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Survival: Hunting and Trapping Small Game

Small Game Hunting and Trapping
by Jerry Ward of Ozark Mountain Preparedness, LLC
© 2013,
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We've all heard the "rule"- the human body can survive for roughly thirty days without food.

Our individual metabolism and body fat percentages can cause a shift of a few days in either direction, but at some point a caloric deficit will lead to the shutting down of organ systems and death.

Given that fact, it is easy to see why having the skills to procure food in a long term wilderness survival situation or post-event world is critical. You must have a working knowledge of the edible plants in your area and be able to identify them without hesitation. Wild edible plants are not enough though; you must also possess the skills needed to harvest the wild game species native to your environment.

Hunting and Trapping for Survival

There is a reason that primitive peoples were not vegetarian; wild vegetation alone cannot provide the needed sustenance to survive the hardships and physical labor of a life in the field.

For the most part, plants are low in calories. They excel at supplying trace minerals and vitamins, but lack the cellular structure to provide you the energy-rich food you need in a survival situation. That energy comes from animal products in the form of protein and fat.

Common Survival Myth About Hunting

A common survival myth is that you can just head to the nearest patch of forest and live off the large ungulates (deer, moose, elk, caribou, bison) that abide there. The fact is, these types of critters can have a huge range and are not a reliable food source to stake your life on.

Plus, the caloric expenditure needed to actively hunt them could outweigh the gain and put you in a worse off position than you were to begin with. You should look to large game as a bonus rather than the rule when in the field.

Small Game Are Plentiful

The go-to wild meat source is small game: squirrel, rabbit, chipmunk, dove, waterfowl, packrat, songbirds, beaver, mice, raccoon, etc. Essentially any living animal that crawls, flies, or swims is fair game. The population density of small critters is much higher than that of the mega fauna on any given tract of land.

These animals are where you should spend your time and effort. A survival situation is no time for food prejudices. Although you cringe at the idea of eating something like a coyote now, I can assure you that when facing starvation that slab of meat is going to be top-shelf cuisine to your pallet. The photo below shows a nice boar raccoon roasting over an open fire.

Wild boar hunt

He was caught on our Hunting and Trapping Camp course held in Southeastern Utah this past October. What a treat!

Learn About the Animals You Plan to Hunt or Trap

Before you can be successful at harvesting wild game, you have to do some pre-work. The first thing you need to know is what kind of animals are in your area. Then you need to learn their habits, habitats, breeding cycles, and choices of food. What do the tracks look like, how do they react to various weather patterns, are they a prey species for another animal?

Generally speaking, small game animals are active in the early morning and early evening. They are wary of being spotted by predators and cling to areas of dense vegetation and cover. They travel along the edges of open ground using fencerows and waterways as a corridor. They are predictable and habitual; just like us. They tend to travel the same trails and will usually choose the path of least resistance. All of these traits can be exploited to put meat in your cook pot.

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Let's examine some of the techniques used to hunt and trap these critters.

Techniques for Hunting Small Game

Hunting is an active food gathering method; it requires participation from start to finish. When you are hunting, you are usually committed and have little time to work on other camp projects. You may have to travel several miles and spend multiple hours each day looking for a meal.

This is not going to be like an autumn deer hunt when things are OK and the weekend comes to an end too soon. You are going to be stressed and the consequences of failure could be dire.

Firearm is the Most Effective Tool

For hunting game, the firearm is the most effective tool to use. There are a couple I recommend above all others. The first is a rifle in the popular Rimfire .22 long rifle caliber. I prefer a Marlin bolt action, tubular magazine fed model. My personal rifle is made from stainless steel, has a weather-resistant laminated wood stock, is fitted with 3x9x40mm scope, and has taken everything from jackrabbit in Utah to otter in Alaska.

The .22LR is an extremely popular cartridge and can found in nearly every small town hardware store. Ammunition styles range from low velocity round-nosed lead target loads to hyper-velocity polymer tipped hunting rounds. I also recommend carrying a revolver in .22LR; my choice being the Ruger Single Six. The second firearm I recommend for survival hunting is the 12 gauge shotgun. My preferences are the time-tested pump action Remington 870 and Mossberg 500 models.

Just like the .22LR, the 12 gauge is extremely versatile and loads are available to deal with everything from quail to Alaskan Brown Bear. Whatever gun you choose, make sure it is of high quality and won't let you down in the moment of truth!

Best Guns for Hunting Small Game

Once you've mastered the weapon, it's time to take to the field.

Stalking Small Game

* Go slowly; a step at a time. Allow yourself to relax. Avoid fast, sudden movements. Walk fluidly stepping over obstacles.

* Pause often and listen for a few moments before moving on.

* Look for tracks along old muddy roads and creek banks.

* Look at the base of nut trees for the tell-tale signs of squirrels by their chewed nutshell litter.

* Stay just inside the treeline looking out into the grassy field for the ears of a feeding rabbit.

* Listen for the whistling wings of dove or waterfowl.

* Scan the entire landscape; from treetop to forest floor.

* Patience and persistence pays off. Eventually you'll be rewarded with a meal!

Trapping Small Game

Trapping Small Game

Trapping is a passive food procurement method; meaning that once the traps are set, you are no longer required to be on site. You are now free to go about the other multitude of chores needing attention around camp. Trapping is also a numbers game; the more sets you make, the greater your odds. By applying the same principles needed to be successful at hunting, trapping can be a force multiplier in the quest for food.

There are a few commercially available traps on the market that are worth their weight in gold; the #110 Conibear, cable snare, and wooden rat trap.

The Conibear trap is designed to collapse and kill the animal with an amazing amount of pressure. The three most common sizes are the #110, #220, and #330; with the numbers corresponding to the pounds per square inch of pressure exerted when the trap fires.

The #110, with an opening of 4 ½ inches, is the best size for survival food gathering applications. They are lightweight, can be set in a multitude of ways, and are affordable. Some of the critters these excel at catching are rabbit, squirrel, muskrat, prairie dog, waterfowl, and turkey.

The #110 is my go-to trap in Alaska for pine marten, mink, and weasel. I often set a trapline of nearly two hundred (#110s) and can count on 30-40 animals per check.

Snaring Game

Snaring is another effective way to catch game. The cable snare is made from braided steel cable with a locking mechanism that helps ensure a clean, humane kill. These snares come in various lengths and gauges. They are very effective for medium-sized critters like beaver and raccoon. Like the Conibear, snares can be set on land and in water.

The last trap worth mention is the wooden rat trap. Nothing more than an oversized mouse trap, these can be used effectively to catch packrat, chipmunk, weasel, quail, songbirds, squirrel, and the like. Low-cost, low-tech, and easy to transport are qualities that all three of these devices have in common. By incorporating simple food-based baits with these traps, you can be sure to have food and fur at camp each night.

Baiting Game Traps

Game Trap

Hunting and Trapping Are Critical Skills to Being Prepared

Learning how to hunt and trap is a critical skill set that anyone looking to live a more prepared lifestyle should make a priority. There is no way I can even begin to touch on all the details on being successful in this short article. It takes countless hours in the field and lots of mistakes to be truly proficient. Don't wait until the stakes are high to learn! My suggestion is to find someone in your area who would not mind you tagging along one morning on the trapline or in the dove field. Having a mentor take you under his/her wing is invaluable and worth more than any words on a page can ever be.

That being said, I hope this article has been helpful and provided you a little information on the equipment and techniques needed to harvest small game. Until next time, God Bless! Jerry

About the Author: Jerry Ward

Jerry Ward is the owner and operator of Ozark Mountain Preparedness, LLC located in Berryville, Arkansas. He has been teaching survival skills since 2004 and opened Ozark Mountain Preparedness in 2010. Before becoming a full-time survival skills instructor he worked as a rock climbing guide, wildland firefighter and gunsmith. Jerry studied wildlife biology at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. He is an avid fur trapper and student of history. His outdoor pursuits have taken him all around the United States and abroad, including fur trapping in Alaska, fighting wildfire in the American West, researching primitive cultures in the Desert Southwest, trekking the rainforests of Belize, and exploring the Highlands of Scotland. He has been featured in numerous publications, including Currents and American Survival Guide magazines. Jerry is a member of The Wilderness Medical Society and The Society of Primitive Technology. He can be reached via the web at or phone at (870)350-6995.

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