Maybe you thought your job was all done when you popped that trout out of the water. But your mama’s not part of the camping crew, so you’re just going to have to step up and clean and gut that thing all by yourself. Start by cleaning the fish with fresh water to get all the slime and dirt off it. Then scale it with the back of your knife, or a fish scaler if you have one. This isn’t necessary if you’re just going to skin it, and some types of fish are smooth-sided and don’t need to be scaled. But keep in mind before removing the skin that it’s responsible for keeping most of the moisture in the fish and will keep the fish succulent when you cook it. And you love succulent, don’t you, bucko?
Set the fish down on a flat, stable, level surface. You’ll be using a sharp knife, so you don’t want things shifting as you work. A tree stump or picnic table will serve the purpose. Use a sharp knife to slice the fish in one smooth cut from the base of the tail all the way to the head. As usual, always slice away from your body (or anyone else’s, for that matter). Pull all the guts out and discard. Get every last bit in there, buddy. After you’re done, rinse the cavity well with fresh water. A fast-running stream is great for this. Cut off the head (unless a fish staring at you while you eat it doesn’t skeeve you), and remove the dorsal fin and gills. Cut along the side of the fin and pull it out with pliers. Wash the fish one last time thoroughly and keep it on ice until suppertime. Look at you, wouldn’t Mama be proud.
Just packing a pistol doesn’t make you a good marksman. Practice and good technique do. It comes down to stance, grip, sighting, and trigger pull, four basics that can be frustratingly difficult to master.
Like most physical skills, shooting a handgun accurately requires a solid base. A good marksman’s stance creates a solid triangle. Your legs should be shoulder width apart, with the leg corresponding to the trigger hand posted back as you would if you were sliding a refrigerator into place. The opposite leg should be forward with the knee slightly bent. This base resists the gun’s recoil, and gives you a stable platform for aiming. Hold the shooting arm firm but not rigid, elbow bent slightly to absorb recoil. The gun itself should be held slightly higher than your shoulder. or your line of sight will be off.
Handguns are engineered to be held in a certain way for accuracy. Your hand should be high up on the handle, thumb extended down across the grip. Hold the gun as firmly as possible without shaking.
When your stance is set and you’ve got a good grip, aim. You can’t look at the target, front and back sights all at once. Sight the target and point the gun. Then focus on the front sight right through pulling the trigger. This will give you the tightest grouping of shots.
Finally, pull the trigger using firm, even pressure. The actual moment of the shot should be a surprise, but the fact of the shot should not. Don’t jerk or you’ll pull the gun off the target. Don’t get frustrated if your shots go wide. It takes thousands of repetitions to make the process second nature. That’s why they invented shooting ranges: because expert marksmanship is like getting to Carnegie Hall. Both take practice, practice, practice.
Caught out in the wilderness, it should be fairly easy to find water if you use your powers of observation. Shelter of one kind or another can be built with minimal effort.
And that leaves food. Sampling berries or plant life is problematic unless you happen to know which are poisonous and which are not. Besides, it’s hard to take in enough calories on rabbit food alone. What you need is the rabbit.
That means snaring or trapping an animal. The first trick is to find the animal. Look closely for trails or paths. Trails are made by a variety of animals and probably won’t lead you to the small game you want. Instead, find less distinct paths of broken vegetation that evidence a smaller animal. Track the animal back to its den or warren.
There are many kinds of snares and traps, ranging from the rudimentary to the amazingly complex. Working from the assumption that you’re hungry and don’t have an engineering degree, stick with the simpler basic snare. Tie cord—or better, wire—to a stake, and loop the other end with a basic bowline knot (page 47) so that it will close over your dinner’s neck. Now suspend it right over the opening, using twigs and vines to keep the loop open, in place and hidden.
Make sure you don’t leave a scent that would put your prey on alert. The easiest way to mask your humanity is to cover your hands with the slimiest mud you can find. Keep leaves between your fingers and the wire when tying the noose and setting the snare in place. Once everything’s a go, sit back and wait. Or, if you’re really motivated, find more warrens and set more snares. Because in the wild, you never know where your next dinner might come from.
Figures that you’re most likely to come across a trout-crowded stream the one time that you’re not packing your pole. That means you’ll have to be a bit more creative snagging those fish. When the fish are running close quarters in shallow clear water, try spear fishing. Find a fairly straight branch 3 or 4 feet long and cut the tip into a point. Or search for a branch with a thicker end and whittle the tip into several different points.
Take a lazier tack by setting lines over the water. Thorns or even sturdy twigs can be shaped with a knife to make excellent hooks. Braid young vines together, or use your shoelaces, for lines. Hang the set lines from a line or branch run between two trees or rock outcroppings over a stream. Bait the lines with worms or small insects, weight them with pebbles, and wait for a delicious meal to snag itself.
Make a Meal out of Insects
Extreme hunger can certainly clear up some misunderstandings. You may have thought of insects as mere pests in your lawn or annoyances at your backyard cookout. But lost in the wild, with no tracking skill to help you find small game, bugs can provide a nutritious meal when you need it most.
There’s a lot to recommend creepy crawlies as a food source. They’re easy to find and easy to catch. And pound-per-pound, insects can be a better source of protein than red meat.
Of course, all that doesn’t make them any easier to stomach. So it’s a good thing you’re a real man, right? Look for a good food supply under rocks, or in moist shaded areas with rich loam. Turn over a few square feet of soil and you’re sure to find some snacks to start with.
Soft-bodied insects are going to be the easiest to catch, prepare, and eat. Grubs and larvae are prolific and can be found throughout the wild with just a modicum of digging. Hard-bodied insects are tougher on your digestive system and are more likely to contain toxins. However, cicadas, crickets, ants, and other common hard-bodied insects are great food sources.
Most insects you’ll come across are edible, although you may want to keep away from spiders and other stinging and biting critters for practical reasons. And be aware that red and orange are nature’s warning colors. Better to stick to a diet of bland-colored food.
You can eat your insects raw, but boiling them has the added benefit of neutralizing some toxins. Cook them alive to retain their nutritional value. Pan-frying is another good way to prepare insects. A little oil and wild garlic helps most any creepy meal go down easier. Whether it comes back up is another matter.
Thinking of hunting Robin Hood style? You better have your accuracy down if you’re going to bring home the big game. Shooting an arrow through the red dot is probably a little harder than you remember from your Camp Winnemucca days.
Assuming your hardware is up to snuff (your arrows should be a couple inches longer than the distance from your chest to fingertips with your arm extended straight out in front of you; bow size is relative to arrow size), you’ll need the perfect technique to hit a target at a distance.
Stand as if the imaginary centerline running straight back from the bull’seye were a wall in front of you. Your legs should be spread just slightly more than shoulder width apart, so that you’re standing comfortably. Nock the end of the arrow right below the nocking mark on the string, holding the string with one finger above and two below the arrow, and your pinkie hanging free. Hold the bow with the other hand, tilted out at a 45-degree angle, so that the tip of your thumb is pointing at the target.
Draw the arrow back by scrunching your shoulder blades together rather than pulling with your arms. You want to use roughly equal pressure pushing the bow out and pulling the arrow back to maintain your balance and ensure a true shot. Your index finger should be right under your chin. Aim with your strong eye (the one you’re most comfortable using). Sight down the arrow, aligning it with the center of the target. When you’re ready, release the fingers holding the string, keeping the rest of your body absolutely still. With a little practice, you’ll be bringing down that elk before he ever figures out what hit him.