ReadyNutrition Readers, this article is a down-and-dirty guide to finding food for yourself during the wintertime. Most people view winter as a cold, bleak, and lifeless period of the year. In actuality, it is just a state of dormancy: everything is not really dead, just slowed down and slumbering as a part of the natural cycle and order of things. During the wintertime, it’s not that there isn’t any food: there is not as much of it available, yet it is still there if you know how to look for it. Let’s get started!
Firstly, let’s cover wild game. Most hunting seasons are over with, so the info we’re covering here has to do with a survival situation and a “grid-down, collapse” scenario. Keeping that in mind, there is quite a good deal of animals that do not hibernate. Deer, elk, rabbits/hares, the migratory birds (ducks and geese), wild boar/pig. I’m not advising eating the wild cats: the bobcat, lynx, or mountain lion, as they have a host of different parasites and not much yield on the meat. Stick with your herbivores, unless you have no other way.
Migratory birds (believe it or not) still hold a high number that do not leave and migrate with the rest. Besides shooting them with a shotgun or rifle, there are other methods to get them if you have no firearm…not nice or socially-acceptable, but we’re going to list them: snares, nets, and the fishhook method. This one involves taking a fishhook and tying it off with nylon line and covering the hook with a ball of bread. I think you can get the picture, and as I mentioned, it’s not the preferred method but it works. You or them: you’ll have to weigh it for yourself.
Snares do work with snow covering the ground. You have to check them periodically, as many times the top layer of snow can melt a bit and form a layer of glazed ice. When you set the snare with snow present, don’t go all the way to the ground: set it about 2” down in the snow. The snowshoe hare is just as his name implies: he hops across the snow with feet that have a surface area to keep him from sinking in the snow…all the way. Two inches? He’ll be in it: and in your snare, he’ll end up across your fire. Secure the snare, and don’t put a “drag” on it. He can get out of it. You want it to lift him off the ground.
Here’s a quick video to demonstrate snaring in winter:
Back to firearms: this is a good reason for shotshells for your sidearms, such as .45 ACP, .357 Magnum, and .44 Magnum for starters. These shotshells are great for bagging small game, especially things such a quail or grouse. It takes practice to be able to nail them, and they’re a small target, but the shotshell loads in these won’t tear the daylights out of the meat. You also need to practice loading those shotshells quickly. Don’t walk around with one of them either chambered or leading off your mag in bear country…that could be a fatal error on your part.
Ice augurs are worth their weight in gold when the ponds and slow-moving streams are iced over. Once again, everything is slowed down, but there will still be fish…just very sluggish with the cold water and the more scarce nature of food. Make sure of your footing before you use the augur, as well as the thickness of the ice to stand. Once through work fast, and pick up your catch with a straight pole or your ice-fishing rig if you’re a regular. To “tent” the enclosure helps to heat your surroundings a big. There are bass, crappie, northern pike (chain pickerel), and catfish, although these latter are truly sluggish. Still, they’re hungry. If you’ve taken any game before fishing, be sure and use scrap meats and entrails for bait.
On the banks of streams and rivers that do not freeze over, search for the pools and you’ll still find crayfish beneath rocks. You need a lot of them for a meal, but they can also be used for bait, and to pick up the bass, use a weight below the crayfish and set them about 6” above it with the hook reverse-bitten through the front of the carapace. Remove the claws, or they’ll hold onto the line. The reverse-bite of the hook is to keep them rightside up…bass are sight-feeders. The backwards movement of the crayfish will attract them and make them strike…they’re hungry and feeding on the bottom during the winter.
A lot of people advocate eating worms, grubs, and other vermin in a survival situation. I don’t advocate it or agree with it. If you find them, use them as bait for something substantial. The protein you derive from a few worms are not going to do the trick. Go for protein that really counts.
Other Vitamin Sources
Vitamin C will pose a big problem with scurvy for a long-term deficiency…under normal conditions. Grid-down and under-the-gun you’ll burn off more energy and nutrients than normal. Pine needles are your answer. About a pound of them, and boil them in a canteen cup or a pot with about a quart of water. This canteen will more than give you your RDA of vitamin C (amounts aren’t exact, because conifers vary) and avoid the scurvy. Also, make sure you cook your wild game really well. Rabbits and hares have tularemia, and there are many wild game animals (such as wild pig) that carry such microorganisms that thorough cooking will rid you of.
As far as plants are concerned, you’re limited to lichens and some mosses. Pick up a good field guide (Peterson’s guides are the best) to identify the types per your geographical area that are edible. Cattail roots may still be able to be taken: these are best boiled and eaten in the manner of potatoes…starchy but palatable. In dire straits, you can remove the bark of trees and eat the inner cambium layer, rich in carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Be advised: it seriously injures or kills the tree, so take this as a last resort when you need it.
The obtaining of winter food will depend on your skills as a hunter, a fisherman, and one who will live off the land. It is not an easy task, and yes, you can practice and refine it. Proper study and preparation will yield results. Tear yourself away from your pumpkin pie and shopping, and get out to observe the way things are in the woods this time of the year. Chances are you’ll learn a few things…that just may help you make it through when it hits the fan. JJ out!
Jeremiah Johnson is the Nom de plume of a retired Green Beret of the United States Army Special Forces (Airborne). Mr. Johnson was a Special Forces Medic, EMT and ACLS-certified, with comprehensive training in wilderness survival, rescue, and patient-extraction. He is a Certified Master Herbalist and a graduate of the Global College of Natural Medicine of Santa Ana, CA. A graduate of the U.S. Army’s survival course of SERE school (Survival Evasion Resistance Escape), Mr. Johnson also successfully completed the Montana Master Food Preserver Course for home-canning, smoking, and dehydrating foods.
Mr. Johnson dries and tinctures a wide variety of medicinal herbs taken by wild crafting and cultivation, in addition to preserving and canning his own food. An expert in land navigation, survival, mountaineering, and parachuting as trained by the United States Army, Mr. Johnson is an ardent advocate for preparedness, self-sufficiency, and long-term disaster sustainability for families. He and his wife survived Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Cross-trained as a Special Forces Engineer, he is an expert in supply, logistics, transport, and long-term storage of perishable materials, having incorporated many of these techniques plus some unique innovations in his own homestead.
Mr. Johnson brings practical, tested experience firmly rooted in formal education to his writings and to our team. He and his wife live in a cabin in the mountains of Western Montana with their three cats.
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