What is Survival?- Part 2, by MuddyKid

We are discussing the meaning of survival. In particular, we were looking at providing long-terms resources when we are no longer able to purchase items and considering food specifically at this point in the article series. We have taken a look at gardening and are now talking about wild edibles. We just left off with wild carrots that are considered a weed in my area and seem to be everywhere.

Exploring New Species of Plants

Then I thought, “What other types of edible plants are around that I do not know about?” I slowly began picking a new species of plant regularly and would hike all over my immediate region to identify, study, and explore new species of plants. Once you successfully identify a plant and understand its uses, it is pretty amazing how they are all of a sudden everywhere. Driving down the road then became the wild equivalent to walking down the grocery store isle. And, I found the experience exciting and fun.

Do Not Eat For First Year of Study

I was beginning to see nature in a different way than I had before. An important note about exploring and eating wild edibles: I strongly suggest you do not eat anything for the first year of study. You want to observe the life cycle of the plant to know when to harvest, how to harvest, and if it is the correct plant. Hemlock looks a lot like carrot in the early season and you can die if you eat the wrong one. Also, certain wild plants are just fine in moderation but too much of a plant can make you sick. But, do not let this scare you. Eating too much chocolate will do the same thing.

Plants in Various Regions

Another thing, in this example, I have discussed plants that are in my region. These plants may not be in your region, but there will be books available that talk about the types of wild foods that are available in your area. If you’re in a region that has been deforested over the years, search near waterways and fence lines for edibles.

Fruit and nut trees are in abundance in my region, from pawpaw, mulberry, persimmons, hazel nut, walnut, to pecan, just to name a few. What is interesting is how trees and plants harvest their fruit at different times throughout the year, just like the typical garden.

Environment Dictates Our Diet

Simply because you have a tomato plant does not mean you have tomatoes. Nature works the same way. What this means is, in a survival situation, absent of the commodity supply line, our environment is going to dictate our diet.

As one example, in May and June, the mulberries come in, and I got fruit. With this, I also got deer, raccoons, possum, and skunk that frequent the area. I then know where a good place to hunt and trap is during these months.


With deer, I got meat, sinew for quality cordage and bow strings, fat for making soap, and hide for clothes. I can also smoke the venison and render the fat to make tallow to coat the jerky. When done correctly, the jerky will not spoil and gives you all the nutrients you need to live. (For those of you that are thinking that all the wild life will be gone, I will get to that here shortly.)

My first thought about surviving on deer meet was, how do I smoke the meat? Then I started making bow drill sets for fire out of as many different types of soft woods I could learn about and locate. This took me down another path for a little while.

I learned that a willow tree will make fire. It is also an indicator that water is near (in my region), and I have read that the inner bark has a similar effect to aspirin, though this is debatable.

Medicine From Plants

What!?! You can get medicine from plants? I then found yarrow. I was hiking and trying to find yarrow in the wild, but I was having a difficult time. One day while mowing my front yard, I saw what I thought was a single yarrow leaf getting choked out by the grass. I slammed on the brakes of the mower, shut’er down, and hopped off. Indeed, I found a single leaf of yarrow that I had been mowing over for years. Maybe I am a nerd, but discovering that single leaf of yarrow was exciting! I decided to mow around the yarrow so I could observe as it grew through its stages. Because I did so, I now have a fairly large patch of yarrow on the property, because I left it alone to grow.


Yarrow, in a pinch, can be chewed up and placed over a cut to serve as an antiseptic. It is better in a tincture. And again, to my surprise and comfort of mind, yarrow is in almost every field I have walked in since I first identified it. Because I observed how yarrow grows through life and death of its natural cycle, I can locate it no matter the season.

Primitive Traps

Through all of these experiences together, I then started making primitive traps. Primitive traps I find to be a lot of fun. There are hundreds of variations of traps. Similar to knot tying, you only need to pick a handful to memorize. I am not going to go into detail of how to make traps in this post. Besides, half the fun of traps is learning how to make them and learning which ones have a higher success rate. A few I like are the figure four, the Paiute, spring poles, and Gordon Nagorski’s variant of the dead fall.

Bow Traps For Property Deterrent

You can also make bow traps, which are great for a property deterrent of trespassers, because they have a powerful psychological effect. Imagine walking through the woods to trip over something, followed by a “thawack”, and you see an arrow flying by. You may consider going another way because you have no idea what else is in the woods. I mention traps because the power certain traps have in a grid down situation can be very useful and they’re free to make.

Exercise Caution and Responsible Trap Setting

Please, exercise caution and responsible trap setting. Traps that require cordage can and will benefit from wire, if you are placing the traps an earshot away from you. However, 550 cord or other types of cord will work fine if the traps are close enough to camp so you can hear the animal struggling. The animal will chew through non-metal cord, so to maximize efficiency, place regular cord traps close to camp so you can run over and club your next meal.

Hunting As a Survival Technique

Yes, many articles and narratives suggest that relying on hunting as a survival strategy is bad news bears. I am putting forward the idea that such a suggestion is pure garbage. Solely relying on hunting as your only survival strategy is indeed not wise. However, if you were only relying on one way to make sure you have something to eat, regardless if it’s through hunting, food store, agriculture, livestock, et cetera in a survival situation, well, that’s just silly.

The “Golden Horde” Stripping Land of All Flora and Fauna is Too Simple

Hunting as a survival strategy has also been suggested to be useless as the “golden horde” will strip the lands of all flora and fauna. I question that this type of thought is too simple. Sure, at the most basic and simple level of discussion, the concept that all these urban dwellers branch out in to the country-side to strip all the natural resources away from the earth makes for really good sci-fi. But, when using a little bit of critical thinking, it ain’t happenin’! Again, think back to my discussion on potatoes vs. hopniss. Most people are going to walk around hopniss.

Not All Hunting is the Same

How skilled a hunter is depends on how often they have hunted along with the ways in which they hunt. Not all hunting is the same. There is a difference between someone who has never hunted, someone who has hunted once or twice, a leisure hunter, the sport hunter, the professional hunter, and the subsistence hunter. Often, hunters prefer to hunt certain animals, and because they do this they overlook other types of animals to pursue. This means that deer hunters may have zero knowledge about bird hunting, while both deer and bird hunters may know nothing about trapping animals and which animals to trap. I will admit, I know nothing about hunting animals that are outside of my region.

Tomorrow, we will continue in greater detail with this discussion on hunting for survival, so don’t assume you’ve heard it all in this part of the article. There is much more to come.

See Also:

SurvivalBlog Writing Contest

This has been part two of a five part entry for Round 77 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:

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Round 77 ends on July 31st, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.


  1. Thanks HJL for the articles. I’m still in the beginning stages of plant identification but I find having a “key” manual helps. A key goes through a series of yes or no questions to identify a plant. Is the plant a scrub or tree? If tree, is it coniferous or deciduous? If coniferous (say, pine or cypress) then how many needles/leaves? Then go to the page with number of leaves. Three thru five? If three, go to page … and so on until it dead ends. Then check the plant against a photo. It’s arduous but might help from eating a plant that you think is a carrot.
    Once you learn to id a plant learn it’s ethnobotanical uses according to your area.

    As you go through the key you’ll pick-up some botany terms. While a tree can look like a large bush, it’s the “Lignin” that differentiates between the two. (Lignin, a complex organic polymer deposited in the cell walls of many plants, making them rigid and woody.) It’ll also helps seeing where the branch ends and the stem of a leave starts, the petiole. A compound leave has various leaflets. The leaflets together are considered one leaf. There are as many terms as you want or need to learn. Seems obvious but again, after you ingested the wrong ‘carrot’ … oh, well. Learn the poisonous plants first.
    It would be nice if the field manual pages were water-proof.

    Green Dean’s website “Eat The Weeds” is a great place to learn Floridian edible plants.
    http://www.eattheweeds.com/ (Not actually a plug but http://www.floridaearthskills.org/ or http://www.earthskillsgathering.org/ have lecturers with hands-on-demonstrations.)

    Space is good if you have it but companion planting works if you don’t. Plus, it can deter insects. An example of an indigenous planting method is the “Three Sisters”, planting squash, corn and beans together. During SHTF the less signature or crop area, you give off the more grey you’re be. Fungus is a food if you’re underground. So are insects. One way to keep them off your plants.

    1. @ John, what a great comment and addition to exploring wild edibles. It certainly makes me happy to read about other people being pragmatic about freedom.

      For me, I started exploring wild edibles using Samuel Thayer’s books called “The Forager’s Harvest” and “Nature’s Garden.” These books are great for beginners because not only are there real, quality pictures, there are also discussion on how to harvest, when to harvest with even some recipes on how to prepare the food.

      There are percentages within the book to give the reader a general idea on how many of the plants Sam Thayer discusses are in certain regions. If we are looking at the redoubt, from “Nature’s Garden” the amount of plants in that book apply to Idaho at 66%, Utah 68%, Montana 73%, Washington 76% and Oregon 80%. Florida is at 80%. Just a heads up to anyone interested in further exploring.

      1. Thanks for the articles Muddykid (sorry about that). Looking forward to the other articles.
        Samuel Thayer’s books are well-made.
        In addition, your local County Extension agent, USDA or University online has very good free info on indigenous plants that they have been field tested for the species and varieties in your area. If you can find historical books on your area explaining what was grown before commercial chemicals (similar to the Pre-EMP Era) read them.

  2. My 2 cents worth: Be careful about assuming game animals will be available during a SHTF scenario. Remember that in the 1800’s, deer populations were nearly wiped out in the east before relocation and hunting seasons were established. Migratory waterfowl and other birds may or not be available depending on the time of year. Rabbit populations can fluctuate wildly year to year. Many hunters will tell you from personal experience that hunting can use up a great deal of time and energy with little or no pay off. Intense hunting can drive animals out of the area. Trapping is probably a better use of your time. Be prepared to eat small birds and rodents rather than venison. You might consider buying a hundred rat traps rather than another gun. Every farm has a population of pigeons and english sparrows. (recall the old mother goose rhyme about “four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.” Your ancestors ate things like this on a regular basis.) Also be aware that small streams can be fished out. Consider non-game fish, like minnows or things like crayfish and frogs. Many poor people around the world subsist on tiny minnows, mollusks and crustaceans rather than tuna and swordfish steaks. (they also eat things like dogs and cats and rats.)
    But most important, do not depend on hunting for long term survival. There is a good reason humans learned to domesticate farm animals. Think of wild game as a windfall rather than a sure thing.

  3. Muddy kid thanks for the reference to my article in the first part of your article. I think many of us don’t view food as we should. We store perhaps 2 weeks, a month, 3 months, 6 months, a year or perhaps even 5 years. The more I think about food the more I realize that we will never have enough so food production or as you point out foraging for wild foods must be planned for. The reason I think we won’t have enough food is simply since whether we want to admit it now or not we will help others. Human history and other disasters have shown that ultimately humans will help other humans in need. No man is an Island and help will be need either in the form of muscle or skills. That help will come with a price. Think back through history and we see that man is tribal, although we like the idea of rugged individualism the stark reality is that safety and security come from the tribe. So when that trauma doc comes walking up looking for food you can be to fool and let him/her keep walking or you can take them into your “tribe”. The other thing is my kids are approaching their teen years, to think that they won’t want to find a partner and start a family is just poor planning. No matter how much we plan and prepare we will ultimately end up needing something even if it is just another set of eyes and ears for sentry duty or someone to help plow, sow and harvest. The Thrid issue is throughout history FOOD has been used as a weapon!!! All the talk of civil war recently should have us thinking what that might look like. One of my assumption is it may be look a lot like county folk against city folk. (Not necessarily 100% but close I bet). So the city folk will control the ports like LA and will use the control of imported goods (including food) to their advantage. County folk would probably us the vast “bread basket” of middle America as a weapon. Sherman’s March to the Sea, same premise.

    Since buying our BOL I have looked for both edible and medicinal plants. Plantains, white Pine, spruce, elderberry, rose hips, etc. have a good size jar of pine pitch ready to melt down and mix with bees wax for a salve.

    Not planning on “hunting” but rather will be trapping with live traps. More productive use of time. Don’t own a fishing pole that is for sport- I got a net.

    The more we can produce for ourselves the better we are period.

  4. Aspirin is actually a synthesized version of the chemical in Willow Tree bark. So yes, it works like aspirin, but harder to figure out how much to use.

    1. @Vic, I have read that willow bark can be used like aspirin. However, I had a solid conversation with a ecologist who is a senior scientist at a major university who specializes in native medicinal plants, and I was told the willow bark/aspirin is not true. This is why I said it was debatable. Yarrow though, is good to go.

      The larger point I was attempting to make is, similar to identifying a single tree, like mulberry, many other options present themselves. Same with willow, fire, water, possibly medicine.

  5. Regarding traps: a small or medium size Havahart or Tru-catch trap can also be used. I have both in medium size to live trap feral cats for spay/neuter and shots. I do NOT set them at night, as I know I may catch a skunk, possum, raccoon. Tru-catch is much quieter. Takes only a little smelly food on paper plate to lure in a hungry kitty! A larger hungry predator would have great difficulty getting a smaller animal out of such a metal trap. For extra security, it could be wired to a tree so that larger predator does not “walk” off with it.

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