Quick and Dirty Foraging

Quick and Dirty Foraging Part 1
By Ken Cook

Any time you bring up the subject of “Survival” somebody eventually starts talking about foraging for food. Usually, about 30 seconds after the subject is broached, somebody will start holding forth on edible plants.

Personally, I think that in most survival situations, foraging for edible plants is a bad joke.

There are very few places on the earth where edible wild plants abound and even in those places, if you’re not there during the right season, you’re not going to find much.

But even in the right seasons, most edible plants don’t have enough nutritional value to make it worthwhile to gather, clean, and prepare them. The quantities you’re going to find are so small the food content is going to be more symbolic than meaningful.

Even if you managed to find a large supply of wild edibles, if you eat enough of them to “get your fill” the odds are very good all that roughage on an otherwise empty stomach is soon going to be evacuating your bowels with great force and you’re actually losing more nutrients than you gained by eating the stuff in the first place. This is called “Negative Caloric Value” and is the main reason humans are not herbivores.

Then there’s the additional problem of potential poisoning. Almost all wild edibles have a twin or near twin which is harmful to humans. Failure to correctly identify the plants you find can lead to severe illness or death. For this reason, I highly recommend you never, ever, eat a mushroom you find in the wild. The temptation can be great if you’re hungry but unless you’re experienced “Shroomer” I’d strongly suggest you resist the temptation.

In short, I generally place the foraging for wild edible plants in the catagory of “Primitive Living” rather than survival. Interesting hobby if that’s your thing, but not something you should dedicate a lot of time to as a survivalist. The effort put forth both in training and during an event is more than the results will ever be worth.

Quick and Dirty Foraging Part 2
In part one, I discussed, and pretty much dismissed, the entire field of foraging for wild plant edibles. In part 2, I’d like to discuss more meaningful sources of food.


Obviously, having a firearm in a survival situation is going to great things for your odds of making it out. Armed with even a .22 rifle or pistol and a reasonable supply of ammunition, you now have the means to harvest enough game to keep you going strong for the duration of the survival event.

“But what if there isn’t any game?”

Well, if there isn’t any game, you’re not going to get any meat. Pretty simple. I won’t go into the “what to hunt” or “how to hunt” because that’s really beyond the scope of a forum post and more in line with a full sized book. Or possibly two books. Right now, I’m just cataloging a few different methods of putting food in the belly during bad times and opening those different methods up for discussion.


If for some reason you don’t have a firearm, meat isn’t necessarily off the menu, but now you’re going to have to do some trapping. Trapping is a very difficult thing to master and you’re not going to do it by reading a book or an Internet post, you’re going to have to go out and actually learn how to do it. The good news, is that unlike foraging for wild plants, this form of food gathing is truly worth the effort. With enough traps and skill, you can feed yourself and anyone else in your party in all but the harshest and most barren environments.

(I placed Trapping between hunting and fishing because trapping works as well in the water as it does as on land.)


Obviously, if you’re in an arid environment, this is out. But if you’re near any body of water, the chances are good that with a small and well thought out survival fishing kit, you can catch enough fish to feed your needs quite nicely.

One of the great things about fish is that they’re really easy to cook under primitive conditions. Gut it, lay it on a flat piece of (anything but pine!) wood and place the piece of wood on top of a hot, flat rock next to the fire, eat it when when the meat flakes easily or you can’t stand the wait anymore. In fancing restaurants, this is called “planking” and you usually have to pay extra for it. Don’t have a good plank or flat rock? Gut your fish, coat his outsides with mud, making sure you keep the mud out of the gut channel, and slip him down in the coals of your fire for about 10 minutes. Pull him out, peel off the baked mud, and eat what you find inside. To me, this is the most delicious way to eat fish there is.


What’s raiding? Simply put, it’s stealing.

In most survival situations, raiding isn’t even going to be a factor. If you’re wandering lost and looking for people and spot a garden, you don’t think about stealing from their garden, you simply walk up to the front door, ask them to use their phone, and call for pizza delivery and for somebody to give you a ride home. Quick and Dirty
Foraging Part 3
The third installment of this series of posts deals with “Raiding.” Raiding of course, is a “tactical” word for stealing.

Obviously, raiding isn’t a desirable option in a normal survival scenario simply because during a normal survival scenario when you have been lost and trying to find your way back to civilization, once you’ve found a village, farm, or occupied home, your trials are over. You simply present yourself to the locals, ask them for directions to the nearest restaurant, hotel, or bus stop and start thinking about how you want to market the movie rights for the story of your epic tale of survival in the wilds.

In an E&E situation however, there’s no guarantee the folks who’s farm/village/whatever will be sympathetic to your cause. In fact, odds are fair they will happily turn you over to exactly the people you’ve been busting your hump to avoid. Among professionals, the correct technical term for such an event is “A Very Bad Thing” or VBT for short.

So, you’re out in the bush in some God-forsaken Third World Pesthole, or as the PC like to say, “developing country” and suddenly you find you’re in the near vicinity of a village or farm. There is obviously much greater danger of discovery and or capture near such areas but equally, where there are people, there is food! Even the poorest village’s food supply seems like a cornucopia compared to what you’re going to find growing in the wilderness.

So, how do we properly raid (steal) the crops and livestock of this village?

The Rules are simple…

Never take more than you absolutely need.

Never take all of anything.

Never raid the same farm twice.

Get what you need, leave as little trace as possible, get out fast and never go back!

Why are these rules important?

Low tech farms and rural villages are used to a certain amount of crop loss and livestock depredation. No matter where in the world you are, there are always going to be wild animals who like the taste of chicken as much as you do. The difference between wild animals and man however, is that generally speaking, wild animals don’t take more than they can eat right then.

If Farmer Morales comes out to gather his eggs one day and none of his 8 hens are sitting on an egg, he’s going to find that pretty damned unusual. He’s going to know someone has stolen his egss. If one or two eggs are missing, he’ll never notice the difference. Unless of course, egg production drops every day for a week because you keep going back. Then, he’ll see the pattern, know somebody’s raiding the nests and you’re going to end up on the wrong end of a machete. (See VBT above.)

By the same token, if one of his hens is missing, he’ll figure something got to her and although he may set a trap for the predator, he won’t immediately think there’s a human raiding his hens. Again, unless you keep going back.

Likewise with crops. If you take just a little of this, and a little of that, he probably won’t notice and if he does, he probably won’t think too much of it. Kids are kids the world over and if you ever raided a melon patch when you were a kid, you know that a kid in Central/South America or anywhere else is going to snag himself a free melon (for example) from time to time if he gets the chance.

Before I completely leave the subject of chickens and eggs though, I’d like to cover eggs a bit more. Mainly because they’re a great source of fat and protein, they’re self contained, and can be cooked with relative ease even in the most primitive of settings.

If you’re going to raid for eggs, realize first that the henhouse is a pretty much western concept. Most folks who “keep” chickens in the third world allow their chickens to free range. This means the chickens run loose, lay their eggs where they please, and roost (sleep) where ever they like. This is both good news and bad news to the prospective E&E Forager.

First, you have to find where the hens are nesting. Maybe the owner of the chickens knows where the nest is, maybe he doesn’t. Hens can be pretty mobile about where they nest and if one nest is overly disturbed, they may pack up and relocate at almost any time.

Second, you have to know roughly what time of day the hens are laying. It’ll do you no good to raid a nest an hour after Mrs. Morales has gathered the eggs and it will be a VBT if you happen to be raiding the next when she’s gathering.

So, you need to recognize the sounds a hen makes when she’s laying. Laying up in a hide on the edge of a village all day long, you’ll be able to hear the soft “putting” sound a laying hen makes when she’s pushing out a cackleberry. Often, the more domestic breeds of chickens we are familiar with here in the US, like a White Leghorn will actually cackle loudly when she pops that egg out. (Can’t say I blame her a bit!) However, the breeds that are closer to being wild are a lot more circumspect and try not to draw too much attention to themselves or their prospective offspring. So, they make a very soft, low “putt putt putt” noise that’s very easy to miss if you’re not listening for it.

After you figure out you have a laying hen nearby, you need to be ready to slip in and snatch the henfruit as soon as she clears the nest. Don’t go in before hand, this will upset the hen and she’s liable to annouce to the world that somebody’s trying to eggnap her baby. As soon as you see her clear the next, move in, snatch the egg, and clear the area.

The beauty of getting in this fast is that you know the egg is fresh. Fresh? Hell, it’s still warm from the chicken’s ass! It don’t get no fresher than that.

But on the other hand, it’s entirely possible that while you’re skulking around the edges of the village looking for your chance to snatch and run, you’ll stumble across a nest with several eggs in it. In this event, you’ve struck a little chicken gold. If there are half a dozen eggs in there, you can take as many as half of them and scarper off post haste. BUT…

How can you tell if they’re edible or not? Obviously, if there are half a dozen eggs there, the hen’s been sitting on them awhile. Maybe half are fresh, and half are well on their way to being un-pickled baloots. It would really suck to steal the wannabe baloots and leave the fresh ones but how can you tell without actually breaking the egg?

Ahhhh, an excellent question!

Take a small container of water with you. Doesn’t have to be much. A canteen cup, soup can, anything will do. Place the egg gently into the water and let it sink or float. If it floats, it’s either rotten or there’s a chick growing in it. Put it back and try another one. The reason the rotten or growing egg will float, is this: A rotten egg has gases forming inside of it and the growing egg, the chick is digesting the whites as it grows inside the egg and thus the egg becomes lighter than water.

Keep it simple, just remember that fresh eggs always sink.

If the egg sits on the bottom but stands on end, you’re right on the verge of having a rotten egg. If you’re cooking breakfast at home, toss it in the garbage and grab another. If you’re running for your life in that 3WPH (Third World Pest Hole) then make a judgement call. How hungry are you?

By Ken Cook