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Home > Magazine > Blades > NESSMUK --Say it loud!

NESSMUK --Say it loud!
January 31, 2007

Do you know Nessmuk?

If you like outdoor culture, you should. So now you will!

He's the guy who first launched the idea that anyone can learn the skills necessary to enjoy a wilderness excursion. He also started the idea of the small, light solo canoe (via Ruston's "Wee Lassie"). And lightweight backpacking. He democratized the woods. Before him the woods belonged to the elites. When people went to the woods they used guides and guides were expensive. Nessmuk changed all that and started the first "head to the woods" craze.

Yeah, he was cool.

He wrote the first outdoor lore book for adults: WOODCRAFT (click to order it new for $7 from Amazon).

In it, he tells how.

That was about 1880 or so, I think.

Actually, Nessmuk was a pen-name. George W. Sears was a frail, sickly little fellow and the Adirondacks were his stomping grounds.

The book is, I gather, in the public domain now, as there's a PDF online here: . For those who don't want a physical book.

Now, here's where it gets good and where we get down to brass tacks. Nessmuk used a nifty fixed blade sheath knife on his outings. It had a curvy humpback shape.

It's a knife with a distinctive look. And it's mysterious. Because no originals exist. The only thing we have to go by is this engraving in his book:

What's superneat is that outdoor buffs have been having campfire chats about that engraving ever since.


And they've been making their own versions of that lovely looking knife ever since, too.

And that engraving has become an icon.

I've seen real-life set-ups of the scene in the engraving. But I can't find one right now.

OK, here's a story by an old survivalist named Old Jimbo about his Nessmuk knife experience:

Here's Jimbo's knife:

Jimbo's knife was made by Dale Chudzinski, who knives, by hand, on a forge. His work is sought after. I suppose partly because $150 is pretty affordable for a custom blade.

Here's Dale's site:

And here's a fun example of how the discussion has continued on to this very day:

(Thanks, Mark "Swampman" Lewis, for letting me use your sweet "Nessmuk Scene" photo!)

Here's another neat outdoor lore website and report on one of Dale's Nessmuk:

I've recently been reading Nessmuk's only other book, well, it's a collection of a few magazine articles about his canoe outings. He digresses now and then. Here's one of my favorites:

"...The old rifle rests by the ingle-lug, and I only take it out once a month to keep my shooting up in offhand practice, which is, after all, the only rifle practice wotth talking about.

"And just here and now I want to put in my oar on offhand shooting. Offhand shooting is not done by sticking a hickory wiping rod in your left pocket, extending the other end, and gripping rod and barrel together to steady the hands. It is not done by twisting your body out of all grace and comeliness to get a "hip rest." It is done by taking a firm, free stand on both feet, drawing the rifle to a graceful and natural position, with both elbows free of the body, getting the best bead you can, and cutting loose at the right instant. That is offhand shototing. As for all rests, they are well enough in sighting a gun, but once sure that your sights are plumb center, take no more resting shots. It may be good civil engineering, but is unworthy the notice of American riflemen. This is by way of digression..."

Now, here's something that isn't Nessmuk but it's a sweet outdoor lore outfitter. He's ol' BUCKSHOT! He's a skinny little woodsrat who freely shares what he knows and sells a bunch of helpful stuff, too. I've always liked his backwoods style. It's nice to see online. He's typing from the piney woods, for sure. One cool thing about his take on survival skills is that all of his kits always include the triumphant CONIBEAR 110 TRAP! Buckshot knows this goody is just about the best meat-getter there is. Yet I've never seen another kit-builder recommend it. You want land-meat in the bush? Put a Conibear on a rabbit trail and wait a few hours. Anyway, here's props to Buckshot:

More Nessmuk Inspiration

A Nessmuk Scene

Reader Comments - Add Your Own Comment
Joe - Iowa, posted on Feb 11, 2007
Great article Jeff! It reminds me a magazine I was reading at WalMart a couple weeks ago. I think it was called Backwoodsman. I should have bought it.

Joe in Iowa
JeffOYB - Williamston, MI, posted on Feb 11, 2007
Thanks, Joe! Yeah, you should get Backwoodsman! I love that mag. I have a link to their website in my main links section in my menubar on the left. I hope I do anyway! That's basically where I got my Nessmuk inspiration. That mag is kind of hilarious in a way. Every issue has an article about Nessmuk, and survival kits and modifying old military rifles, and making a knife from an old file. But I never get tired of it. Endless variations on wonderful old campfire themes! A common article question: "If you could only have one gun, what would it be..." Actually, there's an article like that in every issue, too. It's all homemade DIY stuff. But he also gets a great automatic subscriber base because he serves the re-enactor hobby. A great mag.