Thoughts on Finding food in the Wild after 21 days of wilderness survival on Senja Island Norway in 2015.
After building a Shelter, building a Fire and securing water comes the task of finding food.
On Senja Island Norway, It was 7 days before the weather broke and before we could fish and forage. 7 days of no food in the Arctic. It will open your eyes really wide. I tried hard to hunt and forage when I should have been conserving my calories and waiting for better opportunities. I’m sharing conclusions I made after the experience- based upon my experience.
Honestly, before spending 21 days surviving the Arctic I would have told you finding food is one of the most important things you can do; Now I have changed my opinion- here’s why.
Oh man- after a few days with no food that’s all you can focus on- how good food tastes.
How long have you fasted?
Before this journey 2 days was my maximum fasting experience. I think most people don’t fast at all. A weekend with no food at all? nobody wants that.. WHY???
Food. Its all you can think about- ice cream, pizza, hamburgers, craft beer, potato chips, the first stages of starvation in the wilderness and your body has your brain wanting nothing more than to go to a fair or carnival or buffet and “fat it up!!”
But guys – your body doesn’t need food for quite a while. We have all got enough fat and muscle to last us weeks before having to eat- and your hunger pangs might be the driving force to search for food- and that could be the beginning of your undoing, let’s consider a few things:
Plants. Plants don’t move. They are easy to catch. That’s great; right? Sometimes Yes. Moretimes- No.
The things about plants is unless you enjoy a raw diet, or are a vegetarian who regularly eats raw veggies, wild edible plants are more likely to make you “shit through a screen door” than give you the satisfaction of a full belly. Also, even some of the more choice edibles can act as a diuretic, or they can be catabolic, (require more calories to digest than they yield), and they can also cause diarrhea; think of the last time you ate a big salad or plate of greens… don’t think that you’ll be fine eating a sack full of dandelions and greenbriar shoots if your regular lunch is a deli sandwich- or if an apple peel gives you 8 hours of bloat and gas… You may be in for the worst stomachache of your life.
-Assuming you are lost in the wilderness. If you consume something that disagrees with you and begin to vomit or have diarrhea, or even stomach cramps- you have compromised your physical ability and you require more water.. If you are in a region where you are not sure what the plants are then your risk for consuming something toxic increases. A consumable probably won’t kill you, but it may be a deciding factor in your wellbeing, and the risk is never worth the reward (not even a few hundred calories gained). All the above being said- certain things are a nobrainer- immediately recognizable fruits like apples, peaches, figs, blackberries, blueberries, grapes, onions, coconuts, carrots, plums, pecans, etc etc I’m not talking about these- eat up, enjoy and rejoice ! That being said, I have to question the benefit of eating only greens. a diet primarily of collards, turnip greens, nettles, cabbage, lettuce, spinach, clover, edible tree buds, etc etc- it cost more to digest (is catabolic) granted all the above has calories, and vitamins; but the energy required to access those calories is greater than the calories received; and the potential for diarrhea adds a purified water component necessity that exponentially increases the amount of fuel, heat, water, and time to the survival equation.
what is really potentially tragically dangerous is the:
“I think that’s a___________. I heard its edible, let’s try it” that gets you in trouble. It should go without saying: NEVER EAT MUSHROOMS. Just don’t. They don’t have enough nutritional value to justify the potential toxicity of consuming them.
SO am I telling you to starve? or be passive? NO. Find food if you can. But consider:
You may be spending a lot of energy to find something that requires a lot of energy to cook and also a lot of energy to digest, something that may dehydrate you via vomiting or diarrhea, and could possibly have insect larva or protozoa on it that could make you very ill. Keep the odds ever in your favor. Be wary of plants.
Hunting is a gamble. You are essentially playing cards with Mother Nature. Granted you can “learn the game” and get better; and increase your odds of winning drastically, BUT, you’ll never know for sure you are going to win the hunting game. You could walk over the hill, get a perfect shot on a deer or raccoon or rabbit, have a roast in the pot before sundown, you could also spend an entire day burning precious calories with nothing to show for it at the end of day; you could also fall, injure yourself, and then have an entire pack of new problems to address.
Hunting is a lot of risk for a hopeful reward. Risk without reward is never good. Think about these things; chasing a squirrel or a rabbit could result in a lot of energy spent for not a lot of gain, Still hunting in a tree or in a ground blind waiting for big game is by far the mosty calorie conservative, but you must have adequate clothing to remain stationary. You must also be a good shot (hope your fieldcrafted arrow flies true). If you sit and freeze for half a day and don’t make a kill then you spent a lot of potentially irreplaceable calories “hoping.”
The best way to get game is using traps and snares, however, if you haven’t ever used traps or snares, don’t expect to have any success using them when you find yourself in a survival situation. Some spring snares and deadfalls take a lot of practice to set the triggers and nooses to where they will actually catch and kill. Snares require some carving and setup, they take time to set up correctly, and they require cordage which you may or may not have- or may not have the skill or resource to manufacture. Deadfalls require carving triggers and also require heavy logs and stones, there is a real danger of deadfalls falling on your hand or foot. You may not be in an area where deadfalls and snares are practical (too sandy or swampy to hold a spring snare down, etc) Practice before you embark. Remember that the same broken or smashed finger that is minor injury in civilization becomes a major injury when you are in the backcountry.
Fishing. If you find yourself in a survival situation, fishing is your absolute best option.
You will not find an easier way to get protein than by fishing. All you need is 50-100 ft of line, actually much less than this- but better to have more than you need than not enough. For terminal gear a few small and sharp hooks, a few split shot, and maybe a bucktail jig could be added if you foresee bait being an issue. This will all fit easily into the smallest of containers, takes up minimal space and weight and possession of a fishing kit is a true lifesaver. Even a child can master a cane pole. For procuring food, a hook and line is the absolute easiest, safest, and most productive piece of gear you can carry with you afield. If you don’t have a formal hook and line, first try to make one, a piece of wire and some strong thread from a coat or pack could be tackle enough to catch a fish, if that’s not an option a simple bi-conical fish basket can be made in a few hours from saplings. Building a fish weir that empties into a field expedient crudely fashioned basket is an effective option that will work. When it comes to fishing, get creative, but don’t go into the water if it’s cold! Do not get wet unless it’s plenty warm outside. Getting wet and cold counteracts any calories you are hoping to replace with fish. Don’t burn more than you consume!!
Most“lost in the woods” Survival Scenarios” last 3-4 days. For the first three days all you need to do is maintain thermoregulation and stay hydrated. If it’s hot stay cool , if it’s cold stay warm, drink more water than you think you should- your urine should be clear to very light straw colored. Yellow or dark yellow, or orange yellow- that means you are dehydrated.
It’s hard to write and tell you: “don’t go find food if you are lost” that seems counterintuitive, I fully understand that. HOWEVER, I ask that you look at the big picture- more than likely after 3 days you will be noticed missing and hopefully found. That’s going on national averages for most US states (some of the more expansive western states don’t apply.) If you can hunker down for 3 days and focus on conserving energy and staying hydrated you’ll be a lot better off than someone who wears themselves out- or injures themselves chasing a rabbit across hell’s half acres only to come back to camp tired, wet, and exhausted; too tired for the necessary trek to the water source and the nearly constant gathering of dry wood to feed the fire. While you are staying warm and cozy sipping on warm water, plan your game-getting strategy while you pattern wildlife from the shelter of your lean-to. Even though your head is pounding and your stomach is chewing on your backbone we can all survive a few days with no food.