But there's lots of wild meat waiting out there, and it can be even tastier than a prime rib sometimes, if a hunter or fisherman just takes advantage of nature's bounty. I've hunted and fished nearly all of my life and ate most of what I shot or caught. Anything I missed on the menu my friends often dropped off via a package or two from their own successful trips, and I was always happy to get it.
Last week a reader e-mailed me wanting my opinion on wild food and asked "What would you consider the best 10 types of wild game?" I had to think some, but my answer came pretty quickly. In my personal opinion the very best wild game is a days kill of bobwhite quail. I've hunted them since I was 10, and when I got some in the hills and fields of southern Ohio my mom would breast the birds and broil them with a bacon strip on top of each. It's been a while since I've found any, but I can still taste that lovely delicate flavor.
Number 2 would be squirrel, especially if served with squirrel gravy, hand mashed potatoes, greens, and biscuits. Third is cougar or mountain lion, something I've never tasted, but I'll take the word of both Daniel Boone and Lew Wetzel when they said "Only squirrel is better." Fourth, 5th, and 6th in any order is buffalo, elk, and moose. I've eaten all three and found when properly cared for and cooked, they're better than any beef I've ever tried.
Ruffed grouse would rank at least 7th if not higher, and while they're hard to find and harder to hit, they're REALLY tasty. My uncles and I got one occasionally on youthful hunts and we treasured every one we bagged. Venison would place 8th, and that's one meat I've enjoyed a lot of, and probably you have too. Deer burger enhances everything from chili to spaghetti, and steaks and chops are always good.
Number 9 would have to be cottontail rabbits, a mainstay for many hunters, and No. 10 would, again in my opinion, be muskrat. These small animals were once featured in many a four star restaurant in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia as "marsh rabbit" and I still remember a wildlife officer who visited a muskrat feed in plain clothes to look for violations. He said "Since I was there I had to buy one and it was so good, I bought another." I would have done the same.
That's my top ten, but there are lots of other kinds of game and fish that sent me reaching for a fork and waterfowl are just one. I'd rank teal tops on that list, followed by wood ducks, grain fed mallards, canvasbacks and redheads. Canada geese and other types of geese are fine eating too, though a little greasy to some tastes. Then there's young groundhogs which will be appearing soon. Hunters who relish them call the half grown and up "fryers", and they're fine that way, though even better when baked with a surround of potatoes, carrots and onions. What do they taste like? They're not called groundhogs for nothing. Don't forget beaver, a fine, slightly sweet dark meat, and a trapper favorite as is lynx and bobcat wherever they're legally trapped, mostly in the north.
I've said nothing about freshwater fish, but I'd rank northern pike as the best of a fine lot, followed by yellow perch and walleye, and followed even closer by bluegills and crappie. Saltwater fish have dozens of candidates, but you'll not go wrong trying codfish, halibut, flounder, striped bass, sea trout and croaker. And just to prove that anything can be tasty, another friend makes occasional forays against English sparrows which feed primarily on grain and seeds. He traps them in his barnyard, removes the little breasts and bakes them under a bit of bacon. "You ought to try some" he told me.
Dick Martin is a free-lance writer from Shelby. Reach him at [email protected] You can also visit his blog at outdoorswithmartin.com.