As I said at the beginning, the supreme test of woodcraft comes when the equipment has been destroyed by some disaster. Such misfortunes are not uncommon; if we seldom hear of them it is because they happen in far-away, isolated places, and the survivors are not interviewed by the press. A man gets lost and has to wander for a week, two weeks, or longer, before he meets a human being. A canoe is smashed to bits in a rapid, a hundred miles from the nearest outpost, and the men get ashore with nothing but the clothes they stand in and the contents of their pockets. And worse has happened. Robinson Crusoe had a prentice job compared to the actual experiences of hundreds of men and women whom fate has thrown, destitute of tools or weapons, far from the paths and courses of civilization.
The pity is that such disasters befall, in so many cases, people who have no knowledge of how to meet them. Helplessness breeds despair. One woodsman, at such a time, will rustle more food than a company of tenderfoots. At the worst he will find something to keep him going—something that the others, though starving, would pass by without knowing that it could give them energy.
In this sort of emergency, needless to say, there is but one law: self-preservation. Game laws and other rules of sportsmanship are, for the time, nonexistent. The sufferer will kill anything that can be eaten, in any way that he can get it. If all ame has migrated, and fish cannot be caught, he will eat anything that will give him strength, no matter how unpleasant it would be at other times.
A man without a gun will depend, for animal food, chiefly upon fish and upon such game as he can capture with snares. When one ventures into the wilderness he knows well enough that he may meet disaster at the most unexpected moment, and there is no excuse for him ever being caught without a jackknife, a waterproof box filled with matches, a compass, a good length of stout fish-line, and some hooks. (A woodsman sleeps in his trousers, and he will not even risk bathing where there is danger of losing them.) If he must spend all the daylight in traveling, he can at least set out a night-line for fish and snares for rabbits or other small mammals.