As the survivalist 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. We 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 survivalist/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.
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.