by Wade Bourne

My 19-year-old daughter gave me a unique gift this past Christmas: a shopping bag filled with duck blind snack foods. The assortment included Spam, pickled okra, smoked oysters, Vienna sausages, garlic-stuffed olives, soy-packed sardines, Brussels cookies, petite dill pickles, hot mustard, Cajun salsa and crackers, and a few other delectables that didn't last long enough to leave a passing memory.

She's a girl after her daddy's heart! If there's one thing I love, it's eating in the duck blind. Each season I gain three or four pounds from snacking when the ducks aren't flying. (I graduated to "stout" waders a few years back.) I know I should be more careful about my eating habits afield, but how satisfying would a duck hunt be without a few Viennas slathered in hot sauce or a side of sliced rat cheese and saltines?

I've been a keen student of duck blind gastronomy for almost five decades. With this background, I can say with certainty that the term "comfort food" takes on a whole new meaning in a cold, damp duck blind. Indeed, most duck hunters like to stoke the furnace while they scan the skies, and they do so with an interesting variety of good eats.

Sandwiches, of course, are at the top of the duck blind snack pyramid. I've seen many hunters dine on bologna on light bread with a few sloshes of Texas Pete. However, this staple can be enhanced in a number of ways. One of my favorites is a hot bologna and cheese sandwich, skillet-grilled just before heading to the blind and wrapped tightly in aluminum foil. Another favorite is a fried bologna and egg sandwich garnished with mayo and jalapeo slices. Both are guaranteed to emerge from the blind bag before 9 a.m., and the same holds true for the simple but venerable sausage biscuit.

I have a friend who carries meat loaf sandwiches to the blind. It's his culinary trademark. For that matter, any leftover dinner meat can be resurrected into tasty duck blind sandwiches: roast pork, beef, or chicken; fried country ham; ground beef; grilled mallard breast; you name it.

However, sandwiches are only the start. The next level down the pyramid is the jerky groupbeef, deer, and buffalo. Some hunters chew on more exotic meats such as alligator, ostrich, tuna, or snow goose jerky. Virtually any meat can be jerked either commercially or in a home oven. Regardless of its source, these chewy dried meats provide healthful protein and quick energy.

"Bars" constitute the next group on the duck blind food pyramidcandy bars, granola bars, breakfast bars, etc. True duck blind gourmets might characterize these as "casual snacks," whereas sandwiches and jerky are "primary snacks." Bars of chocolate, nuts, raisins, grains, jams, and other ingredients are perfect for stoking the stomach between flights.

Nuts and seeds, dried fruit slices, dried berries, and "gorp" belong in the ever-popular "munchies" category. The only problem with these foods is that they tend to gum up your duck call worse than other snacks.

Hard-boiled and pickled eggs occupy their own delicious rung on the duck blind snack pyramid. The former should be peeled, rolled in a salt and pepper mixture, and sealed in a plastic bag for transport to the blind. (Chewed egg, by the way, is also bad for gumming up a duck call.)

Hot liquid snacks are a good way to warm up a cold day. A thermos of steaming tomato soup is gold medal fare, especially when paired with the aforementioned grilled bologna and cheese sandwich. Beef broth, vegetable soup, and chili are other good options for a duck hunter's thermos.

And finally, constituting the very foundation of the duck blind snack pyramid is the dessert group. This widely popular food group includes Little Debbies, Oreos, assorted snack cakes, doughnuts, chocolate fudge, oatmeal raisin cookies, Fig Newtons (I have a friend with a weak stomach who calls them "Fig Neutrons"), and any other pastry or baked goods that should carry a health warning for high sugar content.

Here's the deal: everything tastes better in a duck blind. There's just something about cold temperatures and a north wind that stimulates the taste buds. Some people remember great restaurant experiences. I remember the superb fare I've enjoyed in duck blinds.

What's Your Favorite Duck Blind Food?

Perhaps the best duck blind food I've ever eaten was oyster and shrimp gumbo in a Louisiana rice field pit. The guide's wife had cooked it, and he had plenty to share and a willingness to do so. The shooting was good that day, and the gumbo was lip-smacking delicious. When the guide said "Now," I didn't know whether to go for my gun or my spoon! What gets your vote as a favorite, or perhaps unusual, duck blind food?