Camp Cooking of Small Game (Written in 1998)
This discussion will focus on general principles to ensure toothsome meat, especially small game, collected and prepared in the backcountry.
#1–try for center of mass hits.
This will usually place the bullet through the animals thorax (chest), not the gut. Gut shot game leaks intestinal fluids/contents onto some of the meat–tainting it with a bitterness that can only be partially overcome with lots of seasoning. Again, head shots are not nearly so reliable of hitting and you, presumably, really need that dinner pot filled. I very often ramble with no protein foods in my pack at all–just rice, cooking oil and spices–which really places a premium on purposeful small game shooting. And remember that the best shot placement on grouse is1/3 up from the bottom. No, I don’t wing shoot them with a rifle–it is plenty challenging to take one on the ground at 40 yards off hand.
In the West most cottontails reside at low enough altitudes to have fleas. And fleas carry plague. What to do? Take gallon size baggies and a can of insect repellent such as “Off” or equivalent. When you anchor a rabbit spray it with bug dope all over them flop him in the baggie and roll the baggie up until the air is out and zip it shut. About three bunnies will go in a gallon size baggie. Leave rabbit in sealed baggie about 45 minutes and the bug dope will kill all the fleas. Remove rabbit, skin and gut and put in a fresh baggie. You can use the bug-repellent tainted baggie several times.
Jackrabbits: same procedure.
I’ve never encountered fleas on a snow shoe rabbit. I think they live where it’s too high and cold for them. Likewise, never a squirrel. Living mostly off the ground is probably the reason. Rabbits have provided provender for mountain man types since the beginning of time. This flea protection routine is a small price to pay for toothsome cottontail meat.
Small game-on-a-stick over the fire is just plain tough. Relegate the practice to survival situations. Boil small game long enough and it’ll get reasonably tender, but it can take a half-day to do it. Rapid frying will produce pretty tough victuals. What to do? Well, here goes: dice that meat on the bone. That is, score the meat with your knife all the way to the bone in a checkerboard pattern. When finished the critter part should look like a bone with die size chunks of meat on it. This will break up all the tough little muscle groups. Now you can boil or slow-fry your supper and expect it to be far more tender. Dicing on the bone is quick and perhaps the single best thing you can do to enjoy small game cooking in a camp setting. Pressure cooking is the only method that has a chance of turning out tenderer meat–but when was the last time you backpacked with a pressure cooker?
#4–Oil and Spices
Take a container of cooking oil and use a little to fry your supper. Use a little even if you boil it–game has very little fat and you need it.
Now for my favorite general-purpose cooking spice: Miso soup powder. You’ll find it in little envelopes in Asian markets and even some supermarkets. It weighs virtually nothing and is comprised of powdered soy sauce and all kinds of other good stuff. Sprinkle it liberally on a pot or skillet of small game parts while you’re cooking them. You can even use the broth from cooking over rice later. Another great spice to use in camp cooking is Montreal Steak Seasoning from the Schilling company. It's an all-purpose wonder too and weighs next to nothing in its little plastic shaker bottle. A little Tabasco is always welcome in my camp.
I use these methods and seasonings on all small game: squirrels, rabbits, marmots, grouse. The seasonings work great on big game too. Just remember to let big game meat age for at least a day before preparing. Well, except for heart or maybe young tenderloins or backstrap. Just remember on these latter to cook SLOWLY and never well done.
I hope you’ll get out there and scout and shoot and cook up some small game! Now you know how to do it!