CAVEMAN FOR HIRE
Inked|2021 Holiday Issue
DONNY DUST HAS BUILT AN EMPIRE OUT OF SIMPLY SURVIVING. WE SPOKE WITH HIM ABOUT CARVING TOOLS OUT OF STONE, HIS PREFERENCE FOR WEATHERED TATTOOS AND HOW WE ALL NEED TO RECONNECT WITH THE NATURAL WORLD.
NICK FIERRO

Imagine this—you’re lost in the wilderness, miles from civilization and utterly alone. It’s dark, and you’ve run out of supplies. You’re cold, scared, and you feel like this might be the end, but then in the distance you hear something. As you follow its rhythm the sound gets increasingly louder. It’s repetitive, like two stones being banged together. Then, gazing into the woods, you see it—the telltale dull orange glow of a fire flickering from inside a small cave. Out of sheer desperation you dare to peek inside, and as your eyes adjust to the light you notice a man seated beside a dog, chipping away at what was once a rock, transforming it into a tomahawk blade. The carcass of a large rodent is suspended above the flame and, if you’re being honest with yourself, it smells delicious. You ask him if he can help you, his steely blue eyes lock with yours, and with a subtle nod he exhales a single word: “Yeah.”

Donny Dust isn’t just a tall tale. He’s real, and he’s a folk legend in his own right. Donny is a naturalist, a survivalist, an artisan, and a curator of the ancient ways that gave way to the birth of civilization. Most people might remember Donny from the TV show “Alone,” a self-recorded test of willpower and cunning that would make even the most experienced survivalists take a rain check. Donny is also an educator, and it’s through his PaleoTracks Survival school, where he teaches primitive skills and the ways of natural living to anyone in search of existing like a hunter-gatherer in the modern world. The basic tenets center on agricultural knowledge, carrying minimal gear and making traditional hunting tools. The cornerstone of his philosophy is “Know more, carry less.”

“I’ve butchered a bison up in Montana using three stone tools,” Donny says. “That’s a 900-pound animal with three stone tools in a couple hours. I was covered in blood head to toe, but it was an experience. I try to get people to see that they’ll be OK with very, very little.” His minimalist approach may seem extreme to those who prefer to err on the side of caution while off the grid, but Donny teaches that our very existence is proof that these ancient techniques are successful because, well, we’re still here.

“Everything already exists out in the bush,” he explains, “whether it’s bones or stone or wood or water or food, all of that already exists there. It’s up to us to go out there and employ that first skill, that creative skill.”

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