It’s an annual dilemma for hunters wrestling with the pre-trip planning and packing as they prepare for the fall hunt of a lifetime, the need to adequately meet daily nutritional needs without adding too much weight or taking up too much space.
Whether we’re talking about a white-tailed deer hunt at a distant backwoods cabin, an arduous backpack trek into the mountainous backcountry, or a floatplane adventure many miles from civilization, the issue is often the same. And that’s how to power-pack the protein and daily nutrition, all without the unwanted addition of weight brought on by bulky cookware, heavy food, and even ice.
But there are certainly ways to achieve this desired goal of good food and daily nutrition without too much weight being added, as well as a few tricks that will help a hunting pack seem lighter on the trail.
Part of the solution starts with considering what you’ll need versus what you’ll want to carry with you in terms of gear and food supplies. Whether you’re driving to deer camp or packing it all in on your back, keep in mind that hunting is an energy-intensive endeavor, one that requires plenty of calories each day to keep a hunter fueled up and ready to go for that shot of a lifetime.
Some hunts will be more physically demanding than others—on a cold winter’s day in the whitetail woods when the temperature has cratered well below freezing, ascending and descending a couple of thousand vertical feet each day trying to get close to a critter high up in the mountains or even crawling after a spot-and-stalk shot opportunity on the hot desert floor. In general, while this can fluctuate based on body weight and type of hunting, plan on consuming 3,000 to 4,000 calories each day while you’re hunting.
How will those caloric needs be achieved? To some degree, that’s going to depend on the type of hunt you’re undertaking, the amount of space and weight you’re able and willing to carry, and what your own personal preferences and taste buds are like.
If you’re heading into the Alaskan backcountry on a floatplane trip for caribou, you’ll have to balance food supplies with the space and weight requirements your outfitting service limits you to for the flight in. If you’re heading deep into the Rockies for an elk or mule deer trip, food supplies will be dictated by daily needs and water availability versus how many pounds and square inches of packaging you can carry in your pack. Should your hunt be a whitetail adventure in a Northwoods cabin or maybe even a Texas deer camp where you can drive in with your pickup truck or car, you’ll be limited only by your budget, creativity, and ability to keep foods from spoiling.
No matter what type of hunt you will be on, you're going to need to assemble a daily selection of food that will center around breakfast (don't skip it!), lunch, a hearty dinner, and several energy-boosting snacks for the hours of activity in between.
One thing to remember is a food supply usually demands some sort of cooking apparatus. In the backcountry, that may be a small stove with a single burner and a lightweight pot you’ll boil a couple of cups of water in. From personal experience, let me suggest here that you’ll need to locate a good source of natural water for this type of cooking as well as some way of sterilizing it (i.e. boiling it, treating it with germ-killing chemicals, or using a sterilization water pump or pen).
If you’re in a typical deer camp situation where you can drive in, you’ll want items like a cast-iron skillet, a couple of pots and pans, a few plates, some cooking and eating utensils, and either a small refrigerator or a super cooler that can retain ice for long periods as it keeps food cold and away from spoilage concerns.
If your camp has a kitchen and a stove, that’s tremendous. Same thing for a wood fire pit that has a cooking grate over the top of it. But if not, plan on packing a propane-fueled griddle, a portable pellet grill/smoker, or some other type of portable cooking unit.
Even in a deer camp setting, water supply will be critical. If you’re in a traditional cabin or trailer, getting cooking water may be as simple as turning the faucet on or going to a water well pump. But if you’re roughing it a bit more, you’ll be limited to what you can pack in and/or collect from natural H2O sources like a stream or lake. On a memorable deer hunt in North Dakota once, my hunting companions and I had a brand new log cabin to sleep in, complete with electricity. Unfortunately, there was no running water or well handy, so we had to carry water in and retreat to town when we ran out.
With supplies, a cooking apparatus, and water needs now addressed, it’s time to turn to the menu. As noted above, don’t skip breakfast since in many ways, it’s the most important meal of the day for a hunter, one that gives an early morning boost of energy and sets the stage for how the day will go physically and mentally.
For that all-important first meal of the day, a lot of hunters opt for jelly-filled breakfast bars, Pop-Tarts, or a few powdered doughnuts. While all the above may taste good, they also deliver little in the way of nutrition and often cause a “crash-and-burn” episode later in the morning where you feel groggy, unenergetic, and desperately want to curl up for a nap.
Instead, look for breakfast foods that deliver whole grains, some dried berries, a few nuts, and plenty of protein. In addition to whole-grain carbs like those found in certain oatmeal or bagel products, a prime consideration here is to also find a good source of protein—a freeze-dried meal of scrambled eggs, some sort of performance food bar, or a package of instant grits spiced up with bits of Old Trapper beef jerky stirred in. For my taste buds, either the Zero Sugar version or the Peppered flavor are great choices here.
For lunch, think of something easy to carry, easy to prepare, and easy to consume. In the mountains, I’ve often resorted to tortillas smeared with honey and peanut butter, rolled up, and kept in a plastic sealable bag. A package of yellowfin tuna in olive oil or pre-cooked chicken is also a good option, although you’ll want to be careful with such aromatic meals if you’re in bear country.
In a deer camp setting, you might pack a more robust sandwich or come in for a bowl of soup, chili, or green chili stew. Again, you’ll want to have a good supply of protein handy for this meal, something like a package of Old Trapper Teriyaki style beef jerky or a supply of Old Trapper Jalapeno Deli Style Beef Sticks.
For dinner, whether in the mountains or a backwoods deer camp, I want something more substantial, robust, and hearty. In the backcountry, I opt for a dehydrated meal like freeze-dried lasagna or beef stew packages. In a camp setting, I’m often opting for a beefier meal, one that will stick to the ribs as well as prove tasty and satisfying.
For some of these potential dinner recipes, there are several options (Beef and Noodles, Jerky Chili, Beef Jerky Street Tacos, Teriyaki Fried Rice). In general, you’ll want to have some packages of Old Trapper handy, like the traditional Old Fashioned flavor that helped make the Oregon company famous with its lean cuts of real steak, a little brown sugar sweetness, and smoky perfection. If you like to kick up the taste buds a notch or two with something spicier, perhaps you’ll want a package or two of Old Trapper’s Hot & Spicy, which turns up the savory-sweet heat with red chili pepper flakes mixed in.
As a final consideration, let’s talk about hunting snacks for a moment. While many hunters will pack a candy bar or two in their pack, these items deliver tons of sugar, unwanted and unhealthy fats, and little in the way of nutrition, not to mention the crash-and-burn potential referenced above. If you must indulge your sweet tooth while on a deer stand or glassing from a high ridgetop in the high country, opt for selections that contain a good supply of protein-packed nuts mixed in.
Trail mix or GORP—which stands for “Good Old Raisins and Peanuts”—is a solid choice here, although I opt for homemade versions with better nutritional components than you’re likely to find in store-bought versions. Give me a gallon plastic bag, a few cups of dried cranberries or blueberries, a handful of peanuts, some whole-grain granola, some nuts like almonds or walnuts, and some pepitas (pumpkin seeds), and I can graze on this off and on during the day as I’m hiking or waiting on a big buck to show.
Finally, I’m going to want some protein to tear into for my snacking choices, something like Old Trapper’s Teriyaki Kippered Beef Steak, the Original Beef & Cheese Snack Stick, or the meaty coin-like Double Eagle.
The bottom line here is that whatever meal or snack you’re planning and packing for—from breakfast to lunch to dinner to an important mid-afternoon snack—you’ll want to think food and nutrition first and foremost, not cheap and sugary calories that won’t get the job done.
The reason is that when you rely on sugary, highly processed foods and candy for your woodsy nutritional needs, you risk getting a little bit of momentary energy followed by a non-nutritious crash-and-burn routine where your head will droop, your energy will disappear, and you’ll be asleep at the wheel when that big whitetail buck or western big game animal you’ve spent all year dreaming about steps into an opening a few yards away.
Put simply, opt for long-term energy and nutrition brought about by calorie-rich foods that deliver whole grains and fiber as well as healthy fats and protein, ingredients that go far beyond eating for the sake of eating. Instead, fuel your body with food items that are nutritious, tasty, and help keep you fueled properly so you’ll ultimately remember your big autumn hunting trip for the taxidermy bill and freezer filled with delicious wild meat. And not for the aches and pains you suffered along with that head-nodding moment when your energy and attention disappeared, and you missed the big buck shot opportunity of a lifetime!
Beef Jerky and Noodles Recipe
- 2 cups Old Trapper Old Fashioned Beef Jerky, cut into small pieces
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 2 quarts unsalted beef stock
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 pound uncooked wide egg noodles
- ½ to 1 cup canned evaporated milk
- Freshly cracked pepper, to taste
Get the Full Recipe: Beef Jerky and Noodles Recipe
Beef Jerky Chili Recipe
- 1 (40-ounce) can Mrs. Grimes Original Chili Beans in Chili Sauce
- 1 (10-ounce) can Ro-Tel Original Diced Tomatoes and Green Chilies
- 4 ounces of Old Trapper Old Fashioned Beef Jerky, cut or ripped into small pieces
- Hot sauce (optional)
- Water or unsalted beef broth (optional)
- Unsalted/low sodium crackers, bread or corn bread for serving
Get the Full Recipe: Beef Jerky Chili Recipe
Beef Jerky Street Tacos Recipe
- 5 ounces Old Trapper Traditional Style Peppered Beef Jerky
- 1 (15.25-ounce) can black beans
- 1 (4-ounce) can diced green chilies
- 1 small white onion
- 1-2 tablespoons oil
- 1/2 tablespoon dried cilantro
- 1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
- Street taco sized tortillas (24 corn or 12 flour)
- 3 limes
- Your favorite hot sauce (optional)
Get the Full Recipe: Beef Jerky Street Tacos Recipe
Teriyaki Beef Jerky Fried Rice Recipe
- 4 ounces Old Trapper Teriyaki-style beef jerky, cut into small pieces
- 2 cups uncooked long grain white rice
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- Half a small onion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons oil
- Soy sauce, to taste
- Sriracha sauce, to taste
- 2-3 eggs
- Canned peas and carrots, to taste
- Chopped green onion (optional)
- Salt and pepper, to taste
Get the Full Recipe: Teriyaki Beef Jerky Fried Rice Recipe