Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Lucky's Trekking Tips - Muzzle Blasts June 2024

Axes: The ax is always an interesting topic of discussion around a fire. In any camp one can see many variations of ax, some historically correct and some not so much. I have friends that use them but are usually cutting their firewood small enough to use in a brazier, something not really suited to trekking, but nice in a static camp, especially when ground fires are prohibited. When locations prohibit ground fires it really is a downer that puts a damper on the event for me.

On horseback I very rarely carry an ax, whether a small hatchet, polled belt ax or chopping ax. To me, cutting firewood is a perfectly useless endeavor that only serves to tire you out and risk a bad cut after a long day, been there, got that t-shirt. Since I flat camp when on horseback I have no use to cut leanto stakes or anything else that I can’t do with my large belt knife. Firewood can be gathered, stockpiled and either burned in half or fed into the fire by the ends Native American style.

I watch people gather wood at most every event and then spend time chopping it into neat little 20-inch lengths, why? There are so many other tasks that need to be done in camp, like resting, smoking a pipe, watching a fine piece of meat cook or passing around a bottle of liquid jollification and telling lies. If I carry anything on horseback it is a polled ax for pounding in picket stakes for the horses. However, a plethora of items abound in mother nature to pound in a picket stake and I have never been left wanting an implement in the wild.

So, once again, it is usually left behind. During our Ashley’s Return trip, we packed one ax for all of us and quite frankly I cannot recall that we ever used it. Perhaps Papa Jack or Amish would remind me if we did. We did carry in the panniers, a small mallet for picket stakes. It was passed around as we put out the nine critters each evening. Useful, but not necessary as Wyoming is well endowed with many large rocks. When trekking on foot, which I try to avoid at all possible costs, a small belt ax might suffice depending on the length of the trip. Other considerations revolve around being in a group where we will be constructing a large shelter requiring cutting poles or stakes, trapping beaver, and even butchering a deer in camp.

Again, things I can do with my heavy duty, hand forged belt knife pictured along with my English polled belt ax and small ax. These are my only three choices and quite frankly the knife usually wins out! Even pounding in drowning stakes when trapping beaver can be done with a locally sourced rock. Some folks, when doing Revolutionary War events or treks need to carry a belt ax for proper portrayal, as I have done in the past. But in the end, for me lighter is better and less is more. Next time you are out in the woods take your ax of choice, but instead of using it, place it aside and challenge yourself to make do with just your knife and your creativity. Give the ax a rest and see how it goes. In the end, I bet you will find that it is one more thing you can eliminate from your load. One less thing to keep sharp and to pack in your kit or hang off your belt. Happy trekking this spring!

Written by Gerry "Lucky" Messmer. Reprinted with permission from the author.