I’m not a nutritionist. But I love to eat and I love to hunt so I think that qualifies me to write an article on the best hunting snacks.
In all seriousness, I’m a bit of a health nut. Like most people, I’ll indulge in ice cream, french fries, or a cold beer from time to time. However, I think most people would consider me a clean eater.
This article is written for the hunter who wants to get the most out of the food that he brings to the woods. I have created this list based on a number of factors including taste, nutritional value, cost, availability, and hunting strategy.
Read on for the best hunting snacks to fuel you through the many hours or days you plan to spend in the field on your next hunt.
This is where I have to tell you that you should always consult with your physician before making any diet or exercise changes. So yeah…do that.
Factors to Consider When Choosing Hunting Snacks
Nutritional value is more important on longer, more strenuous hunting trips than on shorter, more stationary hunting trips. If you just have to walk 75 yards to your deer stand and sit there for a couple of hours, you can probably get by with a bag of Frito Lay chips.
However, if you’re going to be hiking in for a backcountry hike you’re going to need hunting snacks that are high in calories, carbohydrates, and protein. Let me give you a quick explanation of what each of these does for you.
Most of the food you eat will contain calories. Calories can come in the form of carbohydrates, protein, or fat. The long and short of it is the more energy you need, the more calories you need to consume.
The body takes carbohydrates and turns them into glucose. Glucose is a sugar that provides energy to your body. Consuming carbohydrates will keep your motor turning.
Your body uses protein to repair and build muscles. Obviously, you will be using those muscles a lot if you are hiking, carrying something, or climbing. Protein will also help you feel full for longer.
Weight of the Snack
Unlike your golfing buddies, you don’t have a cart girl checking in on you every few minutes when you’re hunting. You will generally be limited to what you can carry in your pockets, vest, or pack.
That’s why it’s important to pick hunting snacks that don’t weigh too much. In fact, I want to pick foods that have a lot of calories and are low in weight. There are many backcountry hunters who will go as far as measuring every ounce they carry and comparing it to the value it will provide them on the hunt.
Generally, you’re not going to have the ability to keep food cold for extended periods. On some hunts, you may have the ability to keep a cooler with you. But for the purpose of this list, I’m selecting foods that don’t need any kind of climate control.
Cooking Requirements and Abilities
If your hunting trip is not overnight, you probably don’t want the hassle of cooking. However, if you’re going to stay in the backcountry for multiple days, you will want a hot meal or two.
I usually look for foods that can be prepared with just boiling water. With a lightweight stove and a fuel canister, I can prepare a wide variety of meals in a short amount of time.
Game Animal You Are Hunting
Most game animals have very keen senses. For turkeys, it’s their hearing and their sight. For deer and elk, it’s their smell.
When I’m hunting turkeys, I try to choose foods that I can eat quietly with little movement. I stay away from apples and hunting snacks with loud wrappers.
When I’m deer hunting, I avoid super pungent snacks that are unnatural to the woods. I don’t usually eat beef jerky and peanut butter on deer hunts if I can help it.
For animals like elk and ducks, it’s more about timing. I try not to eat when I think ducks are about to start working the decoys. I’ll be ready to stow my snack away at the first sign of a duck on the horizon. On an elk hunt, I’ll eat when I feel that I’m far enough away from any elk that could see, smell, or hear me.
The Best Hunting Snacks
1) Beef Jerky
For many centuries, humans have been preserving meat through the jerky process. Because it doesn’t need to be kept cold, it makes a great hunting snack. I will always carry beef jerky with me as a protein source on multi-day, backcountry hunts.
High in protein, beef jerky is also very lightweight for carrying. It is a great way to eat some actual meat while you are hunting for meat. The downsides to beef jerky are its high sodium levels and its pungent smell.
I’ve eaten all types of beef jerky. My favorite is actually the jerky I make on my Big Green Egg from the Canada geese I shoot each year. For a healthy choice, Prevail makes a beef jerky that has about half the sodium of normal beef jerky.
2) Protein Bars
Protein bars are a healthy snack in an airtight, lightweight package. As the name implies, they are a great source of protein. Many offer other nutritional value as well.
Be sure to check the label on protein bars as there is a wide variety in the number of calories, protein, fat, and carbohydrates they contain.
Protein bars can be expensive. They can also taste pretty bad. I like the FITCRUNCH Bars by Robert Irvine because they taste amazing. Not just protein bar good, but actually candy bar kind of good!
I can remember my grandfather’s favorite hunting snacks were peanuts and peppermints. Turns out nuts aren’t a bad idea. (Though peanuts are technically legumes.)
Nuts have a high calorie-to-weight ratio (assuming they are pre-shelled). They also contain a lot of beneficial fats. Walnuts, almonds, pecans, and macadamia nuts get the best rep for health but don’t turn your nose up at other types of nuts.
Salted nuts and those cooked in oil are less healthy than raw or dry-roasted, unsalted nuts. However, it may be worth sacrificing some health benefits for better taste in order to maintain your sanity in the backcountry.
Bananas are cheap and readily available. They are also easy to slip in your pocket (spare me your jokes) for a morning snack on a short hunt.
Bananas also contain about 100 calories and have a high amount of fiber, potassium, and other essential nutrients. I don’t know why, but bananas always give me a satisfied feeling when I eat them.
Because they can get squished and are large compared to the number of calories they offer, they are not the best for long treks. On the other hand, I think they make a great snack for a half-day hunt or less.
5) Fruit Leather
Yeah, the name sounds rather unappetizing, but fruit leathers are light and pre-packaged. And contrary to the way it sounds, they don’t taste too bad. In fact, they were one of my daughter’s favorite foods as a preschooler.
At roughly 50 calories apiece, you’re probably going to need to eat a few of these things. Each one is going to supply you with 11 grams of carbohydrates and no added sugar! They don’t have any protein so be sure to pair them with beef jerky or a protein bar.
The Stretch Island Fruit Leathers are pretty cheap. They come in a variety of flavors to keep things interesting. If you have a sweet tooth, they can help satiate that some.
6) Freeze-Dried Meals/Meals Ready-to-Eat (MRE)
Freeze-dried meals are an absolute necessity for backcountry hunts where you are living out of a pack. Lightweight, prepackaged, easy to prepare, lots of nutritional value, surprisingly tasty…honestly, you can’t beat them.
To top it off, you can get these at almost any sporting goods or camping store. Walmart carries them in the sporting goods section.
To prepare these you will need water, a way to boil the water, a fork, and about 10 minutes of prep time. You simply boil the water, pour it in the pouch, stir, let it set for a few minutes, and eat.
Mountain House has long been the standard in freeze-dried meals. You will find them everywhere. They offer a large variety of breakfast, lunch/dinner, and even dessert options. Be sure to read the label carefully as they are not all created equal when it comes to nutritional value. You can find Mountain House almost anywhere freeze-dried meals are sold.
If you’re willing to pay a bit more and you have planned ahead, order some Peak Refuel meals. These are some of the best-tasting dehydrated foods out there.
If you’re camping out and you’ve got a way to boil water, oatmeal makes a great breakfast (or mid-morning hunting snack if you’re in a hurry to catch first light). For very little weight you can take on a lot of calories including quality carbs and protein (if you buy the right kind).
Both Quaker and Kodiak make protein-heavy instant oatmeal. One packet is going to get you about 200 calories, 35 carbohydrates, and 10 grams of protein. I eat two packets at a time to make it worth my while.
Don’t want to carry a bowl with you? Quaker and Kodiak both make a version that is already in a cup for you. Just add water.
8) Peanut Butter on Whole Wheat Bagels/Sandwiches
Peanut butter and whole wheat bread pairing make for a great hunting snack. You get a lot of calories per ounce from both the peanut butter and the bread. You get a good amount of protein and fat from the peanut butter. You get some necessary carbohydrates from the bread.
I always choose whole wheat as it is a better source of vitamins and minerals than other more refined breads. It also contains more fiber. Whole wheat bread is more filling than white bread and has been linked to a decrease in cholesterol, diabetes risk, stroke risk, and heart disease.
You can pre-spread your peanut butter on the bread and wrap it up or put it in a Ziploc. That’s a heck of a hunting snack with very little extra weight. Another option is powdered peanut butter, which is pretty light. It has some additional health benefits over traditional peanut butter, but you’ll have to find a way to add water in the field.
Want even more calories and protein? Add bacon and honey to your peanut butter sandwich. While this might sound a little gross, there are many hunters who swear by this concoction. The fine men and women over at Rokslide love these hunting snacks, though they have a gross name for them.
Final Thoughts on Hunting Snacks
If you read this far and you’re wondering where the pork rinds and Mountain Dew are…sorry, they didn’t make my list. But that’s not to say they can’t make your list.
I try to eat healthy hunting snacks that will help me stay in the woods, provide a lot of energy, and not bog me down. However, I will eat a candy bar at night when I’m camping out or go to Waffle House after a duck hunt. The indulgences keep me sane and give me something to look forward to after the grind is over.
What are some of your favorite hunting snacks? Do you like to eat healthy in the field or let loose a bit?