There are almost as many definitions of Bushcraft as there are bushcrafters. Everyone seems to have there own opinion on how it differs from Survival (or not). Included here are some common themes. For many bushcrafters, bushcraft may mean some/all of these things (and more).
Bushcraft vs. Survival
The difference between Bushcraft and Survival can often be one of semantics. The matter is confounded by the fact that Bushcraft is a term used mainly in the United Kingdom (despite its roots elsewhere in the world). Also, Survival has different extended meanings depending on where in the world you are.
In the UK, Survival is usually taken to mean the process of staying alive in an emergency situation, and Survival Skills to be skills necessary to achieve this. An emergency situation is largely imagined to be a plane crash or similar (temporary) disaster. In this sense, the term has been coloured by its use in the military. Any reference to Survival Courses, Survival Books, Survival Situations usually refers to this meaning of the word.
However, in the US, in addition to this basic meaning of the word survival, the word also represents the survivalist movement. The difference is quite subtle, basically extending the potential emergency situation to include more permanent disasters such as neuclear holocaust or civil war. However, the difference in the ideology of US survivalists is quite pronounced. Survivalists may be concerned with complete technological and biological self-sufficiency, in order to live out their remaining days autonomously. And the best bushcraft knife is the “small survival knife” in right places.
Another term used in the US (and elsewhere) is Wilderness Survival. This probably equates most closely with what is meant in the UK by Bushcraft.
Bushcraft vs Hunting
In the UK, the hunting of large mammals is highly restricted, and may only be carried out with a rifle. Smaller game, such as rabbits may still be killed with air-rifles or trapped. Hunting with a bow (and other weapons) is strictly prohibited. Also, animals may only be hunted with the landowner’s permission and in the correct season. Failure to observe these restrictions is regarded as poaching, a criminal offence. Even now in the UK, access to hunting is at least in part related to class, mainly due to game animals being confined to the large estates of wealthy landowners.
For these reasons, bushcraft related hunting in the UK is serverely limited.
The situation varies throughout the rest of the world. In Scandanavia, Canada an the US, hunting can generally be carried out by anyone. In some cases a licence is required. In some US states, bow hunting is allowed.
In some parts of Africa, such as Tanzania, safari hunting is popular with western tourists.
Bushcraft as Survival
On it’s most basic level, Bushcraft is a long list of survival skills or techniques. These can be categorised with terms like Firecraft, Woodcraft, Axecraft, Knifecraft, Sawcraft, Bindcraft, Sheltercraft, usingMors Kochanski’s terminology. More loosely, they can be understood to be useful skills for an emergency situation.
Bushcraft as a Practical Way of Life
This is really the original sense of the term, a term describing the lifestyle of certain Australians or Africans. In this sense it refers to the skills and abilities a Bushman is required to use for sucessful living in the Bush. Although this meaning is quite far removed from the current practice of Bushcraft as a hobby or weekend pursuit, it does capture the idea that Bushcraft is a set of skills for living in your environment, and it also captures the idea of making do with what’s available.
Bushcraft as a Personal Ideology
Part of the ideology of Bushcraft revolves around the idea that “the more you know, the less you carry”. For example, if you have the ability to make cordage, you can do without it. Or perhaps, if you have the knowledge and ability to construct things without the use of cordage, you can really do without it.
This idea removes the individual’s reliance on posessions, or things, emphasises reliance on personal knowledge or ability. To put it another way, it emphasises self-reliance, and perhaps by extension, self-belief and self-worth.
Also, for some, the feeling of living in and on the natural environment is more real than our everyday modern lives. Connected with this idea is also the notion that we have become divorced from the food we eat, the tools we use, the clothes we wear. All of these things are usually bought and we have no connection to the process of catching, harvesting, collecting, preparing or making them. Bushcraft gives back the connection with all of these things when we learn to procure and process them ourselves.
Such bushcraft has been greatly promoted in the UK by Ray Mears.
Bushcraft as Primitive Technology
Some people become interested in Bushcraft because of a fascination with primitive technologies; such as, flintknapping, prehistoric tools and weapons, or prehistoric uses of natural materials for diverse applications. The bushcrafters in this camp often see the technology of our prehistoric ancestors as far from primitive. This form of Bushcraft can be seen as a celebration of the intelligence and skill of distant ancestors, plus the challenge of trying to replicate these skills.
In a very basic way, bushcraft can be as simple as foraging for foods such as blackberries or edible mushrooms to supliment the anodyne products sold in shops, or it can be as complex as building wattle-and-daub houses with green-wood frames, and fuelling them with charcoal from your own copiced wood.
Bushcraft as a Means of Enjoying Nature
Some Bushcrafters also see bushcraft as a useful means to enjoying the natural environment. Bushcraft skills can enable people to explore and experience nature without ever being out of their depth. This could mean that they can experience the outdoors without getting into physical danger (or having a means to save themselves from physical danger), or it could also mean that the bushcraft knowledge and skills learned enable people to explore the natural world in greater depth by informing them of the processes, actions and relationships of the environemnt. In this way, far more detail of the natural world can be experienced than by simply walking through the country. An example of this could be knowlegde of the habits of different animals through the seasons.
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