Except for the whole part about a society that sends teenagers into the wild to kill each other, there’s a lot of nonfiction in the book “The Hunger Games,” says Tim MacWelch, founder of Earth Connection in Fauquier County. Katniss’ strategies for outlasting the elements and evading predators are ones everyone should remember when they go camping or hiking so they’ll return home safely. Here are four local programs that can keep the odds ever in your favor.
Even Katniss couldn’t figure out how to make a bow, but Bill Kaczor promises he can teach you the technique ($350). Other classes at his nonprofit naturalist school can teach you how to set snares, build atlatls (primitive spear throwers) and start fires. For when you find yourself on the hunt without a weapon, Kaczor recommends a “rabbit stick” — essentially, just a stick you find and throw at your prey. “It’s the first tool in hunting an animal. You can kill squirrels with them, too,” he says. The whole family is invited to the annual Mid-Atlantic Primitive Skills Gathering (May 25-28), a long weekend of workshops in Conowingo, Md. Ancestralknowledge.org; 240-832-5435
Figuring out what to eat is one of the lowest survival priorities, because you can last days without food, says MacWelch. But his edible plants workshops ($97) — one for each season — are designed to keep your stomach from growling. This time of year, look out for the plants Katniss first relied on to feed her family before learning to hunt: dandelions. “You can eat them from top to bottom, raw or cooked,” he says. But what can’t you eat? That’s the other half of the lesson. Fool’s parsley can kill you in hours, and certain mushrooms can kill you in days, MacWelch explains. One element of sci-fi in the book, however, is the berry that can off you instantly. Luckily, no real fruit is quite that poisonous. Earth-connection.com; 540-270-2531
“It’s easy to have a small injury and lose it and make a bad decision,” says Ellen Smith, an emergency trauma doctor who’s into adventure sports. So she started her program ($350) in Maryland’s Patuxent River State Park to teach outdoorsy folks how to deal with medical crises. If she could get anything dropped with a silver parachute, she’d opt for cotton balls dipped in Vaseline. You can use them for blisters, packing a wound or starting a fire. Another goodie is nasal spray, which is easy to fit in a bag and can irrigate wounds and stanch bleeding. And if you have poison ivy? Look close to the offending plant for jewelweed; it has a gold flower and can relieve the itch. Wildmedmd.com; 301-524-6911
In the book, Katniss’ mentor advises her to run from the “Cornucopia” because heading toward the cache of supplies will make her an easier target. That’s sage advice, says Reggie Bennett, a former U.S. Air Force survival instructor. “We call it, ‘Get off the X.’ The more distance you can put between you and the enemy, the better,” he says. One of the courses his school in Catawba, Va., offers is “Hidden Pursuit” ($550), which ends with a simulation of an escape from a war zone, complete with firecrackers as pretend gunfire. You don’t need to be a master of camouflage to hide, but you should cover as much of your skin as possible with dirt. “It’s the oil and shine that people see,” Bennett says. Also, watch where you lean, because the tops of small trees will wave to your enemies, and walk between tall grasses rather than on top of them or else you’ll bend the blades in the direction you’re headed. Mountainshepherd.com; 434-238-4094
Train Like a Tribute
Who needs the Training Center when we have Washington Sports Clubs? The Hunger Games Workout (for eight weeks, starting today at 9:30 a.m. at the Chevy Chase club, 5345 Wisconsin Ave.) relies on real bows to help work upper body strength, teaches speed and reminds you that the rules can always change.