Anyone that ever visits a prepper website or has ever heard a prepper conversation has certainly heard that after any TEOTWAWKI  societal collapse event that all wild game populations will drop to near zero immediately. While this might be true in a few locations, overall I just don’t think it will happen–at least not over any large area of our country.
While statements on either side of this debate are pure conjecture we can look at some facts that back up the guesses on one side or the other. The first obvious thing we should do is look at the animal/human populations in the United States.
The human population is three hundred twenty seven million. That is a lot of people. So let’s look at wild game populations. These population numbers are estimates from state fish and wildlife departments.
- Deer – 30 million
- Elk – 1 million
- Moose – relatively small numbers outside of Alaska
- Antelope – 1 million
- Bison – about ½ million
- Big Horn sheep & Mountain Goat – small numbers
- Bear – approx. ½ million
So big game populations overall are only roughly one percent of the human population. If we stop here it would appear that post-TEOTWAWKI situation American big game animals would be quickly decimated. But we are not talking about trophy hunters here instead every hunter would be totally concerned only with meat to prevent starvation. In that light I would assume most hunters would go for any meat to stay alive and feed their family. This would include domestic animals especially because they would be much easier to access. So logically we would have to include livestock populations into our equation.
- Cows – 94 million
- Horses – 9 million (yes you can eat horses)
- Goats – 2.5 million
- Sheep – 5 million
- Beefalo & domestic bison – approx. ½ million
Adding these livestock numbers we see adds a whole lot of meat-on-the-hoof that would be available to hunters. But if you are hunting for deer because you are starving I would have to assume you would not turn down smaller game like a fat tasty rabbit. Population numbers of wild rabbits (cottontail and jack rabbits) is unknown but the number is huge. A guesstimate of over one hundred million is very likely.
Still, there are more humans than four-legged animals. But we could also include birds. I eat ducks, geese, quail, and other game birds. And there are a whole lot of them. Then there are domestic birds like turkeys, tame ducks, and chickens. Let’s just look at chickens. I bet most everyone has eaten chicken eggs and had chicken for dinner. There are more than nine billion chickens in the United States. That is an unbelievable number that most people cannot even comprehend.
But maybe instead of the whole human population we should look at the number of hunters instead. This number is roughly fifteen million, a small fraction of the total population. And of those fifteen million hunters the success rate for big game hunting is roughly thirty percent. So two-thirds of the time that they hunt they get nothing.
Many will say that one hundred million people own guns and in an emergency situation every one of those would hunt to survive. I agree with that statement, everybody would hunt to survive. Except with no experience their success rate would be substantially lower than an experienced hunter.
Okay so after a TEOTWAWKI event everyone with a gun would try to use that gun to get food. They would kill every bird and animal they could to survive whether it was a wild animal or someone’s livestock. But they would have to travel to get to where those animals were living.
The U.S. is Mainly Urban
Most of our human population lives in urban areas. Either in big cities or in the suburbs surrounding those cities. Mostly that is not where wild game or livestock live so those people would have to travel. Today that is no problem. Just jump in your car, swing past the gas station to fill up, and travel a hundred miles in just a couple hours.
In any Worst-Case Collapse situation where everyone would have to hunt just to survive I think we could safely assume that there would also be no fuel available for their vehicles. If there are no food deliveries there certainly would be no gasoline deliveries either. And while everyone would have some fuel in their cars it is also likely that when deliveries stopped everyone would first use their fuel just looking for food at every grocery store for miles around. By the time everyone was desperate enough to leave their homes and drive to the country to search for food they would likely not have any or very little fuel left to do so.
Because of the fuel situation highways would be full of stalled vehicles that were out of fuel. The highways would quickly be blocked and travel would be very problematic. Violence at this point would likely be everywhere and shootouts on highways would probably be commonplace. Road rage is common now and would be many times worse in any bad situation. Travel would be difficult due to lack of fuel and dangerous at the same time due to increased violence.
So everyone wanting to hunt would be severely limited with multiple travel problems. Some would obviously travel by foot but they would not travel far, by today’s standards. Twenty miles on foot is long way and totally impossible for much of America’s overweight population.
Some people would leave early and escape the cities in their cars. Great for them but they would still face many challenges. Where would they go? To some public land someplace where they would camp and hunt? Maybe or they might go a relative’s place in the country but obviously most just would not have that option. So most would be camping and then hunting within walking distance of their camp. Certainly a workable situation but that would limit how many animals they would have access too.
Population Masses are Not Near Wild Game
I am of the opinion that the bulk of the urban population just would not be able to travel much distance to rural areas and if they did, then they would have little success with their hunting forays. Also the current rural population living there would certainly resent ‘city people’ hunting on their land and would obviously try hard to protect their livestock. Violence would erupt.
In the eastern states, overall distances are less and that is where the bulk of the US population lives. In those eastern states both wildlife populations and livestock numbers would certainly drop rather quickly in any major long term event. In the western states the distances are vast between towns and there are very few urban areas of any size (other than on the west coast).
The western land has good wildlife populations and also large numbers of sheep and beef cattle. People that have never traveled by car in the western states often fail to realize just how big the area is and how far it is between even small towns.
In a serious SHTF event where fuel was not available there just would not be much of any travel in these western areas. Distances are just too far for foot travel and because the western states are all in a semi-arid zone, surface water is often sparse making foot travel problematic especially for the modern citizen.
Because of these simple facts after TEOTWAWKI this huge area’s wild game populations would not be reduced near as much nor as fast at populations in the eastern states.
Even now with fairly large wild game populations that wild game is often found in the more rugged areas of each state. Where these game populations are highest are where human populations are the lowest for the most part. After any large event this remoteness will help protect those wildlife populations. As any hunter in any area knows, as hunting pressure increases the game population goes deeper into the more rugged areas making hunting problematic.
Better in the West
Those people now living in rural areas within these western states are going to have an easier time than people in the eastern states. Wild game and domestic livestock will surround them and at the same time human populations will be low and problematic travel conditions will help keep them safe.
Those that say wildlife populations will drop quickly in any longer term event often point to the Great Depression as a prime example. Wild game populations of all kinds were at record low levels during the Great Depression they rightly point out. This is very true. But like many things there is more to the story.
Wildlife Numbers Crashed Before the Depression
Before the Great Depression, America’s human population was expanding and enjoying a booming economy. Unfortunately the same could not be said of wildlife populations. Wildlife numbers were at dangerously low levels, some even close to extinction levels. Market hunting was the major cause of this though indiscriminate hunting also added to the severely reduced game numbers.
This was the time period where most states had no game laws and no game wardens. Urban populations were expanding and market hunting was used to help feed all those people in the cities. Wildlife populations suffered. Obviously people noticed and Before the Great Depression there was a huge push to preserve remaining wildlife populations that were left.
Then the Great Depression happened but even during this time period people wanted to try and save wildlife. Many laws were passed. The “Duck Stamp” was one thing, beginning in 1935. The Pittman-Robertson Act in 1937 was another that put an excise tax on guns and hunting equipment. Most states implemented wildlife laws and hired game wardens in this time period.
So while game populations were very low during the Great Depression, it was not the cause of those low population numbers. The two events just happened to take place during the same time span for the most part. Certainly during the Depression many people turned to hunting for their survival but unfortunately with the already very low numbers of game that hunting was often a fruitless endeavor.
So I hypothesize that in a major SHTF event wildlife, fish, and livestock numbers will decrease but none will be decimated except possibly in relatively small areas that are near urban centers.