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Real Primal: Hunting for Dinner
Posted By Mark Sisson On February 4, 2009 @ 9:35 am In Dear Mark,Fitness,Grok,Health,Health Challenges,How To,Protein | 101 Comments
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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?
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