There are a lot of TV shows about surviving in the wilderness running right now. They have a variety of themes, from a father and son reenacting possible problems hikers, fishermen and hunters may get into and get lost to a couple put into a wilderness setting without anything, including clothes. All these shows take me back to growing up wild in Georgia, where we often tried to “live off the land” for a few days.
We were never really in a survival situation since home was just a few minutes away, but we liked to think we had to find food and shelter to survive. Since my friends and I lived in a rural area we were used to gardening, eating anything we could kill or catch and using nature. But being out in the woods pretending we had to survive was fun, especially knowing the comforts of home were close.
Our survival tools were our trusty BB guns and later .22 rifles and .410 shotguns, so getting squirrels, birds and sometimes rabbits was no problem. There are very few kinds of birds I have not eaten at some point but a few, like redbirds and bluebirds were off limits. And we never tried buzzards, for obvious reasons.
All kinds of plants were eaten, too. There was a weed that I never knew the name that grew all over the fields, and its roots were crunchy and had a nutty flavor. We usually ate them raw but often put them in squirrel and bird stew. One of us always had a mess kit along with its fry pan, pot, cup, knife, fork and spoon so we could cook things in a lot of ways.
Mushrooms grew wild but we were afraid to try them. We knew some were poison so we left all of them alone. But there were acorns, which tasted terrible, dandelions, poke weed and other plants we did eat. And hickory nuts were good if we could crack them open.
We never ate bugs and worms, we never got that hungry, but we did consider it. A few years ago on a trip up the Amazon River Linda and I took a tour of the jungle with a Brazilian military captain that taught survival skills to troops. He showed us a lot of different kinds of food from tarantula spiders to vines that held water.
At one point he cut a palm looking bush and shelled out a small nut. He said the nut, a palm nut, was edible and tasted like coconut. Then he split open the nut and showed us a white grub inside, saying protein was important and these grubs were good.
When he asked if anyone wanted to taste it I popped it into my mouth and bit down. It tasted like coconut. So I will eat worms and bugs, even if not starving to death. And I guess I would eat a buzzard if really, really, really hungry.
The branch provided several kinds of food but we didn’t try most of them. Crawfish were small and would not have made much of a meal but we knew we could eat them. And the small bream and catfish in the branch were so tiny we didn’t want to clean them. Under real survival situations both would make a good stew.
In the spring we even tried bird eggs. They were not bad boiled in branch water in our mess kit pots over a campfire. Since my family had 11,000 laying hens I usually packed some chicken eggs along to eat. That is not really survival but just keeping them whole taught ways to protect the food we found and how to handle it with care.
Our shelters were very simple lean-tos built by tying a sapling between two trees, leaning other sapling trunks against it and covering them with sweet gum branches with leaves. I doubt they would have stopped much rain but it was the best we could do with what we had, and we were proud of them.
One of the biggest problems folks on the survival shows have is making a fire, a necessity under survival conditions and for us boys in the woods. We tried rubbing sticks together, making sparks with flint and steel and using a magnifying glass. Nothing worked for us except the magnifying glass so we always had matches with us.
I spent hours dipping the heads of strike anywhere matches in melted wax to protect them from water. They were carried in a small box and could be counted on to produce a fire when scratched against a handy rock. I am not sure I could start a fire without the right tools but I know how it is supposed to be done.
Pretending to need to survive is fun but I don’t think I would want to do it under real conditions where my life might depend on my skills.