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George Little: Living off the land not as easy as it looks

October 12, 2012 at 10:36 AM

The State Journal-Register

When you have a banner day afield or afloat, or a crummy day at work, you might be tempted take the battery out of your smart phone, log off your laptop and go live in the wild country for good.

A lot of us think we’re smart enough and tough enough to live off the land. The last time I tried to start a fire with flint and steel, I set my down vest on fire.

Still, if a guy could keep warm and dry, and scare up enough to eat, and if he didn’t get hurt, he might keep it together long enough to get sick of it. The central Illinois landscape is strewn with obstacles like cropland, fences, livestock, bike paths, horse trails and hunting and fishing seasons.

You wouldn’t have the entire wilderness at your disposal like Daniel Boone and Kit Carson did. The land you’re roaming, and the trees you chop down better be yours. Even if the trees were yours, piecing together a lean-to without your neighbor’s chainsaw could take all winter.

In these parts, drought or no drought, pure drinking water would be harder to find than a meal. No matter how parched your throat, you wouldn’t dare stick your face in the crik or even a running spring and drink your fill. Doing that just once would introduce enough exotic bacteria into your system for an internal organs specialist to buy a ticket on a rocket to Mars.

If you got real lucky and had more game than you could eat, the leftovers would be a challenge. What are you going to do with all that venison when the back straps have been roasted? In theory, I could make jerky over an open fire, on a rack of green sticks. In practice, I’d have salmonella within a week. Make that two tickets to Mars.

A few years ago, a man in Wyoming, fed up with modern conveniences, said goodbye to the 21st century. He headed into the Wind River Mountains, became a mountain man and lived off the land.

For a year and a half, he did all right. Then, officers of the Wyoming Department of Fish and Game showed up and escorted him back to civilization in bracelets. Soap making wasn’t one of his priorities. The game wardens didn’t need dogs to track his scent.

He was charged with nearly all of the hunting and fishing violations a single poacher can collect at once. The judge fined this modern day Jim Bridger $1,760, jailed him for 43 days, ordered him to pay $2,000 in restitution and revoked his hunting and fishing privileges for the next 45 years.

Before you head for the hills, it might be wise to consider how complicated things can get. It might be best to spend a few nights on the back deck rehearsing your explanation to the judge. Sooner or later, you’re going to need it.

Contact George Little at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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