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.

Chainsaw horse build

Chainsaw horse build

Sadly, this year I couldn’t attend the Wilderness Gathering because of my son’s surgery so I decided to do a bit of bushcraft at the house instead. I’ve got several cubic metres of hardwood which needs sawing and chopping for winter and I needed a safer chainsaw horse than what we’ve been using up until now. I went to the forest and cut down a few hazel saplings then square lashed them together using sisal string. After the sawhorse was basically in the right position and erected, I nailed the joints together. Thus far it seems to be holding up and makes chainsawing a lot faster and safer – just need to find a quicker way to split and stack the logs afterwards.

Red Deer Hind Herd in Snow

Red Deer Hind Herd in Snow

Today was stunning. In the village there is still lots of snow yet there’s a bright blue sky and the temperature was 18 degrees centigrade. The kids threw snowballs with the dog and then we went on a walk on the abandoned road through the hills. There were many animals out, particularly Roe and Red Deer. This group of Red Deer hinds obviously didn’t get the memo on shape and silhouette….

History crumbles before my eyes

History crumbles before my eyes

Since I’ve been living in Slovakia, a little over 16 years now, I’ve seen some major changes. I’ve watched entire historical aspects of living culture vanish in the onslaught of globalisation.

I took this photo a year ago. It’s of an uninhabited neighbouring property and shows how the barn on the side of the house was hand crafted from hewn wood. This barn no longer exists. One storm too many and too little attention paid to it saw it come crashing down on itself. Just before winter the inheritors of the property came and removed the final beams and logs, leaving an aching chasm where once had been artisanship and daily toil.

So many of the buildings in my area will suffer the same fate and will ultimately be levelled in order for their land to be replanted with mortgage-ridden McMansions. Just a generation or two earlier and the houses and outbuildings were built by hand by the owners and a group of volunteers from the village paid in drink and food.

Bushcraft Magazine articles

Bushcraft Magazine articles

Two of my articles have been published in the Autumn issue of Bushcraft Magazine. Yay! You can buy a copy here – http://www.bushcraft-magazine.co.uk/

I wrote about the two differing perspectives of living in the bush out here in Eastern Slovakia, from the traditional to the modern, from a villager’s seasonally-dependent perspective to the luxury man-cave life with enduro motorcycles and log fires.

Svidnik winter market

Svidnik winter market

Each year, just before the snow arrives, the town of Svidnik in North Eastern Slovakia hosts a winter market. People come from all over the area to buy winter clothes, toys and utensils, and also to eat the grilled meat, langos and sausages being sold, or to drink the beer or honey wine. Years back, the market was vital but now there are shopping centres and the internet it’s lost its attraction. The smell of roasting meat fills the air though and it makes you feel very hungry. I bought a nice heavy wool jumper today. I wanted to buy a knife but they didn’t have what I was looking for. The stand in the photo sells home-carved spoons. Many of the stallholders make their fare at home and come to sell it at the market. This man was offering 3 wooden spoons for 1 Euro! There were also wicker baskets for eggs or mushroom picking, Russian matrioska dolls, fur hats, hides and sheepskins, all alongside Chinese plastic toys or acrylic clothing. It’s nice to see some traditional skills still surviving, but for how long?