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Staying Dry

For those of you who like to use a Moses stick or walking stick, it also is excellent for that, light and strong. A stalk 1 1/2" at the bottom and about 5' long has worked very well for me. It also makes a great monopod rest for shooting from the standing position when you are forced to do that.

Yucca has many uses:
For those unfamiliar with this sentry of the Southwest, the yucca family of plants grows as a central cluster of leaves in the form of SHARP-tipped spears, from which a central stalk emerges and grows to some feet or yards, blooms, goes to seed, then dies. By the following year the whole plant is dry, and eventually the leaves rot away and the stalk falls over.

The well-dried spears (leaves) surrounding an expired plant have great tinder potential, especially the frayed fibrous bases which are as good as any tow. The well-dried central stalk is the material from which Lahti and Todd made good char -- it's quite like balsa wood, except a little hard on the outside like a shell, and somewhat softer and more pithy inside. It's also a good material for anything light and stiff -- I made a very serviceable and comfortable pack frame by taking one 3" dia by 6 foot stalk, splitting it down the middle, chopping the two sections into four pieces, and lashing them into a rectangle with ends protruding, using rawhide, and cutting notches somewhat to locate the corners. Wear it with the round sides towards the back, and lash a couple more sticks of any wood horizontally across the middle for more tie points.

A growing plant is a great source of fiber for cordage. Sever a few leaves at their base, they're usually 18-24" long. Trim off the sharp edges, whose fibers peter out, and strip the green "binder" away from the central fibers with the thumbnail or a dull edge. You'll get plenty of full length fibers which can be twisted into cordage, and the Indians were supposed to have sewn directly with the sharp tip.

A tender green stalk is somewhat edible, although the sap is astringent, and the flowers are also supposed to have some food value. Several weeks ago the discussion centered on types of materials for tinder. Some opined that cloth probably wasn't the first choice of the Mountaineers due to its costly and valuable nature. Others offered alternatives such as the ballyhooed hardwood tree fungus. That not being widely available in the West, others mentioned alternatives.

Capt Lahti, a familiar name to this group, stated that he'd tried Yucca with success. I asked tongue -in-cheek if he would mind supplying us with some. I was surprised at his quick and generous reply. Not only did he send me an envelope full of dried stalks from his admittedly limited reserve, but all he asked in return was that I experiment and list my findings here for all to see. Whall now, hyar's to put out!

After finally locating my char can, I struck up a small fire out back and tossed my can in filled with several pieces on yucca stalk about 1 1/2 inches long and 1/2 inch in diameter. After the gasses stopped venting out of the small hole in the can I removed it from the fire and let it cool. Taking it inside to my hobby room, I placed several well charred chunks in the lid of my striker tin and began striking the sparks downward onto the yucca. This was a little awkward for me as I'm used to placing char cloth on my flint and striking to flint with the steel. It took about twenty strikes before a spark caught on one of the chunks. When it did however it spread easily and couldn't be extinguished short of immersing it in water. I touched another chunk to it and it caught easily as well. I was surprised at the heat the two little chunks gave off. I think this has great advantages over cloth as it burned much longer.

Several Januarys ago at a winter camp on the south high bank of the Red River about 40 miles east of Wichita Falls, Texas mother nature took several of us to school. The first day or so was humid and quite warm and no great care was taken by some to handle cold or wet weather. High winds, one day from the south and the next day from the north, buffeted the camp and then a brief, moderate shower sent folks scurrying to batten down the hatches a little. James Craker and Ron Harris decided to pitch their two 10 X 10 tarps together, with James's brand new, "waterproof as the hood of a '57 Buick", tarp stretched over a ridge pole forming a snug little cubby. Later when the heavy rains came they were shocked to discover that the new tarp barely slowed down the water. Everything and everybody under the leaking tarp was soon wet and fairly miserable and dreading the cold wind that was blowing the rain away from camp... temporarily, it turned out. During the brief lull between storms, Harris abandoned his close friend, James, to his fate and begged entrance to my little, bitty, mostly dry, pyramid tent, claiming illness. Later he did indeed prove to be ill (which is a story best told around a fire) but his most immediate problem was that he was very, very cold, with hypothermia a real possibility. We shed what inhibitions we each had (precious few, to be sure) and bunked down together under my dry blankets, using my abundant body heat in an attempt to stop his chills while we endured a loud thunderstorm, complete with lightening and hail. He pretty much stayed there for a day and a half, much of the time shivering like he was passing a peach pit, but as soon as I evicted him he felt well enough to chase a skunk. Later Harris recalled one of his favorite books and paraphrased it, saying that the camp on the Red " was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the winter of our discount tent" . We often tell this story (with certain omitted details included) and we make lots of people laugh. But the results easily could have been different with serious consequences. You can bet that all of us now take great pains to know how ALL our gear works. Don't assume anything.

My personal method is to prepare for the worst, choosing a campsite carefully, taking note of drainage potential. If I can find a little hump or other high point I camp there and with any luck I can be assured that water will run away from my camp. If I have properly aligned the opening of my fly away from the most likely wind direction in the event of a storm I have one less problem to contend with. I like to stash a little dry kindling and fire wood somewhere under my fly in case of a soaking rain. And for those real wet camps I always bring some food that keeps well and needs no cooking....just in case. I know these "tips" are old hat to most of the people on the list, but I have seen some pretty skilled men set their camps in an obvious wash and spend most of their time trying to keep themselves dry when the rain came. I guess that I am saying that it is wise to scout carefully for a really good campsite, studying the terrain closely and running worst case scenarios through you head as you smoke a pipe or a Marsh Wheeling stogie. Take you time every time.

Using blanket material, make two soles for each foot, tracing the pattern while wearing what ever socks you will wear. Stitch across the soles at ball of foot and just ahead of heal to keep the two pieces from moving. Cut two pieces of wool blanket material that will go from center back to center front, one piece for each side. Make each piece as tall as you want but a bit taller than your moc sides will be. Start stitching the pieces on from center back. Put one piece on and then the other until they meet in the front at center of foot or just inside big toe. Sew up front center seam with a gathering stitch until you have them sewn up the front to the forward part of leg. You can cut off the extra in front or let it wrap the leg. Cut off extra above front center seam quit close to stitch. Sew up back seam from bottom to top with whatever stitch you like. Make one pair ,or more while your at it.

Make a pattern for the soles while wearing your socks and blanket booties. Make it a bit big, leaving at least a quarter inch of seam allowance. I like to use oil tanned leather for the soles and I use leather that is about twice as thick as one letter on this page (like the "p" and "a" in "page") or a bit thicker but not so heavy that you can't work with it. Put the sole pieces together flesh side to flesh side and then punch or bore stitch holes all the way around about 3/16"ths or so apart but no more than 1/4" and about a 1/4" in from the edge. Turn the sole pieces over and carefully cut a slit into the bottom piece between holes for the thread to lay in so it is not quickly worn through. Cut sides of softer leather with flesh side out if commercial tanned and hair side out if brain tanned. Sew together just like the wool booties, with stitch showing. Gather up the front seam to the front of the leg with an in and out single gathering stitch. Pull thread up towards the leg to gather. Add another stitch to this on after it is gathered if you wish. Cut the extra leather off above the center seam but leave some of the sides to wrap around the ankle.

Cut small pairs of slits or punch holes, two sets at the back and one set at center of inside and outside and one set inside and outside at front of moc opening to lace with a thong. Make the thong long enough so it will wrap around the leg a couple times and have enough left for a knot. If you use brain tan and it is cut 1/4" wide and greased, you can tie with a square knot. Usually won't come undone and is easy to untie if you don't pull it too tight.

Grease up mocs with a mix of grease and bee's wax in a proportion you can use in any weather without serious warming. Put the grease mix on in a warm environment. and let it soak in. You can add some Neet's Foot Oil if you like. Others may have their favorite recipe. Make booties and mocs a bit loose for better warmth and use a fairly light leather for the upper parts. You can add a tongue if you want but I just wrap the extra of the uppers around the ankle. Any thing not clear?

I make pucker toes so they will fit loose over wool booties and socks too. There are plenty of patterns available for these. I only grease the lower parts of these mocs and probably don't have to do that if I wear them in cold snow. I like to stay dry. Mainly because I live in dry country like you do. Bit lower elevations but just as dry or drier and rain and natural water feels funny on the skin. I know it won't hurt me but that's a lifetime of conditioning. So when I go trekking and know the weather will be damp, I take precautions. My friends on the wet side don't seem to mind and often don't go to the trouble I will go to. You already have gotten most of the good answers so most of what I can offer is just support. I like wool. I hunted in ID. through most of Nov. and into Dec. for elk and it rained and made wet snow most of the two weeks I was there. I kept myself and my rifle dry under a wool/wool lined, capped great coat that came down to my calves. Picked a few booger lice out of it but it was worth it. I like to wear a four piece shoe pack/center seam moc that has been well greased with lard and bee's wax. Two sole pieces and two side pieces. They do a good job of keeping my feet dry most of the day. I wear at least one wool blanket bootie inside built just like the shoe pack. Wool knee socks and knee breeches or leather leggings or both. In snow I will wear wool leggings tied below the knee. Wool shirts and a wool vest or weskit and a wide brimmed felt hat. In snow I will wear pucker toe mocs of brain tan with the wool booties and two pair of wool socks inside. Great for snow shoeing and surprisingly non-skid on snow and some ice conditions.

My bed roll is a blanket wrapped in an oil cloth of linseed/beeswax/oil paint, treated muslin. I usually carry a light tarp of cloth a bit heavier than muslin for a shelter of 8' by 10'. If rain or snow is gong fall straight down, I rig the tarp over a long lead about shoulder high and build a fire under one gable end just inside so the rain won't put the fire out. If I need protection from wind and snow or rain, I rig it more lean-to style. I have a snow cover to carry my rifle or Tulle' in but if I want it at the ready I just carry it tucked under the great coat or cradled in my arms. My buddies in Idaho were using a piece of sock with the toe cut out to pull over their locks and just pulled the sock back when they were ready to shoot. Seemed to work better than a cows knee. I naturally carry a flint lock so I can look at the touch hole and prime and be assured that the gun will go when needed. (can't say that for percussion) In two weeks of wet Idaho hunting, I never had a hang fire or failure to ignite. Didn't unload every night, only after I had shot for some reason and the gun needed cleaning a bit before reloading. Some times I would not clean but just reload.


This article was sent to me years ago by either Capt Roger Lahti, James Craker or Ron Harris or ?. I wish one of these gentlemen would come forth so credit may be given for their well thought out work. Its my fault that I didn't mark the article when first received, getting old sucks.

Buck Conner


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updated  03/10/2010


come warm yourself friends