The Fallacy of Living Off the Land


There’s a lot of information floating around the prepping and survival community about bugging out and living off the land. Countless books and articles have been written, talking about bushcraft skills and providing diagrams on how to construct snares. All of that is good information to learn; but that doesn’t mean that you should even think about trying to live off the land.

The idea of living off the land is an old one, going back to the discovery and settling of this nation. The Native Americans largely lived off the land, hunting and gathering, although there were some tribes which had cultivated crops before the white man reached these shores.

While the early European settlers came from predominantly agricultural societies, they weren’t opposed to hunting and gathering to augment their harvests. While there is little information about the earliest settlers having any sort of livestock on their farms, it is clear that they hunted, eating what they killed. This continued on through the time of the westward expansion, as the country grew.

Mountain men, wagon trains and trail drives all counted on eating meat they hunted, although they packed food along with them. But fresh venison or bison was a big improvement over the salt pork or bacon of the day.

Back then, game was plentiful. There was more game to hunt, than there were hunters looking for it. While you might not bag a deer every day, you could bag one often enough that you wouldn’t starve.

So What’s the Problem Today?

But the total US population in 1870 was some 38 million people, just a bit over a tenth of what it is today. This meant there were only 11.2 people per every square mile of this great land of ours. With how much empty land there is in this country today, can you imagine how empty it was back then, especially in the states which were just being settled or weren’t settled yet?

Not only were there a whole lot less people back then, but there was a whole lot more game to hunt. That was the time when buffalo hunting was at its peak, reducing the great herds totaling 50 to 60 million animals almost to extinction. Today, there are only half a million bison and roughly 30 million deer in the entire United States.

Considering that there are something like 100 million hunters in the US, there clearly aren’t enough deer or bison to feed even the active hunters, let alone all the other people who will turn to hunting, looking for food when there isn’t any available in the grocery stores. While there are about 94.8 million cattle in the country, those are owned by ranchers who I am sure will be trying hard to protect their herds from rustlers, even rustlers who are just trying to fill their empty bellies.

The fact of the matter is, there aren’t enough animals to kill, in order to feed our entire population, even if we consider domestic animals. Each year, the US imports over a billion pounds of meat, in addition to the millions of animals which are slaughtered in the various packing houses across the country.

Part of the problem is how much our population has grown, compared to how little land is still available for wild animals to live in. But that’s not all the problem. Unlike the American Indians, who used every part of an animal, people who are going to be killing animals for food in a survival situation will be wasting a lot of the meat, let alone the rest of the animal. Few will have the ability or the knowledge to properly butcher the animal’s carcass and process the meat, preserving it. So they’ll eat off it for a few days and then let the rest rot where it lies.

There are Exceptions

The figures I’ve just given are based on the entire country. But those animals are not spread out evenly across all 50 states. Nor are the people who would be hunting them. By and large the states with the highest population of wild game are going to be states with the lowest populations. So there may be some possibility of those people being able to augment their food supplies by hunting, even though they probably won’t be able to get enough to live off of.

As a general rule of thumb, small game are usually more prevalent than large game, due to their higher reproduction rates and shorter gestation times. While they don’t provide as much meat as large game do, the availability of these animals makes it more logical to hunt them, using snares and traps which can be left unattended, than spending a lot of time hunting for large game.

Even then, a considerable amount of experience is needed for successfully trapping small game. One of the biggest needs is to locate the snare properly, in a place where the desired animals are likely to go. Many a snare has been set in places where no animal even saw it, excerpt perhaps at a distance. The other thing is the need for bait. If you can find what the animals are eating, such as wild berries, and place some of them in the trap, it will draw the animals in.

It is usually easier to find edible plants, than it is to find wildlife to kill. However, some plants or parts of plants are poisonous. So it is necessary to have a good understanding of what plants are edible and under what conditions they can be eaten. Some are fine raw, but not cooked, while others need to be cooked in order to make them safe to eat.

Always make sure you have a good guide to edible plants, that’s specific to your part of the country, loaded in your bug out bag or survival kit. Electronic versions, loaded on your cell phone are just as good, as long as you have enough battery power to keep the phone working. Most solar phone chargers don’t provide enough, so make sure you select one carefully.