Monday, April 28, 2014

Make a Polespear for Survival

It's surprising how many days one can hunt or fish and come home empty-handed. I was thinking about one trip I made deep into a remote forest, and was reminded how I fed myself that trip: with small fish and freshwater shrimp I harvested from a shallow stream using a pair of goggles and a home-made polespear. Although the stream was only 3-8 inches deep, I crept along on my belly, peering underwater through my goggles and spotting numerous small fish (think goldfish size) and transparent shrimp (sometimes all I could actually see of them were their small iridescent spots. They were ridiculously easy to spear with my rudely fashioned polespear, and I probably had two pounds of protein in my pot that night, consisting of those fish and shrimp along with some pollywogs, water beetles, and freshwater snails I harvested from the stream.


The polespears I've used are a simple 4-6' pole with a spear head on one end and an elastic loop attached to the other. Think of a spear such as one might use in spearfishing, with elastic attached to the base. I loop the elastic loop over the thumb of my right hand, then use my left hand to draw the spear back, then grip the shaft of the polespear with my right hand, now under tension with the elastic looped over the web of that same hand. I am then ready to extend my right arm with the spear, and "fire" by simply releasing the shaft while hanging on to the elastic. Another way I sometimes use a polespear is to grasp the elastic loop in my left hand, grasp the spear in my right hand, then extend my left arm holding the elastic as though holding a slingshot, and draw back my right hand holding the spear, as one would draw back a slingshot missile in its pouch. With this method I release the spear with my right hand to "fire."

I typically release the spear (but don't let go of the elastic) with the spear head only 4-18" from my target. The elastic thrusts the spear forward and past my extended left arm. The polespear is a close-range device. When I first started polespearing, I expected my prey to flee my spear, but apparently the prey is more afraid of my large body than the slim point of the spear.

For a spear I prefer to use a length of bamboo 3/8" - 3/4" in diameter. One could also use any suitable (i.e. straight and rigid) tree limb. It's best to use something that is not real flexible, such as wood that is seasoned rather than green; you don't want the spear bending and veering away because of the forces which are applied to it. If your pole is too light, it may not strike with enough penetration; but if your pole is too heavy, your elastic might not have enough power to throw the pole with enough speed to penetrate well, either. Commercial polespears are available made of fiberglass, carbon fiber, aluminum, etc.

I carve the spear head right on one end of my spear pole. Since I hunt small creatures with it, I tend to split the end into three separate 4-6"-long tips coming to very fine barbed points. I like my barbed points to spread out slightly to cover an area of about 3/4 - 1 1/2 inches; frequently when I spear something, only one of the points actually hits my target. Commercial variants like this (made of steel) are known as "paralyzer" or three-prong tips; others prefer a single pointed tip with a pivoting barb. The single-tip polespears (or those with longer and thicker paralyzer tips) are more suitable for larger game than I hunt in shallow streams.

For the elastic loop at the butt end I've used surgical tubing (when I think to bring some with me) or strips of rubber cut from an inner tube. In an emergency, you can use anything with similar elasticity; the elastic waistbands of some underwear might do the trick, for example, as might a length of bungee cord. You'll want a long enough loop of elastic to let you draw the polespear back all the way when your other arm is fully extended; if you make the elastic too long, you can try "choking up" with your grip on the elastic, but if your elastic is too short, you'll limit the power and range of your polespear. You'll want your elastic thick enough to provide plenty of power to your thrust; if it's too thick, you won't have the strength to draw back the polespear, and if it's too thin, you won't have the power to penetrate your target.

To attach the elastic to the end of my polespear, I arrange it across the butt and along opposite sides of the pole toward the front. Then I stretch the elastic a bit and lash it into place with strips of rubber or small-bore rubber tubing. Having the elastic go across the end of the pole helps prevent it from slipping loose when I'm stretching it for a shot. I've seen others bore a hole near the base of their polespear, then either run the elastic loop through that hole, or attach the loop to the polespear by tying it at the hole.

I've had enough success with a polespear in the wild that I sometimes pack a rubber sling when I head out, and am considering throwing a commercial barbed paralyzer tip into one of my wilderness bug-out collections.

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