Wilderness Survival Skills: Hunting and Trapping Animals

Learn how to track and trap small animals. Tutorials include how to set up a snare, a figure-4 deadfall and a Paiute deadfall.

| March/April 1982

  • Throwing Stick
    The Australian boomerang is an advanced throwing stick.
  • 074-070-01-im1
    Clockwise from left: The "business end" of the very effective rolling snare. The trigger mechanism. The figure-4 deadfall. The figure-4 upper notch. The figure-4 lower joint. (Note that the components just barely mesh. This kind of assembly makes for a sensitive trigger) Detail of the Paiute deadfall's trigger. The complete, ready-to-drop trap. It's best to be cautious when setting the rolling snare.

  • Throwing Stick
  • 074-070-01-im1

Tom Brown, Jr. was brought up in the ways of the woods by a displaced Apache named Stalking Wolf. Today, he is one of our country's leading outdoor authorities, author of The Tracker and The Search, and head of the largest tracking and wilderness survival school in the U.S. Tom has also agreed to do a series of special features for MOTHER EARTH NEWS, articles that will help all of us learn how to survive — in comfort! — in the wilds.  

Most people, when trying to imagine how they might react if faced with a survival situation, immediately focus their attention on the problem of obtaining food. However, filling one's belly rates pretty low in the list of wilderness survival priorities . . . following shelter, water, and — especially in cold climates — fire.

The fact is that almost any reasonably healthy human being can get along for quite a few days with no food at all . . . and would suffer only hunger, and perhaps attendant stomach cramps, as a result of doing so. Therefore, the time for the survivalist to begin foraging for edibles is only after his or her more urgent needs have been taken care of. Now, in most parts of North America, the most easily collected survival foods are wild plants. However, since many native vegetables aren't available in the winter months (and because most regular MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers already have a pretty fair grounding in edible plant identification), I've decided to discuss methods of gathering animal foods here. The techniques that I'll focus on are hunting (with a simple throwing stick) and trapping.

Finding Food for Survival

Naturally, when eating is a matter of life or death (as it could be if you were stranded for an extended period of time), an individual can't allow his or her dietary preferences to get in the way. You should know, then, that virtually all mammals are edible (in fact, when skinned and cleaned, very few animals can't be safely used as food). It's important, however, to avoid eating any creatures that show signs of sickness. If possible, cook all meat (usually either on a spit or in a crude stew) until it's well done. Remember, too, that such protein sources as grubs, grasshoppers, cicadas, katydids and crickets shouldn't be passed up!

Primitive Weapons

A basic throwing stick is, quite simply, a sturdy hunk of branch. The optimum size and shape will vary somewhat, depending upon personal preference, but I like a stick about 2-1/2 feet long and approximately half as thick as my wrist. Of course, some primitive peoples have turned the making of throwing sticks into an art form (consider the Australian kylie, or hunting boomerang, which is carved to an aerodynamic profile that actually allows it to fly farther than an unshaped stick of similar size and weight could be thrown). But, for our purposes, we'll be discussing the handling of a weapon that requires nothing more, perhaps, than being broken to a comfortable length before it's put to use.

Such a basic club can be thrown either overhand (when, for instance, you're trying to knock a squirrel from the side of a tree) or sidearm (when you're in an open area, where brush won't interfere with the stick's flight). In using the first method, point your left foot at the target (if you're a right-hander; southpaws can simply reverse these directions). Then, holding the smaller end of the stick loosely in your right hand, bring the weapon back over your shoulder and hurl it, with good end-over-end spin, straight at the mark. At the moment of release, your shoulders should face the game squarely.

The sidearm throw is similar to the motion used in stroking a tennis ball with the racket. Point the left toe at the animal, bring the stick to a cocked position at your side, and throw it, squaring your shoulders and snapping the club — as if you were cracking a whip — to give it spin.

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