There are folks eager to try any wild game meat they can slice their boning knife around. These eaters have moved beyond the realm of culturally accepted wild species to less-common delectables such as rodents, oddball water birds like rails, and even weasels.
These fanatics hunt or gather to the sound of a dinner bell only they can hear. Beaver tail, for instance, was once highly prized by American Indians as well as by explorers and mountain man types as the tail is mostly fat, and fat means calories. If you’re a few days ride from the nearest trading-post fatback, you couldn’t afford to pass on this nutritional mother lode.
There’s a poignant scene in Peter Fromm’s memoir “Indian Creek Chronicles” that illustrates the priceless quality of fat. Fromm’s father and brother are caught in a blizzard while trying to ski into the Idaho backcountry camp where the author spent the winter, chipping ice out of a headwater stream so endangered salmon could spawn. The Fromms spend the night in a hastily pitched tent, fry up some bacon, then watch in horror as one of them spills the pan and the rendered fat soaks into the ground.
Their bodies, pushed to the limit, craved the warm bacon grease, which they’d planned to sop up with bread. After a rough night bereft of bread soaked in bacon grease the pair turned back the following morning.
Such is the power of bacon fat deprivation.
“Chronicles” also suggests mountain lion is tasty meat. When the backcountry weather clears, Fromm hangs out with lion hunters who share with him butterflied mountain lion backstrap. I’ve never tried this delicacy myself, and since I rarely hang out with lion hunters (not that there’s anything wrong with that) I likely never will.
A story recently shared by Steven Rinella on his website www.themeateater.com is a reminder that humans aren’t the only critters with a wide and varied game meat diet. The Meateater story chronicles the culinary preferences of a male mountain lion that lives along the Rio Grande River in New Mexico.
It turns out the lion, nicknamed Brokenleg due to a visibly healed injury, had an unusual preference for badger. During the 15-month study, Brokenleg killed and ate 24 badgers, the cat’s most common meal. That’s not something I would have guessed would be a common cat dining option since badgers are no pushovers. I would have thought a badger, like all the ornery members of the weasel family, would fight back, inflicting its share of damage even if the lion won out in the end.
Lions are ambush predators, however, and a stealthy approach followed by a spine-severing bite to the neck means those weasels might never have had a chance to fight back.
A lion, squared off nose to nose with a badger, however, would have to be plenty hungry to take one on.
Brokenleg also ate a mouflon sheep, one feral dog, two porcupines, eight beavers — relishing the fatty tail no doubt — and nine coyotes. This diet of small game and semi-domesticated animals suggests the cat’s injury might have led it to concentrate on easier game.
But the cat didn’t limit itself to the small stuff. Brokenleg also ate two mule deer, two antelope and 17 elk. Elk was the cat’s second favorite meal, and obviously the toughest to bring down — on the menu were nine calves, six cows and a pair of bulls — so maybe small game wasn’t a necessity but actually a preference, or at least a product of opportunity.
Rinella’s website also has a recipe for badger and I’ve learned sous vide beaver has its partisans. If I was a trapper I might give one a whirl, but I’m not, so fortunately, this opportunity is another likely to pass me by.
Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.