Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
4 Feb

Real Primal: Hunting for Dinner

From a reader email:


Let me say that I thoroughly enjoy your web site and have been digging in to it since I discovered there are people and indeed a whole movement doing what I have believed in for quite a while.  I never knew I had such an untapped support group!  My search and practices started years ago after reading Paul Shepard’s “Coming Home to the Pleistocene” and of course Cordains “The Paleo Diet”.

My “beef” is this though-  I have seen on several sites, like yours, questions concerning cheap but good animal protein and how to obtain the best for your dollar; grass versus organic; free range versus yada yada yada…..

How about getting out and killing your own food?  That seems pretty Paleo to me….so that’s what we do in this family.  I’m not talking about the high tech, redneck, trophy hunter syndrome.  I’m talking about subsistence hunting- spiritual hunting.  Taking responsibility for ones hungry place in the natural world and reconnect..

Now we aren’t backwoods bumpkins, or survivalists fringe folks.  And I certainly don’t get all my meat from hunting- but for a family of three, we do supply ourselves with over 50% of our animal protein.  Whitetail deer populations continue to explode in this country and that is a great meat source- and contrary to some news reports- A LOT SAFER THAN COMMERCIAL MEAT. We usually will harvest 3 to 4 deer per year, which yields about 120 to 160 pounds of lean organic venison cuts.

It is a new skill and paradigm to a lot of your readers- but one that may come in handy in years to come.  It is not for everyone- but is certainly true to the Paleo lifestyle.  And being in the woods the past 18 years hunting every fall – (I bow hunt- less people, more solitude) is as spiritual and connecting a pastime as I have ever found.  There is reverence for my prey and the experience of not just looking at nature from a tour bus window, but being an active player in the circle of life.  Not to mention great Paleo exercise…..

In just about every state there are public lands, and timber company lands to hunt.  Resident state licenses and safety courses are cheap and available.

I know a lot of people will not be able to bring themselves to kill or have the time to take to the woods-but some do and would.  Death is a part of life- and no one survives without something else perishing- even the total Vegans are not immune.

We regularly hunt, process and freeze deer, wild turkey, rabbit, squirrel, a few ducks, and an occasional grouse here in Virginia.  So when you talk about our primitive ancestors and what meats may be similar for your readers, don’t leave out the option of getting out there and getting really primal and hunting.

Yours in great Paleo health,

Oh – the elk in the attached photo provided over 325 pounds of incredible protein for my wife, son and I….and I hiked more than 80 miles over 6 days at 9,000 feet in the Colorado mountains (on public land) to harvest him. For Colorado residents -elk are abundant.

Chuck Neely


Thanks, Chuck, for the email. You make a great case for hunting, especially to those of us on the Primal Blueprint. You also gave me a great idea for today’s post.

I’ll admit – I’m no hunter. I don’t own a gun or a bow and arrow. I buy my (admittedly local, organic, and sustainable) meat. But the question Chuck poses is a fascinating one. Truly, what’s more Primal, more Grok-like, than stalking a wild animal for its meat? Poised over your prey, heart pounding, waiting for the perfect time to strike… the very idea feels raw, visceral, and utterly Primal. Pure. Man versus animal. Wit against brawn.

Now, I’ve done plenty of fishing. Spear-fishing, freshwater trout, dock fishing – pretty much whatever was available growing up in Maine. But spearing a fish isn’t quite the same as looking a warm-blooded mammal in the eyes and taking its life. That’s something you can’t ignore. If we’re pledging to live as Primally as possible, though, maybe it’s something we ought to try.

What do you think, readers? Ever considered going truly Primal and hunting your own meals?

It may not be feasible or even legal for some of our readers to hunt for their food. For one, if you’re going to hunt on a regular basis, it helps to live near actual wildlife (trees, too – they help). And it’s not the 19th century anymore; conservation laws prevent people from just going out and shooting any animal they can. There are limits. Hunting is now mostly limited to specific wildlife management areas, both federal and state-run, and you’ll need a permit and a license for most game. (Although vermin, or pests, can be hunted by anyone at any time without a permit or license. Wild rabbits and red squirrels are often classified as pests, but certain states have different classifications, so make sure before you start picking off bunnies.)

The Legal Stuff

Before you start hunting, you’ll need a state-issued hunting license. Most states divide licenses into several categories, each corresponding to a category of wildlife. License categories might look something like this:

Big Game: including white tailed deer, mule deer, moose, elk, reindeer, bear, boar
Small Game: including hare, raccoon, opossum, rabbit, squirrel
Furbearers: beaver, red fox, mink, musk rat, bobcat
Predators: cougar, coyote
Upland game bird: grouse, turkey, pheasant, quail, dove
Waterfowl: duck, goose

Some states allow online licensing; others require prospective hunters to go to a physical location. The laws vary wildly, but this page with links to every state wildlife office will clear things up and get you started.

Most big game requires a “tag” for each animal harvested. Buying a tag allows you to hunt a single animal, and it fosters conservation and quotas. For smaller animals, there is typically a “bag limit.” A bag limit represents the maximum number of a particular species that can be in a hunter’s possession at any one time. Ducks, for example, might have a daily bag limit of six, meaning you could hunt and carry six ducks per day.


This map shows all the federal preserves open to hunting. Far more numerous are the state-run ranges. Again, check out the various state wildlife office links for more information.


The most commonly hunted – and prolific – game is the deer. East of the Rockies, the white-tailed deer reins supreme; to the west, the larger mule deer can be found. Large, lean, and meaty, deer venison is a great source of protein. Its incredibly low fat content makes it easy to overcook, and some people even blend it with bacon fat to make deer burgers. The leanness makes it ideal for jerky (if you ever get your hands on some wild venison, try our jerky recipe).

The recent scare surrounding contaminated deer meat can probably be ignored. There’s no evidence that chronic wasting disease (similar to mad cow disease) can be transmitted to humans, and the few cases that did pop up originated in farmed deer. If you’re going Primal and hunting your own, you can rest assured your meat will be far safer than any farmed meat.

Moose, elk, wild turkey, duck, and rabbit are also popular animals hunted for their meat. Different areas are better for different animals, and most animals have specific hunting seasons, so check with your local wildlife office for further details.

Why Not?

Fresh, wild, organic meat by the pound? Four days in deep, desolate wilderness without bleeping car horns or smog or cell phones? A potential life and death struggle with your future meal? Plenty of vitamin D and Primal exercise?

Sounds somehow exciting and relaxing at once. Count me in!


There’s a lot to think about when considering hunting. Practical concerns (Do you have it in you to make the kill?). Cost-benefit analyses (is it cheaper to just buy local, organic meat from the specialty grocer or just go cowpooling?). You’d need a weapon, probably a gun, unless you practice your archery skills (and with a gun comes great responsibility – do you want to bear that?). If you’re successful, you’re going to have a lot of meat on your hands (Do you have freezer/storage space? Are you prepared to butcher an entire animal?).

Intellectually, I know that the truly ethical act would be to hunt, to kill my own food. As Chuck said in his email, it’s important to make sure you’re “not just looking at nature from a tour bus window, but being an active player in the circle of life.” I worry that too often we’re so far removed from the act of killing, of harvesting an animal for sustenance, that we miss something in the process. Whether we order an entire side of grass-fed beef from the local farmer, or pick up a package of flank steaks from the grocery store, we are totally removed from the fact that a life was extinguished to support ours. Now, I obviously have no misconceptions about where my meat comes from. I know animals die to feed us. That’s how life works and I’m okay with it.

So why haven’t I been hunting (not counting fishing, of course)?

I guess it’s the fact that, despite the Primal Blueprint and Grok and everything else, I’m still a modern guy living in a modern world surrounded by convenience and creature comforts. As much as we model our lifestyle on Primal man, are we really just watching “from a tour bus window”?

That’s a tough one. I’m not sure I have a good answer for that. But maybe being intimately involved in the entire process of hunting and harvesting our meals would make all subsequent meals even more satisfying. And the act of hunting – at least how Chuck describes it, stalking an elk for 80 miles over the span of several days – is the perfect Primal exercise (low intensity, constant movement, punctuated by bursts of energy). We talk a lot about mimicking Grok by running sprints and lifting heavy weights, but stalking an animal through the wilderness for days on end is exactly what Grok would have done (knowing myself, though, I’d probably do pull-ups on branches for extra work as I went along). It’s the real deal. You can’t get much more Primal than that.

I’m definitely intrigued. Maybe I’ll give hunting a shot (no pun intended) and step down from the tour bus. What about you, readers? Any hunters out there?

Further Reading:

It’s Time to “Get Real”

Insects: Not Just for Breakfast Anymore

Rule #1 of The Primal Blueprint: Eat Lots of Animals and Plants

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. As far as animal ethics are concerned, I think it is common for people to romanticize all primitive/tribal people as having some deep respect for animals.

    In the book The Forest People, by anthropologist Colin Turnbull, he notes how the Pygmy tribes in the African Congo would kick and laugh at the animals they killed.

    The idea of respect for animals is cultural or personal, and not something one gets simply from living like Grok.

    matt the artist wrote on April 4th, 2010
  2. Doesn’t have to be big game. Some of the best meat I’ve had was jackrabbit (using the German recipe for Hasenpfeffer).
    In fact, we’re heading out this weekend to get some jacks.

    Tom wrote on April 7th, 2010
  3. I’d like to respond to a comment made by Chuck on the relative suffering induced by being shot by either arrow or bullet.

    I have no argument with Chuck that a well-placed arrow results in a relatively painless death, but he is wrong in arguing that a similarly place bullet causes more suffering.

    While it may seem counter-intuitive, relatively pain-free bullet wounds are so common that many militaries train their troops to visually examine each other after any combat. As one of my older acquaintences told me, ” After running around the jungle for 20 minutes following the contact, when we pulled up, the patrol medic suggested that I check my leg as I had blood showing.” That check reveal a .30-calibre bullet hole through the thigh. He hadn’t felt more than a bump.

    Careful hunters cause insignificant suffering in their quarry, regardless of the weapon used. “Nature” causes far more.


    Peter wrote on July 21st, 2010
    • I check back on my post from time to time and certainly follow Mark daily. So its cool to see folks still posting on hunting. And I’ll have to admit- Peter makes an excellent point here. I guess I should clarify that a “not so well placed” bullet would cause a lot of shock and tissue damage. If I had to be hit with a poorly placed shot- I’d rather take the arrow. More chance of that healing cleanly I think- than an expanding 30-06 bullet traveling at 3,000 ft per second. But hey- to each his own. I do agree also- either tool in the hands of a responsible, prudent hunter will bring great paleo protein to the table efficiently and humanely. My earlier comments were really a reaction to people saying bowhunting was somehow more inhumane than general firearms hunting. On an update note- my wife and I have moved back to the woodland homestead, checked out of corporate America for good, and are building our ridgetop home on 120 acres and looking forward to a simpler life, in tune with nature and full of wild game. I might even get around to starting that blog…..

      Chuck Neely wrote on July 27th, 2010
  4. Chuck if you ever do start the blog, let me know. Alex dot Woods at gmail dot com.

    Alex wrote on July 27th, 2010
  5. Chuck….

    Hunting generates enough irrational enmity from its opponents, without hunters deriding each other. I prefer other methods to bow hunting, but that does not prevent me from acknowledging the skill and dedication required to master the sport. My hat is off to you, Sir.

    On the subject of wounding game, I’ll say this. Firstly, that while uncommon, animals that have recovered from either gun or bow-shot wounds turn up often enough to demonstrate that critters are a lot tougher than many of us would guess. Secondly, I have not lost a deer after wounding it, but having had heart-shot deer run until they bled out, I have considerable doubt that “shock” plays as much part as we would like to think.

    I hope the non-hunters here will pardon the diversion into technical matters.

    Respectfully,,,, Peter

    Peter wrote on July 28th, 2010
  6. Most people would be very surprised to know that there is an untapped source of FREE wild game near them. What am I talking about? Most hunters DO NOT eat hearts, liver or any part of the kill that cant be made into meatloaf or country fried steaks.
    My local game locker pulls hearts and livers for me from selected small deer and doe. If the hunter dropping the deer off doesnt request these parts they cleaner pulls them and saves them for me. NO artificial flavor or flavoring, coloring ingredient, chemical preservative, or any other artificial or synthetic ingredient. That’s it! No packaged feed, veterinary Rx, or growth stimulants. Raised without antibiotics or growth hormones.

    k stephens wrote on November 21st, 2010
  7. My freezer is full of deer.
    I hunt it..I eat it.
    GROK ON>>>

    DAVE PARSONS wrote on February 19th, 2011
  8. I’ve dreamed of hunting for years, but unfortunately I was raised by my mom. Women are emotional weaklings who think it is disgusting to kill animals.
    On the bright side, now that I’ve moved out I can start practicing to hunt again.

    Alex Good wrote on February 28th, 2011
  9. whoa steady there Alex Good! don’t tar all women with the same brush! I raise my own sheep, and while I get a professional to do the actual killing (right in the paddock) and processing (he has the right equipment and does it fast and clean), I stick around and watch the process. I have no problem with killing or death, it is just a part of life. I think it is far more respectful to be there at the moment of death of your animal food than to buy a packaged lump from the supermarket.

    Sam wrote on February 28th, 2011
  10. Gee, Alex. Not only do I wear a bra, I even wear it while I’m hunting.

    Gotta admit, hubby does the field dressing. He grew up hunting and does a fantastic, quick job. When he’s done, though, I have to grab a leg and help tote the carcass back. And help get it in the truck. And hang it from a tree.

    Hubby does the butchering (he doesn’t like my knife skills). I cook it and we all eat it. Yum.

    Dana wrote on February 28th, 2011
  11. Hey Alex Good, not all woman are the same, on any issue. Just as all men aren’t the same. I’ve been involved with raising animals for food, which involves slaughter, gutting and skinning. I think we all should know from whence our food comes.

    bbuddha wrote on February 28th, 2011
  12. Okay, I’ll admit I was wrong. My mom’s still pathetic though.

    Alex Good wrote on February 28th, 2011
  13. Chuck, great post! Well said.

    It’s great to see the discussion on this topic. Sadly, most “modern” people have no idea how and where their food is harvested. Just bring it to me in a package….

    I have hunted, trapped, spearfished and gamefished since I was a kid. I grew up on Catalina Island and spent my days chasing animals, camping, hiking, etc.

    There is a vaulable spiritual side to hunting and respecting your prey. The skills stay with you forever.

    My kids are now learning respect for the natural environment and respect for the animals and fish they harvest. You kill it, you eat it. Period.

    I have expanded my hunter side with the gatherer side becoming interested in wilderness survival and self sufficiency. I’m passing these skills along to my boys also.

    Primal Blueprint is great. Not quite a purist yet, I’m getting there.

    By the way, Bison is great meat. But think twice about harvesting one… I’ve participated in this years back. 2000 lbs of animal to process and freeze. Big job.

    Hang in there.

    Nick wrote on March 2nd, 2011
  14. or theres city hunting a/k/a dumpster diving have you done an areticle? i cant find it

    beveanne mckinley wrote on April 27th, 2011
  15. I am vegan now, but I (and the rest of my family) grew up hunting our own meat and fish, and I find it by far the most respectable and natural way to get meat. I personally feel very uncomfortable slaughtering domesticated animals (and I have slaughtered a lot of them–I grew up on a ranch, far out of town, so what we didn’t hunt we raised and butchered). It feels unnatural to me to develop a relationship with an animal by feeding and caring for it and then kill it–I also dislike the hunting practice of corn feeding deer, for this reason…you feed them every day till they’re coming like a dog to their food bowl, then you shoot them. Unsporting. Much better to hunt from the wild, in my opinion. Obviously not everyone feels that way or has that option, but having had extensive experience with both hunting and raising animals for meat, I must say hunting and fishing feels far cleaner and more psychologically healthy to me compared to animal farming, even on a small scale.

    Jen wrote on May 12th, 2011
  16. guns are for pansies, real primals use a bow (and eat the meat locally with a campfire)

    dumdidum wrote on August 15th, 2011
    • Nothing better than internal tenderloin, with a little salt and pepper, on a green stick, over the fire.

      Sheldon wrote on April 7th, 2012
  17. Two winters ago we had two deer hit on the round outside my in-laws home within a week, while we were spending a month camping out in the wood-heated bothy in their back yard.

    We grabbed both of them up, hung them and gutted them and skinned them and butchered them. A first for me. My husband worked as a butcher, but for both of us it was a real “get back to the land” thing. Not only did we get a LOT of free meat (minus the cost of the labour!) but we saved the gas and taxpayer dollars that would have been used by the government officials to come and clean up the mess.

    Bex wrote on September 20th, 2011
    • Hey ya’ll,

      This question is basically directed to anyone who comes across this blog with the interest in hunting deer primarily for a healthy source of free-range meat. I will have the opportunity to “design” or at least come up with various class/clinic/workshop topics that deal with Hunting and Active Wildlife Mangement. Being that I’ve been hunting 6 years now, (really not very long), I’d like to get some input from your readers/stumblers of what sorts of clinics, etc. would DEFINITELY TAKE, if they were offered to you for a small or no fee at all, to assist in your pursuits in Hunting for the first time and BEYOND. Please be specific, and take note, that the Basic Hunter Ed class is offered in every state, as far as I know. When I took it, I remember leaving, thinking, geez, that’s it??? There are soooo many more questions I have. I have noticed, that often, some “classes” that have been offered (not necessarily “hunting-type” classes), have failed to attract any participants. And I really want to do my best to properly, title the classes and market, to my intended audience. Would even advertising at the Grocery stores you shop at, be effective? Advertising at local natural health food stores?? Much feedback would be appreciated. Thanks, A

      A wrote on December 16th, 2011
  18. my husband hunts and we eat organic deer, elk, and poultry that he brings home. our neighbor raises grass fed cattle which we buy a quarter of once a year. i grow the organic vegies and we occasionally have our fruits and nuts and seeds in season fresh and out of season we eat what i have canned. i hear people can with sugar, but i have never tried that. we like the taste of the food itself. plus, we use spices and herbs, some of which i grow. our main problem and the reason i joined this website was wheat flour products. while my family and his ate the same as we do, they and we always had our bread from grains. being danish i ate rye, oats, etc., from northern europe and though he is german , he and his family ate wheat breads. we have stopped that after i read up on phytic acids in them. i know they are in many other things, but those things we only eat about once a week. my family always soaked the grains and then made sourdough, but grains just make me too heavy. now i have gone into eating 50 grams of carb a day and the rest meat and vegies, as i gained weight after marriage at 50 menopause and retirement all within 6 months of each other. i have lost 13 poundsi n the last 6 weeks. this website has been a real asset along with gnollsdotorg. this feels like we should have been eating all along-like real humans, not what passes for humans who eat all the crap that is not food.

    dana wrote on November 1st, 2012
  19. Been a long time since posting here. We are considering offering a Paleo camp here every summer for those interested in a retreat to learn bowhunting basics, how to read game sign, outdoor game cooking, and enjoy an awesome mountain experience here on our 600 acre operation. We are a holistic, grass fed beef and lamb farm with lots of wildlife as well, and are Paleo advocates. My son and I are very experienced bowhunters and outdoorsmen. The 2009 hunting ethics post here, that Mark graciously published is mine. Give me some feedback and we will craft the details for our 2014 camp! And to get an a little more detail on our farm- visit Thanks, Chuck

    Chuck at Riven Rock Farm wrote on August 17th, 2013

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