When in a wilderness survival situation, procuring some form of food within the first few days is crucial. Otherwise, you will not have enough energy to accomplish equally important tasks like building a shelter or collecting water. Therefore, I compiled these 7 important techniques that will help you get food in the wild.
Starting with the easiest to accomplish first, I put the techniques in order based on which takes the least amount of energy and skill. Some of them are directly about getting a meal, and others are about important skills that indirectly lead to better food gathering.
Ways to Find Food in the Wild- 7 Key Techniques to Learn:
- Focus on finding edible Flora
- Look for creepy crawlies as a fallback
- Master ropemaking to use for food procurement
- Learn to make primitive weapons
- Get good at primitive fishing
- Learn to make and set traps
- Become a competent hunter
The goal here is to learn the most efficient ways possible to get calories in your body.
It is a good idea to consider getting a field manual to keep on you at all times when out foraging. Here is the link to the one found on Amazon that I recommend. It even has a bunch of recipes that incorporate wild plants.
Let’s get started:
1- Focus on Flora First
Many people focus too much on finding animals to eat food when they are in the wilderness. While protein is important for survival, plants will usually be much more prevalent and contain plenty of essential nutrients to sustain you.
The easiest thing to do is look for the low-hanging fruit. Pun intended.
Make sure you are familiar with the wild nuts and common fruit trees in your region or where you are traveling as they are the easiest sources to take advantage of. In fact, if these are available you may not need to worry about any other types of food for the entire duration of your wilderness “excursion.”
If there are no obvious sources for nuts or fruits, berries, when available, can be another great source of nutrition while you find more potent satiation.
Once again, it is important to know what to look for and choose the correct color and type of berry to ingest. Or, it’s actually better to just have common knowledge on how to identify the types that should be avoided. That way, you will be prepared in every region you might venture to.
A few common berries to avoid are:
Besides the obvious common ones that we know we can eat, like blackberries or wild strawberries, here are a few to seek out:
I wrote an article on this topic that you will want to read: What Color Berries are Edible and Safe to Eat? Which are Poisonous?
Besides berries, I also recommend looking for ferns. They are typically abundant and can provide a ton of valuable nutrition, if available.
There are also many many other wild plants that can be eaten. If you do not know which ones, it’s actually not that hard to test them out. Just keep in mind, that this should be a last resort and only when you have exhausted finding types that you know are fine to eat.
When coming across a plant in the wilderness, often you cannot be 100% sure it’s edible. However, when in dire need of sustenance, you should not be too quick to give up on what could be an abundant source of calories.
To mitigate your risk of poisoning, an edibility test was devised in order to determine if a wild plant can be consumed. This is something everyone should know. Here are the basics:
- The first step to test a plant is to divide it up into the various parts- Roots, stem, leaves, buds, flowers, fruit, etc. Many plants are poisonous or deadly in one part, while another part may only make you sick or could even be completely edible. Dividing the plant up allows you to test each part to see if it is safe to eat, though if one part proves poisonous, you may not want to risk eating any of it, depending on how dire your situation is.
- The second step is to smell it- Many poisonous plants emit a strong and unpleasant smell that can be an immediate tell that the plants are poisonous. You may have to cut the various parts open to get a good smell. Tip four has directions on making a knife that you could use to split the plant open. If no strong smell is emitted, you can move on to the next step.
- Put the piece of the plant you are testing on an area where the skin is sensitive- The Inner elbow or wrist are good places to see if the plant is poisonous on contact. Hold the plant there for several minutes to see if you have a reaction such as burning, itching, a rash, or numbing sensation. If any of these or other adverse reactions take place, immediately remove the plant from your body, wash the skin thoroughly if possible, and it is safe to assume the plant is not safe for you to eat. If you are with several people, you should all complete this test.
- If the plant passes the skin test, you can prepare a small amount of it to eat- Raw is a somewhat risky method, while boiling is often safe. Before putting any in your mouth, do another contact test by placing the prepared food on your lips for a few minutes and waiting for any adverse reactions, as long as you have none, you can proceed to take a small bite and chew it, but do not swallow it. Hold the chewed food in your mouth for fifteen seconds. If there is a bitter or soapy taste, spit it out and do not eat anymore.
- If no reaction, wait fifteen minutes and monitor yourself for a reaction- If everything seems fine, you may swallow the food. Wait a few hours to see if you have any digestive issues or any other problems. If not, that part of the plant is probably safe to eat* and you can proceed to test another part of the plant. If you have a reaction, certainly do not eat anymore, and if it is bad enough, you may even want to induce vomiting. I know, no fun at all. But survival situations are always hard.
Here is a video showing the basic process:
*Please note that these tests should only be done if in an actual life-or-death survival situation. In ordinary life, it is best to just learn which plants are edible and not edible, and not do any trial and error. We will not be held responsible if you get sick or worse by doing frivolous testing.
2- Look for Creepy Crawlies
If you are extremely short on food supply, you may find yourself needing to eat those little critters that crawl on the ground or are found hiding under or inside things. The good news is that they are plentiful, very few are poisonous, and they are a great source of protein.
However, there are exceptions to every rule. Here are some general guidelines for telling which bugs are edible:
- If they have bright colors, stay away- This is true for many kinds of creatures, not just insects; the most deadly creatures are often the most beautiful.
- If they smell really bad, move on- Just keep in mind that there are some bugs, such as the stink bug, that are edible despite their scent.
- Hairy bugs and those who bite or sting are often best to avoid- Unless you have direct knowledge otherwise and know how to process them for eating, move on.
- Critters that are always safe- Tomato worms, most caterpillars, and black ants. Cooked right, scorpions and tarantulas are also excellent sources of protein.
Grubs are an excellent and generally easy-to-find food source as shown in this video:
3- Learn to Make Rope
Before we get into the more complicated food-gathering method, let’s cover a couple of skills that will complement almost any food-gathering technique. The first is making primitive rope.
This skill is so important that it stands alone on my list of survival techniques. In procuring food, there are enumerable uses for rope. From making weapons to tying food in the air to setting up traps.
Without knowing how to at least make rudimentary types of cordage, being anything other than a gatherer will be next to impossible. As a bonus, this skill is key for other useful tasks, including shelter-building.
How to Make Basic Rope
Dead plants are a great resource you can use to create rope. Find a plant with high levels of fiber, such as dead dogbane, and collect the fiber by carefully breaking off the branches and top.
After doing so, you want to:
- Break out the core and divide it in two.
- Gently clean and tenderize the fibers by wetting them and then rubbing them between your two thumbs until they grow soft and separate a little.
- Let the strands dry because dry fibers can wrap much tighter than wet ones.
- Carefully twist the fibers tightly together until it begins to bend and kink, allowing one kink to grow into the rope.
My favorite way to make cordage, and probably the easiest in many regions (once you get the hang of it) is making simple rope out of grass. Yeah, I said it.. grass. Here is a really cool video showing how to do it.
Also, be sure to check out my article called 7 Best Ropes for Survival Based on Uses and Situation.
4- Learn How to Make a Weapon
The use of tools and weapons is what separates Man from apes. Therefore, making a weapon is the first thing a lot of survivalists will do when they are in a primitive survival situation. Let’s start with the most basic and work our way up to more difficult varieties.
Stone Axe Head
Having some form of blade is imperative. If you don’t have a knife, axe, or machete, it is helpful to know how to make something sharp to use for other tasks. I recommend learning how to make a primitive stone axe head. Even if you don’t attach it to a handle, it’ll still be really useful.
A river rock a little larger than your hand will work. Even better is if it is some form of flint or chert. However, many different types of rocks will do. As long as they are not too soft, you can use it.
The most basic and primitive spear is rather easy to create, especially if you have a blade or a primitive axehead like we just covered.
- Take a decently straight sapling around the size of a broom handle. Finding a tree that is still growing is ideal, but if you don’t have something to chop it down easily, you may need to find something laying around just to get you started. You can always upgrade later.
- Sharpen the tip with a blade or the primitive axehead (If you were able to make one).
- Place the tip into the fire to harden it enough to be able to impale unsuspecting animals/fish or predators. “Greasing” the tip is helpful if you have something like chapstick in your pocket or even the oils from your forehead are better than nothing.
Here is a video of the process in detail:
Alternatively, if you have good cordage, you can knap or sharpen rock or animal bones into a broadhead and attach it to the end of your spear.
If you don’t have some form of blade, all is not lost. Here is a light-hearted video that actually has really good info on making a primitive spear without one.
Bow and Arrow
Now, we are getting really complicated. It is unlikely that you would ever have the time or energy to make a bow or arrow in a survival situation. However, it’s still a great skill to have if you are out there long-term.
Just make sure that you only attempt this if you have a lot of practice outside of a survival situation. Also, it is imperative that you have a really good knife. Here is my favorite one (Click to see on Amazon).
Here is a 10-step process to making a basic bow and arrow:
- Find the right wood- You will need to find a long piece of wood about your height. It needs to be dry without extra twists, branches, or knots. The best types are rosewood, yew, ash, hickory, black locust, Osage, or Hazlewood. Also maple or oak will work as well. If you are unfamiliar with wood types, just look for something about 50% thicker than a brook handle that is really stiff but will not break easily.
- Find the natural curve of the wood– You do this by gently bending it and working with it along that curve. Find the natural curve of the bow, and don’t fight against it. You will want the bow to bend along its natural curve.
- Mark off the handhold- in the middle six inches of the wood.
- Shape the bow- Cut the shape of the bow by peeling away about a quarter of an inch on the inner side. Basically, you scrape the inside of the bow downward, taking the bark off and making a “flattish” surface.
- Add nocks (notches) to hold the string- Basically, take a v-shaped chunk out of the outside about a half-inch from the tip.
- Choose your cordage- You can use thin rope, hemp cord, twine, fishing line, or even tree roots for the string of the bow
- String the bow- Tie it to the wood so that it is taut with tension on the bow. The string cannot be loose.
- Test the bend- Pull on the string to ensure it can bend and pull correctly care away wood where it is needed. It should not be too easy. You may need to trim wood from the ends to increase tension. You will need to get a feel for this through experience.
- Make an arrow- Unless you have a lot of skill doing this, don’t worry about fletching. You aren’t going to be shooting anything from a long distance anyway. At first, just make it the same way you made the spear only smaller. Put a small notch in the non-pointy end, and you’re good to go.
- Test your bow- Now is the moment of truth. Pull back the arrow and let it go toward a safe target (make sure no one is standing anywhere near you or around your target). You will know if you have created a good enough weapon or whether you need to tweak it further.
Here are a couple of nicely done videos on the entire process:
5- Get Good at Fishing
If you have the skill, fishing is a great way to obtain food that won’t expend a lot of precious calories. Let’s assume you don’t have a fishing line or a hook. One of the best things you can use to fish is a spear.
Of course, the spear you already made will not be efficient for this task. Here is a video on how to make a simple 3-pronged spear for fishing:
To catch fish with a spear, you simply hide as best you can at the water’s edge or even wade into the water and watch patiently. Once you spot your prey, swiftly shove the spear through the water and into the fish. This is one you will want to practice quite a bit before actually trying to use it out in the wild.
The other “hookless” option is to create a fishing net by taking a large amount of rope and tying knots in rows to create a net pattern.
It can be helpful to use a small square of wood to tie the knots around to make sure the space between the knots is even. When making the square of wood or the space in between the knots, keep in mind the size of the fish so they can not just swim in and out of the net.
Alternatively, you can make a flat “basket” in a “grid” shape out of bamboo or wood, as shown in the video below:
Ice fishing is another great way to get protein during the winter, but it can be dangerous if you do not follow the correct safety precautions and use the correct tools. In fact, the lack of line of sight between you and the fish can be your ally.
If you don’t have access to a fishing rod, you can also ice fish with spears fairly easily. You could try nets, though the fibers tend to freeze and get too brittle if the water is really cold.
Once you have your fishing tools ready, you should make sure the ice is safe to walk on.
The easiest way to tell if ice is safe is the color. Clear/blue ice is almost always safe to walk on and often so is entirely opaque white ice, though it is not quite as strong as blue ice. Do not walk on black or gray ice because that usually means it is melting. Also, keep in mind that the first freeze is rarely thick enough to stand on.
After you have found ice thick enough to stand on, you can go out toward the center of the body of water. Use your spear or bone/stone knife to drill a hole into the ice. (If the ice starts to crack outwards, get off the ice) If you have a fishing rod dip the hook and bait down into the water, but if you don’t, watch carefully for fish to pass by and then impale it with your spear.
6- Master Trapping Small Game
Protein is essential to survival, and you must have a way to procure it. Running around with a makeshift spear trying to chase down game simply won’t cut it in the real world.
On the other hand, trapping is a good and relatively safe way to catch animals. Small game is particularly helpful if you have no good way to store food for long periods of time. Here are a few good trap ideas for finding small game in the wild:
Take some paracord, wire, or primitive cordage and create a knot known as a simple snare knot or strangle knot. Tie one end to a tree or branch and hang the loop at head height based on the kind of game you are trying to catch. When the animal walks through it, they will only be able to go a certain distance before the rope tightens around their neck and traps them.
A deadfall trap is a trap where you prop a log or rock up on a stick and place bait underneath it. When the small game goes to get the bait, they knock the stick out from underneath it and get squashed. While snares can be used for some bigger game such as deer, deadfall traps typically only work with relatively small game.
My favorite deadfall trap is the “Shoshone” trap, shown below:
I don’t recommend this trap in a survival situation due to the time and effort it takes to build. However, if you have the skill, it can be really useful.
The first step is fire-hardening a spear so that it is sharp and hard enough to kill the animal, usually medium-sized. Then you can use a rope to tie the spear to a tripwire at a high level of tension. When the animal crosses the tripwire, the spear will be thrust into the back of the animal at a high enough velocity to kill it.
Important Note: It is best to only use this trap in remote areas where no other humans could be around.
For more on making snares, you might be interested in this article: Best Snare Wire for Making Traps | Choosing the Correct Gauge.
7- Know How to Hunt Animals
So you have your spear and bow and are ready for some serious hunting. Keep in mind that this is the most difficult method for procuring food. It takes a ton of skill to hunt in any setting, much less a primitive survival situation.
While killing animals is hard enough, just finding them can be a real challenge. Animals are very good at avoiding humans. To set yourself up to get a kill, you must also be as stealthy as possible
Sometimes out on a hunt, there won’t be a lot of options nearby, so you have to track an animal. This can take a lot of patience and attention to detail, but you can do it. Here are a few techniques to do so.
- The best time of the day for tracking game is early morning or late afternoon/early evening.
- Identify the animal you are following. You can look at a footprint and use your animal knowledge to get a good idea of what it is, but don’t worry, even if you can’t identify the animal, you can track it.
- Follow footprints where you can, but there are other things you can track too. Look for broken twigs, scratches, disturbed leaves, and other signs of movement.
- Follow these signs through the woods quietly. You do not want to make too much noise to alert the animal you are tracking.
Hunting via stealth camouflage can be very important, but when you are trying to survive in the woods by yourself, you are not likely to have access to a store to buy camouflage clothing, so you may have to learn how to camouflage with what the wilderness provides, so here are a couple of techniques.
- The first piece of advice is to use mud to cover your body, clothes, and hat if you have one. This already gives you coloring to blend in with the environment and provides a substance to attach other things, such as twigs and leaves to you.
- After you are covered in mud, you can attach leaves, grasses, and twigs so that you blend in seamlessly with your environment. Leaves and grasses are better than twigs because they are quieter. When you move, twigs have a tendency to snap, which could alert your prey that you are there, and they may take off.
- Try to hunt into the wind in order to minimize your scent giving you away. You can also rub dirt, pine needles, leaves, or whatever natural materials you have available in order to help mask your smell.
Trapping Bigger Game
If you have the ability to catch and store big game, they can be a great source of food over a more extended period of time. After you catch the game, you can salt it and store it high up in the trees, or inside if you have built a more permanent, sturdy structure.
One of the best big-game traps is what is known as the Punji Beartrap. Despite the name, it can be used to catch all sorts of large game, not just bears.
It is created by digging a large hole with a smaller hole at the bottom. Over the smaller hole, you should place a bendable piece of wood covered in spears and on the top, cover it in leaves. When the animals fall into it, they will be immediately impaled on all sides by spears and die.
If you do not have the ability to create the spear board, you can just dig a bigger hole, cover it in leaves, allow the big game to fall into the pit, and go back and kill it later.
Important note: For obvious reasons, never build this in civilization.
Whether you are purposefully going on a survival challenge or find yourself in an unfortunate situation where you have to survive for an extended period of time alone, food will be vital for your survival. Learn these 7 techniques, and you will be much better prepared to live to fight another day.
Thanks for reading!
For more, don’t miss 4 Reliable Ways to Collect Water in the Wilderness.
What is the longest-lasting survival food? Honey has been well-documented as having the longest shelf-life of any food. In fact, edible honey was found in the tomb of the pharaohs in Egypt. Still edible after 3,000 years!
What is the most important survival skill? It depends on the environment. However, it’s hard to beat knowing how to make a primitive fire for any situation. It allows you to stay warm, renders water safe to drink, and allows you to cook food. Basically, it helps you in all 3 keys areas of survival.
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Hey, I’m Jim, and I’m the author of this website. I have been teaching people a wide variety of survivalism topics for over five years and have a lifetime of experience fishing, camping, general survivalism, and anything in nature. In fact, while growing up, I spent more time on the water than on land! I am also a best-selling author and have a degree in History, Anthropology, and Music. I hope you find value in the articles on this website. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or input!