Which one of these tastes most like chicken?
The answer is of course that none of them even taste anything remotely like chicken. That doesn’t mean they necessarily taste awful, though. With the right seasonings and a little bit of luck, all three of these critters can be the favorite dish in any backyard barbecue. The bad news is that if you’re hunting them down as sustenance in the wild, they most likely won’t go easy on your taste buds. This week we are going to discuss the harvest of small game such as rabbits, squirrels, and opossums for emergency wilderness survival.
As we touched on in the first article of this series, hunting for meat is one of the last things you should do in a survival scenario (shelter, fire, and water procurement should always come first). This scenario also assumes that you are cut off from the wider world, have almost no supplies, and no way to contact rescuers. You can also read our guides on eating insects and mollusks here, fish and amphibians here, reptiles here, or birds and eggs here.
Oh, and if you’re still wondering, squirrel probably tastes the closest to chicken, depending on the species.
Most people who have ever had opossum before will either retch unconsciously when they’re mentioned, or tell you they taste something like pulled pork. In the end, it really depends on a bit of luck. An opossum that is used to scavenging human trash will taste like you emptied the contents of your dumpster, slow boiled them, and then let the result congeal before consumption.
Wild opossum, however, has a far better reputation. Just be aware that as scavengers, they can tend to pick up diseases and would not usually be the first choice for many survival trappers. In addition, although they are relatively lean, opossums can have a greasy, fatty taste. In the wild, you also wouldn’t have a week or so to feed it corn and peaches until the flavor changes.
Trapping an opossum is a simple affair if you remember how to make small game traps. Unless you have a firearm, trapping is the most reliable way to harvest these animals, so make sure to bring some kind of cordage with you wherever you go. Sometimes shoelaces will work, but paracord and spare fishing line are recommended. Watch out for those teeth as well if you are making a snare trap. In the wild, even a small injury can lead to disastrous consequences.
Here’s an example of a yoke-out trap to take opossums:
Stewing opossum is the preferred method of cooking them, but they can also be speared on a stick and roasted over a campfire.
Ah, the good old standby. Rabbits are full of lean protein and are probably considered the most palatable animal on this list (although some people can’t stand cottontails). Unfortunately, rabbits are so lean that sometimes they are not the best choice for wilderness survival. Keep in mind that lean meat is good for you normally, but you want the energy that comes from fat if you’re starving. If you ever find yourself in a wilderness survival situation, you will absolutely be craving fat with nary a thought towards beach season. According to fatsecret.com, one pound of cottontail meat only yields approximately 11 grams of fat and about 500 calories.
Of course, you won’t be surviving exclusively on rabbits, and they provide a much-needed distraction from less savory foods. Once again, a variety of small game traps can work for rabbits. Below is one example.
Rabbits are extremely versatile and can be cooked in just about any way you’d like. In fact, if you haven’t tried rabbit before, I heartily recommend you try some. A well-cooked rabbit can be delicious, but you’ll definitely understand how someone will still feel hungry after eating one.
The other, other white meat. Squirrels are pretty plentiful across North America and can taste great, as far as unseasoned small game goes. Many people consider squirrels the ideal survival meat because the animals are high in protein, easily caught, have a mild taste, are easy to dress, and can be found just about anywhere. You can easily identify squirrel activity by looking for chewed nutshells and the like.
Here’s how to make a squirrel pole. As you can tell, bringing or learning how to make cordage is vital.
Be sure to avoid any squirrels that act strangely and don’t show any fear of you. It is also advisable to discard their brains—you’d have to be really hungry to eat that anyways—since the critters can spread Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Other than that, squirrels can be cooked much like rabbits.
Next week we’ll talk about other small game species, such as chipmunks and raccoons.