Hunting for Food

Reader Contribution by Rd Copeland
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Hunting and fishing isn’t for everyone, I realize that, and the last thing I want to do is offend anyone who’s a vegan, vegetarian, a member of PETA or just opposed to the age-old practice for whatever reason. But what I would like to do is share with interested readers, hunters included, how hunting and fishing helps me provide my own food and move a step closer to a sustainable life here on my farm. I’m already growing organic, heirloom vegetables, raising free-range, pastured chickens and eggs, and pretty much living off the land now. Living off the land is something I believe in, so I’m doing a little preaching, I suppose. I’m not the first one who’s hunted this land, either, evidenced by the multitude of arrowheads and spear tips piled up everywhere.

Our Native American ancestors lived off the land much the same way I hope to before I head for the great funeral pyre. Venison was one of their staples and has become a contemporary delicacy in many fine restaurants — and honestly folks, if you’ve ever had my mesquite grilled backstrap with mushroom gravy, you might just pack up and head for the woods yourself.

Hunting as Family Tradition

My grandfather was my original hunting buddy as a youngster of about 10 years old. Dad-O, as he was known to the family, owned 132 acres near Antelope, Texas, and the small town’s namesake was fairly close to the truth when it came to hunting wild game, albeit the game was more whitetail deer, turkeys, and wild hogs than antelope, but they were plentiful. Dad-O also had the best fishin’ hole in ten counties. A 5-acre lake when it’s full, this watering hole was then, and is now, my home turf. Full to the creeks and willow-overgrown channels with large-mouth bass, channel catfish, and plenty of baitfish, I must have fished every summer with my Mom’s dad until I was in high school. The lake dried up recently during the years-long Texas drought, but after a monster spring of rains, she filled up and even went over the spillway, so I’ve been restocking it with the same fishy menu as before.

I had a lot of fun fishing, wolf hunting (actually coyotes), deer hunting and just being outdoors with my grandfather. His old hunting buddies were usually there to listen to their hound dogs track down a raccoon or coyote, never missing an opportunity to claim that their best dog “got one tree’d, ol’ Sally’s baying up a storm.”

When the dogs had a varmint cornered and began their yelping, we would load up in the pickup truck or head out on foot to catch up to the quarry and pack of hounds, then finish the deal. Back in those days, ranchers allowed the locals to hunt on their land to help keep the predators at bay. Coyotes are fearsome creatures, conniving in their ways to steal a baby calf or sick heifer. That’s how hunting them got started — a fight over food. Same with us two-legged critters.

Those nights out under the stars, cooking on a campfire, waking up early and heading for the deer blind, and then later in the day setting up for a family fish fry, undoubtedly sealed my fate. I still love to hunt, sit around the campfire, and cook outdoors, especially something I grew or harvested directly from the land. From what I’ve read, hunting, fishing and gathering have been around for a few years, which leads me to believe it’s something I should be doing.

Wild Game is a Culinary Experience

Cooking wild game takes a little practice as deer, hogs, turkeys and waterfowl are usually leaner than factory-raised meats, and that’s a good thing. Wild game is plentiful, especially wild hogs, so I eat all of it. In an attempt to soften, even enhance their culinary image, I have started referring to wild hogs as “Permaculture Pork Chops” and “Grass-fed Bacon Bombs.”

Hopefully people will be swayed into foregoing the pricey, chemically-polluted, store-bought pork in favor of free-for-the-taking wild pigs. (More on the “free” part of that pork chop statement in another installment of hunting and gathering food.)

Hunting and trapping wild hogs isn’t for city boys, proper British ladies, or pen ropers. They are dangerous beasts, willing to sever your femoral artery should you get close enough to one of their “cutter” teeth, or tusks. On the bright side, they do turn out extremely tasty once you get them over a bed of coals.

The Importance of Humane Hunting

Hunting wild game is fun for me. I eat everything I hunt and kill — no exceptions. If I don’t have a clear shot at a whitetail deer, I pass it up and wait for the next one. About 15 years ago, I bought a Remington .308 rifle off my buddy who owns a pawn shop, and since then, I rarely miss. Several years of experience has taught me to be accurate and make a clean kill.

Wild hogs are tough critters, so you don’t want them thrashing about, running into trees when they are only wounded. First of all, it’s inhumane and secondly, the more they thrash, the more hormones they produce which adds to the gamey taste so many people don’t like.

Processing Wild Game

Processing the game takes time and must be done in a fashion as to keep the meat as clean and free of hair and waste as possible. That gamey taste can also be mitigated if you know how to properly process a deer or hog. Take care to keep the blood, excrement and any dirt away from the meaty portions (rear hams, front shoulders, top loins). Like anything, it takes practice so I suggest you begin filling up your freezer this year.

Hunting season in Texas opened the first Saturday in November and I had a herd of deer show up in the wheat and rye field on Sunday morning around 8:30. I took two does with two shots, tagged them and filled out the Parks and Wildlife paperwork on my license, loaded them in my truck and headed for my processing shed. After that lengthy and somewhat odorous task was completed, I began the butchering of the hams, shoulders and loins. Thirty-five pounds of prime cuts (loins and ham steaks) and 15 pounds of sausage meat are now in the freezer, which adds up to approximately 100 meals. Keep in mind a small portion plate of venison top loin at a fancy joint like Jackrabbit Slims would run you $30, without the Five-Dollar Shake.

All I can tell you is try some wild game. It’ll be free of antibiotics and growth hormones, unlike what the factory-farming corporations are offering you in their store-bought meat. In 2009, The Mayo Clinic published a paper declaring that wild game was in fact more healthy than most store-bought cuts of meat:

“In general, wild game is leaner than domesticated animals, because animals in the wild are typically more active. In comparison to lean cuts of beef and pork, game meat has about one-third fewer calories (game birds have about half the calories) and quite a bit less saturated and total fat. Cholesterol for wild and domestic meat ranges from 50 to 75 milligrams for a 3-ounce serving — with wild game tending to be in the lower end of the range,” stated Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. of the Mayo Clinic.

 If you like wild game, find an experienced friend to take you hunting. If you like hunting and you want to go full boar, so to speak, visit me in Texas and I’ll do my best to make sure you go home with a cooler full of wild game meat, ready for the dinner table.

Sustainability includes providing food, so as long as the wild hogs and deer keep coming, I’ll always have plenty to eat. If you’ll give it a try, chances are you’ll enjoy some type of wild game on the dinner table as well. Happy Hunting!

RD Copeland is building an off-grid weekend B&B retreat in Texas with straw-bale and earth-plaster cabins, fresh organic meals, permaculture instruction, workshops and more! See his bio pagefor contact info, andclick hereto read all of RD’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts.

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