Quick Snow Shelter

Every now and then, an adventurer, or just an average hiker/camper, may end up being in a situation in which building a proper overnight camp requires too much time or energy, or is downright impossible due to a broken tent, lack of firewood, or some other, afterwards hilarious event.

In those kind of situations, it is good to know how to build a snow shelter, preferably rather quickly. The internet is full of instructions of how to build real snow shelters, good for several nights in miserable weather. This is not one of those. Here I describe a building process of a very simple and quick shelter for one relatively comfortable night at temperatures above -10 C. Of course, in an emergency, anything is better than nothing, and this kind of shelter may save your life even at a lot colder temperature, but the comfort zone of this “quick and easy” ends at around -10 C.

The necessary warnings told, it is time to go to the construction:

1. If there is more than 70 cm of snow, pick any flat spot that looks good to you, preferably not at a place which may begin to collect water in case of warming weather, though. If the amount of snow is limited, try to find a dry ditch like place.

2. dig a ditch. About 70-80 X 200-250 cm size should be OK. To increase the height of the “walls”, pile the snow evenly on both sides of the ditch.

3. Build a supporting structure for the roof from any available material. Thick spruce tree branches are the best, but an empty sled, skis, ski poles, and any random sticks will do the job.

4. Cover the roof with a piece tarp.

5. Cover the whole thing with a 30-40 cm thick layer of snow, leaving a ventilation hole at the end of the shelter.

6. Place a camping matress and/or spruce tree branches to the floor of the shelter.

7. Organize your gear: Backpack as a main part of the rear door, boots inside the shelter, flashlight close to your body (it will get dark).

8. Crawl into your sleeping bag and drag yourself into the shelter.

9. Use your feet through the sleeping bag to cover the rear door with overhanging piece of the roof tarp.

10 Have a good night!

Based on my experience, this kind of 30 minute building project provides pretty good shelter for comfortable one night sleep at relatively warm weather (above -10 C). With decent ventilation arrangements, condensation of moisture is not a problem, and the temperature in the shelter stays at reasonable level.

I strongly recommend that you build, and test sleep, one of these in a safe environment. The experience is fun, and in the same time you learn about possible flaws in your building project. Trust me, screwing up your shelter project in your back yard is a funny story you can share with your friends. Screw up a similar project in a real SHTF situation, and your friends may read about it from tabloids, after someone finds your body in the spring.

How to make an ancient grouse trap, the Grouse Churn

A grouse churn has a significant role in Finnish and Scandinavian hunting history. Before the twentieth century, fire arms were rare among the poor rural folks, ammunitions were expensive, and there was constant and genuine threat of death by starvation during the long winters. Therefore, it was necessary to develop effective ways to hunt using the available materials, which, for many, were only sticks and stones.

For one who has nothing, the grouse churn was (and is) one the most effective hunting devices. It is very easy to build without any tools (a knife is helpful though), and all of the required materials can be found from the nature. The only “civilized” part of the trap is the bait, which is a bundle of grain, usually oat, but in an emergency, even the bait can be replaced with some other plants containing seeds to attract the birds.

How to build a grouse churn:

Cut yourself a bunch of about 2 meters  (7 ft) long, and about 2-5 cm (1-2 in) thick relatively straight sticks, and one stick of about 60 cm (2 ft) in length.

Push one of the longer sticks to the snow (or the ground) in an open area where you know that grouses like to hang around. Make a cross shaped structure by using a piece of string (or a rope you just weaved from some natural fibers) to bind the short stick to about 170 cm (5 and a 1/2 ft) height of the longer stick you just pushed to the ground. Tighten your knots so that the shorter stick stays put, but is not able to carry more than about a kilogram of weight on either side of it without flipping.

Bind a bundle of oat (or some other seedy plant) to the top of the cross.

Then, by using the rest of the long sticks, build a funnel shaped fence around the cross. The distance between your fence poles depends on the size of the birds you are trying to catch. About 10 cm (4 in) distance at the bottom part of the funnel fence, and about 50 cm (1 1/2 ft) width of the bottom itself are pretty good for the black grouse. Smaller species may need somewhat thicker and smaller design.

And finally, use some string or rope to secure the integrity of the fence. Then just go to your camp or cabin, and wait.

The working principle of the grouse churn is simple;

The bird sees the oats, flies towards the cross, and attempts to sit on the horizontal stick to dine. However, the stick does not hold the weight of the bird, and the bird falls into the churn. At the bottom of the churn there is not enough space for the poor grouse to spread its wings, and therefore, its sad destiny is to jump up and down in the churn until the hunter comes and ends its misery.

The name of the grouse churn most probably has its origins in the vertical movement of the bird in the funnel shaped trap, resembling that of the piston in an actual churn, which turns milk to butter.

The best times to catch grouse are dusk and dawn, and as a hunter you should check your trap(s) late in the evening and early in the morning.

Due to the fact that the hunting laws in Finland and Scandinavia strictly forbid using the grouse churn, as cruel, unusual, (and probably too effective) hunting device, everything written above is to be taken as description of historical curiosity only. And if you, dear reader from some other country, are ever planning to use the grouse churn for hunting, in any other than life threatening emergency situation, check the local hunting legislation first.