Small Game Hunting: What to Hunt, How to Cook It
Do you want to source your own wild game meat? Bowhunting takes you into nature and closer to your food. Once there, bowhunting also helps create friendships, fun-filled stories worth sharing, and memories to take home from the woods.
Bowhunting offers many benefits, whether you pursue big game or small game. In fact, not everyone has the skills, opportunities or equipment to pursue big-game animals. That’s especially true of beginners. Some people start on small game to hone their bowhunting skills, while others simply prefer small-game hunting. After all, chasing grouse, rabbits and squirrels is fun and exciting, and serves up tasty rewards.
Let’s discuss three species you can bowhunt this fall, and share some helpful hunting and cooking tips for each one.
Why Hunt Grouse?
Ten subspecies of grouse live in the United States, primarily in the Northeast, Midwest and Northwest regions. Grouse hunting takes you into beautiful country and offers great exercise because you’ll walk far and long looking for them.
Once you identify likely areas, lace up your boots and get ready to cover some ground. Grouse aren’t always hard to stalk, but they’re often hard to find. Carefully scan the cover and investigate food sources such as grape vines, berry patches, dogwood fruit and acorn-laden oak stands.
Grouse make tasty meals, and cooking them over a fire is a great way to prepare them. After all, cooking anything over fire increases its flavor, and fire offers a caveman attraction that goes well with hunting.
Roasting is an excellent cooking technique for open fires, and includes Dutch-oven cooking and pan frying. An even simpler method is a foil pouch stuffed with herbs, butter, vegetables and grouse meat. This excellent cooking method works with all small game and will please your crew after a hard day of bowhunting.
1 grouse, quartered
½ onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 sprig thyme
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper
Start by building a fire with dry hardwood. Once it’s reduced to hot coals, you’re ready to cook.
Lay out a large piece of aluminum foil. Place the grouse, thyme, garlic, onion and butter on the foil. Season the ingredients with salt and pepper. Wrap the foil into a pouch and seal it well. Place the pouch on the coals and flip after five minutes. Cook thoroughly and enjoy with your choice of sides.
Why Hunt Squirrels?
Squirrels are a common small-game species that provide fun, ample shooting opportunities. Good squirrel habitats can provide fast action, and often provide excellent practice for deer hunting. Deer and squirrels often live in the same areas and prefer many of the same foods.
You’ll find squirrels in forests, woodlots, farm country, urban areas and just about any place with oaks and acorns. After all, acorns and other mast crops are vital food for squirrels, and they must spend much time collecting and caching these rich protein sources. Even so, squirrels are most active during the early morning and evenings. Some bowhunters prefer to wait near acorn-bearing oak trees, while others prefer to sneak through the woods while scanning everything from the ground to the treetops.
How to Cook Squirrels
Squirrels aren’t your typical date-night meal, but maybe they should be. This Bolognese sauce will turn anyone into a squirrel eater. Traditionally, Bolognese includes more than one type of meat, so you can add grouse, rabbit, venison or other wild game.
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 pound pancetta or bacon, chopped
2 pounds deboned squirrel meat
6-ounce can tomato paste
1 cup whole milk
1 cup white wine
1 cup water
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 bay leaf (keep whole and remove after cooking)
Salt and pepper to taste
Put a large pot on medium heat and add a teaspoon of olive oil. Stir in onions, celery, carrots and garlic. Cook about five minutes.
Add pancetta and squirrel. Stir occasionally until well browned; about five minutes.
To build the sauce, add the milk, wine, water, thyme, bay leaf and tomato paste. Bring to a light simmer and leave covered an hour. After that time, check on the sauce. If it’s too loose, remove the lid and reduce the sauce to desired thickness. Season with salt and pepper.
Why Hunt Rabbits?
Rabbits, too, offer lots of fun and excitement while you practice your bowhunting skills. Rabbits also provide one of the most delicious game meats available. After bowhunting and eating them, you might focus much of your time and effort on them.
Rabbits feed early in the morning and again toward evening. Still-hunting for them near food sources is an excellent approach, but you can also still-hunt them all day by sneaking slowly along brushy fencerows, and around old orchards and abandoned farmyards. They often sit tight and let you walk by, so carefully inspect the base of every shrub and brush pile. Rabbits feed mostly on leafy greens, and drop small, round pellets where they feed.
How to Cook Rabbits
Braising is a cooking technique that tenderizes meat and creates deep flavors, which makes it great for all wild game. This braised-rabbit recipe comes to us from New York Times Cooking. It’s intended for farm-raised rabbits but is equally delicious for wild ones.
2 whole rabbits
Flour, for dusting
2 cups onions, finely diced
2 cups leeks, finely diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons rosemary, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon crumbled dry porcini mushrooms, soaked in warm water to soften; drained and finely chopped
8 ounces cremini or Portobello mushrooms, thickly sliced
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 cup chopped canned tomatoes, or home-preserved, if possible
½ cup dry white wine
1 cup unsalted chicken broth
Salt and pepper
Cut the rabbit into nine pieces, as follows: With a sharp cleaver, cut the saddle (center portion) into three pieces, leaving the kidneys attached. Cut the front portion (front legs) in half through the backbone. Chop each hind leg into two pieces. Reserve the liver and heart to sauté as a snack.
Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven or deep, wide, heavy skillet over medium heat. Season the rabbit with salt and pepper, then dust lightly with flour. Lightly brown the rabbit for about three minutes on both sides, working in batches. Drain on kitchen towels. Heat oven to 375 degrees.
Pour off the used oil, wipe out the pan and add 2 tablespoons fresh oil. Heat to medium-high, add the onions and cook till soft, about five minutes. Add the leek, garlic, rosemary and mushrooms. Season generously with salt and pepper, and add red pepper flakes to taste. Cook for two minutes more, stirring.
Add the wine and chopped tomatoes, and let the mixture reduce for one minute. Add the broth, bring to a simmer, taste and adjust seasonings.
Ladle the mixture evenly over the rabbit. Cover the dish, and bake for one hour. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.
Those three recipes will get you started, but don’t quit now. You can prepare your small-game harvests in many other ways, ranging from hunting-camp meals in rustic settings to date-night delicacies devoured by candlelight. The meals will be delicious, and you’ll have the satisfaction knowing you “sourced” the meat yourself.
To get all the small-game bowhunting gear you need, visit an archery store and ask its experts to help you pick the right equipment. While they’re at it, ask them about the best places and tactics for bowhunting abundant small game.