Czechoslovak VZ-58 bayonet

Czechoslovak VZ-58 bayonet

Yesterday I was driving into Bardejov when I noticed a village pub having some sort of flea market. Most of the stuff on sale was dire but one bloke had some interesting old military memorabilia. There were quite a few WW2 German badges and some old socialist Czechoslovak uniforms but his big box of bayonets is what caught my attention.

Inside the old box were several bayonets from WW1, mainly of the pig sticker variety, and a few from WW2. However, as an amateur collector of Kalashnikov bayonets I decided to go with a pretty beat up Czechoslovak VZ-58 bayonet. Unlike the Izhvesk Kalashnikov bayonets I have, which are virtually mint, this one has obviously been hammered, reground and the leather scabbard has suffered from mildew. I figured it would make an excellent new bushcraft knife. The VZ-58 was a Kalashnikov clone produced and used in socialist Czechoslovakia, but it used a completely different type of bayonet to the original and other communist country clones.

The seller told me it was from 68 or 69 but I have no way of telling as the inspector’s stamp on the rear of the uniquely styled frog is too worn out. I chose this one over the older variant as it has a full tang which extends into a ‘hammer’ behind the hilt. I intend to use this one in the bush, not merely keep it as a conversation piece.

Beech Marten in attic

It’s taken a very, very long time to get just these few seconds of footage – despite the Beech Marten (Stone Marten, Martes foina) having spent the last decade using my attic floor as a latrine. Until you’ve shared space with one of these creatures, you cannot begin to understand just how noisy or dirty they are. They won’t go near traps (I’ve tried various sizes and types of humane traps and numerous baits), and once they detect the infrared trailcam they vanish.

It still amazes me that I have a complete ecosystem living in my attic – shrews, mice, martens, edible dormice, bats, numerous bugs… Shame the buggers can’t move their little microcosm somewhere else and stop shitting everywhere and running about screaming all night.

Fanny Burgers

Fanny Burgers

When I’m feeling hungry, there’s nothing else that satisfies the craving other than juicy Fanny Burgers (the British and not the American kind…).

This is another classic example of a foreign (Slovak) product or company which somehow didn’t quite get the original connotations. In this case it’s because Slovaks learn to say the English ‘u’ as ‘a’.

Needless to say, I’m now a regular customer 🙂 However, finding hairs in the food takes on a completely different meaning…

Young Roe Deer daylight trail cam

Here’s some daylight-ish trail cam footage of a couple of Roe deer behind the house. They’re nowhere near as wised up as Red Deer – they’re basically overgrown rabbits. Compared to Red Deer, Roe are very cute. Perhaps I’m being specist but I’d rather eat Red than Roe merely because of the latter’s cute factor.

Continuing from the infrared-aware observations, I don’t think Roe Deer can detect it, unless I just happened to pick a particularly dumb specimen….

Stag and Red Deer herd

Stag and Red Deer herd

I caught this herd of Red Deer (only part of which is in the photo) as I was walking up the hill to the forest today. I found it interesting how each section of the herd was ‘segregated’ – the hinds (out of shot), the fawns, the hinds, the stag, and then the young bucks.

As I was looking for a place to put my trail cam, i followed them into the forest to see where their main entry/exit point was. The noise of a herd of red deer crashing through thick brush has to be experienced to be understood. A truck wouldn’t be louder. Also, as it’s still rutting season, I have to be a bit wary around stags as they can attack – they’ve killed a couple of people here over the last few years. My kids and I were charged by one we stumbled across in the forest years back and we had to hide behind a tree. During the rut they’re just bundles of hormones and adrenaline and testosterone and muscle with an immense rack of antlers at the front. Their main activity during this period is standing out in the open, easy pickings for hunters, bellowing “Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough” at the top of their lungs, for several weeks.

One Man’s Wilderness book review

One Man’s Wilderness book review

“I don’t know what the answer is. In time man gets used to almost anything, but the problem seems to be that technology is advancing faster than he can adjust to it. I think it’s time we started applying the brakes, slowing down our greed and slowing down the world.”

Dick Proenneke

Based on the 1968/69 journals of Dick Proenneke and edited/written by Sam Keith, later made into the documentary film “Alone in the Wilderness“, One Man’s Wilderness is simply mind blowing. It’s what many of us dream of doing – but we seriously don’t have the old school skills or determination of the legendary Dick Proenneke who, at 50 years of age, heads to Alaska, builds his own cabin with simple tools and then spends the next 35 years living in tune with nature.

The book is both inspirational and also a frustrating, tantalizing vision of what once was and what is now almost impossible. It’s the “modern” version of Thoreau’s Walden. Every modern book, film and TV series on Alaska started from this.

Old hunting skills for new technology

Old hunting skills for new technology

It is man’s nature to kill, for he is the enemy of all animal life.

AR Harding

Recently, I’ve been reading up on wolf trapping techniques. I have no plan whatsoever to trap wolves but the skills required are virtually the same for using a trail camera. While I’ve already managed to ‘capture’ most of the medium and large mammalian species in my area with my Redleaf RD1000 game camera, there are three species which still elude me – the bear, the raccoon dog and the wolf.

The bear is an occasional visitor and, as they have immense ranges, is almost impossible to catch on a game camera that has a 5 metre range, unless it’s right up next to its den. With the raccoon dog, I ask local hunters, foresters and wildlife photographers for its location but it appears that they’re not using the den they used last year (after 2, perhaps the breeding pair, were shot in the same evening).

I’ve no idea how large the wolf pack in my village is this year, after they were decimated a couple of years back. Last year, in summer, I saw three running up the hill at the back of the house but haven’t seen any since. There is evidence that they’re around again, though. We’ve seen two carcasses of young deer (completely stripped to the bone) in the back fields and, for the last few weeks, the deer and boar have been avoiding the area at the back of us, where normally they graze in large numbers – signs that there are predators around. It’s possible that the large lynx killed the fawns, or even boars, but the herbivore herds have moved and that suggests wolves.

Wolves are extremely intelligent and wary animals, and any sign of human scent will send them running in a different direction. I’ve tried different baits for the camera and, thus far, it never works as intended. Therefore, I decided to read up on the old techniques for trapping these large canids.

Firstly, it is really important to understand that wild animal welfare is a very, very new concept in the history of humanity. It’s like that change in our thinking when the jungle became the rain forest. If you go back to any period in history before the late 1960s then prepare yourself for an extremely different way of viewing nature and its inhabitants. I despise animal cruelty in any form but our forefathers didn’t see their actions as being such. Their concept of political correctness regarding the animal kingdom didn’t stretch farther than:

26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Genesis 1-26:28, KJV

The actual skills described in books such as Wolf and Coyote Trapping (1909), by AR Harding, are extremely useful and eye opening, and it is amazing to what lengths the old trappers went to disguise their scent or set bait, but their overall view and manner of interacting with the canids they hunted is stomach churning. In one paragraph, Harding quotes a trapper describing the joy and beauty of watching a group of pups playing in the long grass on a hill side and, in the next, his own joy and thrill at climbing into their den and ‘raking’ each pup out with a nailed stick.

Bizarrely, professional trappers still believe themselves to be the guardians of the natural environment and that what they do keeps the ecology in balance – even though most do their job to protect invasive human-introduced sheep and cattle ranches. A good modern example of this philosophy is in the life of Norman Winter, featured in the film ‘The Last Trapper’. It’s a beautiful semi-documentary film but as it never actually shows him trapping or killing, it makes his life seem in perfect harmony of nature. He lives how many, including myself, would like to live, but I wonder if we’d feel the same if the film showed the reality of trapping an animal’s leg for several days until it starves or freezes to death?

I’ll continue my studies as I really want to catalogue the local beasties and I need to upgrade my skills to do so, but this delving into historic and traditional lore is really not easy going. No wonder we are on the verge of the next great extinction.

Alex, Robert Fico and Dukla

Alex, Robert Fico and Dukla

Today is the 71st anniversary of the KDO (Carpathian Dukla Operations) one of the worst battles of WW2 and also known as the Battle of Dukla (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Dukla_Pass). My town of Svidnik was rebuilt by the Russians after the war to commemorate it. The sheer number of casualties, both dead and wounded, is staggering. This is also a battle within living memory (the bus loads of old people in town today attest to that). Svidnik was utterly destroyed in WW1 during fighting between the Germans and the Russians, and then again in WW2.

As part of a school trip from the Gymnasium, my younger boy Alex went to the Dukla memorial, on the border of Poland and Slovakia, some 15 miles out of town. As this is such a major event for Slovakia, both the Prime Minister and President attended, along with survivors of the battle and the modern military from both Slovakia and Poland. The photo is of Alex at Dukla with the Prime Minister Robert Fico, who’s currently doing a damned good job sticking up for Slovakia’s rights in Europe. Alex doesn’t have a problem with confidence – he just walked right up and asked the PM for a photo.

Alex said he also spoke with an army nurse who’d attended the wounded during the battle. She’d saved 122 lives and was apparently covered in medals. After visiting the Dukla memorial, all parties then headed to the giant Soviet monument in the town.

White-backed Woodpecker?

White-backed Woodpecker?

Whenever I’m alone in the bush, there are several species of birds and animals which always keep me company – the Raven and Lesser Spotted Eagle fly above the trees making their calls (sometimes the eagle flies through the forest and its wing beats send whooshing sounds through the leaves), woodpeckers knock on trees, Jays scream at each other and Red Squirrels jump about playing with their nuts. And of course there are plenty of little tits….

When I was a kid back in England, the sounds were different, with the Wood Pigeon and the Pheasant being the dominant noise makers.

In the area around my house we get multiple species of woodpeckers, and most are easy to identify – the Green, the Grey, the Black, the Lesser Spotted – but there are other species which could be one of several. The woodpecker pictured here is, I believe, a White-backed (Dendrocopos leucotos) as it misses the vertical stripes seen in other species, such as the Greater. Then again, it might not be. If anyone can clear up this matter I would appreciate it.

Angry Adder

Angry Adder

Just when I thought it was safe to go back in the wood pile…

Yesterday, shortly after my brother had picked up some wood from the pile he keeps outside my house and then left, I noticed a cat playing with a snake on the road. It was pawing it and as the snake lunged it would quickly withdraw its paw. I thought it was a smooth snake until getting closer. It turned out to be the most livid adder (Vipera berus) that I’ve ever encountered.

Despite being Europe’s only poisonous species they’re usually quite docile, but this one started hissing and arching its head at me from several metres away. The cat had enraged it so much that it had clearly become dangerous. As it was a mere few feet from my garden, where my Jack Russell and kids play, it could have had dire consequences. I was really tempted to kill it, something I don’t like doing as I usually don’t have a problem with snakes, but as I was dressed to go out on a motorbike ride and the engine was running, i couldn’t be bothered with skinning it and defleshing – without which the skin would go to waste.

So the snake’s still there, in the rocks someplace. Hopefully, this hot weather will change and it will hibernate and wake up in the spring in a better mood. Otherwise it’ll end up on my barbecue and around my wrist…