June 22, 2014 at 2:24 PM #33690
OK, not going to have you spend three days out in the ID desert as a hunter/gatherer and not have you give us a recap on what you learned!
Plants you ate?
Animals you ate?
Insects you ate?
June 24, 2014 at 11:35 PM #33693Dr. Patrick JonesHomestead Instructor
Sorry, I’ve been playing catch up since I got back.
So, Last week I walked into the idaho desert with 30 young men carrying the following:
A $12 Mora knife 4″ blade
2 32-0z gatorade
Empty potato sack
3 feet of paracord
Small dropper bottle of clorox
Fish hooks and line
Plus what I was wearing:
A light, long sleeve shirt
A tee shirt
I’ll post several posts about lessons learned as time permits this week. I’m crazy busy getting ready for a meeting in St. George.
So before setting off, I drank both bottles of gatorade and refilled the bottles with water. These served as my canteens for the rest of the trip.
Rationing water in a survival situation is a big mistake. If you have water, drink it. Sipping all day is useless and does nothing for hydration. One of the first things that goes in dehydration is your ability to make good decisions. Drink the water you have so you’ll be smart enough to find more water.
We occasionally checked everyone’s hydration status by counting their pulse for a minute while sitting and again while standing. A difference of more than 10 beats per minute indicates significant dehydration. We were hiking along the canyon. Each night we had to climb down the canyon walls to reach the creek below in order to get water. We would add 2-3 drops of Clorox per 32 oz water and let it sit for a few minutes before drinking. The Clorox will kill the Giardia and other bugs. Oh…forgot to mention, we also had a little packet of EmergenC and vitamin packet that we’d put into our water once a day to keep our electrolytes happy.
In desert conditions with heavy exertion (hiking 10 miles and climbing up one canyon wall and down another each day), you really need to be putting away about 6 quarts of water per day to stay hydrated.
So what did we eat? Not much. One of the poignant lessons learned was that it is impossible to hunt/gather for a group of thirty if 25 of them are laying around camp. In a hunter/gatherer scenario, every person that wants a full belly must be exerting himself to find something to put into it.
Plants: Another interesting realization I didn’t anticipate was the absence of many edible and medicinal species I expected to find. I eventually realized the problem. Most of the edible and medicinal plant species I usally find in abundance in the areas near civilization are not native species. When you get out where there really aren’t (and never have been) people, you find that the introduced plant species that are so common everywhere else just aren’t to be found. Plants that were available in abundance were cattails (thank heaven) and nettles. There were also abundant currant berries that were ripe and made good eating.
Sagebrush became my best friend. The wood is perfect for making bow drill sets (we used the paracord for the bow but could have made cordage from the dry nettles or dogbane that was everywhere). The bark of sage brush is perfect tinder and the wood breaks easily with your hands and the dead bushes are easy to uproot even just by hand. There is also a significant advantage to using sagebrush as a fire fuel. It doesn’t pop and send sparks flying. This doesn’t sound like a big deal but when you’re sleeping 18 inches from the fire, it is. The first night our camp was surrounded by cedars. We used that wood for the fires. The stuff crackled and sputtered all night send sparks all over. Many clothes and bags had holes burned in them in the morning. I was glad none of the kids had sleeping bags as they’d have all been ruined. We actually took shifts through the night to monitor the fires while others slept.
We ate several rattlesnakes on the trip. Snakes have very little meat on them and are hardly worth the effort. Fish were a much better return on investment. We had no problem catching fish just tying a little fishing line with a hook to a stick. There wasn’t a one that I wouldn’t have thrown back normally but when you’re hungry, they all look big enough to eat.
There were also a lot of cicadas around. We fried these with little wild onions that we found in abundance and they were tasty. The best time to get them was early in the morning when they were too cold to fly off. We would pick them off the sagebrush like berries. It’s important to always cook insects as they carry a lot of parasites. Think of insects like crunchy little land lobsters…not bad at all. They were good fish bait as well (and produced more calories that way).
There were also a few eggs to be had if you kept your eyes open while walking through the sagebrush.
The sun is not your friend in a desert survival situation. A good hat and long sleeves make a world of difference if you don’t want to burn. A bandana draped under the hat over the neck is a good idea as well. We walked about ten miles a day and tried to get that done as early in the day as possible to avoid the worst of the heat but it was still plenty hot. Prickly pear cactus filets make for good sun burn treatment (like aloe vera).
One might think that traveling at night would be a better idea but walking in the desert when you can’t see and when the rattlesnakes are too cold to run away or rattle a warning is a good way to get dead. Wait until first light and cover what ground you can before the heat gets too bad.
Foot problems were by far, the most serious issue. Caring for your feet properly in such situations could mean the difference between survival and death. We had a lot of blistering. Duct tape was great for preventing these. As soon as you feel a little heat starting on a spot, you stop and take care of it by putting duct tape on it. Don’t wait until you get to camp. Do it now!
Good shoes and appropriate socks are a huge asset. I made the mistake of wearing regular dress socks and my feet suffered as a result. I also had toenails that should have been cut before I left. They weren’t scary, homeless guy nails, just needed cutting. As I went down the steep canyon walls these nails jammed into the fronts of my toes. I got serious bruising and blisters under the nails as a result. Had we not been done walking the third day, I’d have had to make camp in the canyon and wait until my feet healed before traveling again.
Interestingly, though I ate very little during the three days (I gave most of the food I produced/found to the kids), I never felt hungry. I did feel weak. On the second night, the stake president hiked in with 2 cups of whole wheat flour for each boy and a couple of jars of peanut butter. They mixed the flour with water and threw it into the ashes to make little ash cakes and slathered them with peanut butter. You’d have thought they’d died and went to heaven. Little Caesar’s never made them so happy.
We had no sleeping gear or bedding of any kind. Hypothermia is a serious concern even in the desert. We were lucky that the temperatures never went below 50. But 50 degrees will kill you if you don’t have a fire or proper clothing. A common mistake among the uninitiated is to think that getting some sort of shelter built is the most important priority. Shelter building takes a lot of calories and time. And, actually, it’s much more important to get something under you than over you. We cut grass and made thick beds next to the canyon walls and made a small fire next to us. The heat from the fire would reflect off of the canyon walls and we slept very comfortably.
January 1, 2017 at 8:10 PM #35493
What a great experience! Yes, one of the first things you learn in the military when heading out to the field is to TAKE CARE OF YOUR FEET! Bad feet can REALLY ruin your day :sad puppy:
I have spoken with Green Deane who says that he frequently heads out into the wilderness for days at a time to overcome exactly what you describe, wild edibles, when they really count, and when you do not know exactly where to find them already. I would LOVE to understand local botany enough to say, “if this is here, this other thing must be close…” no matter where I am. Alas, I am just beginning to recognize what exactly I planted where in my garden without labels :tomato: …hopefully the “end of the world” will wait a bit longer :Laugh:
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