The Skills of Spotting, Scrounging, and Scavenging

The best prepping will only take you so far. Just like when folks go on a vacation, things are forgotten, not anticipated, or broken. In a TEOTWAWKI situation, having a plan and stocking is great, but there needs to more after that, as well. Think about:

  • What if you’re mugged or carjacked for your BOB and equipment?
  • What if you’re away from home when it hits the fan?
  • Although you thought you had everything, what things escaped your prep lists?
  • Your last spare broke, now what?

A TEOTWAWKI situation will likely last years, if not decades or longer. Your thoughts and planning need to eventually move from prepping to how to survive once those preps are exhausted. I’m also assuming that there will be a huge loss of life in a TEOTWAWKI situation. Possibly, depending on the circumstances, there may be a lot of material goods that have survived. This article starts to address how you might be able to put them to use.

Spotting, scavenging, and scrounging are skills that will not only help you after TEOTWAWKI happens but are helpful and beneficial to you today as well. There are several different ways you can practice spotting, scrounging, and scavenging today. Let’s look at each one in turn.


Spotting is an important skill for survival. After all, what you don’t see, you can’t defend against. Noticing your surroundings and the objects and creatures within them is very important and often not stressed enough. Spotting is really the prerequisite skill for scrounging and scavenging.

The best way to spot or search is starting off with a general scan. Look for the big, obvious things first. Then do a secondary, more specific scan, looking for smaller, less obvious things. Don’t be afraid to move objects and look underneath or behind things. Also, don’t forget to look both high and low.

One excellent way to practice spotting is to look for birds and other animals on walks or hikes. I also like looking for beach glass. Beach glass is bottles and other glass that were thrown into a lake or ocean decades ago. Sand has polished them to a gem-like finish. This takes a little bit of practice, but once you get into the groove, you’ll be surprised at how much you find.


Scavenging is searching through things for items that are useful or helpful. Some preppers love to buy new and expensive things. I don’t follow that school of thought. Of course, I buy new when I need new, but I love to find good deals– very reasonably priced treasures. I shop a lot of second hand stores, thrift stores, Craigslist, and rummage sales for some survival goods. Some of the list of my finds include: two compound bows for $7, a $3 rifle case, a $7 pistol shoulder holster, and much more! These places are also great for low cost supplies like blankets, sleeping bags, and camping equipment.

The same pattern for spotting is useful in scavenging. You can practice by going through coin rolls looking for silver coins. I also play a game with myself at rummage sales or flea markets. I try to find something decent that’s hidden or out of the way. Even if I don’t buy it, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I found a diamond in the rough among so much other garbage.


Scrounging to me is basically urban foraging. It is finding good stuff that other people don’t want. Scrounging is not looting. Scrounging isn’t taking away anything wanted or anyone’s property. By scrounging, you’re just more creative and inventive about using the resources around you than other folks are. Before scrounging, it’s best to look into your local laws and ordinances first. In my town, it’s illegal to take anything left out for recycling. Finding out trespassing ordinances for vacant lots or whatever may be relevant as well. I also suggest safety precautions, like gloves, while scrounging.

The following are a couple of concrete examples of how I’m practicing and honing these skills today. I live in a larger Midwestern city. I have a tendency to walk down alleys scavenging as I go, instead of sticking to the sidewalks. I’ve already found three bicycles in the garbage– one perfectly functional and the other two only needing minor repairs. After checking to make sure they’re not missing or stolen, I fixed them up and kept them or else sold them. This also helped me improve my fix-it, bargaining, and haggling skills.

Recently, I saw a full moving van throwing boxes next to the garbage. I asked them what was going on and they explained that there was some sort of snafu, and the resident wasn’t able to move in, nor was she able to afford to pay to move her possessions back. The moving folks told me that she just told them to trash it. I sorted through the boxes and came up with some good stuff including: about $5 in pocket change, three decorative swords, a knife, jewelry, watches, and kitchen goods. Once again, this helped me practice searching and haggling when I sold off some of the stuff. Situations like this happen with less frequency, but they still happen a lot.

Recycle and reuse. After disaster strikes, there’s going to be a lot of changes and circumstances will be different. This will involve a lot of “out of the box” thinking. I remember touring a vineyard with an old barn. The tour guide pointed out old repairs where the patches were metal cans and old license plates. This sort of situation will happen a lot more when folks can’t just wander down to Home Depot to pick up a patching kit. Scrounging allows us to find the raw materials for these repairs and creations.

I also pick up scrap metal. My mother remembers in her childhood, the ragman and the tinkerer, who did pretty much the same thing. In my city, many folks leave metal out to be taken or it’s too large to fit into garbage cans. It’s a simple matter of me picking up metal and carrying it home, or else coming back with the car to take larger objects. Without a lot of effort, I usually haul in about 200 pounds a week. I’ve picked up broken folding chairs, old metal swings, mop handles, scales, shower rods, abandoned bumpers, and a lot more. I’ve also found a few things that I’ve kept myself. Everything else I take to a scrap yard and get about $0.10 a pound for it. Stainless steel and aluminum also bring in higher prices. It’s not a lot of money, but after I put in my emptied canned goods, pickle lids, and miscellaneous household metal, it adds up. The money that I make from recycling this metal goes towards either my next survival purchase or more junk silver. In a post-TEOTWAWKI scenario, these types of found metal could be used to create or reinforce structures, or as raw materials for repairs, creations, or modifications.

I also collect aluminum cans. I get paid about $0.50 a pound for these. Once again, I’d rather pad my wallet with that cash, rather than just giving it to the city. Spotting empties is pretty easy and helps me work that skill. Sometimes it’s pretty hard to tell a crushed can from an empty cigarette pack at 50-75 feet. Besides, if I’m walking the dog and I have a bag of dog crap in my hand, how awful is it to have a bag of empty cans in the other? Plus, I’m cleaning up my neighborhood, which makes me and my neighbors feel better. In a post-TEOTWAWKI scenario, these cans could easily be rigged up into an easy noise-making trap, reflective signaling mirrors, or smaller containers for organizing or watering.

There are lots of resources in the environment that can be considered and possibly used. For TEOTWAWKI prep, make a list of possible resources needed and places nearby that could be scrounged. For example, fresh water is a needed resource that could be scrounged. It doesn’t matter how much water you have stockpiled or if you have an independent source identified, something could happen causing you to need a backup source. I’ve considered that if I’m unable to leave the city, I’ll need to find more water at some point. On my list, I have two different creeks and two ponds close by that could provide me with water that I could boil or purify. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than dying of thirst. Depending on the nature of the TEOTWAWKI, your resource list will have to be modified. In the case of radioactive fallout, I would need to look elsewhere for by backup water needs. I have made resource lists for both being forced to stay in place as well as for the BOL. Overall, be aware of your environment, the things inside of it, and how they can help you. Look around for resources and be imaginative with what you have and what you find. After all, you never know when these skills you’re building now will reward you or save your life later on!