November 04, 2010
When you think you're going to starve, dial up Mother Nature for some nutritious take-out.
By John Solomon
I hate being hungry. Hunger is distracting, it robs me of energy, and it tends to make me a bit grumpy. So when I'm hunting, I usually pack a hearty lunch and several snacks, as well as a stash of emergency-only energy food that I leave alone unless it is needed. A lot of hunters I've met carry little if any food for the day, and usually nothing in reserve.
Different personalities and hunting styles have different needs, but everyone gets hungry.
And if you get stuck in the woods for a night or two, hunger is an issue you will almost certainly face. Remember that being hungry for a couple of days might not be fun, but it will not kill you. Regardless of what food items you carry (or don't carry), you can still find plenty of opportunities to eat in the woods.
In basic survival terms, the quest for food is a constant endeavor. Never pass up an opportunity to further your nutrition, and always be looking for ways to improve your energy level. A good rule is to get more calories in return than you expend, which means maximum gain for minimal effort.
Plants are perhaps the most advantageous food source, as they are generally easy to find and require minimal effort to harvest. One word of caution: if you are not absolutely sure as to the edibility of a plant, avoid it. Every region of the country has particular plants that are good food sources. Local colleges or community centers sometimes offer informative classes on regional plant life. With that said, let me highlight a few plants of value in emergency or survival situations that are common across the United States.
- Dandelions. It's not hard to recognize this notorious lawn weed, found in just about any area where grasses grow. The flower (whether in bud or bloomed out) and leaves are edible, raw or cooked.
- Cattails. These common plants grow along streams, ponds, and marshy areas. When green, the seed head can be eaten like corn on the cob. Boiling first improves palatability. In addition, you can pull young shoots from the center of the stalk-like, green leaf clusters and eat them like sticks of celery.
- Cactus. In many western regions, various cactus plants cover the landscape. Common varieties are prickly pear and barrel cactus, both of which produce small fruits that grow on the tops during various parts of the season, ranging in color from green to purple and red. You can eat these fruits raw or cooked, but they're best if you scorch them first and peel off the outer layer of skin.
- Ferns. Ferns generally grow in shady areas with damp soil. The best part to eat is often referred to as the "fiddlehead," which accurately describes the appearance of the tight-curling tips of fern shoots. Snap these off, cook them, and eat them.
As a general rule, do not eat the following wild vegetation:
- Green, yellow, and white berries
- Mushrooms (it can be very difficult to tell a toxic mushroom from a safe one, and mushrooms have no significant nutritional value)
- Milky sap
Insects abound just about everywhere, and they pose little challenge for harvest. They are also high in protein.
- Grasshoppers. Personally, I prefer to remove the legs and wings before consuming. To avoid possible parasites, cook the bodies first (you can put them on a hot rock taken from the fire pit, and even the flame from a lighter will cook most insects).
- Ants. Too small? Ask Air Force fighter pilot Scott O'Grady, who was shot down in 1995 over Bosnia. He ate ants (and plants) for six days until he was rescued. Avoid ants that have any red on them. Big carpenter ants can be found in rotten stumps and dead logs. Pinch off the heads first to eliminate the mandibles.
- Worms. Okay, these aren't insects, but they're still edible. Leach them in water if possible before eating, squeezing the bodies like tubes of toothpaste to remove grit. Eat them raw or cooked.
As a general rule, avoid the following:
- Insects that sting or are brightlyColored
- Insects (like caterpillars) and spiders that have hairy bodies
- Possible disease carriers (such as ticks and mosquitoes)
You can improvise many tools to catch fish, a few of which are very simple and require little more than creativity. First, just about any piece of wire can be fashioned into a hook, and whittling one from small "Y" branches or bones is fairly easy. Safety pins make especially good improvised fishhooks as well.
My favorite improvised "hook" is actually a gorge, a small (about ¾-inch long) piece of wood, a little thicker than a toothpick, and sharpened on both ends. By scoring a small groove around the middle, you can attach a line and thread the gorge through a piece of bait. When a fish pulls in the bait, the gorge will take hold on two sides and let you retrieve the fish. The probable size of fish you are trying to catch will determine the length of the gorge. Smaller is usually better.
You can fashion fishing line from almost any long, strong filament, but my favorite is the thin nylon core fibers from parachute cord (found in many sporting goods stores and military surplus outlets). Also, if you carry an extra bowstring, consider sacrificing it for the many long, strong fibers it can provide.
Obviously, hunting implements can add to your table fare, and game birds, rabbits, and squirrels are common most places. To save time and energy, use a snare to do your hunting for you while you take care of other needs. Wire works best, but thin cord will do the job.
Fashion a noose to be slightly bigger than the intended quarry's head and place it where you know the animal's head will be, such as den openings or between two obstacles on a clearly visible travel path. Attach the snare to a solid anchor. You can make any number of intricate trigger devices and deadfalls, but generally speaking, simple snares are better.
They cannot be triggered accidentally, and they take less time to build and set. Most importantly, the more snares you can put out, the better. Check them each morning and evening.
Author's Notes: Remember that water is more vital to survival than food. Do not eat large quantities of food unless you have a water source.