Finding food in the wilderness is another topic that can fill volumes. We will start with the basic rule of thumb to remember when searching for food and food sources in the wilderness. Your goal is to conserve energy- energy expenditure should not exceed the energy return from the food you are foraging. While this sounds very logical, I would venture to say that this will be a very tough balance to meet. Based on location and time of year for example, it may be impossible. This is certainly true if you are foraging only, and not including animal protein in the equation. But at the very least you should strive to conserve energy the best you can. Become familiar with your surroundings, observe the vegetation and make a plan before you begin. This is especially important in a survival situation such as our scenario. If you are out on a primitive living exercise, the plan may be different; striking off from your camp to explore is part of the thrill of it all.
In our survival scenario, the immediate goal of removing yourself from the situation back to civilisation should be first and foremost. While doing so, the conservation of energy and staying at least somewhat nourished is our secondary goal. The human body is capable of amazing feats under stress. If necessary, the body can go without food for many days, but of course strength, thought, and endurance will be impaired. Foraging for food should begin as soon as possible after you have stabilised your situation. Try to maintain your energy level by eating as soon as you find food, while you sit out the heat in the shade, while you work, or during movement. With food in the stomach, morale is always higher and decisions are better made.
The subject of edible and medicinal plants is covered on our Trees and Plants page. On that page we present and discuss some of the more basic edible plants that you might find on the mesas and in the canyons and riverbottoms of the southwest desert. Please take a look at our Guidebooks page for recommendations on field guides to edible and medicinal plants. As with all other primitive and survival skills, begin learning about plants now, before the need arises.
Animals- Trapping, Hunting, Fishing
I will touch only briefly on the topic of using animals as food. The use of animals, trapping and fishing will be covered elsewhere very soon. It is my opinion that the killing of animals should not be taken lightly. Hunting should be a thoughtful, even spiritual process. At the risk of offending and launching into social commentary, I will say that most hunting today is not hunting at all- sitting on an ATV and killing a deer across a corn field with a scoped rifle is not hunting. Hunting as sport is neither. Hunting an animal is a long process- it begins with the creation, the fashioning of the weapon you will use, with your hands. Then the land must be studied, animals trailed and tracked and understood. And finally the chosen animal is gratefully taken by the hunter. But the process does not end here- the animal must be bled, dressed, butchered and at least the meat and hide prepared.
With the above statement made, in a survival situation such as our scenario, based on your personal knowledge and experience, you will have to decide whether hunting, trapping or even fishing are options. Remember that taking any game requires the proper license, large game must be taken in season, and many species are protected. Since trapping and hunting typically require a tremendous amount of time, energy, and knowledge, I would suggest that, unless a special situation presents itself, hunting and trapping should not be undertaken. I will also say that I have taken game for food while in the wilderness, but nothing more than birds, rabbits, and fish.
Since many more people are familiar with fishing, this may be an option to consider for food procurement. If you are near a water source where aquatic life-not only fish, but frogs, crayfish and tadpoles are found, you have a solid source of protien. See our Fishing page for more on this. Again, the final decision will be up to you, and the situation will dictate your response- if my life depended on killing a deer out of season, I would certainly choose to kill the deer. But if I were in our survival scenario, I do not think this would be necessary.
Survival Tip- On the subject of animal protein- bird eggs count. I was searching for plant foods once in the Cross Canyon area near the Utah- Colorado border, walking along a flowing stream when I came upon a duck sitting on her nest. She was reluctant to leave the nest, and I really did not want to bother her. But I did want to see how close I could get to her, and see what she was sitting on. She did not fly till I was a meter from her. (Her nest was well hidden in a thick stand of willows- this would have given me an opportunity, if it had been necessary, to easily catch her.) I found she was sitting on 10 eggs. I do not know what stage of development they were in, but in a survival situation, an omelet of duck eggs would be quite a delicacy. To insure that you get the freshest eggs from the mother duck, or whatever bird you find nesting, FM 21-76 (the U.S. Army Survival Manual) recommends taking all but 2 or 3 of the eggs and marking those you leave. The bird will lay more eggs to fill her nest. When you return the next day, take the fresh, unmarked eggs for your breakfast. Of course this assumes you are established in one location and not on the move.
I will begin writing this section soon. For now, here are a couple of photos of the Paiute deadfall trap. There is a great story about this trap in Larry Dean Olsen's book Outdoor Survival Skills. He talks about how he found the trigger and re-discovered the trap from there.
The Paiute deadfall trap.
Detail of Paiute deadfall trigger.
I decided to add the photo to the left, although it is not the best, of an ancient snare. This artifact is found in the Edge of Cedars Museum in Blanding, Utah. They have well-preserved examples of an atlatl and dart kit, snares, a rabbit net, and other primitive tools. The cordage is quite thick, near 1/4 inch in diameter.
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Primitive Skills- Living Comfortably Off the Land
Primitive Skills- Learning the Basics, Water
Primitive Skills- Shelter
Primitive Skills- Fire
Primitive Skills- Food
Primitive Skills- Navigation
Primitive Skills- Primitive Weapons
Primitive Skills- Fishing
Primitive Skills- Flintknapping
Primitive Skills- Tracking
Desert and Wilderness Survival and the Survival Kit Page
Choosing Your Survival Knife