[8/21/17] Living off the land is a skill that can pay off in large dividends if you are stranded in the wilds long-term; want to add more variety into your daily diet at home and reduce food bills; or be prepared in the event of a grid-down situation where the grocery shelves empty.
Having taught extended bushcraft courses during the past 26 years, I’ve found the area of procuring food in the wilderness to be the most challenging skill in the field of wilderness living. Once learned and regularly applied, you will gain greater confidence in the back-country and know how to obtain food from a land that has much to offer, to those who know where to look.
The following material intends to convey practical methods that a person, with little experience in the outdoors, can use to get started obtaining food from Nature’s Kitchen. The emphasis of this article is on small game and not big game animals like elk, moose, and deer. On any given day in the wilds, you are going to come across a greater concentration of rabbits, squirrels, woodchucks, marmots, raccoons, and other smaller critters. For the survivor, these animals will provide sustenance until you can procure the larger game.
Food procurement has a lot of myths and misconceptions surrounding it however. The idea that one can simply grab their bug-out bag and head into the hills to live off nature’s kitchen for a few months has been perpetuated in the reality shows and can get you into trouble. It took a tribe to feed a tribe and our ancestors relied on sheer numbers to obtain wild food not on a lone-wolf mentality.
I’ve had the opportunity to eat just about everything that crawls, flies, walks, or slithers- from snakes and coyotes to rats and grasshoppers. Under conditions where hunger is constantly gnawing away at the body (and mind), my food prejudices quickly fade after a few days and you will eat anything that runs in front of you. My success is also greatly increased by having a few key hunting and trapping tools with me at all times. Keep in mind that game laws vary tremendously from state to state so research your region of the country to determine what’s legal.
The Challenge of Living Off the Land
Procuring food in the wilderness can be a challenge because of some or all of the following reasons:
1) Few people subsistence hunt or trap like they did a generation ago and the skills and knowledge base in the community have been reduced or completely disappeared in some regions.
2) When many people hunt today, it is mostly for Big Game trophies which means sport first, and meat second. Plus, the sheer number of hunters taking to the woods each season is staggering. As a result, state game laws are becoming more restrictive and the pressure from often ill-informed animal rights groups have all but eliminated certain practices such as trapping from many states.
3) The geographic region (desert, mountains, etc…) may not support much life to begin with. It is far easier to make it as a hunter-gatherer in the lush, Pacific Northwest than in the desert lowlands of the parched Southwest.
4) It may have been a particularly tough year for your region. Perhaps the drought is severe or wildfires are wreaking havoc, and thus the animals and plants are suffering.
5) Modern game laws are much different than when our ancestors walked the planet and could harvest any species of animal in any season, day or night.
6) Subsistence hunting and gathering is best performed as a group (tribe) and not as a solo pursuit. The more eyes, ears, and hands out on the land the greater the odds of obtaining wild meat, fish, and plants. Many of us today have little choice but to go solo which reduces “caloric efficiency.”