We, Americans, like our protein, and in a prolonged hunker-in-place situation one of the many inconveniences we will be faced with will be the difficulty in enjoying our nightly beef, pork, chicken, or fish, let alone finding enough protein to maintain the health of ourselves and families. Sure, vegetarian-based diets can keep you alive, but even in a TEOTWAWKI situation why go without meat when it might not be all that hard to source and may be local to your home, camp, or hide-out, too.
First, let’s go over some assumptions. Let’s recognize here that we’re at least six months into a TEOTWAWKI event and that all of the larger game animals in your area, including deer, bear, elk, antelope, and similar wildlife have already been harvested for food. Secondly, your stocks of canned or frozen meats are nearly exhausted. Furthermore, let’s also assume that you…
- either have lost your firearm and/or ammunition or for some strange reason chose not to include a firearm in your survival kit,
- have very little ammo left from defending your homestead in the first few days after the event, or
- do not want to discharge your firearm out of concern for alerting others of your location.
So you are left to harvest your meats with other methods. Finally, you will see that this “how to” article is written from the perspective of living in the eastern United States.
The techniques for catching or killing the animals presented here are simple and require only basic preparation, in most instances. Most importantly, you do not need to be a survival specialist to have these few methods work for you. This is why techniques, such as snares, dead falls, and trap lines, are not discussed here; it is my opinion that they are not going to prove effective for the novice. Also, it is not the purpose of this article to provide you with skinning or meat preparation instruction or recipes for your harvest. Those instructions can readily be found elsewhere.
For most of the animal species covered here, live box traps of various sizes are your best bet for gathering a meal. Be sure you have more than one, and have different sizes– at least two. I like the traps from Havahart and Tomahawk. Forget the wooden traps, as you’ll want a metal frame so that you can lock the trap to a tree. As for a cable lock, there is no need to go overboard here. You are not going to stop the guy with a pair of bolt cutters as he could always just cut the trap apart. Cheap cables and locks from Home Depot or Lowe’s are what I use.
Squirrels are at the top of my list, because they taste good, are abundant, and are also relatively easy to prepare, once you’ve tried it a few times. Live cage traps work very well. Just this summer my father trapped and relocated 12 gray and/or fox squirrels from his backyard using a live box trap. Peanut butter or sunflower seeds are my bait of choice; squirrels are not picky.
I’ve found rabbits to be difficult to live trap. However, if you know where they frequent, trails to their dens can often be located and a small leg hold trap can be used, such as a #1 muskrat trap. Just don’t forget to stake the trap down, as I did with my first trapping experience. If you don’t stake it, you’ll be out a meal and a trap. Another proven method is to use a sling shot. This requires practice, a lot of it. However, this is a fine opportunity to involve your children in the food gathering process. Leave the slingshot work to them. Slingshots are cheap, as you can see here and here. Rabbits will be the easiest target to start with, based on their size and the ability to stalk them without scaring them off.
Here is another animal that will easily fall to a box trap. Also, if you locate the chucks hole, a leg hold trap may be effective. Every woodchuck I’ve ever dealt with has had a lot of insects in its rough hide, so be sure to keep them outside when skinning/butchering. The meat is somewhat tough. Apple cores and sunflower seeds are my preferred and proven baits for groundhogs.
This is the only animal I’ve never eaten myself, but I’ve caught them in box traps before. They will eat just about anything, and since they will eat just about anything, I imagine the meat is a lot like bear meat in that it depends on what the animal has been eating that will heavily influence the taste. Raccoons are nocturnal animals, and any raccoon wandering around during the day should most likely be avoided, due to the risk of it carrying rabies.
Once your young ones get good at hitting a rabbit with the slingshot, they can test their skills on the ubiquitous chipmunk. If they are good with a BB gun or air gun and that is an option, chipmunks will make good targets for them. Also, a small box trap baited with peanut butter or any seeds will make it a lot easier. Butterfly the little guys and grill them whole on a stick or with a basket. Spend your time wisely; the return on investment is very low here.
I’ve long thought than a commonly overlooked item missing from many of the disaster-preparation supply lists I’ve seen is fishing tackle. The species targeted here don’t require expensive or even sophisticated tackle or much skill. Instead of by species, I’ve broken this section down by type of habitat, as the local habitat you have available to you will dictate the type of fish and fishing you’ll be doing.
Wild Trout Streams
Depending on where you live, an abundant food source could be very nearby. In large sections of the rural and even not-too-rural east, thousands of miles of streams are inhabited by naturally reproducing trout, typically native brook trout or wild brown trout. If you are lucky enough to know of or find one of these waterways, it could provide a steady source of nourishment.
Naturally reproducing trout streams are the key, because state wildlife department stocking trucks that dump trout into streams and rivers will be long gone. Many out there would likely be surprised at the little unnamed trickles that wild brook and brown trout will inhabit, especially brook trout, as they are the only trout native to the eastern United States and can be found in most mountainous and forested locations from Maine to Georgia. These trout often live in relatively infertile, freestone streams, which means they can’t be too picky about what they eat, so passing up a meal is usually not an option. Plus, recreational fishing pressure won’t be a problem, which could be good or bad. Blue-ribbon trout streams will likely draw the attention of many looking for a meal. However, the out of the way, nameless runs may be overlooked and contain enough small brookies to provide steady meals. Keep in mind that a ten-inch fish in these streams would be considered a trophy, but a half dozen six-inch fish could realistically be harvested in less than an hour.
As for tackle and techniques, simple is best in this situation. A spinning rod and/or fly rod, appropriate reels to match, line, leader, hooks, and a few simple fly and spinner patterns will be all you need. As a kid, we would catch countless brookies four to seven inches long on a small hook tipped with a piece of night crawler. Now, I use dry flies and can usually do the same. Any live bait will do. Artificial lures– tied flies or spinners– will eliminate the need to gather bait, but they may not be as effective for gathering a quick meal, at least without a moderate level of knowledge on fly fishing.
For bluegills, large mouth bass, catfish, and similar fish, small ponds dot the landscape of much of North America. Fortunately most of these impoundments contain at least some type of fish life. Chances are the inhabitants will be accustomed to seeing people, farm animals, and farm equipment moving along the banks, and they will not be easily spooked. The easiest and fastest way that I’ve found to harvest pan fish from a pond is using a fly rod. No reel is even required if you can see the fish from shore. Just tie a leader of at least eight or nine feet to the last eyelet of the rod, and tie on a rubber spider or foam fly on the line. These fly patterns are nearly indestructible and there is no need to gather or store live bait. In the summer, pan fish and bass are on their nests, or redds, and become aggressive. These are usually the biggest (adult) fish and can be coaxed into an “aggression strike” by dragging any lure, bait, or fly in or near the redd. Pulling too many fish off the redds will inevitably lead to less young fish next year though. For catfish, any bait on the bottom is good. Animal hearts and livers from your previous harvests can be used here.
Finally, find any river, lake, creek, run, brook, or swamp that you can get to; it should be able to provide the opportunity to harvest some type of fish. Pan fish, small mouth bass, creek chubs, suckers, carp, and other species that most consider today to be “junk fish” for eating and that, if caught, are thrown back could one day– after TEOTWAWKI– be viewed as a delicacy. (A quick note on carp: They are big and easy to spot, but they are notoriously shy and will spook if they see you or if you present your bait too overtly. Remember, if you can see the fish, the fish can see you. Some don’t care (think bluegills) but most do. Be stealthy if you are after them.)
Since we’re working under the assumption that we don’t have a firearm or don’t want to use it, birds are going to be difficult to provide us with a food source. Three notable exceptions exist.
Harvesting any bird eggs could be done from either cavity-nesting or platform nesting birds. However, you’ll need to harvest the egg within four days of it being laid, to insure minimal embryo development.
Trapping cavity nesting birds in their nests is a second method to avian protein sources. Again, your efforts may be limited by the size of your quarry. To me, a dove isn’t worth the hassle to hunt, since it is so small. However, I’d likely feel very different if I was hungry. That said, trapping a sparrow in a bird house isn’t going to satisfy your cravings for protein. The bigger the better, so try to locate duck, owl, kestrel, or large woodpecker nests within reach. This source is most likely going to be a “target of opportunity”.
The “highlight” of the bird section is the Canada goose, which is plentiful year-round in the central and northern United States. In fact, it is hard to find a pond or stream without one or multiple pairs of geese in the breeding season. In the nesting season, Canada geese will not abandon their nest with eggs, which are found on the ground, near a body of water. In fact, they will fight you or any other threat that comes too close to the nest. This is a two-fold win for you if you come across an active nest. First, kill the geese and then gather the eggs. I’ve never raided a goose nest, but I can attest that goose bites do hurt a bit, but it should be a quick fight. Approach the nest when both birds are nearby and you’ll double your goose meat supply. Finally, as mentioned above, it is best to get to the eggs soon after they are laid, before much embryo development has occurred.
There is a reason I’ve listed this section at the end, as these would all be an equal last resort for me and my family’s protein supply.
If you have any body of water near your location, such as the farm ponds mentioned above, frogs might be an option during the warmer months. The bullfrog, leopard frog, and pickerel frog would generally serve as the largest and most common sources. The easiest way to harvest frogs in my experience is during the breeding season and at night. For the bullfrog in the east, that is June and July. A spotlight or flashlight will stun them and a frog gig, net, your hands, or two-by-four will do to catch them. As you probably guessed, the legs are the edible part. Many rave over the taste, but I’m personally not as impressed.
Almost every moving waterway and even some ponds in the east contain crayfish. When I was a child, on camping trips we would catch them in an acid-mine-drainage stained, farm runoff filled, and muddy little tributary and boil them over the campfire. They are not exactly gourmet, but considering the environment they were sourced from they were not all that bad. Look for crayfish by turning over rocks. Crayfish swim backwards, which you’ll quickly figure out. A net or seine might help you catch them, The tail/abdomen is the edible part, just like a shrimp. Be sure to remove the carapace (shell) before eating.
One particular stream near where I grew up contains 27 different species of freshwater mussels. Once you’ve found a supply, it is as simple as picking them up. Freshwater mussels themselves are not poisonous, but chemicals and algae in/on them might be. So consider a few preventative measures before eating. These include letting the mussel live in clean water for a few days before consuming them, cleaning off the outside of the mussel with a stiff bristled brush before cooking them, and only cooking mussels that are closed tight. Open shells mean that the mussel is dead or dying, and these should not be harvested.
A note on eating fish, crayfish, mussels, et cetera: Your local environmental conditions will determine how safe aquatic life is for you to eat over the long term. Looking back, those crayfish from that little sulfur-stained run are probably not a good idea to consume every day, but one time didn’t seem to hurt me.
Hopefully, the ideas and techniques discussed above will be a benefit to you and your family, if the need should arise. Preparing and trying these non-traditional food items could be a good source of family fun. I know that this coming summer I’ll be making an effort to try frog legs again. My hunch is that frog tastes like the water body it lives in, and since the little creek I tried frogs from before included the effluent from more than one broken septic field, I might like it better this time.
If you have to start from scratch and purchase (new) two box traps and locks, a fly rod, or spinning rod and reel, basic tackle, a leg hold trap, and a slingshot, the total on the “budget plan” should come to no more than $300. Chances are you already have some of these items or can acquire them used for less. With a little preparation and reasonable cost, you can be well prepared for making sure that your loved ones have access to protein sources in case of a TEOTWAWKI event.