Campfire stories can be great fun. Here are some tips and tricks to help you spin a great yarn at your next campfire. It is ok to think out of the box, but you do need to use themes that are a unique to get the listeners attention. Craft your stories to be appropriate for your audience. Here is an example.

“The wolf had pestered the lumber camp long enough. One of their own had been killed and eaten by this local pack of wolves. The woodcutters caught the biggest wolf and killed it. The guts were strewn across the ground and left to rot. The next morning, when the woodcutters came back to the site, everything was still there except for the intestines! Only a faint crawling blood trail led into the forest. The intestines were still alive!”

This was the premise for an historical campfire story that has been told for generations! As a Scout, youth leader, ad teacher this themed story has thoroughly scared generations of campers. The concept of the story is simple but what makes a great campfire story is much more. The truth is that intestines don’t come back to life but… Here are some thoughts and ideas on how to tell great campfire stories of your own!

Not everyone is a good storyteller, but with practice, you can learn to become one. It takes creativity, spontaneity, personality, and imagination. We all know who in our groups fit these requirements. Make them responsible to tell the stories at your campfires.

Campfire stories are best told in the dark.  Night time brings out basic fears and makes listeners more gullible to the yarn you plan to tell. If it seems too dark, hand out some glow sticks for security.

Keep it Simple   The best stories are the ones that are easy to remember. Consider themes that are obviously relevant and may be believable. Simple enough to have fun with and exciting enough to be remembered.

Personalize the story   Use local landmarks, history, legends, or features to give your story a touch of legitimacy. Ex. Wolves were once abundant in these hills. Many were gray, but a few were black. Some were huge and weighed as much as 200 or more pounds.

Tell the story effectively   A great campfire story usually takes 15-20 minutes to tell properly. If they are too short, they lack credibility. Too long and they put people asleep. Plan ahead and practice your storytelling skills. If it makes you react, then you are on the right track.

Properly introduce the story   Make sure you get everyone’s attention at the beginning of the story. Have another camper make an introduction. Toss some campfire glitter flash powder into the fire. Maybe try some pinecones soaked in chemicals to change color. Add some pizazz then begin the story when everyone is ready. Ex. Hold a large wood cutters axe, that was found by the large tree nearby.

Make the story believable   Add just enough facts to make the story plausible, the go a bit crazy. Use accurate facts, history, names, and dates. Relate events to real events and people. Identify actual people or their relatives from your gathering to support the story. Ex. The wood cutters camp was along this ridge. This campfire site was were the cook prepared their meals. Your Scout Leaders Grandfather knew many of the woodcutters that worked here.

Be original but…   The best stories are based on the same themes. Murder, vampires, mystery, or simply things that go bump in the night. If you are camping, use the dark to add mystery, excitement and fear.

Ask questions       Ex. “Has anyone ever seen a real wolf?”  “Do you know how long a wolf’s intestine is?”  “What kinds of things can you use an intestine for?” Get your guests thinking about the theme. Pioneers used intestines to make sausage. Most trappers ate the meat from the critters they caught. Intestines in a 200 lb. wolf are around 25 feet long! That makes for a huge “Living Intestine”! This line of factual input gives realism and fact to your story.

Use the campfire guests’ senses    Play off of their senses of sight, touch, smell, and imagination. Once the guests are hooked on your story, it is amazing what you can make them believe. If a creature has a smell, open a jar of stink to support it. Ex. Mimic sounds of wolves or other creatures. Have a friend away from the campfire make a howl, bark, or creature scream. Wolves hunt in packs so several different locations could be used. Use a string tied to a stack of cans near the tents. Jerk it to create a startling noise at the right moment. You get the idea, now be creative.

Use adjectives!   Use descriptive words to enhance your story. Ex. The wolf’s breath doesn’t just stink, “it smelled of rotten, raw, meat and salty blood!”. Have fun with grossing out your audience while adding spice to the story. Avoid curse words or inappropriate comments or themes. Keep it between the lines. If you tell the story properly, you will not need to add shock and awe. The story will make the guests imaginations do that for you.

Inflection, tone, volume, and pace    Use these presentation tricks to keep your guests off balance. Avoid saying “um, uh, like, …”, the words you say when you are not sure what to say next. Your story will burn up if you read it or don’t believe and know it yourself. If you forget a thought, slow down, ask a question, make some noises, ask for another log on the fire. This will give you time to think and allow the guests to savor what is next. Ex. If the wolf howl was loud, scream it. If the wolf made the wood cutters afraid, say it in your voice. Stand up and yell, or swing the axe, or what was that, did you see that shadow? Keep you guests on their toes.

Make your campfire snacks related to the story     Ex. Give out some chopped up meat sticks before the store begins. Everyone loves Slim Jim’s. Did you know that they are made using intestine casings and ground up hearts? After the story about Living Intestines, will they ever eat a meat stick again? Maybe cookies in the shape of a wolf’s feet, small axes, or long, red, sticky, thick string licorice. You get my drift?

The story should take on a life of its own. You will know if the story was a good one if your guests are talking about it for years to come. “I just could not get asleep, thanks a lot!”. Check the campers once the fire has ended and they return to there tents. Carry you axe so they know you will keep them safe.

“The woodcutters followed the faint blood trail to a rock cliff. One lumberman looked inside a crevice where the blood trail led. Suddenly he fell backwards, screaming and writhing on the ground. The Living Intestine was sucking his life away as it attached to his forehead. The other woodcutters came to his rescue and used their axes to cut the long intestine into hundreds of pieces. After this axe swinging frenzy, they found their friend dead and carried his lifeless body back to camp. The next day, they returned to the bloody site to bury the remains of the living intestine. Not a single piece could be found, just hundreds of tiny blood trails leading away into the forest. A month later, people from the nearest town went to visit the lumber camp. No one had come for supplies that were needed. Everyone was found dead, only a small round mark could be found on their foreheads!”

Ice the Cake   Do something the next morning to bring your story back to life. Ex. If you painted small red blood trails around the campsite the next morning, the story will take on a life of its own.

Make your campfire stories something to be remembered for years to come. This is what makes campfires fun and ….

“What was that? Did you hear that sound, oh no it’s a giant…!!!”

Montana Grant

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Fishers and hunters are made, not born. Sure, some folks tend to have interests and desires to celebrate the outdoors, but it may require a mentor or guide. For generations, potential candidates have been shown the trailheads to the watersheds and hunting grounds.

Recently I shared a fishing day with a new candidate. Sue, a retired teacher from Maryland, and a lifelong friend. For years, she has endured my stories and adventures in the outdoors. After over 40 years as a teacher, she asked me to share my love of fly fishing with her. Sue, along with her husband John, had never cast or fished. They both recently retired and were now celebrating their earned free time together. They came all the way to Montana to get a fishing lesson!

We started with some casting tips using both a fly rod and a spinning rod.  The methods are different, but usually some prefer one over the other. Our drift would be along the lower Madison River. We would put in at Warm Springs and take out at Damselfly Access. Montana weather was as usual, unpredictable. This would be the first “cold” day of the fall. Fishing would be slow, and nymphs would be the choice of the day.

The one thing about fishing is that there is not one thing! Every aspect of fishing requires a new tip, trick, or skill. Tying knots, casting, building a leader, matching a hatch, reading the water, seeing a strike, setting the hook, etc. There is always something new to learn. Experienced anglers normally learn a new trick every time they venture out.

We boarded the drift boat and began the float. Fall colors were already showing their final brilliance before winter. Flights of mergansers and ducks were escorting us. A shore lunch, some drinks, and snacks always add to the experience.

Few insects were visible, but a fish must eat. We drifted double rigs of caddis and larger nymphs. I attached 3 spaced Palsa indicators several feet up the leader. Each strike indicator was a different color of hot pink, chartreuse, or orange. This way, a rookie can see the strike and manage a smooth drift.

For the most part my new anglers did as directed. Their casting was adequate, and they took advice willingly. I answered many great questions. Both had some action as trout struck their nymphs or chased a spinner. Sue was seeing the strikes but could not figure out how to set the hook. Finally, the strike indicator stopped, and Sue struck!

 “FISH ON!” Watching a new fisher catch their first fish never gets old. The squeals, yells, and excitement remind us of the joy of fishing. Size doesn’t matter. The moment is gigantic and will never be forgotten.  The brown trout was netted and released after a few pictures were taken. Care of the Catch and Released trout was paramount.

We never catch enough fish. That’s why we keep going fishing. The excitement is a healthy addiction that will never be satisfied. Sue is already talking about gear, places to fish, boots and new adventures. Another candidate is hooked for life!

Tight lines and screaming reels!

Montana Grant

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This weekend is the beginning of Montana’s antelope hunt. If you received a tag for an applied area, or plan to head east for a more open antelope area, it is time to get ready to head afield. Weather is typical Montana so be ready for rain and snow.

My tag will place me along the Musselshell River in central Montana. You can’t help but be reminded of the hunts of natives, pioneers, and Mountain Men. The “Musselshell” stirs strong stories of wonderful hunting. I will be hunting with a friend that I mentored years ago.

Yellowstone Kelly enjoyed hunting antelopes. An early Mountain Man and guide, Kelly enjoyed hunting these abundant and manageable critters. A dressed antelope could be carried over the shoulder. Once near a tree, the “lope” would be hung on a branch and tagged with a scarf or symbol of the hunter. No one would mess with other hunters kill, unless invited. Sides of ribs stacked against a fire, steaks and chunks of meat spitted over a fire, or cleaned intestines stuffed with bits of meat, marrow, and fat were common recipes. Hunters would eat 20 or more pounds of meat daily.

The first antelope I tagged was a buck. My friend told me to set up near water or green grass and wait. After a few hours, a large herd of “lopes” crested the hill. I was sitting in a dug-out hole along the bank. Out of the wind and cozy. I had cut a shooting stick and waited with my single shot rifle. I scoped a nice buck and pulled the trigger. In an instance, the herd vanished. I went to the place the buck was standing and found blood.

Following a blood trail is a fun part of the hunt we rarely talk about. Since the buck was higher on the slope and ran over top, I could not see where he fell. Within 100 yards, the blood covered sage led me to my buck. After dressing the buck, I threw it over my shoulder and began the trek to the truck.

The nice buck seemed lighter as I made the best out of the task. Once at the truck, I saw my buddy coming across the prairie with his pronghorn. The weapons, gear, and clothes may have changed but the spirit of the hunt always stays the same.

Hunt hard, hunt harder!

Montana Grant

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None of us like to think about how old we are. The other day I went to the Dr. for my annual checkup and they needed me to fill out a form. “What is your age?” Who cares. I never thought about my age since waiting to be old enough to drive. Stupid me, I did not really know. Sure, I have seen more Presidents, hunting and fishing seasons than Millennials, but… I had to do the math.

This was my ah ha moment. Let’s just say that I am older than I thought but the Dr. said I am way younger than my age. My jogging is on line, regular work outs help, better diet plan is important but…

Getting older means that you get to a point where you have lived longer than you are going to live. That means you better savor every hunting and fishing season you have left.

My dad shot his last buck at 84 years old. His last limit of trout was when he was 88. He made it to 95 so I come from some good genetics.

We only are blessed with so many hunting and fishing seasons. Each year is one less. Celebrate them all. It is not just about filling a tag, it is just about being able to go. We slow down and are less flexible. Many of our old buddies quit, died, or have given up.

Find some Young Bucks to mentor and that appreciate your stories, lessons, and company. Share everything you can while you can. You Young Bucks need to find some old guys and family that need some support. Life is getting short.

Tomorrow, when I jog, maybe I will have a bit more energy in my step. Elk season is just around the corner. The mountains, rivers, and streams are calling, and I plan to be there in as full force as I can.

 Get up and get out! Oh, and Happy Birthday!

Montana Grant

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You know you are getting old when you officially become a Grandparent. Most of my buddy’s brag about their Grandkids. “It is the best thing that ever happened to me!” I hope they are right.

Montana Jessie, my daughter, and her husband Dylan are about to have their world turned upside down. Children change everything. Montana Linda, my wife, and I were lucky to have a Buck and a Doe! That way we had our favorite son and daughter. There was no prestige for being the first or youngest or… We were blessed with two healthy and wonderful children.

I am not sure how to be a Grandpa. It sounds like fun and everyone says it is a wonderful part of life. It is a trail I have yet to travel. As a parent my favorite time was from ages 4-12. The kids could talk and were so cute. Life was fun, easy, and busy. Everything was new and special. Hunting, fishing, camping, and trekking outdoors was fresh and new again.

That is how I feel this new adventure will be like. As hunters and fishermen, we evolve. First, we want to catch a fish, then a bunch of fish. Once our skills grow we seek a BIG fish, then a specific fish. Next, we embrace the opportunity to teach others how to enjoy fishing hunting, and the outdoors.

It worked once with the Montana Grant Kids, I am sure it will work again. I hope to tag and limit out along every step of the Grandpa path. I think our world is about to change too!

I hate changing diapers though!

Montana Grant

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BIG APPLE DUMPLINGS are the best. Deserts at hunting and fishing camp are always important. We all enjoy S’mores, cobblers, and campfire baked treats. Try this crazy recipe at home or on your next outdoor adventure.

I was taught this recipe years ago on a Boy Scout camp out. The Dutch Oven was scraped clean. Every Scout was fat and happy. Since it was “boys” they named it the “Big Dump!” Feel free to call it whatever you prefer.

You will need a charcoal or campfire coals that will supply a temperature of 350 degrees for about 40 minutes. This also works well in a smoker grill or in your home oven.

1.) Cut up 3- 4 apples into thick slices. I prefer the apples skinned and cored.

2.) Lay out a container of Crescent pastry rolls. Use the ones from the tube that scares you when it opens. Poppin fresh style.

3.) Wrap an apple slice up in each triangle shaped pastry. Place the apple at the wide end and roll to the point.

4.) Stack the rolled apple dumplings into a greased baking dish or Dutch oven.

5.) Now mix 1 ½ cups of sugar with 2 sticks of softened butter. Add a teaspoon of Vanilla. The mixture will be granular and not melted. More like a sweet paste. Dump onto the dumplings.

6.) Pour ¾ of a can of Lemon Lime soda onto the dumplings. This moisture will be absorbed in the baking process and help to make the sauce. Sprinkle with cinnamon and/or nutmeg.

7.) Bake for around 40 minutes at 350 degrees. Serve with a spoon in a small bowl or Styrofoam cup. At home, you can get fancier with your Big Dump presentation and add ice cream or…

No matter what you do, there will be no leftovers!

Montana Grant

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Fishermen never catch enough fish! The only way to learn to catch more fish is catch more fish! We can’t eat everything we catch, so throw some back to catch another day.

Wicked Tuna is a reality fishing show that focuses on a Blue Fin Tuna fishery that is sustained thanks to Catch and Release. Tuna could not reach lengths of 100 inches and a thousand pounds without having the time to grow. Undersized fish are caught and released carefully. Sailfish Catch and Release counts when the swivel touches the rod tip. Once there, the circle hook is removed, and the fish is released unharmed. Stocks of these fish species are improving in part, thanks to Catch and Release techniques.

Here are some important tips when Catching and Releasing a fish.

1.)    Land the fish quickly! Understand your drag, use thinner but stronger fluorocarbon tippet, and be aggressive during the fight.

2.)    The longer you allow the fish to fight, the less chance it will recover.

3.)    Wet your hand, net, or whatever will touch the fish before contacting them.

4.)    Keep the fish in the water as long as possible. Minimize the time of the fish out of water for photos.

5.)    Remove the sharpened hook quickly. Forceps are a great tool to help with this. Barbs are less important than a hook that is sharp.

6.)    Let the fish recover before releasing. If the fish is bleeding from a gill or deep hooking you may want to just snip the line and let them go. Their digestive juices will dissolve the hook in a few days. Consider keeping It if regulations allow.

Even with the best Catch and Release techniques, some fish will die. It is estimated that for each angler fishing day, .65 fish released die. The Madison River has registered 175,000 angler days a year. This means that 100,000 trout die each year after being released! That’s a huge pile of wasted fish.

Respect your catch and limit their mortality by being a responsible Catch and Release angler.

Release your catch gently!

Montana grant

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“I GOTTA BITE!” Nothing is more fun than catching a fish. The feel of a bite, the bend of the rod and the sound of a screaming reels drag are lifelong memories. We may forget the place, we may forget the fish, but we will never forget how catching a fish made us feel.

Going fishing means going outside. There is no better babysitter than a rod, riverbank and fish. Getting away from indoor routines, video games and stress is healthy. Fishing is more than just catching. It is fellowship, adventure, skill, rules, limits and oh yea, just fun.

When we first start to fish we just want to catch a fish, any fish. Of course, with all fish stories, the fish do tend to grow. Next we try to catch a lot of fish. Then, our goal becomes a BIG fish. With our developing skills, our next target is a specific fish. Eventually, we evolve to become the greatest fisherman of all…the one that takes pride in teaching others how to fish. If you think you are a great fisherman, then prove it. Teach a kid how to fish!

This lifelong sharing is a gift that ensures public waters and wild places for the future. Fishing is a wonderful survival skill that teaches us patience, pride, confidence and joy. If we don’t pass it on, fishing, hunting, camping and outdoor fun will become things that only rich people can afford to do. Here in Montana we are blessed to have public access to our watersheds, parks and public lands. We need all generations and citizens to protect these special treasures in our great state.

Here are some things to remember when you take a kid or friend fishing!

  • Make the trip FUN! A few hours and enough at first.
  • Rig all your gear ahead of time. Keep it simple. Cane poles or push button reels are fine.
  • Start with eager and willing fish. Check with your fishing shops and friends for these hotspots.
  • Know your regulations. Fish as you want your kids to fish.
  • Bring comforts, snacks and alternatives to fishing. Binoculars are a good idea. No electronics such as cell phones or Gameboys.
  • A first aid kit is a good idea. If you bring one, you won’t need it.
  • Teach patience. It is called fishing, not catching. A bad day fishing is still a good day.
  • Bring a net and a camera. Celebrate the memories. There is a special God that helps kids catch their first fish.
  • Wear hats, polaroid sunglasses and dress comfortably for the weather.
  • Teach conservation and respect for our resources. Pick up trash .Leave your spot better than you found it.

Remember that fishing and outdoor sports are highly addictive in a good way. Kids that are bored make poor choices. When your fishing lines tighten, so will your relationship with your kids.

Tight Lines and Have fun!

Montana Grant

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How BIG is BIG ENOUGH for your rod? This depends on what fishing rods we are talking about. If you talk to fly fishermen, Spey rod fishermen, bass fishermen, or spin fishermen, “cane polers”, or backpackers, ideal size will vary.

First, Fishing rods are levers. According to Archimedes, the Greek philosopher, “if you have a big enough lever you could lift the world!” Fishing rods are simple tools. The bigger the job, the bigger the tool needed.

Spin rods are normally 5-9 feet long. They have actions that vary in flexibility, and sensitivity. Ultra-lights are the most sensitive. You can fight bigger fish with bigger rods.

Fly rods are 6-12 feet long. Their sensitivity is measured in “weights”. Trout fishermen generally prefer 5 weight rods that are 9 feet long. Years ago a 7 weight 71/2-foot rod was the rod of choice. Salt water fly guys like the 10 weights at 12 feet. You can fly fish with lighter 2,3, and 4 weight rods but the casting stroke must be faster, and your range and power will decline. Longer rods supply more power and strength.

SPEY rods start at 12 feet and go up to 16 feet in length. This rod has it roots with salmon fishermen and have become popular with trout fishermen as well. It will take two hands to work this long rod.

Bass Casting Rods of 6-8 foot tend to be stiffer and are loaded with heavier braided lines. Bass tend to prefer heavier big baits and live near thick structure like grass beds and snags. Strong, stiffer rods are better for dragging big fish out of their cover.

Cane poles are a simple way to fish. As children, we probably started with a 10-foot bamboo or willow rod. The simplicity of this gear was perfect for rookies. If it broke, you cut a new one. Bobbers would help swing out the bait and show the bites. A slip bobber makes this technique even more effective today.

No matter how big your rod is, the key is to use it. Rod choice will ultimately be measured by the size of the fish you catch!

Fish hard, fish harder!

Montana Grant

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Gobbling up turkeys is not just about filling your tag. Turkeys are also great to eat. When we go on our annual turkey trip to eastern Montana, harvested turkeys rarely return home. They end up on the menu!

Once a spring turkey is in the bag, we skin the bird and separate the breasts and legs. If you have a big enough Dutch Oven, you can also leave the bird whole. We also save the tail intact, and other feathers that serve as materials for fly tying or other decorative purposes. The legs and spurs also end up as necklaces or decorations. Nothing goes to waste.

Remember if you transport the bird, you must leave proof of sex attached on the bird. This means a spurred leg. Our turkeys are transported back to camp and onto the dinner table.

Once your campfire has plenty of coals, use a shovel to dig a 2-foot hole next to your fire. The hole needs to be wide enough to allow 2 inches of clearance on all sides.

Once the turkey is cleaned and rinsed, rub the skin with olive oil, salt, rosemary, thyme, and parsley. Stuff the turkey’s cavity with your favorite stuffing, fruit, garlic or whatever you enjoy. You do not have to stuff the bird.

Place the turkey in your Dutch Oven. If you do not have a big baking pot, wrap the seasoned bird in cheese cloth or a pillow case. Then add 3-4 layers of aluminum foil.

Use the shovel to cover the bottom of the hole with a layer of coals, then surround the bird with about 2 inches of coals. Now cover the coal covered bird with dirt!

Allow the bird to roast at least 3 hours. Most Jake’s clean up and weigh around 12 lbs. Add another half hour for every additional 4 lbs. When it is time, dig up your meal and start enjoying your fresh baked Spring Gobbler!

You can also place potatoes, wrapped in thick mud onto the coals. When the mud is hard, after 30-40 minutes, break it off for a perfect baked tate!

Camp cooking is fun!

Montana Grant

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