Living Off the Land: Day 3

I've never been this hungry in my life.

Living Off the Land: Day 3

This skeleton from a local zoo's Halloween display is a solid representation of how I felt going into Day 3. I even have the matching coonskin cap.

This article is part of a mini-series. If you missed Day 1 or Day 2, make sure you catch up before jumping ahead.

Normally I sleep pretty well at night, especially at the cabin. Whether it’s all the fresh air or late nights playing cards, I rarely wake up in the middle of the night. However, Day 3 began bright and early at around 1:30 a.m. when I woke up and couldn’t fall back asleep. Fasting can lead to better sleep, at least that's what the internet says, but the uncertainty of when (or what) the next meal might be compounds the stress of the situation and makes the mind wander to dark places. As a I lay in my bunk contemplating my situation, the confidence I had just a couple days earlier was even more scarce than the wild game outside the cabin. The reality of the situation began to set in. Of course, I wasn’t worried I would starve to death, however there was a real danger the early symptoms of starvation could put me in a dangerous situation. 

The plan had always been to tag a deer the first or second day to sustain me through the week, giving me enough energy to branch out and diversify my menu with things like fish, ducks and beaver. I didn’t have a contingency plan in place in the event I didn’t get a deer. I put all my eggs in that basket and counted my chickens before they hatched. As it turns out, you notice how many colloquialisms mention food and how many food commercials there are on TV when you haven’t eaten more than a few hundred calories in a couple days. In hind sight, I should have set as many traps as I could on day one, then gone fishing. I likely could have caught a couple pike and some panfish to sustain me through the first couple days. 

By 3:00 a.m. I still hadn’t fallen asleep. I had been considering the dangers and worst-case scenarios the coming day might bring. I was most concerned I may faint or pass out while driving or while out in the woods alone. My dad was with me at the cabin, but he was planning on leaving later that day, at which point I would be truly alone. Our cabin is about a mile back in the woods down a road with no address or fire number. I had planned to make the two-hour drive home Monday afternoon to see my wife and daughter and return Tuesday morning, but the thought of getting behind the wheel after two more days of little or no food was weighing heavy on my mind. 

It was at that point I made the difficult decision to admit defeat and throw in the towel. I was planning on going fishing right away Sunday morning, but even the prospect of having some fish to eat for lunch wasn’t enough to keep me going. Only 51 hours into the challenge, I broke down and ate a piece of bread with some butter, followed by a couple venison hot dogs my dad had in his cooler. A hot dog never tasted so good. While I struggled with the decision to accept defeat, I knew at that point I could call it quits and go home with my tail tucked between my legs but go home safely and not risk injury to myself or others. 

By my calculations, I had consumed less than 500 total calories Friday and Saturday. I had failed. Physically, I likely could’ve gone another day or two with little or nothing to eat, but mentally I had talked myself out of it. I still think I might be able to cut it in a true survival situation given the same circumstances and gear, however I’m less confident now. I also have a new respect for anyone who truly lives off the land. Surely it takes more planning than loading a truck up with hunting and trapping gear and heading into the woods. This adventure turned out to be as much a mental challenge as it was a physical one. 

So there you have it. For liability reasons, I won't challenge you to try what I did. But in case you decide to give it a shot all on your own, drop us a line at and let us know how it went. 


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