Believer in One forever, married to one ever, father of four, father-in-law of two, grandfather of six, father-in-the-faith of several, mentor to many.
THE RIGHT STUFF
Loving the outdoors is a legacy passed down from my grandfather (the last of the Appalachian mountain men, in my opinion), to my father, to me, and now to my own sons, grandsons, and sons in the faith. I should also include my daughters and granddaughters. And to be clear, my sons and daughters include my in-law children because they are like a son and a daughter to me.
I want to pass along the right stuff, not tree-hugger-do-gooder issues, or comical fabrications about the meteorological state of the global, or environmental whack-a-doodle rubbish, or sociopathetic* prepper-hoarder idiocy. I want my boys to be men, my girls to be women, my friends to be loyal, and my professional acquaintances to be honest. I’ve no time for political correctness or pretentious courage of someone else’s conviction (you’ll not find either in Grit with Grace). Most of all, I want Jesus to be exalted. And I’m pretty sure my right stuff does that.
The outdoors is a big place and much of anyone’s right stuff can get lost there. I haven’t been everywhere outdoors but in the small corners I’ve gone I’ve tried to make a difference. For example, I’ve taken my boys deep underground on a six mile wild cave excursion in Mammoth Cave. At the time it was their first and my fourth, or fifth, I lost count. They were my son Kyle, son-in-law Dusty, nephew Luke, nephew Matthew, nephew-in-law Matt, and son-in-the-faith Jared. I showed them scallops carved in the hard rock of the cave walls which geologists theorize were caused by fast moving water flowing through the cave system. The truth is, the feature is perfectly explained by the Great Flood in Genesis 7:11: “All the fountains of the deep were broken up.” Even in the depths of the earth on the rock-hard walls of cave passages does the depth of Scripture passages come alive. It’s the right kind of stuff to pass along the right way.
I’ve visited state and national parks in nearly all 50 states, rock climbed in wilderness areas, hiked through famous gaps and to infamous heights, hunted rabbits with my dad along countryside railroad tracks, hunted fossils, watched my and Jared’s breath rise in steamy vapor and fall as miniature snowflakes in a Midwest deer blind in sub-zero temperatures, seen deer chasing bobcats (Jared was with me then, too), fished trout streams and walleye lakes and catfish backwaters, found myself smack-dab in the path of loping moose and walking elk and galloping deer, stalked black bear in thickets much too close for comfort and in open brush close enough to shoot with my .30/30, waded up to my neck in frog and turtle and snake and leech invested waters, listened to coyotes howl during overnight open air sleep outs on forest ridges with my son Kyle, traded guns and knives (Kyle was with me then, too, more often than not on the receiving end of the better trades), throwed knives and axes (again, with Kyle at my side, and almost as good as me), tro’d bison and deer, introduced orienteering to a college physical education class, orienteered the geographic center of hilly and wooded terrain, sheltered overnight in an abandoned pigpen to avoid an unrelenting storm, helped put out wildfires, caught waterworms and mudpuppies in Appalachian streams, drank nightcrawler coffee, ate raw beavertail, built a log cabin with an axe and saw and froe, stood in the shadow of a rare full solar eclipse with my sons in the faith Matthew and Daniel, shafted arrows, fought off wild dogs, trained hunting dogs, preached at campfire worship in the Sawtooth Mountains, weathered blizzard and sandstorm in the same day, climbed up after treed raccoons, prepared meals in a chuck wagon, rescued drowning people, came to the rescue of people freezing to death, applied emergency medical treatment to many others, walked the moonlit path of western canyons with my wife, totaled a fiberglass canoe in whitewater, built my own fishing rods and bows and arrows and muzzleloaders and knives, rebuilt many firearms, wildcatted cartridges, designed my own wildcat cartridge, bench rest shot with everything from .22 Hornet to .458 Winchester Magnum, kept copperheads as pets and black rat snakes as nature center specimens (my sick-minded staff enjoyed being “witnesses to the execution” when we fed the snakes live meals), collected Native American artifacts from ancient settlements, learned to swim in Lake Erie, dipped my feet in all five Great Lakes, and skinny dipped in thirteen states (but who’s counting?). And much more.
So I think I can safely say that my small corners of the outdoors make up a multifaceted experience, and I’m grateful to God for having the health and opportunities to enjoy so much at so many places in North America. It’s the right stuff for me.
I’m not a professional at any of these things but if these experiences, and a master’s degree in outdoor recreation, add up to anything, then I suppose that I at least have a professional insight on some things. Here are a few I count among my right stuff:
MY FIRST KILLS
I’m told by my mother that I was a preschooler when this happened: Apparently, to fend off a chicken that was pecking at my toes for more food that I was too slow in shucking out, I threw the cob of dried corn at it and killed it instantly. For what it’s worth, my first official kill in Alaska was a mosquito. Really.
.400 PRAIRIE FIRE
I am the creator, sole researcher, and developer of the .400 Prairie Fire wildcat cartridge, regardless of the few who say they contributed in some way, and in spite of the “professional” who poo-pooed it. To be clear, nobody helped nor was any others’ aid sought except my gunsmith. Nobody. I’m fed up with braggadocios arm chair reloaders, thieving gun writers, and rude competitors – all with whom I, of a fact, had to contend. I’ve kept all of my notes, receipts, and correspondence should any of these want to dispute with me. I have four guns chambered for the .400 PF: three Thompson Center Contenders (14″ barrels, one of which was stolen in a conniving way along with a fine Redfield 2x EER scope and a box of my ammo), and a Marlin Md. 336 rifle with a 22″ barrel, which I rebuilt from its original .35 Remington chambering. Both the handgun and rifle versions have been used successfully for hunting many deer and coyote. I’ve never recovered a bullet from any animal, mainly because pass-through shots are the norm, as is one shot one kill. Imagine .40 caliber bullets weighing 200 to 260 grains travelling well over 2000 fps arriving at the target with precise accuracy (one shot from the Marlin was at 220 yards). I’ll not bore you with details but would love to discuss it with those of you who know what you’re talking about or want to learn. However, if you want to criticize or coopt it, stand in line. It’ll be a long wait though.
MINIMUM OUTDOOR ACCOUTREMENTS
If you were to ask me the three items you should always have outdoors (and yes, I’ve been asked), I’d recommend a knife, a sarong, and a water bottle. But don’t forget cordage, fire-making, and Bible. A flashlight might be handy, too, but God’s Word is all the Light you need. As for the knife, go with the best you can afford. I like 1095 carbon steel, and in stainless I like Cold Steel’s AUS8A, Buck’s 420HC or S30V, Mora Knives, and premium D2, though this latter is really semi-stainless. Just make sure you’re getting a great knife, not some China made piece of garbage. Fixed or folder is a personal preference, maybe carry one of each; just learn to use them safely and to sharpen them correctly. As for the sarong, I can list nearly 100 uses for one. Don’t leave home without it. And as for a water bottle, get one that is comfortable to carry slung. I like bota style bottles. Bota of Boulder made the best but they’re sadly out of business. No worries for me as I have several of them.
If you were to ask me the one firearm I would have in my possession above all others (and yes, I’ve been asked this, too), my answer is a sturdy, reliably repeating .22 rimfire rifle. With just a little practice, a man can do nearly everything he needs to do with this one gun. My choice is a Marlin Model 60 stainless steel rifle with a decent scope (but also equipped with open-sights). I might opt for my vintage Remington Model 12 with Lyman R12 aperture sight because it is tried and tested. Anyway, get your preferred action, either autoloader, lever action, or bolt action. Ammo is affordable and a bulk supply can be stored in a small space. Need something bigger as your only firearm? Just get a good shotgun in an action of your preference. Want a handgun as your only firearm? First of all, why? A long arm is more practical. Then again, it all depends on your need should you ever be limited to just one gun. But a good .22 rifle or a good shotgun makes the best one gun battery… or maybe just a .30/30 carbine. Just get what you can shoot well in most applications, even if it is a handgun.
If you were to ask me the most important skills every man should know, here are some suggestions, in no particular order:
- Learn to build a fire without matches or strikers, but start with those.
- Know the edible wild plants indigenous to your area and the area you visit.
- Learn how to properly sharpen a knife on a whetstone and steel. Forget those crummy ceramic sticks, and please don’t use a grinder unless you are reshaping the edge. Even then, learn how to do it correctly.
- Learn orienteering (compass, maps, and navigation) – the real stuff that doesn’t depend on technology.
- Know how to plug a punctured tire.
- Practice fasting. It’s a notable spiritual discipline as well as a practical physical discipline in the event of lean times like a weather emergency, outdoor crisis, unexpected travel, health crisis (“nothing after midnight”), pandemic, etc.
- Learn how to approximate the time of day by the sun’s position in the sky or even by the amount of ambient light (or darkness). Likewise, learn to read the phases of the moon.
- Know and practice the many uses of a sarong (a real man’s sarong like that used by manly men in Asia and the Pacific Islands, and other parts of the world). What in the world? A sarong? Do your research.
- Know how to handle yourself around water: swim, rescue, fish, boat, purify, etc.
- Learn to tie and untie as many kinds of knots as you can.
- BONUS: Use your brain.
What’s right for me is not necessarily right for you. So whatever your right stuff is, use it rightly and pass it along. As you read on, you are about to embark on the “tip of the iceberg” of the right stuff I want to pass to others, most especially to my children, grandchildren, and children in the faith. Read it for what it is and for what it is worth.
I do it all with grit, yet with grace.
* Fair warning: I tend to make up words to fit a descriptive clause, no offense to Daniel Webster. But if Shakespeare can do it, anyone can (and yes, I’ve read Shakespeare the Ink Slinger).
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