Friday, December 10, 2010

More on Survival Hunting and Food Gathering

I spent most of the day last Saturday canoeing with my long-time camping and adventure-travel buddy, Ernest Herndon.  We went to a large national forest lake here in south Mississippi mainly just to get out on the water for a few hours, but also because I wanted to shoot some footage for a video I plan to post here soon, in which Ernest demonstrates a simple paddling technique that makes long-distance travel in a canoe much more feasible and less exhausting.  I'll have that video live here as soon as I have time to edit it.

Out on the lake, as we explored the hidden coves that reach like fingers into the wooded hills of the surrounding national forest, we saw a wide array of waterfowl coming and going, as well as deer and squirrel activity within sight of the water.  Our conversation turned to survival hunting, as Ernest had read my last post here and we talked then about the different methods so many people use to achieve the same end, namely putting meat in the freezer

With over 30 years experience as a newspaper reporter in south Mississippi, including covering the local hunting and fishing reports and writing a weekly outdoor page for the Sunday Edition, Ernest has seen about every technique imaginable and has spend lots of time in the woods, swamps and fields with some incredibly skilled outdoorsmen.   Most of these guys he knows are the kind I mentioned before that probably never read survival books yet have a knack for finding and getting their game when most everyone else comes up empty handed.  They range from some local backwoodsmen who probably don't read any books at all to the highly-educated, like Ernest's own son, who is a doctor but also one of the most avid and skilled hunters I've ever met.  Anyone who has done a lot of hunting and fishing has seen the type.  The conversation reminded me of a hard-drinking surveyor I used to work with who each day after work would walk the banks of a lake near the job with a rod and reel and one specific artificial lure, and come back near dark with a plastic garbage bag full of bass.  This in the same lake where my brother and I rarely got a strike.  The same guy was equally proficient with getting deer during hunting season.

Discussing characters like this, especially the ones Ernest has accompanied and interviewed over the years, led us to more conversation about alternative methods of game and fish gathering that are rarely discussed in a survival context.  Take hand-grabbing for instance:  This involves wading along the shores of a creek or lake and reaching into holes to grab catfish that are laying up there.  People who are good at this can get far more fish than they can eat in a very short time, but again, there's a knack to it that some have while most of us would have to work a lot harder at it.  It's all about knowing how and where to look.  The same goes for setting out drop hooks in the local creek, building fish weirs or rigging snares and traps.  We also talked about frog-gigging, shining beavers, alligator, rabbit and deer at night, and even killing armadillos with a stick, if you were desperate and couldn't find anything else.  

When the conversation turned to the optimum firearms to take in a survival situation, as these discussions always seem to do, Ernest expressed his thoughts on shotguns, which would be his first choice because of versatility with a variety of loads.  He said the weight and bulk issues of the ammunition could be mitigated somewhat by choosing a smaller bore, like a 20 gauge, and that he would prefer the simplicity of a single or double-barrel over a pump or automatic.  Knowing that if Ernest actually had to bug out someday he would do so in a canoe along a local stream, I could find no fault with his choice of weapon because in a canoe he could carry all the ammo he wanted and in the thick cover around here, the shotgun would sure make it easier to harvest squirrels and most other game.  I grew up learning to hunt with a Savage singe-shot 20 gauge myself, and later switched to a .22 for small game before acquiring a variety of rifles in different calibers.

As a result of this conversation, Ernest decided to poll some local experienced hunters regarding their choice of a survival firearm and got a variety of answers, with many favoring 12-gauge shotguns, and few opting for a 20-gauge, a .22 rifle, a .22 revolver with interchangeable .22 Magnum cylinder, and one preferring a .17 HMR rifle. 

Another interesting topic of this conversation we had regarding survival hunting concerned what we have seen in our travels in various parts of the world.  Ernest went on two expeditions into the interior of New Guinea back in the 1980's, including visiting a village in the mountainous jungles there where the people still hunted with bows and arrows and wore bones through their noses. He wrote a book about it called In The Hearts Of Wild Men.  In New Guinea at that time, he also encountered various subsistence hunters that used shotguns, while crocodile hunters were still using spears.  Later, in the 1990's, we traveled together in both the jungle areas and drier mountain areas of Honduras and encountered both Miskito Indians and campesinos who hunted every kind of animal in the region with .22 rifles.  Lucio, our host at a remote ranch near the El Salvador border even used his .22 to shoot fish when we approached a stream and claimed to have killed over 200 deer with his well-worn and rusty Marlin Model 60.

The conclusion we came to is that you use what you have and what you feel comfortable with.  When we stopped for lunch and Ernest broke out his banjo to pick some blues, I decided maybe he won't have to hunt after all in a post-apocalyptic world!  People are still going to need entertainment after the lights go out, and what could be better than some banjo blues by a campfire out in the backwoods?  I recorded one of his tunes for YouTube and thought I would share it here too:  


  1. That was a great post. I've been a hunter for over 40 years now, but never as a 'subsistence hunter'. I don't count the times I've spent a weekend with 'eat only things we kill NOW', missing a meal now and again won't hurt you. In point of fact, it sharpens your senses, amazing how missing a rabbit this time disappoints you much more.

    Looking forward to seeing video - thanks again for the post.

  2. When I was a boy in Missouri a long time ago we called that noodling. My dad was good at it. Big catfish from holes in the bank. Used to wrestle those big 'uns for hours. Well, maybe not hours.

    Good post!

    Mountain rifleman

  3. Scott -

    Good post. What your friend said made a lot of sense. Shotgun - I don't think you can really go wrong.
    I have never been much into fishing - although I would like to change that. Need to find someone to take me. As a kid used to "fish" at a local pond for hours but never caught anything. I think it was some of the most fun I ever had just spending time with friends. Never tried actually grabbing a fish though.

    Take care -


  4. There's a documentary about noodling for cat fish and the culture around it in Oklahoma.

  5. Y'can spash around in a creek or spillway and this will make the fish hide up under the bank, reach up under the bank VERY softly and feel the fish, if you are careful and feel them with a super soft touch they wont spook, slowly put one hand over thier nose and at the same time sorta make your other hand come around their tail you can then clamp down and throw them on the bank. I thionk they thinkn your hands if done right are just moss or roots , used to do it as a youngun in N GA. in Armuchee, fell a snake you'cn back off if you want but a turtle do same as if feeling'em barfoot, see which way their ridges on their shells run to know which is the bisness end! yehaw.....Sincerely
    Rastus McGee

  6. Oh yeah..the reach undwer the bank's for warm weather... don't forget the fish baskets, they fish while your away!....Sincerely
    Rastus McGee


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