In honor of opening day of gun season for whitetail deer here in Michigan, I thought I would share a story. Some will like this story; others will not. However, as the only female registered dietitian I know that hunts, I thought it was important to share my journey from being afraid to eat meat to someone who now looks forward to the fall more than any other season.
When I met my husband in 2012, I was vegetarian. In fact, my eating was still very disordered. I hadn’t eaten meat in probably 10 years and hadn’t prepared a balanced meal for myself in about the same amount of time. My husband is the first person I dated that was serious about hunting. I grew up in a very rural, small town in Michigan where half the students were absent on November 15th, so I understood hunting and what it meant to people. However, Jim lives for the fall – he gets downright giddy when August/September rolls around, when he goes into the woods to prepare for October 1 (opening day of bow season). He also knows so much about whitetail deer; compliments of his ongoing research since the age of 12 – their habits, the population, their anatomy – it’s stunning. I was in awe with this person that cared so much about these animals but could also kill them. At first, I didn’t understand.
Let’s jump to 2014. I was working full time; with 2 part time jobs on the side, I was in graduate school, and I was working out as much as possible – mostly training to run marathons. Every 2-3 months, I would develop stress fractures in both femurs; some days I could barely walk or get out of bed, and I was mentally exhausted. I was a registered dietitian at this point and was counseling others on how to eat for their physical and mental performance. I decided it was time to put my own advice into practice. I started eating fish, then chicken and turkey, then venison. Immediately, my body felt better – I was finally getting the protein and nutrients that my body needed to recover. The next year, I asked Jim if I could go turkey hunting with him. I immediately fell in love – with being in the woods, the pursuit, watching the sun come up, the time to disconnect, the quiet – the entire experience is amazing. All hunters know what I’m talking about.
This past year I bought a bow. My sister and I have an archery background from childhood and I was learning that I really loved venison, so the pieces started falling into place. I started doing more research about hunting; reading, listening to podcasts, being forced to watch hunting shows. With Jim’s continued excitement and persistence to educate me, and with my learning more and more about our food industry; I decided I had a goal. My goal is to not have to purchase meat from the grocery store. As a dietitian, I’ve learned a lot about the US meat industry and factory farming; and I try very hard not to participate. I have not eaten beef or pork in 15 years, I was trying to only purchase free-range chicken, eggs, and turkey (although who knows how much free range they actually have) and was only buying wild caught fish (although overfishing is a huge concern). I understand that factory farming provides the ability to feed our growing population. I also know that vegetarianism and veganism still contribute to animal death – any disruption of the land, whether it be to farm or to build subdivisions, reduces the amount of land left for animals, resulting in the deaths of many. In addition, any crop farmer will tell you that hundreds, maybe thousands of animals are killed yearly by the routine operation of farm machinery.
There is no straight-forward answer either way. However, because of my continued unease about contributing to factory farming (and I know I am only one person), I decided to take matters into my own hands. I hunted whitetail this fall and was successful. Jim also got a deer, which means we have high quality, protein and nutrient loaded, lean meat for about a full year. I will admit that I do not love every aspect of hunting – I love the preparation that goes into it, the appreciation of nature, and the act of sitting still and quiet as wildlife goes on around you – but I don’t love the act of killing. I suspect it is something I will get more used to but will never actually enjoy. Nonetheless, what I have gained and learned from hunting is remarkable and irreplaceable:
- A sense of self-sufficiency – not relying on factory farming.
- A deep appreciation for the animal – I’ve always loved animals and wildlife, but it is a different feeling altogether to take the life of an animal, process
andcare for the meat, and cook it for your family.
- Stress relief – there truly is nothing like sitting quietly in the woods for an extended period of time.
- Connecting with nature – directly participating in the ecology of the natural world and the cycle of life in a way that no other outdoor enthusiast experiences.
- Eating locally – it doesn’t get much more local when the animal is in your backyard.
- Eating organically – wild deer have never been given antibiotics, growth hormones, or processed feed. They have lived cage-free lives in the wild, as they are meant to live.
- A sense of challenge and accomplishment – hunting takes practice, patience
andperseverance, so success equals feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction at completing a difficult goal.
- Understanding wildlife and habitat – I’ve witnessed how deer affect their habitat and have learned more about the behaviors and interrelationships of other wildlife species.
- Helping conservation efforts – by purchasing a hunting license and equipment, I have contributed to wildlife conservation, which drives funding for state and federal programs to secure land, improve habitat, restore wildlife, and enhance hunting opportunities. In fact, hunters contribute far more to conservation than any other group.
In observance of opening day, although I don’t gun hunt, I have put together and shared my favorite way to make venison backstraps. Enjoy and shoot straight hunters!