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Take a Knife to Scoutmaster Conference
If you're a scoutmaster going to have a conference with a scout, or if you're just in any leadership role and want to have a stress-free chat with someone, here's an idea.

I really like to whittle. I think every boy likes the feel of a blade slicing through wood and being able to physically change the appearance of something. Scouts in our troop love getting the Totin' Chip (many of them get it on the first campout) and then just sitting and carving a point on a stick for 15 minutes or more. That's a powerful way to create a bond with a young scout.

When I'm sitting down to chat with a scout, I often try to have a piece of wood with me, and I always have my knife. Usually, I have a small whittling project under way so I work on that. I'll chip away at it while I ask questions and talk about 'stuff'. It gives the scout something to focus on and he'll usually be more open with his answers. It's a little less intimidating than having this big dude sitting there grilling him about how he's been doing. :-)

By having a simple, mindless activity going on, whether it's whittling, tying hemp bracelets, braiding grass, or whatever, I believe it relieves a bunch of stress. You should give it a try the next time you need to have a talk with someone and see if it makes a difference.

Scout On
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Posted: 22:55 08-21-2007 169
Reusing Cat Holes
You can ask my neighbors and they'll tell you I've just about always got some silly experiment going on in my yard. For example, last summer I left a 10x10 square of grass unmowed all summer to see how it would reseed. This summer, I pulled weeds by hand except for one area that I sprayed. So, I'm just interested in finding out how well things really work.

The principles of Leave No Trace attempt to minimize our impact when we're exploring the outdoors. Most of them are obviously helpful and don't require much effort in convincing people that they are a good idea.
But, I've been interested in how well cat holes really work for disposing of human waste. The concept is that you dig a 6 inch hole in organic soil (not sand or mineral soil), deposit your waste, cover it back up, and then it quickly decomposes. So, I wondered if this really works or if we're just burying our waste so it's out of sight.
The past three years, I've backpacked in an area of Wyoming, with a church group and our scout troop. We've camped a night in the same general area each trip so I've had an opportunity to see catholes in action. I found a secluded spot that was very far from camp, minimizing the probability of anyone else walking that far to use it. After digging and using the cathole, I marked it with a stick.
The next year, I found the spot. The sparse ground cover looked healthy and the hole was unidentifiable except for the stick. I dug it up and there was no visible trace of waste or toilet paper.
So, I used the hole again, covered it up, and marked it. The third year, I found it again and it was still unrecognizable except for the stick. I couldn't see any reduction in the vegetation and the waste had 'vanished'.
From this simple experiment, I'm much more confident that by using catholes my impact is really reduced. I believe it is important to find good locations for catholes (in organic duff by trees or bushes), use minimal toilet paper, and carefully replace the ground cover when finished.

As your scout troop explores the outdoors, taking responsibility for their impact falls under the Outdoor Code as well as the Scout Law. They need to be trained in Leave No Trace ethics so they understand and adopt the need to minimize their impact. The Leave No Trace award is a great way to learn, practice, and embrace the LNT principles.

Scout On
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Posted: 8:52 08-19-2007 168
Does your troop sell popcorn each year?

I just received our council's '2007 Popcorn Sales Guide' yesterday. It's eleven pages of instructions, tips, and mostly encouragement to participate - win prizes, get a scholarship, have a great program, support the council, have fun, ... and so on.

There are 12 product items, ranging in price from $9.00 to $50.00 Yes, that's $50.00 for a tin of popcorn - covered in chocolate, but still popcorn. In the past few years, the prices of the popcorn have really popped. We used to have a $5.00 item and $35.00 was the biggest.

It's pretty difficult to encourage scouts to sell items that are priced about 3 times what they are worth. The $14.00 microwave popcorn has 15 packets in it. I can buy a 3-pack at the grocery store today for $1.19 - that's $6.25 instead of $14.00 In the BSA fundraising guidelines, we are supposed to offer a product or service in a way that customers get their money's worth. That no longer seems to be the case with popcorn sales.

Our troop sells popcorn at the same time we sell wreaths. Every year for the past 5 years, the percentage of sales from popcorn has steadily decreased while sales of wreaths has held steady. Neighbors like supporting the scouts and they enjoy having beautiful wreaths delivered that are fairly priced. Unfortunately, I've had a few tell me the prices of the popcorn are out of line and they'll no longer purchase it for that reason.

I can't blame them.

Scout On
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Posted: 12:16 08-17-2007 167
Think of Webelos
It's mid-August, do you know where your Webelos are?

About this time, it seems that Webelos and their den leaders start thinking about visiting troops and choosing one to join in the spring. If you are hoping to gain a few new members in your troop, don't wait any longer to start working on it. With the start of school, planning will get more difficult.

There are a few things that greatly influence where Webelos go when they cross-over...

If the Senior Patrol Leader and his team have not started planning at least one event aimed at recruiting Webelos, they really need to do it this month. A good idea is to offer a day hike in October with fun activities to cover the Scout Oath, Law, motto, slogan, ... so attendees can complete Arrow of Light requirements 2, 4, and 5.

Make sure you publicize your offerings to the Webelos den leaders early so they can get their scouts to show up. If you can get the phone contacts for each Webelos scout family, that's even better, but more work.

Our troop now invites 4th and 5th grade Webelos to its day event and gives a different patch to each grade. This gives the 4th graders something to look forward to the next year and more exposure to the troop.

Scout On

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Posted: 14:23 08-14-2007 166
Our Scout at World Jamboree

A scout from our troop attended the 21st World Scout Jamboree in England the past two weeks and got in a picture on the BSA web site - he's sitting wearing a maroon shirt. Now that the jamboree is finished, we're excited to have him give a presentation at the next troop meeting - hopefully it will excite some scouts for the 2011 Jamboree in Sweden.

A jamboree is too big for what I enjoy - just a District camporee seems too crowded. :-) But, hey, if it's in Sweden then that's a different story - Ya, sure, you betcha!

Scout On

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Posted: 8:57 08-13-2007 165
Philmont Lightning
Last night, we had an awesome lightning storm here in Minnesota. Once the front moved through, I watched that back side of the storm for 1/2 hour. It was the first time I've seen a storm go through with absolutely clear skies directly behind it - no lingering clouds at all, just twinkling stars and the back side of a huge thunderhead exploding with lightning about 15 miles away. Very Cool! Weird thing was that there was no thunder at all, it was completely quiet with no wind.

Anyway, I read that some scouts at Philmont had a run-in with lightning while hiking on Baldy Mountain and 11 got medical attention. They were all fine and rejoined their crews. Sounds to me like they were very fortunate.

Last year, we turned back from our summit hike on a troop backpacking trip due to encroaching storms. It's never the wrong choice to turn back - it may not be popular, but its always safer.
If it's just rain, I don't mind scouts getting wet and muddy. But, having the chance of lightning when we're above timberline makes me very nervous - since I'm 6-2, I'm usually the tallest target around. :-)

Scout On

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Posted: 10:58 08-12-2007 164
Sparks Fly
I've been in contact with Kris Goodrich at Carnot Industries about his Flint & Steel and Bow Drill products. He has agreed to contribute products for prizes in our monthly contest - how cool is that? Just click the "Prizes" link at the top of any page to enter.

Kris's story is pretty interesting. He and his two brothers worked through the ranks of scouting, from Cub Scouts to Eagle Scout. Kris got interested in primitive fire starting at scout camp in 1997 and they've now been selling 'Sparks Fly' kits since 2000. They started from scratch with a friend, a forge, an anvil, some coal, and a big dream. With that, they started producing flint & steel sets for their troop and then to sell.

Kris has continued to 'give back' to scouting by being a JASM and then Asst. Scoutmaster so providing products to build scouting skills naturally fits with his scouting life.

If you are thinking of Flint & Steel or Bow Drill sets for your troop, please consider supporting the business of some fellow Scouters.

Scout On

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Posted: 9:58 08-10-2007 163
ALPS Mountaineering tents
This spring, our troop was in need of some new tents since we had gained 20 new scouts and some tents were wearing out.
I checked around the Net and found which sells ALPS Mountaineering tents. We ordered some 4-man and 2-man Taurus tents with fiberglass poles. Aluminum poles are lighter, but more fragile and much more expensive.

ALPS Mountaineering tent
I just spent 14 nights in a 2-man Taurus backpacking in Wyoming. 7 nights were with another adult leader on our scout trek, then 7 nights were with my son on a church youth group trek - his patrol let us borrow the tent.

I've got to give a great big Thumbs Up to the ALPS Taurus tent. On these treks, there were Eurekas, Keltys, and some other tents. The rainfly on the ALPS comes completely to the ground which has a few great benefits:

We had a strong, short hail storm - you might see the white hail on the ground in the photo. But, we also had a 10 hour rainstorm all night. The ALPS kept us and our gear in the vestibules dry, while the other tents got wet inside from blowing rain.

Another impressive thing about the ALPS tents is that they go up with just clips - no sleeves to slide poles through. My son and I timed ourselves and it took just 3 minutes 14 seconds to erect the tent from being bagged to completely staked out with rainfly. There are just two poles and no third pole for the rainfly so it is a very simple, sturdy set up.

What don't I like? Well, there's a little plastic window in the rainfly so you can look out from the inside - I could do without that since it just means more seams to possibly leak. But, the scouts like it. And, I wish there was green or tan colors, but it just comes in blue unless you double the price up to the Outfitter style in tan.

Have your Troop Quartermaster take a look at your tent inventory this fall and then check out to see what they offer.

Scout On
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Posted: 10:31 08-09-2007 162
Backpacking There and Back
Well, two weeks later and 8 pounds lighter, I'm back. :-)

What a terrific trek through a bit of Wyoming with a great crew. All 8 scouts got a good start on the Backpacking merit badge requirements and they expect to finish it next year with their Philmont trek being the grand finale.

The crew set the summit of Cloud Peak at 13,167 as the main goal of the trek. Everyone reached that goal, some having an easy time of it and others digging deep to find the endurance to keep going. We only got to enjoy the summit for about 5 minutes before the clouds dropped and we had to slowly creeep down to 12,000 feet before getting out of the clouds. After that, it was much better. The entire day hike took 12 hours, which is about 4 hours longer than normal.

The next day, we were scheduled to hike most of the way out and spend one more night in the woods. But, since we had 11 hours of rain all night and it was still dreary, the crew elected to hike 12 miles out for showers and a campground.

There was a great amount of leadership, cooperation, and support demonstrated on this trek. A couple scouts that tend to take a back seat stepped up, while I learned about some areas for improvement for a couple of Life scouts.

I'd be happy to share our itinerary with anyone that's interested - just send me an email.

You can see photos of our trek at: Bighorns Backpacking

Scout On
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Posted: 17:03 08-06-2007 161
2 Week Vacation
Tomorrow we leave for two weeks of backpacking. We had a pack check-in and distribution of crew gear and food on Wednesday.
My pack weighed in at 51 pounds! After going through it two more times and dropping out shirts, socks, trail mix, and exchanging my sleeping pad, its now down to 44. I have a tent, 15 pounds of food, and other crew gear that totals about 25 pounds. Since I also have to carry a camera, medical forms, permits, ... it adds up.
We have a few sub-100 pound scouts going on the trek so they can't carry nearly as much but we have food amounts based on 150 pound people. I don't mind picking up the slack - my pack at Philmont grew to 65 pounds by the end of that trek. This time, it should get lighter, especially after Tuesday's lunch which is the first meal I'm carrying. I expect we'll probably have too much food at meals so I'll be the garbage disposal.
We have the rental van ready - it's white. Dry-erase markers are great fun to write on vans. You can really customize your ride and then it wipes right off. White's a good color for the prairies this time of year too. It's supposed to be 105 in Wall, SD when we drive through tomorrow!

The weather forecast for the Buffalo, Wyoming area is high 90s and 18-25% humidity with a low probability of scattered rain all next week. I hope they're right! We will attempt to summit Cloud Peak on Wednesday and that is forecast to be practically perfect.

So, I'll be back online in 2 weeks.

Scout On
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Posted: 21:01 07-20-2007 160
Backpacking, Anyone?
We have a crew of 8 scouts and 2 adults traveling to Wyoming to backpack in the Cloud Peak Wilderness Area, leaving this Saturday!
Last night was our last training meeting, reviewing map and compass as well as the first aid topics of dehydration, hypothermia, and altitude sickness. For us flatlanders at around 1000 feet, going up to 13000 can cause some problems.

This crew has done a terrific job of preparing for the trek! The scout in charge just got back from our council's week-long leader training course called Grey Wolf and he's done great work in organizing the preparations. We've done 5 10-mile hikes for the Hiking merit badge as well as 5 4-mile hikes. One scout located and reserved a campground for the drive out and back at Mountain View Campground. Another designed and ordered crew t-shirts online at Two more created the menu and purchased the food - they are doing the repackaging tomorrow.
We have our final pack check and distribution of crew gear tomorrow night.

For my part, I dried about 40 pounds of bananas, apples, cantaloupe, and strawberries in our dehydrator. :-) I also did a couple pounds of hamburger for adding to our spaghetti dinner - first time for that and it seemed to turn out great.

It looks like the total cost per scout will be about $275 for the 7 day trip, including rental of a van. That includes the complete cost for the adults, too. If you'd like a breakdown of our expenses, just send me an email and I'll get it to you when we return.

Scout On

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Posted: 12:51 07-17-2007 159
Back from Camp
The troop spent last week at Many Point Scout Camp. After one big lightning/rain storm on Monday night, the rest of the week's weather was practically perfect for camping. Waking up to see your breath in the morning and warming up into the mid-70s in the day. Just a little too cool for many water activities though.

This was the first year our troop has used the dining hall - we've always cooked our own food in the past. Wow! just like a vacation! No messy campsites, no critters, really good food, and plenty of it. It was so nice that the troop has decided to use the dining hall again next year.

The down side of the dining hall is that scouts can't take the Cooking merit badge and don't develop cooking skills. So, next year's schedule is including lots of cooking the other months to make up for it. This summer, the new scouts will not cook from April until the end of August which doesn't help their advancement.

Some scouts working on the Communications merit badge planned a terrific troop campfire one night with lots of new stories, skits, and songs. "If I Werent a Scouter" was the favorite.

The 15 first year scouts that attended camp all took the Leatherwork and Basketry merit badges with most of them completing their projects. Now, that's a lot of baskets accumulating around the campsite!

We also had a lot of scouts earn their Totin' Chit and a few earned the Firem'n Chip card. We tear off a corner of the Totin' Chit to start and burn off a corner of the Firem'n Chip. Then, any infractions result in tearing or burning off another corner - when they're gone, the scout needs to go through the training again to refresh his understanding.

The troop also learned a new, simple way to make rope so I expect we'll see that at a troop meeting some time in the coming winter. That would be a good Webelos recruiting activity, I bet.

Scout On
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Posted: 23:51 07-16-2007 158
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