Ask the average outdoorsman what he likes to eat, and he’ll probably say beef, pork, and chicken.  The daring might go for turkey occasionally, taste a bit of wild rabbit, feast on braised venison, but that’s about it.  If you’re in this ho-hum category, food-wise, maybe it’s time you put a little adventure in your life. 

I talked to a friend of mine recently who went to Pennsylvania this past fall to do some fishing.  The stream he worked was full of crayfish, and he happened to remember that Louisiana folk ate crayfish.  Were the northern variety edible, too?  He decided to find out.  So, this angler took time to catch a few, boiled the lot until they turned bright red, then shucked out the tails and removed each tail’s large vein.

The white chunks of meat that were left, he added to a recipe for crayfish gumbo, and guess what?  “They were really good.” he said.  “If you like shrimp or lobster, you’ll like crayfish.”  He didn’t tell me anything new.  I’ve eaten mounds of boiled crayfish in the south, and sampled a few up here.  They’re excellent, but few indeed have tried them.

Another friend who owns a 200 acre farm watched a flock of English sparrows pecking around his barnyard one day, and decided to catch some.  “They eat seeds and insects just like chickens do.”  he told me later.  “I figured they’d taste the same.”  So, he used an ordinary box trap to catch a dozen, removed the breasts only, and broiled them under bacon strips with a touch of butter.  “It took the whole dozen to make a meal.” he reminisced, “but the darn things were delicious, just like little quail.”

 The list of things we don’t eat and probably should, given today’s meat prices, goes on and on.  There’s many a trapper around the area who gets a few dozen muskrats each year.  The skins are sold, the carcass discarded or fed to hounds, but I remember talking to a wildlife officer who went undercover to a muskrat dinner.  “I had to buy one, since I was there” he said, “but I didn’t plan to eat it.  Know what, though.  It tasted just like tame rabbit, and after I’d polished one off, I had another!”

Have you ever tried young baked groundhog?  I have, and the flavor is reminiscent of good, juicy pork.  It’s even better when surrounded by potatoes, carrots, and onions.  What about sheepshead in the 1-3 pound class?  A swimming partner mentioned once that when he was a kid his whole family would travel to Lake Erie to catch sheepshead and other species.  “My mother deep fat fried the fillets and I thought they tasted just fine.”  I’ve tried them too, and he’s right.  One friend of mine grew up eating carp of up to four pounds caught in clean streams and rivers.  His whole family thought they were first class, because no one had ever told them carp were inedible. 

I can add some plants to the animal list.  If you’ve never taken the time to shell out the rich nuts of a shagbark hickory and add them to home-made fudge, you’ve never tasted real fudge.  Or made a trip to gather black walnuts instead of the insipid English walnuts we traditionally use in cooking.  It all takes time and trouble, and a little extra work, and I’ll admit these foods don’t come nice and neat in clear plastic and styrofoam containers.  But the price is right and the flavor great.  If you’ve the nerve to taste them.

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