As part of my ongoing mission to prepare you for the end of the world, I’ve decided to tackle the modern hunter-gatherer lifestyle.
I’m not talking about paleo—they (mostly) buy their food in stores. I’m talking about hunting and gathering food with your own hands in the wilderness. It’s bound to come into vogue during a snafu in our food delivery infrastructure.
We need more variety in our diets anyway.
This post also goes in the “skills I wish I had” category. After my less than stellar “educated guess” attempt to pack a survival kit, I’ve decided to go straight for John Wiseman’s SAS Survival Handbook. It’s such a fun (and possibly essential but hopefully not essential) read.
Disclaimer: I’m gaming this out based on my own personality. This means limiting my planning to perceived capabilities. If you are not like me (congratulations!), you may decide to take on more or less, but at your own risk.
I’m also talking about a pure wilderness diet. I assume you already know how to punch your way through a supermarket riot to grab the last jar of mayo.
This way you can survive a hiking trip gone bad, too.
Now for the good stuff. In the Survival Guide, Wiseman devotes a significant part of his food acquisition section to hunting and trapping animals. This is a no-go for me. His traps are undeniably cool, but the construction looks difficult.
Practice, you say? Sure, that would help. But are either of us heading to the woods anytime soon for trap practice? Didn’t think so.
There are diagrams for the bow & arrow and spear, too. The bow looks hard to construct, but I could probably handle a spear. But would I have the reflexes to hit a squirrel or a fish with one? Doubtful.
There is another option for animal meat. It is possible to find a large predator’s kill and steal some of it, but Wiseman recommends this only as a last resort. They tend to return for leftovers.
So I’m limited to the following: animals that nature has pre-killed for me, plants, and bugs.
Did you know they aren’t native to North America?Plants are mostly out the window too. Unless I get lucky and stumble upon an apple tree or some strawberries, I won’t risk it. The handbook’s leaf diagrams of “safe” and “not-safe” are never going to stick in my brain.
That leaves bugs and worms. Now we’re getting somewhere.
Worms: Home run. I’d prefer earthworms. Plentiful and easy to find. I don’t even think you would have to chew them, which helps with the taste factor. Did you know they aren’t native to the Americas? Colombian exchange transplant.
I had a glass-walled worm farm when I was little. No iPads back then.
Bugs: fantastic variety here. Avoid anything with bright colors. Check out this amazing infographic that details which insects you can eat, and what they do for you.
Wiseman recommends almost anything you can gather en masse. Termites are great, but the gold standard is the beetle grub.
I called the grub “nature’s donut” in the post title, but that’s not fair to the grub. Donuts are terrible for you (I eat them so you don’t have to), but the grub is nutritious. Tons of protein. You couldn’t survive for weeks on grubs alone, but you could come pretty close.
Under bark or inside rotting stumps is the best place to find them. Go now!
Quick note from the handbook: don’t consume any bugs that are eating something dead. They will likely carry infection.
My favorite part of his advice is a full page on how to eat stinging insects, particularly wasps, bees, and hornets. It amazed me that he even included them, but he explains that in some locales—deserts, for example—they may be the only available insects.
Bees are your best bet. If you somehow manage not to die, you get honey and honeycomb along with larvae. The only way to pull this off is to approach at night with a torch, smoke the nest, and cover the opening until they die.
Sounds brutal—bees are having enough trouble surviving as it is—but if human society fails, I suppose all bets are off.
Wasps and hornets: Strategy is the same—smoke and cover the nest—but this time you don’t get any honey. You just get the larvae. What’s not to love? Work harder, appreciate the reward even more.
Almost forgot–snails. These should be cooked thoroughly, preferably boiled. Go nuts.
So that’s it. I feel like I’ve done a good thing here, preparing you for a vacation (or society) gone bad. It’s all quite doable; when I traveled through southeast Asia, elaborate insect meals were the norm. Not for me personally—I just noticed it was quite popular.
Does any of this seem feasible to you in a desperate situation? Have you tried insects? What’s your favorite?
I still haven’t sampled any insects despite having a chance to try fried grasshoppers, which apparently taste great.
There’s a reason this blog category is named “skills I wish I had” instead of “skills I am currently acquiring.”