The Preparedness Papers
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Oliver Cromwell wanted to be painted "warts and all". This paper will be similarly realistic. The more I learn about wild foods, the less confident I am of my own, or anyone's, ability to "live off the land" for prolonged periods under today's conditions. Foraging can be a great deal of fun, when you don't have to do it, but wild foods should be regarded as supplements which may be available during emergencies. A great deal depends on the season, the territory, the population (density and attitude friendly, tolerant or hostile), and other factors which Murphy and Finagle control. There is much out there which is edible besides conventional plants and animals and this is what this paper will highlight. Wild food enthusiasts may disagree with much of what I say, but there are two sides to any story. They are talking about "fun" and I am talking about "survival".
Perhaps this paper should have been titled "Reading Euell Gibbons without Rose-Colored Glasses". He did a great deal to popularize wild foods and became somewhat of a high priest of foraging, but let's look at his writings realistically. He carefully chose his locations and seasons. He foraged on a Maine island in August, not February. On one expedition he experienced a "crop failure" and had to return early. His recipes include plenty of staples such as sugar, flour, eggs and cooking oil. His teas may be "refreshing" but they contain little food value. Some plants, such as burdock and dandelions, can require more energy to dig and prepare than they yield. His candies, jams and jellies require sugar for preparation. In all his colorful writings, I can't recall any descriptions of diarrhea or an upset stomach which required regurgitation. I've been there - several times - and my system is not especially sensitive. Gibbons wrote about fun foraging and not survival foraging.
FOOD: WHAT IS IT?
The human body requires about 2,500 calories and about 50 grams of complete protein per day; more in a stressful situation. Less than that and your body will use its "reserves", increasing the susceptibility to infections, etc. More than that, your body builds up fat. This level, of course, varies from individual to individual. The body needs fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals (including various trace elements). To learn more about basic nutrition read Let's Eat Right to Keep Fit by Adele Davis.
Food is anything we can consume which enables us to keep going. It may or may not be palatable. We may want to disguise it to overcome social conditioning and our tolerance for certain "pet" species will be limited. Some species will taste strange or have a strong aftertaste. This is one reason Gibbons recommended salads and stews - to disguise or dilute them.
We can obtain adequate protein from plants by combining the inadequate proteins they contain. Indians ate corn, squash and beans. Hispanics eat rice and beans. Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Lappe (Ballantine Books, NY 10003) is the book on this subject if you can tolerate the author's preaching that the U.S. could feed the entire world if we were all vegetarians. It is true though, the lower we can live on the food chain, the less DDT, PCBs, etc., we will consume. For example, vegetable oils are preferable to animal fats because animals concentrate toxins in their fatty tissue. Even in a survival situation, you should try to balance your diet in the essentials of protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. This may be difficult but is essential.
LEARNING ABOUT PLANTS AND ANIMALS
Plants cannot fly, swim or run away, but are very seasonal. Considerably more plant matter than animal matter is needed for sustenance, but it can be easier to obtain. As several fishermen spent an unsuccessful afternoon, I was picking quarts of fiddle-head ferns. Had I been a week earlier, when they were at their peak, I could have gotten bushels. Had I been a week later, they would have been completely open and no longer edible. Remember that you will have competition for plants. The few acorns I have found in late winter or spring had not been overlooked by squirrels; they were wormy.
We'd all like shortcuts to extensive knowledge about a subject, but when it comes to edible wild plants and animals, you will have to learn each individual species. You will have to learn which parts of a plant are edible and which are poisonous. No one eats potato, tomato or rhubarb foliage for a very good reason. Some species, such as the tropical manioc root, from which tapioca is made, require special preparation to remove the cyanide it contains. The same is true for some parts of certain animals, such as the gallbladders.
Do not assume that because an animal is eating something, it is safe for you to do so. Most animals can synthesize Vitamin C which destroys many poisons. Watch a cat or dog eat with impunity moldy food which you have discarded because some of it made you ill. There is more about this in The Healing Factor: Vitamin C Against Disease by Irwin Stone (Grossett and Dunlop). Stone is the one who turned Linus Pauling onto Vitamin C. Another example is the common box turtle which can eat Amanita mushrooms, but the poison remains in their flesh and makes them unfit for human consumption.
Under non-survival conditions, do not try the suggested test of tasting a little bit and waiting. Water hemlock and certain mushrooms are quite palatable, but "a little bit" is quite sufficient to kill you. If your life depends on them, have the least important person in your group (who may be you) perform the six bite test for anything but mushrooms: take a bite and wait one hour, if no ill effects, take another bite and wait another hour, keeping this up for six hours. If there are no ill effects at the end of six hours, you can be fairly certain that the food is OK - although it should still be eaten by the rest of the group in limited quantities at first. As a general rule, your body does not waste time in telling you that you have eaten something which you shouldn't have (except for poisonous mushrooms which may not be detected for 18-24 hours). A three day, three (or more) bite test should be used for questionable mushrooms, in survival situations.
Knowledge will come fastest when you have enthusiasm and repeated mild exposure. Reading a number of books will give you different perspectives and a good introduction. After doing so several years ago, and going out into the field, I quickly realized that the route to expertise comes by going out with someone knowledgeable. Fortunately, I located someone who led forays In New York City parks. Such city parks frequently cover hundreds of acres and may have been neglected and overgrown, away from the picnic areas and are good places to practice.
You should be able to locate someone through botanical gardens, horticultural societies, mushroom clubs, Coop Extension Services or you can place an ad in the Personals section of the classified ads in a newspaper. It isn't necessary to mention that you're looking for an instructor, just say - "Edible wild plants foraging group now forming" with a phone number. You might also let a reporter know of your interest - they are always looking for stories.
It is possible to spend a fortune on books, many of which you'll read only once and which will limit your mobility. I've often heard people say "If I ever had to move, I don't know what I'd do with all of these books". So, check your library and inquire about inter-library loans for the "coffee-table" books (which I define as any book which has wide margins and is oversized, overly-glossy and over-priced). Books for your personal library should be reasonably priced, compact, quality paperbacks, full of understandable information on identifying plants during all four seasons and processing instructions/recipes. If I had to pick "one and only one" it would be Peterson's Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants of Eastern and Central North America (Houghton-Mifflin, Boston, MA 02107), which c10oncentrates on east of 97 ° long0itude (Kansas-Iowa border), although some grow throughout all 48 contiguous states. For the West Coast, I'd recommend Wild Edible Plants of Western North America by Kirk (Naturegraph Publishers, Happy Camp, CA 96036).Most of the plants in Harrington's Edible Native Plants of the Rocky Mountains (Univ. of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, NM 87131) grow throughout the U.S. I was somewhat disappointed by its unnecessarily wide margins (who needs them?) and lack of color photos, but Bruce Clayton in Survival Books 1981 (Clayton Survival Services, Mariposa, CA 95338) gave it four stars.
It is not necessary to subscribe to all of the magazines which have articles about wild edibles: photocopy the articles which interest you at libraries. An organized file system is recommended.
The most important plants for foraging include mushrooms, berries, asparagus-like shoots, raw and cooked greens and vegetables, flowers, fleshy fruits, nuts, seeds and grains, roots, tubers, syrups and sugars.
SOME PLANTS HIGHLIGHTED
The inner bark of many trees is reportedly edible. Washington fed his troops at Valley Forge, in part, on porridge made from Slippery Elm bark but, because of Dutch elm disease, you seldom find any elms now. After one Civil War battle, the route taken by the losing army was obvious from the trees they had stripped of bark for food. Eastern hemlock bark can be dried and ground into meal; tamarack (larch), pines, spruce and birches are also reportedly edible; but the taste of balsam fir bark has been described as "unattractive".
My only experiment (so far) has been with birch bark. This spring I removed a small patch - don't girdle the tree or you'll kill it. Raw, it had a bitter taste and woody texture. Cooking removed the bitterness, but not the woodiness. As I chewed it, I remembered my last upset stomach (and since it was not critical) I spat it out. Perhaps another species will be more appetizing.
When the night temperatures are below freezing and the days are above freezing, the sap in trees flows upward. All maples produce excellent syrup, although the yield varies with species and even from tree-to-tree. New England is the best known source of maple syrup, but it can be produced anywhere they grow. Box Elder is a species of maple and is also productive. Birches start to flow when maples stop, although the yield is lower. Walnut trees produce a sap and hickory is included in some lists, but Gibbons said he was unsuccessful in producing syrup from this one. Sycamore requires huge amounts of sap and the results are mediocre. "Huge" must be truly huge - 30 to 40-gallons of maple sap are required to produce one gallon of syrup, and it is the most concentrated of the saps. The sap of all these species is quite pure and can be used for drinking and cooking when water is unavailable or contaminated.
It is not true, as one recently popular West Coast survival writer stated that mushrooms have no food value at all. A quick check of the Dept. of Agriculture's Handbook #8: Composition of Foods (Washington, DC 20251) will reveal that they are about average among plants in calories and (admittedly incomplete) protein.
There are over 3,000 species of mushrooms which grow in the U.S. Some edible species are unmistakable; others are so easily confused with poisonous ones that you should avoid them completely. There are no shortcuts to identifying them; not only must each one be identified, but individuals will find it necessary to sample certain species to determine their personal tolerance for them. A parent and child may have different reactions to a particular species. This is not so unusual; a few people are allergic to some popular foods (strawberries, peaches, asparagus, etc.).
So why bother if a single mistake can put you six feet under? Let me describe Sparassis Radicata: The flattened, crisped ends of the branch system are whitish and distinctive; it is one of our largest species, weighing as much as fifty pounds - that's right - fifty pounds; it keeps well and does not discolor much from handling; it is often found at the base of a tree where it may fruit year-after-year; and connoisseurs consider it a prize.
One of my personal favorites is Polyporus Sulfureus, the sulphur shelf mushroom. It is virtually identical in texture and taste to white meat of chicken. This makes it excellent for filler in stews.
Mushrooms are very demanding as to where and when they will grow. The spores may remain dormant for years until conditions are right, and then, almost overnight, there they are. They are identified by appearance, where they grow (on wood, earth or manure) and the distinctive color of their spore prints. A quality, modern manual is essential. My favorite is Miller's Mushrooms of North America (E.P. Dutton, NY 10016) because of its compact size, reasonable price, excellent color pictures and descriptions of over 400 species. The Mushroom Hunter's Field Guide by Smith and Weber (Univ. of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, MI) is also excellent. A thorough reading of a number of books will reveal that authors disagree on the edibility of some species, so cautious sampling is necessary.
The biggest danger of poisonous mushrooms is that you may not realize it until it's too late - the toxins don't begin to affect you until they are in the intestine and cannot be regurgitated. One mushroom will not keep you from starving, but one could kill you. When in doubt, throw it out. Mushroom hunters are like motorcyclists and stuntmen in that there are old ones and there are bold ones, but there are no old, bold ones.
The media recently reported that a French MD used massive doses of Vitamin C and Streptomycin to treat poisoning by Amanita Phalloides - one of the most deadly species.Since the early 1970's he has been using himself as a guinea pig to test such cures. This does not mean that you can be careless and then take a few Vitamin C tablets. We're talking about massive doses - up to several grams every three hours - which is a good reason to stock up on the powder (it's far less expensive than the tablets).
The beginner should seek assistance from someone knowledgeable about mushroom identification. The North American Mycological Association, 13910 Shipley Road, Fredericktown, OH 43010; charges $35 per year for dues, publishing a bimonthly newsletter, holds annual forays, and can put you in touch with local groups of enthusiasts or you check at a local university or Coop Extension Service.
While well known, berries fall into the same situation as mushrooms. Most are very good, but some will make you very sick and may kill you. Eating what birds eat is not an absolute test.
SOME ANIMALS HIGHLIGHTED
People fished long before our modern equipment was developed. All you needs is a hook, bait or lure and a line. Gibbons was fond of using a Coke bottle as a reel. We should try to get by with a minimum of rugged, multi-purpose equipment. I'm quite impressed by the Eagle Claw's 5-in-l Backpack Rod. It consists of eight pieces which can make a fly, bait-casting, spin-casting, spinning or trolling rod from a fifteen inch long pack and has a lifetime guarantee. Any popular name-brand, open-faced, spinning reel of appropriate size will do. Add a spare spool or two so you can have an assortment of line weights. Stick to name-brand lures: the Abu-reflex spinner, Bass-oreno, Bomber, Dardevle, Flatfish, Hawaiian Wiggler, Jitterbug, Lazy Ike, L&M Mirrolure, Pikie Minnow, River Runt, Silver Minnow; to name just a few. Collapsible landing nets are recommended.
In a survival situation, we can't afford to turn our noses up at "trash" fish such as carp. They are large and plentiful (most "sport" fishermen would consider them too plentiful). They are omnivorous and spend much time feeding on the bottom, where they may consume toxic (or radioactive) sediment. At least one state's booklet on fishing regulations recommends that no more than one meal of any fish be eaten per week. In an emergency, you'll have to decide, which is the greater hazard; starvation or possible poisoning? When fishing in a survival situation, don't overlook such fishing methods as large nets, paralyzing poisons, fish traps, gigging, trot-lines and dynamiting to get your catch.
Hunter or the Hunted?
I recently feasted on a woodchuck which one of the locals killed for "sport". I told him about the short story "The Most Dangerous Game" in which a "sport" hunter was himself hunted for sport, but he was unconcerned.
However, you cannot neglect the likelihood of cannibalism in a survival situation, either for or against you. Bruce Clayton, in Life After Doomsday (Clayton Survival Services, Mariposa, CA 95338), claimed that one person in ten will rob for food if starving; about one in 100 will commit murder for food; roughly one in 1,000 will eat human flesh if hungry enough; and roughly one in 10,000 will actively hunt people. These figures seem very conservative and are not encouraging if the very thought repulses you, especially when human flesh has been called "young beef" or "long pork" in the past.
Although not taught in school, many of the Native American Indian tribes had few problems with consuming human flesh. It was generally done in a ritualistic manner (gain your enemy's strengths by eating parts of him). However, when game was scarce, captives (especially children) in the villages frequently went into the stew pot. For more information on this little known aspect of American history, read the early American series by Allan W. Eckert (The Frontiersmen, Wilderness Empire, The Conquerors and The Wilderness War - Bantam Books, NY 10017).
Understandably, there is little information available on how to cook human flesh. Presumably, it would be processed like beef or pork.
I hunt pigeons with an air rifle. For years, I've been unable to understand why people have such contempt for pigeons (called squab in restaurants). To quote a March 1979 Guns and Ammo article "The birds I was shooting at are generally considered to be third-class critters at best - dirty, unwanted pests without a shred of dignity". The author was apparently a city resident where pigeons are, admittedly, a nuisance. I suspect they are unpopular because, like rats and roaches, they often live on human garbage and their presence reminds people of their own sloppiness. But rural, grain-fed, plump pigeons aren't much different from chickens, except that they are smaller and can fly and most farmers will be readily cooperative to get rid of them.
If they are cautious, I spotlight them at night with a Tekna II light. A single, quiet shot from a .177 air rifle knocks them out of the rafters to the ground where I pull off the heads with a single snap. I clean each bird in a few minutes and the scraps are eagerly devoured by one of the ever-present cats.
Pigeons can also be found under railroad and highway bridges. Here I would hesitate to use anything larger than a pellet gun because of possible ricochets and its far shorter range if you miss.Small shotguns (.410, etc.) are OK if you don't mind picking out the many pellets.
Critics will caution about the diseases pigeons have been known to pass on to humans. These few incidents occur in cities and considering what urban pigeons scavenge, I would eat them only as a last resort. Farm pigeons are my first choice for easily available meat. Pressure cooking for ½ hour produces a tender, delicious bird and kills any possible pathogens.
Pigeons are one of the many species in a "coffee-table" book, Unmentionable Cuisine, by Calvin Schwabe (Univ. Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22903).It includes recipes, many of which date back into pagan times (when communicants drank fresh blood from dogs, cats, porcupines, lampreys, etc.).If you are squeamish, it is not recommended that you read this book on a full stomach.
One episode of the TV series "Hill Street Blues" included a segment where Belker, undercover on Skid Row, was offered a meal which he greatly enjoyed until he learned it was "city rabbit" - also known as alley cat. This episode reminds us that many of the animals now considered pets are quite edible. It may not be pleasant to have to eat Rover, but it is certainly better than starving. In addition to the pets themselves; commercial pet food is quite fit for human consumption. Thus, a kennel may be a good place to forage if it comes down to survival.
There is nothing particularly special about the "Escargots" served in French restaurants. They are merely common snails prepared as only the French can do. Snails for your own use should be larger than one inch in diameter and allowed to feed on meal for about ten days to clean out their digestive systems. Boiling for ten minutes loosens them from their shells and then they can be prepared in a number of different ways.Be sure to remove the dark, bitter-tasting gallbladders before cooking.
Suggested reading is the free booklet Edible Snails of the U.S. - available from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (18th and C Streets N.W., Washington, DC 20420).There is also an article on "Escargots: A Gourmet Delight from Your Garden" in the July/August 1979 issue of The Mother Earth News (Hendersonville, NC 28791).
Perhaps the most promising area of foraging is the availability of insects for human consumption. Due to a lifetime of conditioning, most of us react with revulsion to the thought of eating insects. In Butterflies in My Stomach or: Insects in Human Nutrition, Ronald Taylor (Woodbridge Press, Santa Barbara, CA 93111) points out that we have all eaten insects, although we may not have realized it at the time. It would be impractical and very expensive to remove all insects in commercial fruits, vegetables, and grains, so Federal regulations permit a certain amount of insects or insect parts in our food. One critic of "junk" breakfast cereals said that there is more protein in the insects than in the cereal. There is also a Federal standard for the number of rat hairs and droppings which can be in foods.
Not knowing that we are eating insects is one thing; seeing them and thinking about them is something else. But when you realize that grasshoppers eat only live vegetation, you can almost think of them as six-legged beef - almost. When you recall that pigs and chickens are omnivorous, indeed cannibalistic, and have eaten humans who were available and incapable of resisting, (some) insects sound even more acceptable.
When the Mormons discovered hordes of grasshoppers, they prayed to their God to destroy them, while the Indians harvested them and gave thanks to their gods. A group would form a large circle and beat the grass with branches to drive them towards the center. They then would set fire to the grass and have fresh roasted grasshopper. An individual could use a fine mesh minnow net or bare hands, if skilled enough. They are usually fried in oil after removing their wings and legs and can be up to 60% pure protein.
Grubs, hairless caterpillars, cockroaches (although some species can produce an irritant), termites, ants, beetles (larva and adult), dragonflies, caddis flies and scorpions (after removing their legs, pincers and tail - which contains the stinger), are among the many other species which are edible. Their protein content varies from 7% to 60%.
Although it is claimed that most of the insects which transmit diseases to man do so by biting and that the diseases which some species carry do not attack man; I would hesitate to eat any of them raw. Besides, cooking improves the taste. You may want to keep insects alive for several hours before cooking to allow their digestive tracts to empty. All conventional cooking methods can be used: frying, boiling, stewing, baking, steaming, etc. Many "primitive" people regard insects as treats and "civilized" people report that they are as palatable as any conventional delicacies. Recipes can be found in Entertaining with Insects: the Original Guide to Insect Cookery by Taylor and Carter (Woodbridge Press, Santa Anna, CA 93111).
Unless you are miles from civilization, any bees discovered are likely to be domesticated and living in hives on someone's property. This greatly reduces the likelihood of finding a wild bee tree. However, not only is the honey produced edible, the bees themselves contain very high levels of both Vitamin A (10,000 I.U. per 100 grams) and Vitamin D (600,000 I.U. per 100 grams). Suggested reading is Bee Hunting by John Lockard (Fur-Fish-Game, Columbus, OH 43209).
For a most informative article on eating insects, read "Put the Bite on Bugs", in the July/August -1981 issue of The Mother Earth News (Hendersonville, NC 28791).
GENERAL FORAGING ADVICE
Public TV has presented a series of five programs about survival, produced by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (1597W N. Temple, Salt Lake City, UT 84116). Much of the following is excerpted from the fifth program:
- If you clean a small animal and remove the entrails, there isn't much left. Try to use the entire animal after skinning it. It may not be mentally acceptable, but there is far more nourishment in the entrails than in the minimal muscle tissue. So, chop them up, cook them in a "Wildlife Mulligan Stew", close your eyes and swallow. It may even taste good! Also along this line, Parley Mowat, in Never Cry Wolf (Dell Books, NY 10017), described his observations of Canadian wolves. He found it hard to believe that, during certain seasons, they lived exclusively on mice - so he decided to imitate them. He soon noticed that he couldn't live exclusively on such a diet until he realized that he hadn't been eating the entire mouse as the wolves were doing. Being a true scientist, he then did so with good results. Talk about dedication - I can't believe he ate the whole thing!
- Around a lake or pond you may find many frogs. Small ones can be caught with your bare hands or using a minnow net. Large ones can be speared (slowly bring the spear to within a few inches before making a quick thrust) or caught by dangling a strip of red cloth on a stick in front of them (after they swallow it, pull it towards you).
- Common ground worms (fishing worms) are both numerous and nutritious. In early spring and late fall they are near the surface. At other times, you will have to dig deeper for them. Look for moist, rich soil.
- Small fish (minnows) can be swallowed whole. Larger fish should be de-scaled and de-finned, but there is a good deal of nutrition in the head and entrails.
- Despite its green, slimy appearance, green and yellow/green algae is one of the best water plants for survival. The plankton (microscopic animal life) in it has high protein content. If the water is polluted or for some other reason you don't feel comfortable eating it raw - don't! It is possible to get liver flukes (treatable) from "dead" water (no inlet or outlet) but starvation is worse. Always trust your instincts when they advise caution. Cook the algae as you would boil questionable water, or dry it on a flat rock. The oxygen and sun's ultraviolet rays should help purify it, but won't kill liver flukes - boiling is required. The algae in any fresh or slow-moving water, is reported OK to eat. I have not yet found a comprehensive field guide to algae, so caution is recommended. Some blue-green species (known as Annie, Fannie and Mike) are extremely poisonous (even after cooking) although one blue-green species is the highly nutritious and much advertised (at what appears to be excessively high prices) Spirulina.For more about toxic algae, check the classic Poisonous Plants of the United States and Canada by Kingsbury (Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ), which should be available in most public libraries.
- You can find moss on rocks, deadfall wood, tree trunks and along earthen embankments. The roots and green foliage of all forms of water moss are reportedly edible and tasty - like celery. Wash them thoroughly in water to remove dirt and debris.
- In desert areas, you may find lizards sunning themselves on rocks. With the wide brim of a hat or a piece of sagebrush, you can stun or kill them and use them in a stew.
- All snakes are edible and all should be approached with caution. A forked stick and skill are necessary to capture them. After cutting off the head, bury those of poisonous ones, to avoid accidents. Clean the snake as you would clean a fish. There is considerable meat on a rattlesnake, so it may not be necessary to use the entrails. Pull the skin off as you would pull a sock off your foot, inside out. It can be cooked on a stick and tastes like chicken.
- Avoid dead animals in the western half of the U.S. as they may have died from Bubonic Plague which is indigenous to that area. Also avoid "friendly" wild animals or those acting strange or out of character anywhere since they may have rabies.
- If at all possible, water and wild plants should be boiled for at least 15 minutes to kill parasites and pathogens. Chlorine and iodine will not kill certain parasites. All meat should be cooked to an internal temperature of 150° to 165°F.Drying, salting, pickling and smoking (jerking) will not kill certain parasites and pathogens.
Overall, in a short-term survival situation, do whatever you have to do to keep alive (with caution) since you can be treated later for such things as liver flukes. In a "long-term survival" situation, much more caution should be shown since medical treatment may not be available. Dead is dead, whether it is by nuclear blast, bullet or a microscopic organism.
HUNTING AND THE "LAW"
Fish and game laws exist to insure a harvest during future years. Some techniques are prohibited because they are too effective. In addition, seasons probably will not coincide with the needs of a survival situation.
If you're one day out of season and/or use unapproved methods,(it's called poaching) and that's what the book Survival Poaching by Ragnar Benson (Paladin Press, Boulder, CO 80306) is all about. All sorts of efficient methods - many of which you won't find anywhere else - are described in an entertaining style. My only objection to the book is that the author occasionally goes into what can only be described as a "killing frenzy" purely for sport.
ALTERNATE FORAGING EQUIPMENT FOR ANIMALS
In a survival situation, gunfire by a hunter may result in him being hunted by other two-legged hunters as previously described. In addition, ammunition may be severely limited necessitating other means of obtaining fresh meat. There are several alternate hunting methods which may fit the bill:
While these are good "game getters", they take practice to be perfected. Suggested books are Bushcraft; A Serious Guide to Survival and Camping by Richard Graves which has an excellent chapter on snares (Schocken Books, NY, 10016), The Survival Handbook by Bill Merrill (Arco Books, NY 10003) and Deadfalls and Snares by A.R. Harding which includes proven methods (this one, and others, are sold, by me). It is emphasized that making snares which go off when they are supposed to, set where they are supposed to be and which capture the animal as they are supposed to do, takes practice and experience. This cannot be gained by just reading the books. However, practicing in a urban area may produce more dogs and cats than anything else.
If ammo is available, the sound of the gunshot can be masked with a silencer. Information about firearm silencers and the laws regarding them is readily available from most survival book mail-order firms. While some designs would require the services of a cooperative machine shop, some can be made in a moderately equipped home workshop. However, most homemade silences will only make the noise less sharp and will not likely produce the "muffled thud" shown by the silencers in the movies.
The bow and arrow was one of the first effective hunting and warfare weapons. They have many advantages in that they are silent, deadly and reuse the ammunition. However, there are also disadvantages: it takes quite a bit of strength to pull back (and keep pulled back) the string and continued practice to be even reasonably accurate. Compound bows, the ones which use pulleys, greatly reduce the strength required but still require practice for accuracy. Crossbows combine the best features of the bow and the rifle. Essentially, they are a short, powerful bow on a rifle stock. Aiming is much like a rifle (in fact, some models even have scopes), the short arrow (called a bolt) is released with a trigger, the bow is cocked mechanically rather than manually and reasonable accuracy at moderate ranges can be achieved with relatively little practice. All-in-all, the crossbow shows much promise for a silent, effective, hunting device.
Air rifles, or pellet guns, are currently the darlings of the "survival" magazines. They are relatively powerful at short range and do only minor damage to the meat. They may suffer the same ammunition availability problem as the regular guns, although the low cost of ammunition would allow ample stockpiling. If you are interested in small game, such as squirrels, rabbits, birds and rats, then an air rifle is highly recommended. As previously mentioned, I use one to hunt pigeons with excellent results. Not only are they quite adequate at short range, farmers are much more likely to let me shoot in their barns without fear of a missed shot putting a hole in their barn roof. A .22 caliber short fired from a long-barreled, bolt action rifle with a homemade silencer can be almost as quiet as an air rifle and much more powerful. Between the two, it depends on the situation as they are largely interchangeable for small game.
Slingshots have been improved and redesigned in the past few years and can be quite effective for taking small game. Collapsible, wrist-support models cost less than $10. Anyone seeking the ultimate slingshot should check out the Corn-Bow Sling (Non-Fire Arms, 687 Calabasas Rd., Watsonville, CA 95076) which uses rollers to increase the duration of applied force. Velocity and kinetic energy are considerably greater. Anything which is dense and spherical (lead shot, steel balls, marbles, etc.) is satisfactory ammo, but odd-shaped projectiles will curve in flight.
You have probably seen the House of Weapons ads for blowguns in outdoors magazines (Box 794, Provo, UT 84601). I didn't pay much attention to them until I got serious about wild foods. The six pages of testimonials (available on request) are extremely impressive and, in some cases, quite hilarious. Some of the claims in these testimonials are just short of ludicrous.
I solved the blowgun's disadvantage - its length - by designing and manufacturing a take-down, backpacker's model. 0-rings and careful machining of the sleeves produced a perfect fit and flat black anodizing eliminates glare. My blowgun is only 19 inches long when disassembled, weighs just ¾ pounds, and I can usually produce a 6" group at 50 feet, although, some have been 2" groups. (I may custom build a duplicate on a prepaid basis if any reader is interested).
For use on larger game, poisoned darts are recommended, although you do not need to kill the animal - only disabling is required. Poisons should be those which are metabolized by the victim's body quickly or destroyed by cooking. Study the chapters on muscle relaxants and anti-coagulants in the Physician's Desk Reference (Medical Economics Co., Oradell, NJ 07649).
AREAS OF EXPLORATION
In a survival situation, you may be competing with many other people for the available food within a particular area. Remember, that when "ancient man" relied on foraging, he had vast areas to do it in.
Over-harvesting from an area will decimate it. For example, non-agricultural Indian villages moved frequently because their numbers and exclusive reliance on foraging quickly killed all available game within a reasonable hunting distance and consumed much of the edible plants. True forager's may have to live a nomadic life.
Basically, wild food foraging consists of anything which you can keep in your stomach which will not poison you. The two biggest obstacles to overcome are repulsion to what you are eating and having your digestive track adjust to the new influx of strange material. Diarrhea and/or regurgitation are considered to be occupational hazards of the novice forager. It has only been in fairly recent times that man has domesticated selected plants and animals. Before the invention of the plow in the Egyptian culture (and much later in other parts of the world), mankind largely lived on whatever could be gathered up for the next meal. If today's nuclear insanity continues, we might well find ourselves blown back to eating grubs, ants and bark.
In addition to the references cited in the text, several paperback novels are recommended:
*- Alive; the Story of the Andes Survivors by Piers Paul Read (Avon Books, NY 10019)
A group surviving a plane crash in the Andes...
- Lost! by Thomas Thompson (Dell Books, NY 10017)
Two men survive for 73 days on an overturned trimaran in the Pacific almost in spite of themselves...
- The Navigator by Morris West (Pocket Books, NY 10020)
Group stranded on uncharted South Pacific Island...
*- Phoenix Island by Charlotte Paul (Signet Books, Bergenfield, NJ 07621)
Group stranded on island in the Pacific Northwest; an excellent book on foraging in a survival situation...
- Rings of Ice by Piers Anthony (Avon Books, NY 10019)
Group survives as the Earth flies through an ice cloud, resulting in constant rain and rising ocean levels...
- The Sacrament by Peter Gzowski (Signet Books, Bergenfield, NJ 07621) Couple surviving mountain plane crash...
- *Survive the Savage Sea by Dougal Robertson (Bantam Books, NY 10003)
Family shipwrecked in the Pacific...
- The Ungodly by Richard Rhodes (Popular Library, NY 10016)
The story of the Donner Party...Almost identical story of this party is Ordeal by Hunger by George Stewart.)
*Best of the lot.