Hunting vs. Trapping vs. Fishing: Why Hunters Will Starve In The Next Food Crisis

Finding enough food to live on in the wild is one of those things that’s often overlooked. Perhaps that’s because water, heat and shelter are all more important survival priorities.

Yet with the average bug out bag only containing three days worth of food, this isn’t exactly something we can ignore. Yes, we can live for 30 days or more without food, but eventually we have to eat.

Typically, people talk about living off the land as if it is something easy to do. But let me ask you, how many hunters do you know, who go hunting every year, but rarely come back with anything?

That might be okay if you’re just hunting for sport, but it won’t be acceptable if you’re trying to feed your family.

The truth is, it’s much harder to live off the land than it used to be. Back in the pioneering days, the country was teeming with game, making it easy for people to hunt for their food. But much of that game has been killed off through the years, and not as much land is left in a pristine state for wildlife to live in.

Cities, farms, ranches, recreational areas and roads have taken much of the land once roamed by wildlife.

Nevertheless, the day may come where your only chance of eating is through hunting, fishing or trapping. There are even fewer of us today who know what plants are edible, than there are who know what sorts of animal life are edible. So, for most, it will be easier to be a hunter, than a gatherer.

Granted, we’d be better off knowing both; how to hunt, fish or trap for animal protein, and how to gather edible plants for food as well. That would give us the biggest possibility of finding food that we can eat. But for now, I just want to focus on the hunting aspect of this. Hunting actually breaks down into three basic categories:

  • Hunting (usually referring to big game, although you can hunt small game as well)
  • Trapping (small game only)
  • Fishing (I think you know what this is)

Which one of these will work the best for you will depend a lot on where you are and what is available there. if you are in arid country, it’s going to be hard to go fishing. On the other hand, if you are in an urban area, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to go hunting for more than cats and dogs.


Survival hunting is considerably different than what most people know as hunting today. You can forget about the idea of using seed corn to lure deer in, as you probably won’t have any seed corn available.

For that matter, you won’t have a deer blind or anything else to make it easier to hunt. Hunting would mean going back to the basics, tracking game to find their habits, then staking out a place and waiting for the game to come to you.

The big problem here is that hunting big game require the investment of a lot of time. With all the survival tasks that need to be done, finding time to do much hunting would be difficult.

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Until you learned the habits of the animals, you would probably not manage to catch much.

For this reason, hunting is probably not the best bet for finding food in a survival situation. While you would get a lot more meat out of a deer or elk, than you would out of a squirrel, you would also have to invest more time in the process.

Ultimately, you would probably invest more time in hunting, than the food you got out of it would be worth.

However, there is a way to make this more effective, especially if you stay in the same area for a prolonged period of time. As you worked around the area, you could keep your eyes open, learning the habits of the wildlife in the area.

That way, once you knew the animals’ habits, you would be able to go out just at dusk and hunt, investing very little time for the catch.

Of course, there is always the chance of happening upon wildlife while you are involved in other survival activities, such as gathering wood. So you should always keep a weapon at hand, ready to use if you need it.

That would allow you to take advantage of those opportunities that chance offers you.

Keep in mind that if you are going to hunt, you’re going to need to be able to preserve the meat as well. That either means smoking it or drying it. Of the two, drying meat and making it into jerky is easier and provides for better protection of the meat against decay.

Smoked meats are only effective until they are cut, at which time the cut surface needs to be smoked to prevent decay.


Compared to hunting, trapping is actually considerably more efficient. A lot of that is due to the ability to create the traps or snares and then leave them, checking back daily to see if you have caught anything.

This allows you to do other necessary tasks, while your traps are hunting for you.

There are a number of disadvantages to trapping over hunting though. First of all, you’re not going to get a whole lot of meat out of one animal. We’re talking small game here, and unless you are fortunate enough to be able to trap rabbits, you’re not going to get a lot of meat off of one animal.

Squirrels, which are the most common small game available in most parts of the country, don’t really provide enough meat for one person; you need two per person to make a meal.

The other big disadvantage of trapping is that it requires a lot of special knowledge to build traps and snares. Few people really know how to build snares, and building snares from a diagram that you might be carrying in your bug out bag isn’t as easy as some people would have you believe.

If you are going to trap small game for food, you should practice making snares at home or on camping trips, so that when the time comes, you will be ready to make them. Concentrate on just a few simple styles, becoming competent in building those. Then forget about everything else, as you won’t need all those more complicated styles.

The other thing you have to know for trapping is how to find where the animals are. This involves part track identification and part knowing where they live. A trap that isn’t located in a path that animals use isn’t going to do you the least bit of good.

One of the easiest snares to make is one which is ideal for catching squirrels. All you need is a loop (or several loops) of thin, stiff wire and a pole. For a pole, you can use a 3 to 4 inch diameter branch off of the ground.

Lean this at an angle against the trunk or lower limb of any convenient tree, preferably one which you have seen squirrels in. They will naturally take this path, rather than going up the trunk, because it is easier.

I like to use steel guitar strings for this snare, as they already have a small loop at one end. Sticking the end through this loop allows you to make a noose, large enough for the head of a squirrel to fit through, but too small for the shoulders to go through.

Locate the loop on the top side of the branch and anchor the loose end to the branch. Several can be attached to one branch, allowing you to catch several squirrels. When squirrels go up the branch, they will hang themselves in the loops.


Of all the ways of harvesting animal protein from nature, fishing is the most efficient, especially if you use traps or automatic reels. The fish population in most lakes and rivers is higher than the population of animals on land.

So there is literally more food available in the water.

Like trapping, you can fish without having to be there, watching your fishing pole all the time. This is most commonly accomplished by using traps of some sort. I’ve seen some amazingly creative fish traps, most of which were made of garbage.

The basic idea behind any fish trap is to have a narrow opening that the fish can swim through to enter, with a larger holding area behind that opening. Fish will find the opening and swim through it, entering the trap, especially if there is something inside the trap to act as bait.

But once inside, it is much harder for the fish to find the entrance they just came in, so they remain trapped.

The variety of fish traps you can make is limited only by your imagination. One way is to make a loosely woven basket out of grass, with an inverted funnel shaped lid. Another is to pound sticks into the river bottom, in such a way as to make the funnel and holding area.

In any case, the trap must be made in such a way as to ensure that the fish can’t swim back out, once they’ve swum in. So pay attention to the size of the fish available where you plan on fishing. Then build your trap, ensuring that there aren’t any holes big enough for the fish to swim through, except for the entrance.

You can also buy automatic reels for survival fishing. These are lightweight, spring loaded reels, pre-loaded with about ten feet of line. You attach them to the branches of a bush or tree, with the hook and bait hanging in the water.

They are sensitive enough, that any fish grabbing the bait is sure to trip the reel, pulling the fish in and seating the hook. While they are not strong enough to pull the fish out of the water, they will hold a fish until you get back, as long as the reel is firmly anchored.

So, What Should You Do?

In reality, you should use a combination of all these techniques to provide yourself with food in a wilderness survival situation, assuming you are in an area where you can use all of them. None of these methods are secure enough that you can depend on them alone to keep you fed.

But by using a combination of them, you can probably harvest enough animal protein to keep you going. Add some edible plant life that you find in the area, and you’ll be living pretty well.

I’d start with fishing, then add trapping and finally hunting as I moved into a new area. That will allow me to get the most possible food, in the least amount of time. The addition of trapping and later hunting will increase the variety of my diet, as well as providing me with food to store up for later.

Remember that you’re going to have to think forward to winter. Throughout history, mankind has had to hunt, fish, gather and grow enough food to keep them going through the cold winter months, when animal life is moving the least and plants are dormant and buried under the snow.

The whole idea of food preservation came about from the need to keep ourselves fed through the cold months.

This means that you need to catch about twice what you need to have for your current needs. That way, you can preserve half of your catch, setting it aside for winter. That may seem excessive, as winter isn’t really six months long, but you have to give yourself a reserve as well, as you don’t know how soon it will be after spring breaks, that you’ll be able to find food to harvest.

The other thing your reserve does for you is ensure that you have food to eat if you get sick or injured. There is no leeway for error in a wilderness survival situation, especially one in which you are living off the land. You’ve got to make sure you have reserves to count on.

Written by

Bill White is the author of Conquering the Coming Collapse, and a former Army officer, manufacturing engineer and business manager. More recently, he left the business world to work as a cross-cultural missionary on the Mexico border. Bill has been a survivalist since the 1970s, when the nation was in the latter days of the Cold War. He had determined to head into the Colorado Rockies, should Washington ever decide to push the button. While those days have passed, the knowledge Bill gained during that time hasn’t. He now works to educate others on the risks that exist in our society and how to prepare to meet them. You can send Bill a message at editor [at]

Latest comments
  • The author talks about not having time to hunt because of all the other things that you will need to do in a crisis situation. Sorry, but hunting will take precedent over all the rest of the things I need to do. Everything else will be squeezed in around hunting. I have a family, so they’ll be doing the “other things.”

    • Biffula, True enough. however being out on the hunt all day/n ight also has some security issues with it. both for those out hunting and the folks back at the “ranch”.

      • Why would someone be out on a hunt all day and night? I can find something to eat in an hour after I go hunting. Granted, it may not be a five point buck, nor need a license, but I have hardly ever gone out at night, hunting or not, without seeing at least one rabbit. Also, the Birds. Find somewhere with a grain bin, you can find pigeons. Other times, under any bridge, railroad, or river crossing, there are usually pigeons. They are easy to catch, and quite delicious.

        Also, at the right time of year, there are birds eggs. As for time to fish? put out a set line or two, and go hunting. If you have not caught something, you must not be putting on bait. Don’t worry about time, nor seasons, as if it comes down to this, the legalities have flown the coop.

    • Biffula,
      In addition, the author says:
      “how many hunters do you know, who go hunting every year, but rarely come back with anything?”
      Every year? well some..but then they only get to hunt for a very limited time, each year.
      In a survival situation hunters don’t stop hunting because a Government imposed season ends.
      They hunt, trap and fish until they eat.

  • The author asks “how many hunters do you know, who go hunting every year, but rarely come back with anything?”, but ignores several possible reasons why. One possible reason is that the hunter sees game, but not the species he’s wanting to hunt. Another possible reason is that the hunter sees a species of game that’s not legal to hunt,or not legal a that time, or not legal to hunt with the particular weapon he/she has. Another possible reason is that the hunter sees the species he’s hunting, but it’s a female when only males are legal (such as doe versus buck), or it’s not a legal size/doesn’t have a legal rack, etc. Another possible reason is that the hunter wants a trophy, but doesn’t see an animal of the species that qualifies as a trophy. The hunter may be hunting with a large game rifle, but sees only small game whose meat would be ruined by the rifle. or, the hunter may be hunting small game with a .22 LR, but see large game the .22 can’t take, or isn’t legal to use on.

    Yes, there’s numerous reasons hunters don’t come back with game that don’t necessarily apply to survival.

  • Copper wire sold to hang pictures is good snare wire, partly because it’s soft enough to make the snare, but will be stiff enough for the small game you are trying to catch.

  • Keep a few rat traps (big mouse traps) to hang on a tree or fenc that a squirrel likes to travel and bait it with a taisty morsel that they scavenge for (easy meal). One trap per person you are trying to feed. Select a different tree or fence so they dont learn a pattern.

  • Just be careful that you are not the one that is being hunted for what you have caught or hunted . As we all know hungry people will do anything to eat .

  • There are a few things not mentioned that people need to consider. One is, a low area that could be made into a pond, to raise fish In. Divert a stream, and stock it, now. Either own the land, now, or get permission from the owner. If it is federal land, well, maybe, depends on how often it is looked at by rangers. Another idea, begin raising chickens, now. Learn, as I need to learn, how to incubate eggs for hatching. Let the rooster mingle with the hens, his natural instincts will take care of the rest. Separate them out of the main flock so egg gathering is easier. By the way, for those that do not know, for normal egg laying, the hens do not need the services, nor aggravation, of a rooster. More ideas to consider. Eggs can get to be a dull unwanted meal, quickly, but could be used as barter.

  • A couple of quick notes about survival fishing methods mentioned in this article.
    First, the automatic fishing reels (commonly called “yo-yo’s”) must be checked frequently. Once a fish is caught it will quickly tire out and get reeled up. Turtles and other Wildlife that eat fish will eat them off the yo-yo fairly quickly and leave you with only the head still hooked up. If the survivalist runs a trot line instead of A yo-yo the fish can swim enough to avoid most predators and the useable catch ratios should be higher than with the yo-yo automatic reels.
    Secondly, for absolute efficiency while discreetly Harvesting fish a survivalist should look into cast-netting.
    A properly thrown cast net will bring up everything that It is cast over. With proper scouting for APPROPRIATE fish habitat cover a survivalist could feed a family with just one or tWo Well pLaced cast-net throws.

  • Great article. I think in a true SHTF situation, hunting for your food is a fantasy. For starters, everybody and their brother will be in the woods with the same idea, stores no longer have food so ill just go in the woods and shoot a deer or moose or elk. Lol yeah ok. If you are lucky enough to actually shoot one, do you think you’ll be able to get it out of the woods without someone else knowing you just shot enough food to feed their family for a month? If you do it will only happen once. In a true SHTF situation, within a couple months there will be no game to be found in the woods. In my opinion, traps will be the best bet for aquiring game. They work 24 hours a day without you being there. You just need the time to check the trapline, which is alot less than it takes to hunt a big game animal. Rabbits are also the best bet for rasing a pRotein. Yes chickens give us eggs and we can eat the chicken too. But chickens require feed. Rabbits can eat the scraps from the garden and they multiply quickly giving a sustainable food source.

  • I prefer the name outdoorsman so I beg to differ, Most hunters are fishermen, the difference is as hunters we set trot lines or traps to fish for us while we hunt, we also enjoy fishing in traditional ways and hunting using traps can be done while fishing so the best method is to be both, the smart hunter will not starve before the fisherman but the untrained fisherman may starve before the well rounded outdoorsman


  • The chart below has the best hunting gloves on the market today and each has a reputation of proven reliability. Choose your preferred gloves and then get outside and start hunting. How to Choose the Best Hunting Gloves Choosing the right pair of hunting gloves can mean the difference between a fun and successful hunting experience and one that is miserable and cold. Because you don’t know what conditions you’ll be facing, it is best to look for hunting gloves that have a synthetic exterior first. Often made from nylon, this type of hunting glove will be waterproof, but still breathable, and have enough insulation to keep your fingers warm. Most insulation is of a synthetic material as well, but there are some hunting gloves for extremely cold environments, which are still made with down insulation.

  • I agree 100% with Kerry’s comments above. Having a pond or waterway on your property will help immensely living off the land. Not only for fish and /or crustaceans, but plant life that grows in or near water.

  • With regards to hunting law Im clueless but I have been keen freshwater angler most of my life. Firstly you require a fishing licence freshwater fishing on any water in Britain you also require permission to fish from the owner or club/association that own the fishing rights of your chosen water. If targeting trout there’s minimum legal sizes and limits to what you can take along with closed seasons when you cannot fish. Also with coarse fish there are legal amounts of fish that can be taken but the removal of coarse species is not welcomed by majority of anglers or clubs and is likely to get you into serious trouble. There are also various bylaws around the uk regarding use of certain types of equipment, like landlines or set lines basically these of more or less illegal. So please be carful and research thoroughly before fishing. Sea fishing is far less restrictive but size limits are in place.

  • As for the question of how many hunters do you know…, IF and I use the big IF, this ever happened, which I do not figure it will, there would be no use of legalities as to the hunting, fishing, nor trapping. I personally do not go by how many other people I know that can or can’t hunt right. I have never come back empty handed on a hunting year. I LIKE TO FIND MY PREY, TAKE CAREFUL AIM, AND DROP IT IN ONE SHOT. Most every shot it in the neck, breaking it, helping it bleed out due to the Jugular vein, and having what I came to get.

    IF, (once again,) this stuff come to be, I will not be picky about what I kill to eat, nor will I only go out hunting in certain seasons, times, nor areas. If it is alive, I will kill it and eat. I can also fish and trap. So, per se’ I want to go out to hunt for something to eat……What stops me from doing this early AM, prior to sunup, as well as having a few lines in the water, and traps set? Granted, we have a lot of laim brainors in the good ol’ USpf A, but a lot of us also know how to survive. One good idea is to check out the area one is in, if you see anyone else close by, then find a different area. I haven’t seen any land, forest, nor water, where there is NO animal that can be caught, nor eaten. Why would one sit on their thumbs, wondering if it is OK to shoot a deer out of season, at night, or wrong sex if there was a crisis like this? God made us with a will to live.

    A person never starves in one or two days. If you can’t find an animal, (as it does not have to be a rive point deer,) to eat in a day or two, you may as well quit and turn yourself in to get welfare. Even dogs or cats are edible, if you are wanting to not starve. Mice and rats are very high protein. I would not want to live totally on fish, however, I would not stop eating just cause I didn’t get that deer.

    Sometimes I see these articles just printed in order to get people panicked and scared of what a government is going to do. Well, we got rid of that kind of Government when we got rid of Obama. We now have the best America we have had since Reagan left office. Lets concentrate on the abilities of our people to live a life, not fear it.

  • Can someone be prosecuted for catching fish/small game while backcountry camping for an extended period in a National Forest? It seems a bit cruel and stupid to allow people to do backcountry camping, then tell them they have to pack in all their food, and pack out all their trash.

  • If not hunting season and/or without applicable licenses and/or in a wilderness area or other area where it’s illegal, and/or illegal size, gender, or variety, etc., yes.