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The Premise: As of this writing, four of the top five best-selling books in Amazon’s outdoor survival skills section are written by Dave Canterbury. His latest offering, The Bushcraft Field Guide to Trapping, Gathering, & Cooking in the Wild, is one of them. Upon initial gaze, this manual appears to go into great detail about how to procure and prepare foods when civilization is well out of reach. Canterbury’s straightforward approach is easy to read, and the text is laid out so you can find pertinent information quickly. But can the reader trust the source?
The 411: For those who didn’t follow the drama surrounding Discovery Channel’s Dual Survival, in order to land the role of cohost, Canterbury reportedly embellished his Army record by claiming that he served as a paratrooper and a sniper, among other things, when, in fact, he was military police. The ensuing dustup caused him to be fired after the second season. While misrepresenting one’s military record is an abhorrent act, one can still have strong survival skills in the woods.
This leads to the question: Can the merits of a book stand on their own despite the tarnished past of the author? It’s possible — but in this case, no, they can’t.
The Verdict: Despite being called The Bushcraft Field Guide to Trapping, Gathering, & Cooking in the Wild, the first 100 pages has little to do with bushcraft skills. Though the entire book is laden with useful snippets regarding general camping, food preparation, and gear needed to be comfortable in the outdoors, it falls short of its claims that it’s a field guide for bushcrafters. It’s more like a manual for casual campers.
Under the confines of “trapping, gathering, and cooking,” the book focuses too heavily on impractical recipes and doesn’t concentrate enough on the skills a real bushcrafter craves: tracking, hunting, fishing, foraging, water-sourcing, and container construction.
If you’ve picked up this book with the intention of learning about real bushcraft survival, skip ahead 129 pages to Chapter 11 (“Hunting and Trapping Game”), the first chapter that offers any discourse on dealing with life in the wild — but ironically it doesn’t deal with hunting or trapping game. Instead, it briefly introduces how to locate animals, but does so in a mere four pages. This includes a chart of animal tracks containing those that can be found within city limits (cat? dog? crow?).
A redeeming section, “Chapter 13 Trapping: Beyond the Basics,” is a thorough, nicely illustrated guide to various types of traps and snares, what they can be used for, and how to construct them, especially the section on primitive traps. It’s a well-thought-out chapter that would be useful when attaining fauna from the wood.
A blight, however, is Canterbury’s recipes at the end of some chapters (in addition to Chapter 16, which is chock-full of impractical dishes). Though they’re very creative and probably quite delicious — if you’re desperate enough to eat opossum, squirrels, and pond frogs — you’re unlikely to have a box of hushpuppy mix, Cholula hot sauce, or a jar of raspberry preserves tucked into your ruck sack.
Probably most damning, the book exploits the spirit of bushcraft, misrepresents the concepts, ideals, and essence of the skills needed, and poorly represents the general topics purported in its name. The title proclaims “…In the Wild” whereas most of this book relies on the reader having a fully stocked kitchen. Subjects are broached broadly and watered down for a general understanding of the concepts without giving the details needed to successfully employ them in the wilderness.
Ultimately, this book doesn’t have enough recipes to be called a cookbook, nor does it have enough information to be called a practical field guide. It lumbers incomplete somewhere in the middle, trying too hard to be too many things without succeeding at any one thing. In the introduction, Canterbury writes: “…we cannot go on a weeklong hunting camp and expect to live completely from what we can provide by rod and gun or even necessarily from traps and foraging.” Many would take umbrage with this claim, and an author who would make such an assertion probably shouldn’t write a book about bushcraft.
Novel & Author
The Bushcraft Field Guide to Trapping, Gathering, & Cooking in the Wild, Dave Canterbury