Game Processing Tips from Our Ancestors

With news stories about bubonic plague in squirrels and hantavirus in other rodents, cleaning and eating small game may not look like such a smart survival solution anymore. But these diseases are not new.

So how did our ancestors, with limited knowledge of biological hazards, process game to avoid these illnesses?


Cultural Taboos

Even without the understanding of microbiology, our forebears figured out which animals were trouble through trial and error. A friend of mine from the Navajo nation told me that no one in his town would ever go near mice. The local lore instructed his people from an early age that mice were the harbingers of death, and that mice are considered helpers of witches and evil spirits. Because of this, mice should be avoided at all costs. That may sound strange, until you realize that Navajo country is ground zero for hantavirus, a potentially fatal mouse-borne virus.

According to a Jicarilla Apache legend, you can become ill from eating bears. Perhaps this refers to the likelihood of infection from a bear attack, but bears commonly carry worms and other parasites. Other cultural taboos abound throughout the world. Each continent seems to have traditional people who avoid certain animals out of superstition or habit. For examples of this in modern times, look no further than the religions who do not allow the consumption of pork, beef, certain sea foods, and other meats.

Game Handling
From the Paiute Indians of Nevada to the Aborigines of Australia, many cultures have handled potentially diseased wild game with one of the crudest cooking methods—whole animal roasting. Yep, that’s right, you simply throw the whole animal on the fire. It is not skinned or gutted. The fur, feathers, or scales are burned off along with any diseases and parasites. I have only tried this once, with a perfectly good squirrel. Let me just say that this would be a hardcore survival move. From cooking this furry critter on a bed of coals, the burned hair and burned skin odor seeped into the meat imparting a not delicious flavor to the meat. Choking down pieces of that squirrel is high up on the list of the worst things I’ve ever made myself eat.

Tell us if you avoid certain animals for certain reasons, and how you process your game by leaving us a comment.

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