Monday, May 24, 2010

Survival Myths Regarding Living Off the Land

The first chapter in my new book, Bug Out: The Complete Plan for Escaping a Catastrophic Disaster Before It's Too Late, is entitled THE FANTASY & THE REALITY OF LIVING OFF THE LAND.  I started the book off with this chapter because I see a huge amount of debate and misinformation about the subject posted all around the Internet in various discussion forums, blogs and websites.  Here's an excerpt from that chapter:

It took a long time for modern humans to progress from Stone Age hunter-gatherers to the creators of an artificial environment almost completely insulated and protected from the uncertainties of nature.
As a result, you cannot expect the transition in the other direction to be much easier. Knowledge has been lost, skills that are necessary to thrive in the wild are difficult to learn, and senses and instincts are dulled by lack of daily use in a world where survival of the fittest is no longer the rule.

Although many people today engage in outdoor pursuits like hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, and canoeing, they often do so with the help of expensive high-tech gear like satellite communication and navigation equipment, sophisticated ultra-lightweight stoves, freeze-dried foods, and clothing and shelter systems made of synthetic fabrics. Unfortunately, much of this equipment will eventually fail and may not be replaceable. This is not a problem in times of normalcy when resupplying or returning to civilization are viable options, but in a SHTF situation, you will far better served by cultivating skills and knowledge.

Our ancestors would be amused, to say the least, at the sight of a modern backpacker struggling along under the weight of a bulky pack almost as large as the bearer. They, like the few remaining bands of
aboriginal people still living in isolated groups today in places like the Amazon Basin and New Guinea, could get by with practically nothing but what could be found in their environment.

To approach the prospect of bugging out into the wilderness from a realistic perspective, you have to strike a balance somewhere between the naked native adept and the overburdened recreational outdoorsman when it comes to equipping yourself for survival. It’s also important to have realistic expectations about what life in the wild will be like, whether it is just for a few days or for a period of weeks or months.

I wrote this for the book because I did not want to mislead total newbies to the idea of outdoor survival that bugging out to the wild to live off the land after SHTF would be a picnic.  It seems that people fall into two categories when discussing this topic - those with Rambo fantasies and no experience who think all they need is a knife and a pocket survival kit, and those who think the only way humans can survive is to have a stockpile of every meal they intend to eat for the next five years or beyond.

The truth, of course, is that humans are incredibly adaptable, which is how we got to where we are now in the first place.  We can adapt to changing conditions, and while many individuals are unable or unwilling to do so, those who have the desire and the right attitude can and will be able to adjust to any living conditions ranging from modern comfort all the way back to primeval hand-to-mouth survival.  Don't ever forget that in the span of human existence, the time of the modern Industrial Age is but a few moments compared to the millennia that our ancestors lived a wild or semi-wild existence adjusted to as needed by changing circumstances.   If you think of this time-span in terms of the hours of a single day - our modern separation from nature began probably in the last hour before midnight - and during the previous 23 hours people lived as hunters and gatherers, subsistence farmers and nomadic herders before the invention of internal combustion engines and long-distance communication.

To suggest that it would be impossible for a modern human to survive in the wild or live off the land is absurd.  Sure, it might be hard, as generations of easy living have dulled our senses and awareness and knowledge that was once taken for granted has been lost.  But we have other advantages to make up for it, at least as long as they last - such as better cutting tools and hunting weapons, easy and portable ways to make fire, stay warm and dry, etc.  And even stripped of these modern implements and materials to make them, we can certainly re-learn the time-tested skills of making our tools from what is found in our environment as our ancestors did,  as many modern hobbyists and primitive skills enthusiasts do today.  For all our sophistication, who knows if we are more intelligent than the "savages" we descended from, but there's certainly no reason to think we are any less so.  If they could live on this planet using only simple resources easily obtained in nature - then at least a few of us can too.  

This is a subject I've been interested in my entire life, going all the way back to when I was seven or so, setting out in the woods behind my parent's house to hunt squirrels with an old Benjamin pellet gun.  I constantly thought about what it would be like to have to hunt to eat and how difficult or easy it would be.  I've experimented with it extensively since those days, in all sorts of environments ranging from the woods and swamps where I grew up hunting in Mississippi to places like tropical seashores and reefs, the North Woods, desert, mountain and jungle habitats.  Each environment has it's unique challenges, of course, and each environment also offers unique resources.  Will there be enough of these resources to feed and shelter everyone pouring out of the cities in an attempt to bug out after a SHTF situation?  Of course not.  But how many of these people do you really think are going to try to bug out and take care of themselves in the first place?  The answer is not very many.  Modern civilized people have been conditioned NOT to think in terms of self-sufficiency.  Instead, they will wait for someone else to come to their rescue, leaving the truly remote and difficult-to-reach uninhabited areas available to those of us who are willing to take our chances there.

If you have any doubts about your wilderness survival skills, now is the time to practice.  Even if you didn't grow up hunting, fishing or foraging for wild edibles, it's never too late to start learning how.  Do this long enough, and your confidence will greatly improve that you can take care of yourself and those dependent upon you if  you are ever put to the test.  Don't be like those who spend their days surfing the Internet for their survival information, echoing what others say by posting on forums about how it would be impossible to survive by bugging out because they personally couldn't do it.  Find out for yourself and prove it by doing.  And all this isn't to say you shouldn't have other preps and perhaps a "bug-in" survival retreat.  There's nothing at all wrong with having more than one plan and back-ups as well - just try to be as ready as possible by being willing to adapt - and willing to stay or go as circumstances dictate.

I'll be posting a lot more on this topic, and I look forward to your comments and questions, and accounts of your own experiences in wilderness survival or living off the land if you have them.


  1. Thats a great post. I'm no where near as experienced with 'living off the land', but have concluded that doing research on what local foods / methods of forage Native Americans used in the area is time well spent. My re-invent the wheel - learning what grows naturally in your area and how to use it is time well spent.

  2. A comment that just came in under "anonymous" disappeared when I attempted to publish it. First time this has happened, but if the original poster sends it again, I'll try to post it - maybe this won't happen again. So far, I have published every comment left on this site, as there has been no spam or such attempted.

  3. 1st anonymous here (same as above your comment sir) - your comment about hunting with Benjamin as a boy reminded me of airguns having a possible use as a BO foraging gun. For one, being non powder, they are legal to carry. They are quiet. Ammunition is extremely compact, even compared to rimfire ammunition. Very little power, but consider that if meat is needed, some type of 'tweety bird' is far more common and be collected with very little trouble. Something like a Crosman 760 or so.

    No big game or self defense, just thinking some meat added to that water sure would be nice in the pot.

  4. Absolutely. Many airguns are powerful enough to be as effective as a .22 rimfire at close range. The old Benjamin I had certainly was. It used the .22 caliber pellets, which as you say, are much more compact than rimfire ammo. I took many a squirrel with mine, along with the occasional rabbit and "tweety bird" as you mention. That pellet gun was like a part of me back then, until I started carrying an old Savage single-shot .20 gauge shotgun.

  5. my name is buck. i like your post, and currently i do own a bug out bag and am an avid outdoorsman. a few years ago between 8th and 9th grade, i got mad at my parents and left home barefoot wearing only jeans and a shirt and a bowie knife on my belt, i was 15. i walked from central florida north to georgia, after i got to georgia, i stayed in the marsh land. like u said, adapting is possible with the right attitude and the right mindset. eating anything tht moves and only using a knife as your tool is real work, and it is hard to do.. but judging from my experience and the knowledge i'd learned, i assume it may be possible to do this again, not sure bout the rest of my life but maybe a few months is possible. but im here to confirm that the human can adapt and overcome to their new environment and surroundings.

  6. Surviving as an individual is "unlikely". As part of a tribe, difficult in the sense that many died before becoming an adult at 14 and many adults died before old age in their 40's. Statistically it can be done and the proof is we are all here thanks to 100,000 years of our ancestors surviving. But that statistical reality does not tell you about the vast majority of people who died young and usually in an ugly way. Most aboriginals who were able to travel all day on foot covering vast distances were quite young; boys or young men. And they had their entire life experience and acclimation to aid them in this struggle. I would recommend as many 21st century "cheats" as you can find to make it possible to beat the odds. But probably after SHTF and you are tested you will fail.

  7. All bets are off with any survival plan after a true SHTF scenario, but I wouldn't say that it's "unlikely" that an individual could survive in the wild. It's just as unlikely that the same individual would survive fending off an assault by attackers holed up somewhere in an urban environment. I would take my chances in the wild, but I agree, take as many 21st century "cheats" as you can. If you fail, you fail - see my recent post about this - but if you don't try you will fail just as surely.

  8. Understand that when I said it is unlikely that you can survive alone as an individual I meant over time. We are talking about years not days. But as I also said statistically many will survive and many more would not. So certainly if we are all still around ten years after the SHTF we could point to individuals who survived all alone but would we even know how many didn't? And therein lies the problem with this speculation. That is in primative times most people died young, even with the support of their tribes and families. But we only hear about what the living did so we cannot intuitively recognize that 90% of indigent people died before their 21st birthday. The wilderness is a tough and unforgiving environment.

  9. I wouldn't dispute any of those points, especially the fact that the wilderness is a tough and unforgiving environment and that after a SHTF lasting that long many more would die than survive. We can only hope something that severe doesn't happen, although anything is possible.

    The point of the post and of the book though is that if some SHTF situation forces you to bug out and in fact have to hide out in the wild, it would be possible if you're prepared to stay out weeks or months until the situation is either resolved or you can possibly band together with other survivors to improve your situation. If there is no alternative because your pre-planned fixed location becomes untenable, then bugging out may be the only option and while risky, it would be preferable to take your chances with it than face a more certain death that some situations might guarantee if you remain.

  10. Right on.... Just got back from a weekend camping trip whereby my buddy and me worked on some skill sets. We put out some snares, tried tracking animals to their water source, tried different fire starting techniques etc. It's easy to read, study, buy stuff and stop there. I finally saw the light. I must practice all the stuff I've been reading about. For example, everyone thinks it's easy to make a fire. It is if all conditions are good. On our camping trip we had rain soaked tinder and firewood. All of a sudden, things change up real quick. I learned that I need to get out, do this stuff and see how well things go. Later I'll be really prepared for situations that constantly change from what we expected.

  11. Scott, just finished reading Bug Out, and I love the book. I have seen one particular reviewer on amazon rate it a 1 star, and funny enough the guy was a fema organizer, and his summation was that your book would get someone killed and relied upon the information that no one that stayed in the superdome during katrina died.
    I would love to debate this "expert" from the government anytime. The fact of the matter is that people in the superdome where days away from dying, had the military not showed up to bail fema's sorry asses out. I urge readers to do some research on FEMA's response to katrina and other disasters and just how inept they are. The poster recommends basically to be herded into a confined space and wait for the government to save you. Oh it had problems in the first attempt, well just make the machine bigger and fund it more with wasteful spending on a bloated bureaucracy of more inept experts and we'll protect you from cradle to grave with no worries. It is this persons idea of help which is why we are in the situation we are in now, and why I believe 75% or more of the people in the US will die in a catastrophic emergency. The poster also alluded that if we follow your advice we would surely die. Well, not once do I recall your book being an a-z step manual of what to do. I do remember you saying to start with basic equipment, research, TEST the equipment out on camping and controllable non threatening situations and adjust equipment accordingly, basically prepare! The poster pretty much disregarded the fact that in my area (south louisiana) cajuns survived by being hardened and living off the land, and that it is that basic trait of a proud people that is still engrained and drummed into the youth by responsible parents that will give them a better shot at surviving those types of situations presented than on any government recommendations, and a hell of a lot better chance on "wait for FEMA to save you."
    Thanks again, God Bless.

    1. No need to waste precious time debating this FEMA person. When the SHTF, he/she won't survive anyway. The majority of Americans who have the "herd mentality" won't survive, either. When times are good and resources are plentiful, their "cradle-to-grave" entitlement demands can be met. They're value to the government is in their votes. When the SHTF, they will be abandoned as they will no longer be valuable when the government collapses.

      My husband and I firmly believe we will have the best chance of survival if we head to the back country, keep a low profile and travel alone.

  12. Thank you for you comment, and I'm glad that you're one of the readers who understood the point of the book and the importance of self-reliance and responsibility for one's own survival. As you correctly stated, I've always emphasized the importance of testing gear and skills in advance of when they are needed and then selecting the equipment that works best for you in your environment.

    I'm aware of the reviewer (and self-proclaimed expert) you speak of, and I have to wonder why guys like this are wasting their time writing 1-star reviews of books they hate when they could instead be writing their own books and sharing all that knowledge they have to enlighten the rest of us.

    You're absolutely right that the Cajun people in south Louisiana know how to live off the land, and many of us here in neighboring Mississippi do as well. Why some people simply refuse to believe that anyone can do it is beyond my comprehension. Feel free to drop by Amazon again and leave your own opinion as you have stated here. I'm always glad to hear from folks like you who have direct experience with these situations like Katrina and are not basing everything they believe or say on "theory."

  13. Out of curiosity, and I don't know if it's been covered, what are you views on a timeline scenario? My friend and I were discussing how most sheeple would do nothing immediately because they've become so desensitized. Others may be in shock, others in denial the first week many would wait for FEMA, and that it may take two weeks before the panicky urbanites even think to take their Swiss Army knives into the woods to presumably attempt to hunt down a boar with their bare hands and be quite surprised their pork does not come packaged in plastic.

    Obviously it depends upon the severity but I'm thinking stores sell out in 2-days, average people hole up for 2 weeks, maybe more, most survivalists have already left or barricaded themselves in, 4 weeks some urbanites moving to the countryside and then after, Oh I hope not, It's pretty much violence and WTF.

    I think I mostly fear Martial Law and the looters, definitely the prisoners getting out. Which is one reason we chose not to consider a piece of BOL property recently, close vicinity to a correctional facility, 66 miles by road to be exact. Less as the crow flies but over a 7,700 ft foothill mountain range Inbetween point A and B, but I'm not taking chances.

    So my question, what's a general timeline of breakdown. Oh, and what do you find be the biggest threat in theory?

    1. Generally the time line is one day closer each and every passing day, so the sooner you get ready the better your chances of surviving longer get, if you plan well enough you can die of old age,,,every body on earth is terminal and will die of something, it just a matter of when

  14. People believe that no one can live with the land because: they have been told so; they can not do it so no one else can; they are afraid of others who are independent, think for themselves and do not follow the herd, and are more capable than they themselves are.
    I have never considered it particularly hard but it does require effort. I think it much easier than working the typical job that is required to live in society. I haven't read your book but I intend to. I like the way you think, you politically incorrect thinker.

    1. I couldn't have summed up the current thinking in our country better than you did. It's a defeatist attitude. No one can excel as an individual. Everyone must be a "team player" and stay with the herd or scary things will get you.

      I grew up in the inner city of Chicago. I don't know how to hunt or fish and I have only recently learned how to trap rodents and identify edible plants. However, what I DID learn was how to hide. Hiding from constant threats to my life and safety allowed me to grow up. Others were not so lucky.

      I'm nearly 70 now and live at the edge of a vast forested area in the Rocky Mountains. I'm no longer threatened by humans but I still instinctively look for places in the woods to hide.

      I may never be able to bring down a deer but I know how to trap gophers and squirrels and have acquired a wealth of knowledge of local edible plants. I'm not worried. In fact, I welcome the challenge.


Genuine comments are welcome. Spammers, don't waste your time. Your attempts to post links to any other site will be deleted.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Popular Posts