Saturday, September 5, 2015

Out for Osage Orange: and Semi-related Rabbit Ramblings

"The best vacation an over-civilized man can have is to go where he can hunt, capture, and cook his own meat, erect his own shelter, do his own chores, and so, in some measure, pick up again those lost arts of wildcraft that were our heritage through ages past, but of which not one modern man in a hundred knows anything at all. In cities our tasks are so highly specialized, and so many things are done for us by specialists, that we tend to become a one-handed and one-idead race. The self-dependent life of the wilderness nomad brings bodily habits and mental processes back to normal, by exercise of muscles and lobes that otherwise might atrophy from want of use." - Horace Kephart 1917

My brother and I have been carving bows from timber we have hand-felled for nearly 15 years. We got out by canoe the other day in search of the greatest bow wood on Earth- Osage Orange.
Osage (Maclura pomifera), aka bois d'arc, or hedge apple, was originally introduced to the Far West of North America as a resilient thorny hedgerow and was originally marketed to keep livestock in the confines of a family's land. Osage spread rapidly and was commonly used for this purpose until the innovation of metal barbed wire fencing. Today, it is a difficult tree to locate in some areas...but with a little research learning to identify this king of bow woods, we found a substantial and healthy stand in an otherwise fallow riparian forest.
Armed with my trusty Japanese cross-cut saw (thanks to Ron), a couple of axes and hard-wood wedges my brother had carved the night before, we set out in search of straight-grained staves from which we hope to carve top-of-the-line longbows.

A great deal of time is necessarily spent tromping through thick wooded areas in search of the proper branch or trunk from which we can free a bow. Bowyers (bow makers) must carefully inspect each prospective tree to be sure it is relatively knot-free and that the orientation of the bark indicates straight wood grain within.

Once the proper stave is located, the "work" begins as traditional bowyers like us take great pride in fashioning our hunting implements without the use of power tools. Cut a four inch diameter willow trunk with a hand saw and you'll break a sweat, but try cutting four inch thick Osage and you will know why it makes such a strong bow! This wood is hard as steel and tough as nails!

Osage also has minimal sap wood when compared to many trees. You can see there is only a thin band of light sapwood in the image above, the rest consists of early and late growth heartwood.

Occasionally you have to go out on a limb (literally) to find and cut the right stave.

Next, wooden wedges are driven into the felled trunk or branch to split straight and even staves for later seasoning.

After inspecting and passing by countless trees we retuned with a canoe hull containing three trees specifically selected for properties essential to crafting sturdy hunting tools.

The split staves are then hewn down using an axe, drawknife and saw horse. My brother built the sawhorse above from scrap 2x4's. Finally the bare wood on the staves is coated with fat or wood glue to seal them in. This process promotes the wood drying from the inside outward (called seasoning) as opposed to drying from the outside in, which will cause the wood to crack (aka checking) like you see in firewood. Lastly, the staves are stored in an even temperature environment with low moisture content to season over a period of a few months to a few years depending on how thick the stave was and how dry the seasoning area is.

The following morning we entered the field just before sunrise in search of small game. While patiently waiting for our staves to season we opted to hunt with our trusty scatter guns. The tools are different, but the sentiment of subsistence hunting remains the same.

After spotting countless jacks and cottontails, my brother drew a bead on a nice rabbit.

Justin took a nice cottontail (his first with the new .410), and I got a decent sized jackrabbit.

The first night I made stewed jackrabbit with tomato-basil-balsamic sauce over polenta (with plenty for seconds). The following day I made a rabbit sandwich (pulled-pork style) for lunch, and last night I cooked up some rabbit tacos with homemade tortillas. It is amazing how much meat a single jackrabbit yields, and how tender and tasty they are if you know how to cook (despite the unwarranted bad rap they get).


There was still enough meat for me to make a Mexican torta for lunch today!

I also made an incredible pate from the rabbit livers. This is one of my new favorite snacks!

Justin will be cooking up our new standard, rabbit pot pie, with his cottontail tonight. 

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And always strive to keep the old ways alive!

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