The Hunt for Real Food

The men behind Harvesting Nature share thoughts (and a recipe) from their most recent hunting trip into the Wyoming backcountry
November 21, 2015Words by Justin TownsendPhotos by Justin Townsend

I lay there on my belly, undetected, atop a large hill, peering through my scope with the crosshairs centered on an antelope doe below me. We had snuck over the ridge to find a herd of 15 of them, bedded in a small grassy bowl to protect themselves from the present wind and cold drizzle. I exhaled quietly, held my rifle firm, and squeezed the trigger. The gun erupted, causing the herd to dash. My doe did not fall, so I quickly chambered another round and fired. This time, my aim was true and the antelope doe toppled where she stood.

A rush of relief overcame me as I watched the remaining herd sprint away — I had spent the three previous days unsuccessfully covering many miles in the field, but in one instance my first antelope tag was filled. Thankfully, I would be taking meat home to my family.

In one moment, you are concerned about going home to an empty freezer, and then the next you are thankful that you will have meat for the coming year.

Thus is the life of a hunter. In one moment, you are concerned about going home to an empty freezer, and then the next you are thankful that you will have meat for the coming year. To me, sourcing my food from the wild is more beneficial than grabbing it off the shelf at the store. The animals I hunt are different than the meat you find there. They are humanely harvested in the wild where the meat is truly organic, completely natural, and free range.

I believe that there is a serious disconnect between modern people and the origins of their food; many do not even know where the food comes from. I personally seek to restore that connection by sourcing my family’s food from the wild as my family has done for generations. Health benefits aside, the quality of the meat and the adventure to acquire it provide so much more than a trip to the market could ever offer. With each bite, you are able to share the difficulties and victories that delivered this food to your plate.

This fall’s Wyoming hunt was certainly full of both hardships and hard fought success. The success in a Wyoming antelope hunt is very dependent on the landscape of the area you hunt. Antelope are more prevalent in the rolling grasslands of the southern part of the state and less so in the pine-laden mountainous regions to the north. They prefer the open prairies because their greatest defenses are vision eight times stronger than ours and record-setting speeds. To combat this, you must be willing to spend time in the field spotting and stalking herds, usually from great distances away. We averaged between 10-15 miles of hiking each day. Out there, physical fitness is essential because you are constantly traversing rugged terrain, steep washes, and rocky hills as you try to maneuver close enough for a comfortable shot.

After filling our first tags in the south, we decided to head to the northeastern part of the state so my buddy could try to fill his deer tag. The hunting land there was my favorite for the scenery, but the landscape was not ideal for antelope. A blue river trout stream split the land and rocky cliffs formed a series of wide canyons, each scattered with mixed timber and prairie dog colonies. But, on the western side of the property there was the perfect antelope valley. It was wide, grassy, and dotted with smaller hills which are perfect for cover.

Each day, I hiked the three miles to the edge of the valley, belly crawled up the ridge, and peaked my head slowly over.

Each day, I hiked the three miles to the edge of the valley, belly crawled up the ridge, and peaked my head slowly over. I had yet to have a successful stalk and the unfilled tag was weighing on me as I looked upon an empty valley. I optimistically pushed on to explore the northern edge, where a large hill obscured my complete view. A quick peek over the edge of the hill revealed a herd of 25 antelope bedded down in the grass about 250 yards away.

The wind was blowing ferociously and a closer shot would be preferable, so I maneuvered to the other side of the hill and hoped that the herd did not run as I lost sight of them. In order to get as close as possible I belly crawled the last few yards. To my relief, the herd was still bedded down with the exception of a lone doe standing watch. Her eyes had locked on me so I couldn’t move any closer. I raised my rifle and fired, but the wind blew my shot down below the doe’s legs. The herd jolted into motion, and their confusion was evident as they ran towards me. With my scope raised, I could only see a mass of antlers and fur, unable to identify a doe.

The herd galloped closer and turned broadside to reveal another doe. Firing again, I noticed a tuft of fur fly into the air and was confident that I had made contact. There before me was the doe lying in the grass. Thankfully, in the last hours, my hunt was successfully concluded. Now the truly hard work would begin. Butchering the doe and packing the meat would take several hours of focused labor.

Nevertheless, I could now go home in confidence that I had secured all the meat possible on my trip. Luck, skill, and determination meshed together on this trip to help my success. Hunting is not always easy, but patience is necessary because many times you will come home empty-handed. You have to be willing to dedicate the time and effort to prevail. But when you have a backpack full of meat and you are hiking out after a long successful hunt, the hard work is outweighed by the bounty. The most rewarding aspect would be eating the first cut of fresh meat. [H]

I would imagine that this is not the first time that antelope and great northern beans have met in a cooking pot, since the history of both run very deep in Wyoming. Antelope were estimated to have numbered between 30-60 million in the early 1800s and were hunted to near extinction in the following century. They have been hunted as food by every population that has inhabited the West.

Beans were considered a staple to American Indians and then to pioneers in the later years. The great northern bean is a sturdy plant that can survive the harsh weather on the frontier and continues to be exported from Wyoming to this day. The light subtle flavor of the bean makes it perfect for soup.

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Read more about the Wyoming hunting trip on Harvesting Nature. 

 

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