For many reasons hunting as a sport has diminished over the past thirty years in the United States. Video games, the everyday rat race, lack of interest in the outdoors, and life in general have taken the front seat to a sport that not only brings family and friends together but instills in people a true appreciation of nature. I consider myself part of a very small but lucky percentage of people. Growing up I had great role models in my family, from both a religious and moral view, as well as an outdoor perspective. My grandfather was a game warden for more than 30 years instilling in my father and his brothers the virtues of hunting and trapping. They have passed down the love of hunting and the outdoors not only to me and my brother, but my mother and cousins (both boys and girls). When I tell people my whole family hunts I get a lot of “You mean your mom too?” She has shot more deer in the last three years than my father, and she’s not afraid to brag about it. Routinely Saturday mornings in the fall are spent as a family sitting in the duck blind at a local marsh or traversing the open grasslands in search of an increasingly more elusive rooster pheasant.
I feel lucky about my upbringing. There are plenty of people who hunt on opening day. After opening weekends the number of hunters in public areas drop considerably, which to me is both good and bad. The selfish side of me thinks more for me, the other side is sad that people are not willing to put in the effort to shoot a selection of teal and wood ducks on a slow day. A whole other side of me is disgusted when people simply are too lazy to clean and cook the animals that they have harvested. My family routinely eats wild game in the fall. From baking ducks in the oven, to making soups, and even the occasional deer loin on the grill (fawns are the best), we feast ourselves on what nature provides. There is a feeling of pride knowing you used your skill to provide dinner. It also is nice to know that wild game is better for you than almost anything you can buy at the store.
Enough of the preamble. The following tips are for times of disorder and survival. Obviously you need to observe the bag limits and seasons wherever you are hunting. Poaching is not cool. Poaching and not using the animal is even worse. From stories I’ve heard over the years, being hungry isn’t a defense for any kind of law breaking activities. If you are reading this you will probably have the right idea as to when to use this knowledge. One last bit of advice before we delve into the meat of the article, females produce offspring. Leaving female animals around for mating is the only way you can sustain a population in any given area. The males will find them, they always do.
Deer are nocturnal. They sleep during the day and are moving very actively right at dusk and dawn. [JWR Adds: Deer have an internal solunar activity pattern. Oddly, they are active even if the moon is obscured.] Learn where they bed up for the day and you will be able to find them coming and going. They eat at night and generally will eat the most rapidly diminishing food source first. They eat fruit, corn and soybeans, grass, and will nibble on leaves that are still green. They might even eat your survival garden in the middle of the night if they feel safe. You’ll notice this pretty quickly and can use it as an advantage if you are adept to hunting at night. Fall is when most deer hunting seasons occur. Their breeding period, known as the rut, begins roughly towards the end of October and runs into the middle of November. Young bucks are extremely naïve during this period. Deer are going crazy and not following their usually predictive routines. During the other seasons deer become rather predictive and easy to pattern. In winter time deer tend to gather into large herds which can be tough to get to. The spring and summer is when the does are rearing their new fawns and can be seen during the day more often.
There are several ways to go about harvesting a deer. They can be very elusive if not properly shot, running for miles with broken legs or gut shots. The best option would be to use a bow and arrow as it is almost silent and won’t attract unwanted attention. Shoot them right behind the front leg. Lots of practice is required for this method. A gun is the other option. Buck shot can be effective at short range but can lead to lots of crippled and escaped deer. Deer slugs and medium caliber bullets are very effective but can be loud and easy to track, especially if multiple shots are fired. A simple .22 long rifle bullet placed into the brain of the deer will do the job. .22 Long Rifle cartridges are relatively quiet. This is an illegal caliber to use in conventional deer seasons.
At first in a survival situation the pressure on the herd will be fairly strong as people harvest them for food. After human numbers fall back, the deer herd will start to expand pretty rapidly until nature finds a way to balance them out. One deer will feed a small group of people for a decent amount of time. Obviously don’t harvest more than you can reasonably store. It’s meat and it spoils.
An average sized deer will yield about fifty pounds of easily procurable meat. Don’t forget the heart and liver, you’ll find these when you gut the deer which is extremely important to do if you want to salvage the deer. To field dress a deer, cut the hide from its crotch up and over the ribcage all the way to the neck. Split the ribcage down the middle with a hatchet or knife and open the carcass up as best as possible. Go about removing the guts by carefully cutting the tissue that holds the insides to the frame of the deer. Dispose of the gut pile somewhere that you don’t have to deal with it. The gut pile is great bait for carnivores that like to scavenge. It helps to let the deer cool down but is not necessary in order to skin it. Hang by its back legs with them spread apart. Cut above the knee on the back leg and pull the hide down as you go using your knife to separate the hide from the carcass. It takes practice and the less hair you get on the meat as you go makes for less cleanup later.
Learning how to butcher a deer is something that takes a bit of practice but is not hard to do. The ribs are often overlooked and are great grilled or you can bone them out and have some really great stew meat. The loins are often the first thing people go for and are incredibly lean. This leaves you with the front and back leg sections. Separate the leg bones from the body by finding the ball joints and popping them out of the sockets. Use a knife to cut the muscle around the joints and the legs should come right off. You can cut the meat of the bone anyway you want from roasts to steaks to just chunks of stew meat. If you have access to a grinder, make some venison burger.
Ducks and Geese
Ducks and Geese are active at all times of the day and night. They sleep when they want but almost always move with the flock. They are easiest to shoot in a marsh setting at dawn and dusk. Even a pothole of water in the middle of a field makes an attractive marsh setting to certain types of ducks. They feel safe sleeping on the water and will often overnight in marshes. Midmorning they will begin to travel out to harvested crop fields or open pastures to feed on what seeds they can find. Geese are more likely to forage in fields. They try to stay in open areas that provide them with large buffers from approaching threats. Waterfowl are migrating birds so you have to figure out when there are moving through your area. In the fall there are several pushes south fueled by cold weather fronts moving through. The waterfowl ride the edge of the front south much like a surfer rides a wave. This is also a good way to forecast when cold snowy weather is on its way in. They tend to chose routes that include plenty of water along them when they migrate. In the spring the move back as the weather warms up. They are more spread out on their way back north and are stopping along the way to give birth. It always seems like it should be easier to hunt them in the spring as they tend to want to fight to protect their young rather than run away.
Hunting for waterfowl is done with a shotgun. Almost any size shotgun shell can be effective, but their range can differ. Most shotguns are effective to around 50 yards to well versed hunters. It takes practice to shoot them out of the air, make sure to lead them. Waterfowl sitting on water can also be surprisingly hard to kill. With so much of their body under water they can present a small target. Always think about how you are going to retrieve your bounty. If you have a trained dog then that is a plus. Some water will be too deep or too cold to enter into. Use the wind to your advantage to push the dead fowl to shore. This can take time so plan ahead. Shooting waterfowl in the field makes for easy recovery. Kill crippled fowl by wringing their necks. Small caliber rifles could also be used to kill waterfowl [on the ground or swimming] but that is illegal under current laws.
Waterfowl are very seasonal so take advantage of them when you can in a survival situation. Even in the hunting community most people are not equipped to waterfowl hunt. Using decoys and calls can be very effective. Being able to conceal yourself is also a huge advantage in hunting ducks. Sit in a large clump of grass and keep your face from reflecting the sunlight. Or lay along a field terrace or some sort of depression.
Cleaning waterfowl is pretty simple. Their skin will usually peal off by getting your finger under it and just pulling. You can bone the meat out then and use it as you see fit. Stews and soups are awesome and Another method is plucking them. Peal all the feathers out of the skin and be the bird as bare as possible. Cut off the legs at the joint and remove the head. Cut off the butt of the fowl and simply pull out the guts. Explore the body cavity and make sure you get it as clean as possible. When you have a clean bird, roast it by your preferred method until the juices run clear. Waterfowl is an acquired taste but is very lean and healthy. Bigger ducks can feed two people for a meal and a goose could feed up to eight for a meal.
This will cover pheasants and turkey as these are the only types where I have knowledge. Pheasants like to populate areas with gravel around dusk and dawn. They have to have something course in their croups to grind up their food for digestion. During almost all other times they populate upland grasses. During all seasons but winter they can find ample grain seeds to satisfy their food needs. During winter they try and clear areas of snow to scratch at the ground in attempt to find food. Baiting with grain at this time works well, but can be illegal. Even a dark spot in the middle of a snow covered field will be enough to attract their attention. Turkeys roost in the tree tops during the night, entering and leaving at dawn and dusk. They tend to populate wooded areas and the grasses on the perimeter of woods. They can also be baited like pheasants but tend to feed in bare fields on scattered grain.
Pheasants are generally hunted with dogs that either hold them in their nest or flush them when you come close. Without a dog getting to pheasants can be tough. Poor weather will cause them to hold tighter in their nest. They are also very hit or miss as to where they are going to be. Areas of heavy grass cover provide for bettering nesting and will hold more birds. Turkeys can be somewhat easier to pattern. If you can find where they roost you are at an advantage. Turkeys are very skittish and you have to be very quiet and still as not to spook them. If you can get in by their roost in the morning you can sometimes catch them coming down to the ground. They mate in the spring time and can be called and decoyed if one possesses the knowledge.
Shotguns are used primarily to hunt both types of birds. Turkeys require a more precise shot and generally a larger shot size. Rifles can [legally] be used on pheasants in some areas, but would be effective on both types of birds in a true survival situation. Turkeys can also be harvested with a bow and arrow, a good option for silent hunting.
Cleaning them is very similar to cleaning waterfowl. Get the feathers off and get the guts out and you have many options as how to cook them. Pheasants will feed two people. With turkeys, just think about Thanksgiving.
Rabbits, squirrels, and other little mammals can also be harvested using both shotguns and rifles. You just have to be aware of where they hang out. They don’t provide a ton of meat but are an extremely important animal to think of when hunting for your survival. Of course most animals out there can be a source of food, you just have to decide what you can handle and harvest. People all over the world eat song birds, pigeons, and even rats.
Make sure you take care to cook all wild game thoroughly and take care when cleaning it to avoid any unnecessary medical problems. Use safe hunting practices and never point a weapon at anything you don’t intend to kill. Always follow local hunting laws and observe bag limits.