Drawing: Cobra helicopter Drawing: Cobra helicopter
Chapter 15 - Page 6


There are many sources of water in the arctic and subarctic. Your location and the season of the year will determine where and how you obtain water.

Water sources in arctic and subarctic regions are more sanitary than in other regions due to the climatic and environmental conditions. However, always purify the water before drinking it. During the summer months, the best natural sources of water are freshwater lakes, streams, ponds, rivers, and springs. Water from ponds or lakes may be slightly stagnant, but still usable. Running water in streams, rivers, and bubbling springs is usually fresh and suitable for drinking.

The brownish surface water found in a tundra during the summer is a good source of water. However, you may have to filter the water before purifying it.

You can melt freshwater ice and snow for water. Completely melt both before putting them in your mouth. Trying to melt ice or snow in your mouth takes away body heat and may cause internal cold injuries. If on or near pack ice in the sea, you can use old sea ice to melt for water. In time, sea ice loses its salinity. You can identify this ice by its rounded corners and bluish color.

You can use body heat to melt snow. Place the snow in a water bag and place the bag between your layers of clothing. This is a slow process, but you can use it on the move or when you have no fire.

Note: Do not waste fuel to melt ice or snow when drinkable water is available from other sources.

When ice is available, melt it, rather than snow. One cup of ice yields more water than one cup of snow. Ice also takes less time to melt. You can melt ice or snow in a water bag, MRE ration bag, tin can, or improvised container by placing the container near a fire. Begin with a small amount of ice or snow in the container and, as it turns to water, add more ice or snow.

Another way to melt ice or snow is by putting it in a bag made from porous material and suspending the bag near the fire. Place a container under the bag to catch the water.

During cold weather, avoid drinking a lot of liquid before going to bed. Crawling out of a warm sleeping bag at night to relieve yourself means less rest and more exposure to the cold.

Once you have water, keep it next to you to prevent refreezing. Also, do not fill your canteen completely. Allowing the water to slosh around will help keep it from freezing.


There are several sources of food in the arctic and subarctic regions. The type of food—fish, animal, fowl, or plant—and the ease in obtaining it depend on the time of the year and your location.


During the summer months, you can easily get fish and other water life from coastal waters, streams, rivers, and lakes. Use the techniques described in Chapter 8 to catch fish.

The North Atlantic and North Pacific coastal waters are rich in seafood. You can easily find crawfish, snails, clams, oysters, and king crab. In areas where there is a great difference between the high and low tide water levels, you can easily find shellfish at low tide. Dig in the sand on the tidal flats. Look in tidal pools and on offshore reefs. In areas where there is a small difference between the high- and low-tide water levels, storm waves often wash shellfish onto the beaches.

The eggs of the spiny sea urchin that lives in the waters around the Aleutian Islands and southern Alaska are excellent food. Look for the sea urchins in tidal pools. Break the shell by placing it between two stones. The eggs are bright yellow in color.

Most northern fish and fish eggs are edible. Exceptions are the meat of the arctic shark and the eggs of the sculpins.

The bivalves, such as clams and mussels, are usually more palatable than spiral-shelled seafood, such as snails.

The black mussel, a common mollusk of the far north, may be poisonous in any season. Toxins sometimes found in the mussel's tissue are as dangerous as strychnine.

The sea cucumber is another edible sea animal. Inside its body are five long white muscles that taste much like clam meat.

In early summer, smelt spawn in the beach surf. Sometimes you can scoop them up with your hands.

You can often find herring eggs on the seaweed in midsummer. Kelp, the long ribbon like seaweed, and other smaller seaweed that grow among offshore rocks are also edible.

Sea Ice Animals

You find polar bears in practically all arctic coastal regions, but rarely inland. Avoid them if possible. They are the most dangerous of all bears. They are tireless, clever hunters with good sight and an extraordinary sense of smell. If you must kill one for food, approach it cautiously. Aim for the brain; a bullet elsewhere will rarely kill one. Always cook polar bear meat before eating it.

Do not eat polar bear liver as it contains a toxic concentration of vitamin A.

Earless seal meat is some of the best meat available. You need considerable skill, however, to get close enough to an earless seal to kill it. In spring, seals often bask on the ice beside their breathing holes. They raise their heads about every 30 seconds, however, to look for their enemy, the polar bear.

To approach a seal, do as the Eskimos do—stay downwind from it, cautiously moving closer while it sleeps. If it moves, stop and imitate its movements by lying flat on the ice, raising your head up and down, and wriggling your body slightly. Approach the seal with your body side-ways to it and your arms close to your body so that you look as much like another seal as possible. The ice at the edge of the breathing hole is usually smooth and at an incline, so the least movement of the seal may cause it to slide into the water. Therefore, try to get within 22 to 45 meters of the seal and kill it instantly (aim for the brain). Try to reach the seal before it slips into the water. In winter, a dead seal will usually float, but it is difficult to retrieve from the water.

Keep the seal blubber and skin from coming into contact with any scratch or broken skin you may have. You could get "spekk-finger," that is, a reaction that causes the hands to become badly swollen.

Keep in mind that where there are seals, there are usually polar bears, and polar bears have stalked and killed seal hunters.

You can find porcupines in southern subarctic regions where there are trees. Porcupines feed on bark; if you find tree limbs stripped bare, you are likely to find porcupines in the area.

Ptarmigans, owls, Canadian jays, grouse, and ravens are the only birds that remain in the arctic during the winter. They are scarce north of the tree line. Ptarmigans and owls are as good for food as any game bird. Ravens are too thin to be worth the effort it takes to catch them. Ptarmigans, which change color to blend with their surroundings, are hard to spot. Rock ptarmigans travel in pairs and you can easily approach them. Willow ptarmigans live among willow clumps in bottom-lands. They gather in large flocks and you can easily snare them. During the summer months all arctic birds have a 2- to 3-week molting period during which they cannot fly and are easy to catch. Use one of the techniques described in Chapter 8 to catch them.

Skin and butcher game (see Chapter 8) while it is still warm. If you do not have time to skin the game, at least remove its entrails, musk glands, and genitals before storing. If time allows, cut the meat into usable pieces and freeze each separately so that you can use the pieces as needed. Leave the fat on all animals except seals. During the winter, game freezes quickly if left in the open. During the summer, you can store it in underground ice holes.


Although tundras support a variety of plants during the warm months, all are small, however, when compared to plants in warmer climates. For instance, the arctic willow and birch are shrubs rather than trees. The following is a list of some plant foods found in arctic and subarctic regions (see Appendix B for descriptions).


There are some plants growing in arctic and subarctic regions that are poisonous if eaten (see Appendix C). Use the plants that you know are edible. When in doubt, follow the Universal Edibility Test in Chapter 9, Figure 9-5.


As a survivor or an evader in an arctic or subarctic region, you will face many obstacles. Your location and the time of the year will determine the types of obstacles and the inherent dangers. You should —

It is almost impossible to travel in deep snow without snowshoes or skis. Traveling by foot leaves a well-marked trail for any pursuers to follow. If you must travel in deep snow, avoid snow-covered streams. The snow, which acts as an insulator, may have prevented ice from forming over the water. In hilly terrain, avoid areas where avalanches appear possible. Travel in the early morning in areas where there is danger of avalanches. On ridges, snow gathers on the lee side in overhanging piles called cornices. These often extend far out from the ridge and may break loose if stepped on.


There are several good indicators of climatic changes.


You can determine wind direction by dropping a few leaves or grass or by watching the treetops. Once you determine the wind direction, you can predict the type of weather that is imminent. Rapidly shifting winds indicate an unsettled atmosphere and a likely change in the weather.


Clouds come in a variety of shapes and patterns. A general knowledge of clouds and the atmospheric conditions they indicate can help you predict the weather. See Appendix G for details.


Smoke rising in a thin vertical column indicates fair weather. Low rising or "flattened out" smoke indicates stormy weather.

Birds and Insects

Birds and insects fly lower to the ground than normal in heavy, moisture-laden air. Such flight indicates that rain is likely. Most insect activity increases before a storm, but bee activity increases before fair weather.

Low-Pressure Front

Slow-moving or imperceptible winds and heavy, humid air often indicate a low-pressure front. Such a front promises bad weather that will probably linger for several days. You can "smell" and "hear" this front. The sluggish, humid air makes wilderness odors more pronounced than during high-pressure conditions. In addition, sounds are sharper and carry farther in low-pressure than high-pressure conditions.

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Updated: 12 January 2008
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