Family Recipe: Uncle Dean’s Famous Smoke Rub

Smoked venison

Uncle Dean’s famous smoke rub may easily become a family favorite.

Few things bespeak traditions like a family recipe passed down. Although I can’t claim this recipe comes from the “Old World”, it is one that my uncle gave to me. We use this rub on almost all of our smoked wild game recipes with only minor alterations. It would work well on the grill as well, but the rub combined with the smoked flavor is about as good as it gets for smoked venison.

Ingredients

Here are the ingredients you will need for Uncle Dean’s Famous Smoke Rub:
1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
1/4 Cup White Sugar
2-3 Tbs Salt
1 1/2 Tbs Cumin
2 Tbs Chipotle (or substitute any rub of choice)
1/2 tsp Black Pepper, Garlic Powder and Onion Powder

Steps

We first like to tenderize the meat.

Next we soak it in milk over night or for at least a couple of hours.

When it is done soaking in the milk we rinse off the meat and pat it dry so the rub mix will stick.

Now it is time to add the rub. We usually place the meat in a large zip lock bag and shake, or combine the rub with meat in a bowl. The meat does not necessarily have to marinate in the rub, but we like to let it set for at least a couple of hours.

The meat is then ready to head to the smoker.

It’s best to have your smoker preheated before you put your meat on to cook. When it comes to smoking the adage is “low and slow.” Keeping the heat low and cooking it slowly will lead to great tasting stuff.

Our smoker doesn’t get much lower than 225 degrees, so that is where we set it and let it preheat.

Once it is up to temperature we go ahead and lay the meat on the racks. We typically allow for around three and a half to four hours of cook time for smoked venison and add our wood chips the last hour.

Once the temperature of your meat is up to par, 180 degrees for venison, it’s ready to enjoy!

So next time you get together for a family gathering, have some friends over, or just want to dine on delicious smoked venison, use Uncle Dean’s Famous Rub to give your wild game a delicious taste that will have your mouth watering.

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I’d love to hear any other smoking recipes you like to use in the comments section below.

Also, thanks for taking the time to read this article. If you like the content you may enjoy using this traditional recipe for dandelion greens.

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27 Foods Eaten by Mountain Man Zenas Leonard

Black bear.

Whether you appreciate wild food or history, you might find this list of foods eaten by mountain man Zenas Leonard interesting.

For one reason or another, the foods eaten by mountain men are something I find intriguing. Perhaps it is because of the self-reliance it highlights. It could be because of what we can learn about our food from learning about theirs. It also could be because every so often you come across something so disgusting you just can’t seem to forget it. In reality, all three of these factors likely add to my fixation on learning about the foods of the mountain men and others who were/are self-reliant. Recently one primary source I read and learned from was the diary of mountain man Zenas Leonard.

Zenas Leonard left Missouri in 1831 during the height of the Rocky Mountain Fur trade era. His journals describe not only his experience with other mountain men, but the great adventure he joined with Capt. Joe Walker to California. If you read the journal (at this link) you will notice that Leonard was not only an expert outdoorsman, but he also had an eye for culture as well. On several occasions he takes the time to learn about different people of an area. Near the end of the journal (starting on pg. 51) he describes his desire to live with the Crow and learn about “their internal mode of living.” After reading the journal you get the impression that he was looking to make some money, but was just as much concerned with learning, experiencing, and adventure. It is a good read if you enjoy the subject.

As with several other journals, the Zenas Leonard journal devotes some attention to the foods he ate. This seems to be the case for several reasons. One, many of the foods were unique to him, and two, many times food was a huge issue in his life. While we sit down and eat 3 squares everyday, he and the other mountain men were never truly certain when their next meal would be. You can imagine how this would heighten your appreciation for a good meal.

If you are interested, here are the 27 foods that mountain man Zenas Leonard enjoyed, or otherwise ate, while living as a mountain man.

Corn (PG 1) – In trade from both the Kanza and Oto tribes.

Wild Turnips (PG 1) – From a band of Oto’s.

Muscles and Small Fish (PG 1) – Leonard mentions fishing on several occasions, more than the other journals I have read.

Horse.
Horses were commonly eaten during times of extreme hunger. Image via pixabay.

Horse (PG 1) – Leonard wasn’t in the West long before he had his first taste of horseflesh. Later during his time in the mountains (PG +26) he describes this practice on many occasions when the men were close to starvation. He also describes the painful feeling of killing a horse this way (PG 29); “It seemed to be the greatest cruelty to take your rifle, when your horse sinks to the ground from starvation, but still manifests a desire and a willingness to follow you, to shoot him in the head and then cut him up & take such parts of their flesh as extreme hunger along will render it possible for a human being to eat.” Certainly a somber tone to that entry. It also shows a side not often recognized in the mountaineers.

Wolves (PG 2) – In order to keep from starving.

Wild Cats (PG 2) – Leonard is unclear as to what kind of cat, but you would likely assume a bobcat.

Antelope (PG 2) – A staple food of the plains.

Elk (PG 2) – His first mentioned elk was enjoyed after an extended period of near starvation. In the next sentence he mentions the party was “refreshed” and “set out with unusual fine spirits.” One can only imagine how good that elk must have tasted.

Buffalo (PG 2) – First mention of killing a buffalo, the favorite meat of the mountaineers. He set out in late April from St. Louis and recalls this meal was ate in late July after arriving in buffalo country. He recorded “the flesh of the Buffaloe is the wholesomest and most palatable of meat kind.” Later in the journal he describes killing great numbers of bison especially before his first winter in the mountains set in.

Deer (PG 2) – Killed nearly every day for a portion of the trip.

Bighorn Sheep (PG 4) – Noted killing bighorn sheep while putting up meat for the winter, and to use the hides in order to make moccasins.

Beaver Skins (PG 6) – During his first winter Zenas Leonard and a few comrades made a desperate attempt to reach Santa Fe in mid-winter. They set out from camp with few provisions and just a few beaver skins for trade. After a short time flogging about the mountains in incredible amounts of snow, the men were starving. He recorded they roasted and ate the beaver skins at this point in order to keep from starving to death. After killing a buffalo later, he notes in the journal the bull was killed after eating nothing but beaver skin for 9 days.

Black bear.
Most mention of bear comes once he made it to California. Image via Pixabay.

Bear (PG 9) – There are a few mentions of eating bear, but page 9 is the first reference. Later, once he got to California (PG 29), the party regularly killed and ate bear.

Beaver (PG 17) – During a strenuous trip across the Great Basin, Leonard mentions eating beaver. You would imagine this was common practice for mountain men.

Fish (PG 18) – Here Leonard mentions several specific fish species of trout and catfish. He also noted “others suitable for hook and line.” Again, Leonard mentions fishing on multiple occasions.

Rabbits (PG 23) – Also noted during his trek through the Great Basin.

Acorns (PG 28) – A welcomed meal after starving on the mountains. Later in the journal he would explain this is the principle food of the native people of the area. Folks who have read the story of Ishi no doubt remember this fact well.

Bread and cheese
While in California, Leonard got the chance to enjoy bread and cheese. Image via Pixabay.

Bread, Butter, and Cheese (PG 33) – When the party of mountain men reached the shores of the Pacific, in a stroke of good luck they met an American ship. After exchanging greetings the men were invited aboard the ship for a feast. In exchange for fresh meat, which the sailors were delighted to indulge in, the mountaineers enjoyed these three foods. Leonard notes it had been more than 2 years since he had eaten this sort of civilized food.

Flour, Corn, Beans, &c (PG 41) – Before embarking eastward back across the mountains and the desert, Capt. Joe Walker outfitted his men with these provisions to eat on the journey.

Beef (PG 43) – For the same reason as the above mentioned staples were purchased, a herd of cattle were brought along as portable provisions. Within a short time nearly all of these animals would be killed or die from the extremes of the desert.

Dog (PG 43) – Dogs were brought along for the same purpose as cattle. While moving across the desert it is recorded (PG 46); “The pitiful lamentations of our dogs were sufficient to melt the hardest heart.” Once again you can see that although dogs were used for food, it certainly wasn’t something the men enjoyed. It was simply about survival.

Blood (PG 47) – While in the desert Leonard noted that thirst was the major want of the men and that; “… it became so intense, that whenever one of our cattle or horses would die the men would immediately catch the blood and greedily swallow it down.” This particular desert crossing (from California back to the trapping grounds) also put Jed Smith and his men into similarly trying times.

Good Old Brandy (PG 48) – Sort of a humorous entry at this point. He notes the men enjoy a small portion of brandy, which they drank in a few minutes, “deeply regretting that we had not a small portion of what was that day destroyed by the millions of freemen in the states.”

As you can see, it wasn’t always pretty, but the men did what they needed to do in order to stay alive. The diet not only included an ample amount of wild food, but on occasion he enjoyed some staples of civilization as well. All in all these 27 foods can teach us a good deal about what life was like as a mountain man, and perhaps a good deal about what our diets should look like as well.

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I’d love to hear what you think about these mountain man foods, and Zenas Leonard in the comments section below.

Also, thanks for taking the time to read this article. If you like the content you may enjoy this article 28 Wild Foods Eaten by Mountain Man Rufus Sage.

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Treats From the Past. Archeologists are Recreating Recipes from 17th Century Ships.

Ship

This article is full of great insights about eating in the past.

“You can eat them?” Was the question I got from a curious high school student after learning that I have tried raccoon. At his age, I probably would have had the same reaction. Now that I am sporting a few gray hairs, I find the question pretty silly. “Sure,” I replied. “In fact you can eat about any mammal you’ll find on North America.” He looked unsure about my answer, but later replied with a smile that it “made sense.” The truth is, if he found that a bit unsettling, he would get pretty queasy after reading this article on recipes for 17th century ocean voyages.

The article is a great read for people interested in history, especially living history. A few grad students at Texas A&M have used historical records at their disposal to create some hard tack, salted meat, and beer. Not only that, but they are staying historically accurate enough to get their water untreated from rivers. I’d have to say that although this is accurate, our modern rivers have to be completely different from historic rivers. Still, it is a tip of the hat to those hard core historians doing their best to recreate the past.

The test will take course over several months and give the researchers a chance to test the food’s nutritional value. Not only that, but the team is looking forward to studying the probiotics found in the wood as well.

All in all the article is well worth the read. Hope you enjoy!

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I’d love to hear whether you’d try the food in the article or not. Personally, I’d like to give the beer a try!

Also, thanks for taking the time to read this article. If you like the content you may enjoy this article foraging for lambs-quarters may change more than your diet.

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Give this Traditional Dandelion Greens Recipe a Try this Spring

Dandelion greens salad

This traditional dandelion greens recipe is by far the best way I’ve found to enjoy this nutritious green.

Dandelions are everywhere. They are in yards, parks, abandoned lots, and nearly everywhere you look. Unbeknownst to most, dandelions are not a native species to North America. Nope. The yard invaders trace their roots (pun intended) to Eurasia. They were actually intentionally introduced in North America by settlers. Even as settlers came west they brought this perennial herb with them, as they knew it would provide a dependable crop of greens each year. How times have changed.

Dandelion flowers
Dandelions are a nutrient packed food the pioneers made sure to secure.

These days folks spend lots of time and money trying to eradicate this prolific herb. The truth is, if dandelion were in the supermarkets they would be promoted as a Super Food. All parts of the plant are very healthy, but the greens are especially so. In fact, compared to a highly nutritious food like spinach, dandelion wins in nearly every department. When you start realizing the goodness sprouting up all around us, you might start to wonder why we spend so much time killing it. You may also think about enjoying some of it.

So dandelion greens are healthy, but in all honesty I find the taste a little powerful. Most information out there advises folks to boil the greens in order to remove some of the bitter taste. That works to an extent, but there always seems to be some strong taste holding on. Maybe that is as it should be, but it may be holding people back from adding this nutritious powerhouse food to their diet. If that is the case, you’ll enjoy this dandelion greens recipe.

This tasty dandelion recipe comes from the book Wild Seasons by Kay Young. It is very good, and might be a good way to slip dandelions past your palate. If you have a few yellow spring flowers budding I’d encourage you to give it a try.

Ingredients

4 cups washed dandelion greens (other greens can be mixed as well)
2 strips bacon
Salt, black pepper, and sugar to taste
1 Hard boiled egg (sliced)
Vinegar to taste

To start, boil you dandelion greens as you would in other recipes. 4 minutes is plenty. Once the greens are boiled, drain the water and pat dry some of the excess moisture.

As you heat your water, you also want to start cooking your bacon. Cook it to a nice crispy state. Once the bacon is cooked you want to pat it and to remove some of the grease,  then crush it into smaller pieces.

At any point you are also free to make your dressing by combining your salt, pepper, sugar, and vinegar together. The resulting dressing is delicious and worth adding to your regular salads as well.

With your greens boiled, bacon cooked, and dressing made, you can add everything together. Add any other greens as well. We added a few cups of spinach to our concoction which helped to offset the taste of the dandelions. Once you have everything stirred together, add the hard boiled egg and serve.

Dandelion greens salad
This traditional dandelion greens recipe is a good way to try this heritage food.

As mentioned, this traditional dandelion greens recipe is a great way to incorporate the bountiful herb into your diet. Maybe you are hesitant about trying dandelions? Maybe you have hard time stomaching the taste? Maybe you just want to spice up your diet with a more traditional wild food? Whatever your reason, I’d encourage you to give it a shot. It really isn’t as scary as you might think.

As with all wild food recipes, you are responsible for making sure the food is safe. Ensuring you have the right plant is the very first thing you have to get right. You might think there is no mistaking dandelion for anything else. Well, you may be surprised to learn that there are dandelion look alikes. Learn to tell the difference and get the right plant.

Secondly, because these broadleaf flowers are unwanted, make sure not to gather them from sources that could have been sprayed. The more isolated the location, the better.

Finally, don’t dive all-in when you first give dandelion greens a try. As with any new/exotic food, it is best to ease in and see how you react to it. Try adding just a few greens to your salad the first time. Then see how you like the taste and how your body accepts it.

At the end of the day I’d encourage you to give this traditional dandelion greens recipe a try. It is silly to think about how we discard this plant, and then go pay for less nutritious plants at the grocery store. It does have a strong taste, but you may find this recipe a good way to disguise it. The pioneers not only ate it regularly, but they made sure to bring it along with them. Its nutritional qualities were not lost upon them, and hopefully you can find a bit of that value as well.

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Thanks for giving this traditional dandelion greens recipe a look. If you enjoyed it, please follow this blog by clicking the button near the bottom of the page. You may also enjoy this article on the 8 Uses of Cattail from Hunting to Diner Plate.

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Frontier Whiskey Recipe…You Don’t Want to Try This Stuff

Whiskey barrels

While reading a classic Mari Sandoz book, I came across a frontier whiskey recipe that was too intriguing to pass up.

For good or bad, alcohol plays a substantial role in American history and culture. When Europeans first colonized Jamestown they were carrying a good deal of beer with them when they landed. It should be no surprise that beer was drank in celebration at the very first meal ever eaten at our initial colony. Also, it may not be a well-known fact, the Pilgrims at Plymouth also brought and drank beer. In fact, journal entries from the colony mention beer on several occasions, perhaps showing its general use by those folks. Another era where alcohol was noticeably prevalent was the fur trade.

The fur trade in America has a rich history and is important to understand. Most folks educated in history understand the significant role the fur trade played in encouraging European settlement of the new land. It started with the French Voyageurs in the east, and would culminate with the American mountain men of the west. Although culturally the groups were different, they both had some similarities. For one, both groups liked their drink. Voyageurs were noted as bringing copious amounts of booze in their canoes, and the frolics of the mountain man rendezvous have been well noted.

In addition to the use by the French and Americans, there has also been much written about the dubious use of frontier whiskey in trade with Native people. The use of frontier whiskey in trade was a hotly debated issue during the fur trade era. On one hand, traders wanted to use it in trade with Native people as this helped profits. On the other hand, the ethical dilemma of saturating those people with alcohol to essentially steal from them and debase their societies was not lost on people of the time. Using alcohol in frontier trade was certainly a hot issue in the 1800’s.

Again, for good or bad, the use of frontier whiskey was widespread during the fur trade era. What was it made of though? While there likely were numerous recipes out there, I came across two frontier whiskey recipes while reading Mari Sandoz’s book The Beaver Men that really grabbed my attention.

In her book, Sandoz is recounting a story in which William Clark had authorized Narcisse Leclerc to take 250 gallons of alcohol up the Missouri river. At the same time he had denied Pierre Chouteau Jr the same privilege. Once upriver, Leclerc turned the alcohol into frontier whiskey for use in trade. At this point Sandoz cites two frontier whiskey recipes Leclerc could have used.

Montana blend:
1 qt. alcohol
1 lb. rank black chewing tobacco
1 bottle Jamaica ginger
1 handful red pepper
1 qt. molasses, black
Missouri water as required

Boil the pepper and tobacco together. When cool, other ingredients were added and stirred. As the whiskey was drank, more river water was added.

Upper Platte recipe:
1 gal. alcohol
1 lb. plug or black twist tobacco
1 lb. black sugar or molasses
1 handful red Spanish peppers
10 gal. river water (in flood)
2 rattlesnake heads per barrel

After the Upper Platte recipe Sandoz goes on to note,

Variations in flavor might be a “brush” of vermout, wormwood of the Plains or, for an occasional real beaver man, a castoreum, for the musky perfumish odor.

As you can see, frontier whiskey was nothing to be played around with. Rank tobacco. A handful of red pepper. Beaver castoreum. Rattlesnake heads? One ingredient that is easy to gloss over is Missouri river water. In the same book, Sandoz recounts the complaint at the time the Missouri was, “Too thick for soup and too thin to plow.” Imagine the grime and grit that found its way into the whisky concoctions. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t try to make, or drink, this stuff at home.

Frontier whiskey was not for those with a weak constitution. It was for rough and tumble frontiersmen and was used to debilitate entire nations. These recipes can shed some light on how rough the frontier actually was. It wasn’t a place where the faint of heart lasted very darn long. While not all men of the time partook in its drinking, frontier whiskey did play a major role in the fur trade and settlement of The West. In conclusion, as much as I like to experiment with historical skills, this is one area where I’ll have to pass.

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Thanks for reading this brief dialog on frontier whiskey. It seemed too rich to pass up. If you enjoyed it, please follow this blog by clicking the button near the bottom of the page. Also, if you are interested in the mountain men, you might enjoy this article on the mountain man’s possibles bag.

First Taste: Smoked Raccoon is Better than You’d Guess

Raccoon in tree.

If you’ve never tried smoked raccoon you seriously don’t know what you’re missing.

Smoked raccoon
Eating smoked raccoon might seem a big unusual, but it’ll be on our menu from now on.

To be completely clear I’m probably the last person who should be eating raccoon. I never ate is growing up, though we did eat quite a bit of elk as a kid. My family doesn’t really need to eat it. We usually have other wild game in the freezer in addition to beef. And speaking of beef, my in-laws happen to operate a well-respected ranch that produces high quality beef. What in the world am I doing eating raccoon then?

Not really sure to tell you the truth. I started trapping them for their fur a few years ago and have enjoyed my time doing that. However, I was a little curious each time I would chuck away a carcass as to why I was tossing it. I also guessed that in history people would have certainly eaten the meat. I didn’t figure there was anything inherently wrong with raccoon as far as the meat goes, but yet it got tossed away. Why and what was I missing?

The History

Raccoon in tree.
Raccoon historically has been a widely enjoyed meat. Photo via Pixabay.

I was in fact missing out on a historically popular meat. Not only was raccoon meat enjoyed by Native people, but it also has deep roots in the history of European America as well. Raccoon meat was so popular in certain areas of the country that some communities even had local celebrations and cook-offs featuring the meat. A favorite on farmsteads as well, this meat is something people have been using for generations prior to the last few. If people ate it for so long, what’s been my holdup?

The best I can reckon is that raccoon has earned a bad rap for a few reasons. One reason is that coon seem to be viewed as kind of scavengers who feast mostly in garbage dumps and sewers. I guess it depends on where they are living, but I would assume the raccoons I’m trapping to get the bulk of their food from more natural sources. Most the ringtails I’m trapping are likely eating a variety of foods they natural would including fish, insects, and small critters, in addition to their diet of grains. As omnivores they can eat about anything, including the rubbish that many people associate them with. I guess I didn’t imagine my coons were eating too much refuse so I was safe there.

Safety Concerns

Another reason raccoons likely fell out of favor is their reputation for carrying diseases such as rabies. The CDC reported that in 2014 5,398 wild animals were reported to have confirmed rabies. Of those, 1,822 were raccoons. Sure, raccoons may be the #1 carrier of rabies in the United States, but that is mostly for folks east of the Appalachian mountains.   This is due to the fact rabies is mostly a species specific virus. In other words there are raccoon strains, skunk strains, bat strains, fox strains, and so on, of the virus. The CDC also reports each strain can jump species, but it’s not common. You can examine these maps and see what strain of rabies is most common to your area. It will give you a clue as to which animals would be likely carriers.

Rabid animals are said to be easily identified by their behavior. This video shows a rabid raccoon one citizen happened to catch on camera.

In reality one of your biggest concerns when consuming raccoon may be the presence of worms.  The linked source offers some good information about the worms and safety concerns. It also relates what is probably true in most cases; cook the meat and you’ll be safe. When eating all meat, it’s generally a good idea to cook it thoroughly and you’ll kill most bacteria that could potentially harm you. Knowing raccoon meat had a few strikes against it, I still decided to go all-in and give it a try.

Smoked Raccoon

The first job was to get the skin off the carcass. I skin all my own raccoons anyway, so this wasn’t a big deal to me. Once the skin was off I fleshed the pelt and hung it to dry until tanning. With that chore done I then needed to get all of the fat off the meat. Wild game fat is not like fat on domestic animals. Anyone who has hunted or trapped these fur bearers probably realizes how fatty coons are. They also probably realize that whether you’re eating deer, elk, raccoon, or goose, getting the fat off can really improve the table fare. Coons are extra greasy, so this job took some time and I wasn’t able to get the fat entirely off.

With the fat off I started to remove the big cuts of meat. These came mostly from the back end and back. The surprising thing is how little meat the carcass actually holds. Although these animals appear to be fairly full animals, they are mostly fur. Meat was not very abundant, and I would guess one raccoon would provide enough meat for one day for a semi-active hunter.

Next came the cooking. My wife mixed up a batch of our family secret; Uncle Dean’s famous rub. As you might guess it comes from Uncle Dean himself. You could smear this rub on a Goodyear and it would be palatable. The rub provides a nice blend of sweet and spicy and we put it on nearly everything we smoke. With the meat covered we put it in the fridge for a few hours to help the rub soak in.

After a few hours in the fridge the meat went on the smoker. Now, as I mentioned there wasn’t a whole lot of meat on the carcass. Not only that, but the pieces I got off had been chunked into even smaller pieces. This not only helped the rub soak in, but would also help the smoker do its thing. As mentioned, cooking the meat was to be extra important. With the smoker set at around 250˚ I let it cook and smoke for around four hours. Once the internal temperature was near 180˚ I knew we were in the money.

dscn2853
Smoked raccoon will certainly be on the menu in the future.

With the meat fully cooked and smoked I was ready to give it a try. I’ll fully admit I wasn’t sure what I was about to bite into when I stared down that first piece. What I found was an extremely tender, moist, and sweet meat. After the first few bites coon meat was flying off my plate and into my mouth. Compared to most other wild game I’ve eaten, this was very tender with little gamey taste. I wouldn’t say I could stand eating the meat, I would say I enjoyed eating the meat.

Eating smoked raccoon is surely a recipe I’ll add to my yearly diet. I saved the meat from the all the coons I’ve trapped so far this year, and will certainly keep their meat in the future. In fact one aspect of eating a wild game diet and growing our own food I like so well is getting to enjoy seasonal food. Whether it’s radishes in the spring, tomatoes in late summer, venison in the fall, and waterfowl in the winter, we get a good dose of it all. It circles back to one of my main goals; to recognize more of the abundance that is lying all around.

Not only that but it helps me make more use of the animals I trap and turns my trapping adventures into a full-circle endeavor. If you trap I’d encourage you to try smoked raccoon at least once. It’ll help your catch go further and you might enjoy it like I did. If you’re looking to experiment at catching some of your own food, you should give trapping a try. Catching coons is relatively easy and they are very abundant. You’ll not only procure some good food and fur, but you’ll help balance a population. I’d encourage you to give it a go. Happy eating!

If you’d like to learn more about having gratitude for your food, you might find Lessons From the First Thanksgiving a good read.