Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Crawdad Traps from Upcycled Scraps

“You need a haircut baby! I love you…but I don’t like Hobo early ‘90’s Mel Gibson!”-Chelsea gently encouraging me to do a little post-finals week grooming.

            Finals week is over and so I finally have time to take care of some things I have been putting off like getting a haircut, shaving, and posting up a new foraging story. I had been keeping an eye out for useful materials while walking my dog in the mornings before school. Young walnut shoots and cattail leaves looked good for basketry weaving, I found a whole mess of marbles for my slingshot, some Franciscan chert for flintknapping, but the real gem was some old wire mesh I found along the railroad tracks. The area near the tracks is littered with refuse leftover from vagrants and farm workers which has led me to adopt the nickname my buddy Lucas called a ravine where he grew up- Hobo Jungle. Though it’s not the kind of place I would go at night, in the day time however (especially with my Hobo ‘90’s Mel Gibson look) I fit right in! What better place to forage for materials huh? In truth, I don’t take anything leftover from the homeless crowd (it’s a pretty nasty mess), but the farm worker have discarded some really useful materials over the years that I am happy to upcycle.

            It was on one such outing that I happened upon exactly what I had been waiting for…a mess of 1/2 inch wire mesh! I dragged the gnarled fencing out of the irrigation ditch where it had resided for no doubt a year or more and nodded my head with approval.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure and I had every intention in transforming this garbage to gold. Using a pair of tin snips, I salvaged what pieces I could.

Next I set to work while my dog climbed the tree in the backyard searching for squirrels.

I used a pair of zip ties I had found outside one of the buildings on campus for hinges on the door, and a long piece of wire I had also found for the line.

When I baited the trap with the carcass of the catfish I had caught a week earlier (see catfish po boys post) I sat back and admired this fully functional and 100% foraged implement on the river bank.

While fishing with hook and line that day yielded not a bite, the trap was a huge success! I dragged it in to shore a couple of days later and was delighted with its performance.

26 crawdads in one trip! Not a bad haul at all!
Not to mention, I found a nice new lure snagged up in some driftwood!
When I got home we got a pot boiling with creole seasonings.
They smelled so good when they were all done cooking!
But I still had work to do. I cracked the shells and removed the meat. Then mixed in potato, egg, green onion, etc. and made up a batch of my famous crawdad cakes. Fried until golden brown on both sides, these little delicacies were well worth the wait!
Even in the lonely ditch where the hobos reside, there's no telling what gems may lay cast aside. Ready for the resourceful forager to find, spinning garbage into gold when the plan hits your mind. So trash is transformed to the tools of the trade, a once discarded wire mesh becomes a vital aid. And now put to the test cast out in the stream, rusty "old trusty" works like a dream. So don't overlook the gnarled trash at your feet, it may just be the backbone of getting a tasty treat. "Waste not, want not" is what the old hobos say, and I hope you've seen why by reading this today.
Keep the old ways alive!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Snares and Traps from Sticks and Stones

This post is dedicated to my buddy Nicolas who asked me to write a bit on the subject, and to my other buddy Nick whose grandmother foraged and snared small game in the forest feeding his mother and her siblings for years during Stalin’s rule in post WWII Russia when times were really tough and money was scarce.

I set up a hands-on lab for undergraduate students this week. The theme was the later Homin traditional tool industries. I used many replicas I have fashioned over the years ranging from rawhide cordage, wooden throwing sticks, and shell fishhooks, to Solutean style bifaces, composite cane arrows, and flint-and-iron pyrite fire sets. The lab was a huge success and I feel like students really got a feel for how our direct Anatomically Modern Home sapiens ancestors diversified their hunter-gatherer toolkits to an exquisite level during the Late Stone Age/ Upper Paleolithic, and beyond.

One tool I emphasized in particular was the snare. Traps (whether gill nets, dead falls, snares, pit falls, etc.) effectively allow a single hunter to take game in over twenty locations at the same time, while he or she is asleep. Talk about a brilliant use of resources!

One snare I present to you today, I learned when I was twelve years old. My cousin’s ex-boyfriend Jugo grew up in the jungles of El Salvador and used to fashion these snares to catch feral chickens in the forest (as he described, chickens would routinely escape the villages, make their way into the jungle and breed for generations). Sounds pretty good from a forager’s perspective huh? Anyways, when Jugo heard that I was interested in hunting, fishing, and bushcraft he borrowed my machete, grabbed a piece of nylon string and some bird seed and walked me into the woods to show me how it was done.

WARNING-Snares are designed to severely injure and kill! These are not toys. If you set them in urban or suburban areas you will likely catch the neighbor’s dog or cat, and believe me it will NOT be funny! They will be severely injured or, more likely, dead! Please remember that “with great power comes great responsibility!” Again the power to kill is significant and demands that the forager wield this power with strict ethics and morals. Personally, I do not often use snares because they are indiscriminant killers. The snare does not care if it catches the rabbit or the fox tracking the rabbit. I am a selective hunter, so I only use snares if my life depends on it…in which case, fox would taste just as good as rabbit.

That being said, if your life did depend on it, knowing how to fashion effective hunting technologies from only the materials the wilderness provides, is a skill I highly recommend acquiring…especially if you are a hiker, backpacker, back country hunter, or angler. Spend enough time in the woods and I am sure you will, as I have, get turned around once or twice. The trick is to stay calm and remember this… “If you get lost, stop and build a house…now you are not lost, you are home!” Now, maybe building a house in the woods is impractical, but the bottom line is that if you are at home in the woods, getting lost might feel more like an opportunity than a predicament. So here are a few tools you can fashion to feel more at home in the woods.

Pay close attention to these snares. Remember, gathering is easier than fishing if you know your plants (so learn them). Fishing is easier than hunting if you know how to make and use fishing tackle (so practice before your life depends on it). Hunting is easier than dying (so take notes on these snares, make them, trigger them, and dismantle them before you catch the neighbor’s dog). Bottom line “the more you know, the less you have to carry.”

Snare #1 The classic neck-noose spring pole.

Snare Set and Waiting for Game
Alright, for this one you better know how to twine cordage from inner tree bark or plant fibers (and if you don’t please comment and I will happily post on the subject), or know you can tear a strip of cloth from the bottom of your T-shirt, or use ½ of a shoe lace (leaving you with the other 1/2 for ankle support), or go with the deadfall shown later in this post.

Cattail Leaf Cordage
One advantage to using hand twined plant fiber cordage is that these nooses blend into their surroundings surprisingly well when they are made from materials that naturally occur in the area (see the bird fence snare later in the post for an example of how twined cattail leaf blends into it's surroundings).

These snares rely on a knowledge of the habits of small game and proper placement along game trails. This particular snare also relies on the ability of a hardwood bough to bend and store spring power over long periods of time, and a tough smooth cord to constrict quick and tight when it counts. Not all materials will work for these tasks, so some experimentation in various settings may be necessary. I have had good luck with most hardwoods for the spring pole though, so keep that in mind.

Step 1- locate a well traveled small game trail

Game Trail
Game Sign aka. doodoo
Step 2- locate a hardwood tree growing beside the trail and remove branch-lets from a bough roughly 1-2 inches in diameter (make sure it flexes and whips back into place). Or you can cut a hardwood pole, sharpen one end, and drive it deep into the ground (about 4ft from the trail- it needs room to bend) if a tree is not growing close enough.

Potential Hard Wood Spring Pole
Step 4- Sharpen one end of the small branch-lets you removed from the main pole, and drive them into the ground along the trail effectively making a closely spaced fence on both sides. The concept here is if a rabbit comes along it will be funneled directly into your snare.
 Trimmings Ready For Making Steaks
Sharpened Steak


Keep Steaks Spaced Tightly So Rabbits Must Go Through Snare
Step 5- Carve your trigger from 2 hardwood sticks and drive the base of the one deep enough into the ground that it will stay in place with the tension of the bent bough attached when the snare is set. See below for a close up of the trigger. If you need more pointers than that image, you probably shouldn’t be trying this anyways ;)
Close Up of Trigger

Step 6- tie a simple noose on one end of your cord or snare wire. Tie the second half of the trigger 1 ft from the noose (when the noose is completely constricted…it should open to a loop of about 6” diameter when trigger is set).

Step 7- Set the trigger in place and put tension on the string while carefully bending down the pole to meet it. When you feel it will have enough whip behind it, stop bending and mark where you need to tie off the other end of the cord. BE CAREFUL- if you are not, this spring pole can whip your face pretty bad. Tie cord to the end of the spring pole.

Step 8- CAREFULLY set the snare so that the loop will be open when a rabbit comes charging through. You can use some very small diameter twigs or grass stalks to help keep the loop open.

Now go away! You won’t catch anything standing there smelling up the place with your human rabbit deterrent!

This snare works beautifully…like this…rabbit runs through the narrow area in the trail directed by the fences, runs through the noose which tightens on its neck, when the rabbit feels this it tries to break free which sets off the trigger releasing the spring pole with sufficient energy stored to whip up rapidly and snap the rabbit’s neck. Sounds brutal huh? That’s because this is real nature, not Disney nature. If it makes you feel better, just know, rabbits do not die of old age in the wild; it’s called getting older and slower.

Note- As you might imagine, it is not a good idea to test this snare, as some youtube “survivalists” do, by noosing your forearm. If your snare is weak enough that you are even entertaining the idea of putting your hand in there, you need a better spring pole!

Snare # 2- The Simple Quail Loop and Fence

Can You Even See the Nooses?
This is the easiest snare I know, and it works wonders with ground-dwelling birds.

Step 1- locate a good quail run in the brush with natural vegetation and topography to direct the birds into your trap (you can set 1000 snares in the wrong places and catch less than 1  snare placed in the right place).
Step 2- make a fence just like you did above, but space the twigs closer together as quail are smaller than rabbits. Also widen the fence out and place it in a half circle configuration with three or more 4 inch gaps that correlate to natural paths the birds are using.

Step 3- Making sure the steaks closest to the gaps are pounded into the ground until quite secure; tie the proximal ends of 4 inch diameter nooses to them.

Plant Fiber Cordage Blends in Really Well!
Ready for Quail!
Step 4- Spread out the nooses using a little dry grass for support if needed so they are open and will constrict around the quails necks when you drive them through.

Step 5- Bait the enclosure with seeds, nuts, etc. Now hide. When you see quail moving near the snare, move slowly towards them. You want them to know you’re there, but not get so alarmed they fly away. Quail will rely on running as long as possible. When they see you they will turn and head in the opposite direction, funneled into the half circle fence and will bee-line for the path of least resistance… the 4 inch gaps, at full speed. The bottom of the nooses should hit them about chest-height; the top will slip over their head. The noose will constrict as they panic and the more they struggle the faster they will snap their own necks or you can retrieve and dispatch them by hand. Brutal right? But it works, so if you get lost and it’s you or them, give it a try!

Trap 3- The Figure Four Deadfall

Set Deadfall!
There are many types of deadfalls. These can rely on the dead weight of whole trees or large flat stones. The concept is crushing the game to death, which as you might imagine, runs the risk of spoiling some good meat. That said, you can set 10 of these using large logs over deer trails if your life depended on it and you might be glad you did.

Step 1- Locate your game trail (are we seeing a trend yet?)
Rabbit Trail

Rabbit Tracks
Step 2- Locate a large flat stone and three 1 foot long sticks around ½ inch in diameter (if you want me to show you the log variation, please comment and I will happily do so). You will have to cut these sticks to appropriate sizes I  the coming steps.

Step 3-You need to whittle the trigger sticks so they match the images here.
View 1 
 View 2

 View 3
 View 4

View 5
Step 4 (optional) - Tie a piece of bait to the trigger end. This will have to match the dietary preference of your intended prey. Meat for raccoons, foxes, weasels, etc. pine nuts or acorn for squirrel, etc. This is optional because if you set this on a small game trail, all it takes is a rabbit bumping the trigger as it hops along and it will set the trap off.

Step 5-Lift one side of the stone and CAREFULLY set the trigger as shown. Try not to crush your hands doing it!
 Ready? Set? Deadfall!
 Perspective 2

Trigger Set
Step 6- Go away stinky human! Set more traps elsewhere.
Step 7- when the trap goes off...you bring home the small game bacon!

Don't Let Your Hand Be Under There!

Well folks, there you have it. Three basic snares that can literally save your lives! Tools such as these were common knowledge for our ancestors, so let’s learn them again out of respect for the intimate connection our predecessors had with their food, and the materials that surrounded them every day in their natural environment.

Keep the old ways alive!


Remembering a True Hero


If a century is truly blessed, the folks who lived through it will have a handful of names that come to mind who they can call heroes. Of that handful, one or two may stand out above them all. Yesterday, one of the greatest men of the 20th century (and on into the 21st) passed away...he was a truly outstanding hero!

 It is rare that I will post about an individual on this blog and even rarer when the subject is not related to foraging. But I feel it is the least I can do to take a moment to honor the late great Nelson Mandela. Mr. Mandela was a true hero, an inspiration and a patient warrior for equality. If you already know of his achievements as a champion of the oppressed, and as an avid anti-apartheid activist (to say the very least), then please take a moment to remember this man. If you are not familiar with Mr. Mandela, please take some time to look him up and read of his true heroism. He was one of a kind!

Always honor those who pass leaving this world just a little bit better than they found it. Keep the old ways alive!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Catfish Po Boys with Pomegranate-Wild Grape Hot Sauce

“You know why they call ‘em hush puppies?”- My Dad

“Why”- Me

“At the end of the fish fry, when the dogs are howlin’ and beggin’, the chef rolls a few balls from the remaining batter. He fries ‘em up, throws ‘em to the dogs, and says ‘Hush puppies!’”-My Dad

The pomegranates were so ripe they were splitting open on the trees, and after finding a nice patch of wild grape with my buddy Alex, I could resist no more. It was time to get foraging!

The Ph.D. program has been very time consuming, so I have not been posting nearly as much this quarter. That being said, I got to the point last weekend where I just really couldn’t read another page of anthropological theory…so I decided to check out my new foraging zone.

I would far rather support my local COOP grocer than Safeway, but as I was already in their parking lot picking up some hooks and sinkers from the local fishing shop, I stopped into the Safeway for some bait. They looked at me like I was nuts when I requested squid. No luck. But they had prawns. I don’t ever buy prawns because it is one of the least sustainable fisheries in the world (and the farmed varieties pollute the ocean way too much!) But, I needed bait, so I asked the butcher for two. “Two pounds commin up” he said. “No,” I replied with a chuckle, “Two prawns.” He looked at me with the same blank stare…like I was crazy. “What are you doin with two prawns?” he asked perplexed. “Goin fishin!” I replied with a grin.

I found a nice spot on the Sacramento River with a jagged cobble bottom. The opposite river bank was heavily wooded. In the evening sun the calls of nesting red tailed hawks could be heard echoing into the distance. As I cast my bait out to a slack pool behind a riffle, I began to hear splashing up river. I thought it was a fish at first…maybe a fall run salmon…but soon a little furry form climbed out onto the river bank.

As my eyes strained to identify its distant form, another popped its head out of the water and slammed a broad flat tail on the surface of the stream so loud the first animal jumped into the air and then back into the water where they proceeded to play. Beavers! These were the first wild beavers I have ever seen in California. The day was already off to a good start.

After a time I started getting impatient so I wedged the handle of the fishing rod into the rocky bank and swam out looking for crawdads. I found about 10, but the current was so fast I didn’t get a single one. I was even more disheartened when I didn’t come across a single fish! I was starting to think I had picked the wrong spot.

Then, just as I had one foot out of the water while the other was still in my fin’s foot pocket, my fishing rod flew out of its mooring through the air towards the river. Luckily I was in between the pole and the water and it landed straight in my hand! I was momentarily in awe. With a quick look around I thought “Come on! Somebody had to have seen that!” But there was no one without fur or feathers to witness my ninja instincts. My daze was instantly broken when I felt those distinctive tugs! “Fish On!” I hollered aloud to the beavers on the far bank.

The fight was pretty fun (I had admittedly forgotten how pleasurable a little H&L in fresh water could be), and soon I swooped in with my Grandpa’s old net and held up my first ever catfish!

That night I made up a batch of wild grape-pomegranate-habaƱero sauce and got to filleting and frying. We had a batch of hush puppies and golden brown beer-battered fish cutlets in no time flat.


Dinner was a simple southern classic- Catfish Po boy’s. And they were well received. With a little drizzle of freshly foraged spicy reduction sauce and I was in freshwater angler heaven!

Well, I have been praying for rain (this has been the driest January-November in 100 years in California) and today my prayers were answered! Wish us luck, because I smell mushrooms on the horizon!

Keep the old ways alive!