Do you bush?

I’ve been asking people this question all week.

Those who don’t know what I mean have been giving me the most curious, confused and strange looks. With those who know what I mean, it has often led into a fascinating discussion about bushing – where did you learn, what variation did you use, did you get in trouble for doing it, and do you still bush?

First, let me explain what bushing is.

Bushing is a game (some consider it gambling) often used to determine who is going to buy coffee or food. Traditionally it has been done more within groups of men than women though today it is seen within co-ed groups as well.

The variation I remember seeing as a child (usually when Dad met up with a group of other men at auction sales, etc) was done with coins. Each man would put 0, 1, 2, or 3 coins in his right hand. All of the men extended their closed right hands and guessed how many combined coins there were. The person who was right was out and did not have to buy a round. A new hand was started until only one man was left – he then had to buy for everyone.

I have also been told of other variations. There is one variation done with numbers where one person (sometimes the man who lost the time before) chooses a random number. People guess numbers and are told whether the number is higher or lower. The strategy here is to NOT pick the number because the person who picks the number has to pay. From coffee row in Picture Butte, I’ve been led to understand that if there are just a few men, then coins are used. If there are quite a few men, then the number variation is used instead.

And a third variation involves uses fingers (rather than coins) and guessing how many combined fingers people will extend. I have also been told by one person that rather than traditional “bushing” their group has replaced it with rock, paper, scissors.

I have always been fascinated with traditions such as this. Where did the name “bushing” come from? One person called the game “bird in a bush.” Was this the original name and then shortened? Where did this activity originate? Is it played right across Alberta? In other provinces? My Dad, who worked in the oil industry, remembers playing it at camps across Alberta but it appears there were different variations in different places.

Other people remember being told by restaurant owners that they couldn’t “bush” in the restaurant – as it was considered gambling. I must admit, I never thought of it as gambling. As a child, watching the men bush I was always amazed at how fast it was and how everyone just seemed to automatically understand the rules and what was happening.

So, once again, have you bushed and do you still bush? Do you have a different variation to the game? Who taught you? Is it played outside of Alberta? Why is it called bushing? (or why do you think it’s called bushing) I would love to try and track the origin of the game.