Some define bushcraft as the ability to live off the land. Wilderness living is another way to put it. It requires a unique skill set that takes time to develop and even longer to master. In fact, very few people have truly mastered the art of bushcraft. To really get a grasp of what this topic really is, we're going to break it down into it's main components or the principles of bushcraft. From there, you can develop a set of survival tactics that are usable for primitive bushcraft wilderness skills.
Principle 1: Mental and Emotional Survival -
Not many people have truly found themselves in a potentially life threatening outdoor survival situation (including myself). Those that have are either very lucky or were well prepared, mentally. The body experiences emotions under such duress, psychologists call these responses -- Shock, Denial, Fear and Anger, Blame, Depression, and finally Acceptance and Moving on.
Each of these phases take on a challenge of it's own. But there are some simple guidelines you can keep in mind to help you cope.
Don't panic - Letting your emotions go cause you to panic and almost literally shuts down your cognitive thought processing center in the brain. Breathe deeply and relax. Continue to the next step...
Take One Step at a Time - Once you start thinking and planning, you realize how much there is to do. So many options as to what to do first, sometimes thinking about it too much can really hinder your progress. If you feel overwhelmed, just do the first task you think of. Getting one thing out the way can relieve some stress and open up a broader realization of what needs to be done.
Stay Upbeat - Keep your mood and spirits high. Stress and depression takes up energy and throws the body's system into an unhealthy state which is obviously detrimental to surviving a survival situation.
Principle 2: Get Help! (Signalling) -
Knowing when you need help is one thing, and actually finding help is another skill. Often, people wait too long to acknowledge they need help. This is part of the denial stage discussed above. Once it's realized that one needs help, they soon also realize that they are not properly prepared to signal for help. Just because you spent hours learning how to start a friction fire and learned about a few wild edibles, doesn't mean you'll never need help.
Principle 3: Navigation and Finding Your Way -
Well, after discussing how important it is to be able to signal for help, I've come to say that you can't always rely on others! If you can learn some navigating techniques then you'll be able to rescue yourself virtually every time. In essence, you'll never really be truly lost! Finding your bearings can be done numerous ways. Using a compass, astronavigation, and paying attention to mother nature are valuable bushcraft skills that can help you find your way no matter where you've lost yourself.
Principle 4: First Aid -
Taking care of yourself and others is such a valuable skill that few people practice. The reason is simple, how often do you get a chance to practice first aid? Not very often, and when you do have a chance, it's not recommended to do so. Most of our knowledge we develop in the medical field is likely to remain theoretical until an actual scenario occurs in which you are forced to test your ability. By then it might be too late. Unlike other skills, it's not something you can figure out as you go. You often only get one chance to mend a broken bone or properly suture a wound. You can practice building fires and shelters all you want with no real harm, first-aid is not the same.
Principle 5: Being in Touch with Nature's Hazards and Remedies-
Mother nature throws many obstacles in many forms. Sometimes she can be a cruel mistress, other times she can be a blessing angel. Being aware of what hurts and what helps is a lifesaving database of information. Dangerous wildlife, unstable terrains (eroding ledges and quicksand), bad weather, and illness are a few of the potentially harmful hindrances you may encounter. On the flip side, nature has many hidden treasures that you have access to if you develop some awareness and know what to look for. The vegetation in many areas provide means of medical care through natural remedies. Shelter and protection from other hazards like weather and wildlife can be provided for by the likes of mother nature. Keep an open relationship with her.
"Bushcraft skills should be preserved and passed down. It is an art that is never complete. There is always more to learn and more to do."
In my mind, Cody Lundin is the greatest known master of primitive bushcrafting. The show Dual Survival does a great job representing many important skills that are important for modern day bushcrafters. Seeing things done is one step better than reading about something, but it doesn't beat a first hand experience.