Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Grandpa Simpson knew the value of a shilling...
Axe and hoe made by Rick Guthrie
The Camp is green again, I mean really green. Like the forest moon of Endor green. The Ferns cover the ground hiding all the ore holes and the forest canopy is once again a great shield from..rain (what gives? It’s like god hates dry clothes). Also for the record hunting shirts do not shed rain with the fringe. This was truly the brainchild of a person who never ventured into even a slight drizzle. Yes after a point the fringe does wick away water but this also the point everything on you is wicking away water.
So With all the message board weirdness over the past few months I’ve started and restarted writing up a few blogs about my take on all the weirdness. Some were thoughtful critiques of some opposing schools of thought others were rants about the revolt against academic history by people who cling to rugged individualist ideals of a backcountry that didn’t exist. A few were straight up rants full of disdain and esoteric references like 4 people would get. Those were my favorites…But I sided on reason and figured I’d just break down some numbers for folks.
Ok so you’re a hunter (long hunter/market hunter take your pick) Ok, So why? Well why do people usually do anything, simple answer money. No matter how ya shake it the reason any of these guys did this was to make money. It wasn’t to spread the gospel, it wasn’t to spread the ideals of Liberty ,it was to make a living. So looking at this as a business some basic principles of economics come into play. You need a market, a product, supplies and a way to move said product to market.
So lets jump to the product: Half dressed Deer hides. The majority of these hides were destined for use in the construction of leather breeches or gloves (as well as in a a number of other consumer goods produced in the colonies and Europe) This was the occupation of hunters in the summer months. Summer killed deer produce a superior leather to that of winter killed hides.
The reason for this is the fact that in the summer the follicles that hold the deer hair are smaller. The winter coat of white tail deer is made up of larger hair (larger follicles) to help create the dead air space that help keep the deer warm. Large follicles equals bigger holes in the hide equals bad leather..Simple?
The winter months for the hunter was spent (even in the south) trapping beaver or other fur bearing animals for their pelts. Bear hunting for fat (grease) was also an important part of the trade. These activities plus things like cutting wood, helping clear land, etc made up the majority of the hunters year.
Ok so now lets move on to a quote that breaks down the product pretty nicely. It’s from the Interview of Nathan Boone:
“The summer and fall hunt must have yielded entirely deer skins and these only half dressed. Graining means (if the Hair doesn’t get rubbed off) the scraping off of the hair and the grain, like a cussier leather; Then when dry the leather is rubbed across a staking board until it becomes somewhat soft; then it is said to be half-dressed and fit for compact packing. A heavily packed horse could carry about a hundred half-dressed deer skins of two pounds each.”
Ok so here is a pretty specific definition of just what a half dressed hide is (process,weight) As well as a nice tidbit on just how much a horse could carry. To top if it off it’s from a guy whose dad was the king of the “Long hunters” so its pretty safe to say he might understand the family trade a little (of course he does say his dad was a good surveyor….and we all know how that turned out)
Now Mark Baker went into this area in his book “Sons of a Trackless Forest”(Mr. Baker in the off chance your reading this..two words for you 2Nd Printing the hobbie needs it!!!) but I’m going to go a little more into the subject. According to Morgan in 1768 the going rate for a half dressed deerskin was 1 shilling 6 pence per pound (quick reminder 12 pennies in a shilling 20 shillings in a pound)
***This description would also be usefull to folks wanting to make "bundles" of deerskins for trade scenerios. The Half dressed hide when stored in a dry place can last a long time***
That means that the skins carried by 1 horse equaled around 10 pounds (not too shabby) now what about your overhead? I can here people now what do you mean overhead? Well Deer just don’t shoot themselves, except in Far side comics (Gary Larson reference..oh ya whose with me? No one?) Apart from the gun you’re going to need lead ball, powder, linen for patching and flints.
So lets look at the prices for gun related items at Fort Pitt in the 1760’s:
Rifle gun 7/10/0 A neat Fuzee 3/0/0
Lead 1 shilling 3 pence per pound
Powder 7 shillings 6 per pound
Patching linen 1/10 per yard
Powder horn/bag 7/6
Flints 2 pence
Alright so without getting into the “average Rifle caliber” debate I’m going to go back to Baker’s research here. He uses Doddridge’s recollection of men carrying guns that shot “ more than 45 bullets to the pound” so we’re lookin at a gun over .48 caliber. SO personaly shooting a .62 caliber gun (roughly 20 balls to the pound) I’m going to need 5 lbs of lead (keeping in mind this is if I hit every deer with one shot and don’t get bored in camp and “shoot at a mark” with my fellow hunters while drinking shrub and have a chew/smoke…both of which I have to pay for)
The powder for these shots also has to be considered the powder to lead ratio of two pounds lead to 1 pound of powder. This is also an x factor in the equation as what size charge did they use? This determines the amount of charges you get out of your horn. I know for example out of my 1 pound horn I get roughly 120 shots (I shoot 60 grains and have not had a problem knocking a deer down between 30-50 yards) The caveat here for me is I shoot “indian loads” from descriptions it seems natives in the period loaded half the powder of their white counterparts:
William Clinkenbeard’s Interview “you could always tell an Indian gun. Never were so heavily loaded, nor sounded so loud, cracked flatter.”
SO if you keep with the period ratio you’d need 2 ½ pounds of powder to shoot 100 deer.So we’ll say 3 lbs to keep the math even (and I haven’t found an entry for a half pound of powder) so all together your paying 1/5/ for the ammo to shoot 100 deer. Not so cheap
Ok since man cannot live by lead alone You also have to take into consideration that clothes/gear break down, rip, rot and just fade away. SO here is a rundown of what a basic “Doddridge” inspired kit would cost you:
Shirt (check shirt 12 shillings 10) Oznabrig shirt 15 shillings
Handkerchief 5 shillings
Hunting shirt 1/2/6
Trousers 3 shilling 9 pence /Leggings 9 shillings /Breechclout 9 shillings
Shoes 10 shillings /Moccasins (1 dressed and smoked deerskin 8 shillings 2 awls 1 shilling)
Blanket a 3pt matchcoat 20 shillings
Kettle /6 shillings
SO the basic kit of a shirt, jacket, hunting shirt, handkerchief, trousers, shoes, Blanket and a kettle is going to run you 4/12/7 SO add in a rifle, ammo, knife, horn and pouch and your looking at overall expenses over 13 pounds!!! (not including the cost of flour, the horse, and the other items you’d need to conduct a longhunt) So for the pack load of deer your already in the hole(is the free credit report.com band in your head right now?).
Granted the cost of the rifle and a lot of the durble goods (***ecomnomics term!***) isn’t going to be in the expense that goes into every packhorse load of deer skins. However there is A LOT of items I haven’t factored in here. But certain costs are going to be fixed (like lead/powder)
The idea of the Lone rugged hunter walking thru the woods shunning cloth for his deerskin clothing, that didn’t need anything from anyone..is well…wrong. One of the more famous “longhunter” quotes from one of the famous “Longhunts” is the carving by Bledsoe “2300 skins lost, ruination by God” Stop and think about that for a second. That’s possibly 160 pounds of lead ball (if they never missed) and 80 pounds of powder (and a hell of a lot of nettle woven cloth for patching…) Think about that next time you hear someone explain to the public they are a long hunter and carry everything they need for a long hunt on them. No wonder the poor guy needs a coverlet haversack so bad he has an extra 240 pounds of gear on him. Then again I have seen guys with an extra 240 pounds of gear on them but its normally in the form of squirrel cookers and giant iron “Celtic” blanket pins.
Dang that’s a lot of numbers. Ok so whats this all mean? Well the simple numbers involved in “long hunting” and making money off it proves that this just wasn’t a fly by night operation. The lead and powder to shoot 2300 deer was more than likely purchased thru store credit somewhere. Not to mention all the gear needed to skin, process and haul the hides. This is where I could go off on a tangent about 19th century ideas mixing with people’s Grandparents memories from depression era Appalachia and turning into a Grandpa Simpson like weird version of the past (“ I tied an onion to my pocket as was the style at the time”) But I’m not going to.
And for the record if you spot any errors in my math drop me an email and I’ll correct it asap. Adding up 18th century foreign currency can make ya go cross eyed. To add a little more eye candy to this post I’ve put up a pic of a belt rig for a small game axe I sewed up. The rig is based off the Shelby Rig as well as a few other examples. It can be worn over the shoulder or as a belt. The axe was made by Iron Guru Rick “the godfather” Guthrie. I’ve used this axe to butcher a number of Deer over the past few years and honestly if you need something much bigger (blade is around 2 ¼ overall length is around 4 inches) I’d carry an axe.
The smaller item is a Ginseng hoe based off an original Rick made. I purchased this a few years ago and was going to have a buddy handle it and just got it back a few months ago (lol still handleless) So I’m hoping to stash it in my pack later this season. Ginseng in Pennsylvania has its own season http://www.wildgrown.com/index.php/Ginseng-Laws/State-Ginseng-Law/Pennsylvania-Ginseng-Law-and-Regulations.html So like Boone I’ll be on the lookout for the plants while I hunt.
Now its back to sewing and weaving. I also have a giant cupcake to make for Cindy since she’s 3 today. Man do I feel old.