Finding Survival Food

It is important to understand that regardless of the amount of food you have available, in a survival situation you should never eat until you have a good source of water. The act of digesting food requires water. If you are not getting enough water, eating will speed dehydration.

Believe it or not, finding food is not as big a problem as you might think. I am not going to say it is easy, but with a little knowledge, the survivalist can find plenty of food to provide necessary energy. The first thing you have to get rid of is your squeamishness. In a survival situation you have to be willing to make use of any calories that might make themselves available to you. In the realm of protein, I have personally eaten just about every fresh water fish you can think of including minnows. I have also eaten frogs, lizards, worms, ant larvae, grubs, grasshoppers, snakes, chipmunks, mice, rats, chickadees, blue jays, squirrels, rabbits, porcupines, muskrats, skunk, opossum, raccoon, deer, elk, and bear. I am sure there have been others, but those are the ones which come to mind right now.

Aside from protein, the survivalist with a little training in local plant lore, can make use of numerous edible plants. There are many which are indigenous to only certain areas, while there are others like dandelion and cattail that grow throughout the contiguous United States. One of my favorite wild foods is the cattail. It is one that contains huge amounts of starch. That starch is easily converted to energy. Native Americans made use of this readily available food source all year long. Because of the fact it was so widespread, it was one food source they did not feel the need to domesticate.

To find out more about edible plants and mushrooms

Visit the Edible Plants Page,

Visit the Mushrooms Page.

I am not the type to try to bend anyone to my way of thinking. If you are a vegetarian, or a Vegan, or anyone else who does not want to eat the flesh of tasty creatures, more power to you. That just means there is more meat for me. I am, as all humans evolved, omnivorous; which means I will eat anything with caloric benefit. If I can catch it, I will eat it. What you may not know is vegetarians are nothing new, they have been around for years. As a matter of fact "Vegetarian" is an old Native American word. It means "lousy hunter".

All joking aside, if you are truly against eating the flesh of animals, birds, and fish, you are welcome to go back to the the edible plants page, where you will find numerous things to help satisfy your hunger. If however, you hunger for a nice piece of roast beast, then read on.

You may be thinking this all sounds great. That you would love nothing more than sink your teeth into a juicy piece of meat, but aside from going to the nearest grocery store, or restaurant, you may not have the slightest idea what to do next. You may not feel comfortable heading out into the forest to look for your food. I completely understand your apprehension. Most Americans have never set foot in the forest. They think of it as that foreboding place described in the fairytales each of us heard as a children. The same fairytales which were written to scare European children of the middle ages, and keep them from venturing into, and becoming lost, in the forest. I am here to tell you, there is absolutely nothing to be afraid of. With a little knowledge and common sense, you can spend endless safe and rewarding days in the forest. One thing you have to remember though, is that in the forest, the hunter can become the hunted in the blink of an eye. It is wise to familiarize yourself with all potentially dangerous animals in the area you plan to frequent. I cannot stress how important it is to keep your wits about you, and pay attention to your surroundings. Remember, that as the young bull makes a mad dash down the hill in a fevered attempt to get a cow, it is the wise old bull that walks down from the hill and has his pick of the cows.

Let us now look at each method of meat procurement in a bit more detail.


At it's most basic, hunting is defined as the activity or sport of pursuing game. With game of course being nutritional benefit.

Now that we know what hunting is, we need to look at how it is done. Throughout history man has devised effective methods of adding meat to his table. The first recognized method of hunting was with a heavy stick or club used to brain the animal. While this method is still effective, and used by various indigenous peoples of the world, the size game you can take is severely limited.

If we are going to hunt, we should probably start off by talking about the types of hunting. You can hunt with throwing sticks, spears, bows and arrows, guns, traps, and snares. I will attempt to go into more detail about hunting as soon as I find the time.


Snares are an effective way for the person who finds themselves in a survival situation to provide very important protein for their diet. In a survival situation, it will be difficult to find enough meat to sustain yourself over the long hall. I therefore feel it is important to exploit every resource possible. Along with active methods of hunting for game using any of the weapons listed above, it is extremely important to employ passive hunting techniques as well. One passive method of gathering game is to set up a network of traps, snares, and deadfalls.

Many states have laws concerning the trapping and snaring of animals. It is important to check the laws of your state so that you do not find yourself out of compliance. Every state in the United States, and all provinces in Canada allow for persons in survival situations to trap and snare food by any means necessary.

That being said, let us explore some of the myriad of trapping methods developed over millennia or hunting and gathering. This is a very basic list. I plan to add more as time progresses, so please check back often.

- Squirrel Pole A squirrel pole is a means to trap the plentiful squirrel. We often forget that we are animals. In our delusions we may be the masters of the universe, when in reality, we are animals plain and simple. I am sorry to burst your bubble, but you can take heart in the fact that this information can be very useful to the person that finds themselves in a survival situation. Many people are lazy. That is not a bad thing, unless it is taken to extremes. I can tell you from experience, if there is an easy way to do something I am all for it. If the result is the same, who in their right mind would choose to do something in a difficult manner when an easy one is available. Now getting back to the squirrel; I have spent years hunting, and one thing I have noticed is that if there is an easier way to get down a tree than a vertical climb, they take it. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen squirrels choose to climb down a fallen tree that is leaning against the one they are in, or want to get into. It only makes sense, just like us, it is important that they conserve energy. Now the savvy survivalist can put this information to good use. If we place snares in a fallen tree leaning against another one that shows signs of squirrel activity, there is a good chance we can get a meal out of the deal. If this situation does not readily present itself to you, you can make a trap called a squirrel pole. you only need a couple of supplies. First you need a sturdy piece of deadfall about 10 - 15 feet long. If a deadfall is not available, you can cut down a living sapling which fits the requirements. The next thing you need is some snare wire. This wire needs to be thick enough to hold its shape, and thin enough that it will readily close when the squirrel becomes tangles in it. I prefer 18 - 20 gauge wire for squirrel snares.

Skinning a squirrel: Now that you have caught a squirrel it is time to dress it. Some time ago, a friend of mine showed me a way to quickly skin a squirrel. You start by cutting off the front feet of the squirrel at the first joint, and removing the head at the neck. Now place the squirrel on it's stomach with the rear feet towards you; one on the right, and one on the left. Now lift the tail, and make a shallow 1" incision between the anus and the tail going right to left, or left to right. The important thing is to make sure the incision is side to side. Make sure not to cut into the meat. You will notice three tendons running to the tail, it is important that you completely sever these tendons. It is important that you do not cut into the tail, or remove it from the squirrel. Now place the squirrel on it's back on the ground with the tail facing towards you. Grasp the rear legs, one in each hand, and step on the tail with one of your feet. Now pull up firmly on the legs, and you will pull the squirrel right out of it's skin. You will notice he is still wearing "pants". Simply turn him over, and insert your fingers between the skin of the stomach, and the meat, and pull it firmly off the squirrel. this will leave you with a completely skinned squirrel that does not have any of that pesky difficult to remove hair. With practice this entire process takes less than a minute.

- Wire Snare Wire snares are just as they sound, snare loops or slip knots made of wire attached to a stationary or heavy object like a fence, tree, or log. They are placed on animal runs to catch and hold the animal until the survivalist is able to get there and retrieve the meal. The size of wire used for the snares is dependent upon the type of game you are trying to snare. For rabbits and squirrels one would use a thin gauge wire, while if the intended game was beaver, opossum, or coyote, a heavier gauge wire is definitely called for.

- Spring Pole Traps Spring pole snares are just a variation on the standard wire snare. A bent tree or pole is used to apply tension to the snare wire. When an animal becomes trapped in the snare wire it is lifted off the ground and suspended until the survivalist is able to retrieve the meal. There has been some concern that this is an inhumane manner in which to trap animals. This website is not here to debate the merits of various methods of survival. It is a source for information for those who might find themselves trapped in a situation where they need to secure food until they can be rescued.

- Treadle Snare A treadle snare is a variation on a spring pole snare whereby the snare is not triggered by the animal hitting a single trigger stick. In a treadle snare a small depression is hollowed out in the middle of the animal run, and a mat of multiple sticks is used as the trigger. The treadle is covered with leaves and debris, and the animal has merely to step on any part of the mat of sticks to spring the trap.

- Live Traps A live box trap is constructed from sticks in the fashion of a log cabin. It is usually weighted to ensure the animal cannot crawl under the trap once it is sprung. The trigger mechanism is a figure 4 trigger, consisting of two pivot sticks, and a cross brace trigger. The trigger holds the box in the air. When an animal comes into contact with the trigger, the box is dropped over the animal holding it until the survivalist can dispatch it in a humane manner.

- Deadfalls A deadfall is nothing more than a heavy weight supported by a trigger over a game trail. When an animal comes into contact with the trigger, the weight is dropped onto the animal killing it quickly and humanely. My favorite trigger for a deadfall is the figure 4 trigger. When constructing a deadfall it is important to know what animal you plan to catch. It is generally understood that you create a deadfall from a weight that is approximately 3 times the weight of the intended game. Any more will result in ruining the meat, while any less will not ensure a quick kill.


In practiced hands, a fish spear is highly effective.

Fishing is simply catching fish and other aquatic creatures. While the gear may vary wildly, at it's most basic there are really only two main types of fishing. Let us first examine primitive fishing; primitive fishing methods employ poisons, spears, fish traps, and your bare hands.

Primitive fishing is the most basic type of fishing. It has been used for thousands of years, and with a little practice can still be highly effective today. I cannot begin to tell you how many fish and frogs I have speared. The most important thing to remember in spear fishing is the water distorts the location of the fish. It will appear higher in the water than it actually is. There are a two methods of countering this phenomenon; first, you can aim approximately 6 - 12 inches below the fish. This method takes some trial and error to master. the most accurate way to counter this phenomenon is to leave the tip of your spear just under the surface of the water. This method removes the distortion so that when you thrust the spear at the fish, it is on the right course to put meat on the table. Click here for simple instructions on how to build your own 4 prong spear.

The second form of fishing is modern rod and reel fishing. If you have ever walked through the sporting goods department of your local mega-mart, you know the sky is the limit when it comes to the abundance of gear available for securing seafood for your plate. In the toolbox on my truck I carry a collapsible fishing pole, a small tackle box, and a couple of different artificial baits, such as Berkley's Powerbait grubs, and smelt. These will last for quite a while, and they are both very effective baits. Using a 12" length of 3/4" cpvc pipe, I glued a pipe cap on one end, and an m.i.p. adapter on the other end. Using a triangle file, I made a channel through the threads on one side of the m.i.p. fitting. A pipe cap screwed onto the m.i.p. fitting allows the tackle to be kept securely inside the tube. 25lb test monofilament line is wrapped around the outside of the tube. I simply lie the line in the channel I created, place my hook end inside the pipe, and screw on the end cap.

In a survival situation, you can also make use of fish poisons. There is a long history of indigenous peoples using natural toxins to fish. These toxins typically work by removing the ability of the fish to derive oxygen from the water. There are some that work by stunning the fish. Both cause the fish to float to the surface, where the fisherman can simply scoop them up into a basket. These natural toxins work best in stagnant pools of water, or slow moving streams. To increase their efficacy it may be necessary to dam up a stream. Fish toxins are used by crushing or mashing the material on rocks at the edge of a pool or stream.

Below is a list of plants which are effective fish poisons.

  • Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) - Bark & green husks/hulls
  • Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum L) - Fruit, twigs, buds
  • Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) - Leaves
  • Soaproot (Chlorogalum pomeridianum) - Bulbs
- Fish Trap Fish traps have been used by indigenous peoples for millennia. They can be as complicated and ornate as a live trap woven from reeds, or as simple as a pen style trap made by pushing branches into the bottom of a stream or pond to make a holding pen.

A Pen Style fish trap This graphic shows an aerial view of a pen style trap constructed in a stream or pond. It is built by either driving sticks into the mud of the bottom in the pattern shown. This creates a trough into which the fish swim. When they get into the trap area, they cannot find the opening to get back out, and become trapped. You may be thinking that they can easily find their way back out, but believe me, fish are stupid, they will not be able to find their way back out. Notice how the trough empties into the bottom third of the trap area. This creates two lobed holding areas where the fish will congregate. While this trap will work passively, meaning if you position the opening as illustrated; fish swimming up and down the stream will enter the trap. You can improve your odds considerably by placing bait into the trap area. Bait may include any scraps from meat or fish you catch, or insects. Basically anything you can think of that might attract fish. Once you catch one, use the bones and entrails left over after you clean and eat it. This trap will also work for catching crayfish. One important note about this type of trap; it is important that you leave large enough openings between the sticks to allow for the smell of the bait to be released into the surrounding water, but not to large so as to allow even small fish to swim between the sticks.

This is a picture of a fish basket I wove for a an article I wrote for American Frontiersman magazine. It is approximately 3ft long and 1ft in diameter; it was constructed from willow branches. This design is open at both ends so it can be used to block a stream, or baited to draw fish in. You can also weave a conical shape open only at only one end. A good fish basket can provide a steady source of protein for years to come.

- Crayfish/Minnow/Small Fish Trap A crayfish trap is a highly effective way of adding protein to your diet. Crayfish are abundant in just about every body of water in North America. Various species can also be found throughout the world. It is therefore very important to acquaint yourself with their habits and diet. Armed with this knowledge, and some basic ideas about trap or "pot" construction a survivalist can obtain a true delicacy with very little effort.