The Living Off the Land Fallacy

Posted on: April 27, 2010

A recurring theme among some survivalists is the plan for living off the land ATSHTF. The idea here is they will get most or all of their sustenance from hunting, fishing, and gathering. There might be a small garden in the works, but that’s about it. In my opinion, the folks who have this sort of plan are just setting themselves up to fail. While on the surface such a plan probably appeals to the pioneer spirit if nothing else, the reality is it just won’t work.

Now granted, in a total societal collapse hunters need no longer pay attention to all those pesky DNR rules and regulations. In fact, many of those very rules could be turned around and used as suggestions to increase your odds of success. Shining deer is currently illegal but for the survivalist putting food on the table for his family, this might be an excellent way to bag that buck. However, odds are pretty good our hero isn’t going to be the only one out there with a spotlight.

I grew up in an area where deer hunting in particular isn’t just popular, it is almost sacrilege to NOT hunt. Seriously, so many kids are pulled out of school during deer season the schools have to make other arrangements for the few students left behind. Thousands of hunters hit the north woods every year. These are people who live, eat, and breathe hunting. They know all the tricks of the trade, have all the latest and greatest in technological gadgets, and know the land like none other. Yet, in 2009 for example, only about 35% of these hunters bagged deer. That figure is based on official Wisconsin DNR information on the number of deer licenses sold versus the number of hunters who reported bagging one or more deer. So, a little more than one in every three hunters were successful.

Now, that 35% success rate was achieved during somewhat controlled conditions in that we assume the vast majority of bagged deer were killed in compliance with DNR regulations. It would seem obvious the rate would go up once “all bets were off” in terms of not having to limit hunting to specific days/times and conditions, right? Yes…and no. In a total societal collapse, the experienced hunter will have to contend with dozens, if not hundreds, of vastly inexperienced hunters hitting the game trails, shooting at anything that moves. There will also be a tendency for hunters, both new and experienced, to bag much more than they could conceivably consume or preserve for later use. Where one deer might feed a family for quite some time, if the meat is preserved properly, some hunters will kill as many as they can find, either out of greed or with a plan to barter the meat for other commodities. My prediction is the deer herds will be quickly decimated.

But, we’ll not be focusing on hunting big game. We’ll be after the squirrels, ‘coons, rabbits, and other critters we see all over the place!

Sure, that’s probably a better plan. But again, there will be hundreds of people thinking the exact same thing. Plus, there will be thousands of family pets (dogs, cats, etc.) that will have gone feral and hunting the same critters. How long will it take before there won’t be nary a squirrel to be found? Plus, let’s be honest. How many meals can one scrawny squirrel really provide?

Ok, smart guy. We’ll supplement our hunting and trapping with fishing.

Again, not an inherently bad idea. But you need to consider the throngs of weekend Babe Winkelman wannabes who are going to descend upon any body of water larger than a mud puddle. Further, how many fishing “experts” do you know who come home empty-handed, time and again? Not to mention, today sitting on a riverbank and wetting a line can be the height of relaxation. After TSHTF, one of your new competitors might take a liking to your catch of the day and decide it is quicker and easier to take it from you than find his own.

Really, that goes for all hunting and trapping endeavors. Do you really feel comfortable risking your life, and the lives of your family, over one skinny rabbit or a couple bluegills? Is that a gamble you’re willing to take?

That’s the meat end of the spectrum. What about harvesting wild plants and herbs? Being successful with that comes down to a few factors.

1) You MUST know what you’re doing. Get started NOW with learning what is edible in your area, how to identify it, collect it, and prepare it for consumption. Trying to find food while you’re suffering from farts with lumps isn’t going to be a lot of fun.

2) From where are you going to collect these tasty treats? Sure, if you’ve already accomplished the first point above, you’re a leg up on the competition but there are still going to be tons of folks out there grabbing anything green and shoving it into their pie holes.

3) It is vastly more difficult to find dandelion greens in the middle of January in much of the country. What is your plan for during the winter months?

The point is this. If your primary plan for TEOTWAWKI is to “live off the land,” you better have a backup plan. Otherwise, you are setting yourself up for failure.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting you abandon all plans for hunting/fishing/trapping/gathering. Rather, consider those options as ways to supplement what you’ve stockpiled and grown on your own. Generally speaking, the plan would be to have enough food packed away to get you through at least one, if not two, complete growing seasons. Have plans in place for growing much of your own food from seeds you harvest yourself. Raise chickens, goats, and other potential meat sources. Learn now the best ways to preserve meat if you don’t have access to electricity, and thus freezers.

Above all, abandon the attitude of “Me hunter. Me go kill meat for family.” That way of thinking will indeed likely result in a death, but probably not of the four-legged variety.

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