Nature’s cuisine: How to Forage, Hunt, and Fish in the Wilderness
A big part of thriving in the wild is being able to track and prepare food straight from the earth to your plate. Catching fish, hunting mammals, and foraging for everything from greens to nuts and mushrooms are some of the most fulfilling ways of getting in touch with nature. Not only will we teach you how to find, cook, and enjoy your food. We’ll also help you find natural flavorings, keep leftovers safe from predators, and make your own kitchen must-haves out of natural materials. So read this chapter of our survival guide and learn how to forage, hunt and fish in the wilderness.
1. Nature’s Salad Bowl
Forage for edible greens
Photo by JP GoguenWild greens contain many times more vitamins than commercially farmed greens, and their flavors are more intense than those you purchase at the grocers. They are seasonal; spring and fall in most of the country. Start off with the peppery kick of dandelion leaves. Mix in generous amounts of chickweed for its delicate flavor, and top it off with lemony flavored wood sorrel. Dress up your salad with the tender young flowers of dandelion, primrose, or wild violets. But beware; though many wild plants are edible and nutritious, many are poisonous, even deadly. Never pick any plant unless you are positive of its identity.
2. Be a Vine Weaver
Weave a collection basket
Photo by Jenny DowningDecorative and fun to make, baskets are ideal for collecting and foraging. You can make them with vines, willow shoots, cattail leaves, palm fronds, tree bark, and even pine straw. When harvesting vines, be careful to avoid poison ivy. The twining technique is among the easiest; vines are woven in and out of a base made out two groups of 4 – 5 equal lengths of vine side-by-side in the shape of an ‘X’. Begin weaving at the center of the ‘X’; hold the vine firm over one group and carry it underneath the next, repeating until the center is secured. Spread out the vines in the ‘X’ and weave more material in and out of each piece radiating from the center.
3. The Art of Fishing
Make a fishing pole
Photo by Steve BurtThe simple design of the cane fishing pole has been in use for centuries, can be quite effective, and is easy to make. Select a strong but very flexible 10’ long stick that has a diameter of about 1” on one end, tapering down to about ¼” on the other end. Tie your string 12” from the fat end of the stick and secure the line in several places along the length of the pole with an arbor knot. At the tip of the pole, wrap the line several times and secure it with a knot. To the end of the fishing line (14’ – 16’), attach a bobber or float and a fishhook.
4. Hook a Fish
How to make a simple fish hook
Photo by Lynae ZebestFishhooks should be part of your wilderness toolkit, but if you find yourself without, collect a small stick, a large thorn, and a length of thin line or cordage to make your own hook. Carve the stick into a flat 2” – 3” piece that flares, turning upward, at the base; this is the hook’s shank. Tie a thin line to the base of a large thorn – the hook’s point – and place it against the bottom of your carved piece. Wrap the line around the base and then around the thorn, repeating this alternate pattern until the base of both are covered. Run the end of your line underneath the last three wraps to secure. When a fish swallows the bait on the hook, the thorn pierces its mouth, allowing you to pull a fish dinner to shore.
5. Trap a Trout
Using a simple damn
Photo by Peter HarrisonBefore you head into the wilds, check your local fishing regulations as some fishing techniques may not be legal in your area. If you are near a small mountain stream, one of the best ways to catch and ensure a ready supply of fish is to build a natural dam around a bend in the creek. When fish swim downstream, they can go no further than the dam and become trapped, at which point you can just net, spear, or grab them with your hands. When building your dam, leave spaces in the wall that will allow the water to continue flowing but not enable the fish to swim through.
6. Build a Holding Pen
Keep your fish contained until you need them
Photo by Leyram OdacremYou have been quite fortunate in your fishing efforts and caught more than enough fish for a meal, so how do you keep the remainder for later? With a bundle of sturdy sticks, you can build a holding pen to keep your fish alive and healthy until you are ready to cook them. This technique works best for lakes and rivers, but can also be used in saltwater creeks if you make adjustments for the tides inherent in bodies of salt water. Secure tall closely spaced sticks vertically in the soil beginning at the edge of the water, continuing outward toward deeper water, and looping back to the shore. Don’t leave fish in the pen overnight, as you will likely lose them to the local wildlife.
7. Catch a Crawfish
Setting the trap
Photo by Bryce BradfordThe basic design for all fish traps is the same – a large outer opening that narrows to an opening only large enough for the prey to swim through and enter the interior chamber. Once there, the crawfish are unable to figure their way out. A couple of 2-liter soda bottles and a tool to cut them with and you have the makings of a crawfish trap. Cut the first bottle just above the halfway point, the second one slightly higher. After removing the cap from the smaller top, fit it into the larger one, maintaining the same orientation. Make several small holes in the larger top for the water to flow through, place the trap out of the current, and weight both ends with rocks.
8. Go Beachcombing
Harvest shellfish from the salt marsh
Photo by Pete FavelleA bounty of shellfish waits in our coastal waters; we have only to forage at low tide. A good pair of boots, a heavy bladed knife, a tool for digging, and a collection bag is all you need to forage a feast. Mussel and oyster beds are revealed as the tide drops, and individual shellfish must be pried loose. Clams, on the other hand, are hidden in the mud, requiring raking or digging to find them. Be aware that runoff from residential development and industrial activities is the biggest source of pollution in our salt marshes. Check with your local coastal resources and fisheries department to avoid contaminated areas closed to shell fishing.
9. Fish on the Menu
How to clean and prepare fish
Photo by MoneycoachThere are many ways to clean and prepare fish – gutting, filleting, or cutting into steaks, dependent on the type you have been fortunate enough to catch. For most small fish like trout or perch, cleaning is done in 3 – 4 steps. Remove fish scales, if necessary, using the edge of a knife or a fish scaling tool. Insert the knife tip into the anus, slice upward to the base of the head, remove the innards, and rinse. Cooking the fish with the head on adds to the flavor, but if you prefer to remove it, cut just behind the gills on the sides of the fish behind the head.
10. Break out the Aluminum Foil
Wrap up dinner
Photo by Wesley FryerCook your food in aluminum foil packets, often called ‘hobo packs’, and prepare to enjoy five-star cuisine. Take a sheet of heavy-duty foil, place your ingredients in the center, fold the short sides together twice, and then fold the remaining sides to seal. Aluminum foil is a wonderful conductor of heat, evenly distributing heat as well as holding in moisture. Use foil packets to cook mouthwatering fish, spicy crawfish scampi, tender vegetables, apple dumplings, and individual breakfast casseroles.
11. Cook on a Rotisserie
Make your own rotisserie over the campfire
Photo by Jeffrey james pacresRotisserie style cooking is a traditional campfire technique that allows for even cooking over a low flame. Choose two sticks with branches on the end that form a ‘Y’, sharpen the other ends to a point, and pound them into the ground vertically on either side of your campfire. Choose a green branch with a ‘Y’ on one end, making sure it is long enough to span the two vertical sticks. Strip the bark from the stick and sharpen the end opposite the ‘Y’. Skewer the meat with the sharp end and use the ‘Y’ shaped handle on the other end to turn the meat to get a delicious smoked flavored meal.
12. Tap Into a Natural Sweetener
Harvest tree sap
Photo by Tom GillWhen daytime temperatures are above freezing, but nighttime temperatures dip to freezing or below, the cambium (softwood) layer of trees becomes active. Beginning sometime between January and March and lasting a couple of months, the bark begins to slip, and the sap begins to flow. Tree sap from birch, hickory, maple, and sycamore is a source of naturally sweet water and valuable calories. To harvest, drill a hole through the bark and 1 ½” into the softwood layer at an upward angle, insert a hollow tube – bamboo, Pvc, Copper, and place a bucket underneath. Watery sap collected will spoil quickly; drink immediately or cook down to a syrup that will last for months.
13. Go Nutty
Forage for nuts
Photo by Permaculture AssociationTree nuts are one of Nature’s perfect foods, and fall is the time to forage for a feast. Hazelnut, black walnut, and hickory trees are native to eastern North America. The American hazelnut is a small, multi-stemmed tree found along the edge of woodlands. The round nuts grow in clusters, dropping to the ground when ripe. Their thin, brittle shell is easy to crack. Black walnut and hickory are canopy trees, often growing to 100’, found in moist soils along the water’s edge and nearby forests. Remove the outer husk, place the nut, point down, on a hard surface, and give it a good tap with a hammer or rock.
14. Fungus Favorites
Forage for mushrooms
Photo by Christal1Mushrooms are a gourmet’s delight, and North America boasts a smorgasbord of edible varieties. Edible mushrooms sometimes have twins that can be very dangerous, though. Obtain the proper education before attempting to forage on your own and never pick fungi unless you are certain of its identity. When harvesting, wear gloves, use a sharp knife, and a wicker basket to hold the bounty; mushrooms need to breathe. Those that are easiest to identify include chanterelle, morel, hen of the woods, and woods ear.
15. Keep your Family and your Food Safe
How and where to store your foodstuffs
Photo by Chris WaitsWild animals are opportunistic, have an acute sense of smell, and are drawn to campsites that have not been fastidious when it comes to food. Make sure all dishes are washed, food is put away, and the area is tidied up. Also, bury food waste far from your campsite. If you are camping in an area that has a bear population, more precautions are necessary. Bears are incredibly smart, and many have learned how to raid a cooler and even open a car door to get to food. Consider a ‘bear bag’ to store your foodstuffs, hanging it 12’ up on an overhanging tree branch six feet or more from the trunk .
16. Whittle Away
Carve your own kitchen utensils
Photo by JustgrimesGive the age-old art of carving a try and make your own spoons. Birch and maple trees have soft wood and tight grain, making them ideal for carving. And green wood (freshly cut) is easier to carve than dried wood and doesn’t split as easily. Keeping your tools well cared for and very sharp will increase your success. Split a section of log, remove the bark and use your ax to chop out a rough shape. Carve out the interior of the spoon with a curved knife or carefully burn the interior with a stick from your fire. Use a sharp knife to finish shaping your spoon.
We’re so accustomed to ready-made food that it can be intimidating to find, catch, prepare, and preserve both plants and meats without modern technology. But, with this chapter’s practical tips, you’ll be well prepared to forage the safest and most nutritious plants and funguses, catch a variety of delicious fish, and prepare mouthwatering natural meals (without a microwave). Next, we’ll walk you through the myriad of creative ways to make fire for cooking, creating light, and staying warm.