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Practice What You Preach, Then and Now

A primer for the first time PWYP attendee and for those curious passers by…

It was a little over seven years ago that I came across a post that intrigued me.  It was from a photographer in Charlotte and it was posted in the Outdoor Survival Forum over at  It intrigued me because he had the same kind of outdoors interests that I had, and he was also a photographer.  I was just putting my foot in the water with photography, so that was an area of interest for the two of us.  Finally, he was in Charlotte, North Carolina…and so was I.  I got in touch with him and we talked back and forth about a few things.  It was around that time that he posted a "put up or shut up" type of post one day.  There were a lot of outdoors people that talked about gear, what kind of tools they used, and about their exploits in the woods.  So, this new acquaintance of mine invited anyone that wanted to come down to his land around to "Practice What You Preach."  It was more the idea of getting out from behind the keyboard and getting into the woods to practice whatever outdoors skills you wanted and share them with others.  So, it was born.  In April of 2002, the first annual Practice What You Preach outing was held, and the man who started it was Terrill Hoffman.

And, it’s that time once more.  It won’t be long now before it’s time for the 8th annual Practice What You Preach gathering in Marion, North Carolina.  It’s scheduled for April 23-26th this year, and there are still some open spaces left.  I mention this last fact, because over the years, this gathering has grown quite significantly, and we’ve had to set a limit to the number of people that can attend.  PWYP is just a time for people to go to the hills, practice and share their skills, tell lies around the campfire, and walk away with new friends, more knowledge, and possibly a prize or two.  There will be various contests such as chopping, fire starting, sling-shot marksmanship, shooting, orienteering and whatever else that can be thought of as well.  This is the first year that Woods Monkey will be one of the sponsors of this event, since we started the site after last year’s gathering.  We’ve picked up some really great gifts and prizes that will be given away at either some of the contests or the drawing on Saturday night.

The details of this event can be found over at in the Outdoors Survival Forum.  Jim Nowka is the owner of Knifeforums, and he has been an attendee during the past several years as well.  Other notable folks expected to attend this year include Ethan Becker of Becker Knife and Tools (now produced by KA-BAR), Doug Ritter of Equipped To Survive, Jeff Randall of Randall’s Adventure and Training and RAT Cutlery, Paul Scheiter of Hedgehog Leatherworks, Marty Simon and Aggie Simon of the Wilderness Learning Center, Glen Stelzer of JRE Industries, Dan Coppins and L.T. Wright of Blind Horse Knives, Scott Gossman of Gossman Knives, and Charles May of Charles May Knives.  As you can see, there will be a cornucopia of outdoors skills and product experts at the event.  Also, there will be several writers for different publications attending including, Tim Stetzer, Mike Brown, Joe Flowers, and Terrill Hoffman, himself.  Unfortunately, we can’t list them all, but there will also be a gathering of friends that we’ve come to know over the years and are very much looking forward to seeing again.

Besides being a great way to get in the outdoors to hone the skills, it’s also a prime opportunity for everyone to put their hands on different bladeware.  Whether it’s knives that are donated for prizes, showed off by their owners, on sale by the makers, or put on the trading block during the Blanket Bartering Event, you’re sure to come across something that strikes your fancy.  Because of everyone’s pride in the tools they own and the ones they make and sell, PWYP has evolved from the "bring what you’re going to use" event to a full-blown blade festival (almost)!  If you do decide to come to the event, you’ll need to keep your eyes open for what’s going on around you.  The bartering event is supposed to take place at a certain time, but there’s usually an occasion or two where folks can’t pass up the temptation to make a deal before the official time!

Aside from the comraderie, cool toys, and contests, there’s also another component that’s become a key part of Practice What You Preach.  Throughout the event, there are a number of classes given by people who have expert knowledge in a given field.  For several years, there have been classes dealing with reloading, plant identification, water purification, wilderness first aid, rabbit sticks construction, primitive fire starting, flint knapping, orienteering, sharpening, and leatherwork.  So, PWYP is not only a great place to share your own knowledge, but to learn from others as well.  No matter how great we believe our knowledge is, there’s always something more to learn, or something we need to get be refreshed on.  And, there’s certainly plenty of opportunities at PWYP to learn even if you don’t attend a class.  Just sit back and listen, and you’ll be amazed at what you pick up just from casual conversations.  The folks that attend PWYP are experts or avid enthusiasts of the outdoors, so there’s a lot than can be gleaned from this short stint in the woods! 

Gene partaking of some of the great chow!
A home away from home.
Little did I know that day back in 2002 what PWYP would turn into in the years to come.  At our first outing, there were three of us that showed up out of all the folks on the forum that said they were coming.  There was Terrill, myself, and Terrill’s nephew Todd.  After our trip report was posted, we had 6 or 7 people attend the following year.  The year after that, I believe there were around 12 that showed up.  Fast-forward to April, 2008 and we had nearly 100 people attend–ranging from single folks to familes from all over the United States.  It’s incredible to think about what we started back then, and how much fun we’ve had along the way!  As a bit of nostalgia for myself and maybe the edification of others, I’ve posted some excerpts from the report that I wrote after that first outing.  If you like, you can read on about it below just to read about a few of the things we did during our founding weekend in the hills.  Just remember that these are only excerpts, and the pictures were taken seven years ago, back when there still was such a thing as film..  But, if you’d like to attend this event and meet some of the greatest people you’ll ever know, you need to get in now before all the slots are taken!

The following are some excerpts from when I wrote about the outing back in 2002:

Once I saw the invitation, I got the gear packed and I was ready to go three weeks ahead of time.  Even though I had only known Terrill a short time, I thought we had some common interests and he had a good reputation amongst those that knew him.  I figured it would be a good time.  There were lots of responses, and several folks said they were coming, so it was looking to be a get-together that would offer new friendships and a lot of opportunities to learn.  The day finally came, and I jumped into the Jeep and headed off into the hills of North Carolina. 

…When I arrived, Terrill and I exchanged greetings, and then we set about making camp.  They say home is where you hang your hat…and in this case, where you hang your knife and your gun as well.   I guess this all well and good since we barely knew each other.  And, as they say, an armed society is a polite society.  Wouldn’t you know, we were the most courteous people in the state that weekend!  The weekend was about trying different equipment, and trying to put a few things together that have been learned by reading and by listening to others along the way.   Nestled in the mountains of North Carolina, Terrill’s place was a great area for us to have this first outing.  There were hills, mountain trails, and even a nicely-stocked pond.   Now, one of the first reasons that we came out to this playground in the moutains was to try out some of our various blades.  We wanted to do a little comparison testing between big choppers and how they handle different types of wood, and how they fared in doing particular types of tasks.   As you would imagine, each of them had their own strengths and weaknesses which we’ll get into a little later, but suffice to say, we had enough steel out there in the woods to get us by for the weekend.

Before the trip, we had discussed how we were going to handle the shelter situation, and decided against the use of tents.  Even though it was still a little chilly in the NC mountains, we figured we could handle it with a good sleeping bag.  In all honesty, Terrill’s came out a little neater than mine, and he got his done a lot quicker than me.  In the beginning, I tried to fashion something with a little more complicated framework than a lean-to, but I couldn’t get it built well enough, and I started running out of time.  So after a little while playing with it, I switched over and just made a lean-to for myself.  Even though I didn’t build the "house" that I wanted in the end, it still gave me a great opportunity to play with a couple of the choppers that I had with me.  Out from where we were staying, Terrill had a nice little stand of poplar saplings that he let me whack to my heart’s content.  In all, I probably cut down between thirty to forty saplings, and some of these were a fairly good size.  They ranged anywhere from the thickness of a linebacker’s thumb up to the average person’s forearm. 

While working on these, I used both the Becker Patrol Machete and the Busse Battle Mistress.  I wanted to compare the difference between the performance of the two for this kind of task.  I have to say the Patrol Machete ran away with the ball on this one.  For dealing with the softer wood of poplar and in the smaller thicknesses, the Patrol Machete was absolutely ideal.  After getting into stroke with it, I found the "sweet spot" and that blade literally sang for me out there in the woods.  The long reach of the 14" blade and the way the customary Becker handle rolled in my hand allowed this nicely designed chopper build up great momentum for maximum (with no other words in my mind) "shearing power".  Even most of the larger ones–nearly the thickness of a 12 oz soda can–were felled with just one strike.  The blade profile and blade thickness lent incredible cutting power to this labor (if you can call it that).  While I did try the Battle Mistress at this same task, I found that it’s shorter reach required more stooping to get close to the ground where there was enough thickness to the pole that I was cutting.  This excess stooping resulted in my back becoming fatigued very quicky in comparison to the longer reach of the Becker Patrol Machete.  Once I had finished cutting all the poles that I wanted, I noticed that the Patrol Machete still had a very keen edge and didn’t seem to have suffered much in loss of its cutting edge. This was a nice benefit, as we were going to use it later on in the weekend!

…After everybody woke up and recovered from the cold, and once we got our morning dose of Columbia’s best, we trekked off to another part of the woods to give the choppers another workout. In this session, we chose some harder woods than the day before, and we found some specimens that were a little more substantial and able to stand up to our abuse.  Using the same types of trees with similar thicknesses, we also tried out some other blades.  One of these was my Busse Battle Mistress-E.  It’s blade is 9.5" compared to the PM’s 14" blade.  But, it is of 1/4" thickness of INFI steel.  In doing this type of work, I found that the Battle Mistress did a better job of cutting through this type of hardwood at a much quicker pace.  Everyone in the group tried the BM and commented on how well it performed in tearing up the hardwood.  But, even so, there were other blades along for the ride that also performed well with the chopping chores. The next little gem of a knife truly surprised me. 

This blade was fashioned by a relative new-comer to the field.  His name is Mark Hazen.  To be honest, I had not heard of him until coming into contact with Terrill, but this blade held its own out in the field with the rest of the big boys.  When I picked up Hazen’s "Camp Knife", I was at first non-plussed about its weight.  It looked to have about a 3/16" thickness, and seemed very light for its length and build.  I like to have just a bit more heft to my blades so I feel like I’m holding on to something.  But, something was done just right on this blade, because it just ran right through a good-sized trunk.  Hazen’s Camp Knife balanced very well for a chopping blade.  It’s smaller handle allowed for it to be a little top-heavy, and from what I can tell, made a real difference on getting some momentum behind this light blade so it could go to work. It really surprised me how well it performed. Normally, I don’t like smooth handles on a knife, because sweat, blood, (and yes, tears) sometimes create a slippery situation that could result in injury as far as I’m concnerned. But, this smooth-handled design worked well for this blade to help with a little more roll in the hand. Though the cosmetics and finish weren’t quite 100%, this is a finely designed knife, and I’m sure we’ll hear more about Mr. Hazen soon.

…Later in the day on Saturday, we decided to head up the trail to check out the crest of the mountain. Along the way, we ran into these fellows scouting the area for their next turkey hunting adventure. ATV’s seem to be the mode of transport choice up in this area.  The one we had came in handy for topping the mountain during the day, and for taking our lights way off into the distance later that night during our little experiment with different light sources.  When we came upon our hunter friends, they were stuck in the road trying to clear out a tree that had come down across the trail.  When we arrived, we saw they were trying to use a Gerber folding saw, and they seemed to be getting a little frustrated.  No problem!!  Just the reason I carry the Busse Battle Mistress with me!  It took mere seconds to clear an area large enough for them to pass on their ATV’s.  So, was all of this acitivity and fun enough for us?  No!!  When we get back to the bottom, we decide to do a little fishing and see what we could catch for our dinner.

Terrill got out the trusty 35mm fishing kit, and he made quick work of the fish in his pond.   I tried out my WSI (World Survival Institute) fishing tin kit that I got earlier last summer, but I have to admit to everyone that Terrill was the only one that caught anything.  Had it not been for the dehydrated meals I brought along on the trip, then I probably would have gone hungry that evening.  But, I will say that had I not had those meals, then I might have made the fishing a higher priority and put more effort into it.  That’s something to think about for the next trip.  Maybe, we take nothing along and really motivate ourselves!  I have to say that Terrill’s land really did make a nice place for us to visit and play.  The scenery was great, and there were a lot of different types of terrain.  There was a nice elevation to a crest that overlooked a significant portion of the NC countryside, and there was the pond for fishing and relaxing.  Along with the fishing, we also tried our hands at building and setting a couple of snares in a creek that fed into this pond.  We set two of them which were constructed of wood triggers, rocks for engines, and held together with paracord and a bit of chewing gum.  We need a little more work and practice in this area if we expect any results!!

A beautiful area and a great time of year to have this annual event.
…While setting up this page describing the weekend, I’ve been chomping at the bit to talk about these two knives, but I wanted to save the best for last.  A while back, I had mentioned to Terrill and a couple of others that I was looking for a good utility blade to use on the trail.  I wanted something with a keen edge, and something that was pretty stout.  Along comes Camilus Knives and the Talon.  What a fantastic blade!  Now available in the Talon 1 model (3.5" blade) and the Talon 2 (2.25" blade), these are some awesome knives.   I had been bugging the Busse crowd about coming out with a small utility user for everyday chores on the trail, and as of yet, they hadn’t come out with anything that meets my needs. 

I think the fates may have intervened in that aspect so that I would have a chance to try one of these babies out.  The moment I saw it on Friday afternoon, I grabbed it out of the box and hooked it on my belt with the Tek-Lok fastener.  If you haven’t seen this device, it’s a great little invention designed to give you multiple options of carrying your knives vertically, horzontally, or diagonally.  As a backpacker, I appreciate this option as it gives me a lot of flexibility in attaching it to my pack or to my belt either one.  As I mentioned, I was very selfish with the Talon 1.  It went with me everywhere over the weekend. I used it to trim triggers for the snares, cut paracord all weekend long, cut cable ties, and even to snip open a bag of M&M’s.  Truthfully, I used it for as much as I could.  I really wanted to abuse it and see what it could take, but being that it wasn’t mine, I didn’t figure that Terrill would like it too much if I messed it up too bad.  The whole trip was worth it just to have a chance to play with these great knives designed by Rob Simonich. 

…This trip was as much fun as I could want.  I had the chance to get into the outdoors with people of like mind, and I had the chance to play with my knives, other peoples knives, and have some fun with my new hobby of photography.  It was just a good time getting away from things, trying out new skills and honing the old.  Sometimes, I think we can spend too much time on the forums talking about things and not getting out there enough to do them.  Would I change anything about the trip?  Yep.  I would probably limit the equipment and food we take to motivate ourselves a little more and further hone our skills.  I would also like for even more people to come out, teach and learn, and give their own impressions of the tools out there for us to choose from.  It’s a great time to be had, and what a great way to spend a weekend–doing something we all love to do!

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