I have been camping since I was a teenager. Sleeping on the ground in a sleeping bag. I had been camping primitive in a tent with my family for several years before the events in this article. I had even camped primitive carrying in what I needed on my back with others who do this. So in many ways the only first about this was that I was doing it alone. I had been shown this valley a year before by a friend and during that time I had discovered a rock overhang or rock house as the long hunters called them. I spent some time checking it and the area around it and I set up a fire ring and reflector rock and stashed several arm loads of squaw wood in the far back of my intended shelter. Just less than a year later I returned to hunt whitetail deer.
My best friend and most trusted trail partner Mark Grigg came with me for a day hunt. We scouted around and made a few stands on likely looking spots but saw no deer. He had to return home that afternoon and after I showed him where my camp was to be, (always let someone know where you intend to be if you are going to camp alone), I walked with him back the mile or so to his car and my truck. I got my pack and blanket roll and the other things I did not need to carry about while hunting and saying goodbye to Mark I started back to my camp. I laid out my blanket and got a fire going and watched the sun set over a hill.
Now we don’t have any very tall hills here in Arkansas but we do have some mighty deep hollers. And it got very dark very fast. And I have to admit that I did have several moments of panic just before full dark. I am not afraid of the dark or my ability to survive with modern things like flashlight and matches. But could I make do with only the 18th century tools and clothes I had brought. I could feel easy in a camp with one or more others with me. One of them would have what ever I might have forgotten or could do what I could not. But here I was alone a mile or more from any 20th century devices I had and that mile was in total darkness.
I made myself settle down and told myself that I had what I needed to make it. I cooked some sausage in my folding skillet and heated some water in my boiler for chocolate. Having a hot meal and something hot to drink as the temperature dropped made me feel much better. Maybe I would make it. I sat watching my fire and listening to the stream about 100 yards down a gentle slope from my shelter and I relaxed enough to get sleepy. I laid out my brass tube that I use as a mouth bellows and some pitch pine on a rock far enough from the fire to be safe but easy enough to find. I placed piles of gradually larger wood from there in case I did need a fire later. I rolled up in my blanket and fell asleep.
I woke up only twice that night, once because of a 4 footed camp inspector that I gently persuaded to check elsewhere. And sometime maybe 2 hours before daylight, I guess that because the temperature had taken a real drop and I woke shivering. I made my way to the foot of my bed and felt for my blow tube then felt to the left for heat. I found the fire bed and using my tube I blew gently until I saw embers come to life. I added a few pieces of pitch pine and blew some more until I had a small flame. Adding a few small bits of wood at a time I nursed my fire back to life until the whole inside of my shelter was toasty. Or at least it felt so to me. I got back in my blanket and slept until the first gray of morning made shapes visible.
I got up and rolled my blanket packed what I would not need to hunt and made a cache in a notch in the rock near the far end of my shelter. I covered it with leaves until I was satisfied that it would be hard to find. I laid my reflector rock on my bed of coals not wanting to make more fire and smoke to alert any deer that might be any where near. I ate some of the cold sausage left from my evening meal and drank some water from my canteen. With my hunting bag, powder horn, haversack, belt knife, and a small belt axe and the only concessions to the 20th century I had, an orange vest and head rag I started to hunt the valley. I hunted all morning and most of the afternoon with no luck. I found plenty of deer sign, trails, rubs, enough to keep me there all day. But no deer. I finally headed back to my camp knowing that I had just enough light left to get my gear and get back to the truck before dark.
I dug out my pack and blanket and took one last look at my first lone camp. I felt good, the hunt had not been a success but the experience had. I had gained some more confidence in my abilities to do this the 18th century way. I will always enjoy a trail and camp with most anyone that wants to do it right. But I know that not only can I just survive but I can enjoy a lone camp too.
Some of the things I have done because of what I learned on that trip are:
I had noticed that my new Wilde Hand Woven blanket was not as warm as I had hoped it might be. After listening to Ed Wilde talk to another person at an event some time later about fulling a blanket I asked my own questions. I called C.J. Wilde at Ed’s suggestion and she told me how to safely full a woven blanket in a washing machine. Yeah I know I should do that by hand but do you know how much water a wool blanket will hold and I already had arthritis in my hands. Now I can hold my blanket up to a 100 watt light bulb and not see light from the other side. I bought a Wilde half blanket that I wear like a shawl or I will make it a hood over my head. I will lay that inside my blanket when I think it will be extra cold.
I also added a flannel sleeping shirt that comes below my knees for winter time camps. It goes in my blanket roll the whole cold season. I already knew about pilling plenty of leaves to keep me off the ground that and a ground cloth will keep the ground from soaking your body heat away. Since that time I have slept the night through in some pretty cold camps.
Also this idea of sleeping with your flintlock tucked in your blanket with you. I am sorry but that cold steel barrel never gets warm all night long. And it makes me feel cold no mater how much wool I have over me. I have tried positioning it so the barrel is away from me but it still radiates cold all night long. So the gun goes between my blanket and ground cloth if I need to protect it from the elements.