Hunting is a great way to provide protein for you and your family, partially because the meat harvested is organic, free-ranged, and delicious.
Often, though, we talk only about the big-game animals available to us, such as whitetail deer, mule deer, moose and elk. We may even discuss waterfowl or turkey. But another group of game animals has been feeding America since well before 1621 (when my first ancestor landed at Plymouth Rock).
Small-game animals are a plentiful resource. Population numbers are high, they are everywhere, and most of them taste terrific. They can be harvested using a small rifle such as a .22 or .17, a shotgun using light game load, or even an air rifle. In a survival situation, they are often the only game one is able to harvest. If there is ever a major catastrophe, they may make the difference between life and death for you and your family.
Here are five small animals that are readily accessible, and ready for the dinner table.
1. Dove. One of the most prolific game birds in all of America, and quite tasty. Mourning doves especially are quite common in almost all of North America. Between 20 and 70 million of these birds are harvested every year by hunters, and that doesn’t even put a dent in their huge population. They have a year-round range in all of the USA, Northern Mexico and Southern Canada. To hunt them you will need a shotgun shooting 7 or 8 shot. Look for mourning doves around old barns, field edges, tree lines, bird feeders, etc.
When it comes to cooking them, the birds have a great flavor. One of my favorite recipes is a spice jalapeno, mustard and lime-based marinade. The recipe is called “doves from hell, and can be easily found online. I like it spicy, but some people may prefer it milder.
2. Rabbit. Cottontail, snowshoe hair and even introduced European rabbit all have thriving populations in different parts of the continent. Rabbit and hares have graced dinner tables since before recorded history, and in some places are considered a delicacy. These small mammals are plentiful and quite nutritious. But beware: A diet of strict rabbit (or even squirrel), can lead to protein poisoning. Rabbit has almost no fat, and that is not necessarily a good thing in a survival situation.
Rabbits are easily hunted in brushy fields, forest meadows, backyards, tree lines and so forth. I have hunted them with a .22 or a shotgun. Many people use dogs to flush them and chase them. I prefer to stalk and shoot at 40-50 yards with a rim-fire rifle.
3. Nutria. Not as tasty an option as the rabbit or squirrel, but in a pinch nutria can add both protein and necessary fat. Nutria is a large rodent introduced to the USA from South America for its pelts. Originally brought here in captivity, some escaped and now the Gulf Coast states have plenty of these critters.
You can hunt for Nutria along river banks and in marches and swamps in the Southeaster USA. A .22 is sufficient to dispatch them. The meat is lean, though not as lean as rabbit, and is easily prepared.
4. Woodchuck (Groundhog). If you must eat, and game has dried up, chances are you can find a humble chuck still clinging to his bit of turf. A woodchuck is a type of ground squirrel, by the way, but does not have much in common with its tree-dwelling cousins. Chuck meat is edible, provided you marinate it overnight to take out the gaminess. If you do that, it is quite tasty, especially on the grill. Yes, I have eaten chuck before.
To hunt chucks, sneak along the fence line, or hedgerows bordering fields. I use a scoped .22 WMR and take the shots at around 40-70 yards. Woodchuck hunting can be almost as fun as prairie dog hunting out West.
5. Turtles. Turtle meat is very tasty. You will have to check the regulations of catching and killing turtles, as it varies from state to state. Snapping turtles, diamondback, terrapin and other species are huntable in certain parts of North America. You can use a firearm and dispatch the animal with a shot to the head (most common). Some states allow netting.
The best way to eat turtle is roasted or in a soup. Recipes are easily found online.
What animals would you add to the list? Share your advice in the section below: