Daniel Boone is an American Icon. An important part of our nation’s history, Boone is almost a legend, especially well known for his earlier years as a professional hunter, trapper and frontiersman. Yet that’s not all he did. Daniel Boone fought in the French and Indian War, on the side of the British (before the Revolution) and was a member of the Virginia General Assembly during the Revolutionary War.
Along with a handful of others, like Davie Crocket, Grizzly Adams and Jim Bridger, Boone was a part of opening up western lands and extending the reach of the United States from sea to shining sea. These were men’s men, who others looked up to and sought to emulate as the epitome of masculinity. They were also the greatest authorities on the wilderness and on survival our country has ever known. Armed with little in the way of survival gear, they lived off the land and prospered, with many of them becoming rich off their efforts.
Boone moved a number of times, always seeking to live on the frontier. Born in Pennsylvania, he led the first expedition to cross the Cumberland Gap, establishing Boonesborough, Kentucky. From there, he moved to what is now West Virginia and finished out his life in Missouri. Through these efforts, he was an active part in helping our nation to become as great as it is today.
For a man like Boone, survival wasn’t something you practiced for “someday,” it was something you did every day of your life. Between hunting bears and being hunted by the Indians, he couldn’t afford to come up second; not even once. His survival skills were obviously keenly honed or he wouldn’t have made it.
That’s not to say that Boone and his contemporaries couldn’t have made use of some of the survival tools, hacks and ideas we have today. While they were the best there ever was, there’s always room for improvement; and I’m pretty sure that Daniel would have welcomed these improvements.
Knowledge Trumps Gear Every Time
We’re too dependent on our survival gear today, expecting it to keep us alive. Yet Daniel Boone and his contemporaries went into the woods with much less than we would consider an “absolute minimum.” They didn’t’ depend on their survival gear; they depended on their wits and their knowledge to see them through.
When push comes to shove, it’s your knowledge, not the latest survival gadget, which will keep you alive. Many of the more esoteric survival techniques, such as starting fire with friction, aren’t intended for use as your primary fire starter, but rather for those times when you don’t have a fire starter to use. These emergency methods might be all that we have to rely on, when we have to rely on our wits and what nature has to offer.
Related: 25 Skills You Can Trade After SHTF
Follow the Wilderness Highway – Water
People get lost in the wilderness all the time; but Daniel Boone never did. That’s amazing, when you think about it. He didn’t have GPS, detailed maps or even a compass, but he never lost his way. That’s because he always followed the wilderness highway, just as many others traveling west did.
We can see this in Boone’s own diary, where he talks about how he traveled. Rarely did he talk about traveling through particular mountain passes or following a particular trail. Rather, he talked about following rivers and streams. Throughout history, rivers and streams around the world have been used as a means of giving directions. Traveling alongside them provides clear directions and a constant supply of water.
If you’re lost and you can find water, you can find civilization. All you have to do is follow that water downhill until you find people. It may take a while, especially in some parts of the country, but you will always find cities and towns alongside any watercourse.
Know the Game You Hunt
Hunting today has become about baiting the game with seed corn and waiting in a blind to shoot them. I seriously doubt that Boone would consider that hunting. He didn’t have seed corn to use and I doubt he ever built any sort of blind.
Instead, Boone understood the game he was hunting. He would know how they lived and their habits. Based upon that knowledge, he would know where to look for the game. All he had to do was stake out the animals’ food sources and they would eventually come right to him.
Always Cook Meat Well
They didn’t understand the causes of disease in Boone’s day. Louis Pasteur hadn’t done his breakthrough work on bacteria, nor had he developed the concept of pasteurization. People cooked and ate meat, along with whatever parasites that meat might carry. Sometimes they got sick and sometimes they even died.
The incidents of parasites in domestic meat has been greatly reduced through the years, preventing much of the disease associated with poorly cooked meat. But you can’t count on that with wild game meat that you hunt or trap yourself. Rather, you need to assume that the meat is contaminated and cook it well. Forget about medium-rare, we’re looking for well done here. The core of that meat needs to be over 160°F to be safe to eat. To make sure of that, cook it until the center is brown.
Here’s something that Daniel could have used, although he didn’t have it. The Water Purification Indicator (WAPI). This simple device was developed for use in third-world countries. It consists of a wax bead, encased in a plastic capsule. The wax melts at 160°F.
When suspended in a pot of water, this device can be used to purify the water, pasteurizing it, rather than boiling it. Once the wax bead melts, the water has reached a hot enough temperature to have killed off all the microscopic pathogens in the water, making it safe to drink. Since the water was heated to a lower temperature than boiling, it used less energy and will cool faster for drinking.
The Fire Pot
Starting a fire repeatedly can be a problem, especially in inclement weather and even more so if you don’t have a good fire starting method available to you. Back in Daniel’s day, they started a fire with a flint and steel, which is even harder to use that a Ferro Rod.
Rather than always restarting fires, many people carried coals from their last fire with them, keeping them in a fire pot, a clay pot just for the purpose. This pot often had a woven or heavy cloth cover, allowing it to be handled safely and hung off of a pack animal or wagon.
As an alternate, if a fire pot isn’t available, a cone can be made out of bark, with the rough side out. Wet the outside of the bark, to help keep it cool, so it doesn’t ignite. Then put coals in the fire cone to carry them. While this will only work over short distances, it does provide a means of moving a fire, if your campsite is being reorganized or moved a short distance.
Learn to Read the Animals Actions
Animals will often give us warnings about a variety of different dangers, such as earthquakes, approaching enemies or forest fires. Knowing the animals’ normal actions allows you to see when they are acting different.
Many an attack was thwarted in Boone’s day by nothing more obvious than the animals getting quiet. Sensing the danger, the animals would stop their normal chatter, thinking that they might be in danger. For those who were aware, that quiet was as good as an alarm going off.
Quality Guns Need Quality Marksmen
Boone lived in a time when the best gun of the day was the Kentucky Long Rifle. Compared to the Muskets so common in the Revolutionary war (and earlier), this was an engineering marvel, much more accurate at longer distances than anything else available. But compared to today’s firearms, the Kentucky wasn’t all that great. It didn’t have the power or range of our modern hunting rifles.
Nevertheless, Daniel Boone and other professional hunters typically made one-shot kills of the game they were hunting. That was a requirement for them, so that the Indians that wanted to hunt them down and get rid of them couldn’t find them. One shot is hard to pinpoint, but two will tell them where you are.
If we spent more time working on our marksmanship and less time on tricking out our guns, we could probably all become marksmen of the caliber of Boone. Yet most of us won’t spend that much on ammo and range fees, even while we are spending a fortune doing cosmetic work to our guns.
Keep Your Powder Dry
Keeping your powder dry was an absolute essential in Boone’s day, before the sealed brass cartridge existed. Damp powder, either in the chamber or the pan would either result in a low-energy shot or prevent the rifle from firing at all. They didn’t have shellacked-over primers, like military ammo does, because they didn’t have primers.
Thankfully, our modern ammo doesn’t have this issue. Nevertheless, we should still take care to keep it and our firearms dry, so as to prevent problems. Rifles can rust and moisture can leak into modern cartridges. Thinking otherwise is asking for trouble.
Wear Clothing that Sheds Water
The classic fringe on buckskin shirts and pants wasn’t there for decoration. Rather, it was put on the clothing to help it shed water. Considering the risk of hypothermia when out in the wilderness, that’s as big an issue today, as it was for Boone.
This doesn’t mean that you need to add buckskin fringe to all your hunting shirts. But you should always select and buy your clothing with the need to keep dry in mind. Whether we’re talking about your own perspiration or a sudden rainfall, you want to dry off as soon as possible, before your body’s core temperature can start dropping.
When in the Wilderness, Shed Your “Civilization”
Frontiersmen and especially mountain men were known for being a bit “uncivilized,” even though many of them were well-educated men who were no stranger to the finer things in life. But what we call civilization is nothing more than the actions accepted by a particular group of people. When we are no longer with that group of people, that set of actions no longer applies.
I’ve spent a considerable amount of time overseas, especially in Mexico. Through that, I’ve found that the old rule of “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” makes a lot of sense. While I there are lines I won’t cross; there are many things I do, which I don’t do when at home.
The wilderness has its own set of rules and those aren’t the rules of polite society. So, when in Rome… For Boone, part of that included fighting with the Indians, who saw him as encroaching on their hunting lands. He couldn’t negotiate with them or enter into a business partnership, he had to outfight them by their rules, otherwise he wouldn’t have survived.
Related: Survival Tips From Mountain Men
Be Aware – Expect the Unexpected
Nature doesn’t operate by a script, and if it did, it wouldn’t be a script of our choosing. You can encounter a constant string of unexpected occurrences while out in the wild. Many of those can hurt or even kill you, if you’re not ready.
Being in the wilderness requires constant vigilance. There are dangers all around, as well as simpler things which could make it difficult to survive. Your only protection, in many cases, is to see these things before they can cause problems.
You may also like: