Hunter Chapman is a 14-year-old member of Venturing Crew 476 from Hewitt, Tex., sweating in blacksmith’s cabin while pounding on a piping-hot metal bar with a heavy hammer.
It’s July 2008 at Sid Richardson Scout Ranch just outside of Fort Worth, Tex., but it might as well be July 1908 in a cabin in the middle of nowhere.
That’s how authentic the outdoor living-history portion of the Road to Ranger high-adventure camp at Sid Richardson can be.
“I made a crowbar,” Hunter says. “I had never done that before.”
Hunter and the rest of his crew are here to make progress toward their Venturing Ranger Award, an achievement that requires knowledge on a wide variety of outdoors sports and interests.
At the blacksmithing cabin, the guys are making their crowbars from raw metal. Sid Richardson staff members handle the metal and the viciously hot stove while participants handle the hammer.
It’s a lot heavier and harder than it looks. The metal is so hot it bends more and more each time it’s pounded by the hammer. One errant swing and the bar could be twisted into an undesired shape.
“It was red-hot orange,” says Nick Jordan from Crew 1969 in Hillsboro, Tex. “You have to make sure you hit it firm on the heated part.”
With a little practice and only a few discarded chunks of metal, everybody has his own homemade crowbar. And everybody’s one step closer to Ranger.
COPING WITH CHALLENGES
Outdoor living history is one of 18 electives Venturers can choose from as they work their way to Ranger. (Participants must complete four of the electives to earn the award.)
At the U.S. Cavalry frontier-history outpost, campers dress and act like soldiers from the 1800’s. They scout the area and eventually fire cannons to protect the post from invading forces.
Another elective is COPE, or challenging outdoor personal experience. Sid Richardson’s COPE program pushes participants to expand their comfort zone to include activities that maybe they didn’t think they could do before, like scaling a state-of-the-art climbing wall.
“We climbed a 30-foot wall and got some people higher than they would normally go,” says Austin Jones, 18, with Crew 229 in Harker Heights, Tex. “We had to climb the wall and then rappel down it. It was a really fun experience.”
Another section of the COPE program is the Mohawk Walk. Staffers rig a series of ropes tied between trees. Participants must use teamwork to walk across the foot-high rope without touching the ground.
“You have to use your friends to keep stabilized on the rope,” Austin says. “There are a few things you can grab onto at some spots, but basically it’s impossible to do by yourself.”
Other electives offered include shooting sports, equestrian and scuba.
In other words, everything you need to take some serious steps toward the Ranger Award. But despite the conveniences of a program like Road to Ranger, the award is not something you can earn in one week.
That’s why it’s called Road to Ranger, not Destination Ranger.
THE CORE OF THE MATTER
Ranger candidates must complete eight core requirements.
Core requirements offered at Sid Richardson include land navigation, Leave No Trace and wilderness survival.
In the dining hall, a camp staffer leads a discussion on putting together a wilderness survival kit. Some items are obvious: rope, compass, signal mirror, whistle.
Others, not so much. A pencil and paper?
“To keep your sanity,” says Sid Richardson survival expert Jonathan Wood. “Most experts say after three days your mind starts degrading. You get angry and you want to vent.”
Other items include a slingshot and adhesive bandages. The slingshot can be used to hunt small game. Adhesive bandages can be used for tape. And the little pieces of paper that come off the bandages make great tinder for an emergency fire.
After the discussion with Wood, campers get their own wilderness survival experience. No tents, no sleeping bags. Just one night in the wild, man and nature.
“I’m building a shelter with a rope and a tarp,” Austin says. “I’ve always been fascinated with wilderness survival, but I’ve learned even more here.”