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by Seth Recarde

During a class, we always hear the same questions about practice: "What skills should I practice first?" "How am I going to find the time to master even one skill?" "Do I need to quit my job and go live in the woods in order to be good at this?" You need to take it one step at a time.

Start simple. Pick a skill that gets you excited. Do some research and find out as much as you can about that one skill. If it is something like fire or rockwork, gather materials and set up a place to work. If it is something like shelter or stalking, go out and find an area which is best suited for that skill. At first, you should work with the best materials you can get, or the most ideal location for a shelter, etc. This will keep you from being over-whelmed by all the variables and variations of that skill. It will also keep you feeling positive about your abilities by giving you good results quickly.

Once you feel confident using the best materials, conditions, etc. then begin to make it more difficult by varying one aspect of that skill. For example, if you can get fire consistently using cedar: now try using a wood that is similar, but slightly harder (like sassafras, or poplar). Keep all the other variables the same. When you master the new variable, change one more thing. Continue doing this until you cannot come up with any more variables. When you practice in this way, you build a base of knowledge to which you can add more details whenever you have the time and motivation.

If your goal is something broad like full survival living, develop a solid base in each of the basic skills. Then try a few days of survival and take note of the variations you encounter. Go back and practice these variations. Then go out for a few more days etc. Continue this process until you reach the level of skill that you desire.

I know it sounds like it is going to take a lot of time, and it will, but not as much as you think. It all depends on how well you use your time. Everyone can find a few minutes here, or an hour there, to practice something, anything. Do not get caught in that mental trap that says, "I only have ( 10, 20, 30) minutes, that's not enough time." It is. Take fifteen minutes of your lunch break to carve a trap, twist some cordage, etc. Do not feel like you need to finish it right then. Just do what you can, when you can. All those little things will add up and before you know it, you will have it mastered.

Here is a good way to start using this method of practice: Every day you come home from work, put down your things and grab your bow drill. Do not wander around the house first. Do not change your clothes. Do not get a drink. The first thing you do when you walk in the door is grab that bow drill. Set it up and try to get two coals. It is not important if you are successful or not. Run that bow drill twice and then put it away. It will take no more than fifteen minutes. After a week or two, you will find that you are getting coals on a regular basis. Then make up a few bow drill sets of different woods. Try a different one each day. Make one with a thick spindle, one with a thin spindle, a thick board, a thin board, a short bow, a long bow, etc. Try a different one each week. Before you know it, you will be able to pick up any bow drill and start a fire, no sweat. You will also notice that you do not have to make a big effort to go practice. No planning. No trying to squeeze it in somewhere. No big deal. Keep your practice simple and make it fun. Good luck.

From True Tracks, Winter-Spring 1996, published by the Tracker School.
For more articles from True Tracks, visit the Tracker Trail website.