I have worked as an ungulate habitat biologist in a western state for a number of years now, and I think it’s given me a rare perspective. There is a large hole in the plan of the casual survivalist that I want to talk about. It lies in the animals you will be hunting when the Schumer Hits the Fan (SHTF).
Ungulates are the large hoofed mammals that roam our continent. In the continental U.S. these include:
- White Tailed Deer
- Mule Deer
- Pronghorn Antelope
- Bighorn Sheep
- Mountain Goats
Obviously for someone with limited ammo, which is all of us on a long enough time scale, they represent the best animal to target when hunting. You won’t be wasting shots on squirrels; you’ll be going for a deer. Even that poor doomed fool Christopher McCandless, who died all alone in a bus in the Alaskan wilderness, knew this. He managed to poach a moose with a .22 rifle before ultimately starving. And if he could figure that out, so can the rest of America. And I want to explain why that is going to be a problem for many survivalists.
By the turn of the 18th century, we had managed to drive every ungulate in the lower 48 close to extinction. And this was when there were very few of us. Let’s talk about today. Let’s talk about what would happen to the many large game animals in the United States if our society broke down over night. I’ll break the fauna down to east and western coast, for reasons that will become clear. Let’s start with western ungulates.
Ungulates in many areas of the west have a huge weakness: They are very predictable at certain times of year. Mule deer can only effectively dig through 12 inches of snow to get at food, an elk 18 inches. In other words, they cannot live up in the high mountains during winter. You can go to many western valleys around the west and see dozens, hundreds, or thousands of elk, pronghorn, muleys, and bighorn sheep in the winter. Here the animals are concentrated, where they are easy prey for someone who doesn’t have to worry about a Fish and Game warden. These are the valleys where refugees will be headed to as they leave the cities. It’s common sense. Given the large amount of game animals and minimal snow, many people will flee to these areas.
Within a few years of TSHTF, we could be looking at a new mass extinction. Bison will be the first to go. They were only saved from extinction in the US because a small herd managed to hide in isolation in remote Yellowstone. Today there are enough roads through that park and others that it will offer them no sanctuary. They aren’t exactly difficult to kill either. The people I know who have engaged in bison hunts have compared it to shooting a couch. Elk, deer, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn will “go the way of the buffalo” when humans start to organize drives, chasing them across a valley into a crossfire of waiting hunters. Moose will hold out a little longer, given that they stay higher in the mountains and remain solitary during the winter. The west isn’t a good place for crops, and people will turn begin to slaughter these animals very quickly, with relative ease. It’s something to think about if your retreat is situated in such an area. Even if your retreat is located up in the mountains and you know how to survive there, in the winter the animals will head for lower elevations. Every spring, fewer will come back.
In the east, there are less ungulate species. White-tailed deer and feral hogs are about it, although obviously moose can be found in the north. The deer will be driven out very quickly. The first thing a sane person on the east coast is going to do, when they realize what is happening, is shoot some deer. They will disappear from our suburbs literally over night. Anyone living in the country, will go out and shoot as many deer as they can effectively process. Maybe more. Many of my country friends on the east coast tell me they aren’t worried about a societal collapse. They have their deer rifle. What they don’t realize is that everyone else has a deer rifle too, and the only reason the deer are there even now is because of laws and grocery stores. That won’t always be the case.
Lastly, let’s talk about feral hogs. They are an unusual species, possibly the only one that could really stand to thrive in a TEOTWAWKI situation. They can be found through Texas and the south in heavy numbers. Constantly working their way north, they have just breached the Pennsylvanian border, but are still only common further south. They are smart, breed like rabbits, and reaching maturity very quickly, giving birth to huge litters. They are one of the few species that try as we might, Homo sapiens has thus far been unable to drive into extinction. I would bet on them being one the few ungulates to survive very far into TEOTWAWKI.
So what does all this mean for the survivalist? Don’t count on hunting! There are obviously a huge number of factors that are going to influence what the world will look like post-SHTF. But if there is still a sizeable population of humans, we will quickly drive most of the large game animals in the Lower 48 into extinction. There are just too many of us to live off the land, but everyone who didn’t prepare well is going to try anyway, and can you really blame them? So in conclusion, keep some goats. And when things fall apart, harvest and preserve as much meat as you can, it won’t be there long.