Flint & Steel’ fire lighting techniques. Made from high carbon steel, it measures approximately 2-3/4 Inches (70mm) Long by 1-1/8 Inch (30mm) Wide by 5/32 Inch (4mm) Thick.

This steel is designed for those of you who prefer to source your own tinder and flint, the Wilmas Steel striker is also available as a complete kit which includes some pieces of flint and various tinders to get you started.


The steel is made from high quality metals and therefore the temperature of the sparks it produces is high which in turn makes it easier to ignite tinder. The steel will work in all weathers and will generate sparks on flint even in damp conditions.


Although the steel will work in damp conditions you need to ensure the tinder you are dropping the sparks on to remains completely dry in order for them to take a spark.


Before you buy steel for creating sparks using flint you must make sure you know that the steel has a high iron content, as it is this which is the key to producing a good shower of sparks. It constantly amazes me that most "experts” do not know this, that iron is a pyrophoric material. This steel is without doubt the best one I have ever used, its like the 5th November when you produce a shower of sparks. Don’t get me wrong, others on the market still work, but this is the best I have come across in my years of practising Bushcraft.