‘Bushcraft’ is a word that gets thrown around very often in the survival community, but it’s also a word that far fewer people understand it. A truly skilled survivalist is someone who can use resources provided by nature exclusively to survive.
Ask yourself this: if you were stranded out in the wilderness tomorrow with nothing but the clothes on your back and could only use completely natural resources to survive, would you be able to?
If your honest answer is no, then you will probably find the information presented in this article useful. We are going to provide you with a definitive list of bushcraft skills that will allow you to survive in the wilderness using no man-made materials whatsoever.
THE BOW DRILL METHOD
Everyone knows how important fire is in any survival situation. But not everyone is capable of starting a fire without a flint striker, lighter, or matches. It’s imperative that you learn a way to start a fire without any of those kinds of fire starting devices.
The best method for starting a fire without any man-made materials is the bow drill method. This method requires you to collect a flat piece of wood (to serve as the fireboard) with a notch cut into it. You also need a bow complete with a vine for the cord, and a sharpened stick as the spindle.
Wrap the vine around the spindle and place the point of the spindle right above where the notch is in the fireboard. Proceed to run the bow back and forth very quickly and over an extended period, friction and heat build between the spindle and board. The small shavings of wood will then fall into the notch.
Have a tinder nest already made and different sized kindling on standby. Once you get an ember or smoke, you can transfer the ember into the tinder next to get your fire started. Proceed to add kindling, and you’ll have a fire going.
The bow drill method may sound simple enough on paper, but it’s going to be more physically taxing in real life. You never want a true survival situation to be the first time you practice the bow drill method of fire starting. For this reason, practice extensively now on weekends or whenever you have the time until you become a master at it. That way, it will seem virtually second nature to you in a life-or-death situation.
The skill of tying together two strips of vine or other man-made materials is one that you will not only use in a survival situation but throughout your life as well. For this reason alone, learning how to tie different knots is something you should learn even if you don’t want to master bushcraft skills.
Tying knots goes way beyond the method you use for tying your shoelaces. Different situations will require different knots. Building a shelter or fashioning a fishing pole, in particular, are likely going to be the times in a survival situation where knot tying will prove its worth to you.
The best knots to learn are the clove hitch, the blood knot, the bowline, the trucker’s hitch, and the timber hitch. As with the bow drill method, it’s best to practice tying each of these knots repeatedly until they become second nature to you.
You have to feed yourself in a survival situation, which is why learning about which plants are safe to each and which aren’t is critical. Ultimately, eating plants that are poisonous could kill you faster than not eating anything at all.
Buy a book on the different plants and berries in your area and study that book until you practically have it memorized. Numerous plants and berries look incredibly similar. Sometimes with look-alike plants, one could be poisonous to eat, and you don’t want to run the risk of misidentifying it.
Learn about the different physical qualities of the plants in your area so you can positively identify them, and determine which are edible, which are deadly, and which have strong medicinal properties.
If you can’t positively identify a plant in a survival situation, the safest thing to do is to avoid it. At the same time, skipping over a plant that would have been safe to eat could mean you don’t eat that day. Becoming an expert on the identification and uses of plants in your area will be well worth your time.
The ability to track game is another important bushcraft skill. Just as you will want to memorize the different plants in your area, you will also want to memorize the different animal prints in your area as well.
Anyone can tell the difference between the track of a hoofed animal or an animal with claws, for example, but far fewer people will be able to discriminate between an elk and a moose or a wolf and a coyote, for instance.
Learning animal tracks is not just important for hunting, but also for identifying any predators that could be tracking you. You don’t have to become an expert tracker by any means, but you should be able to tell the difference between the tracks of different animals in your area.
HUNTING WITHOUT FIREARMS
Besides foraging and setting up traps and snares, your other option for catching game is to hunt them. Since you likely won’t have a firearm with you, you’ll need to make your own weapons from whatever you can find in nature: as bows, arrows, spears, clubs, and so on.
Hunting game without firearms is more challenging than if you were to hunt them with firearms, but it is doable. Your tracking skills will be put to the test when hunting game, and you’ll also need to have the ability to move quickly and stealthily. Small game such as squirrels, rabbits, quail, or grouse are ideal targets.
Look, you may not have a rifle with you when you find yourself stranded in the wilderness, which means you’ll need to turn to alternative means to hunt game. Setting traps will be one of the best things you can do to catch small game. The beauty of setting traps is that you can tend to other duties related to your survival while you wait. Examples of traps you can set include the simple noose on a small game trail or a deadfall with bait.
Since fish will be one of your best sources of protein in a survival situation, you should also learn how to set fishing traps, such as the Weir trap or how to set up a wall on a shorter section of the stream to not allow the fish to go any further.
USING AN AXE
Yes, axes are not really primitive tools. But they are pretty basic tools that all master survivalists have and heavily rely on.
The best bushcraft axe will have a handle shorter than the distance from the end of your fingers to your elbow. This way the axe won’t be too long or difficult to swing, but it also won’t be too short that’s ineffective. Always swing the ax so that the blade is facing the opposite direction of you. Keep a sharpening stone with you so that the blade is always sharp.
PURIFYING AND FILTERING WATER
The true survivalist always keeps a fresh supply of water with them at all times. But when that supply needs to be replenished, it’s foolish to simply drink any water you can find out of a stream or pond. Drinking contaminated or unfiltered water could prove to be more dangerous than not drinking any water at all.
The first thing to do when gathering water is to collect it from a place that seems relatively safe. Check a few hundred feet upstream to see if there’s any animal dung or carcasses in the water; if there is, keep searching for a new spot.
The best way to treat water, without any shadow of a doubt, is to boil it for at least thirty minutes. Heat is going to be what kills the most bacteria and germs. If you don’t have the ability to boil water, the next best thing to do is to construct your own water filter. Construct a funnel out of bark and alternating layers of rocks, sand, and leaves. Run the water through it many times. It won’t get all of the bacteria out (which is why boiling is always better), but it will get rid of any visible offensive substances.
TREATING A WOUND
Accidents will happen, and while a scratch may not seem like a big deal at first, it can quickly turn into something far worse if an infection sets in. In fact, an infection will be devastating without proper medical attention and severely impede your chances of getting out alive.
Learning how to treat all kinds of wounds, from scrapes to burns to cuts to fractures and so on is a vital bushcraft skill. Learn how to fashion splints for a limb fracture and how to suture up an open wound. Keep the wound as clean as possible and if it’s severe enough, give yourself some time to rest with a cool compress over your forehead and drink plenty of water.
The whole point of wilderness survival is to try and get back to civilization, right? Navigational skills will prove to be crucial for this goal. In fact, all of the other skills you have learned may prove to be worthless if you aren’t able to navigate in the woods and find your way out.
The best ways to navigate are to read the stars, follow a running stream of water, or to use the sun to figure out your bearings. Remember that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, for instance.
While building a fire keeps you warm, your shelter protects you from the elements. If you don’t have a tent or a tarp with you, learning how to build a shelter with entirely natural resources will become even more vital to your survival.
While building a shelter is time-consuming, you don’t have to build a cabin or anything. A simple lean-to or A-frame will suffice in most situations. Simply place a pole or stretch a vine between two trees, and then lean more poles on one or both sides. Use leaves and pine needles for the bedding and to stuff into any cracks to block drafts.
You’ll want the open area of the lean-to facing in the opposite direction of the wind, and for the shelter to be on the side of a hill if possible. Building a shelter on top of the hill, exposes you to the wind, but in a valley or beneath a hill means you’ll be vulnerable to potential flash flooding.
BUILDING IMPROVISED WEAPONS AND TOOLS
Your ability to construct weapons and tools out of wood and other resources is tested in a wilderness survival situation. You need to learn how to build weapons such as spears, bows and arrows, and clubs to catch game and to defend yourself.
There are many different ways you can build weapons in a survival situation. You can fashion a spear by simply removing the branches and sharpening the end, or you could tie a jagged rock at the end. You could also split the end into three or four different prongs to use for catching fish. For a club, you could simply take a stick with a knot at the end, or you could use a vine to tie a rock to the end to deliver an even more devastating blow.
Are there more bushcraft skills that you could learn beyond the ones we covered? Absolutely. In fact, there’s probably an infinite number of bushcraft survival skills that you could learn to help you survive in the wilderness.
But the ones that we covered in this article are by far the most important because they cover the basics of survival, meaning they are critical for emergency situations.
Now that you learned what these skills are, the next thing to do is to go out and practice them regularly. As we mentioned earlier, a true survival situation should never be the first time that you use any of these skills. You want to be already proficient and confident in your skills when the time comes to put your skills to the test in a life-threatening situation.