Métis Way of Life
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Métis Way of Life
All content, pictures, text, formats, etc is protected under copyright law.  ©  Arctic Toboggan 2010
Refinishing Oak Toboggans

Winter is just around the corner and it is time to get our toboggans and gear ready for the season.  Clever mushers will have summer-ized their toboggans, but the humidity of the summer can still cause some damage.  So here’s how to get the toboggan ready for the season. 

Bring the toboggan into a heated shop or into the house to dry for a couple of days.  If needed, lightly sand the bottom to get rid of any scratches and gouges.  Check the bolts to ensure they are tight, but do not over tighten. 

Wooden toboggans are traditionally waterproofed with linseed oil, and I have found that this is still the best product for the job.  Use a cloth or brush to apply a light coating of linseed oil, then air dry thoroughly.  After thoroughly dry, apply a second coat.  Make certain that the second coat is completely dry prior to taking the toboggan outside. 

The next step is to polish the bottom of your toboggan.  After the oil has dried, use an electric buffer to shine the bottom of the sled.  If there is snow on the ground, polishing can be accomplished quite easily by placing a large amount of weight in the sled and pulling it quickly behind a snowmobile down packed trails.  The fresh oil will make the toboggan quite difficult to pull at first, but will quickly polish up and will soon slide with very little effort.  If you live in a cold, dry climate, this should be sufficient for the season.  But if you live in a warmer climate where you are running often on wet snow, you may need to repeat this process mid-season.

Before storing your sled for the summer, it is a good idea to follow this same procedure.  If you follow these simple steps, your sled will last for generations, even if it is stored outdoors.
©  Arctic Toboggan September 23, 2010

Pemmican and Dry Meat

History tells us that a hundred years ago and more Pemmican was the common food for the trail for the Canadian Aboriginals and the Métis, though it was considered poor fare for anyone else.  Buffalo is a very tough meat and unless prepared properly it is almost inedible.  Pemmican was made by drying buffalo meat, then pounding it until it begins falling apart, then to keep it watertight it was covered in melted tallow.  The dry meat was then stuffed into a dry bag and sealed with even more tallow.  If kept mostly dry, the meat could last a month or more in the summer, and would last the entire winter.  After the majority of the bison were killed off, other meats were substituted with anything that they could get, deer, caribou, moose, beaver, rabbit, and fish. 

Today, instead of pounding the meat soft, it is common practice to put the tough meat through a grinder then press it flat and dry it.  Of course when spending winter in camp we don’t always have access to a grinder and have to revert to traditional methods.  My Métis family method is to take the meat off the bones in long muscles, put the meat outside in the winter, or in the freezer until it just barely begins to freeze.  This will break apart the grain and hold the meat stiff to cut evenly.  Cut the meat across the grain and marinade it in your flavouring of choice, then dry it high over the fire.  The partial freezing of the meat softens it, and the cutting across the grain makes the meat even easier to chew.  Adding a bit of melted lard with berries for flavouring isn’t necessary, but sure adds a lot of flavouring and energy for the cold weather.  These days there are many different types of water tight containers commercially available to keep the dry meat dry on almost any type of wilderness adventure. 
©  Arctic Toboggan September, 2010

A Rabbit Or Two For Breakfast

On most trips I pack all the food that I will need, but I do often take along a bit of snare wire and return to my youth and Métis heritage.  I like to find a campsite a couple of hours prior to sunset.  This gives me time to set up my camp, get supper cooking, and scout the area for wildlife and picture opportunities.  On such ventures I pay special attention to the local rabbit trails and set a couple of snares.  Rabbit is quite tasty and one of these days I will get around to posting my rabbit recipe, but for now this is how I snare the rabbits. 

My French ancestors came to Canada long before it was called Canada, and of course my aboriginal ancestors have been here long before that.  My Métis family settled and worked out of Nova Scotia, more specifically the Cape Bretton area.  The rabbits that inhabit the east coast are small and infest the coastline in masses.  They are easy to catch, but the techniques used to snare rabbits in the east do not work well on the taller hare species found here in the prairies, so I have had to make some adjustments in the snaring techniqes that I was taught.  And these are they.

First locate suitable rabbit or hare trails, then using simple brass or copper wire set the snare.  Now this sounds simplistic, but it is generally that simple.  Some points to note are exactly how and where to set the snare.  First, make the eyelet by making a small 2mm loop, then rolling the wire back around itself in a clovehitch formation.  Never twist the wire.  This will weaken the wire and may allow the breakfast menu to escape.  Second, make the loop at least 15cm in diametre, if not a little larger.  Third is the placement of the snare.  Rabbit feeding locations are quite easy to locate by all the droppings left behind and the trampled vegetation, but never place the snare at the feeding spots.  Follow the trails a few metres and find locations where the trail is going straight and there are clearly marked landing pads.  Place the snares directly over the landing pad, with the bottom of the loop at least 15cm above the ground.  It is best to find natural branches to anchor the snare to, as well as a natural funnel in the vegetation to reduce the chances of the rabbit seeing and avoiding the snare.  But if not available, just use a small stick to hold the snare at the proper height. 

Leave the snares alone and in the morning breakfast should be readily available. 
©  Arctic Toboggan August 14, 2010

How to build a campfire
Contributed by Will Jacobs

There are many types of campfires starting with the tepee style that they teach you in boy scouts, let me tell you that this does not work. I have tried it and the only way to get it to light properly is to soak it in gasoline!

The best way to start a fire is this;

1.Place two logs parallel to each other with enough space in between for the kindling (If it is windy you may need to place a third log at the ends of the first two to make a horseshoe facing away from the wind).

2.Place the kindling in between the logs (some of the best kindling is birch bark which lights better than paper and (white) pine gum which will burn and light other wood even in a light rain).

3.Place thin twigs (the bottom dead branches of evergreen trees work good) crosswise on the logs, then slightly thicker twigs running the same direction as the logs (if your wood is damp you should light the fire now and add the rest of the wood slowly so it has time to dry, to much wet wood will put your fire out).

4.Continue to place thicker and thicker sticks on the logs, first crosswise to the logs, then parallel, and so on until the fire has reached the desired size.

5.Start the fire.

6.Roast your hot dogs and marshmallows.
©  Arctic Toboggan August 5, 2010

What is the best way to tie your pack into the canoe, and should you?

Well, I prefer to always tie my gear into my canoe, but it really depends on the situation.  When paddling flat water, most people forgo tying their gear into the boat.  If paddling fast water many people tie their packs in, then if the boat flips, it will fill with water and sink with all the gear together.  Though some people prefer to leave the gear loose on fast water, then if they should dump, they love to spend the next several days searching the banks for their gear. 

My personal preference is to tie my packs in no matter what water I am paddling.  I have a long bowline with a float attached and when I dump, the float comes to the surface and I just retrieve it and haul my canoe out. 

When paddling solo, I like to tie my pack in the proper position to balance the canoe, depending on the wind and water conditions.  For example, paddling down wind, weight the canoe further back to lift the bow just slightly.  Vice versa, when paddling into the wind, move the weight slightly forward, but just slightly. 

One thing to remember is that bungee cords and rubber straps are fine for the weekend paddler who loves to take short trips on calm water, but they stretch and loosen over time and rough water, so they are the wrong things to choose for tying things down on longer trips with wind or fast water. 
©  Arctic Toboggan July 29, 2010

How can I get my dogs to stop chewing on their harnesses?

Lots of early training when the dog is still a puppy is my prefered method, but if you have an older dog that gets very excited and chews out of excitement or frustration, then I like to use an old and reliable method.  It is really very simple, but not too popular these days because of the smell.  Just take an old harness and soak it for a day in kerosene.  Then put the harness on the chewing dog and take the dog for a walk.  Upon return from the walk, let the dog run around by itself in the exercise pen for a while, but keep an eye on it.  When the dog attempts to chew on the harness, the trainer should walk into it's line of sight but not directly toward the dog.  This interuption in the dog's thinking will give the kerosene taste time to work it's wonders.  Kerosene in quite unpaletable to a dog and is quite effective at deterring chewing.  The kerosene soaked harness should be left on the dog for a few supervised hours.  This process repeated a few times works wonders.  Just make certain that you do not bring the harness or dog close to the campfire. 

A side benefit is that a harness soaked in kerosene and allowed to dry, will not collect melted snow or freeze in the winter, but will remain plyable and comfortable for the dog. 
©  Arctic Toboggan July 16, 2010

With all the rain in the Prairies this year, how do you keep your electronic gear dry?

Anyone keeping an eye on the weather patterns throughout the Canadian Prairies this year will quickly take note of the more than average rainfall.  Towns are being flooded, people relocated, and highways shut down. 

The upside to all this rain is that the rivers are full to overflowing and there is plenty of room to get out paddling.  High water levels are times of great excitement for me.  Time to take a trip down memory lane and take an easy sojourn down the river.  I love reliving those Huckleberry days gone by where life was stress free and easy going.  Then “beep, beep, beep,…” nothing ruins the peaceful glory of a wilderness river like a cell phone chirping the latest chart topping caterwauling.  Although it is kind of funny when ten fishermen turn to cuss out the ignorant “city boy” who wasn’t clued in enough to turn his phone to vibrate only. 

These days, for safety reasons, most outdoors people do carry a few pieces of modern technical gadgetry.  The challenging part is keeping it dry and safe.  Myself, I use a variety of dry packs and watertight boxes.  Many people seem to like the Pelican boxes, but I have had them leak all too often.  They are guaranteed not to leak, but that guarantee does very little for you when you are stranded on an island somewhere because your satellite phone is drenched.  I find that the Plano boxes work just as good and better, and at a fraction of the cost. 

Dry bags from top of the line name brands may be nice to have for a status symbol, but in reality most high priced name brands work no better than the less expensive versions.  When ever I am tempted to purchase a more expensive name brand, I keep in mind the axiom, that the more I spend on status, the less I have to spend on fun.  But when I do find a good product, I stick with it no matter the cost.  But back to the question. 

I pack light when I head out on the river in the summer, or the trail during the winter.  I usually carry two bags, my main bag being an internal frame, ripstop cordura back pack where most of my gear is stored.  The second being a very small day pack, in which I have my camera, GPS, cell/sat phone, snacks, etc.  Both are lined with an inexpensive dry sacks that keep my gear completely dry, even if I am pushing my luck and dump in a storm, I can still fish out my packs and find everything dry. 

©  Arctic Toboggan July 5, 2010
Strait From the Dog's Mouth

"Always be a contributing member of the team.  Don’t just stand on the runners ... get off and run."
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