Outdoors 101

Nothing marks an expert camper more than a mastery of the essential skills, so study up on these backwoods tricks before your next expedition.  
Outdoors 101
Starting a campfire in wet weather.
Illustration by Bill Garland

1. Using a Map and a Compass

GPS has made life easy for directionally challenged Texans, but in the backcountry, compasses and topographic maps still rule. To plot out a simple hike, find your location on the map, place the compass over it, and determine your relationship to true north. (More-serious excursions require you to understand declination, or the difference between true north and magnetic north, but that’s a lesson for another day.) Look for a landmark represented on the map, such as a hill or a stream, and take note of its bearing on the compass (for example, east is 90 degrees). Consider the change in ele­vation by reading the contour lines—remember that the closer together they are, the steeper the slope—and hike to your first point by following the compass heading. To determine the distance of longer hikes, place a piece of string over the approximate route, then stretch it out and compare it with the scale.

2. Cleaning a Fish

Tired of catch and release? Then it’s time to make a meal out of your prize. First, wash your fish with cold water, ­preferably not from the lake or river. Next, using a sharp knife, make a cut ­below the mouth from gill to gill. Then run the knife just ­below the skin from the rear of the fish to just below the gills. Slip your finger in the mouth and, while dangling the fish by the gills with your other hand, pull down. This should remove the entrails and leave an empty cavity. Rinse out the blood (and anything else) with fresh water and remove the head if desired. All that’s left now is to cook and eat the fish—and start exaggerating about how big your catch really was.

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