Wilderness Survival Skills Hunter-Gatherer Bushcraft Course Review ( Pic Intensive. )

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TeeDee

Full Member
Nov 6, 2008
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I recently received the opportunity to attend a course run by Wilderness Survival Skills courtesy of winning a place via a competition kindly offered to all forum members of Bush Craft UK via the Instructors at Wilderness Survival skills.

The Course that I attended was on the ‘Hunter- Gatherer’ Course which is a 10 day course, which I believe is the longest running duration of course currently offered within the United Kingdom.

The course is described on their website (http://www.wilderness-survival.co.uk/ ) as;-


10 Day Hunter-Gatherer
This ten day course is going to be a real educational journey in bushcraft. It encompasses all elements of wilderness survival and provides the opportunity to experience all of these important skills in one uninterrupted package.
If you are a novice to wilderness survival and bushcraft skills you are guaranteed to find this a life changing experience, however if you already have some experience then there is the opportunity to put your knowledge to the test and learn some new skills along the way.


The course at its Devon location is set on the edge of Exmoor in a very beautiful and mixed section of mixed Woodland which offered great diversity and was exceptionally peaceful and offered plenty of variety of Trees and plants to become familiar with and identify as useful bush craft resources. The site is incredibly quiet and relaxing and the only man made sound to intrude is the occasional farm machinery on a distant field.

The initial meeting of students and instructors was set for Friday evening. After the various students were all met we were escorted down to the main Camp site where the familiar Hung Parachute shelter was already set up and the fire already had a kettle on the boil. Every one grabbed a quick brew while Joe and Glen initiated the required safety brief on the ‘Do’s’ and ‘Don’ts’ of day to day Camp life.
As there was a variety of student experiences and skill levels within the group it is best to always assume the worst and issue a ‘base’ level safety instruction to ensure everyone knows how to conduct themselves around camp and paying special attention to themselves and ourselves when using any form of Sharps and the application of safe cutting techniques.

Also the explanation that ran within this course, or any other that WSS run is an available ‘Op-Out’ clause. If for any reason a student does not wish to proceed with a task that is on offer or requires to be done then there is no pressure to carry on with that task exercise with no loss of ‘face’ or pressure to perform. This opt-out clause would prove useful for many students later on in the course as the nature of the course required that students at some point would have to apply the coup-de-grace in a humane method to their food.

With the safety brief being bought to a close everyone then thinned out and set up their own individual shelter for the night wherever they wished and then returned to camp for an evening around the camp fire. It was made clear by Joe that what he would like to see for the course to be successful was that the newly formed ’tribe’ of students would, as the course progressed, split away from the main camp and start to operate more and more as an independent group possibly spending more of their time within their own shelter, attending their own fire and acting more and more independent of the instructors once we had been shown the methods and techniques the instructors wished to impart to us.



Joe the Instructor wanted us to go off and commit a ‘Sit Spot’ at the start of the course for ourselves as students to get an idea of a Psychological ‘Before’ and ‘After’ to be conducted later on in the course. For those unfamiliar with a sit spot I can only suggest that it is an observation and awareness exercise using as many senses as possible to ‘Zone In’ to your environment, but to do it effortlessly in a sort of Zen like manner.
I find it helps quiet the mind and body and eases us into the natural environment while allowing us to maximize our senses to as much of the surrounding sound, smells, sights etc, as we can.

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Day two was set aside for a full day of Navigational Exercises so that we could navigate proficiently through the Wilderness. We took a little day trip out to a more relevant setting for a NAV-EX and started a full day of map-reading and navigational tasks.
Again instruction was conducted from a base level so that no assumptions of anyones’ experience or familiarity with map reading was overlooked, for those with prior experience it was a good exercise to re-acquaint oneself with the basics and then apply them with a full days exercise.

We returned to camp tired and happy and received our instruction in preparing Trout for our evening meal of the British favourite of Fish and Chips Bush craft style, griddled over the fire and chunky chips done in a Dutch Oven.


Sunday morning (day Three) was mostly allocated to instruction for different types of shelter construction and an explanation of where and where not good sites for shelter placement would be.
We were given complete free reign in what type of shelter we wished to use, we could have built individual shelters for all but chose to construct a round debris shelter to provide maximum protection from the elements and to encourage the ‘tribe’ ethic.
The framework of the shelter was constructed quickly and strongly using all natural material and securing with hazel withies, the thatch and insulation took some more time to gather and we ended up practically cleaning the entire floor section of the forest to gather as much insulation as possible.

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On Sunday afternoon we had a break from shelter building and attended a lecture in the correct sharpening of a variety of common tools that we would use for the duration of the rest of the week and different sharpening stones and their correct application and maintenance.
Sunday afternoon also saw us set out our 16 snares around nearby fields. Glenn gave us an impromptu instruction in the setting of snares and the correct placement to increase the chance of catching our dinner. Great emphasis was also made in ensuring that all snares were easily marked and the location easily identified.
We were informed that we (the tribe) were to check the snare twice a day, so each day at dawn and dusk the Rabbit patrol would set off and check all the snares and dispatch and gut any Bunny that we had managed to catch.
The tribe took this onboard and organized themselves to check the traps without any further prompting or reminding from instructors, this was obviously conducted to ensure that any Rabbits that did become snared were dealt with in a short period of time to ensure a humane kill.
Sunday night tea was preceded in instruction on how to prepare it, so Joe supplied us all with some lovely wood pigeons and after a few minutes of instruction on how to remove the breast from the waste everyone had got stuck in and prepared their own Pigeon.
Back at camp the Pigeon was served up with some Pittas and Veg.

Monday (Day Four) saw us carry on working on the Group shelter, increasing the insulation and making sure everyone had a comfortable Cot Bed to sleep on, this accompanied by a small group shelter fire ensured we were to be warm, comfortable and protected by the various element for the rest of the course.

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On Monday the tribe was also shown a selection of natural improvised traps which consisted of a variation of improvised stick, logs and cordage to capture our prey via the methods of Tangle, Dangle, Strangle and Mangle.

The instruction in water source location and purification was also allocated for this day and the various methods and techniques into how to make the water fit for human consumption were shown.
Although water was freely available around camp, as an exercise Joe wanted us to source and purify our own tribes’ water for the course of 24 hours as a simple yet exertive exercise to demonstrate the methods and energy required to make water safe.
After this exercise I think we all came way with not taking water for granted and using the minimum amount for the maximum of purposes.

Monday tea consisted of some Rabbits that Joe and Glenn supplied as our trap line had yet to produce any results, which was unsurprising and we had expected it to take a day or two to ‘bed-in’ and Mr Bunny would then succumb.

Tuesday (Day Five) saw a visitor to our Camp. The day had been set aside as an ‘easy’ day in terms of physical exertion and Joe had arranged for John Lord and Val Lord to come down and give us all a day’s instruction into Flint Knapping.
The weather had behaved and the blazed away from most of the day as we all sat around and were enthralled by John and Val’s instruction and encouragement
I must admit and be honest at this moment I was quite expecting to be bored at the prospect of what was to me (naively) knocking rocks together for a full day, how wrong I was!!!
After watching John pick up a large chunk of Flint and then within a matter of minutes and with some deftly strikes quickly fashion it into a very workable axe head I was stunned and hooked and most definitely in awe.
John and Val proceeded to give instruction to us for the rest of the day and we each managed to fashion a variety of useful items and learn a new skill.
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Nicer people than John and Val I doubt you could meet. If you have the possibility of getting instruction from them please do.
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Tuesday evening saw us receive and then prepare the first of the deer for our use. The deer was skinned and butchered with the same Flint tools which we had just fashioned which was a really nice way to link one bush craft skill and apply directly to another bush task of butchering game.
The Venison was obviously used to feed us for that night
(plenty left over for sarnies the next day or so.) and we were then talked through how we could initially prepare the skin.

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If memory serves me correctly we also managed to fit in a massive foraging skirmish. We managed to bring back a large basket of mixed fungi consisting of Amethyst Deceiver, Wood Hedgehog Mushroom, Chanterelle and a few birch bolete

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Wednesday saw the tribe being instructed in the use of basic improvised hunting weapons which if the scenario demanded could be used and employed to catch animals.
The field demonstration area had been divided into a circuit for the instruction of five differing weapon types, Bolas, Modern and Basic hand Catapult, Throwing Stick, Bow and Arrow and Atatl. In turn students moved among the weapons and received instruction in the safe use of each basic range safety and then as much time as they desired to spend ‘mastering’ (or at least getting their eye in) each weapon to a point where they feel they could embark on a hunt with it.

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The weapon practise was followed later in the day by a Field Observation exercise, The instructors set out and arranged a selection of common camp side items in a small observation arc. The idea was to get us to not just ‘look’ but ‘see’ trying to get the students to look through the undergrowth and hone in our eyes to find the carrying objects, including two ghillied up instructors.

The final test for the day again bridged the previous two exercises linking the newly learned skills and applying them in a Bushy Survival manner. Joe had set up a ‘live’ shooting trail through a tangle of undergrowth where each student took it in turn to move along a guide line path and when seeing targets of opportunity would fire upon it with the Bow in a Field Archery exercise.
A variety of prey were strewn throughout the trail from Tufty the Cuddly Toy squirrel to a Pheasant to a weird reed mannequin known as the “Glen-Doll”. So depending on ones eyesight and aim it gave a good exercise into apply recently learned skills into a hunter gatherer situation.


The next day saw the tribe begin the arduous process of changing some Deerskins into Nice soft Buckskin. The skin had been through the process of soaking in a strong wood ash solution and had then, after a period, been transferred to an acidic solution. Also during this process the skins had had the hair removed and been grained to remove the subcutaneous material and flesh that still clung onto the skin.

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The skin, after wringing out of all available moisture, was secured to a large A-frame rack.

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After being fixed to the rack the laborious working of the buckskin began in earnest constantly working a pointed but dull stick all over the skin in an effort to stretch the fibres and make the skin far more supple and pliable.
This process took up most of, if not all of the day. The constant working of the material I think made us all appreciate and value our own modern clothing.
The working of the hide was relentless and depending on the size and natural hide qualities (young small deer = less work, Old Big Buck = lots of work!!) some finished late that night while a few students’ hides would require more work in the morning and much of the next day.
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For the evening meal we were treated to a sea shore selection of Razor shell, Crabs and Lobster. The Crab and Lobster were delivered to us alive, so again a quick yet instructive demo into how to humanly kill both Lobster and Crab was given before each student struck out in the correct location and manner to provide a painless dispatch before the food was placed on the Camp Fire embers, in which the Crabs, Lobster and Razor shells were all cooked within their shells.

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Friday saw all of us return to working our Buckskins through a variety of methods, eventually all students were able to raise their Skins above the camp fire to be smoked.

Saturday consisted of making Fish traps with willow wands which even the most clumsy of us (me!!) managed to make something that would work even if it did not look too elegant.

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Glen provided some bread making ingredients and instruction and so we were able to fashion some fruity loafs to go with our Tea and Coffee.

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Sunday was devoted to fire by friction instruction and demonstration into the different basic and improvising methods to starting a fire. Each student had to be able at the end of that day to call over an instructor when they felt confident they were able to produce a fully lit tinder ball with the instructor present (with camera!!).

We also conducted the second of the Sit spot exercise to see how much had changed for each student, needless to say for many a lot had changed. I can only comment for myself but after 10 days I felt far more comfortable in the forest, that’s not to say I ever felt uneasy in the woods before the course, just that I had seemed to get far more in touch then the 10 days previous. I felt less like an alien object in the environment and more as part of that environment. I noticed more things, objects, animals and resources as the exercise went on.

Monday saw the course come to an end and the tribe dissolve back to our separate real lives. Joe wanted to know what it felt like re-aligning ourselves with the ‘real’ world after going native for 10 days. Well all I can say is that driving home I felt very ‘alien’ on the road and found oncoming traffic quite alarming!!
I also found that retuning to my real job (aviation) felt even more weird, it just did not feel like normal for at least a few days, everything just felt ‘busy’. I had exchanged a world of soft textured green for a world of metal and grey…

A few other points I would like to make, the above is obviously just my record of the days passed and what we achieved or did each day.

I was impressed with Joe and Glenn willingness not to just conduct the experience as a check list exercise, just ticking off items and ticking a list. The instructors were extremely flexible in the time and level of instruction given. If at any time a student wanted to recap or go back over something form a previous days’ exercise Joe and Glenn would be always accommodating to provide the time and support to genuinely allow that student some extra time and exercise to re-practise that skill until that student was happy.

On our course we also had students with specific food intolerances. One student was lactose intolerant and the other student was a celiac which meant special care had to be taken to avoid cross contaminating of individual and group food by introducing milk based products or products with Gluten in. This automatically meant some care and planning was required to plan group meals and avoid certain ingredients or only introduce them at specific points of preparation.
This special attention was easily met and dealt with by the instructors and the group in general. Athough I would assume it may have raised a few planning issues for Joe and Glen, everyone managed to play their part and the challenge was met head on in a flexible and relaxed manner.


Overall I would definitely recommend the Hunter Gatherer course as the 10 days gives the student not just the chance to learn some new skills but more importantly places them in a situation where they have enough resources of material, quality instruction and time to master that skill.

If you view the other courses on offer from Wilderness survival skills I would say that nearly every course that they offer is replicated within the structure of the Hunter Gatherer course which is a great way to learn a series of new skills in one place and time and when you look at the course pricing and structure against the individual elements of the other courses it is a great saving in price as well.
I think the type of students that would gain the most from this course are those that have a little previous bush craft experience although it is quite within the reach of first time bush craft students, the learning curve may be a little steep for some new to the world of bush craft, so some basic foundation skills would serve those people well.

I came away with a very positive feeling about the course structure and everything that was included and taught and the manner in which it was taught. I feel that both Joe and Glen wish to focus on teaching the skills to students and not necessarily just capturing a slice of the market. I think the key ethos at Wilderness Survival Skill will be based around offering a product of quality instruction with a flexible approach aiming to offer a more bespoke learning experience to the student on an individual basis.


The following is taken from Wilderness Survival Skills website and lists what the Hunter Gatherer Course will teach , I can happily agree that all was covered .
  • Navigate safely in the wilderness using modern equipment and natural means
  • Pack for lightweight travel in the great outdoors
  • Use and maintain sharp tools for wilderness living
  • Build a survival shelter
  • Build a long term/ winter shelter with bed, heating and door
  • Light and maintain a fire in all weathers with modern and improvised equipment
  • Light fire with no equipment at all (fire by friction)
  • Locate water and make it safe to drink
  • Hunt and move silently
  • Make primitive hunting and fishing equipment
  • Trap animals for food
  • Identify plants and trees for food and medicine
  • Process wild plants for food
  • Prepare large and small wild game
  • Preserve wild meat
  • Cook over a campfire using primitive techniques
  • Use flint to make sharp tools
  • Make simple baskets and containers from natural materials
  • Improvise strong cordage and bindings from natural materials
  • Weave a fish trap from willow
  • Carve wooden bowls and utensils using axe and knife
  • Tan a deer hide using natural resources
  • Make bags, pouches and other buckskin and rawhide products
  • Live in a small tribe
  • Eat and drink until you pop during the final feast
 

Shewie

Mod
Mod
Dec 15, 2005
24,259
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Yorkshire
Great post TD, looks like you had a top time fella.

Excellent write up with some good photos to match.

How nice was that shower after 10 days ?
 

TeeDee

Full Member
Nov 6, 2008
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OK. To be Honest , I could have happily stayed on for a month or so, kind of got used to dipping your dangly bits in the Nice cold stream ( co-ed ) at the bottom of the hill!!

I think we all managed to scare the wildlife with our 'get naked in the woods' washing routine....

Happy days!!

Glad you enjoyed the review.
 

TeeDee

Full Member
Nov 6, 2008
6,896
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Exeter
Very well-written review, I'm hugely envious of you.


Thank you very much. Get in touch with Joe for details of the next Hunter Gather course.

Editing the review and inserting the Photo's was a little bit of a nightmare but i think another learning curve is eroded. Some photo's do alook a little big , but i hope thats ok ?
 

littlebiglane

New Member
May 30, 2007
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Nr Dartmoor, Devon
A very, very good review TeeDee. Well done.

Looks like WSS have set a new benchmark.

Its great to see an intensive course taking someone from the basic through to the advanced skills in one sitting. It would also be good to have it split into two parts so those with more established skills can skip the basics and move straight onto building onto (and up to) the advanced. Still....it sounds like the HG course will be what alot of people will be looking for. Well done to WSS and thanks to TeeDee for such a detailed review.

LBL

p.s - did you do any greenwood work or carving on the course? what hide product did you make?
 

spamel

Banned
Feb 15, 2005
6,833
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Silkstone, Blighty!
Nice one, it's a great place isn't it? We saw plenty of buzzards but the kingfisher and deer that Joe told us of remained hidden throughout our stay!

It seems you had a similar experience to mine, I thoroughly enjoyed my course which follows some of the things you did too and as you say the food is excellent, the instructors are approachable and very helpful and the information is easily digestible. If I had the money, I'd go on one of their courses again straight away.
 

TeeDee

Full Member
Nov 6, 2008
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ShewieSo what one thing was the highlight of the week for you ?

Will PM you. Most likely the epiphany of Flint-Knapping .






littlebiglaneA very, very good review TeeDee. Well done.

Looks like WSS have set a new benchmark.

Its great to see an intensive course taking someone from the basic through to the advanced skills in one sitting. It would also be good to have it split into two parts so those with more established skills can skip the basics and move straight onto building onto (and up to) the advanced. Still....it sounds like the HG course will be what alot of people will be looking for. Well done to WSS and thanks to TeeDee for such a detailed review.

LBL

p.s - did you do any greenwood work or carving on the course? what hide product did you make?


Wood carving , Yes we did!! Never saw much point in wood carving before but now I get it!!
My Buck skin is still a project waiting to happen. Again the whole manfacturing process is quite lengthy and i want to be sure of what i make.

Ref Course structure IE splitting it up , maybe worth having a word with Joe?? Sure he could tailor a course that way.







BOD Hugely impressed by your review and of what they covered during the course. 5 Stars

You must have been very busy bushcrafters over those 10 days. What was the distance in the Nav-Ex?


Not a massive distance, I guess its a question of you either teach the skill to the students and practise them or go for a walk interspersed with navigation.
Both have merits I guess.
Thanks for the review approval.






spamel Nice one, it's a great place isn't it? We saw plenty of buzzards but the kingfisher and deer that Joe told us of remained hidden throughout our stay!

It seems you had a similar experience to mine, I thoroughly enjoyed my course which follows some of the things you did too and as you say the food is excellent, the instructors are approachable and very helpful and the information is easily digestible. If I had the money, I'd go on one of their courses again straight away.

Yeah, 100% great guys, great instruction, great place, great time!!
Seriously , The Glen and Joe comedy act is quality.
I just wish they were a little more open about their obvious 'bromance'....
 

tjwuk

Nomad
Apr 4, 2009
329
0
Cornwall
Looks really good. I particularly like the capture of the guy looking into the deer carcass!

I think this type of camping should be more widespread and available to cubs/scouts and guides. Apparently now they are not even allowed to have fires.

Some good shots, nice one.
 

g4ghb

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Sep 21, 2005
4,173
89
51
Wiltshire
I think this type of camping should be more widespread and available to cubs/scouts and guides. Apparently now they are not even allowed to have fires.


The media have portrayed it wrong again! fires as well as knives axes etc are STILL allowed in Scouts (and Guides as far as I am aware)

I do wish the media would desist on portraying the Scouts as a nanny state where kids have to be wrapped in cotton wool :soapbox:
 

TeeDee

Full Member
Nov 6, 2008
6,896
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Exeter
The media have portrayed it wrong again! fires as well as knives axes etc are STILL allowed in Scouts (and Guides as far as I am aware)

I do wish the media would desist on portraying the Scouts as a nanny state where kids have to be wrapped in cotton wool :soapbox:


Yeah I mean, Cotton wool!? There would be significant a choke risk , wouldn't there?
:rolleyes:
 

tjwuk

Nomad
Apr 4, 2009
329
0
Cornwall
The media have portrayed it wrong again! fires as well as knives axes etc are STILL allowed in Scouts (and Guides as far as I am aware)

I do wish the media would desist on portraying the Scouts as a nanny state where kids have to be wrapped in cotton wool :soapbox:

I didn't only hear it from media sources, but when my eldest was in the Guides. Sounds like this is just a one off, as having a fire and sing song etc is all part of the experience.

Needless to say, my two daughters both have knives and know how to make a good fire. I made them both knives, and have since been slowly but surley teaching them their proper use. But thats a different story.
 

TeeDee

Full Member
Nov 6, 2008
6,896
1,162
47
Exeter
Wow what awesome photos and what a great review. I've enjoyed this thread more than any I have had the pleasure of reading in quite a while and as much as any I've ever read. I'll be reading back through it for a while yet. Thanks for sharing!


Thank you Mistwalker , very nice to hear you enjoyed it.
 

scrogger

Native
Sep 16, 2008
1,080
0
54
east yorkshire
Great Review even my wife likes the look of this which has really surprised me. looks like we may have a kid free holiday in the planning for the future. may I pm you in the future as she would like a few queries answered.

thanks for posting.

Andy
 

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