Survival Hunting: How to Eat in the wild?

A bunch of friends, a couple of well-oiled hunting rifles waiting to be used outside the range, and a bottle of bourbon for around tonight’s campfire.

A hunting trip to the woods is the dream of many, but where are your friends, guns, drinks, and cozy log cabin when your plane crashes in the wilderness, and you have to survive, hunt and gather with nothing but your bare hands? Will the inner caveman or woman arise and remember what to do in this most basic mode of survival?

Unless a variety of fruits, nuts and wild vegetables are available in abundance, hunting for food can be an essential skill to ensure your body gets enough protein to survive harsh and demanding circumstances in the wilderness. So, how to find food when you’re lost and stranded in a remote forest or in the mountains?

How to go about survival hunting?

When I think about hunting, I first think deer, wild boar and maybe a rabbit or two. While the latter could be considered, the first two are huge and require great skill and knowledge on processing it (because who’ll eat an entire pig in a day?). The most practical and available sources of protein are the smaller animals like fish, birds, amphibians, even invertebrates and, indeed, small game such as our hares and rabbits.

Did I mention grubs? You don’t need sophisticated weaponry to catch these animals, and, once you get the hang of it, are easier to catch since their numbers are big.

Which animals are edible?

It’s your lucky day, because all mammals are edible. In survival mode, you can consider everything that moves to be your next meal, such as geese, marmots, jackrabbits, raccoons, squirrels, and beavers.

The more outside the box you manage to think, the quicker you’ll adapt to the all-or-nothing situation you may find yourself in. Cause in the end, lizards and worms may be easier to catch than woodcocks, pheasants, quails, or grouses. Keep in mind that some of these could be poisonous, so learn how to prepare them.

How to catch small game for survival?

You can stand outside a rabbit hole with a rock for ten long hours, only to realize it has another exit elsewhere. Now, while you still have the chance to learn a thing or two about survival (why else would you be reading this?), get up to speed on small game hunting. Knowledge on behavioral patterns of widely found small animals could be your lifesaver out there.

The more you understand about their diet, food timings, moving habits and habitat, the easier it will be to catch one.

The smaller, the better?

If a Disney-lion can survive on grubs, crustaceans, and critters, so can we! 

Disney-lion can survive on grubs
Disney-lion can survive on grubs

Just snatch those yummy silkworms, grasshoppers and caterpillars from the ground or improvise a net from a piece of cotton to catch them. Find more potential snacks underneath logs and rocks or below the ground.

The same goes for invertebrates found in ponds, lakes and streams. Look underneath rocks or, when they’re bigger, catch them straight from the water.

All these little guys should be cooked thoroughly to prevent getting sick from the potentially deadly parasites and other microorganisms they can carry.

How to catch fish without tools?

Pretty frustrating to be hungry and see shoals of fish in the water below you, with only your clumsy bare hands and no fishing gear. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to improvise and still have your fish barbecue.

Scoop ‘em

Wanna munch on fresh fish like a grizzly? Then be like a grizzly! In rich waters, all it can take is some patience and a swift and strong move of the hand to either catch it or to scoop it out of the water.

Spear ‘em

In shallow waters, spearfishing can be tried with a sharpened stick. 

Trap ‘em

A fish trap doesn’t have to be very fancy. There are many, many ways to trap fish. You can make traps from a plastic bottle, twigs, stones, or anything basket-like. One that caught my eye recently, is a simple method that requires you to dig a small hole beside a stream of running water.

Then you dig a small channel towards it in the upstream direction, so that water flows in, but block it with rocks so that only water, but no fish can pass through. Then, dig another channel, about the width of your hand, in the downstream direction. 

When you disturb the water in the pond, small fish will be attracted to this movement. As soon as some of them have gathered in the hole, shut off their exit with a larger rock and scoop them out of the water. This can be repeated until enough have been caught. You can also use the smaller ones as bait for larger fish.

Another way is to build a construction of sticks, pinned into and rising above the water, and trying to channel fish into it. How effective these methods will be all depends on the current, the type of fish and your patience.

Hook ‘em

Though a bit more sophisticated, the woods provide lots of materials to make hooks of. From sharp pieces of wood to thorns and even pieces of bone. Line material can be made from animal sinew, hair, cotton, or can even be plant-based. If you can’t find any worms or other critters to put on the hook, go for something shiny or even feathers and fur.

How to hunt without a gun?

Unless you happen to be an expert bow-maker, you may have to rely on somewhat more primitive methods, such as rocks and sticks. All other weapons, cool as they might be, will take quite some time to make and master.

This can be done as a side project, but as you might be in need of food before being an atlatl-master, it’s best to start simple.

How to prepare game?

No Bordeaux-sauce or seasoning at hand? Well, then we’ll just have it as it is, shall we? Most types of small game are not to be eaten rare, so remember to cook it very, very well.

You cannot afford to get sick now, as vomiting will rob you of your precious vital energy and wastes your preciously caught food. When cooking rabbit or other lean types of meat, it should be cooked together with its fatty skin, brain, and liver, otherwise you won’t be able to take in the protein.

How to catch reptiles and amphibians?

Plenty of cultures eat amphibians and reptiles. Think French frog legs, Mexican iguana stew or alligator jerky from Florida. Many of these slippery guys are actually fine to eat, though the meat has to be cooked thoroughly. 

Recipe: snake à la forest

Here’s how to deal with your most dangerous meal: a poisonous snake (served with some imaginary Cajun seasoning and make-believe red wine sauce): 

  1. Cut the head off at a safe distance from its head. 
  2. Rinse out the guts.
  3. Skin the snake properly.
  4. If you find any unborn baby snakes, remove them without touching or cutting them, as their venom sacks are already active. 
  5. After skinning, cut the meat into pieces.
  6. Cook it very well. 
  7. Bon appétite!

Turtles and bullfrogs also need to be scrubbed, gutted, skinned, and cooked properly. Impatience in these steps could cost you dearly when you’re out there on your own.

How to forage in survival situations?

Sounds kind of romantic, right? To head into the woods, just like our prehistoric ancestors, and come back with berries, mushrooms, edible roots, and fruits. The only difference: they knew what they were doing. We sadly lost this knowledge in favor of industrialized farming and living in concrete boxes. Each to their own, they would think, but, in our defense, it is much easier to just grab a box of blueberries at the supermarket than to spend two hours gathering them. Also, less chance to encounter a sabertoothed tiger at Walmart, right?

Frequently found edible plants in the Northern Hemisphere are chicory, clover, dandelion, passion vine, chickweed, cattail, wild mustard, wild onions, and asparagus. Learn to identify these, as well as which berries and mushrooms are edible. The latter two can be poisonous, so make sure you really know without a trace of doubt.

How to know unknown food is safe?

When in doubt, go for my simplified version of the 13-step edibility test. 

Edibility Test:

Follow these steps with ten minutes in between to see the effects. If no rash or other reaction happens, move onto the next step:

  1. First rub the potential food against your wrist, then hold a small amount against your lips, after that let it touch your tongue, then chew without swallowing and keep it in your mouth. Lastly, swallow a small amount.
  2. Ideally, wait for 8 hours to see if any strange reaction occurs before eating another small portion of the food.
  3. If still nothing happened, you should be good to go. 
  4. In any case, it’s always better to boil your food prior to eating.

Can you eat meat raw in emergency situations?

The short answer to this question is yes, because, as long as the meat is fresh, it’s way better to get parasites than to starve to death. Most experts say it’s unlikely to die of eating fresh game. Your stomach acids do a good job at killing most worms and parasites. Make sure to butcher the animal carefully, throwing out the guts and inspecting the meat for fecal matter or visible parasites. 

However, if you’re exposed to raw meat for a longer period of time, you might get in trouble.

Theoretically, after a few days, worms can mess up your system and induce nausea, heartburn, vomiting and diarrhea. Trichinosis, one of the nastier types of roundworm infection, can cause death if untreated. However, if I had to choose between actual starvation and the risk of infection, I’d take the risk.

What tools to make for primitive hunting?

There are many options our Flintstone ancestors provided us with. Visit your local prehistoric museum for inspiration or go for one of my favorite Stone Age hunting devices: the atlatl.

This primitive stone-thrower has been around for at least 20,000 years all over the world. Somehow, the Aztec name stuck. Atlatls come in polished store-bought versions with fingerholes in them, or can be carved out of a solid piece of wood. It takes some practice, but over time, it’ll give your spear throwing skills a lot more power, speeding it up to about 90 miles an hour. 

How to trap for food?

Human history provides us with plenty of methods for trapping animals. A classic example is the pit trap:

  1. Find a trail where animals pass frequently. This will be clear from droppings, tracks and trampled vegetation. 
  2. Try to identify the type, or at least the size of the animal, as you need a differently sized pit trap for a hare than for a deer.
  3. Dig a pit deep and wide enough for the animal you’re aiming for.
  4. Place sharpened sticks at the bottom.
  5. Cover the pit with a grill structure of sticks and branches.
  6. Cover your grill with leaves, grass, and branches.
  7. Wait patiently and dig another few.
  8. Inspect them routinely.

No water? Don’t hunt!

Don’t eat if you’re out of water. Water is always your first priority, as digestion of food takes quite a lot of water. If not replenished, this could cause dehydration, which is one of the main causes of death in survival situations.

If there’s no other choice, animal blood can be drank, as we learned in our sea survival story. But remember that the amount of effort it can take to catch an animal will probably cost you precious fluids.


With some knowledge about animal behavioral patterns, edible plants and primitive hunting techniques, you stand a good chance at feeding yourself in the wilds in case of emergency. Don’t be picky and become part of the cycle. Out there, it’s eat or perish (and be eaten by the critters you refused to eat). 


[1] Edibility Test.

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