Not too long ago, I got an inquiry to see if I would be interested in reviewing a new book by Tony Nester. This is book is called “The Modern Hunter-Gather: A Practical Guide To Living Off The Land.” I responded that I’d be happy to take a look at it, and it arrived on the doorstep in just a few days. I’m always looking for more information whether it’s in books or on the net, and I was curious to see if I could glean anything from the book that I didn’t already know. Before I delve into that issue too much, I think it’s important to set the stage for the context of the book. Right up front, the book says that it is intended for beginners. I think that’s important, because I’ve come across books that have been billed as the last word in outdoors skills and have have been disappointed with their lack of real in-depth material. Also, context is important because a book like this should be graded based upon the audience for which it was written. For instance, some of us here at Woods Monkey have had a few discussions about how to handle knife reviews. Some guys don’t like serrated blades, so they might be tempted to say, “This knife is awful because it has a serrated blade.” We have to remind ourselves that some folks like serrated blades and there are important uses for such blades. So we ask them, “Based on that information and its intended purpose, how did the knife perform?” The same thing is true here as well.
Tony Nester is the owner and the primary instructor for the Ancient Pathways Survival School located in Flagstaff, Arizona. The school started over 18 years ago, and Mr. Nester has taught various survival courses or acted as a consultant to such clients as National Geographic, Fox News, Sierra Club, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Park Service and various other coporations and military units. He’s received a lot of positive recognition from such major media sources as The New York Times, Arizona Highways, Outside Traveler, and Mountain Living Magazine. Actually, I wished I had known about him and his school sooner. I was just out in that area back in July, and had I known about him, I would definitely sought him out to see if he had a course running at the time. I love the Southwest, and he looks to have the depth of experience to pass on his knowledge about living off the land out in that terrain. I’m sure it would have been a great experience. But, on with the book review…
Since I received the book a couple of weeks ago, I have read it twice. I did that for a couple of reasons. First, I wanted to just get a quick hit impression of how the book got the information across, and I wanted to go back the second time to confirm the impression, and to study some of the diagrams and specific information more closely. Overall, I was favorably impressed with the approach Mr. Nester took in presenting the information, and I liked the fact that there helpful illustrations including diagrams, drawings, photographs, and templates for all of the various things he discusses in the book. Though the book is only about 76 pages long, the author presents a good amount of information to get you started down the road of outdoors living, and he does it in a way that’s conversational, and almost nostalgic at times. The book itself is sized like a workbook you might get in school, and that allows for more information to be added than you might initially think that 76 pages would allow.
The author points out that in his youth, there were no survival schools like there are today. Part of the reason for the lack of such schools was that many of the skills were already in use by our parents and grandparents. He correctly points out that many of the skills that we were proficient in just a couple of generations ago are becoming lost. Because of technology, manufacturing, and the ever shrinking global trade model, we are becoming more and more dependent on grocery stores for our sustenance. Mr. Nester opens the door a bit for those folks interested in getting back to their roots and learning some of the skills that their grandparents and great-grandparents used on a daily basis.
The author’s approach to the material is very organized and outlined nicely. He defines his objectives for the book and lists the things that he feels are the most important areas of study for the individual to become proficient at living off of the land. He does mention several times the importance of getting out and practicing your new skills on a regular basis. You may have all the theory in the world stuck up in your head, but it’s of little value until you actually get out and put it to use. What I did enjoy about this book was his use of archaeological evidence in several instances to support what he’s talking about. Certainly, when it comes to the daily rigors of living off the land, ancient civilizations could teach us a thing or two. These examples were very interesting and on point. For example, I was aware that Native Americans stored grain for use throughout the year, but I did not know that the Anasazi had their own way of vacuum sealing their food by deoxygenating their granaries. I find that kind of stuff fascinating.
As I mentioned earlier, this book is for the beginner, but the book is a great guide to lead the reader to many jumping off points where they can start their own research and and become more knowledgable about each subject. For instance, in one part of the book, he lists the various food gathering activities for each season of the year. An example would be in the autumn where you could collect acorns and pinon nuts, hunt squirrels and rabbits, gather plants for drying, etc. There were other examples, but I don’t want to steal his thunder. The point is that he provides thought starters for you, and it’s up to you to dig in and learn more. Some things you could research with his thought starters are:
- How do you make flour out of acorns?
- What kind of meals to make from acorns?
- What are some good squirrel and rabbit recipes?
- How do I clean specific game?
- Is there anything I need to check to make sure the game is OK to eat?
- What are all the possible uses for cattail?
- What plants are prolific in my area of the country and what are their uses?
The author answers a couple of those questions, but leaves it up to the reader to do their own research. He covers subjects from a big picture perspective, but still gives enough detail (especially in the trapping and snaring sections) to be useful on the trail. Some of the topics in the books he covers includes hunting, fishing, uses for wild plants, knives, survival kits, trapping, deadfalls, snares, and so forth. He also talks about other hunting methods including using a sling, a .22 rifle, rabbit sticks, and even a slingshot to get game. I do like the fact that he took the time to provide some good photographs to show how traps and snares should be set up and what they should look like when they are completed. A lot of books will tell you how to make a snare or a deadfall, but they leave out the part about the environment and how to funnel game into the kill zone. Probably the best information presented in the book is about making various traps and snares for game.
After you’ve gathered your food, what do you do with it? Mr. Nester also covers various topics including cleaning game, different ways to cook your meals whether it’s squirrel stew or fish cooked on skewers. Additionally, he talks a bit about edible plants, but correctly points out that this is an area that requires very strong knowledge. Eating the wrong plant, even just a little bit, can result in dire consequences. So, if this area interests you, you should absolutely do a lot more research and/or find an experienced instructor that can help you along the learning curve.
Aside from the thoughts he shares and the illustrations, the author also provides some templates to get you started making your own triggers for deadfalls and other types of traps. He also provides a nice index of additional resources to consult including product makers, survival schools, videos, and websites–all of which will provide you with more in-depth information. He doesn’t stick to just one style of presentation; he covers the gambit from his own thoughts, to pictures, drawings and templates, and he points the way to other learning resources.
Yes, I learned a few little things here and there in the book. Mostly, I liked reading the archaeological examples he provided, but I also like some of the information he provides on folks that make certain products like the sling shot he showed as an example of one way to get food. I like using slingshots, but have been less than satisfied with some of the commercial models I have tried–not to mention that they usually feel out of place in the outdoors when you’re focusing on more primitive skills. Those folks will definitely get a sale from me because of Mr. Nester’s book.
So, is this book worth picking up and having in your library? Well, to go back to what we discussed in the beginning; it’s all about context. If you’re a hard-core, experienced outdoors person, then I’d be hard pressed to say that you need this book for your libary. But, as we mentioned, this book is intended for the beginner. When you look at it from that perspective and for that particular use, it absolutely fits the bill. A lot of the folks that come to this site or that participate in primitive outdoors activities would like to welcome more folks into the fold. That’s where this book would really do the most good. As a gift or a stocking stuffer, it’s hard to think of a better way to get someone interested in learning more about living off the land–short of getting them out there in the middle of it first hand. With Chrismtmas coming, it’s a good opportunity to reach out to the younger generation and try to pass on the knowledge that others have provided us. Personally, I think kids today should be pulled away from the X-Box and taught a few practical skills like those covered in this book, otherwise, this knowledge certainly will be lost in the not to distant future.
Overall, I liked how this book was written and how the information was presented. It had a personal and a conversational feel to it. I’ve got loads of books about outdoors and survival skills. Some are thick enough to pass as a New York phone directory. But, what a lot of those books lack is personality. As you read the information Mr. Nester provides against the backdrop of his love for the outdoors and his own personal experiences, you don’t really feel like you’re reading a manual. In a way, it feels like you’re listening to a friend. That goes a long way to making this kind of material more enjoyable and easier to digest.
“The Modern Hunter-Gatherer” is available at the Ancient Pathways website for $16.95 and shipping. It’s certainly worth that amount, provided you’re getting it for the right audience. Aside from that book, Mr. Nester has several other books that he offers as well. If you’re looking for a good primer to get someone started in this area of endeavor, you won’t go wrong by getting started here.