Retrotechtacular: Hacking Mother Nature’s North Temperate Regions

…because they’ll tickle your insides! Seriously, don’t eat them if you happen to parachute alone into wilderness and must survive without firearms or equipment like our protagonist here. This 1955 US Navy-produced gem of a training film will show you how to recognize, procure, and prepare many kinds of nutritious plant, insect, and animal life commonly found between 45° and 70° north latitude.

While you hone your large game hunting skills, you can tide yourself over with all kinds of things that will just sit there ready to be plucked for your nourishment: many berries and fruits, nuts, moss, lichens, and the inner bark of several kinds of trees is edible. Sate your taste for savory with grubs, termites, or grasshoppers. When in doubt, eat what the birds and small animals are eating, but stay away from mushrooms. It’s too hard to distinguish the poisonous varieties.

Many edible things are found in and around bodies of water. Game such as deer, ducks, and birds are attracted to water and make their homes near it. Various kinds of traps made from twigs and vegetation will outwit rabbits and squirrels. You can fashion a bow and arrow in order to kill large quadrupeds like deer, elk, and ram. It’s best to aim for the head, neck, or just behind the shoulders as these are the most vulnerable areas.

Once you have killed a large animal, prepare it for cooking by draining its blood and removing its entrails. There are many ways to cook your spoils of survival, and most of them involve cutting the meat into small pieces first. Hopefully, you have some basic tools for starting fires.

Retrotechtacular is a weekly column featuring hacks, technology, and kitsch from ages of yore. Help keep it fresh by sending in your ideas for future installments.

54 thoughts on “Retrotechtacular: Hacking Mother Nature’s North Temperate Regions

  1. “prepare it for cooking by draining its blood and removing its entrails”

    I was under the impression that field dressing involved removing off the organs in the chest cavity, not just the entrails.

    1. Well, in a survival situation, you might want to be eating those instead of throwing them away. You don’t know when you’re going to bag your next animal, so it’s best to use as much of it as you can.

      1. I’m not certain it will be a problem as taking a deer with an improvised bow is rather….ambitious. Like making a radio out of coconuts ambitious.

        Speaking of that sort of thing, I would like to see more on making traditional bows and such. Many people do it at home, but there hasn’t been many (any?) cases of lost hikers walking out of the woods with new deerskin coats.

        1. If you have a reasonable understanding of how a bow is made, you could make an adequate bow in a long-term survival situation. It wouldn’t be my first project, but once past immediate survival, it could be done much easier than a coconut radio, which is impossible. :) It might take finding a nice, straight, dead branch to start with, but I’ve seen bowyers that took a dead branch from their backyard and whittled a 30-40lb bow over the course of a week. If you have experience knapping, arrowheads are a snap, but metal scraps or or a broken bottle can be sharp enough.

          It would certainly be harder than being prepared aforetime, but it could be done. Dangit, now you have me wanting to see if I can improvise a bow and arrows with no tools. -.-

          1. You can actually knap broken bottles. Native Americans and Australian aborigines did it with all kinds of materials colonists discarded. You can find some pretty good examples with google. They can be quite beautiful.

        2. It’s totally doable, but probably not with a bow. If you have any kind of bait suitable to attract deer, traps were not uncommon once upon a time. With basic tools you could probably pull it off. It’s an issue of time investment though; if you’re not planning to be out there more than a day or so it seems like a crazy thing to be cutting stakes and such rather than, I dunno, setting smoke signals so somebody can find you.

          1. As an experienced deer hunter, it can take days to see a deer even with an established bait pile. Ive gone multiple days in ghe woods without seeing any deer. And you still need them to get close enough for an accurate shot with a makeshift bow. Which could be an issue depending on how many days since your last shower. Deer have excellent noses, sharp sight, keen hearing and can be hyper paranoid. I’d set up some rabbit/squirrel traps before I went hunting, just in case.

          1. Bears can climb trees, so can plenty of other critters. And do you know how much stuff lives in the ground which eats meat? There is a reason why we bury corpses there. And most places in the US aren’t likely to be frozen 7 months out of a year except for Alaska.

  2. I wonder how this would be done today. Easy to see a bunch of stuff is incorrect (mostly at no cost). Turtles are not amphibians, and poisonous snakes are not good to eat… you mean venomous snakes. There are no poisonous snakes.

    1. It’s rare. Not to say that nobody here does it, but I’m originally from Ukraine, where it was extremely popular, and it’s nothing like that in the US. Either place, though, I wouldn’t do it in a survival situation unless I *already* knew which mushrooms were safe in a particular area. Plus, mushrooms wouldn’t be worth it; while they have vitamins, they don’t have much in terms of the major nutrients: carbs, protein, and fat.

        1. I’m far from a mushroom expert, but yes, there are many poisonous ones and some of them look very similar to edible ones. I’d never pick a mushroom unless I was 100% sure of what kind of mushroom it was.

        2. I’m from Poland, but I don’t think it’s much different from Ukraine – yeah, there is a bunch of poisonous mushrooms. But most of the people here can at least tell the basic ones apart, since it’s a common hobby. The rule of the thumb is to pick only the ones you know and are 100% certain of.
          Actually, it surprises me it’s so rare in the US. Here, it’s kind of a family thing to annualy go mushroom picking and take your folks and kids. Even my workplace organizes such trips. So since you can only pick them when the season and weather is right, if you live in a city it’s a pain to find anything in the nearby forests :)

          1. Yeah, and in a cruel joke of evolution button mushrooms look a whole hell of a lot like the young stages of the Destroying Angel. With a name like that I don’t think I need to explain why this is a problem.

          2. Lead is delicious. Not the slightest bit surprising that it was used as a sweetener. Also, the destroying angel is very common in my area. Frightening way to die, but pretty neat name.

    2. I’ve picked morels with my dad in Michigan a few times. They are pretty easy to tell apart from other mushrooms. There is a poisonous variety of morels though. I forgot how to tell the difference (thus I don’t do this alone). It isn’t supposed to matter as the poisonous variety isn’t supposed to live this far north. The poisonous ones are naturally found around Kentucky if I remember correctly. But… we always checked anyway. I wouldn’t risk my life on something like that. Who knows, maybe somebody went south for a vacation and tracked spores on their boots or something like that.

  3. Silly Carnivores. I’ve hacked my own genetic material to produce Chloroplasts along with the Mitochondria, and I’m Roundup ready. I haven’t tested my ability to reproduce after such modifications. perhaps I should take a cutting and see.

  4. In a survival situation, you are far more likely to die from exposure than from lack of water. You can go 30 days without food, and 3 days without water (less than that in a desert), but die from exposure in under three hours. Top priority should therefore be shelter, not water, and certainly not food.

    1. It would be very rare for someone to die within three hours from exposure. Maybe in some very hot/cold climates, that’s no different to dying of thirst in hours in the desert.

      Not to mention it’s generally a lot easier to find/make shelter than it is to find water.

    2. @jomegat
      In survival there are very few perfect absolutes. In Alaska maybe shelter is priority one, but in, say, Virginia in the middle of summer where it can easily get over 80 degrees F at fricking midnight you are unlikely the freeze to death, but extremely likely to dehydrate.

  5. Really? Aim for the head or neck with an ad-hoc bow and arrow?

    No. Not even no, but HELL NO. You want a lungshot, because your “bow” is probably nowhere near powerful or accurate enough to do anything else with any chance of success.

  6. I got stuck foraging in North American forests before, it sucks. Limited water was worse, but the nearest town was a bit under 50km away so it was mostly a long, boring, thirsty walk. There was asparagus, chives, and snakes. Didn’t bother with the snakes.

    Now I live in the tropics where nature is a salad bar and water is a coconut away… it’s remarkable how much edible stuff just grows everywhere, even in cities. If you find a venomous snake, you do the only reasonable thing: Let your dog fight it, pickle the snake in rice alcohol and sell it. Just try not to get dengue fever and life is good.

    1. You have to know your region. Everybody knows tropical foods. In the temperate north, carrots, onions, miscellaneous tubers, nuts, berries, some types of leaves and tree bark are all edible of you know where to look. Water is also readily available in any wooded environment. Takes some digging and possibly time. Roughly half of all common medicines can be found here in one plant or another if you need that sort of thing. Mammals are abundant along with many kinds of edible reptiles, birds, and the like. Poisonous things are a rarity wherever hard frosts hit. The warmer the climate, the more picky you need to be with the local edibles. Biodiversity breeds poison and venom as sure as tasty snacks.

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