EGRETS / HERONS
Egrets, curlews, and sandhill cranes are also excellent sources of protein and are so delicious that the Native Americans preferred them to over all other bird species. They are protected by the Department of Fish and Wildlife but are very plentiful and may aid in your survival when things get bad. Remember when desperate times present themselves, food is food. This article isn’t about what is legal to eat; it is about what is edible and how it can be obtained. The best places to find these three types of birds are golf courses, parks, and low land areas. All three of these locations have a human presence that the birds are accustomed to, so getting in proximity to them is much easier than out in the swamp. Because the food sources for these birds live in the park, so too do the birds. Every night they roost in the trees around a water source on the overhanging limbs. These areas are easy to spot, if you know what to look for. (When they roost at night they defecate onto the tree limbs they are seated on, and the branches become stained white. This is a dead giveaway as to where the birds are sleeping every night.) These parks are easy to get in and out of. Usually the parks are large and don’t have the man power to be secured everywhere at all times. Most of the security or park rangers are dozing off in various areas of the park at different times during the night. This gives you plenty of time to get in and do some food shopping before one of the rangers even knows of your presence. The parks may even be unsecured, depending on how bad things get, presenting easy pickings for some prime dinner selections. Once you have located the roost areas, you will need a weapon. I recommend a compound bow and arrow or a crossbow. If you don’t have either, then I recommend purchasing one of the two as soon as possible. Unlike guns, they are quiet and don’t draw a lot of attention. You don’t need to spend a lot of money. Compound bows are not that much these days and can be found at pawn shops, online, or at garage sales for pennies on the dollar compared to what they sold for years ago. Once you have your weapon, you need to get to the roost area before the birds do. If you arrive too late and try to get at them after they have turned in for the night then you run the risk of startling all the birds out of the roost, and you have just “cooked your own goose”. The birds will find another roosting location, and you will have to start all over. Move slowly and blend in to your surroundings. Stay quiet, be still, and be a hunter. It is in your DNA, and you are more than capable of catching your own food.
Egrets and curlews have skinny legs and long beaks. There are different types, with colors that range from blue, grey, brown, white, and pink. They are usually found on the banks of lakes, ponds, canals, and other moist lowland areas. The Sandhill crane is the largest of the three birds mentioned here and stands about five feet tall. They have a red head, and their bodies are grey in color. They are not very intelligent and make an easy target. They are plentiful on or around golf courses. All three breeds will need to be plucked (de-feathered) and gutted. Their gizzards make the best gravy you will ever eat, and that gravy goes great with some homemade biscuits.
You must practice and do some target shooting before you try to shoot one of these birds. You may not think you have time to practice shooting a bow and sneaking into parks and golf courses, but you need to make the time to practice. You may also be thinking that you will never be successful at harvesting one of these birds by hitting your target, but I assure you that it is very possible and even highly probable, if you practice a little. If your life is dependent on it, what choice will you have? These locations are easy pickin’s for many types of food. They are a living grocery store and act as a refuge for birds, squirrels, and ducks. My uncle and I have enjoyed many a curlew over an open fire in my lifetime, and even to this day it remains one of my favorite foods items.
Squirrels are another plentiful food source that taste great. They consist of dark meat and are excellent when they are cooked right. They do need to be cooked a bit longer than other animals but are quite tasty over a bed of rice and biscuits. It is best to cook squirrels at a low temperature for longer periods of time. They can also be stewed to make them go further.
Squirrels need to be skinned. This is done by cutting the animal down the middle of the body all the way up and from the ends of the hands and feet horizontal towards the vertical cut in the middle. Once you have made your five cuts– one down the middle, two from hands to middle, and two from feet to middle– you will need to grab on to the fur with one hand and the skin with the other. Pull to separate the two. Go slow at first and work the fur off the skin gradually. I usually start at the hands and work my way down, but it can be done from feet up if that suits you better. There is no right or wrong way. Try to only think about separating the edible meat from the fur. Remember, you are just going to “make it work”. After the skinning process is complete, you will want to remove the innards. (The heart of any animal is usually very tasty and is loaded with the nutrients your body needs. Let nothing go to waste.) Wash the meat off and you’re ready to cook. Squirrels love avocados, papayas, oranges, sunflower seeds, acorns, peanuts, and many other types of fruits, vegetables, and nuts. However, I have had the most success catching them using peanut butter.
If you don’t have the means to shoot one, then trapping them is the next best option. All you will need is something to dig with (preferably a shovel), a regular- or standard-size garbage can, 50 feet of rope, an overhanging tree limb or something you have improvised, and something to bait your trap with.
Start out by finding a location that you have seen squirrels in previously that is close to the food source. If possible, choose a location where there is an overhanging limb. Lay the garbage can on its side in the location where you want it, under the overhanging limb or improvised structure. Using your shovel, dig a hole a foot deep all the way around the garbage can and four feet out beyond the opening and the bottom of the can. Make sure that the can fits snug in the hole on the sides. You will have to dig a little deeper to accommodate the handle of the garbage can if it has one. The front needs to stay open. There shouldn’t be any wiggle room on either sides of the can. (This gives the can support so that it is forced to rise vertically.) You need to create a tapered entrance to the can; it should be a very slight slope made by digging. If the can has a handle on the side make sure it is facing up. Tie the rope very snug to the handle and throw the rope slack over the hanging limb. (If the can has no handle, then you will need to poke a hole in the upper portion of the can so you can tie your rope through it.) Pick up the opposite end of the rope that isn’t tied and walk back as far as you can until the rope is as tight as it can be without lifting the can up vertical. You will need some cover. If there isn’t anything to hide your position, improvise and build yourself a blind so your target animal can’t see you. Once you have completed these steps, you are ready to bait the trap. Simply put the bait source you have selected on the ground at the tapered entrance– the opening of the can. Peanut butter works the best. Place twice as much bait inside the can all the way to the back or the bottom. Do not put too much at the entrance or the squirrel will get full and won’t have a reason to enter the can to eat more. You will have to wait patiently for the squirrel to enter the can. When it does, simply pull the string and the garbage can will rise up vertical and the squirrel will be trapped at the bottom of the can. The trick is pulling the rope fast and keeping the rope snug so that the can doesn’t turn sideways and allow your dinner to escape. This technique never gets old, and I have caught hundreds of squirrels exactly like this. Make sure you practice a few times before you bait the trap. You may also have to be patient at first. It may take a few days before the squirrel discovers the bait. Try placing small amounts of bait on the tree limbs leading down to the ground towards your trap. This will make it easier to lead the squirrels to your trap. Another tip is to change your bait source if you aren’t getting any action. Just be patient and persevere; you will succeed.
One of my favorite animals to catch is the alligator. Years ago the swamp lizard was facing extinction. However, after being placed on the endangered species list, they have thrived and can be found everywhere in Florida. Alligators are a very valuable food source and can feed your family for a long time. Their meat is pinkish white and resembles a mix between a grouper (reef fish) and chicken. They can be made in a piquant with peppers, tomatoes, and onions but are best served fried, cut up in little nuggets. Alligator meat can be a little tough depending on the size and the preparation process. (It is best to pound the nuggets with a hammer prior to cooking to soften the tissue.) Clean an alligator the same way you do a squirrel– skinning. You will definitely need a sharp knife and to go slow, because they take a lot longer than most other animals. If the gator is large, make sure you utilize the jaw meat. It is some of the best meat you will ever put in your mouth. It is very tender and tastes fantastic.
There are a few easy ways to catch a gator. One is by using a fishing rod, and the other is putting out a catch line at night. The fishing pole method is an easy technique if the gator is hungry. In the warmer months of the year alligators tend to be more aggressive towards food. It is easy to know right away if a gator is hungry because as soon as your bait hits the water the gator will head towards it. It does not matter if it is an artificial bait, live bait, or a shoe string. If a gator is hungry and sees movement he will come after it. I caught a gator on a dirty sock one time. All I did was keep it moving. The most important thing is not setting the hook. The inside of a gators mouth is very hard and the chances of the hook setting properly are very slim. Simply wait it out and let the gator swallow the bait. Once he has swallowed it, let him swim off and then slowly start to reel him in. He is going to fight and free spool you many times, especially if you are using a small rod. Make sure that your drag is set very lose so that he doesn’t pop the line. The trick to this is letting him get tired. Do this by reeling him in and letting him run many times until the gator is spent. If you don’t have a gun, a bow, or a spear, then you are going to need something to hit the gator over the head with once you get him to shore. (Keep in mind the kill spot on an alligator is approximately four inches behind the eyes in the center portion of the head.) Make sure you have your weapon of choice with you when you are tangling with the gator. You do not want to get stuck one on one with an alligator without a weapon to defend yourself. These same rules apply when you are tending to your overnight catch line.
The catch line is also an easy and productive technique; but in order for a catch line to work, you are going to need real bait. You can use anything that was previously living. I have used lizards, opossum, raccoon, squirrel, rabbit, bacon, chicken, innards from animals and birds, fish heads, curlew carcass, other gators, dead turtles, and even road kill. Most anything will work. You just need to make sure the bait hangs up a little higher than the water and just sort of dangles there, not too high but enough to allow the gator to take the bait. A good tip to remember is always keep the remains of other animals that you catch. Place them in an airtight container and bury them until you need to bait your hooks on your catch line. (Alligators have a great sense of smell, and the more rancid the bait you use the more success you will have catching an alligator.) Remember also that you aren’t restricted to just one catch line either; try setting several out a night if you have the bait.
To set a catch line you are going to need some thick nylon rope (thick monofilament or wire litter will work as well, but you don’t want the gator to break the line, so make sure you don’t leave it unattended for too long), preferably a large hook (shark hook), and a strong tree to tie the rope to. If there aren’t any trees around you can use a large pole or tree limb stuck in the ground at least five feet deep or anything else that is somewhat stationary. Let the catch line sit overnight and hide the rope so no one can see it. When you go back the next morning, retrieve the rope and pull on it slowly. If there is a gator on the line you will know it. Keep in mind alligators are more scared of you than you are of them, and when it sees you and realizes it’s stuck you better be ready for a fight.
The last way to catch a gator is by snagging them with a top water lure or a large treble hook. You have to be pretty accurate with your casting in order to catch a gator this way, but I have caught many like this. It most certainly can be done. This is a good option if the gator isn’t hungry and is just sitting still in a lethargic state, like they do in the winter time sunning themselves on the canal and river banks. I have also used this method many times at night. Gators are much harder to find at night during the winter time but easier to spot during the day in the winter. They will be all over the banks sunning themselves.
When hunting at night, you will need a flashlight to shine in the gator’s eyes. You will need to hold the light in the gator’s eyes while as you cast your line. When you shine the light in the gator’s eyes, they will shine back red. The best way to snag a gator is to cast over him and bring the lure over him. Once the lure gets close to the gator, stop reeling and let the lure sink down a bit. Then start reeling slow; as soon as you feel the tension of the treble hook or lure against the gators body, set the hook hard. Remember to keep letting him run so that the gator gets tired before you try to bring him all the way in.
If you get in a bind and need food, alligators are all over Florida and the other southeastern portion of the U.S. They are an easy target and will keep you and your family fed for a few weeks, if preserved the right way. Be smart and utilize everything.