How To Organise A Bushcraft Camp For Scouts

by Barry Smith

Barry Smith with leaf shelter

Author with shelter build by Scouts.

As a keen outdoorsman and Scout Leader I believe that wilderness skills, and particularly bushcraft skills, have an important role in Scouting.

Being able to look after yourself, with minimal kit, in a variety of environments allows you to explore places you might otherwise avoid and get more out of the places you go.

I think bushcraft provides people with a better understanding of their environment and a greater respect for nature.

These are all values that are important to me and I am lucky enough to run a Scout troop with an outstanding set of leaders that share this ethos.

Good Citizenship Through Woodcraft

One of Baden Powell’s aims was to "teach good citizenship through woodcraft".

Bear Grylls has captured the imagination of many young people and we as Scout leaders firmly believe that we can develop Scouts and run a rewarding programme by learning and sharing bushcraft skills.

We do this by incorporating different skills into our weekly programme and also by running camps with the troop where we can focus on a particular set of skills.

We recently ran a bushcraft skills weekend for our Scouts and their parents. The aim of this weekend was to help the Scouts qualify for their survival badge.

Paul Kirtley asked me to write about how I approached the set up and running of a Scouts bushcraft camp so that it could be shared with other Scout Leaders who follow this blog.

Preparation for a Bushcraft Camp

As with most things in life, and certainly in Scouting, good preparation is the difference between success and failure. If you put the effort in up front things will run more smoothly, everyone will know their role and what's expected of them and you'll have everything to hand when you need it. Below I will cover a few areas of preparation that you might want to consider in organising a bushcraft camp for Scouts.

Setting a Goal for a Bushcraft Camp

Having a goal in mind will help you focus on what you are trying to achieve. Are you trying to teach certain skills? Complete tasks towards a badge? Or give people a new experience such as sleeping in natural shelters? It could just be that you want to create a fun weekend and enjoy the woods; if that's your goal then great. Think about the goal of your camp and then plan accordingly.

Picking Activities for a Bushcraft Camp

Once you know what you are trying to achieve, you can plan your activities. On our last bushcraft camp we were aiming to teach the skills that the Scouts would require to earn their survival badge. With this in mind we looked at the criteria for the badge and set out a number of activities over the weekend that would enable this learning.

We included the following activities:

Learning about survival situations – How they can occur and how to react if they do.

Firecraft - Learning about tinders, using firesteels, collecting firewood and practising fire lays.

Signalling - Using light, sound and symbols. This included demonstrating torches, signal mirrors and whistles and then a team exercise where we set up a large signal fire and set it off.

Signal fire ready to go

Demonstration signal fire ready to go. Photo: Barry Smith.

Wild foods - Looking at local, seasonal wild foods on a walk through the woods in small groups and trying some along the way. Preparation is important here as its better to know where wild foods are before you set out with a group of Scouts rather than hoping that you bump into some along the way. We also produced hand outs that showed wild foods from the area we were in so that the Scouts had something to refer to.

Sweet chestnuts on the tree

Teach your Scouts easily recognised wild foods. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Hunting and trapping - Not specifically part of the survival badge but we were keen to share some basic trapping and snaring skills with the Scouts. We demonstrated some simple snares and deadfall traps and then gave people a chance to make their own. Again, we featured some basic traps on the hand outs so that there was a point of reference. We also discussed the legal considerations affecting trapping for real. We covered stalking (moving silently) and the manufacture and use of throwing sticks which is a great practical exercise that Scouts love.

showing the height at which to set a snare

How to set a snare. Photo: Barry Smith.

Game preparation – Most Scouts really enjoy getting stuck in with game prep and don’t seem to share the squeamishness that often makes adult students remember another important task they must attend to. To prepare game you need to acquire it. More about that later...

Preparing Canada geese to cook

Preparing the geese.

Shelter - Building and sleeping in shelters is great fun for all ages and Scouts love it. We equip Scouts with a bivvy bag in case their shelters leak and we set up a couple of example shelters for people to copy. We start shelter building with a brief on the theory, a discussion on what you might be sheltering from and sharing ideas about materials that we might use.

Choosing a Venue for a Scout Bushcraft Camp

This will be a personal decision and depend on the needs of the group and the activities being undertaken. Those of us in Scouting are lucky, we have a number of Scout camp sites across the country to choose from and most lend themselves to bushcraft activities.

Having thought about the goal for your camp and picked the activities you are going to focus on you will have an idea of what resources you will need in the local area and can choose a location accordingly. For example, if you are practising fishing, being near water is a must. Firecraft requires wood, tinder and permission to light fires. Navigation exercises will need suitably challenging terrain, and so on.

Personally I prefer to have a camp based in the woods and not in the middle of a barren field so that's one of my first considerations in choosing a suitable site.

Numbers and Helpers for Your Bushcraft Camp

If you are organising a bushcraft camp it is important to consider how many attendees you are able to accommodate, whilst still giving people quality time so that they can learn in small groups or on a one to one basis. I cant give you a ratio of Scouts to leaders/helpers as every troop is different and the skill level of those leading varies. However I’d urge you to think hard about this and ensure you have enough helpers, ideally with some skills that they can share on or usefully employ around camp.

Helper at a bushcraft weekend for Scouts

Make sure you have enough helpers. Photo: Barry Smith.

Skills You Need to Run a Bushcraft Camp for Scouts

To be able to run a bushcraft camp for Scouts you will need some understanding of the skills you are trying to pass on. The better you know the skills, the more effectively you will be able to teach them. But here is the real magic - there is an old saying "if you want to learn something well then teach it to others". I find this so true and it makes absolute sense. To be able to teach, you must first learn yourself; this is why people that teach a skill or a subject master it more quickly than those who just practice for themselves.

So, decide what skills you can teach already or what you want to be able to teach in the future and think about how you can best pass these skills on. One of the things I do when attending training courses or watching an expert is not just look at what’s being taught but how it is being taught.

If you have the opportunity to be around good bushcraft instructors then watch how they prepare and deliver their sessions. As a Scout leader you can then copy the teaching method as well as the subject matter.

If you do go on a bushcraft course to further your skills then ensure you take lots of notes as an aid memoire.

Another thing you can do is find people in your district who have skills you want to learn and then invite them to come and teach you or your Scouts.

At a basic level, if you want to run a simple bushcraft camp for your Scouts then focus on shelter building and firecraft. Learn the basics of these and how to pass on the important facts and then work up from there.

Resources Required for a Bushcraft Camp

Thankfully most Scout troops will have all of the hardware they need to run a camp outdoors - shelters, cookware, water containers and so on.

To run a bushcraft camp you might want to consider adding the following to your kit list if you don’t already have them:

  • Knives – Mora knives are great and you can get them from Clas Ohlsen for about £3 each;
  • Firesteels – The Light My Fire models are the best (in my opinion) and these are great for teaching good firecraft;
  • Sharpening stone – an oilstone and some oil are fine;
  • Leather strop or old leather belt;
  • Folding saws – The Laplander saws are cheap and very reliable;
  • Cuts kit – you should already have a decent first aid kit and the skill to use it but I like to have a cuts kit on my person when anyone (me included) is using a knife;

Other than this you just need the materials that relate to the activities you are teaching - wire for snares, tinder for demonstrating firecraft and so on.

If you are teaching people to prepare game then of course you will need game.

Canada geese hanging in a shed

Game can be obtained through forming the right connections. Photo: Barry Smith.

Where to get game? I have found butchers to be pretty lacking in this area. One butcher offered my skinned and gutted frozen rabbits imported from China... not what I had in mind! I have had the most luck with the local shooting community. So make friends with the local game keeper or gun shop owner and explain that you need game, ‘in the fur’ or ‘unplucked’.

Don't forget to mention it’s for the local Scouts. Overall I find that people have a positive view of Scouting and they are happy to help out so tap into this and don’t be shy asking. For our last bushcraft camp I managed to acquire 8 geese from my local gun shop owner in return for a bottle of wine – a good transaction we felt. A quick chat with Paul on the phone about the best way to cook them and some ingenuity from our Group Scout Leader and we were away...

Geese cooking over a fire with parachute shelter in the background

Geese cooking over the fire. Photo: Barry Smith.

The Days Before Your Scouts' Bushcraft Camp ...

Leading up the camp you will need to put in some final preparation work to get the most out of your time during the camp.

I would recommend you recce your chosen site well and look for resources and locations that you are going to need during the camp itself:

Shelter building – Requires well drained ground and building materials. You should also look out for risks from above such as beech trees that can drop branches; avoid these areas.

Firecraft – You should establish where you can light fires, where fire fighting equipment is and where the best supplies of tinder and firewood are all in advance of the camp itself.

Trapping – May require suitable construction materials such as hazel and you should look at quieter areas of the site for evidence of game runs and sign. When teaching trapping its important to discuss the location of traps and showing a game run puts this into context.

Wild foods – I have already mentioned this but it’s worth reiterating; if you get to know the site in advance you can identify wild foods at your leisure and be ready to point these out during the camp itself. You can also use this time to spot any poisonous plants that are best avoided or highlighted as a risk when teaching about plants you can use.

Hawthorn berries - haws

Find the available wild foods ahead of time. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Risk assessment – One final point to remind ourselves of is the need to carry out a risk assessment for the environment and the activities that you have planned.

Seeing the Warden

If you are using a Scout campsite for your bushcraft camp then I urge you to go and see the warden in advance and explain what you are planning. You will find that they are more relaxed if they understand what you are planning. They will usually know the site a lot better than anyone else, so will be able to point out wild foods and useful plants that you may miss.

Some Final Thoughts...

Running a camp with a bushcraft theme is a fun and rewarding venture for all involved. But remember you don’t need to restrict these activities to when you are away on camp.

Throughout the year we use troop nights to focus on specific skills such as first aid, firecraft and knife work. Then when we get out into the woods, Scouts and Leaders alike are working from a more advanced starting position than if we just did these things a few times a year.

The key to running good bushcraft training for Scouts is preparation: The more you put in, the more you everyone will get out.

Good luck with your Scouting and I wish you all well on your adventures.

Do you have any tips you can add to this or lessons learned from previous bushcraft camps for scouts? If so, let us know in the comments below...

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Barry Smith is a Scout Leader and a member of the Frontier Bushcraft instructional team.

 

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Dan Robinson

Hi Barry,

Very nice meeting you the other day. This is a brilliant article! It’s interesting to hear that people have a secret appreciation for the scouts and will often help out. I really like that. It’s almost stone mason-esk.

The article is really well written, be careful or Paul will have you writing all his stuff! Ha.

Thanks for sharing this with us.

Dan.

Reply

Barry

Hi Dan. It was great to meet you too. We enjoyed delivering your course and everyone did really well despite the rain!

Thanks for your comments on the article, I’m glad you liked it.

I have been really pleasantly surprised at people’s appreciation of the scouts, it’s a great organisation that does a huge amount to develop young people and I think people recognise that.

Best

Barry

Reply

hedgey

What a great article, Big thanks to Barry, this is, i feel what was needed and where i see so many student bushcrafters go wrong, myself to.
Organising yourself, your kit and your camp will make your life a a lot better and you will feel more at home in your environment.
All the articles that have been placed on this site are top of the tree, reading them is like being on a bushcraft course with one of the few schools out there, FRONTIER is one of them.
THANKS BARRY, PAUL.

keep the faith

HEDGEY

Reply

Barry

Hi Hedgey,

Thanks for your comments. I agree with your point about organisation, being organised makes like much easier.

I’m glad you liked the article.

Barry

Reply

Jon

Great article and the sort of thing which inspires scoutleaders to at least “have a go”! We regularly do bushcraft/backwoods camps and like this example just set 1 or 2 main aims for the weekend – it might be food prep and firelighting, or another time shelter building and charcoal making. The only essential element is to have fun and not worry when things don’t work!!!!!!

I too have great success by liasing with gamekeepers and the hunting, fishing and shooting community – they are all SO supportive! I get supplies of all manner of fur, fin and feather and little more than a good word for the shoot is required in exchange! I even tried tempting various members along to help out with scouts but not so much luck thus far – they are busy people too!! One thing I have found also is that so many young people would never have tried pheasant, rabbit, squirrel etc and they are invariably pleasantly suprised at the results!!!

Although some elements of bushcraft push the limits of scouting POR slightly, I think it is predominantly the most ethical way to go!!!

Keep it Wild!

Jonnie

Reply

Barry

Hi Jonnie,

Great to hear your doing similar with your troop. I like the idea of making charcoal, we might have to try that out with our scouts.

Keep up the good work.

Barry

Reply

Ashley

Nice writeup, one comment though, the spit you made over the fire is using unistrut, this is normally a galvanized item which technically should not be used for cooking due to risk of zinc contamination.

Reply

Barry

Hi Ashley, thanks for your comments. We borrowed that spit so I’ll have a chat to the owner and see if there is a coating on it. Thanks for the advice. Barry

Reply

Ken

Excellent article! I have bookmarked to share with my fellow leaders as a possible camp in the upcoming Scouting year.

I’ve also reblogged it to my Blog to share it out there. http://leaderdaze.wordpress.com/2013/07/31/how-to-organise-a-bushcraft-camp-for-scouts/

Thanks

Ken

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Ken!

I’m glad this proved useful to you and I hope it does for other leaders too.

Thanks for speading the word.

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

Dan Rawes

afternoon from a unusually sunny lancaster!
im a fellow scout leader with a basic level of bushcraft ive picked up over my years in scouting.
I have been asked to run a half day basic intro to bushcraft on our biennial leaders “Chills and Skills” camp, im thinking of covering, firelighting, basic types of shelter (both with tarps and natural) axe, knife and saw safety/law
Any other ideas or thoughts
Cheers
Dan

Reply

Dave Bowie

As a fellow scout leader who has run bushcraft events I appreciate the effort they take to do well. This is a first class article on pulling everything together and has given me a few ideas for next time!

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Glad to hear it Dave.

Thanks for the feedback.

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

Robert Maley

Love this article. We’ve done a few bushcraft based camps before but some of the ideas in this article will help us take future camps to the next level.

Reply

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