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It’s Friday morning in late March at the Georgia Bushcraft LLC property in Watkinsville, GA; and the Sweetgum and Tulip Poplar buds are ready to burst alongside the Redbud flowers already ripe for the picking. Eighteen women arrive prepared to brave the inclement weather on the menu for 2024’s first Women’s Wilderness Weekend led by yours truly, Jacks Genega. A vote was taken upon arrival on how best to utilize the day’s shifting windows of rain and drizzle. Option A was to stay the course and learn about how best to build fire from your kit and off the landscape (knowing that fire was going to be a harsh learning curve to achieve in wet weather conditions) or Option B was to focus on navigation and leave fire for sunnier skies. All hands rose for Option A. “This was my kind of crowd,” I thought.

When approached to teach an all-women’s survival course for Georgia Bushcraft, I couldn’t have been more thrilled or honored. I have had many mentors throughout my training that I would consider father figures, but I never had one that was like a mother. I think most women want to be self-reliant in the wilderness and push themselves out of their comfort zone but just don’t know where to begin or think they don’t have the strength or confidence to do it. I am of the belief that it doesn’t take a lot of skills, or a lot of strength to do anything, you just need to be perseverant. Knowing what you are capable of physically and mentally is not a boundary, but a tool. No one has to be an expert or a master of a trade to do great things, they just have to know what they have to work with, how to use it, and go from there. To lead a course directed to all women allowed me to give the additional guidance I wish I had years ago.

After some brief modules in cutting tool safety and self-aid, led by Becky Christopher, Co-Founder of Lostways Survival and Homestead, our appointed medic and Assistant Instructor for the weekend, it was time to forage our tinder of fatwood, punkwood, and whatever the forest floor had to offer. Alas, heavy rains showered upon us all but flame was nonetheless obtained with careful selection and processing. It is entirely false to think that fire can’t be achieved in the rain, but with the right materials, tools, and skill, anyone can do it. Tammy Nelon from South Carolina said, “I [...] enjoyed every minute of the weekend. Jacks’ experience has given her a wealth of knowledge and incredible stories to tell. Jacks makes the skills learning accessible and fun.”

The morning of Day 2 allowed those to master ferro-rod and firesteel even further before jumping into a lecture about navigation. I don’t consider navigation a survival skill but it is one that will prevent you from getting into a SHTF scenario in the first place. Navigation is a way of “lostproofing,” a term coined by Craig Caudill from Nature Reliance School. If you don’t have a compass in the woods, then learning how to read your environment like wind direction or plant and tree growth, along with following your intuition, can aid one in finding your direction of travel, like the way back to your car. The wilderness is secretly whispering words of wisdom whether it's telling you where you are, what lies around the corner, or what lies within you; you just have to be open to listening to it. 

On Day 3 the skies cleared which allowed us to catch up on solar fire, emergency shelter building, and a module in self-defense. I believe that self-defense is a subject not often discussed in the world of wilderness survival and sadly, the issue of safety is high ranking as one of the reasons there isn’t more female participation in the outdoors. Much like our cutting tools, combustion devices, cordage, containers, and coverage; carrying a self-defense weapon like a firearm or bear spray is essential for outdoor adventure. Being mindful of the wind, I discharged bear spray to show the range it can have if one were in a predatory situation. If carrying a self-defense tool is going to lessen your fears, build some guts, and get your butt out in the woods, then by all means carry it! This course allowed us to have tough conversations with each other and ourselves, learning that vulnerability doesn’t have to be a crutch, rather it can be fuel. Lindsy Falukenberry from South Carolina said, “It was apparent Jacks’ passion for empowering women to feel confident in themselves and the skills they have; and she didn’t gloss over the hard subjects either. We had round table discussions where we felt safe to connect with one another and develop a sense of community.” As the day came to a close, students were encouraged to participate in a fire challenge and to gather materials ready to build a roaring sustainable fire. Every team completed the task using their newly developed skills and determination.

Before taking our class photo with myself, Becky, and all 18 participants beaming with a sense of resilience through self-reliance; I asked everyone to take a moment to sit in nature for ten minutes in solitude and report what they observed. No student was shy of exclaiming how they felt more connected to nature, to themselves, and empowered by what they have learned. One student, Greer Peters from Georgia, said, “This class changed my life. I can’t wait to attend another course and become a lifelong learner. Thank you for making this possible!.” So when it comes to exploring the Great Outdoors, and the many gambles it could bring like weather, wildlife, injury, or getting lost; this class is a stepping stone to realizing that it only takes a little bit of skill, a little bit of wisdom, and a little bit of guts to be a wildcard and overcome tough obstacles against all odds.

-Jacks Genega, Founder of Wildcard Wilderness Survival


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