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Foraging, Farming, Hunting and Fishing

Recommended Books

Edible Wild Plants: A North American field Guide by Thomas Elias and Peter Dykeman

The Forager's Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants by Samuel Thayer.

A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and Central North America by Lee Allen Peterson.

Stalking The Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons.

Survival Tips

Make a Simple Camp Stove

Edible Wild Plants
Bradford Angier

Edibile Plants

Directory of Edible and Medicinal Plants

Traps and Snares

How to spear fish

Preparing fish and game for cooking
Survival IQ

Wilderness Survival

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Finding Food

(See also Farming, Foraging, Hunting and Fishing.)

In a survival situation, be sure to start searching for food while you’re still operating at full strength. Most people can survive without it for 2-4 weeks, so it's not necessary to make yourself sick with unappetizing mouthfuls. Foreign foods should be ingested in small amounts until your digestive system acclimates to the new meal source.

Avoid a diet of strictly lean meat (e.g. rabbit meat), as this will give you diarrhea.  Fat is a critical component of a wilderness diet. (Most edible insects are 100% fat.)

Whenever possible, evaluate the condition of an animal before killing it.  Active, lively animals have less chance of being rabid or sick, and therefore can be safely eaten (in most cases) after light cooking. Carefully remove the entrails of fish, reptiles, mammmals and large insects before eating or cooking them.

Slow-moving Animals, Snakes, Lizards, Frogs, etc.

Whittle a spear from a branch, make a trap, or use stones and sticks to kill your prey. Here's what may available: 

Porcupines: These animals contain nourishing, fatty meat. Kill swiftly with a blow to the head.  Avoid contact with the quills. If you have a dog or other pet, keep it leashed and away from porcupine.   To remove the quills, skin the animal starting from the underbelly.  Burning quills off before cooking is not 100% effective.

Snakes and Scorpions: Cut off the heads of venomous snakes and the stingers of scorpions. Dispose of these carefully (i.e. bury them deep and out of reach of pets). Scorpions can be eaten raw or cooked. Generally speaking, it's the very small ones whose poison is deadly, not so much the larger ones. For snakes, skin and remove the entrails before cooking. Keep in mind that their bladders can be used to hold liquids.

Turtles: Here's another good source of fatty meat. Be careful of turtle jaws and claws, even after killing the creature. Then boil the whole creature to soften the back shell.  Remove it, then quarter the undershell and simmer all this.  Detach the shell before eating the meat.

Game Animals

It's not always easy or legal to find and shoot deer and moose, so consider the many game animals available when trying to survive in the wilderness. Keep in mind that animals that have been harassed or chased prior to the kill release lactic acid into their muscles.  That makes the meat more perishable, so plan to eat it the same day. Alternatively, give the animal time to recover by capturing it when possible and killing it later.

To make a snare, hang a large loop of rope or twine across a path an animal is likely to traverse.  You can lead the animal in that direction by setting up obstacles and/or branches that appear to expedite the journey along the path. Like people, animals usually take the easiest route available.

Most game birds can be easily pursued, since they don’t fly far. 

Rabbits: These are a source of lean meat only, so eat them sparingly or combine with fattier foods. Rabbits often rely on camouflage rather than flight from their predators, so pretend you don’t notice one as you approach it.

Beaver, bear and mutton: All good sources of fatty meat.

Quail: Easy to pursue since they don't travel far. You can set up a trench and corral them in so they can't easily fly out.

Eggs: You know you're near a nest when a bird dive-bombs you as you pass by the location. When retrieving, try to leave some of the eggs to insure the next generation of available prey.

Fish and Other Seafood

Although they provide balanced nutrition, trout and many other types of pan fish provide few calories.  A fat salmon, however, can offer a substantial meal of 900 calories.

Makeshift Hook:  Carve or sharpen the edge of both sides of a two-inch pencil-sized stick and hide it in bait.  When a fish swallows it, pull the line, which turns the stick perpendicular and lodges insidee the fish's throat.

No-Hook Fishing:  There are several ways to catch fish other than the hook and line approach:

To prepare fish for cooking, slit it with your knife on the belly side, from the anal vent to the head. Then remove the guts. Hold by the tail and scrape off scales, blood vessels and kidneys.  For pan fish, leave head, tail and fins attached so the bones hold together.  Eat around these parts and later make a chowder with them.

To preserve fish for future consumption, cut the flesh into thin strips and hang to dry.  For long-term storage, dehydrate the fillets by heating them wrapped in green leaves and set atop a grate on a low fire. (More on wilderness cooking below.)

Seaweed: All types are edible and high in vitamins and minerals, with algae providing one of the earth’s most protein--rich foods.  It can be eaten raw or cooked in soups.  You can also dehydrate and store seaweed. Many children find this dried version very tasty.

Crabs: All are edible, but like other shell-fish, you should keep them alive until cooking time to avoid potential toxins released in their systems. Always kill them humanely with a knife before depositing into boiling water.  Salt-water varieties (i.e. caught in the ocean) can be eaten raw or cooked, but land crabs may contain parasites, so these must be cooked. 

Sea cucumbers: The cucumbers grow near the shore and taste like clams.  Natives dry and smoke the five white long muscles.  Scrape off the skin and throw the rest away.

Abalone: This is a large rock-clinging mollusk.  Pry it off the rock by slipping a long knife under it and snapping it upwards.  Be careful to keep the shell intact, so you can later use it as a bowl.

Clams: Along the Pacific shore below the Aleutian Islands, The dark meat of salt-water varieties SHOULD NOT be eaten between April and October. During these months clams consume poisonous sea organisms that can’t be destroyed by heat. The white meat is OK to cook at all times.

Sea urchins: Urchins are elated to starfish and have eggs that can be eaten raw or cooked. (Never eat starfish.)

Mussels: These should be checked to make sure the shell closes tightly if touched.  If it doesn't close tightly, avoid it.  Bluish-black mussels that are attached to seashell rocks shouldn’t be eaten from April to October for same reason as clams (see above). 

Other Sources of Nutrition

Animal Blood

Blood provides complete nutrition and liquid in the absence of a water source. Blood is also rich in vitamins, iron and other minerals.  Four tablespoons can be as nutritious as 10 eggs. And it doesn't taste as bad as you may think. In a survival situation, when slaughtering or dressing animals, always drain the blood into some form of container.

To cook the blood, make a broth with it. Add wild vegetables if you have any.

Skin and Bones

Animal skin can be as nutritious as lean meat. Depending on the situation, rawhide may be better utilized as shoemaking material, or for warmth.

Bones are rich in minerals and can be salvaged if found with the carcass of an animal killed by another predator (i.e. wolf or bear). Extract the marrow from large bones and cook.  The less cooked, the more nutritious it will be. Smaller bones can be used for broth.

Vitamin C

Often neglected in survival situations, Vitamin C is essential to health and a lack of it results in scurvy. Food loses its Vitamin C through over-cooking, salting, age and oxidation.

Eat the starchy green tips of spruce needles raw for a strong dose of C. Drink spruce or pine needle tea to get nearly eight times the amount of C as a glass of orange juice.


When all else fails, bugs provide an excellent nutrition source in small quantities. The most important component of a survival diet is fat, and bugs are 100% fat.  You can catch them using a light or torch fire at night. During the day, turn over a dead log or excavate them from a live tree.  Extract termites from tree holes using a stick.  (Be careful, because they bite.) You can usually spot larvae inside trees because the wood is swollen at their location.

Except for hard portions, wings, and any areas of poisonous secretions, all parts of insects are usually edible.  Remove a grasshopper’s legs, wings and head before eating raw or cooking.

Ants (bitter taste), spiders and moths are edible. For red ants, hold them by the head and bite off the back side to eat. Other ants that bite will have formic acid that can irritate your digestive tract, so heat or cook them first when possible.

See next column over for more on Wilderness Cooking...


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Always be sure to clean your hands thoroughly after handling game or stock animals. Cook all meat well enough to avoid germs, parasites or disease, but overcooked meat is not healthy either.  

A forked green stick works as a skewer for roasting meat or fish.  Thrust the flesh briefly in the fire to seal in juices, then cook it away from the flames.  Alternatively, you can wrap meat around a stick to cook it, or split the stick and insert the meat in between before tying each end tightly.  (Now the stick is referred to as a "spit".) Lay the spit between two crotched uprights (see photo), above the fire.

For fresh meat, cook only as long as necessary in order to reap the most nutrition.  If available, you can use clumps of moss as oven mitts.

Make a grill:  Fashion a slab from green hardwood.  Then you can peg the fish to it and put that over the coals.  Remove the animal's backbone if the skin doesn’t lean flat enought. Turn the fish or meat 1-2 times.  Birch burns easily but imparts a nice aroma. A flat rock can also work as a slab, but never use rocks that have been in water, as they may burst in the heat

Quick and Dirty Oven: For food requiring several hours to cook, hot rocks make a good lasting heat source. Get them hot in a fire at first, then keep them hot by dousing them with boiling water. As for the oven, dig a hole, line it with hot dry rocks (see caution above), then insert the food on a bed of green leaves.  Now you can cover the hole to seal in the heat. Allow some means for pouring boiling water onto rocks so they’ll reheat.  Alternatively, you can light a fire in a small hole to heat the area, then scoop out ash and insert food with the hot rocks. 

Soup Hole: Line a dugout hole with animal hide.  Add water, food and steaming hot rocks. You can pull out the cooled rocks after awhile and toss in newly heated rocks to keep the soup stewing along.

Clay cooking: You can build a simple clay oven using a green-stick cage as its frame. Let each layer of clay dry before adding the next.  To expedite this process, light temporary fires within the cage.  When its ready for cooking food, pre-heat the oven by building a fire in it, then scoop out ashes and insert food atop stones or leaves.

Barbeque: Let a campfire fire burn down to hot coals, then lay green sticks across it and slow cook your food as shiska bobs.  Juices stay in better if there's no cutting or piercing of the meat.

Tripod: Lay two or three branches with forked tops against each other teepee- style and steady them so they'll hold a load. Tie shoelaces or paracord to the top to dangle a pot or bottle over the fire.

Boil water without a container: Light a fire in a rock cavity to preheat it.  Or build a fire around the rock cavity if it’s small enough.  Or use a container made of wrapped birch bark and toss a heated rock into the water.

Dressing Animals: The approach is a little different with every species, but in general you want to:

Birds: Remove the feathers while still warm. Remove the pouch below neck, then cut or rip open body with your hands above and below the ribs. Remove the viscera (abdominal organs). Save the heart and liver. The gizzard's OK to eat once it's cleaned. When preparing upland birds, such as grouse, pheasant, quail and partridge, skin or pluck the bird and soak in cold water for one to two hours to remove excess blood.

Deer/Large Game: Per KingsOutdoorWorld Poke a small hole right below the breast bone. Gases will escape and probably won't smell the best. After the gases escape, penetrate the skin completely but not so deep that you cut the intestines. Make an incision all the way down to the pelvis. Now you need to open up the cavity and start cutting the intestines away from the belly of the animal. Cut the windpipe (trachea) and cut away all the attachments of the heart and pull out the chest contents. Detach the heart and liver and put them in a bag if you like those parts.

Turn the animal to the side and let all the blood drain out. All of the insides should fall out. If not, cut the parts that are still attached to the insides. The intestines will still be attached to the body by the rectal tube. It is very important that this tube be completely and cleanly removed. Encircle the rectal tube a few times until it is completely detached. You may have to cut from the inside also to detach it completely. Be very careful of the bladder and the stool tube. Getting either of these two waste materials on the meat can make the meat sour. Pull the tube through the hole and competely drain the animal by rolling to one side. The vent hole will serve as a drain when you hang the animal up to skin it out.

Small Game: It may be easier to first hang an animal in the air by its hind legs. Save the drained blood for soup, as it's highly nourishing.  Cut the animal around each ankle. Slit up the inside of its legs to a join long cut between the vent and throat.  Then pull down and remove the hide as in tact as possible.  Now open the animal from the vent to the ribs and remove its innards.  Save its heart, kidneys and liver, which are edible.  If it’s a muskrat species, cut off its white stringy scent glands from inside its forelegs and thighs.

Preserving meat: Keep it in a dark, cold place and hang at least 4 yards off ground, well clear of any foliage.  Before this, you can suspend chunks of meat briefly in smoke to create an odorless casing. For long-term storage, cut in long strips, trimming off fat (save this) and hang this meat in the sun and wind until it's hard and black.  Fat makes meat rancid. You can soak the meat first in brine or seawater.  (One method is to boil seawater into a concentrated mixture, then while it's simmering dip in meat slices before drying them out.  Light a smoky fire next to your drying area to keep the bugs away.

Jerky: When eating jerky (i.e. dried meat), remember that it's lean and must be accompnaied by fatty foods to avoid diarrhea.  Making Pemmican is a way around this problem:  Cook down fat chunks to grease (don’t boil), then mix the grease in equal parts with jerky to create a kind of sausage.  Store the Pemmican in a watertight container.  It provides complete nutrition except for Vitamin C.  Always supplement dried with fresh food, even if it's just berries and dandelion leaves.


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Survival Menu:

Building a Shelter
Finding Water
Lost and Found

Starting a Fire
Miscellaneous tips
Teaching / Schools