Following a natural or manmade disaster, there will be certain things that need to happen. Chief among them is securing food for you and your family. Unless you have extensive storage facilities and foresight, most emergency food will be consumed within five days of an event. If the nature of the disaster is of a great enough magnitude, you may be without help for a very long time. That means you are on your own.

While many people dismissively say that they will just hunt and fish for food, it is more difficult than it may seem. Recreational hunting and fishing is worlds away from sustainment food gathering. A bad day deer hunting may be nothing during regular life, but during a disaster it can mean the difference between eating and starving to death.

Hunting for sustainment and survival is unlike recreational hunting. The sense of the sport inherent to hunting and intentionally creating a challenge must be replaced with a sense of urgency and efficiency. Many of the same weapons you would regularly use can still be involved in the new style of hunting, but choosiness over animal sex, size and overall appearance will become irrelevant.

Going For Game

The first style of hunting you should consider is targeting large game, which includes deer, elk and similarly sized animals. In this category you are best served with a rifle such as a Remington 700 in .308 Winchester or a good bow. One of the best ways to improve your chances of bagging one of these animals is by setting bait. Corn or other grains set into a pile near a good hiding area makes a perfect place to ambush an animal. Even with this setup, however, you will need to be patient.

Your secondary style of hunting will focus on small game, such as rabbits and birds. While generally more plentiful in most areas, they are small and must be caught in larger numbers to provide a sufficient food source. The weapons you have will determine your success in this arena. Two weapons can serve you well here: a .22 LR rifle such as the Ruger 10/22 or a 12-gauge shotgun like the Mossberg 500. We will once again do our best to bait our prey to improve our chances of success. The upside to using a .22 rifle is preservation of the game—the round is lethal but causes less damage to the meat of small game than a handful of shot pellets. This would restrict you to birds on the ground, however, unless you possess sharpshooting skills.

One other method of hunting that works well for small game is traps. From deadfall traps to snares, there are dozens of ways you can simultaneously hunt game. In tough times, it is essential to check these traps often, as your prize can fall prey to scavengers.

Water Traps

Fishing can be a fast way to get an easy meal. Fish live in many bodies of water, including those in urban areas. Knowing how to catch fish in tough times, as with hunting, is different than sport fishing. Many methods of survival fishing are illegal in everyday life. However, in an emergency, it is better to focus on survival instead of fish and game rules.

One of the most reliable ways to harvest fish is to build a trap. Also called weirs, they have been utilized for thousands of years around the world. In some cultures, weirs were built on a large scale and were designed to feed large groups of people. For our use, though, it will be less of a construction project. The principle behind a weir is to create a trap system that will allow fish in but make it difficult for them to swim out. Many times a “V” shape is incorporated into the design. The opening would be the top of the “V” and it would face out into the open water.

When fish swim into the trap, it narrows and they usually cannot find the opening and swim back out. A simple small trap can be made in any body of water ranging from a small creek to a lake. On a basic level, it can be nothing more than sticks pushed into the mud. The sticks make a fence of sorts to keep the fish contained. If the sticks are placed close enough together, even small fish will not be able to escape the trap. More sticks are then used to form an entrance and the funnel where the fish will enter the trap. Make the opening large enough for decent-sized fish to enter the trap.

The final step is to add bait to the trap. Bait can generally be found along the edge of a body of water if you do not have a designated source. Dead fish and insects make solid bait, as does corn, bread or anything else edible you might have on hand.

As fish enter the trap to get your bait, reach down and grab the fish from the water. Take care to avoid sharp fins like those found on catfish. A wound even as simple as a puncture from a fish can be problematic in survival situations.

There are other methods of getting fish in emergency situations. Each of those depends on the equipment you have on hand. Multiple fishing lines tied to tree limbs overhanging lakes or streams can be a good way to fish a large area. Be committed to checking these lines, however, as turtles and other fish can destroy what was once a meal.

Faster Foraging

In addition to the meat and fish gathered from your hunt, you are also able to forage for a variety of edibles. Before you start snacking on the pretty berries, though, there are some things to consider. These general rules can help you not only be successful in foraging, but stay safe as well.

When you’re foraging, never eat anything if you’re not able to identify it. Also be careful of where you forage, as being focused on the search can lead to being lost. It’s important to stick with a few foraging items you’re familiar with. As you gain more experience, you can expand your search. It may also be helpful to memorize a few different types of edible plants common to your area as part of your disaster planning. This may include consulting a field guide for preparation and cooking instructions for the plants. While you’re foraging you’ll also want to watch out for animals as they may be foraging as well and could become territorial.

When looking for food, there are a few other tips on what kinds of plants you should avoid. While these suggestions may rule out a few plants that are edible, it’s better to do that than to risk getting poisoned. This includes never eat plants with thorns, staying away from plants with shiny leaves and avoiding mushrooms unless you are an expert in their identification. Similarly, umbrella-shaped flowers are a bad sign, as are plants with white or yellow berries and plants with milky or discolored sap. You should also avoid beans or plants with seeds inside a pod, anything that smells like almonds and plants with three-leaf bunching like poison ivy. Finally, if it tastes bitter or soapy, spit it out.

As with anything regarding survival, education is key. Learn your area and educate yourself on what is edible.

The best way to ensure these skills are up to the challenge is to practice. Take the opportunity each hunting season to get out and improve your skills. One area that is often overlooked in hunting is what happens after you kill an animal. Cleaning and dressing your kill is a crucial skill. Hunting in non-emergency times is a good way to gain those critical skills. As with any emergency preparedness skill set, those serious about survival will seek education and information. Know what you are doing before times get bad.

For More Information

Mossberg; (203) 230-5300

Remington; (800) 243-9700

Ruger; (888) 220-1173

This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Winter 2016 edition. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.

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