It’s About The Meat, Man!

My 17-year-old daughter, Angie, and I slowly closed in on a bunch of elk last fall. There were about 80 animals in the herd, including several bulls. We were 200 yards out when a small group of cows spotted us. Angie quickly rested her rifle on shooting sticks, made herself comfortable in deep snow and touched off a shot. Moments later, a fat cow lay still.

Angie had a cow tag, and if you think she was disappointed because she couldn’t shoot a bull, you’re wrong. This was a meat hunt, pure and simple. Our family serves game meat exclusively at home, and the flesh of cow elk is rated absolutely tops on our kitchen table.

A friend of ours had a bull tag that same year. He’s a good hunter, has good horses and spent plenty of time riding the elk-rich mountains of Colorado, home of the aptly named Elk Mountain Traverse. He passed at least 50 bulls, looking for a giant, and ended up empty-handed when the season closed. Later he admitted that he shouldn’t have been so fussy. Not only did he fail to get the big bull, but he had no elk meat to show for hundreds of hours spent in the saddle. His intention was to take any legal bull the last day but, as often happens, he didn’t see a bull. Next year, he told me, a bull was going to wear his tag–any old bull.

Wyoming's a beaut...

Wyoming’s a beaut…

I also know a number of hunters who could care less about meat. Their priority is antlers, nothing else. A mounted head on the wall is the objective of the hunt; the meat is given away.

And therein lie the three basic categories of hunters: 1) those who hunt exclusively for meat; 2) those who want meat but first hold out for an impressive animal; and 3) the pure trophy hunter. Obviously, each of us hunts for different reasons.

Unlike in fishing, catch-and-release isn’t an option for hunters. If you squeeze the trigger and hit what you’re shooting at, you have meat on your hands. Some species may not be edible, such as coyotes or foxes, but for the most part, the bird or animal will likely be consumed.

What Hunters Gather

Statistics reveal just how much meat is gathered by American hunters each year. Here are some examples: 50 million doves, 25 million rabbits and squirrels, 25 million quail, 20 million pheasants, 10 million ducks, 2 million geese and 4 million deer. To the uninformed, these figures suggest that we’re annihilating our wildlife. The fact is, these are surplus animals, part of burgeoning populations that reproduce nicely each year and allow us to hunt at all.

With the exception of wild turkeys, which sport beards and formidable spurs, birds aren’t hunted as “trophies.” Birds are pursued because of all the joys associated with the hunting, including dog work, decoys, calling and shooting challenges, as well as their tasty flesh.

Waste Not

It’s the antlered animals and those that yield pelts (bears, mountain lions) that trophy hunters are interested in. Some states and Canadian provinces are creating new laws requiring hunters to keep the meat of bears and lions. In 1996, for example, Montana initiated a law, which reads: “Hunters are prohibited from wasting black bear meat unless determined to contain trichinella.” (Montana provides free optional lab testing for trichinella.)

And why did this state and others come up with the notion that black bear meat must be consumed? Wildlife officers claim that not only is bear meat palatable, but the bear deserves better than to be left behind in the woods for the sake of its hide. The law also goes along with other big-game requirements that prohibit waste of game meat. (Montana lions also must be consumed.)

An underlying reason, and one that officials won’t freely admit, is based on a defense philosophy that answers accusations by anti-hunters that hunters pursue some animals (notably bears) for their pelts and leave the meat to rot in the woods. Of course, the meat doesn’t rot but is quickly consumed by scavengers and predators, but the point, a correct one, is that the animal is targeted only for its trophy value by many individuals. Some hunters, by the way, hunt bears for their meat as well as their hides. (I happen to be one of them.) Mandatory laws that require hunters to keep bear meat quiet those who make a case out of it.

Most states take a dim view of wasting game meat and have laws prohibiting such waste. Alaska is probably the most strict. A serious violation in that state can lead to a jury trial. Regulations specifically say: “You must salvage all of the edible meat of moose, caribou, sheep, mountain goats, wild reindeer, deer, elk, bison or musk ox, and small-game birds for which seasons and bag limits exist.” The rules also define specifically what edible meat is, and go on to prohibit the transportation of antlers before the meat is delivered to a pickup site. In other words, if you take a Dall’s sheep and bring the horns out on the first trip with the intention of returning for the meat, you could be in very serious trouble with the law if you’re caught. And rightly so.

I’m a hearty supporter of eating wild game and have a fetish against leaving any in the field (my wife calls it a phobia). I hunted turkeys in seven states this past spring, for example, and collected all the wings, thighs and drumsticks from other hunters who wanted only the breasts. With literally 40 pounds of meat that would have been tossed, I put my large pressure cooker to work and quickly had several quarts of fabulous canned turkey ready for soup and chowder this winter.

Don’t Knock It

One of my biggest hunting turnoffs is the hunter who ridicules so-called “meat hunters.” Disparaging comments about folks who literally hunt for venison make me sick. Luckily, most hunters don’t have this attitude, which is a good thing. The non-hunting public holds the meat hunter in far higher esteem than the one who hunts solely for antlers. A Yale study conducted by Dr. Stephen Kellert found that 80 percent of Americans approve of meat hunting, while 60 percent do not approve of hunting for recreation or sport.

Don’t make the mistake of dismissing those non-hunters as being unimportant in the battle to retain our hunting rights. Remember that they’re in the vast majority–and they vote. Unfortunately, hunting is being challenged more and more in the ballot box these days.

I’m not against trophy hunting. I’m a professional member of the Boone and Crockett Club, and have myself passed up many animals because they didn’t meet my expectations. On the other hand, I’m equally happy with a doe deer or cow elk. I’m not above shooting a forkhorn buck or spike bull elk, either.

It riles me when I hear the old statement by animal rights people that “Americans don’t need to hunt any more, since a grocery store can provide all the meat we want.” I beg your pardon. There are millions of Americans who count on venison as a necessary supplement to their food budget. In some poverty-stricken areas of the South where deer limits are generous, for example, many folks rely on venison to get by. My good friends Harold Knight (a call manufacturer and outstanding hunter) and General Chuck Yeager were both raised in families where hunting was necessary to stay alive.

Here’s yet another thought on the subject, and one I’ve never heard or seen discussed. Yes, it’s true that most of us can fulfill our meat requirements at the supermarket, but we aren’t buying venison. Those of us who prefer venison must hunt it or beg it from a hunting acquaintance.

Eating Healthy

Venison tastes like venison, not like beef or pork. By the way, as defined by the dictionary, venison is not exclusively deer meat. Webster’s calls it “edible flesh of a wild animal taken by hunting.” Random House defines it as “flesh of a deer or similar animal as used for food.” It’s far healthier than other meats–having less fat, saturated fat and calories. It also has more protein and HDL, the “good” cholesterol, as opposed to LDL, the “bad” cholesterol which is predominant in beef and pork. Venison also has no added steroids, antibiotics or vaccines as livestock products do.

It’s politically correct these days to tell people we don’t necessarily hunt to kill something, but to enjoy the outdoors. I basically agree with that, and when we do bring home the game, it’s the healthiest food you can put on the table.

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