Now is a good time to start sourcing your own protein and filling your freezer with wild-game meats.
Whether you’re seeking deeper connections to your food or you simply want to better understand where it comes from, grab your bow and arrows. Bowhunting is a great way to secure fresh meat for delicious meals you can share with family and friends.
A more self-sufficient lifestyle is easier to achieve than you might think. Many state wildlife agencies offer free classes that teach newcomers basic archery skills, where to hunt, and what to do with quarry you arrow. Some classes culminate with a mentored hunt so you can test your field skills while being coached by an experienced hunter. Contact your state’s wildlife agency to find a class. “Learn to hunt” food classes offer great starting points, or you can teach yourself to hunt.
Small-game animals like rabbits and squirrels are accessible across the country, often on public lands within reasonable driving distances of home. In addition, you probably won’t have to work as hard for a good shooting opportunity as you would on white-tailed deer. And even if you miss, you’ll likely get several chances to put meat in your freezer by focusing on rabbits and squirrels while honing your shooting skills.
Although small and less meaty than larger animals, rabbits and squirrels are gateway critters for sourcing protein. Big-game animals like deer, elk and bears require lots of space, like a garage or utility shed for processing, and chest freezers for storage. Small game, however, can be cleaned afield before heading home, and stored in a refrigerator’s freezer compartment.
That’s an important consideration because many of us live in apartments or in small homes with little space for butchering and storing big game. By starting small, you can learn how to clean and break down animals before tackling big game.
I Filled My Tag … Now What?
You sneaked into bow range of a wary animal and made a clean, ethical kill. Caring for your harvest in the field ensures you’ll be rewarded with a delicious meal. Start field dressing the animal by carefully using a sharp knife to open the abdomen and removing the entrails. You’ll find many videos and articles that illustrate this process for your quarry.
When finished, keep the carcass in a cool, dry place with airflow. Moisture grows bacteria, so avoid water or precipitation. You can now turn the animal into food items.
To fully appreciate the protein-sourcing process, butcher the animal yourself. That can sound intimidating, but it differs little from breaking down chicken parts. Plus, you’ll find many resources that explain how to process wild game and make good cuts of meat. A knife, sharpener, gambrel (for hanging deer), cutting board, meat grinder, and vacuum sealer are basic starter necessities.
Separate the meat into piles of steaks and roasts; trimmings for stew or jerky; and scraps for grinding. Package steaks and roasts individually, and grind the scraps. Label and sort everything after using a vacuum sealer to prepare all meat for storage, which ensures wild game has a long shelf life in your freezer.
Procuring your own protein can be daunting fun, and it ensures a self-sufficient lifestyle that’s healthy and rewarding. For the price of a hunting license, vehicle fuel, and basic butchering and packing items, you can use your bow and arrow to pack your freezer with healthy, organic meat.