Saturday, March 30, 2013

Stone Tools and Winter Waterfowl

“Long as the new moon returns in heaven a bent, beautiful bow, so long will the fascination of archery keep hold of the hearts of men.”- Maurice Thompson, The Witchery of Archery, 1878---- I had fashioned five composite arrows equipped with flu-flu fletching (legally required for shots on the wing) from local materials gathered in the woods with my buddy Nicholas Santos. Mainshafts were heat straightened carrizo cane, foreshafts were carved from toyon wood, hafting cordage was twined nettle and dogbane, hafting glue was prepared conifer pitch, fletching was made from wild turkey wing feathers from a bird I got a few years back, and I knapped the stone points from local chert and obsidian that I had gathered as well.

I should pause here and explain that as an archaeologist, I have a passion for traditional technologies and hope to spread the joy of learning the crafts our ancestors mastered through the generations. However, if this post influences others to gather and fashion your own arrows (which I sincerely hope it does), then I insist you proceed in an ethical manner. Please respect archaeological and sacred cultural sites! This becomes especially important when gathering stone. DO NOT gather obsidian, chert, chalcedony, etc. arrow heads or tool stone that is fragmented, as even the latter is often the result of the work of ancient flintknappers. What may appear to the untrained eye as a natural broken cobble of obsidian is easily recognized by archaeologists as a core and an artifact. If you seek to gather your own stone (which I encourage) then look for road cuts that yield stone that would have not been exposed to indigenous flintknappers, take only what you need, make sure if permits are required that they are first acquired, only gather stone with full cortex (weathered rind) and in their unbroken state, and finally do not take natural and unmodified stone from areas exhibiting artifacts such as flakes, cores and bifaces. That being said, such road cuts do exist and that is exactly where my stone originates.
My bow was still in manufacture (shark skin sandpaper and flake stone scrapper-planes take time to work with), so I was hunting with my girl’s maple longbow that I had carved for her from a big-leaf maple in the Trinity Alps years ago. The mist hung low over the pasture lands in wisps of white and gray interlacing the large outstretched branches of old coast live oaks. The morning was still and quiet and the northern California air was sweet with the smells of winter. My brother Justin had kindly loaned me his kayak for the week and as I covered it streamside with burlap, earth-tone rags, and my Grandpa Hunter’s old green WWII air force blanket, my mobile blind was ready. I changed into the makeshift ghillie suit I had made from rags and old hunting cloths, strung the bow, and pushed off from the bank onto the calm waters. As I paddled slowly out into the flooded wetlands dotted with willows, cattails, and tules, the only sound was the quiet trickle of water dripping from my kayak blade with each stroke. The fowl were plenty, and the shots that day were many, and through I brought home no birds, my smile was wide for days after. Some shots hit so close I half expected to see feathers fly, but no birds ended up in the bag. But that’s why it’s called hunting and not shopping! All in all this was an experience I will never forget, and I can’t wait to give it another go next season. Remember, when foraging, hunting and fishing, if you’re not smiling by the end of the day, you’re not doing it right! Keep the old ways alive!

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