For many woodsmen, autumn is harvest time. It’s a time to kill game to fill winter’s larder. It’s time to harvest fruits, nuts and other wild edibles that have ripened and are ready for eating. It’s time to catch fish and put them up for the cold times ahead. Finding success with these endeavors is easier with in-depth knowledge that will help get the jobs done right. These tips can help.
Ringneck Hunting Tip
When pheasant hunting, if roosters-only are legal, look for the rooster’s white neck ring, a sure sex identifier. If you try judging sex by watching for long tail feathers, you may shoot some long-tailed hens or hold fire on shabby-tailed roosters. Looking for that bright white ring also encourages proper lead so you’ll shoot heads instead of tails.
If you live near the Atlantic or Gulf coasts, try harvesting some blue crabs for dinner. In many places, you can keep all you can catch, but check local regulations so you know all the rules.
- RELATED STORY: 12 Survival Tips From Woodsman’s Almanac
Start by buying a few chicken wings, necks or legs. Then go to a shore, pier, bridge or dock where crabbing is permitted. Tie a 10- to 20-foot piece of twine to a piece of chicken, toss it into the water, let it sink and remove all slack. You may need to add a weight to each line to get the chicken to the bottom. If you like, you can rig several pieces of chicken and tie the strings to the structure from which you’re crabbing or to sturdy sticks pushed in the sand.
Now all you have to do is wait. When you see a string start moving, pull it in slowly and steadily. Crabs grab the chicken and hold tight, allowing you to pull them up and catch them in a long-handled dip net. Be careful of those pincers! And when possible, go crabbing at night. They’re more active then. Keep the crabs you catch in a cooler or bushel basket until you’re ready to cook them.
Hickory Nut How-To
Hickory nuts are a scrumptious, high-calorie food packed with nutrients and healthy oils. If you beat the squirrels to them, you often can gather a basketful under a single tree in early autumn. Tasty varieties include shagbark, shellbark, mockernut and wild pecan.
Getting to the sweet nutmeats inside is time consuming but worth the effort. Start by removing the black husks and discarding nuts that look moldy or have worm holes. Put the remaining nuts in a box or basket and allow them to dry a few weeks before you start cracking them.
- RELATED STORY: Lost & Found: Wilderness Survival Tips & Techniques
When the nuts are dehydrated, the work begins. Place each nut on a flat rock or brick with the dimpled stem end pointing right or left. As you grasp the nut between your thumb and forefinger, carefully strike it with a hammer about one-third of the way down from the stem. If you give it a short, sharp blow, the nut should break open enough so you can get at the nutmeat inside. When you have enough cracked, you can sit and use a nut pick to remove the kernels. Some will come out in halves, but most will be in small pieces. These you can store in zip-seal bags in your freezer for up to two or three years.
A pound of nutmeats takes a lot of cracking and picking—up to four hours’ worth—which explains why hickory nuts are rarely found in supermarkets or restaurants. You can eat the delicious kernels as they are or use them to substitute for pecans or walnuts in any recipe.
Skin A Buck In a Flash
When you need to make fast work of skinning a deer, try this method. Start by hanging the animal head up from a stout object like a tree branch or well-secured gambrel. Make a circular cut through the skin around the neck and just above the knee on all four legs. Continue skinning the neck, pulling the hide down until you reach the shoulders. Then put a baseball-sized rock on the hair side of the neck skin and tightly tie in place with one end of a rope. Tie the other end of the rope to the ball hitch on your truck or ATV. Pull slowly and steadily with the vehicle and the hide should peel right off. This works best if the deer carcass is still warm. You may have to make a few cuts with a sharp knife to help free the skin from tough spots. This time-saving method is quick and clean.
Three Wild Tea Remedies
Woodsmen often gather the flowering tops of certain plants in the fall, bundle the ends with twine and dry them in a cool, dark place for use as healthful teas. To prepare, steep a few teaspoons of the dried plant parts in hot (not boiling) water for 15 minutes, strain and add honey to sweeten. As always, when dealing with wild plants for food and beverages, be 100-percent certain you are dealing with the right plant and using it correctly.
Lavender (Lavandula species): This garden favorite, a native of Europe and Africa, grows wild in many parts of the U.S. The dried flower buds make a tea great for jangled nerves, insomnia and stomach discomfort.
Lemon Mint (Monarda citriodora): Also called lemon beebalm, this mint family member grows on prairies, roadsides and other sunny habitats from Arizona to Florida. Tea made from the leaves helps treat colds, coughs, fevers and respiratory problems.
Goldenrod (Solidago species): The dried leaves and flowers of this familiar perennial make a pleasant-tasting tea with mild sedative properties. It has long been highly regarded for treating a variety of ills, particularly those of the respiratory system and urinary tract.
Raccoon Stew Recipe
A fat, young raccoon from your trap line or hunting trip can be combined with root vegetables from your garden to make a delicious, belly-warming stew.
- 1 young raccoon, cut into serving pieces
- 3 cups chicken broth
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 12 new red potatoes, bite size with skin on
- 4 peeled carrots, cut in small pieces
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Dash Louisiana hot sauce
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 bay leaves
Directions: Place the raccoon in a large pot. Add chicken broth and enough water to cover. Parboil until the meat is tender and falling from the bone. Remove the meat from the bone and reserve. Discard the bones.
- RELATED STORY: Reflector Oven Recipes and Tips
Place the meat and the remaining ingredients in a large Dutch oven. Hang over a campfire or place on a stove and adjust so the stew is just simmering. Cook 1-1/2 hours or until the vegetables are tender. Serve hot with cornbread on the side. Makes 10 to 12 servings.
Going Deep For Channel Cats
When When the water temperature falls below 55 degrees Fahrenheit in late fall, you can fish in farm ponds to load a cooler with delicious channel catfish. After gaining permission to fish, ask the pond owner to point out the deepest hole in the pond. When the water cools, that’s where the cats will hang out. Fish from a boat or a spot on shore where you can cast your bait into the hole. Fresh chicken liver is hard to beat. Weave your hook through each piece several times and you should be able to lob the liver without it flying off. Use a sinker on the line large enough to carry the bait to the bottom.
- RELATED STORY: 11 Ice Fishing Essentials
Now it’s sit-and-wait time, but don’t wait in one spot too long. If a catfish is nearby, you’ll have a bite before 10 minutes passes. If you don’t, move a short distance and try again to cast into the deepest water. When catfish are biting—and they usually are—fishing deep pond holes like this can produce a dozen or more keepers in a short time, enough for several delicious meals.
Beware These Super-Bad Berries
Those who forage for wild edibles must learn not only which plants are edible, but how to avoid dangerous plants that look enticing. Blue and purple fruits are particularly tempting because they look good to eat. Many aren’t, though. Here are four you should keep off your menu.
- Virginia creeper berries: Ingestion could be fatal if these are on your table.
- Pokeweed berries: These pretty purple fruits can cause severe digestive distress.
- Deadly nightshade fruit: Ingestion can lead to respiratory issues, coma or death.
- Carolina moonseed: The red-to-purple, grape-like fruit is highly poisonous.
How To Skin A Squirrel
Your hunt has ended and you’ve killed several squirrels. All you need to do to prepare a delicious wild-game dinner is to get them skinned, but with no one to assist you, that seems like a daunting task. Here’s how to do it.
First, use a sharp knife to cut from bottom to top and partially through the base of the tail where it joins the body. Don’t cut all the way through. Leave the skin intact on the top. Next, grasp the tail and back skin between your thumb and index finger, and use the knife to continue skinning a few inches upward along the back.
Now comes the tricky part. Lay the squirrel on its back on a firm surface like a rock. Then, as you grasp its hind legs, place a foot on top of the tail and inner back skin. Press down firmly to hold the skin tightly under your boot, then slowly and steadily pull up on the squirrel’s hind legs.
If you’ve done everything properly, the squirrel’s “shirt” will peel off down to the front feet and head. Before pulling the shirt completely off, work your fingertips under the skin of the “pants,” then pull steadily to separate hide from flesh. Continue pulling until you reach the hind feet and tail. Cut off the feet and head, and remove any remaining hide. Finish by slicing the belly skin and removing the entrails.
- RELATED STORY: Rattlesnake Skinning and Dining
You’ll soon accumulate a bowl full of pink, mildly flavored meat similar in quality to cottontail rabbit or chicken. Remove any visible shot pellets and bloodshot meat. Then cut each squirrel into serving pieces (legs, back and rib section), wash well and pat dry with paper towels. The squirrels are now ready to cook! Almost any recipe for chicken will work if you adjust for their smaller size and leaner meat.
This article was originally published in The NEW PIONEER™ Fall 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.