Survive in the here and now by looking to the past

I recently wrote about Steven Rinella. Host of a TV show called MeatEater, he is a best-selling author known as a conservationist and an adventurer.

He has hunted game across Alaska, Michigan and Montana, and cooked bear meat, mountain lion meat, red stag meat and waterfowl meat over open fires.

Steven has also studied the lives of folks such as frontier explorer Daniel Boone to see how they survived. And he’s taken some of those learnings and shown us how we can benefit from them today.

Here are four of his lessons:

Keep meat cool, dry and insect free. Field care is as necessary of a skill for hunters today as it was back in the frontier days. “When you’re in a survival or a hunting situation, when you kill an animal, the animal’s flesh is very hot… An animal’s own heat can make its flesh spoil quickly,” Steven said. Field care is the practice of quickly separating the meat from the hot organs. First you need to get the heat out of the animal, then keep the meat cool, dry and insect free. Hunters in Boone’s day had tricks to do this, such as packing it in the hulls of boats where it would be close to cold water. Today, one can use a hunting bag for raw meat, burying it in the snow or keeping it in a cool creek.

To find prey, follow the food chain. During the frontier days, hunters paid attention to food sources. The way to locate a bear, for example, was to find where the food sources were that bears would be looking for. We can do the same, paying attention to what season it is. If it’s spring, a bear will probably be looking for skunk cabbage. In the autumn, deer will be feeding on acorns that have fallen from oak trees. Today, hunters manipulate animal behavior by planting food sources in certain places. But if it’s an undisturbed landscape, Steven recommends that people “hunt in the animals’ own kitchen.”

Learn what’s worthy of fear – and what isn’t. Respecting wild animals is part of Steven’s M.O., but he says it’s much more likely that a hunter will get cut by a tool or burned while cooking, suffer from hypothermia or heatstroke, or drown. He said an irrational fear of being killed by a black bear can keep people from things that are more problematic. “The problem with hypothermia is that you lose your ability to troubleshoot,” he said. “You’re already in a bad spot because you have hypothermia, then it strips you of your ability to deal with it. There’s this downward spiral.”

Expect freakish occurrences. Someone in Daniel Boone’s camp was once bitten by a rabid wolf. He became rabid himself and eventually died from it. The odds were stacked against something like that happening, but it did. Things like that still happen. During a hunting trip, Steven’s brother’s girlfriend was swatted by a porcupine on her neck. Severe pain followed with immediate treatment needed to avoid infection. “Going into that trip, if you had asked me to make a list of the 100 things that could possibly go wrong, a porcupine run-in would not have made that list,” said Steven, who on another occasion plunged through ice on a lake where a short distance away the ice was 12 inches thick.

The lesson here is that if you want to be prepared for a time when you will need to be self-sufficient, look to those in the past who absolutely had to be self-reliant in order to survive.

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