Got a call today from a magazine writer who asked if I would provide some “tips” for helping the average person learn to live off the land during a crisis in the city or countryside. I said that it would take more than tips- more like a whole lot of practice, sweat, and time out on the land and even then it can be a dice-roll as to whether you fill your belly that day.
The area of food procurement in the wilderness is, by far, the most challenging area of study in the field of bushcraft and survival. In my opinion, it’s an area that requires a few lifetimes to delve into and one that I have been pursuing for many years with no end in sight. Our ancestors spent their entire existence on an eternal food quest and it took the cooperative efforts of the whole tribe survive. Trying to acquire the skill set of our ancient hunter-gatherers during or after a disaster is like learning to sail a ship during a storm. Better to be prepared in the first place with some food supplies at home.
Food procurement, and being an effective modern hunter/gatherer, involves some of the following skills:
-Tracking and animal behavior.
-Ability to effectively use archery gear, atlatl, and throwing sticks along with proficiency with a rifle.
-Stalking and camoflauge skills.
-Fishing skills: both primitive and modern.
-Knowledge of the common edible plants for your region and how to harvest and use them.
-Ability to construct and properly use deadfalls and snares for trapping.
Just looking at the list you’ll see that living off the land takes TIME and PRACTICE.
If you read the old accounts of mountain men like Jim Bridger, you’ll quickly see that it wasn’t anything like Dances With Wolves. Old Jim described one time that he was so famished due to lack of game, that he took off his deerskin moccasins and crisped them over the fire until they were crunchy and then ate ’em! And this coming from a veteran trapper/hunter who had spent over 4 decades in the wilderness. Living off the land is not romantic!
I’ve taught bushcraft courses where we are out in the wilds for a few weeks, hunting & gatheirng, where the acorns are dropping on our heads, the berries are abundant, and the fish are jumping into your lap. However, I’ve also had courses that saw us chowing on cattail roots and pine bark for three days because the drought, that season, left the landscape barren.
My advice, if you want to learn to be self-sufficient, is to learn as much as you can: spend time with experienced hunters, fishermen, edible plants instructors, trappers, and bushcraft folks and slowly integrate your skills into your lifestyle at home. My kids know how to pick and eat amaranth, cattails, dandelions and other wild edibles but it something that my wife and I have introduced them to over the years and build on with each trip out the back door.
My advice to those who simply want to be prepared for an emergency, and have no desire to go Jeremiah Johnson, is the same I gave the writer who called: Plan Ahead and Be Prepared. Stock up on basic food supplies at home, enough for a few weeks, to weather out a crisis and you will be way ahead of the game. You can bet our hunter-gatherer ancestors took the same precautions.