A lot of people only think about the short term when it comes to wilderness survival, and it’s easy to figure out why. If you’ve got a bad bleed you need to know how to stop it NOW. If you fall through some ice you need to know how to get warm ASAP. Getting a roaring fire going or applying a tourniquet are priceless knowledge that will save your life in a survival scenario, but what if you aren’t bleeding or freezing? What if you’ve got those bases covered and you’ve got a fire going and fuel collected and a shelter set up and fresh water near. What now? You’re slowly going to waste away and stave unless you find something to fuel more than your fire. You need to eat!
But what can you eat? You can’t eat grass like a cow. You can’t just strip the bark off of trees and eat that. Or wait, can you? Most people have a grand fantasy in their head of slaying elk and hauling huge Flintstone slabs of meat on their shoulders to their campsite, but the reality is you’re going to have to eat anything and everything you can to maintain your energy levels. And if you know what to look for, it’s not too difficult to do just that.
The Easy Stuff
You might think that the wilderness is a wasteland for edible food but it’s actually got plenty of stuff all around just waiting to be consumed. Here’s some things that you probably didn’t know that you could eat with very little effort.
Yes, you can eat all different kinds of grass! Not the fibers like a cow, but you can chew and suck out the juices of the leaves and get some nutrition that way. Also, if you yank grass up there is a small bit of white between the leaf and the root called the “corm” that you can cook and eat like a turnip.
These are abundant almost everywhere and are a much better food source than grass. Since these can almost always be found next to water, if you’ve got water you’ve probably got food too. The starchy inner core of the base of the cattail makes for good eating, but make sure to cook it first as you never know what might be in the water source.
These evergreen trees are a great source of food. You can eat the newly grown sprigs off of many types of this tree, but the main source is the cambium (the layer between the bark and the wood of the tree) which contains many sugars and vitamins. Also the needles of these trees can be brewed to make a tasty tea. BEWARE of the Yew tree which is poisonous in all parts. Identify yews by an evergreen with red berries)
Oak trees can throw out hundred of pounds of acorns if you’re in an area heavily wooded with these hardwood giants. This is an excellent food source, just make sure to extract the nut from the hull and then soak in water to release the bitter tannins from the meat of the acorn. These can them be dried out to prevent rotting and eaten whole or ground into a fine flour.
The Harder Stuff
These are the things that people think of (at least mostly) more often when thinking of survival foods gathered in the wild. Though these often require more time and energy expenditure to get.
I know what you’re thinking but hey, if you’re trying to survive then you have nothing to lose. Grasshoppers, ants, and grubs are all good sources of vitamins and some small calories. If you can’t stand the idea of popping these creepy crawlies into your mouth then try cooking them up over a fire first or throwing them in your soup pot.
What else hunts bugs? Next up the food chain ladder are fish. There’s several types of fishing you can do to catch different sizes of fish, but minnows are easy to catch with a dug out fish trap on a bank or a shirt or camp towel used as a fishing net. For bigger fish try fashioning a fish spear out of some green willow branches. All north American fresh water fish are safe to eat and fish head soup is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals.
If fish hunt bugs then birds hunt fish. Most species of birds are very hard to catch but some species like grouse and pheasant make an easier meal than others. Either using trapping techniques or your fish spear you can try to catch these ground-running birds. Also if it isn’t the winter keep an eye out for nests as eggs can be another way a bird can feed you. Just don’t fall out of a tree trying to get them.
Small Game Mammals
Above birds are many types of small game mammals, from squirrels and rabbits to muskrats and beavers. Depending on your location you could try traps or snares to bag these furry meals. Most species take some practice to catch, but once you understand their behavior can be a good source of lean meat and organ meat (the densest nutritional value of the animal).
Remember, survival isn’t about slaying a wild pig and spit roasting it over an open flame. It’s about having your surroundings work for you to keep you alive. In most life-or-death survival scenarios it is likely that living could be down to how many handfuls of grasshoppers you ate or how much you munched on cattails.