Bushcraft and survival skills are best learned in the presence of those who know them already and are willing to share their knowledge. Granted, there are many books with incredible information and countless YouTube videos featuring bushcraft tutorials but the no video or book can replace hands-on instruction. Bushcrafting is a passion and it seems as soon as someone learns a skill, they want to show it off. How many times have you seen someone post a picture of something they carved, built or tied? With this in mind, I decided to create an event for former students of mine as well as newcomers in the Spring of 2017.
Held on the private property of Estela Wilderness Education graduate Steve Goodwin from March 31st to April 2nd, the Connecticut Bushcraft Gathering was ideally situated just outside Hartford and located approximately mid-distance between two very large metropolitan centers, New York and Boston. The event was free of charge but participants were encouraged to make a $25 donation to a charity (more on this later). The property where this event was held included a small grove of pine trees, a large open field, a 200 year old barn, a couple small ponds and overall was/is an ideal setting to learn traditional skills and accommodate the 20 plus folks who turned out. There easily could have been many more with the amount of room we had to play with.
During the Connecticut Bushcraft Gathering, participants arrived and set up on Friday night. Shelters were mixed with a combination of hammocks and traditional tents. That first night wasn’t about learning skills but instead was focused on building the group. The weather prevented the group from venturing too far from the shelters set up but attendees were able to meet and greet each other and show-and-tell the gear they brought. There may have been some light drinking and cigar smoking or there may not have been that. One aspect is certain, those in attendance were excited to be there and thoughts of their lives away from the camp were few and far between.
The next morning, attendees fixed their own breakfasts (as with all other meals that weekend) and the instruction started. Loosely based on the Budget Bushcraft course I offer, we covered everything from fire-starting to knife use, shelter building to pioneer lashing, traditional skills and survival skills. EWE Associate Instructor Ben LeGrande traveled quite a distance to help spread his knowledge. He helped teach the various topics and demonstrated how to build alcohol backpacking stoves. Even though the event was based on bushcraft, there were great discussions about preparedness, combatives, and modern survival. Throughout the day, attendees not only had the opportunity to learn skills, they could also use throwing knives, play with atlatls, bows and arrows and staff slings. Pizza was ordered and the hot food brought in boosted everyone’s spirits even if the wind, rain and sleet tried to pull it away.
Perhaps the highest point of the weekend for most, (definitely for me) was handing over the charity earnings to the recipient. While the attendees were informed of the real charity, the recipient was not and he was under the impression the funds raised were to be directed to my charity fund, the Estela Wilderness Education Fund. The recipient, a young man named “Brett” who I’ve known since he was 12, was raising money to help offset the cost of his church’s mission trip to Haiti. Over the years Brett has joined his father on many EWE camping trips and we’ve watched him grow up to be a good guy. After I learned about the trip he will do this August, I knew I could organize a group effort to help him along the way. After participants were patched with Estela Wilderness Education burning star patches, Brett was asked to read a letter in front of the group and he could not finish it as he was brought to tears when he realized the $1750 raised was for his mission. Even folks who could not attend the event sent in their donations for the cause. Brett was moved, as we all were (some of us even cried, and thanked everyone personally.
After the announcement, participants continued to work with pioneer lashing and building tripods. Ben LeGrande ran our “chance giveaway” and everyone left with a prize. More light drinking may or may not have taken place and everyone turned in for the night. The next morning, the group learned about pine pitch glue sticks and flint and steel fire starting. Just as a handful of people were about to leave, Steve broke out his 12 gauge and let anyone who wanted to try to shoot it take out some bowling pins he had staged. Shooting guns is part of bushcraft right? Even if it is not, it is fun and it put a smile on everyone’s face. The remaining attendees played with hobo fishing and slowly gathered their belongings before departing. Even though the group wasn’t given the best weather for the first half of the weekend, there was perfect weather for the drive home.
Given the success of the Connecticut Bushcraft Gathering, there will definitely be a 2nd annual event with a different charity or cause benefitting from it. Bushcraft on its own is a great reason to organize a rendezvous event let alone helping a charitable cause. My sincere thanks again to Steve Goodwin, Lena Knowles, Ben LeGrande, the sponsors who donated prizes, attendees who donated their time and money as well as everyone who kept the surprise under wraps. Bushcraft skills are truly enjoyable but sharing them is even more so.
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Kevin Estela is a Survival Instructor at Estela Wilderness Education. Kevin is a frequent contributing writer for publications such as RECOIL, Athlon Outdoors, and Beckett Media. He is a Sayoc Kali Associate Instructor Level 5, as well as a BJJ Purple Belt.