Many people rely on wild game as a regular part of their diet. In Michigan, where I live, deer season is a holiday with schools and companies at minimal staff, as a healthy part of the population is out in the woods partaking in one of our oldest traditions. And like all great endeavors, some hunters are successful and some are not, depending upon skill, preparation, and just a little bit of luck. For those hunters who were able to kill a deer (if they are traditionalist), they are able to provide their families with meat. For some, this can be the majority of their meat throughout the year.
During our lifetimes, whether you’re a hunter or not, it is easy to recognize that the overall deer population has been steadily growing. In the news, there are occasional stories about the deer wandering into human dwellings or the suburbs who must have a culling (with the routine senseless protests) due to overpopulation. This deer population has been growing steady since the early 1900’s, starting from a count of under five million (including mule deer and blacktail) and growing to around a peak of over 40 million. Today it is estimated that there are approximately 35 million deer in the lower 48 states. The same population growth can be attributed to most wild game (aside from pheasants) due to good game laws and a civil populace that not only adheres to these laws but also actively promotes healthy game levels. Older hunters tell stories of not seeing deer for years. A generation ago, deer hunting was a greater challenge and as much about comradery and tradition as the hunt itself.
Again, we will use deer hunting as an example. The laws designed around deer hunting are designed to ensure a growing population. A larger amount of tags are given around bucks during the rut (mating season) with a very limited amount of doe tags. This allows the deer to breed and reproduce, and the population does not diminish and could potentially grow as a doe can have multiple fawns. If the buck population dwindles, a single buck can impregnate several does, and nature will remedy the situation. These laws have been enacted since the 1900’s and continue to get stronger. States have made an effort to restock animals, allowing wild game to return to areas where they were completely wiped out. These population have grown and expanded and moved into other regions. There are government agencies dedicated to managing this population and making sure hunters have every opportunity to bag game, and it is clear that today’s deer population is very healthy, not only because of these laws but hunters who follow them.
Many preppers, homesteaders, and just regular people are counting on this abundance of game to continue. However, if you are counting on this as one of your key survival methods, I would urge you to reconsider. There is an ancient proverb that is almost too relevant: “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” Realize that having your own animals will be a much more consistent source of protein instead of hunting. During a TEOTWAWKI event, game animals will become sparse.
During TEOTWAWKI, it is expected that government agencies will either be non-existent or in an extreme state of panic and enforcement. Funding for all but the essentials disappear. Any funding for non-critical programs, such as game management and land development, will end. This would not impact the animal population immediately but will cause a reduction in the health of the herds and be detrimental overall. In addition, game wardens would be drafted into full-time law enforcement or be unemployed. There will be no one to determine the amount of deer tags allowed, much less population enhancement. The local DNR also does a fairly good job of minimizing disease in the herd. These issues would be unchecked in a TEOTWAWKI event.
Another key consideration for TEOTWAWKI would be the lack of food. There will be many people looking to feed their families. With other laws being disregarded, it would not be difficult to poach a deer and provide meat for their families. Many will be wantonly wasteful as the first few deer will be easy; there will be a lack of skill at cleaning the game and a dearth of refrigeration. Some may believe people will be nobler and not poach, but history proves otherwise. The last time our country was in a situation that was even close to TEOTWAWKI was the Great Depression. It was during this time that the deer population fell to the lowest levels in history. It was only through great efforts that the deer were able to rebound, and while they have returned to pre-1900 levels, the human population which was below 100 million in the early 1900’s is now over 300 million. If a tenth of the human population can successfully hunt deer the entire population would be completely wiped out. This has happened before, and there is no reason to believe it would not happen again. Some animals, such as the bison, will most likely never recover. If the great cities are starving, think about all the Canadian Geese sitting on a golf courses and suburban water retention ponds that people constantly complain about. How many would disappear in a day or in a week?
There is also a small portion of the human population that are pirates. They have no respect or consideration for anything and will use the lack of regulation and oversight to abuse the world around them. There are concerns about the golden horde and other permeations of this group and how they will treat people and property in their path. They will have the same impact on the natural world around them and will kill for sport and pleasure. While they are in the minority, the longer they persist without rules, the greater their negative impact which will outweigh the average person by far.
As any good deer hunter will tell you, opening day is the best day of the hunt. This is the single largest day for number of kills. Why? Deer are survivalist as well, and up here they become rare once they realize there are hunters in the woods. We call it “spooked”. They know something is hunting them, and the smartest and oldest of the deer become nocturnal or extra careful. Because of the rut, they still make mistakes and are harvested, but even then they can still be jittery. Living in the country, the deer remained spooked for several months and really do not start to relax until the following spring and summer. If the deer were continually hunted, they would become much warier of humans. Unfortunately, this would not stop hungry people who could use means that are now illegal, including spotlighting, dog running, snares, and even night vision gear to hunt deer, driving the surviving population to remote areas where there are fewer humans. Deer have very good senses and can also run exceedingly quick. The more they are spooked, the less you will see of them.
For non-deer hunters, hunting appears easy, especially if you watch hunting shows on TV, but the reality is that it takes a lot of time and energy to hunt a deer. Most successful deer hunters invest time and money in preparing for and carrying out the hunt. In a TEOTWAWKI situation, the time and energy will be multiplied for all the reasons discussed above. Hunting today is a way to relax as a hobby or pastime; however, when your survival is on the line, you will need to make wiser decisions on how to spend your time. In addition it can be frustrating and taxing during an already difficult time when potential days are wasted on hopes for food that is unfulfilled.
Interestingly, predators have greatly expanded their range as well, following the growth of game population. Coyotes can be found almost anywhere, including within the big cities, where they follow the waterways to the greenspaces. There are only a small handful of people that I know who eat predator meat, even among hunters. In the past, there were bounties on coyotes and wolves by states and local hunting groups. Today, only a few states have a bounty system, and it is mostly ignored. While the game populations will be hunted for food, it will be only under extreme hunger that a predator will be hunted for food. In modern culture predators are romanticized by most people, and they will only be hunted by those who are raising livestock or by those who understand their impact on wildlife populations, or lastly by those who are in fear of them due to the current situation. Attacks on humans are fairly rare now with only one death attributed to coyotes and several attacks over the last decade. This is already changing, as the true coyote is being replaced by the coywolf– a natural coyote wolf cross breed. According to the science behind it, coyotes reproduce faster and the coywolf is filling the gap of the larger predator that is fairly vacant. Coyotes and coywolves also have little fear of humans, although they keep their distance. While the stay away from hunters, they will take advantage of easy targets, and again it is documented that they live alongside humans even in places like Chicago. In TEOTWAWKI the coyotes, especially in urban areas, will have rats and turned out unwanted pets to continue to live off of, but as game is hunted for food there will be an unpleasant combination of greater demand for the game as well as greater opportunities for coyotes and humans to cross paths.
My last consideration with any game is that it will require you to be proficient with a weapon and use ammo. Again, most hunters take time to scope in their weapons and practice a few times a year. While feeding yourself and your family is primary importance, the ammunition that you would otherwise use may have greater value in trade or defense than in providing additional game. This is really the least of my concerns but is worth mentioning as this will be a highly unpredictable time and SurvivalBlog is about allowing us to think through as many scenarios as possible.
With all the above considered, location will be helpful and allow a longer potential for game. The more remote you are from a population, the less pressure on the game animals. Additionally, in remote areas people tend to have homesteader traits with food stocks and gardens. While the pressure would surely increase on the game, it will not be as dramatic as to the areas with heavy human populations.
Mental flexibility will also be key. Many people will be hunting for deer and turkey, elk and rabbit, letting opossums and raccoons go by. Squirrels are a great source of protein and very tasty. It would be my expectation that the non-traditional game animals will be around longer. Better than hunting would be the knowledge of trapping and snaring. This would eliminate the need for time and greatly minimize the expense of ammunition. This, too, is a skill that does not come easy and would still feel the impacts of a dwindling population.
To close, hunting is truly a variable, not a constant and cannot be relied upon. In the short term, especially for established and experienced hunters, you will be able to supplement your pantry with wild game. However, as a TEOTWAWKI event endures, game populations will be dramatically reduced. Like farmers of old, the only reliable source of protein is that which you yourself have raised. This does not mean that all game will be unavailable. This does not mean that you will not occasionally be able to supplement your larder. It does mean that you should not count on it as a preparation technique. Hunting will still exist, but it will require greater costs for diminishing returns.