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Adventure, Shoot / October 2, 2016

Backcountry Gourmet: Feasts for hunting camps

Written by: Justin Park

Most backcountry hunters I know set aside the luxuries of our modern smorgasbord when they go into the field. They buy a Costco-sized bag of trail mix and a 20-pack of Mountain House meals and set about studying their topo maps.

And I get that. For me, the sous vide machine stays home and out comes the single camp pot. I even give up my morning coffee and settle for a stout hike before dawn. Camp’s a place for calories not connoisseuring.

Or is it?

I’ve decided that good (or at least halfway decent) meals are as important as decent rain gear and a tent. I love the simplicity of a backpacking diet, but something about eating freeze-dried astronaut food at camp feels as wrong as responding to work emails.

Most good, fresh food chews up a lot of two precious resources in our pack: weight and volume. We can only put so much on our backs and expect to get to where the other hunters aren’t.

Here are some surprisingly luxurious-yet-practical ways to add some real food back into your camp diet without having to hire a mule to bring it in for you.


 

Duck Confit

Confit? Really? What’s next, caviar?

And as gratuitously lavish as camp confit might sound, it’s actually nearly the perfect camp staple.

Confit, basically meat braised in fat, is a food borne of the necessity to preserve meat. The fat seals the meat off from contamination.

The stuff is rich with fat, which is the lightest, densest fuel you can get. A gram of fat provides 9 calories, while a gram of either protein or carbohydrates will give you only 4. The reason your average Weight Watchers dodges butter is the same reason you want it on the trail.

I like to shred the confit into other camp kitchen staples such as rice pilafs, pasta and stews. The fat-encased meat is packed with flavor that goes a long way with a little.

Whole Foods and the like often carry confit products, but if you can’t find them locally, it’s worth mail-ordering a few. They’ll keep in the fridge for at least a year. Save a few ounces by getting a pre-shredded variety so you aren’t carrying that unnecessary bone-in weight. Avoid tinned confits, as the metal adds unnecessary weight.


 

Stick bread

 

Stick bread, also called “banncok” is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten in camp.

The ingredients are simple: flour, water, 1 T salt and a packet of instant yeast. You can add butter/oil/bacon grease and all manner of leaveners but I prefer to keep it simple.

Flour is heavy, so I rarely bring a ton of it. As little as a cup of flour can be worth the trouble and it’ll only cost you 4.5 ounces in your pack. The yeast and salt add a negligible additional weight (they add 13 grams).

The process is simple. Before you leave camp in the morning, take clean camp pot or gallon ziploc bag and mix about a ½ cup of water with a ½ cup of flour and the yeast. You’ll ultimately aim for a 5:3 ratio of flour to water, but for now you just want a small amount of the slurry to get the yeast activated.

By the time dinner rolls around, the yeast will have started to multiply, eating the starches and generally making a bubbly mess of itself. Now you can add the salt and start adding flour a bit at a time until the dough naturally starts to take shape, aiming for that 5:3 ratio.

Knead the dough for a minute or so and let it rest for 10 minutes or longer.

Tear off a hunk of dough that balls up to be a bit larger than a golf ball. Roll it between your hands to make a long breadstick-type shape. Cut a 2 foot section of a ½-inch diameter live tree branch—ideally something smooth-barked like aspen. Remove the bark to reveal smooth wood and clean it well.

Wrap your “breadstick” around the stick in a way such that no wood is showing until you run out of dough to wrap. Your stick bread is ready to bake. Stretch the dough as you wrap to make sure it isn’t too thick. If need be press it down and aim to keep it no thicker than your pinkie finger.

Experimentation is key here, but the general idea is to get a solid coal base and then use rocks or earth, even green wood to make an area to hold your stick that is hot, but away from direct flames.


 

Camp Meat

 

Of course, one of the best ways to get fresh food into camp is to get it straight off the animal.

Plenty of hunters have had a celebratory venison or moose steak from a successful hunt at camp before packing out. All you need to have one is meat, salt, and pepper.

A pan works fine. But if you prefer eating like you’re at like you’re at one of the world’s most high-end steakhouses, cook your steak on a rock.

I don’t advise carrying your own 20-lb polished lava rock into the woods, but if you can find a reasonably flat, solid stone and can wait an hour for it to heat up on the edge of your coals, you can cook a steak to perfection on it.

While those tenderloin steaks usually mark the end of a hunt trip, other types of camp meat can serve to extend your meals (and thus your time in the backcountry).

Game like as grouse and rabbits make perfect camp fare meal stretchers when added to par-cooked rice or pasta meals. Archery season is the perfect time to nab this type of “side game” without spooking your primary target. During firearm deer and elk seasons, I keep my waterfowl gun in the vehicle in case I see an opportunity to score some duck or goose.

If you don’t think you’ll eat the whole animal at your camp kitchen, you can hang the extra above your fire to lightly smoke it and save for the next day.

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about the author

Justin Park

Justin is a Breckenridge, Colorado-based videographer and writer with strong roots back home in Upstate New York. His passions alternate between the shamelessly frivolous and the ruthlessly practical. There’s backcountry skiing and mountain biking for the sheer thrill of it. There’s hunting, foraging, spearfishing and cooking to put food on the table.

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