Food Gathering In The Wilderness With 4 Essential Tools

What will happen when there is no food in the house and no money to buy any? Such despairing circumstances can lead a hungry man to desperate acts against society in order to feed his family. Food gathering in the wilderness is a good option if you have the knowledge and tools to help you succeed.

Without the blessings of welfare and the help of charities, a large portion of our population would likely suffer the gnawing pains of hunger as experienced in other parts of the world. We, too, could become a third world country, over-populated with starving people.

Pointing fingers and slinging accusations at the causes of starvation is not the answer. Instead, we should look around and take a lesson from reality. Our fate is in our hands.

Food gathering in the wilderness

Digging edible roots

Preparations must be made in advance. Stockpiling food while still plentiful and cheap is one way. Another is small plot farming. Yet, these are short-termed at best and may be too costly for some people. Also, farming can be subject to the whims of nature.

An alternative is to utilize the environment to the fullest extent by gathering. One of man’s oldest avocations, food gathering in the wilderness, has helped to support many families through trying times.

It begins by developing a general knowledge of all the wild edible plants that grow in your area, and how to harvest them. Each habitat (prairie, swamp, meadow, waterway, hillside, etc.) offers what it has available to those who know. This can be the deciding factor between life or death.

In survival situations, it is far better to know all of your immediate surroundings and how to completely use them than to be familiar with only a few tasty wild fruits and nuts. Such plant-love may keep you from starvation.

The same principle applies to hunting wild game. The big game hunter tends to seek out the prey he prefers, ignoring the smaller animals and insects that abound around him and offering nourishment. To him, they are pests and not worthy of his attention, for his sights are fixed upon the conditioned mental image of a well-cooked haunch of venison.

Specialization in certain foods is a foolish habit, leading down the road to extinction. Primitive man was omnivorous. This meant he would eat almost anything and is one of the main reasons modern man stands where he is today.

You really do not need much to live off the land. Just good planning. Every family should have a collection of common gathering aids in the home and in the family car for emergencies.

Survival means having the proper tools on hand and the experience of knowing how to use them. A foldup shovel, a sweep net, a cast net, and a pellet rifle are four tools for living off the land. When it comes to food gathering in the wilderness, these tools are ideal. I’ve talked a lot over the years about food gathering in the wilderness and how it can be achieved with a little bit of perseverance. Having the abovementioned tools will make food gathering in the wilderness a less teadious chore.

Used together, they are the tools needed for extracting sustenance from the earth’s good bounties, permitting you to tap directly into the mainline of nature’s food chains. Knowing how to do it is the first step to complete independence.

Main 4 tools for food gathering in the wilderness

Foldup Shovel

There are over 185 different plants in the United States alone with easily procured edible roots. To name a few: common dock, thistle, cattails, sunflowers, nutgrass, green briars, dayflower, biscuit-root, yampa, morning-glories, etc. These can be found in almost every habitat and environment and are your main choice when it comes to food gathering in the wilderness.

Wild root foods have more nutritional value than other wild foods, with the exception of sugary fruits, nuts, and seeds. Containing mostly starch, fiber, complex sugars and trace organic compounds, they are always welcomed to balance out the menu.

The main attraction of wild root foods is year-round availability and easy extraction. They can be collected long after flowers, leaves, and stems have withered away. In winter, their stubs or husky remnants of dead stems may be seen above the snow.

Every species of wild root foods have their own unique flavor and texture. While some have unusual or strange tastes, if eaten raw, most are perfectly delicious when used in prepared foods.

Once peeled to remove soil parasites and cooked, roots are good food. In fact, when combined with wild meats and supplemented by nuts, fruits, leaves, and seeds, you can thrive upon this natural diet.

The tool that aids in bringing forth wild root foods is the foldup shovel. A tightly constructed piece of well thought out machinery, it can be carried on the belt via a belt pouch.

Unfolded and locked into position, it can be put to use in a multitude of chores. Its sharpened outer edge allows hacking through woody roots and obstructions that may hamper work. It is the perfect tool for the mobile gatherer.

There are several ways of digging out wild root foods, such as levering, hoeing, large scale excavation, and slicing. Soil type determines which to use.

For example, in desert terrain, the shovel blade is stomped into the hard ground next to the desired plant, and the whole plant is levered out. Less energy is expended to retrieve the food source.

In the soft mushy ground, the slicing technique works best as the soil is slightly turned to expose the densely matted roots and tubers. The wild root foods are picked out with relative ease, and the soil returned to its former position.

Sweep net

Insects are full of fats and proteins and are the easiest to catch land animals when food gathering in the wilderness becomes your main activity. Abundant in late spring, summer, and into fall, insect catching is the simplest of all gathering activities.

Because they are so numerous, the grasshopper, cricket, and the katydid are the most desired insects. A single field or city lot may yield millions of edible insects.

Each insect has to be individually processed (beheaded and delimbed, including wings) before cooking together in a pan filled with hot coals. Toasted insects are eaten whole like popcorn or crushed into a powder for addition to soups, meatloaf, breads, and other prepared foods. A large harvest of insects could ensure enough food to see a family through winter.

Insects have to be collected in vast quantities but without destroying the environment. Unlike the old method of burning the prairies, the modern-day forager cannot afford such waste.

The best nondestructive tool to gather insects is the sweep net. A simple device, it is composed of a muslin or mesh cloth sack sewn onto a metal rod hoop. The hoop is attached to a broom-stick shaft. It can be made at home using hand tools, improvised in the field or bought at a science supply store.

A commercial dipnet can be removed from its metal hoop, and a cloth sack attached in its place, using safety pins. For simplicity, make sure the sack’s depth is approximately 1 ½ feet deep.

Sweep net food gathering in the wilderness

How to use a sweep net

The sweep net is utilized exactly as its name implies, to sweep insects into the sack. This is done by either netting them from the air or by brushing vegetation.

Sweeping vegetation is similar to push sweeping a roughly knapped carpet. To do so, select an area of tall grass and weeds alive with insects. Grasp the shaft with net pointing down, broom fashion. Then vigorously sweep the net back and forth as you walk forward. With each sweep, several ounces of insects and broken vegetation is extracted.

It takes practice, but in some places, such sweeping may result in hundreds of pounds of raw edible insect foods. Be sure to have plenty of plastic bags for transferring the bounty.

Our favorite insect food is the mayfly. A beautiful insect with four large, delicate transparent wings held vertically at rest and long 2-3 inch tail streamers, it may be seen hovering in large numbers over water in late summer. With a short life span (six hours), the mayfly spends its time mating inflight before falling into water to lay its eggs and die.

Dense swarms may locate above water along shorelines or resting on bordering vegetation. Use the sweep net to net them from the air, to sweep the weeds, or to dip from the water. Try to gather as much as you can.

Eaten raw, cooked, or toasted whole, the mayfly has a sweetish nutty or marshmallow taste. Many fierce battles were once fought by river and lake-dwelling Indians over who would have sole-gathering rights to the local mayfly swarming grounds. One taste and you will understand their interest in the mayfly.

Another tasty insect worthy of mention is the water skimmer. Shaped like flat, black almonds, it can be seen skimming along the surface of ponds, creeks, and bayous. Indeed, toasted water skimmers even taste like almonds or walnuts. They are considered a delicacy in China.

Cast net

Animals that live in water are relatively easier to catch than those that live on land. A pool of water is a complete world unto itself, teeming with life. An elaborate food chain maintains its existence.

With no more than a six-to-eight-foot diameter castanet weighing under five pounds, you can gather an abundance of water animals to make several decent meals. A single well-thrown toss of the cast net can bring forth a wide selection of aquatic plants and animals.

Depending upon the geographical location, a sample of these may include water-dwelling insects and their larvae, clams, snails, crayfish, freshwater shrimp, minnows, small panfish, larger fish (gar, perch, catfish, bass, etc.), tadpoles, frogs, salamanders, water snakes, baby turtles, and other water-adapted land animals. Every cast brings in something different from the last.

Crayfish may be boiled whole or deshelled for frying in butter or cooking oil. Minnows are fried like herring or as sardines. A pound of minnows are more nutritious than a pound of salmon and are much easier to catch.

The cast net is one of the quickest means of fishing without bait. It is far less damaging to the habitat than dynamiting, poisoning, or electric cranking. A castnet permits the gatherer to work a small pond or waterway without unnecessary exposure. A dozen casts and you are off to other foraging tasks.

Cast nets are sold at retail fishing and camping supply stores. More common in coastal fishing communities, they are utilized as a means of catching live animals for bait fishing.

Cast net fishing

Using a cast net

The basic technique for throwing the cast net is easy to learn. Tie the loose end of the drawcord around one wrist. Take hold of the net’s edge with the free hand, looping the drawcord in the other. Both hands support the cast net in preparation for the throw.

At waist level, the net should hang loosely and untangled as you adjust to its weight. Upon deciding where you want to cast the net, swing back the free-throwing hand and fling the net forcefully away in a wide arch, using a sidearm motion.

The cast net’s flight should be spinning and wide open. By the time it reaches the end of its trajectory over the target area, it will drop rapidly through the water. As it descends, everything within its confines is trapped.

Give the drawcord a sharp tug to close off the net. Swiftly pull the collapsed net and the trapped prey ashore for separation. Remove the catch, clear the trash, untangle the cast net and make ready for another try. Cast nets have been used for centuries with great success and these are still good tools for food gathering in the wilderness.

On the same topic of food gathering in the wilderness, read next:

The Lost And Impressive Art Of Net Crafting

Harvesting Marine Life In Tidal Areas

The Reality of Foraging When There’s No Food

Wild Mushrooms – Can you Tell The Difference Between Edible And Poisonous?

Pellet Gun

The last tool for food gathering in the wilderness is a high-velocity air rifle. It is used to hunt small animals such as lizards, snakes, birds, frogs, rodents, and other misnamed pest animals as may be found in any habitat. More numerous than larger game animals, there are fewer laws to control their taking.

The secretive pack rat, the fleet-footed rock lizard, or the flighty, shrill-voiced sparrow may be minuscule in size, but they are food. A basket of pesky ground squirrels or starlings will keep a family alive as well as any deer might, and are more plentiful.

Choose either a pneumatic pump or the single-stroke piston operated air rifle. There are two calibers, .177 and .22 bores. You will need at least 700 fps velocity with each pull of the trigger to reach targets out to 200 feet.

From personal experience, the writer’s choice is the .177 caliber for its universal distribution, easily obtained pellets, and their low cost. The single-stroke piston-type produces consistent power with less work. In a stressful situation, the single-stroke air rifle is more productive in game procuring than the cumbersome pump variety.

Gamo Pellet gun for food gathering inthe wilderness

It takes all the skills of big game hunting to kill small, elusive animals, and in dense underbrush, it is quite a challenge. A hooded front sight will bring the sight picture into immediate focus. An added rifle sling aids in relieving the hands for climbing or other preparations.

There are certain advantages to using a pellet rifle instead of a firearm, such as a .22 caliber rifle.

They are the following:

  1. Taking pint-size game with a tiny pellet means there is more meat to eat.
  2. The lower report will not spook the game and seldom alerts anyone else of your presence in contested ranges.
  3. Constant hunting with a single-shot action encourages the one-shot, one-kill skill, a skill that can ride over into firearms during regular hunting seasons.
  4. A pellet rifle lets the gatherer be ready for that perfect shot that always seems to present itself whey you are busy doing some other task. With it, you will never really lack in meat foods.


In the desert, along the seashore, in the mountains, on the prairies, down in the valleys, and in the cities, these four simplified ways of living off the land used together have shown major success where applied. Food gathering in the wilderness becomes an easier task if you keep these tools nearby.

It is truly amazing how so much food can be gathered just by using them correctly. With a pellet rifle and a sweep net, the prepared survivor becomes the accomplished hunter. A cast net turns him instantly into the successful fisherman, and with the foldup shovel, he can revert to the role of the first farmer. These tools will give you that extra edge needed in hard times. Make sure your survival kit contains all four.

Recommended resources:

Knowledge to survive any medical crisis situation

Learn To Identify this Tree – All its parts are edible!

The vital self-sufficiency lessons our great grand-fathers left us

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