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Why ‘Living Off The Land’ Won’t Work In A Crisis

living off the land crisis

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As the prepper movement has grown, I’ve heard more and more people talk about bugging out and living off the land. On one hand, I can understand that. Preppers tend to identify with the pioneering spirit that settled this land and fueled the westward expansion. There’s a lot of similarity between the character of the modern prepper and the people who settled this country; both are the rugged individualists who don’t depend upon society.

With that in mind, it’s natural to think of living off the land. There’s a certain romance in the idea of reliving the lives that those early Americans lived. We tend to forget that they lived very hard lives, with a lot of hard work and that many succumbed to sickness, Indian attacks and the dangers of living in a wild country.

While I am susceptible to the same dreams, I have to season them with reality. As much as I’d like to ride off into the sunset as a hero in a Louis L’Amour novel, I have a family to consider. My responsibility to them trumps my desire to climb on a horse and see what’s over the next mountain. Any survival plans I make must take them into consideration — including their needs, their faults and their weaknesses.

I’ll have to say, those pioneers that we so desire to emulate were much tougher people than you and me. The luxuries of our modern society have made us soft. There are few today who could plow a field with a horse drawn plow from sunup to sunset. Don’t bother bragging about how tough you are and how much time you spend in the gym; those pioneers could still put you and I to shame.

Living in the wild is hard; there’s no two ways about it. While I enjoy getting out in nature and even camping, I’m enough of a realist to see that I probably couldn’t survive if I had to stay out there, pulling my sustenance out of the land around me. I have enough trouble just growing a vegetable garden.

That’s why I always recommend staying at home and bugging in, rather than bugging out. Oh, I have my bug-out bag, just like everyone else does. My backpack is filled with all sorts of fancy camping and survival equipment and five days worth of food (three isn’t enough). But that doesn’t mean that I’m planning on living out there in the wild. I’ve got that stuff so that I can survive traveling though the wild to get to my final bug-out location.

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Unless you have a prepared bug-out location, which is fully stocked and ready to go, bugging out and living in the wild may be the end of you. I say living off the land is almost impossible because I have looked at the facts. Although I am no longer an avid hunter or fisherman, I grew up doing both. Should I need to, I am sure that those skills are still there, buried in the back of my mind. The bigger problem would be getting my wife to eat the deer that I just brought home and butchered. Unless she was really hungry, she wouldn’t even touch it.

What We Can Learn From US History

When the eastern seaboard of what is now the United States was first settled, wild game was plentiful. American Indians and settlers alike were able to get all the meat they needed by hunting. You don’t see ranching as part of the early colonization of New England, even though they started farming to raise crops right away. Even in the early 1800s, cattle were worth more for their hides and tallow, than they were for the meat.

It wasn’t until after the Civil War that the cattle industry really took off, with the expansion of the railroad and the beginning of the great Texas cattle drives. At that time (the 1860s), the country’s population was 31 million people and had reached the point where not enough cattle could be raised in the east to meet people’s needs.

Even in the 1880s, when buffalo hunting on the Great Plains was in full swing, the purpose of those hunts was to get hides, not to get meat. The meat from all those bison was usually left to rot, once the hide had been taken.

Okay, so what does the cattle business have to do with wild game? The cattle business was slow to take off because before people ate wild game meat. It wasn’t until the population reached a point where the wild game population couldn’t feed the country that the cattle business really took off.

Is There Enough Wild Game Today?

So, the cattle industry took off when the population of the country was less than a tenth of what it is today. Up until that time, there was enough wild game to feed people; at least, to provide them with meat. While I can find no accurate records to use to compare wild game populations in the 1860s to today, I am sure of one thing; there’s less wildlife today then there was back then.

If a major crisis were to hit the United States, disrupting our food supplies, there would be a lot of people out there hunting, licensed or not. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 13.7 million hunters and 33.1 million anglers took to the fields in 2011. I think we can fairly say that these are the experienced hunters and fisherman who will be out looking for a meal after the crisis. This number would be far surpassed by the number of inexperienced people who will be out there. There isn’t enough game out there for all those people to kill.

The real danger isn’t that there won’t be enough game for everyone to hunt and fish, but the number of people who will be out there trying to do so. The experienced hunters won’t be able to find any game, because of the inexperienced hunters that will scare it all off. They’re only chance will to be go way into the backwoods, where the newbies won’t try. Hunters will get frustrated. Tempers will flare. Anger and guns are a poor mix.

I can easily see where this will go. Those hunters who manage to kill game will be faced by a bigger challenge — that of getting their game home with their own hide intact. Desperate people do desperate things, and some of those desperate people may just decide that it’s easier to hunt the hunters, than to try and hunt the game.

No matter how it turns out, it seems to me that expecting to live off the land, while a nice dream, is only that… a dream. Maybe tilling a vegetable garden and raising chickens isn’t as exciting or romantic, but it’s a lot safer and you’re a lot more sure of having something to eat for dinner.

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23 comments

  1. Personally I’ve never considered bugging out. Where would I go with my family. I’ve read posts that say ” you will not be welcomed by us, so don’t bug out to here”. If we had to leave our home it would probably be as a refuge and survival getting away from fighting. You say it won’t happen here. It did before and can happen again. As in Nam I believe it will come to defense and that I can do…God Bless

    • You can come up to my place in Colorado,,, but it is cold up here!!
      I could always use a good hand, and the winter up here will keep those who aren’t really serious out of here!!
      Like the bible says,, “And a remnant shall survive in the Mountains..”
      Uhh,, that’s me!!

      The Col

    • OLD VET: Funny, in the last article about defending your home your answer was to retreat and run from your home and leave all your supplies. Which is it?

  2. My thoughts exactly, I too have a bug out bag ready to go for each member of my family but since we are in a rural area already I really don’t see the need unless it is a natural or man made disaster(nuclear, etc). The local deer population would be toast once the food trucks stop moving and so would the fish numbers in the local lakes(we have over a 1000 lakes in my county alone). Without DNR management, wildlife would be decimated quickly. We all need to prepare.

  3. Good grief ! what you have written is a total recipe for getting people herded into fema camps ! You are the most irresponsible writer i have ever had the displeasure to read , a real outdoorsman turned liberal progressive if i ever read one . You are totally off the mark, rethink your thoughts. My family and I can /will bug out at a moments notice , and SURVIVE quite well. As will hundreds of other families, that don’t listen to your drivel. I for one have been practising outdoor survival for my entire life, i teach , i do , you sir have no idea what you are talking about .

    • The author of this piece actually makes a valid point. It is not only those who know what they are doing who will take to the bush, it will also be the clueless idiots and the various criminal trash once things run out in the cities.

      All he is saying is they the hunter-zag there’s lifestyle will not be enough to sustain everyone. And once an area is hunted or fished clean, then what? Migrate and strip bare another piece do real estate? As time goes on, hunting, gathering and fishing forays will have to go out further and be out longer, making each less profitable than the last.

      And eventually,,the desperate folks and the criminals will indeed realize that Greywolf has a cabin out there and he doesn’t seem to go hungry. So they will watch and either try to kick in your door at what-the-$@&#-o’clock or, even easier, wait until you come back from a foraging trip, are nice and tired and they will ambush you at the most vulnerable part of your little trip.

      All the author is advising is how one should redefine their living off the land paradigm to agriculture and animal husbandry instead of hunting and gathering in order to avoid these pitfalls, not herding anyone into concentration camps.

      • VERY well said, Canadian Vet!

        While I am a firm believer in the “bugging in” scenario, one needs certain kinds of neighbors in order to pull that off. And for people like me who currently live around people who are clueless, selfish, or even criminally inclined, bugging in just isn’t feasible.

        But where to bug out to – especially when one doesn’t have $$$$ for a rural retreat?

        LOTs of difficult questions here.

  4. @Canadian,,, This process will self correct. I worked with NORTHCOM doing scenarios,,, if the “power goes out” in the US,,, within 6 months almost 35% of the population will be dead. Mostly in the cities. Those bedraggled souls that eek their way out to my cabin will well fed and watered MOUNTED Cavalry,,, that is, if they can somehow scale the mountains without food and water.

    EVERYONE!! Pay close attention,, if you can feed and water yourself for 30 days!! You will be head and shoulders above those who don’t or cant,,, Stop watching Hollywood!!! That isn’t real or even reality!!

    The govt plan called the COG plan (continuity of govt) plans for 6 months underground,,, be smart and plan for a year!! If you can live and be healthy for a year (WATER is the key) then you will be GIANTS among men. But rest assured you will be tested!!
    The Col

    • I do not disagree with your longer-term assessment but in the short term is where most of the damage to the fish, game and other edibles will happen. And anyone who lives within 3 says walk from a major centre will be at risk from the desperate and the criminal, and there is no defined range for those who will resort to be marauders for their survival. These types will be like a cross between locusts and Vikings, going from place to place and stripping it bare by force and then moving on and they will be reasonably well-supplied with food, water, fuel, arms and ammunition, making them a serious threat.

      Only these more isolated locations or those that are extremely hard to get to will have a reasonable level of safety from these.

      However, I do not necessarily buy the extremity of the die-off you are mentioning. Yes, millions will die from starvation, dehydration, exposure, violence, ignorance and stupidly but one must never sell short the human desire to live ingenuity or brutality. Or, for that matter, the duration do the crisis.

      Perhaps the powers that be will be in a bunker for 6 months but it could take years to bring things back to normal after the fact. And those places that will be the first up and running again will be the seats of power (ie: DC/Camp David) and strategic facilities like refineries, power plants and rail yards. Small towns and the sticks will be very far down the list of priorities. So one MUST plan for a sustainable source of food. And hunting and gathering aren’t a long-term solution as eventually the animal will realize the area around your retreat isn’t safe for them. So whether you resort to aquaponics, agriculture or raising livestock is up to you but relying solely on stored foods or hunting will lead you to starvation, although it will only be a matter of how long it will take. However, I am not saying hunting won’t be a good way to supplement your diet and stretch out your stores, just that it is not likely to be a viable long term course of action.

      • @Canadian Vet
        Assuming you still do, aren’t you glad you live in Canada? In the case of this happening, a place like northern or even central Ontario is basically a massive food source, at least from my understanding. I agree that it will be harder in the areas closer to the cities, but one of the things about that is the people in the cities must be avid sports people to really know where to go for the fish or the game. Most will just concede to living off of vegetation and quite a few will probably end up poisoning themselves. I think the 35% number will be significantly higher personally. Just my opinion.

  5. No one talks about the obvious food source readily available to the desperate hungry masses: people. It’s going to get really ugly. Be prepared for the worst.

  6. Lots of good points on surviving what is surely coming. Having retired {retarded ?} back to the sticks a few years ago, we plan to ‘bug in’ if need be, do have a good place for it and prepare for that. I do study on plans B and C, just in case. Despite an over-abundance of wildlife here, should the cities empty out the critters would disappear fast. Most of us would play hell, just taking to the woods, trying to survive. Was raised and skillfully taught by folks who grew up in the earlier part of the 20th century, they were a whole lot tougher than I am now.

  7. J.McDonald Knives

    While I agree with a lot of what was said in both the post and the comments, one crucial point has yet to be said. If you are bugging in and have a garden and chickens/sheep/etc, I find that it would be much easier for marauders and criminals who don’t know how to hunt/fish/gather to steal from your camp. Its much easier to steal from a garden and from a pen containing farm raised animals than it would be to steal from a hunter out in the woods. Us hunters are always listening to our surroundings to listen for predators and wild game. It makes it hard for thieves to sneak up on a hunter because they for one don’t know how to walk quietly in the woods and the slightest sounds can be heard from hundreds of yards away because there are no buildings to block the sound and it would just echo off the trees. And no one has even thought about the fact that wild pigs are just about everywhere and very plentiful. A wild pig can breed once they are 8months old and can breed every 6 months and have a litter of up to 20 piglets. 1 pig can produce up to around 40 pigs a year and the first litter can produce up to 400 pigs total. So 1 pig within 1 year after being able to reproduce can bring up to another 440 pigs all together. The wild pig population is no where near close to being affected by a SHTF scenario unless the situation bring wide spread death to all living things and then we are all just screwed. I havent even began to talk about all the wild and edible vegetation that is out there which takes almost no energy to gather. All thats left is a good water source and you are set. I’m all for bugging in but if you have to bug out due to your surroundings you have nothing to fear. There will be plenty of food and water to survive on and if you get to a remote enough or secluded enough location, you have no need to fear thieves.

    • Point taken BUT, if a homestead is rural enough and prepared for it you won’t have to worry about such things. And I’m talking about guns, lots of guns, in the hands of people that know how to use them. And prepared positions of defense,( fences, road blocks, choke points, natural barriers, so on and so forth). I have, for 2 of my bug out locations, already figured out a barter location well away from the main location. I just think the game will be gone quick and there are no pigs around here. And even then, they too can be hunted to extinction quickly by the masses. Take 1 small city of 5,000 people needing food? If 400 people go hunting in one location, it will be a slaughter fest. and how long would that food last? Not very. I see people everyday pull out and keep undersized fish, shoot fawns/doe’s in the fall, imagine what will happen when the hunger sets in? Out go the bag limits.

  8. Neat article. FYI General Grant had 8-10+k head of cattle @ the start of Wilderness Campaign in 1864, he had roughly 100k troops @ his disposal. Over all in a given 1863+ campaign season there were roughly 80k head of cattle being slaughtered “in the field” by the entire Federal Armies. That might help w/ those figures. In a single raid, a Confederate raiding party took 2500 head from a single corral @ Vicksburg in 1863. General Sherman’s memoirs state he started his “March to the Sea” w/ roughly 5k head (and 62k men) and ended w/ approx 10k head when reaching his destination.

    I hope that helps a little bit. I think I’ll stick to the smaller edibles that going for “bear”. ;)

  9. I must disagree with several points. First, I don’t think the majority of people in the city would have the wherwithall to head into the bush looking for game. They might do so to escape the killing grounds of the big city. I intend to be long gone by then. If you live near a town of say 30k or less people then sure bugging out sounds stupid. I looked up the populations of all the cities in the houston metropolitan area a couple of days ago and ther are roughly 4 million people in the area. Some are hunters…most are not. Some, like myself, have military training but most do not. What I do know is that I’m not going to get stuck in a city this size and try to fend off mobs of thugs.

    I have a bug in ranch location with natural springs, a river, a stocked pond, cattle, chickens, veggie garden and fruit trees, house with generator, solar power, stores of fuel for vehicles, wood burning fireplace and 100 acres of woods. The plan is to load up the trucks and get the hell out of Houston before they close down the roads and we get stuck here. Hopefully can get to the ranch by vehicle but we have contingency plans for taking off into the woods too.

    This article makes it sound like we all will just take our 3 day backpack and go live in the woods indefinitely. Bugging out to a better bug-in location seems to never be considered.

    Being an Army Sapper, Airborne, Jungle warfare and desert warfare trained, been through escape and evasion training and having spent all of my life ranching and farming, hunting and fishing I think I’m better off that most living in the woods.

    I won’t get into all my preps but if worst case happens and we can’t drive out of here, I’ve got 3 horses to carry our gear and my daughter and a large army issue alice pack each for me and my wife, pack saddles for two horses and enough gear to load them down with aside from our rucks. We know how to hunt, trap, fish and scavenge. We will be heavily armed. I’ve been thinking this through since the mid 90’s.

    Would not be a good idea for most city dwellers to grab a go bag and think they will be able to “rough it” in the bush for months. Some of us are a different story however. The true survivors who war game everything in advance and are prepared for anything.

    • No one has referenced the hundreds of millions of dehydrated meals the DHS has bought. Maybe I’m gullible, but are those earmarked for the multitudes in the cities that are unprepared? If it is a Katrina-like disaster, the majority of the idiots will sit on their caboose expecting the government will take care of their needs, which might actually happen for a few days. I’m thinking that will give the smart people a few days to get outta Dodge.

    • I think that was the authors point, some people have the notion they just go out a thrive in the wild with very little as far as supplies. The lone wolf mentality will kill many off, just hoping I can use what little supplies they have on them when I find their bodies.

  10. This is very good information from a personal point of view. Gun Safety and Training is a key to having several hunters in the same area.

  11. Interesting thoughts, good points alll. A POINT TO CONSIDER. Most ppl in US and Canada live near cities, have little clue about potable water. IF city supply is compramised, most water will be contaminated where average ppl think they might find it in the area..ie stagnant waterlines etc. As many move to the countryside, many if not most will come down with dibilitating intestinal bacteria, with no medical attention will dehydrate and die…primarily because in US more so than Canada, most above ground rivers are already heavily contaminated…those that are healthier are that way because of beaver and other aquatic species… but healthy for animal consumption is not healthy for humans.. ie giardia bug, mosquito born bacteria and viruses etc…
    My point is, most ppl will die because they dont know how to stay healthy in nature without hospitals and doctors. Water born illnesses will weaken or kill many, minor infections incurred in nature will take those weakened, basic injuries will cripple the majority of the remainder..dying from inability to participate in thier very survival. Few will live after a year, those prepared with goodluck, natural medicines, water purification, food reserves, seeds for planting, goats for food who really can eat anything, live through most climates…will have a chance. By year 2… maybe 10 percent left alive.

  12. The next issue to be concered with is the dead themselves. The biological hazard they pose is astounding. Diseases carried by bug and rodent that we have not had to deal with over a hundred years here..will be rampant. Study disaster in 3rd world countries to get a handle on what will come. Some you can immunize against at least before the baseline virus mutates as they do given time and opportunity..which they will have… others will be bacterial and these are scarier since antibiotics mutate thier resistance..with no infrastructure and scientists, doctors…the antibiotics that you have will not be effective within a year of unrestrained adaptation by bacteria…then the funguses…well you get the picture.
    Natural selection will decide who, if any human builds protective immunity over time with exposure to these threats… real threats.
    Its the little microscopic things that take out life most virulently and aggressively. By and large we can not defend against mutation in micro organisims. We can only hope to survive exposure, adapt and pass on our adaptations genetically to the next generation.
    I find it niave of many here to think that food, water and guns will assure thier survival… it may prolong it a few months but you cannot hide or defend mother natures own arsenals. Im not religious, spiritual yes, but I do find it ironic the bible tells of all the biological devestation the planet brings to bare for Armageddon, but they are available right now too… just needs the right conditions and away they go… They are the TRUE SURVIVALISTS… make no mistake.

  13. Hence the term, “Prepping.” It means to prepare before the need arises. You are right that city dwellers who have made no long term plans or training would do very well if they head for the hills in a crisis. However, those who have prepared food storage, transportation and a refuge in the far off lands will fare far better. If one sits at home watching television every day and buying just enough groceries to fill the pantry each week will never make it if they try to go live off the land. It takes a lifetime of real-world learning to know how to survive off the land.

  14. Yeah but what you failed to realize is that in that kind of emergency there are a LOT of cows to hunt;)

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