Into The Wild

A southside self-reliance store is a father-and-son(s) affair

By Jason Hathaway

»For Jamie Canterbury, co-owner and CFO of Self Reliance Outfitters on South Emerson Avenue, and his older brother, Dave Canterbury, the great outdoors has long been the setting of many favorite pastimes and happy memories. And that, in part, was thanks to their dear old dad.

The Canterbury family often spent summer vacations on the banks of Dale Hollow Reservoir in western Kentucky. The brothers’ dad, Jim Canterbury, enjoyed taking his family on camping trips, complete with plenty of boating and fishing. These trips built a foundation for a lifelong love of the outdoors, and the Canterbury brothers continued as avid hunters and fishermen well into their adult years. In fact, being out in nature appealed to Dave Canterbury so much that he eventually made a career of it.

During a six-year stint in the Army, Dave became well-trained in wilderness survival skills, otherwise known as bushcraft. After his discharge, he worked in a series of wilderness-themed occupations before developing a fascination with the simple, yet practical ways of life practiced by early Native American tribes and European fur traders and settlers.

“I realized that the skills that worked back then for the tasks of daily life work just as well today if people are willing to learn them,” Dave said. “I guess I’m one of those guys that was born 200 years too late.”

Not only did Dave want to preserve these historical ways of life for posterity, but he also saw a use for them in modern times. He began teaching primitive wilderness skills to others with a goal of helping the average person become more self-reliant and resilient during leaner economic times, natural disasters or other dangerous situations. In 2008, Dave opened the Pathfinder School in Jackson, Ohio, where he now lives.

The Pathfinder School is a large outdoor classroom that teaches basic to advanced wilderness survival skills, as well as other historic skills, such as blacksmithing and knife-making. To reach a wider audience, he also began writing instructional books and pamphlets on various survival skills and filming videos for demonstrating these skills. These pursuits, along with his New York Times best-seller “Bushcraft 101: A Field Guide to the Art of Wilderness Survival,” earned him national recognition.

Around the same time, he began selling the supplies his students needed to take his classes; many of the items he made himself or found through other regional craftsmen. After two years of operating the Pathfinder School, Dave found he had little time to keep his retail business going. Knowing the exact people who could get the job done, he called his brother and dad and asked if they would take over and expand his retail sales in Indianapolis. They agreed.

In 2010, Jamie left a 20-year career in supply chain management and Jim came out of retirement to open Self Reliance Outfitters. They started as an Internet retailer, using Jim’s garage to house inventory, but as demand and sales increased, they began looking for larger warehouse space and a showroom. Three years ago, they moved into a building on South Emerson Avenue. Jamie and Dave’s mother, Sonja, joined them as office manager, and several friends and cousins began working for the store.

With the store’s proximity to the interstate, it has become a regular destination for out-of-state travelers and truck drivers from as far away as New York and Massachusetts. Some customers, from closer states, such as Michigan, visit every weekend, in search of “something different that they can’t get at the big box stores,” Jamie said. “A lot of them are looking for handmade and hand-forged gear and guidance on how to do things the way they were done a long time ago before all of the technology we have today.”

The store offers traditional, handmade knives and axes, custom leather sheaths, as well as wooden long bows and recurve bows, unlike the compound bows that are most common today. It also offers its own line of rugged stainless steel camp cookware that features a best-selling 32-ounce wide-mouth stainless steel bottle. Dave developed the bottle in response to water purification tablet packets calling for 32 ounces of water — when no manufacturer made a canteen that size. The store’s “Cold Room” features a well-organized display of tents, blankets, tarps, fire-starting equipment and anything else a camper needs.

Buying quality, innovative equipment is only part of the equation, however. Knowing how to properly use that equipment and how to react to different wilderness situations is crucial. Fortunately, that’s where customer service offered by the Self Reliance Outfitters sales staff comes in.

“Another thing that sets us apart is the expertise of our sales staff,” Jamie said. “We’ve got guys here who know what it’s like to be out in the wilderness, and they don’t push people away. If you need advice for any wilderness trips you are planning or instruction on how to use a certain piece of equipment, they are going to provide that.”

Making sure customers have fail-safe equipment and know how to use it before they leave is crucial, said Jamie Burleigh, Self Reliance sales associate and lead instructor for the Pathfinder School.

“We give our customers the full offering — guidance toward the best gear for their trip and any instruction they need,” he added. “You don’t want to buy a product and walk out of the store wondering ‘How do I use this thing?’ Good gear is just icing on the cake to enhance what you have learned and what you know you can handle in a wilderness setting.”

Though most of the Pathfinder School-designed survival skills classes are taught in Ohio, Self Reliance Outfitters offers its own classes a few times each year. The second floor of the building is an indoor archery range, where Jamie teaches traditional archery for beginners, and the store also hosts the Pathfinder School’s Wilderness First Aid course. In addition to the classes, the store offers several free demonstrations and workshops throughout the year, often teaching bushcraft skills, such as how to make long bows, making charred cloth for fire starting and flint knapping — the process of chipping flint to make arrowheads or blades.

The first six years of Self Reliance Outfitters has been a success. Internet sales and out-of-state business continue to grow. Even the local walk-in traffic, which began slowly, is increasing, said Jamie, who is happy to see his family’s business grow. “We took it from a garage to what it is today,” he said. “And it’s blown up beyond my wildest dreams.”

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