Family Thanksgiving Feast At Hunting Camp
BY NATE KENNEDY
Thanksgiving is by nature a holiday of tradition. Often, it’s a gathering of family and friends, shared food, and good company. Some folks watch football. Others go hunting. Some may even find the time for both!
My father and I started spending Thanksgiving at hunting camp a little over a decade ago. We would visit the family on Wednesday and then hit the woods for our very own tradition. We’d make a whole feast right at camp. Dad would cook a turkey on the wood stove, and prepare all the classic sides. My grandmother would make pie ahead of time and we would bring it up from home. What is Thanksgiving without pie, right?
We’d spend the day hunting out in the cold, snowy woods, and return to a hot meal at camp. I’m not sure there is anything better! One year, Dad had already filled his buck tag and so we took our shotguns and struck off on a small game hunt. Long story short: Fried squirrel came to be a staple at our hunting camp Thanksgiving!
Eventually it caught on, and now a great deal of my family takes part in this tradition. We spend the whole week at camp, hunting deer, grouse, squirrels and rabbits. We gather at my grandfather’s table with aunts, uncles and cousins to celebrate the life that we love in the woods.
Though at times we may feel like pioneers, this is nothing new nor all that unique. Hunting is a very popular Thanksgiving activity across the country. And why shouldn't it be? The very roots of the holiday are found in wild food and shared harvest.
While the history of Thanksgiving is deep, and the accounts of the original menu are varied, one thing is for sure — there was wild game! Big game and waterfowl hunting was on the docket for the first Thanksgiving feast preparations, and the bounty of those efforts was shared between the early settlers and native people of this country nearly 400 years ago.
So, if possible, pay homage to that history by incorporating some wild food into your Thanksgiving this year. If you had some success in the spring or fall turkey seasons, give that a try! If your freezer permits, break out some of this years harvest to share alongside your more traditional dishes. Goose, duck, pheasant, fish, frogs and more can make for some wonderful appetizers and side dishes, and naturally lead you and yours to great conversation.
Venison, from earlier in the season or the morning of, can be an easy and delicious part of the meal that your game-shy friends and family may be more open to. It’s also a great reason to hunt over the Thanksgiving holiday! If your deer tags are full or you're looking to try something else, take a walk and look for squirrels, grouse or rabbits. They are in-season and if you have a new hunter or young family member that wants to tag along, they are the perfect pursuit.
Get creative! There is no rule book which states that you have to use your wild game in the same recipes year after year. Take advantage of resources like Meateater, Hank Shaw and The Wild Harvest Table, and find new ones to try.
No matter what, enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday. Get outside for a hunt, share stories from the year and this season, plan hikes, small game hunting, or ice fishing trips for this winter. Most importantly, give thanks!
Give thanks for your family and friends, your hunting and fishing partners, and the great outdoors. Be thankful for life, clean air, clean water, food, and land. Do not take for granted the native people who inhabited and hunted and fished this land for thousands of years before us. Take a moment to thank those who risk, have risked, and have given their lives to make this country safe for us, and those who have dedicated their lives to keep this country beautiful, and plentiful with wild life and wild places. Lastly, give thanks for those who teach us and support us in all of our outdoor pursuits. Happy Thanksgiving!
Note: Nate Kennedy is a Liverpool resident who works in Waterloo. An Ogdensburg native, he is a lifelong hunter and angler who holds an master's degree in environmental communication from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and he is a 4-H educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Seneca County. Kennedy loves to write about and share his outdoor pursuits and his column appears the final Sunday of the month in the Auburn Citizen. It will now appear each month on oldschoolsportsnny.com.