Living Off the Land: Day 1

I took to the woods of northern Wisconsin to see if I could hunt, trap, catch and gather enough food to survive a week. Here’s how it went.

Living Off the Land: Day 1

It’s always been a dream of mine to leave the rat race of modern living behind and attempt to make a living off what Mother Nature provides. I got a taste for what that might be like and now I’m not so sure I’m cut out for it. Inspired by others who have documented their own wilderness living adventures, I set off for my family’s hunting cabin in northern Wisconsin intent on surviving, possibly thriving, on foods from nature for a week. 

The Challenge

The rules were simple; I could use modern conveniences to hunt, trap, catch and gather my food, and eat nothing else the entire week. I was also constrained by Wisconsin hunting and fishing regulations and seasons, though in mid-October there wasn’t much I couldn’t do. Expecting to be eating lean meat and fish all week, I allowed myself to bring some table salt, but no other spices, to season my rations. For convenience, I also brought 15 gallons of clean water for drinking and cooking. I was confident, bordering on cocky, in the months and weeks leading up to the challenge. 

The Gear

If you’ve ever gone hunting out of state, or been on any extended hunt for that matter, you probably have a pretty good understanding of how my truck looked by the time I was done packing. Except unlike a dedicated elk or bear hunt, I was packing to hunt, trap and fish for a variety of game. I had a bucket of foothold traps for everything from raccoon to coyote and a tote of beaver traps. My trusty Remington 870 Wingmaster Magnum 12-gauge was riding shotgun so I could road hunt on the way into the cabin, which is legal in Wisconsin on unimproved roads. I also had a few boxes of shells, one each for grouse and squirrels, turkey and ducks. I also had my Bear Element bow, fully expecting to fling an arrow at a deer the first or second day to sustain me through the week. My Ruger Wrangler .22 revolver was in my pocket most of the time in case I came upon a squirrel or porcupine when I didn’t have my 870. I also brought my 16-foot fishing boat and 14.5-foot canoe. I was ready for anything. Almost. 

The author, full of confidence, perched in a ladder stand with a food plot in the background.
The author, full of confidence, perched in a ladder stand with a food plot in the background.

Day 1 

The challenge officially began at 12:01 a.m. on a Friday. Thursday evening, I took my wife out to dinner and a show, getting my last taste of restaurant food and finishing a beer around 7:30 p.m. In hindsight, I would have been better off to have a hearty breakfast Friday morning and start the challenge when I got to the hunting cabin. I didn’t think it would be easy, but I was confident I could scratch up enough wild game and fish to get by. There was a cold front moving through the area that would drop the mercury 20 degrees in a matter of hours while I was sitting in my deer stand. This was the same weather system that dropped feet of snow in areas of the Dakotas, though it had mellowed out by the time it hit my neck of the woods.  

I was actually looking forward to the cold front, thinking its timing would increase my chances of getting a deer. Keeping warm wasn’t a concern, and I figured it would have deer up and on their feet before dark. I spent the middle part of the day moving a ladder stand from the smaller of two food plots to the larger plot, positioned just right for the southwest wind forecasted for the next couple of days. All the while I was moving the stand I was on the lookout for grouse and squirrels, though they took the survival challenge a little more seriously than me and stayed hidden. Once the stand was hung, I took a short ride to pick up some cameras to document my adventure and chat with some friends. How cavalier.  

By 3 p.m. I was settled into my ladder stand, silently taking in my surroundings and ranging some landmarks in every direction I thought I might see a deer. When I deer hunt with my rifle, I normally sit in the same stand most of the season, year after year. I appreciate and soak up a new point of view while hunting from a different vantage point with my bow, the same way I enjoy taking the scenic route on a sunny fall day. The allure was short-lived, as I shook a frustrated fist at the swirling wind that sent my scent directly towards the direction I expected the deer to appear. Whether they smelled me, or heard my stomach lamenting the fact that I hadn’t eaten in almost 24 hours, the deer hunt ended without so much as a sighting. Hunting takes on an urgency when there isn’t a cooler full of food waiting back at camp. It’s no less enjoyable, but the disappointment of coming up empty-handed is more meaningful. I foraged a half-dozen turnips from the food plot and headed out.

If you’ve never eaten mashed turnips, you’re missing out. Next time you’re hunting a food plot planted with turnips, or at the grocery store if that’s where you prefer to get your produce, grab a handful and cook them up. Preparation is simple when you only have salt and water. You can peel the turnips if you want, but when every calorie counts I prefer to just wash most of the dirt off and cube them up before adding them to boiling water with a pinch or five of salt. Once they’re soft enough to mash with a fork, drain the water and finish mashing then add some more salt. Mashed turnips taste a lot like mashed potatoes mixed with mashed radishes, and salt. Bon appétit. 

My decision to hunt the larger of the two food plots turned out to be a mistake. As I checked the photos from my dad’s SpyPoint Link-Micro 4G trail camera, I was reminded of the old knight from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” telling Indiana Jones, “He chose ... poorly” as Donovan was reduced to dust and bones for having chosen the incorrect grail. While my years of cultivating mass around my midsection kept me from turning into a pile of dust after a single day of no food, my spirits crumbled when I saw the pictures of the meaty doe that spent 15 minutes in the smaller food plot, well within range of the tree that supported my ladder stand only six hours earlier. 

See what Day 2 has in store here

This doe browsed on turnip greens just before dark while the author was hunting a different food plot.
This doe browsed on turnip greens just before dark while the author was hunting a different food plot.
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