Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Ultimate Survival - Alaska

There is a new show coming up in two weeks. It is called Ultimate Survival – Alaska. The show will air Sundays at 10PM on the National Geographic Channel starting May 12, 2013.


The premise of the show looks very interesting. It is supposed to take eight survival experts and just let them survive together in the Alaskan wilderness with what they have in their packs. From what I can see, there is no competition, no elimination challenges, or anything like that. It is exactly the type of show I would like to see. Here is what National Geographic has to say in their description:

“They are some the toughest, most extreme survivalists that Alaska has to offer. Going head to head, eight men of a rare breed are about to take the ultimate test of survival in Arctic conditions that only National Geographic could inspire. Dropped in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness by bush plane, with only their raw, mountain-man ingenuity, they’ll navigate through treacherous glaciated river valleys, barren ridgelines, and high mountain peaks, battling hunger, hostile predators, and perilous weather conditions along the way. Like the original National Geographic explorers, for those who succeed there is no grand prize, just the well-fought pride of having conquered the grueling challenges that Mother Nature can throw at them. It's an epic competition series where the only prize is survival.”

The spirit of the show seems very similar to other ones like the Alaska Experiment. It starts May 12, 2013 on the National Geographic Channel.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Jack Mountain Bushcraft Book List

Some of you might already be familiar with Jack Mountain Bushcraft. It is a wilderness living school started and operated by Tim Smith in Maine. The school is one of the few of its kind that takes this type of education seriously, providing long term emersion programs.

Well, earlier this week a fellow blogger pointed out that Tim Smith has put out a bibliography containing the book list provided to students of Jack Mountian Bushcraft as past of the student handbooks. It is an extensive list, that is divided into different categories. You can download the book list from Jack Mountain Bushcraft here, or go directly to the PDF file here.


As with most books, the content starts to get repetitive very quickly, so I’m not sure of the value of reading all of the listed books, but it is a great resource for when you are searching for good reading material in a particular category.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Traditional Camping and the Environmental Ethic – A different Perspective

A few days ago, a fellow blogger, posted an essay by Steven M. Watts titled Traditional Camping and the Environmental Ethic: Trail Food For Thought.

The article attempted to present a different approach to environmental conservation to the one that predominates the outdoor community today, namely leave no trace. Steven Watts contends in his essay that the leave no trace principle is mistaken in thinking that it has less of an environmental impact than what he calls “traditional” camping, i.e. chopping down trees for shelter and fire, hunting and foraging for food, etc. In his opinion, the resources required to create the technology necessary for the leave no trace approach (stoves, nylon tents, etc) has much more of a negative environmental impact than traditional camping. Since the article is titled “Trail Food for Thought”, and yesterday being Earth Day, I figured I would put in my $0.02.


In my opinion, the article is overly simplistic in its approach to the topic, while at the same time overly romanticizing a golden age of traditional camping. I believe both of those things lead to misguided conclusions.

Let’s start with the romanticism. Steven Watts defines “traditional camping” as the type of camping done by people like Nessmuk, Horace Kephart, Daniel Carter Beard, Ernest Thompson Seton, Robert Baden Powell, Col. Townsend Whelen. In his opinion what they did was very different from what he calls “the tree-hacking, tin-can strewing hordes of chumps that literally hit the woods following World War II”. After all, let’s not forget that it was exactly those people that by the early 70s had rendered every publicly accessible piece of forest completely covered with garbage and fare damage.

Now, Mr. Watts distinguishes those people from “true” woodsmen like Nessmuk, Kephart, et al, in part because the woodsmen did not tend to go through the forest, but were more sedentary, a point which I don’t believe to be necessarily accurate, nor relevant to the discussion on environmental damage. The article is a bit vague on this point, so I’m not sure what the author intended.

But let’s leave that aside, and assume that he was giving men like Nessmuk and Kephart as examples of a more environmentally friendly type of camping. Mr. Watts is in fact correct that their gear made less of an environmental impact in many ways. Much of it was old equipment, made of natural materials. Granted, it is an oversimplified view, as both Nessmuk and Kephart had state of the art technology, many times from abroad, but let’s leave that aside and assume the best of them.

Even while looking with rose colored glasses however, even the most casual reader of the above authors will point out that their method of camping was not sustainable. For example, in his book, Nessmuk speaks of chopping down one fully grown tree each night for fire and another fully grown tree for shelter. During the only ten day trip he recounts, he writes of killing three deer, which he left to rot after eating some of the meat for dinner. Kephart on the other hand makes numerous references of mule trains carrying his equipment into the woods and how to chop and nail trees to make camp furniture. Regardless of whether their gear was made from fairy dust, it doesn’t take an environmental expert to figure out that if every camper and backapcker out in the woods today took the same approach, there wouldn’t be a single tree left standing in any of the forest of the US, nor will there be a single animal left alive.

I think a large reason for what I see as the error made by Steven Watts, is that the above romantic view of woodsmen from the past is mixed in with an overly simplistic approach to environmental conservation.

It may very well be the case, or let’s at least say for the sake of argument that it is, that each individual trip made by Nessmuk caused less overall environmental impact than does a trip by a modern camper because of the high amount of resources the production and transport of his gear requires. What Mr. Watts neglects however is that environmental impact can not simply be observed as abstract numbers. Pollution, resource depletion, etc have very different impacts on different areas and local environments. So, while the production of a nylon tent might use up many resources around the world, the two fully grown trees that were just cut down for camp were concentrated within the same local area. Overall the global production might have a larger environmental impact, but the local consumption of resources will have a much larger and more negative impact on the particular forest and its biodiversity. 100,000 campers using modern tents and stoves uses up fossil fuels, causes CO2 pollution, etc. 100,000 campers in your local forest, each using up two fully grown trees for camp each night and killing a deer for dinner, turns the forest into a parking lot within six months.

Now, we shouldn’t be overly simplistic in the other direction either. Conservation efforts require proper maintenance of wildlife, which includes cutting down trees and hunting. However, it has to be done within the modern method. The practices of men like Nessmuk, Horace Kephart, Daniel Carter Beard, Ernest Thompson Seton, Robert Baden Powell, Col. Townsend Whelen are not sustainable despite how much we may wish they were.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Living in Balance With Nature

This will be a short post that got prompted by a painting that I saw from the 19th century.

We often talk when it comes to bushcraft about living in balance with nature. Utilizing the resources she provides while not taking more than the ecosystem can afford. It struck me that there are two distinct ways to do that. The first is creating a balance with nature as an intentional goal. This can be seen in modern conservation methods, where how much game can be taken any particular season is determined by studying the population of the particular animal and the carrying capacity of the regional ecosystem. Then there is the model that we often refer to in bushcraft circles, and that is the type of balance achieved by indigenous societies. This balance is often created not by intentional conservation efforts, but by necessity. In simple terms, some indigenous societies have no express interest in managing wildlife. They take as much game as possible and use as many resources as possible without concern for overuse. The balance is created due to the fact that their methods for exploiting the resources at their disposal are very inefficient.  


The above is a painting by Alfred Jacob Miller created around 1860. It depicts Plains Indians driving buffalo over a cliff. While the painting is certainly an exaggerated portrayal of such a hunt, it was in fact a hunting technique in use at the time.

A balance with nature can be achieved either by intentional control of how much resources are taken, so that there is no overuse, or the balance can be created by having the intention to take as much resources as possible, but lacking the ability to do so due to limited technology. It’s just something I thought about when looking at the painting.   

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Trip Report: Wilderness Survival Challenge 4/13/13 – 4/14/13

You guys have probably noticed that I am posting about more trip reports than I used to. The reason is that I usually only post the ones that I think are more significant or interesting. Lately however people have shown interest in my random bumming around in the woods, so I figured I would post about a few more of my trips. This past weekend was one of them.

This weekend I was taking a hunting class up in the Catskills. The location is about a three hour drive from where I live and is right at the edge of the Slide Mountain Wilderness. I figured that instead of going to class on Saturday, driving back home, and then driving back up to the location on Sunday, I would just camp out in the woods after class on Saturday, and be there on location on Sunday.

On Friday, I was getting my pack together, and while doing that, I was going though some online forums. I noticed that on Bushcraft UK someone had posted a question about whether a person can survive a night in the UK woods without a rucksack full of gear (or something along those lines). The answer of course is that it is hard NOT to survive, but it gave me an idea. I figured, why not try to make my overnight stay a simulated survival situation?

Now, I have written before that I am not a big fan of unlikely “survival” scenarios where people just get to show off gear. You will virtually never get stranded in the woods with no backpack, but carrying a full size axe and fifty feet of rope. So, I figured that I would try to make it a bit more realistic. The set up would be a situation where I went out for a day hike, and got stranded in the woods. I would have with me the gear I usually have on a day hike.


Those things include food for the day, a Nalgene 1L bottle with a nesting Backcountry Stoic Ti Kettle, a Mora #2 knife, and a small pocket pouch in which I keep a Fenix E01 flashlight, a mini BIC lighter, and three Altoids Smalls tins. One of the tins holds my repair kit with a few fishing hooks thrown in on the bottom. The second tin holds some medications I commonly use and water purification tablets. The third tin contains tinder (waxed jute twine) and matches. On the pouch itself a have attached a mini compass. You can see the contents in the picture below.


The reason why I decided to carry food is that foraging for food is just an illusion in most simulated survival situations, and I didn’t want to pretend that a few fiddle head ferns and a handful of wood sorrow was enough for dinner. It’s not. People who simulate similar survival situation usually simply go hungry for the duration of the trip. That doesn’t really show anything other than create the illusion that the 50 calories they were able to gather somehow constitute food for the day.

So, all that being said, I went to my hunting class on Saturday. It lasted from 9 am to 5 pm. When I got out, I headed into the woods. I thought this would be a good simulation of a survival scenario because that’s the time of day when you usually accept that you are lost and start trying to do something about it. You rarely decide you are lost at 10 o’clock in the morning, holding a full size axe.

I carried my gear in a small daypack. Aside from the items you see above, and the clothes I was wearing in the picture, I had some extra clothing in the pack. It was the clothing I would carry with me on a day trip this time of year. It is simply my standard three season clothing. You can see a full post on it here. In the picture below, my REI Revelcloud, my hat, neck gaiter and Arcteryx Beta SV shall jacket are in the pack.


The weather around here was been warming up this month, but when I started out, I was in a valley where there was still some snow. The mountain further up looked clear of snow, so I headed that way. I had to cross a river, which required some rock hopping. 


I ran across some tracks that I couldn’t identify. They were old.


There was also some horseshoe fungus around, although I have never been able to figure out a good immediate use for it. It was too wet to be of any use in fire making that day.


Further up the mountain I found some deer scat. It was hard to tell how old it was because of how wet the ground was.


I followed one of the tributaries of the river I had crossed up the mountain so I could be close to water. The snow cleared up fast as I gained elevation. The ground however was still extremely wet from the snow melt.


I traveled about a mile into the woods. I didn’t want to go too far in because I didn’t want to be late for class the next day. Around 6 pm I started looking for a good camp location.

Now, as you can see, there are no large spruce trees for shelter. In fact there is no cover anywhere. Also, seeing how there was about an hour and a half till sunset, building a shelter of any sort, lean to or otherwise, was not a practical use of my time. My time would be better spent finding a sheltered location and gathering firewood. I finally found a spot that I could customize to my liking.


The spot consisted of a rock that could serve as a windbreak. It was situated within a tightly forested area, so the trees served to block most of the wind. I dug up a large rock that could serve as a heat reflector for the fire and placed it in front of the windbreak. There are no evergreens here, so a bough bed was not going to happen. Leafs could be used, but they were all wet. They would offer virtually no insulation. What I did instead was to find a large piece of birch bark and lay it down as a sitting area. It would not provide much insulation, but it would keep me relatively dry. I also used a piece of bark as a fire platform in front of the reflector rock.

This brings me to the next reason I chose this location, availability of fire wood. There was a lot of birch around, and in particular, some trees that were knocked down by the storms. Birch is not a good wood for maintaining a long burning fire, but under these wet conditions it is easy to light.


I gathered as much wood as I could before it started getting dark. I then light the fire, put on all of my clothing, and settled in for the night.


Now, I know that people tell you to make a long fire, and stretch out in front of it on a bough bed. That only happens in imaginary survival situations where you start working on your shelter and fire at noon. It is very hard to do when it actually matters. The resources around me would not allow for a bough bed, and maintaining a long fire through a ten hour night requires huge amounts of wood. Had I made a long fire, the woods I had prepared would have been gone by 1 am. The only thing that could be done is to make a small fire and use it to warm up when you get cold. It doesn’t allow for much sleep, but it works.

Now, the immediate question that get’s asked is, “Why not carry an axe?” After all, with an axe you might very well be able to gather enough wood for a long fire in the hour and a half before sunset. Or, “Why not bring a blanket?” It would still be minimalist, right? The simple answer is that there is no way I am carrying those items on a day hike. If I was going to carry all that weight, I would just bring my regular backpacking gear, and be comfortable all night. Think about it; for the same weight as a 5lb wool blanket, I can bring both my sleeping bag, and my shelter. For the weight of an axe, I could have brought my sleeping pad, pot, stove, etc. Replacing items from your kit with other poorly performing items does not create minimalist camping, or a survival simulation. It is just poor planning and gear selection. I wanted to keep this scenario as realistic as possible, so I only brought items I am likely to have on me in a real survival situation.

Another question that could be asked is “Why not bring a space blanket or poncho to use as a shelter?” That is a fair question. In the past I used to carry a poncho for that reason. However, after trying to spend a few nights out in the rain with it, I decided that it simply doesn’t work as a shelter. It only works when you are wearing it. Ponchos, in my experience are too small to offer adequate protection from heavy rain. The poncho shelters look good in pictures, but rain never comes down from one direction, nor does it come down in the direction you want. A bit of wind, and the rain will be beating right in your face as you lay under the poncho. The only way to keep dry with it is to wear it. That is why I had my shell with me. It protects better from the rain than an improvised shelter. It kept the snow off me just fine during the night.

The night actually felt surprisingly warm. There were actually some snow flurries during the night, which continued into the next day, but it never felt cold. It must have been right around 32F (0C) to allow for snow, but still feel warm. At one point I was actually able to let the fire die down to coals, and lay down to get some more sleep. I didn’t feel cold. I maintained the fire through the night just in case I needed it.

Oh, and I forgot to bring a spoon. I just used a flattened stick for my mashed potatoes which I cooked in the cup. Burning out spoons and doing party tricks of that sort is just not realistic in such a situation. There is simply no time.

The next day I cleared up camp and headed down the mountain.


As I was making my way out of the forest, and crossing the valley again, I ran across an old camp that someone had used. I’m glad I camped further up the mountain. It seemed colder in the valley.


Overall, there were no problems. I didn’t get enough sleep because of having to maintain the fire through the night, but other than that, there were no issues.

So, I suppose the lesson is that it’s not that difficult to spend the night in the woods with very little gear. It is not the most comfortable thing to do, but unless you are careless or very unlucky, it’s not too much of an issue. For most people it is a psychological issue, where being exposed during the night in the mountain is a frightening thought. However, once you have done it a number of times, it shouldn’t pose much of a challenge. I made it to my class on time.  

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Russian Family Lives Alone in the Wilderness for 40 Years

This story has been going around for a while, and has picked up steam in recent months. It is an incredible account of of a family that left civilization and went deep into the woods in order to avoid persecution. They lived there alone for 40 years before being discovered.

In 1978 a teach of Russian geologists, while flying near the Mongolian border in a helicopter, discovered a small hut with what looked to be a farm next to it in the middle of the taiga. After managing to land, they approached the hut and discovered a family living there. After some time and a few gifts, they were able to get the story of how this family had ended up in the middle of the wilderness, completely cut off from civilization.

Lykov-family-cabin-Lost-in-the-Taiga-500x363 Lykov-homestead-shot-from-Soviet-reconnaissance-plane-1980-500x414

Above pictures: Original hut and terraced farm of the Lykov family when discovered in 1978.

The family was lead by a patriarch, Karp Lykov. They belonged to an Orthodox sect called Old Believers. During the reforms of Peter the Great, and later the Bolsheviks, this Orthodox sect experienced significant persecution.

In 1936, after his brother being killed by Bolsheviks, Karp Lykov took his family, at the time his wife Akulina and two children, gathered all his household belongings, and started moving deeper into the woods. They created a succession of camps going deeper and deeper into the wilderness, gradually transporting they belongings to the location where they eventually settled and were discovered in 1978.

The Lykovs managed to transport a significant amount of resources with them, including a woods stove, pots, a spinning wheel, a loom, and agricultural equipment. At their final location, Karp and Akulina had two more children, for a total of two boys and two girls. They survived by farming, using seeds and plants that they had brought with the. Unfortunately, one year their luck ran out, and a storm wiped out their harvest. Akulina starved to death that winter, but everyone else survived by eating their shoes and tree bark. Miraculously, a single plant had survived the storm, from which they gathered seeds to replant for the following year.

The family suffered even greater tragedy after being discovered. In 1981, within a short period of time, three of the children dies. One of them died from pneumonia, refusing to accept medical help, and the other two died from kidney failure attributed to their poor diet. Karp Lykov died in 1988 from old age, leaving only his daughter, Agafia.

These days Agafia has been brought livestock as a gift, and has even acquired a shotgun to protect her from bears. Now 70 years old, she has stated that she has a hard time taking care of herself in the taiga, feeding the livestock, gathering firewood, etc. However, she still refuses to leave her current location, which which the help of volunteers has been expanded to several buildings.






Despite the unfortunate death of her siblings, Agafia, who still lives in the same location appreciates the fact that her family was discovered by the Russian geologists. When asked recently if she wished that the geologists who discovered her family in 1978 in the completely isolated wilderness of Siberia’s taiga forest had never found them, she shook her head. “I don’t know if we would have survived. We were running out of tools and food. I no longer had any scarves.” The reality is that by the time they were discovered, they had lost all their pots to rust, so cooking had become difficult, their clothing had fallen apart, and they were constantly living at the edge of starvation.

Here is a documentary about Agafia, showing her life in the taiga:

I think this story is amazing in that it gives us a realistic look into what subsistence living in true isolation looks like. As people who love the outdoors we often romanticize survival and living in isolation, but the reality is that it is brutal business and a constant game of Russian roulette. Constantly being at the edge of survival requires constant backbreaking work just to keep from falling off the edge. Ultimately, you can do it for as long as your luck lasts. One bad crop, one bad year of hunting, and death from starvation may be the only possible outcome without the presence of any type of safety net offered by a larger community. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Trip Report: 4/6/13 – 4/7/13

Unexpectedly this past weekend freed up for me, so I decided to spend it in the woods. I’ve been very sick for the past few weeks so I haven’t been able to do any challenging trips. This past weekend was no different. I decided to go up to Bear Mountain, and visit one of the areas where I used to backpack a lot back when I was in college. Since the weather was warming up, my plan was to just bushwhack through the woods in whatever direction I chose. I wasn’t going to cover a lot of distance, but this was the best way to stay away from people in the nice weather. So, I set out, bringing only my warm weather gear.


Now that the snow is gone, noticing animal sign has become much easier, and will continue to be so until all the greenery comes in. There was a lot of deer scat that could easily be noticed. That in the picture is probably a day old.


There was more throughout the area, so I decided to sit and wait for a while. Not long after I spotted two deer up on the ridge. I tried to get closer to them, but it was impossible to avoid making noise with all the dead leafs on the ground.


I kept going through the woods in no particular direction. Bushwhacking is easy this time of year at this elevation. There are no thick spruce trees, and the undergrowth is minimal. Eventually I reached a small lake. I figured I would stop for a bit, eat lunch, and cast the line a few times to see if I could catch anything. My hope was for perch or blue gill, but I had no luck at all.


From higher up the ridge I could see some sign of beaver towards the middle of the lake. I didn’t see any near the edge of the lake, at least in the are where I was fishing.


The downside to all this sign of wildlife is that the ticks are out as well. It wasn’t long before I spotted some making their way up my pant leg.

Eventually I got bored with fishing and got on my way. Spring is in the air, and so is sign of animals feeding. A bird clearly met an unfortunate end here. The knife you see in the picture is a Mora #2.



Eventually I reached an area where i figured I would camp for the night. Unfortunately, in this region, any level area is usually occupied by blueberry and huckleberry bushes. This time was no exception. I had to cut down a good number of them to clear out an area for my tent. I built a small fire, and since there was no fish on the menu I had some of my usual dried food.


The night was colder than I expected, so I had to sleep with all my layers on. It wasn’t so cold that it bothered me though.

The next day I woke up, made some breakfast, and got on the way. I wish there was something more dramatic to report, but there was nothing. A trip over easy terrain like this one, during this time of year does not create the most exciting posts, although it was enjoyable none the less.

As a not eon gear, I have decided to use my pee bottle year round. It is just nice not having to get out of the sleeping bag, no matter what time of year it is. In case you are wondering, for a pee bottle I use a 1.5L Nalgene collapsible wide mouth bottle. It is easy to store when it is empty, and easy to aim into.

As I was walking back, I noticed the skeleton of a dead deer.


It looks like it has been there as least since before the winter. A few more miles, and I was out of the forest and back at the car. Despite the fact that the warmer weather is attracting more people to the woods, by staying off trail the entire time, I managed to avoid all of them, which is my goal when I’m in the forest. As soon as my health recovers, I’ll try to plan some more challenging trips. Maybe I’ll give that Kaaterskill plane crash site another try.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Naked Castaway – A new Survival Show From the Discovery Channel

The Discovery Channel seems to love survival shows these days, as they are coming out with another one.


This new show is called Naked Castaway, and it premiers on April 14, 2013 at 10pm on the Discovery Channel (that’s this Sunday).

The star of the show is Ed Stafford. For those of you not familiar with him, in 2010, Ed Stafford became the first person to walk the entire length of the Amazon river, completing the trip in two years with the help of a local Gadiel Sanchez Rivera.

The premise of the show is that he will be left on an island in Fiji without any resources; literally naked. He will then attempt to survive there for 60 days. He will film the whole show himself, Survivorman style. It seems like an interesting idea. It is certainly doable on a tropical island, but despite the fact that Ed Stafford has earned his credentials as an explorer, I’m not sure what his skill level is when it comes to primitive technology. No matter, I look forward to the show.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The NY SAFE Act and Its Impact on Hunting Regulations in New York State

I realize that by virtue of the fact that the issue is limited to New York State, this post will have limited reach. I apologize for that, but it has been a big issue here in NY, so I wanted to address it. For those of you who have been following the issue, recently New York State passed a piece of legislation which limited certain gun use and possession. The legislation is called the NY SAFE (Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement) Act.

The act has been thoroughly criticized for being rushed through and very poorly thought out. As its claim to fame the act boasts to be the first such act since the recent mass shootings. I suppose the political brownie points that come with passing the first such act makes up for the fact that very little though was actually given to the provisions it contains. Since the passing of the act, Governor Cuomo has had to hold several press conferences stating that different parts of the act will not be enforced and will be suspended until they can be rewritten. I’ll discuss some of them in this post.


Before I get into the post, I want to point out two things that you should keep in mind while reading:

The first is that I am only discussing the NY SAFE Act in the context of how it effects hunting in New York State as this is an outdoor blog. There are other provisions of the act that may or may not effect you as a gun owner. Similarly, there are provisions that deal with reporting for mental health facilities, changes to the way gun dealers have to do background checks, etc. I will not focus on those parts of the act in any detail as they do not relate to hunting.

The second is that none of this should be construed to constitute legal advise. This is just my understanding of the provisions. I am in no way an expert or qualified to speak on the subject. If you have a question about the legality of your weapon, please contact an attorney in your jurisdiction. Also keep in mind that certain large cities like NYC have additional regulations, and most likely those regulations are already more restrictive than the ones in the NY SAFE Act.

The NY SAFE Act is a piece of legislation which serves to amend the gun control laws already in existence in New York State. The act contains thirteen provisions, ranging from increasing the penalties for shooting a first responder, to requiring you to report a lost gun within 24 hours. In my opinion there are two provisions which potentially effect a gun owner in the state who uses his guns for hunting.

Restriction of Magazine Capacity

The laws in New York State prior to the SAFE Act more or less followed the Clinton Assault Weapons Ban. Magazine capacity had been limited to 10 rounds, and older 30 round magazines were allowed to be in use. The NY SAFE Act bans all magazines with a capacity larger than 10 rounds, no matter when they were manufactured. The language of the act also prohibits the purchase and use of any magazines with a capacity of more than 7 rounds. 10 round magazines that were purchased prior to the act would be allowed to remain in use, but can only be loaded with 7 rounds.

Now, this is one of those provisions that was not thought out at all and was written by people who have never seen a gun. Shortly after Governor Cuomo signed the act into law, someone pulled him to the side and explained to him that there are virtually no 7 round magazines on the market. As a result, Governor Cuomo had to hold a press conference and state that this provision of the NY SAFE Act is suspended. Somehow in his mind that did not invalidate the provision, but rather made it into a new regulation where you can now purchase and own old and new 10 round magazines, but you can only load 7 rounds in them. I was skeptical of this, but on the New York State website, the change is clearly written. I took two screen shots which confirm this.



The second screen shot answers a question specific to the Ruger 10/22, one of the most popular .22 rimfire rifles, which has a 10 round magazine. The absurdity of rendering such a popular small game hunting gun inoperable by not allowing magazines for it to be purchased was too absurd, and necessitated the above change.

I should point out that the above capacity restriction does not apply to tube magazines for rimfire rifles. So if you have something like a Marlin XT-22 with a tube magazine, you can load more than 7 rounds.

As a side note, Governor Cuomo then had to hold a second press conference where he had to assure outraged police officers that the act will not apply to them. As it is written, the NY SAFE Act does not exempt NY police officers from the magazine capacity restrictions. This is clearly another absurd result of a poorly thought out and rushed piece of legislation.

So, how does this directly effect hunting in New York State? Well, in all honesty, it only effects you if you hunt with a .22 or .17 rimfire rifle. In New York State, all centerfire rifles are already limited in the number of rounds they can carry to 5 in a magazine plus 1 in the chamber for a total of 6 rounds. Shotguns, due to federal waterfowl regulations, are plugged so they can only hold a maximum of 3 rounds, 2 in the tube and 1 in the chamber. The only guns that were exempt from these regulations were .22 and .17 rimfire rifles. Technically, you could carry such rifles with higher magazine capacity. They are the only guns in the hunting context that are effected by the magazine capacity regulations of the SAFE Act.

To summarize, if you hunt with a centerfire rifle or a shotgun, the hunting regulations already limit the rounds to below what the NY SAFE Act requires. In that sense you should not be effected. If you hunt with a .22 or .17 rimfire rifle, then you will be effected in that you can only use a maximum 10 round magazine, and it can in turn only be loaded with 7 rounds.

Restriction of Assault Weapons 

So, what is an assault weapon? The reality is that an “assault” weapon is a weapon that a politician who has never held a gun would consider to look scary when he seen it in a catalog. As a result, the classification of assault weapons has very little to do with what a gun owner would consider an assault weapon. Be careful, you have to follow the regulations as they are written, even if they make no sense. As an example, let’s take a look at the picture below.


The picture shows two Ruger 10/22s, the rifle we were discussing earlier when talking about magazine capacity. The top rifle is the stock version of the Ruger 10/22, while the lower rifle has had several after market modifications. The second one is an assault weapon in New York State, but the first one is not. Why? If you guessed that it’s because of the addition of a heavier barrel or a high power scope, you would be a reasonable person, but you would be wrong, because you have failed to apply the “Does it look scary to a person who has never held a gun” test. The feature that actually makes the second rifle an assault weapon is the hole you see in the stock of the gun. Someone in the senate decided that if there is such a hole where you can put your thumb through the stock while holding the rifle, the whole gun becomes too “assaulty” for a civilian to own without registering it. The lesson-be careful. You have to follow the provisions even if they make no sense.

New York State had a definition for what would constitute an assault weapon prior to the SAFE Act.  NY state law used to define an "assault weapon" as:

Semi-automatic rifles able to accept detachable magazines and two or more of the following:

  • Folding or telescoping stock
  • Pistol grip
  • Bayonet mount
  • Flash suppressor, Muzzle brake, Muzzle compensator, or threaded barrel designed to accommodate one
  • Grenade launcher (more precisely, a muzzle device that enables launching or firing rifle grenades, though this applies only to muzzle mounted grenade launchers and not those mounted externally).
  • Thumbhole stock
  • Foregrip

Any revolving cylinder shotgun or any semi-automatic shotgun with two or more of the following:

  • Folding, telescoping or thumbhole stock
  • A second handgrip or a protruding grip that can be held by the non-trigger hand
  • Fixed capacity of more than 7 rounds
  • Ability to accept a detachable magazine

There are additional regulations that classify handguns as assault weapons, but I have left them out of this discussion.

The NY SAFE Act takes the above regulations which were already on the books and changes the requirement that a weapon has two or more of the above characteristics, into one or more of the above characteristics.

So, after the NY SAFE Act, a semi-automatic rifle or shotgun with one or more of the above features will be classified as an assault weapon. Let’s say as an example that you like to hunt rabbit with your Ruger 10/22. You had tricked it out with a collapsible stock so it is easier to carry on your pack. Well, that would have been legal before, but after the NY SAFE Act, if you don’t want your gun to be classified as an assault weapon you have to remove that collapsible stock.

The reality is that if you use a bolt action or single shot rifle, or a pump action or single shot shotgun, the assault weapons provision of the NY SAFE Act does not effect you. If you use a semi-automatic rifle, then it will effect you if your rifle or shotgun has one or more of the above features. The biggest impact will probably be on people who use .223 rounds for hunting coyote, as your gun is probably an AR 15 variant, which is likely to have at least one of the above features. Most stock .22 and .17 rifles should be fine, but if you have any aftermarket mods, they may fall into the above category. The features most likely to be an issue are collapsible stocks, thumbhole grips, and pistol grips. The fact is they looked scary to the senators. The restriction of grenade launchers, bayonets and silencers (not allowed for hunting in New York State) are unlikely to make much of a difference for a hunter, although you may have to make some modifications to remove features such as a bayonet lug. 

Now, if your gun is qualified as an assault weapon, you will have to register it within a year. I’m not sure what impact that would have. The most significant aspect seems to be that you can not transfer the gun to another owner within the state.

There are some other provisions, like requiring dealers to do background checks for ammunition sales which may make the checkout at Dicks even longer, and having to have all online ammunition purchases shipped to a licensed dealer, which is again a nuisance, but I believe the above two provisions to have the most direct impact on hunter in New York State. Again, if you are uncertain about a particular provision please contact an attorney in your jurisdiction.

General Provisions of the NY SAFE Act (thank you Wikipedia)

If you are curious, here is a general summery of the provisions of the NY SAFE Act:

  • Bans possession of any "high-capacity magazines" regardless of when they were made or sold. See discussion above.
  • Ammunition dealers are required to do background checks, similar to those for gun buyers. Dealers are required to report all sales, including amounts, to the state. Internet sales of ammunition are allowed, but the ammunition will have to be shipped to a licensed dealer in New York state for pickup. Ammunition background checks will begin January 15, 2014.
  • Requires creation of a registry of assault weapons. Those New Yorkers who already own such weapons would be required to register their guns with the state.
  • Requires designated mental health professionals who believe a mental health patient made a credible threat of harming others to report the threat to a mental health director, who would then have to report serious threats to the state Department of Criminal Justice Services. A patient's gun could be taken from him or her. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs has announced that it will refuse to comply with this provision.
  • Stolen guns are required be reported within 24 hours. Failure to report can result in a misdemeanor.
  • Reduces definition of "assault weapon" from two identified features to one. The sale and/or transfer of newly defined assault weapons is banned within the state, although sales out of state are permitted. Possession of the newly-defined assault weapons is allowed only if they were possessed at the time that the law was passed, and must be registered with the state within one year. See discussion above.
  • Requires background checks for all gun sales, including by private sellers - except for sales to members of the seller's immediate family. Private sale background checks will begin March 15, 2013.
  • Guns must be "safely stored" from any household member who has been convicted of a felony or domestic violence crime, has been involuntarily committed, or is currently under an order of protection. Unsafe storage of assault weapons is a misdemeanor.
  • Bans the Internet sale of assault weapons.
  • Increases sentences for gun crimes, including upgrading the offense for taking a gun on school property from a misdemeanor to a felony.
  • Increases penalties for shooting first responders (Webster provision) to life in prison without parole.
  • Limits the state records law to protect handgun owners from being identified publicly. However, existing permit holders have to opt into this provision by filing a form within 120 days of the law's enactment.
  • Requires pistol permit holders or owners of registered assault weapons to have them renewed at least every five years.
  • Allows law enforcement officials to preemptively seize a person's firearms without a warrant if they have probable cause the person may be mentally unstable or intends to use the weapons to commit a crime.

The full act is a convoluted mess, and unless you are accustomed to reading such documents it will take you some time to comb through it. You can find the full text online if you care. Again, if you are not sure about something, contact an attorney in your jurisdiction. You don’t want to be one of those test subjects for the new legislation. The above is just my overly simplistic take on that I have read and found from other sources.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Kovea Stoves Finally Introduced on the US Market

This past year you saw me do an initial and long term review of the Kovea Spider stove. Kovea is a Korean company, and until now, their products were not being directly sold in the US, despite the fact that Kovea does the manufacturing for many other, more well known brands like MSR. It was possible to buy directly from the Kovea eBay store, but you no longer need to do that.


Starting this month, at least one US distributor will be selling Kovea products, and hopefully with more to come. Currently, you can purchase the Kovea Spider from The Gear House. A few days ago they also had available the Kovea Alpine Pot stove, a Jetboil variant, but seems like they are already sold out. Hopefully that is a sign that the products are selling well and make it worth for Kovea to expand into the US market.

The reason I say that is because I have been very happy with the Kovea products I have tested, and in particular with the Spider stove. Kovea products also tend to be much more affordable than alternatives like MSR and Primus, without sacrificing quality. I hope to see more Kovea products on the US market soon.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Trip Report: Learning to Fly Fish 3/30/13

With trout season starting in April in my area, I’ve been trying to get some more skills when it comes to fishing. The reality is that my abilities in that department are disturbingly sub par. Recently I’ve decided to change that. Well, a friend of Mine, Rich (Mibuwulf as you may know him from Blades and Bushcraft) and I decided to spend the weekend doing some fishing. The plan was to go to Carmans river fish on Saturday, camp overnight, and do some more fishing on Sunday. Since the season would not start for two more days, we were going to catch and release only.

When we got together in the morning, Rich had decided that it was time for me to learn how to fly fish. While I have messed around with spin fishing before, I had never fly fished. Rich was a good teacher however, and once we got to the river, he quickly put me to work at a lower section of the river.



As Rich explained, in this area we have a self sustaining population of brook trout. The DEP also stocks rainbow and brown trout each year. In the early part of the day, we fished close to a dam where there was a large population of stocked rainbow trout. Pickings were easy.


Soon we were joined by two more friends.



After a while we decided to move up the river to look for more challenging populations of native brook trout.

On the way there were several pitcher plants. They are carnivorous, trapping insects in their pitcher shaped flowers and digesting them. I had no idea they could be found this far north. I always imagined they were a more tropical plant, but apparently not.



When we were traveling to our new location we spotted a swan which at first glance appeared to be dead. It was on its back and not moving. Upon a closer look though, it was alive, and apparently trapped in the underbrush. The guys got to work setting it free.


The swan had been trapped there for quite some time and had a very hard time walking once it was set free. We carried it to the river, where it started swimming. We didn’t see it dead for the rest of the day, so I assume it made it.


Once we reached the upper part of the river, Rich was able to locate a population of brook trout, and we were able to catch them quite successfully.



Unfortunately, we decided to call off our plans for overnighting. Both Rich and I were recovering from being sick this past week, and I in particular was not feeling well. We decided to pack up and go home. Not to worry, fishing is just starting for the year, so we’ll have plenty more opportunities. Big thanks to Rich for showing me the ropes. To see some awesome fly fishing in Patagonia, check out Rich’s YouTube channel here.