Bushcraft and the Natural World

Frustrated Fox Squirrels Teach Us About Ourselves (Video)

fox squirrel eating

Photo by Aaron Logan, (CC)


Do you get frustrated from time to time?  I certainly do!

There’s a link between frustration and bushcraft you might not think about. 

When you learn a new bushcraft skill, there’s an initial period where you suck at it!  For an experienced person, this period may be short.  But the rest of us must persevere without becoming discouraged.  It’s the only way to master a new bushcraft skill, or any skill for that matter.


Why do we become frustrated?

But why do we become frustrated in the first place?  What is the evolutionary purpose of frustration? 

I admire people who don’t become frustrated when faced with a difficult challenge.  But these people are few and far between.  If frustration serves no purpose, then why do so many of us experience this potent emotion?

Frustration could be a “side effect” of our cognitive abilities.  A “bug” in the system.  But scientists believe otherwise.  They think frustration may serve a useful purpose.  And they’ve come to that conclusion by watching other animals experience frustration.


Fox Squirrels Show Us How

Fox Squirrels (Sciurus niger) are commonly found in the eastern United States.  The scientific name for squirrels, “Sciurus” comes from the Greek words skia (shade) and oura (tail).  Both refer to their remarkable bushy tails.  And when I think of squirrels, “bushy tails” and “acrobatic climbers” are the first things that spring to mind.

Science is finally coming around to admitting that animals other than humans experience emotions.    In this they trail pet owners by hundreds of years.  The video below describes a study of Fox Squirrels that strives to answer the question:  Does frustration serve a useful purpose?



What to do when you become Frustrated

The video shows us that frustration may actually help us muster the energy to solve difficult problems.  If we can harness the frustration, we can use it to our advantage.

I become frustrated with fire-by-friction.  I can carve a bow drill set and burn-in the hearth board.  But I often find I’m too “gassed” to get the spindle to the rotation speed it needs to produce a glowing ember.  Part of it is that I don’t practice enough.  And part of it is a physical limitation.  It’s very frustrating!

I try to harness my frustration by thinking, “I WANT FIRE!!!” as I saw away at the bow drill.  For some reason this gives me an extra burst of energy to go for the ember.


Students practicing hand drill and bow drill

Students practicing hand drill and bow drill.


But other situations in bushcraft, and in life, need a subtler approach.  If you feel yourself getting frustrated:

  1. Ask: What is working in this situation?  
  2. Keep track of your progress. This will lift your spirits and help you stay motivated.
  3. Focus on your goal. Many professional athletes visualize success before they compete.  It’s a good idea for us to do the same.
  4. Take action
  5. Try multiple solutions

Stay positive!  The situation will work out for the best.  And when you feel frustrated, remember the Fox Squirrels.  Frustration has a purpose.  So use it to help achieve your bushcraft goals!


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