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Leon's View

Survival book review: The Alaska Homesteader’s Handbook

Ever wonder how homesteaders in the Alaskan bush manage to get by in the extreme conditions? This book can give some insight.
Survival book review: The Alaska Homesteader’s Handbook


Ever wonder how homesteaders in the Alaskan bush manage to get by in the extreme conditions? This book can give some insight.

by Leon Pantenburg

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The Alaska Homesteader’s Handbook: Independent Living on the Last Frontier by Tricia Brown and Nancy Gates

My typical reaction to getting a new book in the mail is to leaf through the pages, and decide when (and if) I want to read it completely and do a review.

But The Alaska Homesteader’s Handbook grabbed me from page one and held on for about 40 stories and a couple hours. My first impression, re-enforced through the writing, was that this book is a well-written, informative collection of  useful knowledge. In addition, most of information would be valuable to homesteaders anywhere or to anyone interested in emergency preparedness.

The writing is superb, and the authors show the communications experience gained in years of newsroom publications.

Tricia Brown is a former writer and editor for the Fairbanks Daily News-MinerAnchorage Daily News and Alaska Magazine. She spent nearly 30 years traveling the state of Alaska writing about the state and the people.

Nancy Gates is an Alaska resident since the 1970s, and has written for various magazines such as We Alaskans,  Alaska Magazine and the Cup of Comfort anthologies.

Together, the writers interviewed more than 40 pioneer types ranging in age from mid-90s to mid-20s, and compiled a series of how-to articles that covers everything from building an outhouse, to skinning a moose to baking sourdough bread.

The publication is lavishly illustrated with drawing and photographs that enhance the information.

Some of the people interviewed were actual homesteaders. Others were bush-dwellers and/or city dwellers. The common attraction was the adventure of living in Alaska.

Homesteaders anywhere can appreciate the challenges of off grid living and  self sufficiency. But in Alaska, you also have to factor in extreme isolation, arctic weather, incredible storms, and predators that can kill you.

Obviously,  Alaska is not for everybody, but most of the homestead lessons could be applied anywhere. In the book, you can learn:

  • How to put in a running winter water hole that will work at -50 degrees
  • Spinning dog fur: What breeds produce the best hair, and techniques for processing it
  • How to keep moose out of the garden
  • Tips for getting started in trapping
  • Smoking salmon
  • How to start a chainsaw
  • Getting started in off-grid living
  • Set up a backcountry first aid kit

As someone who loves esoteric knowledge and timeless homesteading and survival skills, this book fascinated me. In addition to being an interesting read, the book could also serve as preparedness manual.

For people not yet interested in preparedness, this publication could  provide that  final nudge. Chances are experienced outdoorspeople will learn a lot too.

The Alaska Homesteader’s Handbook is going in my preparedness library, and I’d recommend you get a copy too.

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Leon's View

Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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