ranged survival weapons

Comparison of Ranged Survival Weapons

ranged survival weapons

Here at TBOBG, we’ve covered all kinds of preps. Among those, of course, are preps for defense and food procurement. Even though you’ve painstakingly researched and selected the ideal armament for your situation and have been religiously stocking up on ammunition, there may come a time when these careful preps aren’t sufficient.

Perhaps you’ll have suffered a raid, an unrepairable malfunction, or simply run out of ammo. In any of these instances, you would do well to have some alternatives to the usual collection of firearms. Read on to learn up on some of the best alternative ranged weapons.

As we look through our options, we’ll make sure to touch on some key decision-making factors for any ranged survival weapon. These factors will include:

  • Range: At what distance from the target can this weapon be effectively utilized?
  • Lethality: What is the effect on the target when this weapon is used against it?
  • Ease of Use: How difficult is this weapon to become proficient with?
  • Accessibility: How difficult is this weapon to obtain or build?
  • Ammunition: What is it, where can it be found, and how easy is it to replace?

Ranged Survival Weaponsranged survival weapons


The first alternative ranged weapon to come to mind for most folks will be the good ol’ bow and arrow. A decent bow is a fine alternative to a firearm, offering good range, high lethality, fairly easy learning curve, and pretty high accessibility.


Most adult-sized bows are easily capable of effective ranges beyond 40 yards. This brings their effective range close to that of most handguns. A high quality compound bow that has been set up correctly for a competent shooter is capable of accurate, effective shots out to as much as double that distance.


The whole idea behind a bow and arrow is to poke a hole through something from pretty far away and cause the target to bleed out. As with any piece of gear, proper equipment selection will make a huge difference here. Most bows will definitely be able to harvest deer, pigs, or other medium-to-large sized game.

From a defense standpoint, bows are equally effective to, though much different than a firearm. Do be aware that, unlike a firearm, there’s not a huge amount of hydrostatic shock when a target is hit with an arrow from even the most powerful bow. Unless there’s a direct heart shot, the target will likely be able to move and fight until it bleeds to death.ranged survival weapons

Ease of Use

Bows are simple in concept, but take a lot of practice and skill to master. Whether you’re inquiring about a modern compound bow, replete with pulleys and cables, or a traditional wood bow paired with a Flemish Twist string, any experienced bowyer will tell you that consistency is key.

If you’re making the smart move of setting yourself up with a survival bow in your preps, make sure to double down and practice with it! Go beyond just learning your anchor point and dialing in your release; shoot from different positions at different ranges. If you’re of the constitution, go bow hunting. You’ll not only get out in the woods and hone your technique, but you’ll likely end up with a freezer full of the finest organic, free-range meat available.

Even if you don’t intend to bolster your preps in advance with a bow, it’s not a bad idea to find a range and take a few lessons. Like learning to drive a manual transmission, the muscle memory and basic understanding of the concept can pay off big time in a pinch.


Bows are quite easy to find, and nearly as easy to make. To purchase a new bow, your best bet is your local archery or hunting store. Otherwise, bows can be found in all the usual online marketplaces, or at gun shows, yard sales, and by word of mouth. Many bowhunters are dying to get rid of some of their old equipment to help fund the Next Best Bow.

Be sure to buy the right size bow, and don’t go overboard with the draw weight. Even the hunkiest prepper would do well to start off at a reasonable draw weight (45 pounds or so). Don’t skimp on your arrows, either; get them in the correct spine stiffness, length, and weight for your bow and intended use.

If you’re looking to make your own bow, you’ve taken on a very rewarding challenge. Whether your project is to design your ideal lifelong hunting partner, or just to gain experience for a “what if” scenario, you should be able to get from tree to complete bow in less than 15 hours of work. Many designs and options to be made from wood, PVC, or other materials are readily available online. Work carefully, pay attention to the details, and you’ll end up with a long lasting, sweet shooting product.


Bows shoot arrows, of course! The best arrows are store-bought. Though traditionalists like the notion of wood arrows, most will eventually agree that using proper carbon fiber or aluminum arrows will result in superior accuracy, reliability, and safety from any bow.

That said, arrows aren’t that difficult to make. Like a bow itself, arrow making is simply an investment of time that can pay big gains. Even the feathers that influence the arrow’s true flight, or fletching, can be made from a number of materials: Including, of course, duct tape!

Other Notes

ranged survival weapons
Photo by usfwmtnprairie on Flickr.

One of the most versatile of ranged weapons, a good survival bow can be outfitted to take almost any kind of game. A blunt point will do well for small critters like squirrels and rabbits. A barbed point and some line will turn a standard bow into a fine bowfishing rig capable of bringing in 20 pounds of fish at a time. Some creative use of string tied in loops on the business end of an arrow can increase your margin of error and bring birds out of the sky.

Preparing yourself to use or build a bow and arrow setup is an extremely valuable use of your time. The bow was instrumental in separating Man from beast, and can make the difference between a dangerous arms-length encounter and a safe kill from a distance. Do yourself a favor and familiarize yourself with this fantastic piece of ranged weaponry.

BowsKey Features
Martin Jaguar Takedown Bow
Traditional style makes a good starter bow
Breaks down easily for packing in a BOB
Laminated wood and glass limbs provide a smooth draw
Spectre Compact Take-down Survival Bow
Modular design allows for 35, 45, or 55lbs of draw
Set includes quiver and arrows
Stores compactly in quiver
Siege Compound Bow
Accessory screw mount for bow fishing
55lb draw weight can handle larger game
Maximum speed 206 FPS
Click the images to view product details and pricing on Amazon.


Everybody’s favorite soft-hearted, zombie-slaying, post-apocalyptic TV redneck uses a crossbow for a reason; it’s accurate, powerful, silent, and easy to use. If you’re looking for a ranged survival weapon that will do its part in fending off the undead horde or take down a fortnight’s meat, a crossbow shouldn’t be far from the top of your list.


Crossbows are essentially a standard bow that has been turned on its side, attached to a rifle-like stock, and given a trigger mechanism that holds the string at the full draw position until the shooter is ready to fire. As such, the operator only has to draw the bow to its full draw position for a period of time sufficient for the trigger mechanism to lock the string in place. Because of this, the crossbow can be designed to use a much higher draw weight, and thus fire its projectile (though it looks like an arrow, it’s called a “bolt”) a greater distance with higher power. Expect 20-40% more range than a standard bow.


ranged survival weapons
Photo by wwworks on Flickr.

Crossbows are every bit as lethal as a typical upright bow. They poke the same size hole, but generally can do it from a greater distance.

Ease of Use

Crossbows tend to be a bit more forgiving to shoot than a regular bow. While not as easy or intuitive as a rifle for some, the crossbow has a relatively short learning curve. They do take a while to load, and thus likely aren’t the best pick for heated battles. Additionally, they can be awkward to store and transport.


Though fairly readily available pre-TEOTWAWKI, there isn’t likely to be a glut of these after the SHTF. In contrast to most of the other ranged survival weapons, the crossbow is pretty difficult to make with limited time or materials.


Crossbow bolts aren’t just short arrows. Bolts tend to be much stiffer, and don’t have any sort of nock at the rear. Because of the nature of the crossbow’s function, bolts must be very straight and very strong. It’s not recommended to make your own bolts unless there’s really no other option.

Other Notes

There are some specific advantages to the crossbow, namely the effective range and short learning curve. The cons can quickly begin outweigh the pros for many people, though. If you’re not equipped with one of these before TEOTWAWKI, don’t count on ending up with one after.

CrossbowsKey Features
Cobra System Self Cocking Pistol Tactical Crossbow
Self-cocking mechanism shortens reload time
Quiet and well-suited to hunting small game
Good beginner crossbow for a reasonable price
Barnett Jackal Crossbow
Powerful 150lb draw and 315 FPS for hunting larger game
Red dot scope for improved accuracy
Smooth 3.5lb trigger pull
Barnett Oudoors Ghost Crossbow
Carbon Riser Technology reduces overall weight
Anti Dry Fire Trigger system prevents firing without a bolt in place
Heavy duty crossbow for experienced hunters
Click the images to view product details and pricing on Amazon.

Throwing Arrows

ranged survival weapons
By Zeph77 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0]
Using a basic lever concept and aerodynamic projectile, a throwing arrow is a highly lethal, simple package that has been around since the earliest days of our species. The most common type of throwing arrow systems are the atlatl and the Swiss arrow. The atlatl is generally wood or some other rigid material, while a Swiss arrow setup uses rope or twine.


A single throwing arrow (or dart, to be technical) is generally effective at a medium range. Once you’re proficient with the thrower, 15-20 yard shots on deer-sized game will be quite achievable. Though the darts can be propelled much farther than this, accuracy wanes quickly.

Throwing arrows can be used quite effectively as a high-volume defense weapon. Though a single surgical kill shot is difficult to achieve beyond 20 or so yards, a great volume of flying darts can be more than a little intimidating. If your group is low on ammo and expecting a fight, consider equipping several members with throwing arrows and instructing them to fire simultaneously at a target.


A well-placed dart is as deadly as a sharp object can get. Even without perfect shot placement, darts will often hang out of a wound and further damage will be done as the exposed portion of the dart is dragged through brush or on the ground. Like the bow and crossbow, there’s not much in the way of hydrostatic shock; the intention is to cause the target to bleed out.

Ease of Use

Throwing arrows take a lot of time and practice to use effectively.  A general rule of thumb is to pretend as though you’re simply throwing a normal spear. Let the lever do the work.


Atlatls are quick and easy to make. The lever system can be made from nearly any wood or PVC or other available material, or the focus can be on making a Swiss arrow by using just a bootlace or twisted fiber. While simple in nature and construction, it’s important to recognize the end goal before you get started. Check around for build guides on the internet.


Darts can be made relatively easily from most straight, reasonably rigid materials. Darts should have some flex to them for best performance. Unlike arrows or crossbow bolts, throwing arrows don’t necessarily need to be fletched, although this does increase their accuracy and range.

Other Notes

Because throwing arrow systems are so easy to make, there’s no excuse not to practice at home before the need arises. If the time ever comes that an atlatl could make the difference between eating and not eating, you’ll be glad you did!

Throwing Spears/AtlatlsKey Features
Nanticoke Atlatl
Simple and durable design, easy to travel with
Knuckled handgrip for better control
Darts are made from ash lumber for straightness and elasticity
Kanakadea Atlatl
Fingerless rest holds dart in place
Comes with fletched 5' darts with field tips
Catatonk Atlatl
Engineered specifically for hunting
Hammer grips tranfers more power
Moderate shaft flex for improved control
Click the images to view product details and pricing on Amazon.


ranged survival weapons
Photo by psym on Flickr.

Evidently Dennis the Menace knew a thing or two about lightweight, portable weaponry. Though he generally used his to wreak havoc on his neighbors, the slingshot shouldn’t be discounted as a formidable light-duty ranged survival weapon. For our in-depth review of survival slingshots, CLICK HERE.best slingshot


Slingshots work off of energy stored in an elastic band. Unlike the previous ranged weapon alternatives, the slingshot doesn’t have the assistance of leverage. As such, even the most well-executed models will be limited to shorter range work on smaller targets.


Slingshots aren’t particularly powerful. Even the compound-style slingshots that can be found these days are fairly anemic compared to other ranged weapons. With most slingshots, expect to be able to take small game at short range. Due to the ease of getting close to them, rabbits and birds are particularly good bets for hunting with a slingshot.

ranged survival weapons
Photo by thebusybrain on Flickr.

For defense use, don’t expect much from your slingshot. While shots can be painful, it’s rare that they’re deadly.

Ease of Use

While not difficult to get the hang of, slingshots can benefit from some quality practice. Much like a survival bow, consistency is key. When shooting a slingshot, always draw the band to the same length, and try to keep your arms in the same relation to one another. If angled shots are required, focus on keeping your upper body position the same and bending at the hips to account for the angle.


Slingshots are available at many big-box stores, and are really easy to make. Any highly elastic, durable rubber banding should be a good bet for the power plant, while a stout forked branch serves as the chassis.


The beautiful thing about slingshots is that ammo is prolific. While a ball bearing or similarly dense, spherical object is the ideal projectile, any rock or acorn or bolt nut can be used. If you’re equipped with a slingshot, keep on the lookout for good ammo. That said, don’t worry about saving and carrying anything but the very best of what you find; no need to carry mediocre ammunition when it’s available pretty much everywhere.

Other Notes

A slingshot can be a very handy secondary ranged weapon. They work very well for taking game that might not be worth risking damage to an arrow or bolt for a small amount of gain. Also, since it’s not necessary to carry a lot of complex ammunition, the slingshot can be a very lightweight, simple weapon to have in a back pocket, Dennis style.

Aftermath Kavia Elite Sport Slingshot
Adjustable sight and wrist support. Has unique push-button design to dispense ammo from the hollow handle.
Trumark FS-1 Folding Slingshot
Lightweight aluminum frame for easy carrying. Hollow handle has a flip valve for dispensing ammo quickly.
Saunders Wrist-Rocket Pro
Unique design allows for extreme velocity. Folds in a manner that allows you to padlock the slingshot to prevent children from using it.
Click the image for product details and pricing on Amazon.


ranged survival weapons
By Peter van der Sluijs. (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0]
Most famous for its involvement as the weapon of choice against a certain Goliath and its effectiveness in the skillful hands of Ayla from Jean M. Auel’s series of books, the sling is a simple but remarkable ranged weapon.


Slings are a good short-range weapon. The power and range of a sling is determined in large part by the size of projectile selected and the length of the sling itself. As with throwing arrows, a large number of stones being hurled by members of a party can be quite effective at even long ranges. Flying rocks always hurt.


Though technically capable of kills on larger game (or in defensive use), the sling is more appropriate as a tool for turning small game into food, and for dissuading would-be attackers before things get out of hand.

Ease of Use

Like most of the ranged survival weapons in this article, slings take some practice in order for a user to become proficient. Though the motions and the principles are quite simple, a good deal of learned coordination and muscle memory are required.


Premade slings can probably be ordered online (Really, what can’t?), but there’s no excuse to not make your own. A length of cordage and a pocket of stiff fabric or leather is about all you need. Aside from a driveway full of rocks, of course.


A sling is capable of propelling just about anything that fits in its pocket. Like the slingshot, there’s no sense in collecting and carrying any but the finest scavenged ammunition.

Other notes

While not much of a defense weapon against someone with anything more effective than a sling of their own, the sling does have its utility. Even due to nothing else besides its light weight, simple construction, and easy portability, a sling might be one of the most convenient alternative ranged weapons available.

SlingsKey Features
Paracord Sling
Handmade from 550 paracord
Pouch fits ammo up to the size of a golf ball
60" total length
Leather Sling
Moulded bison leather pouch cups ammo
54" total length
Click the images to view product details and pricing on Amazon.

Pepper Spray

Though not as permanently damaging as, and considerably less romantic than, many of the other ranged weapons we’ve covered, pepper spray is one seriously effective tool when used correctly.


Most pepper sprays have an effective range somewhere from 10 to 25 feet. This isn’t far, but it can quickly create time for you to get away from your attacker.


ranged survival weapons
Photo by smittypants on Flickr.

The relatively few deaths that have occurred due to pepper spray’s effects notwithstanding, pepper spray is not considered to be a lethal weapon. Using pepper spray for any sort of survival hunting would probably do more harm than good.

Ease of Use

Pepper spray is pretty simple: Point at attacker’s face, depress a button, and watch the sucker writhe in drool-inducing pain. You’ll probably only have one chance to get it right, though, so make it count.


Pepper spray is readily available in most states. Any local gun shop or big box store should have several options. After a big SHTF event, though, this may no longer be the case. If pepper spray is something you intend to rely on, make sure to stock up.


Pepper spray is self-contained. While there’s no doubt that some enterprising soul could probably find a way to mix up a home recipe and make it portable, it’s likely best to simply run what ya’ brung.

Other Notes

Be aware that pepper spray is just that: A liquid spray. If you’re downwind of this stuff, even if you’re not the target, you’re in trouble. Additionally, pepper spray is only going to bring a human down for a short time. During that short time, they can still be combative. Use pepper spray to create the opportunity to make space between yourself and the one you’ve just sprayed.

Pepper SprayKey Features
SABRE Pepper Spray
10 foot range puts distance between you and your target
Contains 25 bursts or 10 one second sprays for multiple uses
Quick release key ring to deploy quickly
Police Magnum Pepper Spray
17% OC solution is highest allowed by law
Flip top design deploys with one hand
Kimber Pepperblaster
Pistol-like design for grip and accuracy
Sprays at 90 mph to hit the target and only the target
Second reserve shot for backup
Click the images to view product details and pricing on Amazon.

Throwing Knife or Tomahawk

Don’t do it. Don’t ever throw a knife, axe, or any other hand tool as a weapon. At worst you’ll do no damage to your target and lose a valuable tool in the process. At best, you’ll do less damage than you’d like to the target and lose a valuable tool in the process. Knives and axes can be fun to throw for competition or a challenge, but not for hunting or in battle. Keep those tools and use them to make a more appropriate ranged survival weapon.

Closing Thoughts

ranged survival weapons
Photo by lee-yoshi on Flickr.

Now that you’ve got the information, it’s time to get started with the prepping! Consider your goals, and think long and hard about how you’ll approach the possibility of living without firearms during bad times. If you’re unsure about how to proceed, there’s no harm in trying each of the above ranged weapons. Most of them are fairly easy to make or purchase, and all will add a new dimension to your ability to defend, hunt, and succeed. There’s no time like the present to prepare for the future.

Your Thoughts

Do you have some experience with any of these alternative ranged survival weapons? Are your preps already stocked with firearm alternatives? Speak up about your experiences, successes, and failures in the Comments section below, thanks!

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bushcraft skills

Bushcraft Skills: Foraging for food

bushcraft skills

Feeding yourself off the land can be a challenge even in favorable conditions and is one of the most important bushcraft skills to learn.  It takes a good knowledge of local plants and animals as well as the ability to actually catch or gather them to make a meal.  The field of bushcraft has lots of ways to make this easier.  For more basic information on getting started with Bushcraft, check out our article HERE.

Bushcraft Skills: Foraging for edible plants

Being able to forage for your dinner requires an in depth knowledge of the plants in your area.  You need to know not only what you CAN eat but also what you CAN’T eat.

bushcraft skills

What to look for

  • Roots and tubers:  Roots and tubers are found in the soil underneath the vine or stalk of a plant.  They are very nutritious but usually require cooking or boiling.  Potatoes, yams, and onions are all either roots or tubers.
  • Grasses: The young whitish tips of many grasses are edible and often palatable.  They can be eaten raw
  • Seeds & Nuts: The seeds and nuts of many plants are edible and provide a good source of nutrition.  If you taste a seed or nut and it has a bitter or acidic quality it is probably not safe to eat.  Frequently seeds and nuts can be made safe to eat by soaking them for 12 hours in water or boiling.
  • Fruit & Berries: We are used to seeing fruit in our supermarkets on a regular basis but it is important to note that the apples, pears, and bananas we consume are the product of thousands of years of cultivation by farmers.  Many berries and fruits found in the wild can be harmful if eaten.  Generally any fruit that is red in color should be avoided.  Unless you are sure a fruit or berry is safe to eat these are best avoided.
  • Leaves: The leaves of many plants are edible both raw and after boiling.  Some palatable ones to seek out are watercress and nettles (be careful when picking nettles as they can sting), both of which often grow near freshwater streams.  Beware leaves that have a strong bitter taste.

bushcraft skills

Things to avoid:

An important part of bushcraft foraging is knowing what to avoid.  Remember that there are exceptions to every rule so it is best to educate yourself about your local plants as much as possible.  Here are some general guidelines to follow.

Bad smelling plants – If a plant, or fruit has an off putting smell it is probably not ideal to eat.  Out sense of smell has evolved over thousands of years to warn us against dangerous foods.  Avoid anything that smells distasteful.

Taste of almond – This is usually an indication of the presence of prussic acid which is toxic to humans.  It can sometimes be removed by boiling the plant.  If you can no longer taste the almond bitterness after boiling or soaking it is probably safe.  Be sure to safely discard the water you boiled the plant in.

Acidity or Bitterness – Any plant that tasted extremely bitter or “hot” should be avoided.  This is a typical sign that it will make you sick or worse.

The Color Red – Seeing red leaves or fruit is a likely sign that a plant is dangerous to us.  There are some exceptions of course (strawberries, apples) but unless you KNOW a red plant or fruit is safe avoid it at all costs.

Fungus – There are some mushrooms out there that are edible and even tasty.  However these can be hard to differentiate between their lookalike toxic cousins. Again, unless you are SURE a mushroom is edible it is best to not eat them at all.

bushcraft skills

But what if?

If you are uncertain if something is edible or not and out of options the general approach is to taste a small bite of it WITHOUT swallowing it.  If it tastes OK (no bitterness or strong acidity) then swallow a small sample and wait 1 hour.  If not unpleasant reaction occurs it is safe to eat more.  Again, this approach is a last resort.  You are better off to keep on searching if you have any doubt in your mind.

Also remember that cooking or boiling can reduce or remove bitter tastes and in some cases toxins as well.  Again, it is essential to gain knowledge over your local plants to be able to use this option.

bushcraft skills Bushcraft Skills: Trapping and Hunting Game

Foraging Plants vs. Animals

When every calorie counts, there’s no question: Eating animals is the most efficient path to survival. Plants can offer additional nutrients, flavor, and supporting calories, but generally won’t contain enough calories to sustain you on their own. Most leafy plants will only offer 30-50 calories per ounce of weight. Contrast this with the 200 calories available from a small freshwater fish and 500 calories provided by a single fat squirrel. The numbers grow exponentially for larger game. Nuts, to be fair, do offer a respectable caloric payoff in the neighborhood of 150-200 calories per ounce. Most acorns will need a lot of preparation, but walnuts, beechnuts, and butternuts can be eaten fresh or kept for a few days after being dried in the sun.

Finding Food

Food sources are all around us; no less so when we’re in the backwoods. Regardless of your geographic location, you can rest assured there are plenty of indigenous wild edibles. One of your regular bushcraft projects should be to practice identifying and gathering some of these food items.
When moving in the woods, look constantly for animal sign. Scat, tracks, and eaten plants or nutshells are all indicators of recent animal activity. Gather convenient plants while you’re moving on other tasks; don’t devote valuable time to seeking out these lower calorie foods.

bushcraft skills

Traps and Snares:

If you’re in a situation that calls for feeding yourself, you’re likely to have a lot of work to do to stay alive. Moving toward safety, tending a fire (learn how to make a self feeding fire HERE!), securing water, and treating injuries take time and calories. Don’t waste either of those precious commodities on actively hunting for one animal at a time. Use snares and traps to multiply yourself. Snares will require wire or cordage. Keeping a few good sections of thin wire in your bushcraft backpack or survival kit is a good idea, and can be one of the more valuable bushcraft tools in a survival scenario.
When placing trap and snare sets, designs are limited only by your imagination. A few of the most common sets are:

  1. Figure-4 deadfall (video below)
  2. Basic peg trigger for spring-tree snare (picture above)
  3. Fish funnel
  4. Squirrel pole (video also below)

When setting traps, the key is to placing the trigger or snare loop where an animal is likely to hit it. Game trails, particularly those that lead to water or dens, are excellent locations. Place snares directly in the trail with the snare loop a couple inches off the ground at the height of a likely target animal’s head. Traps with baited triggers, like the Figure-4 Deadfall (see the video below), should have some tasty bait rubbed on the bait stick. Food wrappers or mashed up fish or frog parts work well for this.

Be sure to check your sets regularly. Remember, you’re not the only predator in the forest. A handy rabbit in a snare would make quite a good meal for a scavenging coyote.  Check out this video on making a Squirrel Pole:

Cleaning and Cooking Game

Once your carefully set traps have secured some food, don’t ruin the payoff with poor processing. It’s important to cleanly skin and gut game to adequately cook and minimize spoiling of the meat. Squirrels and rabbits are easily skinned with just a few knife strokes. Fish can generally be filleted and de-scaled in about the time it takes to peel an apple.
Cooking is a pretty simple affair. Roasting meat on a spit is simple and gets the job done. Fish is generally best grilled on a flat rock facing a fire. If you luck into enough meat to last for longer than one or two meals, consider smoking and drying the meat on a tipi-shaped rack made of green wood and covered with bark.  If you want to hone your primitive fire making skills, you can check out our How-To article HERE.

Bushcraft Tools for Wild Edibles:

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. When you’re going into the wilderness, make sure an EPIRB is in your bushcraft backpack. From there, a quality knife, plenty of snare wire, a primary and backup fire starter, and a small fabric bag for holding foraged food are all near-necessities.

One of my favorite Bushcraft Tools, the Gerber LMF II



As you can see, there are really a lot of options for feeding yourself in the wild.  As with most areas of survival the ability to do this comes down to knowledge and practice.  Many of the trap sets look fairly simple, but hands-on experience will pay off. Integrate these setups into your regular bushcraft projects (but check your local game laws first). Practicing these skills will ensure you’re well prepared when a real need arises.

If foraging is one of the many bushcraft skills you want to master, start by learning about the plants and animals around you and then get out there and try it.  I challenge you to try and feed yourself 1 meal from foraged or caught food the next time you head out to the woods!

Your Thoughts?

Do you have a foraging tip you would like to share?  What bushcraft skills do you want to learn more about?  Please let us know in the Comments Section below, thanks!

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what is bushcraft

What Is Bushcraft: Survival Skills, Tools, & How To Learn

what is bushcraftThe old saying goes “The more skills you have the less gear you need”.  This is a great mindset to have and it provides a clear path on the journey to preparedness.  Today I am going to share with you a set of skills and tools that all add up to the overall field known as “Bushcraft”.  If you are an old hand at wilderness survival or are just asking, “What is Bushcraft?” this article will show you what skills to learn and tools to use when growing your bushcraft knowledge and survival abilities.

What Is Bushcraft?

Bushcraft is the art of using the resources provided by our natural environment to survive and thrive in the great outdoors.  It combines the knowledge of how to best use the plants and animals at your disposal with some basic bushcraft tools to make outdoor living easier and more efficient.  In learning bushcraft skills we benefit in many ways including:

  1. Increasing our ability to adapt to new challenges
  2. Becoming more self sufficient
  3. Growing our confidence
  4. Increasing our survival skills
  5. Becoming better prepared to face unforeseen problems

Bushcraft is not just one thing to learn.  It is a group of related skills that help you survive and adapt to overcome obstacles.  Although traditional bushcraft is focused on wilderness survival, its mindset of using the world around you can easily be applied to an urban or suburban setting.

bushcraft skills

Learning bushcraft survival skills will go a long way in making you better prepared the next time a disaster strikes.  Many of the skills and projects within the field of bushcraft can be directly applied to survival situations and are immensely useful to learn.

What Are Bushcraft Skills?

Bushcraft encompasses several primitive skills to shape the world around you and meet your survival needs.  In this article I am going to focus on the fundamental bushcraft skills that are most related to survival:

  • Food Foraging
  • Trapping and Hunting Game
  • Water Gathering and Purification
  • Shelter Building
  • Fire Building

Now we have discussed many aspects of these skills in other articles (such as this one) but remember, bushcraft teaches you how to do all these things with just a basic tool and the knowledge in your head.  Each of these bushcraft skills have many smaller subsets of tasks and abilities that make them up.  Let’s take a look at what you need to learn to become proficient at these fundamental bushcraft survival skills.

Food Foraging

  • Knowledge of local plants
  • Camp cooking
  • Avoidance of toxic plants
  • How to efficiently harvest

Trapping and Hunting

  • Tracking and stalking game
  • Reading animal signs
  • Building snares
  • Using lures
  • Hiding human scent
  • Tying knots
  • Making cordage
  • Cleaning and cooking game

Water Gathering and Purification

  • Foraging for water
  • Making a water filter
  • Purifying water
  • Fire building (for boiling)
  • Container making (for carrying water)

Shelter Building

  • Felling trees
  • Batoning branches
  • Harvesting other materials
  • Thatching or weaving grass or bark
  • Knot tying
  • Making cordage
  • Natural insulation and waterproofing

Fire Building

  • Collecting wood
  • Gathering tinder
  • Batoning branches
  • Building a bow drill, fire plough or other device
  • Building a fire pit
  • Types of fires and their uses

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How Long Does It Take To Learn Bushcraft Skills?

As you can see there is a lot to learn!  While becoming a bushcraft master can take several years or longer the good news in that there are many small skills that can be quickly learned to get you started.  Additionally, some of the more basic skills like making cordage and batoning branches have many uses and can be applied to more than one discipline.

what is bushcraft

If you are just starting out

If you are starting with no base of bushcraft knowledge it is best to begin with one of the easier skills to learn.  Many of these can be learned in a matter of hours and be further developed whenever you have the time to practice.  Some basic bushcraft skills to start out with are:

  • Batoning wood
  • Carving simple tools
  • Lashing basic camp structures such as a tripod
  • Knot tying
  • Basic fire starting

If you have a basic knowledge already

With some basic bushcraft knowledge under your belt you can start to learn some of the more intermediate skills such as:

  • Foraging for food
  • Primitive fire building (no matches or lighter)
  • Shelter building
  • Basic snares and trapping
  • Water purification

For the pros

If you have a working knowledge of survival or outdoor living you can start to take on some of the more advanced bushcraft projects and skills such as:

  • Making rope and cordage
  • Advanced structure building (camp oven, beds, thatching)
  • Advanced foraging and trapping
  • Land navigation
  • Tracking

 What Are Bushcraft Tools?

At its most basic level bushcraft is the art of going out into the woods and surviving with nothing more than the clothes on your back and an edged tool.  Nearly every skill and most bushcraft projects use a bushcraft tool to make your labor easier.

bushcraft projects
A solid bushcraft toolkit will make most projects easier and faster

Bushcraft Knife

A fixed blade knife is the most common bushcraft tool.  Finding the best bushcraft knife (Check out my guide for picking the best fixed blade knife here) for your kit will make many camp tasks easier and faster.  Bushcraft knives are best suited for light and medium duty tasks:

  • Batoning branches smaller than your wrist
  • Carving or whittling wood
  • Skinning game
  • Making snares and traps
  • Preparing food

Here are my favorite knives for bushcraft:

KnifeSizeCostFeaturesBlade Material
KA-BAR Becker 22

Overall: 10.5"
Blade: 5.25"
Weight: 14.6oz
$$$Glassbreaker/hammer pommel. Extreme heavy-duty construction, ergonomic grip.1095 Cro-Van steel
Tom Brown Tracker

Overall: 11.90"
Blade: 4.25"
Weight: 28oz
$$$$Serrated back and multi-level main edge give this knife maximum versatility. Heavy duty, high quality construction.1095 High Carbon Steel
CRKT Ultima

Overall: 10"
Blade: 5"
Weight: 8.3oz
$$Patented Veff serrations, pry tip in pommel, fantastically designed grip melds to your hand in any conditions.1.4116 Stainless steel
ESEE-6 Survival Knife
Overall: 11.75"
Blade: 6.5"
Weight: 12oz
$$$$Textures handle with contoured design provide excellent grip when wet. Glassbreaker/hammer pommel.1095 High Carbon Steel
Morakniv Companion Heavy Duty Knife

Overall: 8.9"
Blade: 4.1"
Weight: 4.8oz
$The king of basic knives. Far better performance than expected out of such a low price point. These knives have been used by cost conscious hunters and campers for many years.High Carbon Steel
Fallkniven S1 Forest Knife

Overall: 9.7"
Blade: 5.1"
Weight: 6.7oz
$$$$Straightforward knife built using some of the best materials available. High corrosion resistance.VG-10 Stainless steel

Tomahawk or Hatchet

As I discussed in my article “How To Choose The Best Tomahawk” (check it out here), a small axe is a highly versatile bushcraft tool.  Generally the design of a bushcraft axe makes it best suited for heavier duty tasks:

  • Chopping wood
  • Felling trees
  • Splitting logs
  • Butchering large game
  • Digging
  • Hammering stakes or posts

Here are some of my favorite bushcraft axes and tomahawks:

Fiskars X7 14 Inch Hatchet

1.4 lbs
$FiberComp handle is nearly indestructible. Designed with power-to-weight ratio for efficient splitting and chopping.
CRKT Kangee

1.5 lbs
$$$Sharpened spine and beard, multiple grip options
Cold Steel Frontier Hawk

1.5 lbs
$Also available with flat butt for pounding. Basic, cost effective hawk.
WatchFire Camper's Hatchet

13.6 oz
$Large head, compact handle.
Gerber Gator Axe II Saw Combo

1.8 lbs
$$Saw is hidden in the axe handle. Glass-filled nylon handle is extremely strong.


Functionally a machete is a hybrid between a large knife and small axe.  It can be used for many of the tasks I mentioned above.  The long, heavy blade of a machete is best used for medium to heavy cutting jobs:

  • Clearing Brush
  • Batoning large branches
  • Chopping wood
  • Digging
Woodsman's Pal

Designed as a bushcraft tool from the ground up. Heavy duty blade cuts branches up to 1.5" thick in a single stroke and sickle hook on the back side easily cuts vines and briars.


The saw is a more specialized bushcraft tool as it is only used for cutting branches.  It is however highly efficient at this task.  This advantage should be considered if you are planning on working on any bushcraft projects that will require you to cut lots of wood such as building a:

  • Platform
  • Hut
  • Camp table or chair
  • Bush ladder
Sportsman Pocket Chain Saw
Lightweight and ultra-compact. Can be used as is or combined with a branch to make a basic bow saw.$
Bahco Laplander Folding Saw

Good basic folding saw. The 8" blade has a safety lock for both opening and closing and is coated with a rust inhibitor.$
Sven Saw

The original classic! I used one of these in Boy Scouts 20 years ago and they are still chugging along. Packs down very compact but quickly assembles to a full sized bow saw.$$

Bushcraft Backpack

Lastly we have the pack that you carry all your bushcraft tools and other gear in.  As highlighted in my article on how to choose a backpack (read it here), make sure you pick a comfortable bag that matches your body type and that you can comfortably carry.  It is also important that your bushcraft backpack is waterproof and has multiple compartments rather than one large sack.  This makes it far easier to efficiently organize and then find your gear when you want to use it!

Global Assault Pack
Large, versatile bag with many organization features. Can carry all your cushcraft tools, clothes, and other gear for a weekend in the woods.$$
Alice Frame Pack

Alice Frame Bug Out Pack
Great basic pack with a time tested design. 1 huge main compartment and 6 smaller pouches easily organize your gear.$$$
Long Range Patrol Pack

Modern military style day pack for shorter bushcraft trips. Hydration ready, lots of storage, and multiple handling options make this a highly versatile bushcraft bag.$

OK but what is the BEST bushcraft tool?

Any of the bushcraft tools mentioned above can be used for nearly every bushcraft project or task.  Remember that one of the core ideas of bushcraft is to be adaptable in approaching problems.  The best bushcraft tool is really whatever you have with you!  Nearly every bushcraft project can be made easier by using a knife, hatchet, or saw at some point so either choose your favorite or bring more than one.

bushcraft tools
The best tool is the one in your hand

Think about what you are going to try and accomplish as well as what the trees and other resources are in the area you will be working.  Will you be doing lots of heavy chopping?  Make sure to bring an axe!  Will you be doing detailed carving for snares and traps?  Having the best bushcraft knife will be an essential tool.

If you have time to plan your bushcraft project out it never hurts to carry all the items you think you will need.  It is better to have a piece of equipment with you than wish you had brought it along!

What beginner bushcraft projects I can try?

As you can see from the bushcraft skills list above there is a huge range of tasks to learn and try.  Starting off with some simple bushcraft projects is a great way to get your feet wet and start learning some useful new skills!  Lets take a look at a beginner bushcraft project from each of the 5 skills we talked about earlier.

Food Foraging Bushcraft Project:

Go out in the woods and try to forage one edible plant.  Make sure you read up on what local plants are edible and palatable and then give it a try!  Check out this video for some tips:

Trapping and Hunting Bushcraft Project

Find and identify one set of animal tracks.  Again, read up on animals in your area and where they tend to travel.  Focus on common animals to increase your chances of success.  Here is another video to help get you started:

Water Gathering and Purification Bushcraft Project

Learn and practice one water purification method.  This can be boiling, building a solar still, filtering, or any other.  The important thing is that you actually practice doing it.  Note for this beginner bushcraft project I suggest practicing with bottled water just to be safe.  Here is a video to get you started:

Shelter Building Bushcraft Project

Build a basic shelter such as a debris hut.  This is an extremely useful bushcraft survival skill and can save your life if you are ever caught outside overnight.  Pour a bottle of water on the completed shelter to judge whether to not it would keep you dry.  Extra bonus points if you actually sleep in your shelter to test it out.  Here is a video on how to build a debris hut:

Fire Building

Build a small fire.  This encompasses many important fire building skills including gathering wood, finding and preparing tinder, and actually building your fire.  If you already know how to build a basic fire try building an upside down fire (how to article here)

Good luck!

Good luck with your bushcraft projects!  If you choose to do any or all of these you will be well on your way to growing your bushcraft survival skills and making yourself more prepared.  Get out there and take action!

More Bushcraft Resources

As you can see bushcraft is a huge field with many skills and activities to learn.  I have provided a basic overview to answer the question of “What is Bushcraft?” but there are lots of great resources out there to help you explore further.

Bushcraft Books

BookWhat It's Good For
Bushcraft by Richard Graves

This was my first bushcraft book. Great explanations of skills and how to apply the bushcraft mindset to problems. Lots of hand drawn illustrations, including some of the ones in this article!
Bushcraft 101 by Dave Canterbury

A good beginner book. Focuses mainly on the survival aspects of bushcraft.
Essential Bushcraft by Ray Mears

Covers survival, projects, and crafts. Lots of color illustrations to help you along.
The Forager's Harvest by Samuel Thayer

Great for an intro to foraging. Many tutorials and over 200 color photos.

Bushcraft Community and Instructional Sites

Conclusion: What is Bushcraft?

Bushcraft is a diverse and extremely useful skill set to add to your survival arsenal.  This guide should help get you started but there is no teacher better than experience.  I challenge you to go out into the world and practice your bushcraft skills.  You will make yourself more confident, adaptable, and better prepared for whatever fate throws your way.  Always remember, Chance Favors The Well Prepared.

Your Thoughts?

Have you tried a bushcraft project?  Do you have a must have bushcraft tool that you love?  Let us know in the Comments Section below, thanks!

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