We have recipes for all the familiar game meats like venison, pheasant, and elk, and also for those slightly wilder wild animals like bear, snails, turtle, moose, squirrel, and snake.
In the era of factory-farmed animals, it's all too easy to whittle the meats we're willing to eat down to a thin triumvirate: chicken, beef, and pork. It's worth remembering there's a whole world of edible animals out there, a veritable smorgasbord all around us. And sometimes, as with the common brown garden snail (of escargot fame), a tasty protein source is as close as our own backyards.
The recipes below are for the adventurous eater. They're for anyone interested in taking "eating local" to a whole new level, or for anyone who's determined to cheat difficult economic times by eating off the fat of the land. Gathering snails for dinner? Now that's eating on a budget!
It's also worth noting "eating off the fat of the land" is actually a very lean way to eat. Wild animals are always on the move, not confined in cramped spaces that severely restrict mobility, so their meat will have comparatively little fat.
Many of the tips featured below were culled from the comprehensive guide to living off the land, The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery.
Alligators are protected animals. They cannot be hunted or trapped without acquiring a special permit. The recipes below are intended for the tender white meat of farmed alligators.
There are only a handful of states where hunting bears is actually legal. If you live in one of these states, here's a recipe for you. The Encyclopedia of Country Living recommends you prepare bear meat as you would pork. The meat should be well cooked, as this stew recipe calls for.
Elk are big creatures. Not easy to take down, and even harder to carry out. You'll need to section your elk even if you pack it out on a horse.
The common brown garden snail (Helis aspersa), the plague of many American gardens, is actually the same animal that, when served on a plate in a fancy restaurant, we call escargot. Before eating the snails from your backyard, determine the snails in your area are in fact Helis aspersa. There are other snails that aren't so good for eating.
The legs, both front and back, are the edible parts of bullfrogs, leopard frogs, and green marsh frogs.
In 2008, moose hunting enjoyed a sudden surge in, if not popularity, then curiosity certainly, thanks to a presidential campaign that featured a moose-hunting candidate from Alaska. Which begs the question: If you bag a big fella in the wilds of Canada, Maine, or Alaska, would it make sense to come to Allrecipes for a moose meat recipe? You betcha! We've got plenty.
Small Game Birds
"Pick" the bird soon after killing it when the bird still retains as much body heat as possible. Later, the feathers will set tight making the picking process more difficult.
The Encyclopedia of Country Living recommends wearing rubber gloves while cleaning wild rabbits and other small game.
In good conscience we cannot recommend rattlesnake wrangling. But if you somehow manage to find yourself grasping a rattler in your mitts, The Encyclopedia of Country Living recommends chopping off its head while being mindful not to touch the fangs--poison can enter the bloodstream through small cuts and scratches. The fangs might be unfriendly, but the white meat of the rattler is tender and mild.
The Encyclopedia of Country Living includes a few rules for folks who eat small wild animals. Among them, never eat animals that appear lethargic, look to be in bad health, or are already dead. Wear rubber gloves while cleaning them, and don’t eat the meat if you find white spots on the animals' liver.
The very name "snapping turtle" is a cautionary tale testifying to the perils of messing with these creatures. They'll get you! Emery's book includes two fail-safe methods for catching the tasty but testy snapping turtle: grip the shell behind its head or coax it into biting the business end of a stick...and then chop off its head with an axe! The encyclopedia includes additional info on cleaning and preparing the turtle for cooking.
Wild Pig (Boar)
The Spanish introduced pigs into California back in the 16th century. The Spanish permitted them to go wild, to feast in the forests, in order to hunt them later. Today, the wild pigs of California are often thought of as pests. Compared to farm-raised pork, the meat of a wild pig is very lean.
More Game Recipes
Want more? Check out these recipe collections for the most popular game meats.