Many preppers and survivalists look to hunting as a means of augmenting their food stocks, giving their families fresh meat to eat and extending whatever food stockpile they have. There's good reason for that too. Throughout history, mankind has been a hunter, using that as one of our major sources of food.
As preppers, we should be raising some sort of animals, poultry or fish for protein in our diets, just as we are growing vegetables in our gardens. Few have enough meat stockpiled for a long-term survival situation. So that meat will end up becoming an important part of our nutrition in a survival situation.
However, that probably won't be enough. It takes a lot of land to grow enough livestock to feed one family. Yes, you can grow enough to augment your food stores and give your family some animal protein to go with the rice and beans you've stockpiled. Nevertheless, unless you have several acres of land and the ability to protect it from others who will be hungry, you probably won't be growing all your meat.
Even though hunting has been largely replaced by the raising of livestock, that hasn't negated the value of hunting. Every year, thousands of hunters go forth from their homes, in search of wild animals to harvest, both for the sport of it and to feed their families. While not all return home with game, their efforts join together in an act of conservation, regulating the populations of wild animals, so that they don't overpopulate their habitats and starve.
But today's hunting looks little like the hunting of yesteryear. Government regulation and licensing didn't exist in the pioneering days. Hunters went forth and harvested game as they needed, most times in reasonable amounts; but in a few cases, like the buffalo, all but hunting them into extinction.
In reality, the ratio of available game to the nation's population is nothing like it was in days of yore. If the vast majority of our nation's population attempted to live off of wild game today, they would starve. Even so, hunting is a valuable skill; one which we, as preppers and survivalists, should know and practice. For it is only through that practice that we can be sure that we are ready, when and if those skills are necessary.
I want to take a look at hunting, from a survival viewpoint. Not with the intent to teach you how to hunt, as there really isn't enough space in one article to even scratch the surface of that subject. Rather, I want to talk about what you and I will have to do differently, should we have to depend on hunting to provide meat for our families.
Let's start by looking at the existing population of wildlife. Every year, the various Fish & Game Departments, as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, take extensive surveys of animal populations in their respective areas. This is part of the conservation efforts I mentioned earlier.
Based upon these surveys, decisions are made as to how many licenses to issue, as well as other conservation efforts that need to be done. It is recognized within these organizations that not every hunter will kill an animal, in the case of large game, or will get their bag limit, in the case of small game. But the probably percentages are known, as they remain fairly constant from year to year.
Of course, these surveys only cover animals for which specific licenses are issued. Not all animals are surveyed and tracked. This effort is mostly limited to big game. But there are countless other animals, most of which are edible, which are not tracked.
In the event of a major disaster or a breakdown of society, the current animal populations won't be enough. There will be a large number of people hunting for them, many of whom are sports hunters who go out every year. Most will be depending on whatever they can get hunting to feed their families. While some will be successful, most will not.
Nevertheless, the vast number of hunters who are out looking for game to kill will greatly deplete the existing animal populations, especially of big game, perhaps in some cases to regional extinction. This will be most true in the East and along the West Coasts, where the population is greater. In the West, where states have a smaller population, more game will survive, especially in more remote areas.
Of course, a lot depends on what sort of crisis strikes and how severely it damages our infrastructure, but there are a number of scenarios, especially grid-down situations, which would essentially shut down food distribution. In those cases, it is safely assumed that a large percentage of our population will die off. One estimate, from the EMP Commission, shows 90 percent of the US population dying off after the nation's grid is destroyed by an EMP.
Looking at the silver lining in this cloud, the death of so many Americans will allow the wild animal populations to bounce back, and the vast reduction in people hunting them, as well as the increase of grazing land available to them, will cause their populations to bounce back with a vengeance.
So, while the first couple of years after a nationwide crisis event would see vast reductions in available game, the third year would see populations beginning to climb. For those who survive, by the fifth year after such a disaster, wild game levels should be high enough so that hunting will be easy and game will be abundant. This is fortunate for those who survive, as they will be needing that food to live on.
Legalities of Survival Hunting
Let me state here that survival hunting is totally and completely illegal. Nevertheless, I am sure that droves of hunters will be out scouring the hills, looking for game. I am equally sure that those who are charged with enforcing those laws will be few and far between. Most, if not all, will probably abandon their posts, in an effort to take care of their own families. They might even be the forward wave of hunters, going out to harvest nature's bounty.
The thing is, survival trumps any law on the books. While the laws about hunting without a duly executed license may technically still be on the books during that time, the need to survive will make them irrelevant. If anyone tries to enforce them, they might find their lives in danger.
That's not to say that there won't be a day when things settle down and the government returns to enforcing those laws. In fact, I'd just about count on that happening. So, you want to be sure that your actions are such that you can't be held accountable for them. In other words, do whatever you can to keep your hunting activities secret and don't keep any trophies.
While it would be totally ridiculous to prosecute anyone who has hunted to survive through such a time, we all know that the government can be counted on to do things which are totally ridiculous. There will be enough environmentalists who survive, so as to push the government into doing something about all those horrible poachers, and there will be enough liberal bureaucrats who survive to make sure something is done. So, make sure you don't leave them any evidence that they can use to make you a target.
The Reality of Survival Hunting
I just recently spent an afternoon dove hunting with some friends. We spent an enjoyable half a day out in the farmland, shooting at dove and having a good time. While none of us got our bag limit, we harvested a respectable collection of dove.
But from a survival point of view, that hunt was a disaster. I say that because we barely bagged enough game to feed the three of us, forget our families. If that were to be our normal catch when we are in a survival situation, we'd ultimately end up dying of starvation. Hunting dove, like hunting squirrel, isn't a very efficient use of time and resources.
Survival hunting requires that you harvest many times more calories in the hunt, than you expend hunting. Remember, there are others in your survival team, who are involved in other survival tasks, so they are counting on you to put food on the table. You not only need to be able to feed yourself, but a number of other people as well.
This would indicate the need to hunt big game. But big game aren't as plentiful as small game. So while a deer can supply several days worth of meat, you can't always count on bagging a deer. You might bag a deer one day, then nothing more than small game for several days afterwards. But overall, you've got to make your hunting operation efficient enough that you have a net gain of calories, enough to cover not only yourself, but others as well.
As part of this, hunting of small game really should be limited to traps and snares. That way, the only time you have to put into hunting those animals is checking your snares, once you have them built. It's okay to shoot a rabbit or even a squirrel, when you get a chance, but that shouldn't be your main means of harvesting these animals.
For that matter, you'll need to forget the idea of going out in search of a particular type of game animal. Rather, you're going to be going out in search of whatever you can find. If that means a coyote, then so be it. Maybe you're not used to eating coyote now, but it's better than starving. Since we're already going to be ignoring the laws about hunting licenses, we may as well ignore the laws about hunting seasons as well.
The other thing you have to consider is ammunition. When we were dove hunting, we were getting one bird for about every 10 shots expended. That's not all that efficient. Granted, I hadn't been bird hunting for years and neither of the other guys had been doing any skeet shooting, but if it had been a survival situation, what we harvested, for the amount of ammo we invested, was a really poor return on investment. It's got to be one shot, one kill; nothing else will do.
Hunting Without Artificial Help
Most hunters today are used to hunting with a variety of aids. They hunt from blinds, have vehicles with built-in blinds built on top of them, use decoys and even use bait in the form of feed corn to lure the animals in. All this makes the life of the hunter easier and increases their chance of bagging whatever it is they're hunting for.
Personally, I didn't grow up that way. When I was growing up, it was illegal to use bait corn in Colorado. I don't have any idea whether it is today or not. But I do know this, in the aftermath of a major crisis, we're going to have to get by without all that stuff. Gasoline will be scarce and feed corn will be scarcer still. We're going to have to hunt the old way, going out in the bush and finding the game.
This requires much more skill on the part of the hunter. You have to know the animals, their habitats and their habits. More than anything, you've got to know where to look, so that you'll be able to find them.
Let me make a recommendation to you right here. That is to spend some time learning what game are in your area, where the game in your area live, where they feed and where they water. That way, when the time comes, you're going to be a huge step ahead of everyone else who is out there hunting. Instead of just hoping to stumble upon an animal, you'll have a pretty good idea where to look.
All animals are creatures of habit. While they might vary their routine from day to day, foraging in different areas for food, they will usually have a circuit they follow. That circuit will include places where they feed, as well as where they go for water. They'll generally return to the same places to sleep night after night, or at the completion of their circuit. One of the most important and regular parts of this circuit will be stopping for water, which most animals do at about dawn and sunset. So, if you know where they water, you know when and where you can find them.
This will be real hunting, not the commercialized hunting of today. You won't be able to pay someone to take you out and show you where to find the animals. If they know, they'll be keeping that information for themselves. Besides, money probably won't be worth a thing.
Security While Hunting
There is always a risk of accident or injury while hunting. Every year, I hear reports about someone who gets shot while hunting. Some people just shouldn't be out there; they'll hear a rustling in the bush and take a shot, sure that there's a nice big buck hiding in that bush. Buck's there all right, but that's just his nickname. His real name is Joe and he ends up having to take a trip to the hospital due to that fool taking a shot.
That situation is going to be even worse after a disaster. There will be people out there hunting, who have never been hunting before. Their knowledge of hunting will be from movies they've seen or books they've read. And the books they've read won't be the ABC's of Hunting for food.
So the chance of accidents will increase. But that's not the real concern. The big problem will be the people who are out there not with the idea of hunting game, but the idea of hunting the hunters. They'll wait until someone bags a deer or wild hog and hold them up, stealing their catch from them. It's said that desperate people do desperate things, and these desperate people could very well start some serious shooting incidents, ones in which they or their intended target get killed.
Hunting in such a time will require extreme caution. Not only will you have the normal risks to consider, but the risk of these other people as well. Are you likely to run into one of them? Not really. But that's not the point. The point is, as long as there is any risk of running into one of them, you need to be watchful and prepared. Otherwise, that could be your last hunt.
What are You Going to Hunt With?
This brings up another question; that of, what are you going to use as your weapon of choice for hunting? This is a complicated issue, as you will be looking for whatever game you can find. A hunting rifle isn't going to do you much good, if you only see geese on your hunt. On the other hand, if you're going to hunt with a shotgun, you're going to have to get much closer to the game. There really is no perfect answer, as carrying more than one long gun will probably be too much.
This issue also ties into the previous point about security. In case you hadn't noticed, guns are noisy. If you start shooting at game, you'll be advertising your position to anyone else who is out there. Even if they aren't out there with the idea of hunting hunters, they might swing by to see what they can get, if they think you've bagged something.
One solution to this problem is to hunt with a .22 caliber rifle. The .22 is low powered enough that it can't be heard from all that far away. Not only that, but it uses about the cheapest ammunition you can buy. While you can't hunt for everything with a .22, having that ability can be a real help in a survival situation.
If you already have an AR-15 chambered for .223/5.56mm ammo, you can easily convert it to use for shooting .22. All that's needed is to change the bolt out for a special bolt, which takes mere seconds and replace the magazine with one specially built to work with .22LR. A kit, with both of these pieces in it, sells for about $150.
Another option you should consider is to hunt with a bow, rather than hunting with a rifle. Of course, that requires a higher level of skill than hunting with a rifle, but it has a number of advantages to compensate. Not only will you be able to hunt silently, but you'll be able to recover your arrows.
If whatever situation goes on long enough, ammunition will be in short supply. That will mean that more and more people will need to switch over to bow hunting, rather than hunting with a rifle. So you might want to consider getting a bow now and start practicing with it. At the same time, learn how to make your own arrows. While arrows are reusable, eventually you'll lose or break them all and will have to make your own.
One note on the arrows, modern bows shoot at rather high velocity. That's hard on arrows. You will probably need to do some experimenting with materials, in order to find something that you can make arrows out of, which will survive the stress of being fired from your bow.
Expand Your Hunting Options
Up to now I've been talking about hunting wild game, mostly because that's what we all think of, when we talk about hunting. But there are some other options that may open up in a time of crisis.
What I'm talking about is hunting domestic animals. The old joke is that you don't find any stray cats or dogs near Chinese restaurants. Well, in a time of crisis, when food is scarce, I doubt you'll find any stray cats or dogs anywhere else either.
Dogs and cats may not be the first thing you think of, when you're thinking of dinner. But they are edible. So are rats, possums, raccoons and many other pests which might just decide to come around and see what you're growing in your garden. Rather than just chasing them off, you may as well fix them for dinner.
Another unconventional way to go hunting is to go hunting for domestic livestock. While I'm not in favor or stealing, survival has its own rules. If you can't find food anywhere else to eat, shooting some ranchers cattle may just be what you need to do.
However, you need to consider this option carefully. Most ranchers I've known are rather feisty about protecting their stock. If you start shooting them, or start shooting some pig farmer's pigs, you might just find them shooting back at you. You're better off working out some sort of barter system with these people, than you are stealing their livestock.
Of course, if the farmers and ranchers in question die in whatever catastrophe has brought you to the moment of crisis, then they probably won't be needing their livestock anymore. Being aware of who these people are, where they are and what their situation is will be important, if you want to be able to take advantage of their bounty, when the time comes.
Ultimately, farmers and ranchers are some of the most important people in any community, as they are the ones who are regularly growing food. Working with them, for the survival of your team and the survival of your community is better than working against them. Working together, you might actually be able to feed many more people, than if you start killing their livestock and stealing the meat.
Waste Not, Want Not
The American Indians made excellent use of the animals they killed hunting. They not only ate the meat and tanned the hide for leather, but also used a number of the organs as well. Some of these were eaten, while others were converted to containers and other useful things.
The thing is, considering that we're talking about hunting to provide food, in a time when food will be scarce, you can't afford to waste a thing. You'll need to make the best possible use of whatever game you bag, whether it's some farmer's cow or a wild turkey.
One way to do that is to use the meat in soups, casseroles and stews. In doing so, your meat will go farther, than if you were eating it as steaks and hamburgers. While we all like a nice thick steak, we're talking survival cooking here; that means we're after nutrition, not so much after satisfying the desire of our taste buds for that steak.
Whatever isn't eaten right away will need to be preserved for storage. So, you'll need to be ready to do that. There are several ways of preserving meats, most especially through dehydrating, smoking or canning. But each require that you have the right equipment and supplies on hand.
Another reason to preserve some of the game you catch is for winter. Hunting in the winter is all but impossible. Not only is it more difficult and more dangerous to get around, but most animals hide themselves away in the winter, avoiding going out in the cold and the snow more than absolutely necessary. Some hibernate, others stockpile food for the winter; but even those that don't, avoid going out much.So, the game you hunt in the warmer months is going to have to see you through the colder ones as well. That means preserving the meat in such a way that it will keep and won't spoil. It will also mean keeping critters out of your meat stock, so that you get to eat it instead of them eating it for you.