Imagine this situation: You silently enter a nearby piece of woods and move stealthily along some edge cover. You take each step with care, hoping to avoid a hazardous one that would snap a twig beneath your feet and signal your presence to the entire surrounding woods. Fate has landed you in this situation, where your survival depends on your skill with a gun and your knowledge of the land.
Up ahead your prey is feeding, unaware of your presence. Ever so slowly you lift your rifle to your shoulder and take aim.
In a survival situation like this, what animal do you imagine yourself hunting? Is it a deer? Are you fortunate enough to live in an area of elk or other large animal? How about small game animals? Not only are small game animals the most abundant, but they also typically require the least amount of skill to harvest. There’s just one problem with this plan: You’ll starve to death.
The big risk people would face in this situation is a misunderstanding of how their body works and the calories their new life would require in a survival situation. If you ever find yourself in a situation where your life depends on harvesting the bounty of nature, here are three animals you shouldn’t count on:
The truth is that if you ate nothing but rabbits in a survival situation you would die from what is called rabbit starvation. This phenomenon occurs when the human body eats only lean meats for an extended period of time. To function properly, you constantly need a variety of food sources to keep you going. Native people knew all about this. Here is a diary entry from renowned explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson scribed more than 100 years ago after living with Native people:
The groups that depend on the blubber animals are the most fortunate in the hunting way of life, for they never suffer from fat-hunger. This trouble is worst, so far as North America is concerned, among those forest Indians who depend at times on rabbits, the leanest animal in the North, and who develop the extreme fat-hunger known as rabbit-starvation. Rabbit eaters, if they have no fat from another source — beaver, moose, fish — will develop diarrhea in about a week, with headache, lassitude, a vague discomfort. If there are enough rabbits, the people eat till their stomachs are distended; but no matter how much they eat they feel unsatisfied. Some think a man will die sooner if he eats continually of fat-free meat than if he eats nothing, but this is a belief on which sufficient evidence for a decision has not been gathered in the north. Deaths from rabbit-starvation, or from the eating of other skinny meat, are rare; for everyone understands the principle, and any possible preventive steps are naturally taken.
In city parks and towns around the country, you will find a population of squirrels that, at times, seems to outnumber the people. The real problem with squirrels is that their caloric return is far too low to depend on as a major food source. One squirrel is estimated to provide around 540 calories. In a world where we spend increasingly more time manipulating a screen and sitting on our keesters, we still demand around 2,000 calories a day. Even with our modern luxuries, you’d need to consume around four squirrels a day just to calorically break even. No problem, right? Well, there is one problem. In a survival situation, you could expect your caloric demands to skyrocket. Even if your daily caloric demand only doubled to 4,000 calories per day, that would put you at needing a hefty eight squirrels a day to break even. I’m sure this wouldn’t be a problem on day one in many areas, but how about with a family of four needing 32 squirrels a day? How about on day 100 when you’ve already shot 800 squirrels? As you can tell, the math doesn’t add up, and squirrel is not something you should be depending on as your staple food source.
Trout and certain panfish find their way on the bottom of this list for the same reasons as squirrels. For example, a wild trout only provides 143 calories per fillet. Double that and you are at 286 calories per fish. Again, the amount of panfish or trout you’d have to catch in a day would be substantial if you were to try and live solely on their sustenance. Based on a 4,000-calorie diet, that would equate to around 14 fish per day to break even for one person. However, there would be an advantage of panfish over squirrels and rabbit. That advantage is that fishing is passive. In other words, you could cast a few lines each day and come back later to check your catch, with very little effort involved. Fishing doesn’t require nearly as many calories as hunting does; therefore, the calories of your panfish would go further and you may not burn 4,000 calories per day. If you were in a situation where you didn’t have to expend much energy, panfish could possibly be a reasonable food source for an extended period of time. However, you would still have to catch an awful lot of fish.
In reality, these animals all can play a minor role in a long-term survival diet, but they should not be viewed as long-term staple food sources. Keep in mind this analysis has considered diets solely composed of these animals. If you could find supplementary food items — from plants to other animals — you would decrease the negative effects. People who lived off the land for generations didn’t depend solely on these animals, and neither should we.
Do you agree? Disagree? What advice would you add? Share your tips in the section below: