Eat What You Reap - Being a Proud Hunter
Strength & conditioning has been my passion for 20+ years. After my graduate degree, I pursued coaching with professional athletes and built a business centered around speed and agility development. But I soon figured out that to pay the bills, I had to coach regular adults to crack my monthly nut.
We started adopting circuit training at our speed center, which led me to CrossFit.com for workout ideas. My initial impression was the workouts were dumb, poorly designed, and would undoubtedly cause injuries in our adults. Then I dabbled into a full week of CrossFit for myself, and as many can attest, I not only sipped the Kool-Aid but started chugging it.
Fast forward a year later, I had my CF L1 & L2 certifications, and I was opening up my first CrossFit gym in 2007. I was so committed to CrossFit that I didn't renew my CSCS certification, the most prized credential for a strength and conditioning coach.
In the last decade-plus of helping ordinary people become extraordinary by working hard, I've consistently advocated for performance nutrition. One of the main staples in my diet was wild game that I procured during the fall when I would leave the gym on hunting adventures.
Not only did it align with what I believe is the most natural approach to nutrition, but the physical and mental challenge made it attractive to me as well.
Every member in my box knew I was a fanatical elk hunter, in which the majority knew very little about hunting. It didn't affect our relationship. I shared stories on the labor of love and the work it took to kill an elk and pack it out of the deep wilderness on my back.
One year I harvested and processed three bulls in the fall and was able to share three hundred pounds of wild elk with my gym community. Making it possible for my members to add organic wild game to their menus was a proud moment for me.
I think many folks are uninitiated about hunting because they didn't grow up around it, and even if they do have the interest, there's an intimidating barrier to entry. Which is the same way that I looked at CrossFit early on.
Just as I changed my mind about CrossFit when I learned more and saw the value it was bringing to the globe, when people learn more about hunting, they find a greater appreciation for eating what they reap.
After running the box for 11 years, I've moved on to a completely different business venture. My passion for hunting has led me to start ElkShape.com, where I educate current and future hunters on their nutrition, fitness, and the skills needed for hunting.
Hunting can have a bad name. Some have the mental picture of a bunch of bloodthirsty rednecks running around shooting at every living creature they see.
I hope to set the record straight.
You'll find bad apples in every walk of life. Still, the majority of people are intelligent and passionate about helping the world, and the same goes for hunters. They're most often regular folks that enjoy getting outside and procuring natural protein sources.
This article is not another narrative to justify killing innocent animals. Rather it's a non-emotional and factual argument to the personal benefits of eating truly organic and respecting the Earth so that a resource doesn't get overlooked or taken for granted by urban sprawl.
I respect that some won't see hunting in the same light that I do, but these are the reasons why I eat what I reap.
Hunting Values the Environment
Renewable resources must be managed. If there's no value, then there's a high probability that they won't exist.
If you live in the U.S., you are fortunate to be a beneficiary of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. In the first half of the 20th century, leaders like Theodore Roosevelt helped shaped these ideas.
The philosophy they established is that wildlife belongs to all of us, and every citizen is entitled to the opportunity to hunt and fish. That meant, ethical and regulated hunting would be the driving force that maintains abundant wildlife.
Some big things came from this, like when lawmakers passed the Lacey Act in 1900, prohibiting market hunting. This is why you cannot sell wild game meat that you harvest. If you buy elk meat, it will be farm-raised elk only, not wild. This ensures that someone could not get rich by killing our precious resources in the name of capitalism.
Next, the Pittman-Robertson act passed in 1937. This voluntary tax that hunters imposed on themselves ensured that a portion of the sale of all firearms and ammunition was expressly dedicated to managing the wildlife entrusted to the public. The Pittman-Robertson Act generates $700 million annually, which is distributed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to state fish and game agencies across America. Simply put, the United States has the most successful wildlife management system in the world. Hunters and anglers have contributed more financial and physical support to that system than any other group of individuals.
Hunting Provides Natural Nutrition
If you believe hunting is out of touch with society, then I can only tell you that's a new concept when you consider our human history. We have been hunting for thousands of years, and it's a part of our heritage, and I would argue that it is in our DNA.
From a nutritional standpoint, wild game is truly found in nature, making it the ideal protein source. These animals make their living in the wild foraging on natural grasses and forbs, running from predators, and existing in a way nature intended. These animals are highly attuned for survival, so from a hunting standpoint, there's a tremendous challenge involved.
Most of my elk hunts are around ten days, and if everything goes right, I might get a one shot opportunity. These high stakes require knowledge and a tremendous effort to seal the deal.
I have to be proficient with archery and put in the work to stay consistent year-round so that I don't miss my opportunity to feed myself. I also love that my wild game is hormone and immunization free and that I have a real connection with my food. I know that it lived a truly admirable wild life.
I see the value in butchering the meat myself and stocking my freezer with a renewable resource. Obviously, with grocery stores, hunting is not necessary. Still, every swipe of the debit card is a death sentence for an animal that was not wild.
If you would like to feed yourself with meat, hunting is a healthier and more natural option for consuming meat versus relying on the store.
Hunting is Better For Us Physically
There is a considerable fitness component of hunting the mountains out West.
A typical elk hunt requires navigating and traversing through the mountain landscapes with all the necessary gear on your back. An average day of elk hunting can be double-digit miles and many thousands of elevation gain and loss with a 40lbs pack on your back. You will be far from towns, people, WiFi, and cell phone service. You have to rely on yourself and work hard towards arrowing an elk in a rough and tough country.
It brings new meaning to becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable. It's the most challenging yet most rewarding form of exercise.
Yet many folks only do their fitness inside the four walls of a gym and rarely get to express the value of their work in the real world. My training is more than just burning calories or wanting to look good; instead, it's a requirement for me to be limitless in the mountains and packing 300lbs of meat back to my truck.
It's the ultimate test for anyone willing and able to cut their teeth in the wild landscapes of treasured public lands. The mountains are the great equalizer, and Mother Nature doesn't care about your gender, age, or wealth. She'll treat you the same, and you have to be ready for it.
This form of physical requirement is mostly missing from our lives these days, which has led our society into a deplorable physical condition.
Hunting is Good For Mental Health
It's my contention, and I hope you agree that it is not healthy to be constantly plugged into a wireless connection all the time. There are a million reasons to check your phone minute by minute, and we never get to break from that.
Our minds need to break free from technology. I do that in some of the most wild and undisturbed landscapes across the American West. I know I come out the other side of a hunting trip a better person. I have more clarity, and it's a huge stress relief for me, regardless if I am successful or not. There's a significant ripple effect when you get a chance to unplug from modern society.
Man has hunted since he walked the Earth. Every early culture relied on hunting for survival. Through hunting, we've forged a connection with the land and learned quickly that stewardship of the land went hand-in-hand with maintaining wildlife – and their way of life.
I believe that connecting back with nature in this way doesn't only make our world better, but helps build better individuals as well.
Dan owned CrossFit Spokane Valley for 11 years and worked under Parisi Speed Schools, Athletes' Performance and Eastern Washington University strength & conditioning. Dan owns and operates ElkShape.com and focuses his energy on educating hunters on their nutrition and fitness as it pertains to hunting.
He hosts ElkShape Camps, a podcast and YouTube Platform. You can follow along his journey on Instagram @elkshape