High Gear: Livin’ off the land with “Bushcraft Field Guide to Trapping, Gathering and Cooking in the Wild” (book review)
May 18, 2017
“The Bushcraft Field Guide to Trapping, Gathering and Cooking in the Wild” by Dave Canterbury | $16.95
In a nutshell: A simple and incredibly useful guide to outdoor survival, made for situations when “survival” can be anything from zombie apocalypse to weekend hunting trip
Author: Dave Canterbury, co-founder of Ohio survival program Pathfinder School
Photos: Various diagrams and illustrations, plus color photos of edible plants
Pages: 256 pages, soft cover
“The Bushcraft Field Guide” is available from major online and brick-and-mortar retailers. For more info on the book, see SelfRelianceOutfitters.com.
There's a difference between survival and enjoying the outdoors.
For Dave Canterbury, a professional survivalist and New York Times bestselling author of several books under his "Bushcraft Field Guide" series, survival doesn't have to mean preparing for zombie apocalypse-style chaos. Sure, knowing how to rig a car battery for heat or trap rodents with a paint can might come in handy, but in his latest book, "Bushcraft Field Guide to Trapping, Gathering and Cooking in the Wild," the author is more concerned with the tips and tricks that make wilderness excursions — hunting trips, fishing trips, camping trips, even an extended mountain-bike tour — simply enjoyable, even without the comforts of a modern kitchen. This ain't just about surviving when all hell breaks loose — it's about living and thriving off the land.
"The great thing about the outdoors is eating in it!" Canterbury writes in the opening acknowledgments, setting the tone for his book long before he talks about trapping, gathering and cooking. "Nothing tastes quite as good as it does when cooked over an open fire."
Agreed. In the book's 23 chapters, Canterbury covers cooking over an open fire and everything in between, from essential tools and utensils for a wilderness kitchen to catching, cleaning and cooking fish, frogs and big game in the woods. It's packed with recipes from start to finish — tinfoil trout with Dutch oven raspberry cobbler for dessert, anyone? — and even touches on how to preserve your quarry after bringing it home.
The book begins with a straightforward introduction on how to pack for a multi-day trip. It sounds like a throwaway chapter, especially if you're a veteran outdoorsman, but it's still one of the most important, as it sets up everything Canterbury discusses in later chapters.
The writing in this opening section (and later chapters) has a slight survivalist bent — "These simple items will help protect the most important thing, which is your body's core temperature," he writes, and continues to reiterate that food exists to stoke your internal fire — but he never gets bogged down in hyperbolic situations. Instead, he introduces the essentials like cover, cordage, combustion for fire, and cutting tools, and then expands to talk about how they help you meet nutritional needs like protein, vitamins and minerals, carbohydrates and fats, and, of course, water. He even includes a recipe for "pine needle tea," an old Boy Scout trick for boiling pine needles to release minerals like Vitamin C. Just be careful: Ponderosa pines can be toxic and lodgepole pines can give some people digestive issues.
How does Canterbury know lodgepole needles might upset your stomach? He's tried every last recipe and contraption in the book, and it shows. In Chapter 16, "Dave's Favorite Recipes," he gives 21 recipes for outings of any size. There's the Dutch oven raspberry cobbler — a wonderful treat on a long rafting or hunting trip, but one that requires a cumbersome Dutch oven — and then there's tinfoil trout, which only requires fish, onion, butter and seasoning. If you don't have butter (or onion), the following chapters on cooking with animal fat and foraging for edible plants show how ingenuity fills the gaps.
In one of my personal favorite sections, Chapter 18 on foraging, Canterbury outlines his favorite plants — as in, food you don't have to catch or kill — with quick details on why they're his favorites. Take cattails: They're "nature's supermarket and pharmacy," he says, noting that young shoots are edible (raw or boiled), pollen can double as flour and young seed heads are almost like corn on the cob. I might have learned all of this at some point, but it still makes me want to go eat some cattails, just to know what it's like.
These later chapters get into the nitty-gritty of cooking in the wilderness, with illustrations showing how to make modified camp stoves using stones and sticks, and then diving into hunting and foraging. They will be the most interesting for people who've been around the survivalist block and want a few new tricks for their repertoire, with details on how to build grounded and suspended snares for catching birds, deadfall traps for catching small mammals, and primitive nets for catching fish. The point is: You most likely left home with a fishing pole and tackle box, but what happens if your boat unexpectedly gets swamped or lost, taking all of your gear — and food — with it?
"This knowledge will make an emergency situation a bit less hectic," Canterbury writes. "Were we to lose our kit … we still need to make it back to our home and family, and we may need to walk a day or more to get there."
After all of the backcountry recipes and rudimentary cooking advice, Canterbury's advice comes down to comfort — the skills, tools and know-how you need to stay alive and relatively comfortable in the wilderness, even if the circumstances are anything but comfortable.