Fate set me down at an office desk. Tis here you must toil said she. Four walls shall compass you day by day. The bore shall beset your weary way, and thus it must ever be.
But fortune brought me a dog and gun, a rod and a book of flies. And gave me a day to follow the trail, by river and field and wooded vale, where the land that God made lies.
And thus through Fortune I laugh at fate, at office desks and at bores, for while I tread my four walled mill, the other man in me lingers still, in my part of God's outdoors.
The ART of Alaskan Survival
Living a real surivial or subsistence lifestyle in the Alaskan bush is a much different undertaking than many would believe and reality TV shows depict. Native Alaskan Indians and Eskimoe's call it "living off the country". Today some call it living off the grid. Real facts are that is takes a lot more skill to really do it than many would believe, especially in far Northern Alaska or the Great North woods of Interior Alaska and Canada.
Many think of a version of Jed Clampett of the old TV show the Beverly Hillbillys, where old Jed is " shootin' at some food "and up comes an oil fortune. Facts are that in Alaska and the North in general with it's vast distance and very spread out game animals, a fortune in game, or oil for that matter, does not make much of an appearance often.
Having a big safe full of guns and hunting a few times a year will not assure you that as the song says " a country boy can survive". Indeed, believe it or not, you will be too busy surviving, doing chores and building, to be able to spend that much time hunting. You also will not have a wage job and be able to purchase the big powerful boats, snowmobiles and ATV's that make it easy for many to hunt remote areas simply by taking a leisurely ride in said machines.
In most places in the North, snares, traps and nets will bring in the lions share of game animals and fish and many animals that might not quite be considered game. Big game and those tasty steaks and chops will probably be absent for much of the year or not available at all. In some remote areas this cycle of scarcity may last decades. This is why most Native villages that were permanent were situated near reliable Salmon rivers. In the North and in the bush, one of your more common meats will be the lowly and humble rabbit or hare, more often caught in a wire snare rather than shot.
A common item next on the back of beyond menu may be fried squirrel, or perhaps muskrats or beaver. Again, many times these animals are not shot but trapped. The intrepid porcupine can make a fine meal and is a favorite of the old time bush Indians. In Northern Canada the porky is protected as it is a slow animal than can be caught and killed with a stick in an emergency. Other small game to round out the wilderness menu could include waterfowl and other flying birds like ruffed grouse or spruce hens.
Living without electricity is no problem for those dedicated to the proposition of the survival game. My first summer in Alaska, I spent the day commercial and subsistrence fishing while building a cabin at night under the midnight sun. Skills needed include carpentry/wood craft, mechanics, and common sense.
Real harsh Alaska is North of the Alaska Range where there is a long period of intense cold. Everything changes here. This is not sunny Southcentral or Southeast Alaska. At still weather, below 40 degrees frost, and lower, metal, wood and fiber take on a different character, usually of the brittle, hard or stiff kind.
At the lower temps, machines are very hard or almost impossible to start. Guns will not work properly, Wood snaps easy and breaks. Changes also occur in your mental attitude. It is harder to get motivated and maybe your blood and brain gets a little stiff and frosty too. Thoughts crossing your bow near the high peaks and crests of the white silence may include why am I here anyway. After all, it is a personal choice, I don't have to be doing this, or so says the ghostly apparition of cabin fever.
Huge amounts of wood fuel are needed, especially when you are required to have up to five fires at 50 below zero for 2 wood heaters in the main cabin and a wood cook stove, another wood heater in the workshop and another fire for cooking dog food for a dog team, if you have one. You will spend considerable time cutting wood, but hell, it's fun, or it better be if you are to make it back of beyond.
My family years ago pulled a years food supply up the Alaska Highway because we knew that would be needed in the Alaskan bush. A back of beyonder will be eating a lot of dry beans, oatmeal, rice and flour. Providing meat everyday of the year is seldom possible, especially for a family. The skills required to be a truly proficient trapper, snare and net person are not learned overnight. Preparing and skinning the meat takes a considerable amount of time, along with all else that must be done in the far lonely places.
Three traits that make for a bushman or women are as follows: An individualist is the most important as there will be plenty of time not spent around other people. A non-materialist as your set of priorities will or at least should be different than a person that runs their life on material things and the yearning for such. A sparten, which is part of the non-materialist mind set. This means that you are capable of, and desire to live simply. You do and are these things not because you must, but because you want to. These three above traits will automatically rule out many who think that they can hack it in the wild lands.
Some may envision that living off the country will leave you plenty of leisure time to "lay around the shack til' the mail train comes back" as an old country song states. This simply is not true most of the time, unless you are cabin bound in the winter in a blizzard. The more successful one is at in this endeavor, usually the more highly organized one is. This living is not an excuse to be sloppy, junk up the landscape with trash and old cars and the general sordid confusion you may see in some rural country climes.
No, you will need to be one the ball at all times and be ready for every emergency and contingencey that may come your way, when it is least expected! You won't be hot footing boats and snow-machines either if you are smart, because they are much harder to repair here.
Limited tools, spare parts and such are the facts. You will learn to baby these machines and keep them running perfectly as they are critcle to travel when you may really need it and are of utmost importance and a kind of luxury. Remember, for most folks in the Alaskan bush country money is more scarce than animal protein.
Calculated risk is paramount when living in the far places of the North. Every decision could be a life or death matter. Most of the time you are alone. Remote traplines can be fraught with various real dangers at below 0 frost. On some of the so called reality shows about trapping in the North, the directors urge the actors to give out shouts of ye-haw and high five hand slapping as if the actors are TV cowboys or modern urban trendies.
In real life the senario is much more somber most of the time.
Reality dictates that most often you will be by yourself and you must truly be self-sufficient. You will be toiling and traveling where few have the urge to venture. Silence and self-reflection are the norm. Most will find that in point of fact, in the end, you are not that independent, but actually reliant on the outside world in many ways. This is one of the paradox of bush living. Out of a North American population of close to 350 million, only a handful live in the Far North bush lands. You really will be literally one in a million, a real pilgrim of the wild, but few will know it...or care.
by Mike Robinson