I’m crawling through sagebrush, stalking my prey. With every slight creep forward, I place my left hand on my rifle, using it as support to lift it, quietly and carefully, then setting it down, just a few inches forward, resting it on the bi-pods. I scoot my legs forward and repeat. I’m afraid to look up and over these bushes that promise to keep my location a secret. I learned this hide and seek rule years ago on the elementary school playground — if you can see them, they can see you.
I commit to keeping my head down (even if my butt is in plain sight) and continue on with my motions. I finally begin to crest the little hill that I’ve slowly been ascending, keeping my hips lower with every scoot. My companion nudges me and whispers for me to set up for my shot. I roll my hips back over my feet and come to an awkward kneeling position. My heart is racing. I can see the antelope now and look through the scope to line up my shot. With every breath, the crosshairs are either on the ground or right on target. It’s surely too far. I’m breathing too hard. Am I ready for this? I hold my breath and shoot.
Flashback to eight years ago. I’m sitting in a classroom in your standard collegiate stone building (no ivy, however). Our professor, ironically clad in all leather, is walking us through the prior night’s reading in the Sand County Almanac. We are discussing all readings in the context of environmental ethics and naturally, the conversation tangents into the concept of being a carnivore. Personal opinions, stories and facts on sustainable ranching, feedlots, hunting and vegetarianism circumnavigate the room.
Though I’ve always considered myself a foodie and an environmentalist at heart, I never really thought too hard about where my food came from. Having grown up in true southern California fashion, I learned early on to value fresh produce and diverse cuisine. At the same time, I was learning the “recycle, reuse, reduce and close the loop” rap, ensuring every member of my family carpooled and also hating on litterbugs. But though I ate quality food and cared about the environment, no one had blurred those two values for me. I knew I liked quality food, but couldn’t tell you where it came from or why that was important to know. I knew that pork=pig, beef=cow, etc., but as an avid animal lover, I never explored the concept of where my meat came from any further. Meat came from the grocery store, hunting of animals was bad. Period. I had the foundation for understanding, but none of the building blocks.
Looking back, it’s easy to see just how vulnerable my convictions were, and rightly so. Sitting in that classroom eight years ago made me realize the hypocrisy between loving animals, loving the environment and thoughtlessly buying my meat from the grocery store. From then on, I focused my efforts on buying the best meat my wallet and surroundings could supply.
With a revised outlook and a growing local and sustainable food movement brewing around me, I moved to Jackson with the ability not only to tolerate hunting, but actually respect it. I took a hunter’s safety course purely for the education factor, and my respect grew. Hunters were not the violent, gun-loving, land-degrading, animal-hating people that my California upbringing led me to believe. Instead, I befriended hunters who greatly respected the animal and valued the conservation of our pristine surroundings.
I grew to become a full supporter of hunting when food is concerned, helping to pack out quarters of elk from the woods and valuing the meat in our freezer. This past winter, I read a book, “Call of the Mild” by Lily Raff McCaulou, that explores the transformation from non-hunter to hunter. The author equates buying meat from the grocery store to hiring a hit man to do your killing. This concept struck a personal chord with me, and this fall, I decided to try my hand at hunting. Much like the author, I decided that if I could eat the meat, I would like to know if I could kill it myself.
Apparently, I could. My shot struck the antelope perfectly on target and she fell to the ground without taking a step. Emotions immediately ran over me, though it was hard to watch this beautiful creature die, the process of field dressing was mesmerizing and oddly instinctual. I spent the following day processing the meat and making sausage, jerky, meatballs to freeze and store, packages of meat for stews, grinding cuts for burgers and using remnants to make dog treats. Needless to say, my antelope was not undervalued and did not go unused. I am so thankful that this animal will keep our bellies full during the winter — and you don’t get much more local or grass-fed than an antelope living in the wild an hour from your front door.
Here is a recipe for delicious sausage that I particularly love as taco meat or in burgers. Feel free to use non-game meat as your base as we have plenty of ethical meat providers in this valley.
*Note that you’ll need to own, acquire or borrow a meat grinder for this endeavor