Puckerbrush, the outdoor experience with the strange name

In Maine there is plenty of ground in which to lose oneself and let’s face it, this is a big place. For many that arrive looking for a remote area to experience nature and that long ago life we all once had, well, Maine would be the place to do that.

The names given to these remote places vary as much as the fauna and trees do spread out across the United States. There are dozens of ways to refer to that place “out there”: the sticks, boonies, boondocks, flyover country, woods, willywags, the middle of nowhere and puckerbrush.

Yes, puckerbrush.

In Columbia, Maine, there is a place that sits on 34 acres which offers members and visitors the traditional fish and game club experience and a little bit more. It is the Pleasant River Fish and Game Conservation Association (PRFGCA) and for the past three years the organization has held a Puckerbrush Primitive Gathering event. This year’s event will begin July 20 and will run the entire weekend, bringing the sights, smells and sounds of primitive life to the area.

Larry Balchen, a 20-year member and past club president of the organization knows a thing or two when it comes to making a life in Maine.  A hunter, conservationist and an accomplished tool and knife maker, Balchen has a budding interest in an ancestral way of life. “There is no question the interest in primitive skills is growing, one need only look at the TV schedule, it’s loaded with shows featuring people either living in or surviving in the woods,” says Balchen.

How did the idea for this event develop? “The idea was initially conceived in early 2015 with Tim Beal, Stim Wilcox, and myself meeting in a dirt parking lot in Machiasport,” says Balchen. During that conversation they realized there was a burgeoning interest in traditional archery and subjects related to bushcraft and decided the club should spearhead an event focused on that interest.

The 60 plus year-old non-profit organization is a sporting club with a mission of providing opportunities for recreation while maintaining a commitment to community service. “Commonly referred to as the “gun club” locally, we are in fact much more than that, offering activities in such pursuits as archery and canoeing, as well,” says Balchen. “We also support other organizations such as the Epping Fire District, Maine Search and Rescue Dogs and local Scouting groups. We provide a yearly academic scholarship for matriculating high school students who wish to pursue higher education in conservation related fields.”

Shirking technology for what some consider a more grounded and better way of life an event such as this one offers a little bit for everyone. Some of the skills and demonstrations being highlighted are:  friction fire, knots and rope-work, herbal salves, basket making, plant identification, shelter construction, tracking and flint knapping, and the ever-popular primitive archery bow making classes taught by Stim Wilcox.

“I think today more folks are interested in a simpler, more elemental approach to things,” says Balchen. “Maine is home to several highly regarded survival and bushcraft schools. In fact, we’ve teamed with one of them for this year’s event, that being the Maine Primitive Skills School (MPSS).”

This year, a broader range of workshops will be readily available featuring a number of world-class presenters, including herbalist Issac Dorr and blacksmith Doug Wilson. “We’ve learned a lot since we started three years ago, and word is spreading around about us in the bushcraft and traditional archery communities,” says Balchen.

Current club president Greg Campbell believes this event clearly shows a unique approach to expanding the already long list of activities the club offers. “This event provides the participant the opportunity to become familiar with ancestral skills,” says Campbell. “Last year one of the participants tanned a hide using traditional methods during the event. All ages are encouraged to come and get their hands dirty and have fun!”

And the price is right too. “We price the event to keep it within grasp of working folks with families,” says Balchen. “Being in an economically depressed area, we feel it’s especially important that income not be a barrier to being introduced to these skills. As well, it is our hope that we will draw visitors to our area to help bolster the local economy.” Last year the club saw a much bigger draw in attendance. “One of the great things was seeing lots of young people being physically active, having a great time, learning, doing hands on activities, and none of them were staring at a phone screen.”

So, if you’re looking to learn more about an ancestral way of life or have an outdoor skill you would like to share with others, then plan to attend Puckerbrush and experience The Way Life Once Was.

For more information about the Puckerbrush Primitive Gathering and the PRFGCA, go to the website at www.prfgca.org and the club’s Facebook page.  Or call Larry Balchen at 207-497-5621

RJ Heller

About RJ Heller

Having arrived here from Pennsylvania over three years ago, there has been plenty to learn and even more to observe. This place is different, but I mean that in a good way. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, I am a college graduate with a teaching degree, a business founder and seller, and a father of two children with my wife Stephanie; life has been full and somewhat adventurous, but finding Maine remains a high watermark in my life.