Last Memorial Day, I took a bite of a prime-grade, grass-fed filet mignon that I had barbecued for some friends at their Los Angeles home, and I thought, “definitely not as good as elk meat.” How my tastes have changed in the 11 years since I stopped buying domestic meat.
In April of 2001, after 4 months of shooting my 1950′s recurve bow in the backyard and on 3-D courses, I stalked to within 8 yards of a 200-pound, black wild boar and slipped an arrow behind its shoulder as it fed through the fading light of an oak-strewn California hillside. This being my first big game animal, I gutted, skinned and quartered the boar using drawings photocopied from a Fred Bear book. I then delivered the meat to a specialty German butcher, who meticulously inspected the meat before declaring it fit for processing. Back in my 600-square-foot San Francisco apartment, the 100 pounds of Italian and red wine sausage, hickory-smoked hams, steaks and roasts filled my freezer and took up one third of my refrigerator. I realized that if I wanted to have a place for ice cream, I needed to eat sausage, and a lot of it.
That next year I made wild boar for breakfast, lunch and dinner; whenever I turned on the stove, wild boar was on the menu. That also meant that when I cooked for others, they were going to eat boar as well. My dates tried slow-roasted pork shoulder with cranberry compote. My friends ate hoagies with shredded boar, sautéed peppers and onions. Both went over well, and little by little those non-hunters became more engaged (and invested) in my hunting.
The following year I shot an antelope and another wild boar. Then I got a bird dog and soon I had more pheasants, ducks and quail than ever before. Dinner parties weren’t making a dent in my meat reserves, so I started hosting wild game barbecues: you bring the beer and veggies, and I’ve got the meat. I gave up ice cream.
In the years since, I still haven’t bought domestic meat, with the exception of bacon—there is just no equivalent in nature, and that sweet smell in camp sets off memories too powerful for me to resist. But aside from that transgression, I have stayed on the wild game straight and narrow. It has contributed to my health (lean meat), my friendships (nothing builds a bond like backstraps), and my marriage (we served our elk and duck at the wedding).
Now as the long days of summer stretch out and my meat reserves dwindle, I reach for the bow rather than the spoon. With any luck there will be more new meat come September and no room in the freezer for ice cream.