“Hunting inflects a place powerfully.” - Michael Pollan
Recently I had the very good fortune to bag our Thanksgiving dinner in the form of a wild turkey, on the last day of northern Colorado’s fall turkey season. That got me thinking about the benefits of knowing how to hunt and shoot wild game, so here are five reasons to hone your hunting skills, and additional information on how to start hunting for yourself!
Connection to your plate.
Something about the blood, sweat and tears required to bag your own dinner adds to the satisfaction of the meal. And, as Michael Pollan mentions in The Modern Hunter-Gatherer, “I knew and could picture the very oaks that had nourished the pig that was nourishing us. I knew the true cost of this food, the precise sacrifice of time and energy and life it had entailed.”
I grew up in Iowa, in a family of hunters, and we never bought meat from the store - because we all actively participated in the hunting process. However, I didn’t fully appreciate the monetary value or awesome-tastiness of wild game until I left home for college: *gulp* “A pound of ground beef costs… how much?!” More on the cost value of hunting below, but the fact remains that when you’ve WORKED for your dinner – as in, hiked the mountain, sat the hours, shot and packed it out, processed it – you appreciate what you’re eating so much more than if you’re scarfing down the latest Walmart flank steak special. Hunting connects a person to the land, and to the food that land provides. Hunting reinforces the fact that we (humankind) are reliant on this Earth and ALL other living things, even if we try to maintain a separatist approach to our lives.
Do you know where the meat on your dinner plate came from? The store? Before that, the distributor… before that, the butcher… before that, [most likely] the feedlots… This year, our Thanksgiving dinner came from the foothills west of Horsetooth Reservoir and was killed instantly. Knowing where the food on the plate comes from is a big reason for hunting – when you bag wild game for your meal, you know that the meat you’re eating contains no force-fed antibiotics or food that’s not the animal’s “natural” diet. This is not a post on the evils of Big Agribusiness, but a simple statement that I’d rather my meat not contain crap. Plus, wild game is, in general, higher in protein and lower in cholesterol than its domesticated counterpart (except for pigs - wild boars are higher in protein, fat, and cholesterol than domesticated pigs - but sometimes you just need some grease, riiiiiight?!). Anyway, here are the stats.
My husband’s been watching “The Walking Dead,” which [spoiler alert] is basically year after year after year of humans running away slowly only to succumb over and over again to the zombies. No, thank you! If the Zombie Apocalypse strikes or the world ends, the people with hunting, fishing and trapping skills will last longer than all the rest of us. It’s better to be prepared – to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it – so hone your hunting skills now, just in case. (See “How To” below for more details on how to hunt).
Let’s take the example of a wild turkey vs. a typical grocery store bird. My turkey license cost $16.00 (USD). I’ll count my time as free since I didn’t have to take off work and it was a weekend (good thing, since the turkey I got was actually pretty small). The cost of this bird worked out to be about $1.00 per pound. Plus, if you care about such things, it’s healthy meat – it wasn’t force-fed, or fed antibiotics or meat bi-products. A similar size bird at a typical grocery chain store is $1.44 per pound, for your standard turkey from who-knows-where. If you care about where your meat comes from, you’ll pay more – Natural Grocers sells organic, free-range, pastured, etc. turkeys (which is basically what I shot from the wild) for anywhere from $2.69 to $7.99 per pound! Think of the savings if you hunt your own food instead of paying someone else to do the dirty work for you!
It’s a good feeling to kill what you’ll eat. Don’t believe me? Try it… There is sense of pride and a feeling that you’ve done something to provide for yourself that far exceeds any 9 to 5 or weekly paycheck. This accomplishment is, I believe, what keeps thousands of hunters coming back for more each season. Michael Pollan seems to agree when he writes, "I enjoyed shooting a pig a whole lot more than I ever thought I should have."
If I’ve convinced you to try your hand at hunting, here’s how to do so safely if you’ve never hunted before.
- Befriend a family member or trusted friend who’s an experienced hunter. Ask that person to help you discover your weapon(s) of choice… SAFELY! Nothing is more important than staying safe, so ask your trusted friend or family member to teach you safety as a priority.
- Try different weapons – at the range or, if you’re lucky, in the woods or at home. With family or friend, shoot rifles, shotguns, black powder, or bows. See where your skills and interest lie and what you’re comfortable with. Shoot until you know what you prefer.
- Take a hunter’s safety course. In most states you can’t get a hunting license without this class anyway, and it provides valuable information. Here’s information for Colorado.
- Obtain a hunting license. Decide on what game you’d like to hunt, and where, and purchase the necessary license to do so. Here’s information for Colorado.
- Be prepared to work hard. This includes advance physical training if necessary. Recently my brothers came out to the Colorado mountains (about 10,000 feet altitude), from Iowa, to bow hunt for elk. They trained for the hunt (running hills, rucking, etc.) in advance to avoid altitude complications.
- Start early. Check the regulations for your exact hunt, but generally hunting begins 30 minutes prior to sunrise. Animals rise early to search for food, so make sure you’re in place before they start moving around. This will increase your chances of filling your tag.
- Be patient. Animals don’t wear a wristwatch and they’re not beholden to any schedule. Patience pays – if you feel like giving up, wait another 30 minutes before heading home.
- Shoot to kill. Don’t lob shots in the general direction of the game. Know your weapon. Know where it’s shooting. Be sure of your shot. Know the kill area of your game (for example – if the animal is broadside [sideways] to you, shoot just behind the front shoulder to damage the vital organs – lungs, heart, liver; the exception to this is fowl which you’ll want to shoot in the head to avoid eating BBs). Shoot sure - my goal is to always kill on the first shot. No suffering, no pain. It’s clean and in my opinion the best way to harvest your meal.
- Attach your tag. With your license is a kill tag that must be attached to the animal upon death. I suggest carrying some rubber bands to attach this to the leg (in Colorado, the tag does not have any adhesive). Cut out the kill date/time, and attach the tag immediately. That’s your “stay out of game warden jail” card.
- Field dress and/or process your kill ASAP. Wild game contains a plethora of bacteria that can multiply if left unattended. Know how to field dress or process your own game, or get it to a qualified butcher shop as soon as possible after kill.
- Reflect on your accomplishment. Obtaining your own dinner directly through your own effort is the stuff of tales… Enjoy the feeling of pride and the stories that will follow. Enjoy the taste of your labor, knowing that it’s good for you and Nature and, in fact, the world. And, perhaps most importantly, be thankful for the opportunity to truly participate in this wild wonder called Life.