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How to Find Food in the Wild
Although not an immediate priority, eating is essential to your survival providing energy and even protecting against the cold.
In this chapter, we’ll discover the different plants, insects, fish, and game you can eat, as well as different methods and techniques for catching them.
Research suggests that the human body can continue to function for around 8 to 21 days without taking food and water on board. If hydration is kept up, the body can last for up to two months (source: Prime Survivor)
If you’re going to survive, it’s essential to establish one or more of the following food sources:
One thing you can find to eat is plants. Be careful when identifying plants, as some have not-so-edible lookalikes that can do more harm than good.
The following video shows 25 edible plants. Further down, we list a short selection of the easiest plants to identify.
The first and perhaps most easily identifiable plant you can eat is the thistle. That said, don’t try to eat their prickly leaves. The part you want to harvest is the roots that are rich in carbohydrates and sugars, which will give you energy. These can be eaten raw after a thorough clean.
Another familiar flower that you can eat is the dandelion. The leaves are rich in iron, and the flowers can be eaten too. Be careful with the roots, though, as they are usually too bitter to eat.
Another edible flower is the daisy. Both traditional and Ow-eye daisies are a good source of food. You can find them in meadows, and their leaves and flowers are edible. The ox-eye daisy’s central yellow disc has a pineapple flavor, but the smell of the plant is unpleasant.
Burdock, also known as elephant’s ears, has leaves that can grow up to 3 feet in length. The leaves are wrinkled on top, with fuzzy hairs on the underside. Both the leaves and the stalks can be eaten completely raw. But the best part of this plant is the roots. Although a bit of a pain to dig up, they are long and thick and can be peeled and eaten raw.
And last but not least, let’s not forget about walnuts. The ones with green husks will not have mature nuts inside, but those that look rotten and brown do. When smashed open with a rock, you will find a delicious walnut inside. Another great protein source – and a familiar taste – is welcome after so many other strange and unusual flavors.
Another food source – although less appetizing – is insects. They contain a high amount of protein, essential for survival in extreme conditions. It’s important to know which ones are edible and not going to do you any good. As a general rule, avoid anything very colorful, hairy, or smelly.
Ants are the most commonly found insect that you can eat. They walk in straight lines, which lead you directly to their anthill. Hit this a few times and get a stick close to collect them (doing this by hand could take a while to make a meal). Once you have a good number on the stick, dunk it straight into the vessel of water you’re going to cook them in, so they drown. Once there’s a good number in the pot, you’re ready to cook dinner. Boil for about 6 minutes, and bon appétit.
Another excellent choice for a nutritious buggy meal is grasshoppers or crickets. Catch them in the mornings while they are still drowsy. You can catch them with your hands or using a nifty bottle contraption.
Cut the top off a bottle and bury it in the ground with some sweet fruit inside. Pop a few leaves in there for them to hide under too so that they don’t run away. When you wake up the next morning, you’ll find a few of them in there.
To cook them, you’ll have to pull off their heads. Pull firmly to bring their entrails attached. After removing their wings and legs, you can dry roast or skewer them to cook them over a fire.
Here’s an easy-to-read guide:
Insect Where When Day or Night? Cook?
Grasshoppers Grass Year-round (particularly Summer) Daytime Yes, remove head and legs
Crickets Grass Year-round (particularly Summer) Nighttime Yes, remove head and legs
Ants Everywhere After rainstorms; during droughts Daytime Yes
Termites Rotting wood Spring Daytime Yes
Grubs (eggs) Rotting logs; loamy soil Summer/Fall Day & Night Raw or cooked
Woodlice Rotting vegetation (leaves/wood) Fall/Winter/Spring Daytime Yes
Earthworms Soil, ground Spring Daytime Yes
Stink bugs Plants, vegetation March-September Nighttime Yes
Scorpions Dens, logs, soil Year-round (particularly Summer) Nighttime Yes, remove stinger
Earwigs Rocks, rotting logs Year-round (particularly Fall) Day & Night Yes
Aphids Plants Spring Daytime Yes
Maggots Plants, vegetation, decaying flesh Year-round Day & Night Raw or cooked
Dragonflies Near water Spring/Summer Day Yes, remove wings and legs
If bugs aren’t your thing, another great source of protein is fish. There are two principal techniques we can use to fish: fishing with hooks or using traps.
Being aware of the weather is essential for fishing (check out our later section on predicting the weather). If there is a storm coming, try to fish before it breaks, as fishing is usually poor after big storms.
Light rain typically creates reliable fishing conditions, though, because fish are less likely to see you. The same can be said for cloudy weather.
Fish in the morning or late evening
Aside from the rain, fish are also sensitive to temperature. They don’t like warm water, so they’ll be hard to find on a hot day, and more so in shallow waters.
It means your best bet will be to fish in the early morning or late evening. Positioning yourself into the wind is intelligent, as fish tend to swim that way.
Look to grassy or weedy shallows
Remember that most fish like to have places to hide as they feel better protected. So if you’re looking at a lake or other large body of body, keep your eyes peeled for grass, weeds, or even lily pads. You’re more likely to find fish in these areas.
The downside is that any hooks you use are likely to get caught in the plants, becoming tangled. Consider less traditional fishing methods in this case.
Hook & line
Fishing with hooks is a traditional fishing technique. If you haven’t had the foresight to take hooks with you, you can make one out of many different things you find.
Making a hook and line depends entirely on your situation, and you’re going to have to think on your feet. To this end, I’ll give you several different examples.
Examine the things you have on you. The ring pull on the top of old pop cans or a zip pulls make good emergency fishing hooks after a little grinding on a rock to sharpen them. Animal bones, sharpened wood, or pins do work.
Cotton from clothing, shredded plastic bottles, paracord, or spruce roots can make makeshift lines. Your natural environment is your friend. This survivalist creates a fishing line and a hook using the agave plant.
Use local bait
When fishing, you almost always need bait to attract their attention. The good old trick of using worms is a great fallback, but it’s also wise to check out what kinds of trees or grubs are local.
The fish are likely to be more attracted to these as they are their usual food source. Some people will examine the stomach contents of their first catch to see what food would work best.
Use several lines
An efficient way of catching fish – and the best way to increase your chances of catching something – is to attach several lines to different branches of overhanging trees. This way, it is as if you were fishing with various lines at once.
Take caution as it’s illegal in some areas, but you may feel it’s justified if we are talking about a survival situation.
Once you see some activity and you think you have a fish on the hook, try to reel it in slowly. If you do it too quickly, you’ll risk losing it.
There are various traps that you can use to catch fish. The simplest is nothing more than a plastic bottle and a little bait. Cut the top off the bottle below the neck, and insert it into the rest of the bottle so that the thinnest part is inside.
Add a weight to the bait inside, place the trap into the water, and leave it overnight. It may also be a good idea for you to mark the place where you’ve left the trap. Once the fish swims into the trap, it won’t be able to get out, and there you’ve got dinner.
Equally, with this Cambodian method, you can keep tops on plastic bottles. Attach a line, hook and bait, and leave them several hours to come back and find your catch.
This Indian fish trap works similarly but doesn’t require bait, weight, or plastic bottles. You start by creating lattices of firm but flexible branches or plants, leaving as few gaps as you can. Take some of these and stick them into the riverbank to create two exterior walls.
Use the bank of the slow-moving river or body of water as your back wall. The front “wall” is more like a double door system. It also uses these lattice structures but leaves a small gap that the fish can swim through.
Similar to the previous trap, the fish will swim in but won’t be able to escape.
There is an art to the whole process of killing, prepping, and cooking your fish. The above video shows the easiest and most humane way to kill it.
Also, see how to bleed it out to make your fish save for much longer and how to remove its entrails and cut the best bits of meat for cooking.
Once you’re done, keep it cool either by leaving it in a safe place in the river while you get your campfire started, ready to cook it.
For those wanting a more substantial meal, hunting an animal for its meat is a good option.
To track efficiently, you’ll need to know how and where to find signs of animals and prints, recognize the size of the animal from the prints, and judge their recency.
The best way to find prints is to search around the ground in areas with many plants and varied vegetation where animals could find food all year round. If you find it hard to spot tracks, you can put your cheek close to the ground.
This perspective should make it easier for you to spot them. An alternative is to look for broken branches or grass that has been flattened. You can also even spot tufts of fur on branches.
Once you have found some tracks, take a closer look and see whether there are any claw marks and roughly how big each paw is. Gather information to help narrow down which type of animal it is.
Finding a series of prints and the distance between them will tell you if it walks on two or four feet, the animal’s size, and the way it moves. Is it running? Walking? Does it move forwards or sideways?
There are various techniques you can use to work out print recency. The first one is to look at the edges of the tracks. If they are crisp, they are likely recent, whereas they are likely to be a day or two old if softer. Leave a hand or fingerprint close to the animal print to compare.
It’s a complicated process to learn how to track efficiently, but practice makes perfect.
Once you’ve identified your tracks, you may find that they belong to a small animal like a rabbit. There are a few types of traps you can use to catch small game.
You’ll need some string, some twigs, and surrounding trees. The trap we are talking about here is the most primitive as it requires the least preparation.
First, make a noose with a simple knot at the end of a string, leaving a small loop. Pass the end of the string through the loop. It’s that simple.
Then you’ll have to find your branches. You need one around 30cm long with a short offshoot at the end that forms a v-shape – a peg – that you’ll put in the ground.
Then find another smaller v-shaped piece. In the video, the hunter suggests that you remove the bark from one end of the v. Peel away some bark to create a loop where you attach your noose on the other arm. The noose will hang down from the small peg.
Identify an area where there could be plenty of small game. Then hammer your first peg into the ground and tie the smaller peg to a piece of string connected to your spring (in this case, a branch from an overhanging tree).
Bear in mind that this branch needs to be strong enough to stand the weight of the animal you catch – nothing too flimsy.
The second peg goes under the v-shape section of the first peg. Once something runs through the noose, the sticks slip out of position, and the noose tightens around the animal’s neck as it’s lifted off the floor.
To hunt larger game, you’ll need to track it first. You’ll need to recognize prints and then kill your prey (probably with a spear).
That said, killing with a spear is hard. It can be a waste of your energy in survival situations. It’s also tricky because one of the best tactics is to work in pairs or teams to herd the animal towards your partners. Your goal is to get within 10 yards of your prey to take an accurate shot.
You can also try baiting animals towards you while you hide above in the trees. So many factors are at play here: wind direction, smell, height, line of sight. Get lucky, and you take home a big prize, but try to evaluate if it’s worth your time.
With larger animals, bear in mind a few general points to keep safe in the process.
Firstly, don’t prepare your meat close to your shelter. It’s likely to attract other wild animals that may or may not be willing to allow you to eat in peace.
Secondly, remember to dispose carefully of any leftovers. These are also highly likely to attract scavengers.
Think about making a spear. Aside from using it now to kill our dinner, spears are also useful for protection or even fishing.
The first safety consideration is to find a piece of wood that is taller than you. Otherwise, you risk impaling yourself on it if you slip. It can either be just taller than you (called a ¾ lance) or the height you can reach with your hands in the air on your toes (around 8 feet).
A recommendable material for your spear is maple, but any tree that is a little wider than a broom handle is perfect. Start by chopping at a 45-degree angle into one side of the tree close to the ground.
Then do the same on the other side to release it from the ground. Use your knife to sharpen the blade section. While you’re doing this with your knife, remove the bark from the first few inches of the tree.
To make this spear more long-lasting, you can follow a three-step process. First, apply some grease to the end of the spear. It could be animal fat, chapstick, hand cream, pine sap, or grease from your ear wax, for example. You do this to protect the wood.
The next step is toasting, which makes the wood even harder. Place it close to the fire and rotate it so it doesn’t burn. The third step is to use something smooth and hard to burnish the wood, like a stone or a glass bottle’s bottom. Push down and rub on the wood quickly.
Once you’ve killed your animal, you want to cool and clean the meat, keeping it as dry as possible. Avoid puncturing the stomach and intestines as you will have to throw away any meat it contacts.
Try to maintain all the muscle groups when cutting. For detailed information on how to quarter different animals, check out this useful website. The following is also a great quick guide:
And of course, finally, you’ll cook your dinner. One of the first techniques is to grill the meat. Make a rotating spit by finding two branches with forked tops and balancing another between them with your meat on. You can then turn this over the fire.
Another tasty option is to wrap the meat in some green leaves, bury them in the ground, and then build your fire on top of it. The heat from the fire will cook the meat underneath.
The final option is to roast. To do this, you need to chop the meat up into thin slices and hang them over your fire. Be careful not to burn them, though.
Remember that whichever technique you use, you’ll need your meat to reach around 150 degrees Fahrenheit. It will kill off unwanted bacteria and parasites.
How to find food in the wild
Finding food will keep you alive, and knowing how to hunt it and treat it will set you up for survival.
In the next chapter, we’ll look at dangerous animals you may encounter. We’ll also go over common wounds and what to do.