DAY-LONG DEMOS

Showcasing decades of combined blacksmithing skills are Brent Cole, Farwell; Steve Neumann, Saginaw; and David McConnell, Kalkaska, pictured here from left. Scheduled blacksmithing demonstrations were held on both Saturday and Sunday, but the presenters also exhibited their talents periodically throughout the course of the weekend for passersby.

OSCODA – Following nearly a week of gray skies and rain, there was a break in the weather just in time for the numerous outdoor activities held this weekend at Lumberman’s Monument in Oscoda.

The second annual Michigan Bushcraft Spring Gathering began with a community bonfire and meet-and-greet on Friday, May 3, with a series of presentations and other events taking place during the remainder of the weekend.

“What a great bunch,” expressed event coordinator Charles Oncina, on day two of the festivities.

PLENTIFUL PRIZES

Michigan Bushcraft Spring Gathering coordinator Charles Oncina was all smiles while handing out free prizes to guests. The items, donated by a number of different businesses, included such goodies as compasses, DVDs, magazines, knives, hatchets, T-shirts and trail cameras.

He had nothing but praises for the Bushcraft sponsors, presenters and attendees, adding that he was approached by multiple people who are already interested in getting involved in the next gathering.

Oncina said the turnout this year surpassed that of the inaugural event in 2018, and that he expects an even bigger and better spring gathering next year.

The rapidly growing popularity of the event was clear this past weekend, as organizers expanded the presentations to two days instead of one.

RETURN VISITOR

Dominic Grace, 8, Grosse Ile, is guided by U.S. Forest Service personnel as he gives atlatl throwing a try. Grace attended the inaugural Bushcraft event in Oscoda last year, and he was again joined by his family in 2019 for a full weekend of fun, which included camping in the area.

Additionally, there were some familiar faces from the premiere gathering, including Dominic Grace, 8, Grosse Ile. He was joined by several family members, and the group spent the whole weekend camping in Oscoda.

As reported, they came to the area last year just for the Bushcraft activities, and they decided to make a weekend out of it by camping, fishing and exploring the other outdoor offerings in Oscoda.

INS AND OUTS

Paul Becigneul, Avoca, shared photos of some of his catches, as well as the various items he uses when fly fishing. A lesson on the ins and outs of the sport was provided by Becigneul during the second annual Michigan Bushcraft Spring Gathering.

“We’ve made it a family thing,” shared Dominic’s dad, Jason Grace, of the gathering.

When arriving at Lumberman’s Monument on Saturday, the venue was flooded with the blended sounds of blacksmith hammers, birds chirping, axes swinging and event goers chatting about the programs at hand.

Lessons and demonstrations on a host of topics were shared with attendees – with the headline presenters being Brooke and Dave Whipple, from the History Channel television program, “Alone.”

They shared stories of their experiences on the show, for which competitors may take 10 items with them to a remote location as they attempt to survive for as long as possible, without tapping out.

ADAPTABILITY ADVOCATES

Husband and wife team Dave and Brooke Whipple, who appeared on the History Channel show “Alone,” were the headline presenters at the gathering. Here, they share their experiences of living off the land while competing on the program, and point out that the ability to adapt is paramount when trying to survive in the outdoors.

The Whipples appeared together on season four, which was filmed on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, and Brooke later returned to appear on season five in Mongolia.

While they didn’t win the $500,000 prize during the challenges, Brooke made it through nearly a month in Mongolia, and she and Dave survived for seven weeks together on Vancouver Island.

With their food supply dwindling and both of them losing a significant amount of weight, they say “Alone” representatives told the couple they would have pulled Brooke from the contest at that time anyway, due to her weight loss.

One point the husband and wife team stressed to the Bushcrafters was that anyone attempting to live off the land or survive outdoors for a period of time must be able to adapt, be inventive and prepare for things to not always go as envisioned.

NEARING COMPLETION

Brooke Whipple, star of History Channel’s “Alone,” provides a shelter building demonstration in the Huron National Forest at Lumberman’s Monument. The shelter shown here is nearly complete, and Whipple invited event goers to try their hand at finishing the structure.

As Dave noted, until someone is actually in such a situation, they never really know what to expect.

This is why he and Brooke also said that the best way to prepare oneself for a journey into the wilderness is through real-life practice. They encouraged the adventurous at heart to try some solo camping in the woods, even for just a few days.

“It changes the way you look at everything after that,” Dave said, adding that it is a life-altering experience.

Brooke said that not everything can be learned from books or television shows, so it is crucial that people actually go out and challenge themselves, in order to gain true experience.

In addition to her talks about “Alone,” Brooke also provided Bushcraft visitors with a lesson on shelter building.

Participants joined her for a quick hike into the woods to learn about creating a shelter from forest debris. Brooke said these make for a warm place to bunk down, while also providing a sense of security to help with the mental boost that many people require when they are alone in the outdoors.

“Let’s be honest – they’re like grown-up forts,” she said, generating laughs from the crowd. “They’re so much fun to build.”

According to Brooke, essentially no tools are needed to construct a debris shelter, there is no wrong way to build one and they can be made by those of all ages.

She shared tips on how to make such structures warmer – as well as what materials people should particularly be on the lookout for – prior to inviting the audience to get hands-on and help her complete the shelter she had started earlier that day.

Brooke was among a number of various presenters who took part in the spring gathering over the course of the weekend. Other activities included tours of Lumberman’s Monument from U.S. Forest Service (USFS) personnel; a talk on foraging for wild edibles; blacksmithing demonstrations; discussions on ax safety; a plant walk; campsite/shelter tours of the primitive areas in the Huron National Forest; lessons on cold weather gear; an interactive atlatl/spear-thrower exhibit, courtesy of the USFS; and a presentation on trapping, by John Chagnon of Michigan Woods-N-Water News.

An introduction to fly fishing was also offered on Saturday by Paul Becigneul. The sport was elaborated on further the following day, by Wayne Castor, with his talk on fly fishing ecology.

“The initial hit is just amazing,” described Avoca resident Becigneul, of the feeling when a fish takes the bait.

He gave a number of pointers to the audience, including information on fly fishing gear, as well as a few hot spots where anglers can reel in a big catch.

Also sharing their expertise with event goers were Jeffy Geer and Ben Piersma, who held a fire skills demonstration.

FIRED UP

Ben Piersma, of Ben’s Backwoods, shows how quickly a fire can be started after carving a feather stick. He was joined for the fire skills demonstration by fellow expert Jeffy Geer. The duo encouraged audience participation, as they taught several techniques for starting a fire with the items one may be surrounded by in the wilderness.

They explained methods for generating a flame, even from icy, wet trees; gave suggestions on the type of bark that should be sought out; explained ways to obtain resin from pine trees to bolster one’s fire building efforts; and talked about how to carve feather sticks, which Piersma said are great for starting a fire.

LAID-BACK

Jeffy Geer, second from left, gave a campsite/shelter tour in the primitive areas of the Huron National Forest on Saturday. As seen here, participants happily took turns stretching out in the covered hammocks that were stationed throughout the property.

Everyone who attended this activity had a chance to put their newly learned skills to use and see if they could spark a flame with the materials at hand.

STEP BY STEP

Tim Parsell, of Parsell Artisan Works, shows the crowd how to hone their handle carving skills for axes. Here, he demonstrates some of the steps for creating one’s own handle, which first entails figuring out a profile and beginning the shaping process. 

Another exhibit which drew in a large crowd was the ax handle carving demonstration by Tim Parsell, who owns Parsell Artisan Works with his wife, Kayla.

From the very beginning steps – starting with just a log – to the finished product, Parsell walked the audience through each task of carving one’s own handle. Further, he shared tips on maintaining these tools, replacing ax heads on broken handles and more.

Aside from the presentations, loads of free prizes were handed out to some lucky winners during the gathering, at the top of every hour. These ranged from magazines, DVDs, T-shirts and coffee mugs, to knives, hatchets, trail cameras, compasses and other goods, which were donated by some of the event sponsors – more than 20 total.

Additionally, while the Bushcraft fun was completely free to guests, there were also vendors and craftsmen stationed at the event site for those who wanted to make purchases from a wide range of outdoor tools, gear and other essentials. Those offering merchandise included Ben’s Backwoods, MI-TAC, Parsell Artisan Works, Devils River Adventure Gear and Wilder Forge.

The activities on Friday and Saturday each wrapped up with some socializing around a community bonfire.

As further evidence of the growth of the Bushcraft Spring Gathering, Oncina said there were less than 10 people at the bonfire in 2018. However, on this past Friday alone, more than 40 attendees participated.

“It’s a great way to spend the day,” he remarked of the Bushcraft event.

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