The Bushcraft Field Guide to Trapping, Gathering and Cooking in the Wild

by Ric Hubbard • September 24, 2020

Eating. Aside from being necessary to live, eating can be one of life’s great simple pleasures. For me there are two basic classes of foods. There are the foods that you eat to fulfil our need for nourishment and the meals we crave for the shear enjoyment of the experience.

Most bushcrafting and wilderness survival books focus on the former in the discussion of food. This makes perfect sense considering the intention of the text. In a short-term, lost in the wilderness situation keeping your engine running is the primary concern and enjoyment takes a back seat to need. A camping trip, on the other hand, is no time to skimp on enjoyable food. In a long-term situation, meals that one can enjoy while providing your needs is one of the simplest ways to improve morale.

Popular bushcraft author Dave Canterbury has taken these ideas to heart with his new book, “The Bushcraft Field Guide to Trapping, Gathering and Cooking in the Wild”. In this book he looks at food as both a survival resource and as a source of enjoyment in the woods.

Mr. Canterbury is one of today’s survival celebrities starting with his YouTube channel and the first two seasons to “Dual Survival” on the Discovery Channel. Hi is now the author of a series of bushcraft field guides and one of the editors of “Self-reliance Illustrated”. His channel on YouTube is still one of the best stops on the internet to learn survival & self-reliance skills.

This book is all about how to eat well in the wilderness. It is dedicated to the full width of the subject from what to carry to how to find food in the wilderness. It is also a cook book, providing recipes and cooking techniques in the more primitive conditions found in camp. He takes his cues from the likes of Horace Kephardt in his writing, bring a modern voice to that folksy style.

The book is in four parts, each covering an area related to food. It covers packing in food, cooking in the field, living off the land and emergency cooking methods.

The first part covers the food stuffs that you bring with you and food items that are resilient for camp life. This part also provides recipes that use these food stuffs to prepare enjoyable meals. While a survival situation requires only nutrition, camping is meant to be a recreational activity and the food stuffs and recipes discussed in this section are also applicable to survival planning as well. Foods for camping need to store under less than ideal conditions, just as they must for long-term storage. Learning to use these foods help people to increase their preparedness.

The second part is all about how to cook in the more primitive conditions found in camping or bushcrafting. It covers how to build, start and manage fires. It goes into various methods of how to use the fire to cook. It next discusses utensils for cooking and how to use them.

The most interesting concepts in this part of the book are the improvisation of various cooking tools. A popular bushcraft activity in the YouTube community is spoon carving, producing eating and cooking utensils from materials found in nature. Developing these skills will allow you to reduce the load you carry on your back. It goes on to cover making more complicated improvised cooking tools such as pot cranes, rotisseries, raised fires and clay ovens. These tricks are what can make a long-term survival situation more comfortable.

This section closes out discussing different cooking methods. There is coverage of each method and some improvised ways to go about it. The advice here is more important than it sounds. Some methods, such as boiling and stewing, retain more of the nutritional value of the food then frying or roasting.

In part three you will find information on living off the land. There are a few ways to gather food in natural surroundings and this section starts with a beautiful set of color plates of common edible plants and some to avoid at all costs. I have several books on edible plants and all the best use photography to show the reader the plants for clear identification. There may not be many plants in this book, but Mr. Canterbury provides these photos and related info in chapter 18 to get you started with some very common plants found widely in the US.

The study of edible plants is to be taken seriously. While there are many plants that will sustain you, there are also plants that will make you sick or cause death. The discussion of edible plants would take up an entire book, and in fact has filled several. A copy of a Peterson’s field guide or Bradford Angier’s excellent book “Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants” will deepen your understanding of what to eat in the woods.

This section goes on to teach the reader about trapping and hunting. First with fundamentals and then sections that move beyond the basics, the reader is taught methods of gather animals for food. Most books that I have read on wilderness survival stick to primitive methods of hunting such as the Atlatl or Self bows, but Mr. Canterbury is a proponent of a 12-gauge single-shot shotgun as a choice for subsistence hunting. I cannot fault either approach and in fact it seems that knowing both is smartest.

The trapping chapter gives the reader a good start to understanding traps and trapping. For a deeper study, you will want to find a good book that goes in depth on trapping as a wilderness living skill. Dave Canterbury has even produced a video in the Make Ready series from Panteao Productions that we hope to review soon. Here though, he gives you enough information to get you started learning how to trap for food and fur.

What do you do with the animal after you have it? Chapter 14 gets you started with the skills needed to butcher your catch and get it ready to turn it into a meal. It covers the tools the reader will use, safety concerns and the butchering process.

One of my favorite things about this book is chapter 16 and the other recipes in the book. It’s one thing to learn how to find the food, but the addition of these recipes gives you the opportunity to make something tasty that will improve moral and make camping much more fun. I think that this inclusion is an improvement to the genre and is greatly appreciated.

The last chapter of this section is on preserving foods. This short chapter covers all the types of foods that you will gather in the wilds from plants to animals and the various ways to preserve them. You find descriptions of flours and meals, how to gather saps and use them and then to meats and fish. Knowing how to preserve your catch will reduce the amount of energy expended in hunting and give you more time for other projects.

The final section is about emergency cooking methods. There are techniques such as cooking on your engine. You can use the heat produced by your car’s engine to cook foods and have them ready when you arrive at your destination. Next are various types of fuels for use in emergency or for quick cooking that you may not be familiar with such as wood chips and wood chip bricks, pine sap and animal fats. It also introduces the various types of solid fuel use-able in various light stoves.

Finally, the reader learns about improvised stoves. You can make a quick alcohol stove using soda cans that will cook like much more expensive alcohol stoves. For more long-term camps there is the clay and mud rocket stove that uses the updraft caused by its design to increase the heat output. There is also a short discussion of solar cooking.

The book closes out with an appendix on the nutrition values of various game animals and nuts found in the wild. This is a nice extra that can help in deciding what to forage and hunt to ensure that you use your energy wisely.

I don’t know about the prepper and bushcraft community as a whole, but I for one have been waiting for this book for a long time. A good meal makes the camping trip and can go a long way to improving moral in any survival situation, and in either situation this improves the situation. “The Bushcraft Field Guide to Trapping, Gathering & Cooking in the Wild” is $12 well spent.