Harvesting an elk can provide a year’s supply of very healthy meat.
As I stared down at the still form of the cow elk my wife harvested last week, several things came to mind. She was anxious to fill our freezer with elk meat again, as the elk I harvested two years ago with my muzzleloader was just about gone. She applied for a special tag, allowing for a late hunt on the Sand Creek desert, and with one perfect shot had put the elk on the ground.
Her reason for wanting elk meat, when it likely would have been less expensive to buy beef, was the reputed health benefits of wild meat. I wondered just how much benefit there really is in eating wild meat versus farm-raised animals.
There are two primary reasons why wild meat is often considered a healthier alternative. First, wild animals generally eat only natural foods. There are no chemicals added to their diets, no hormones or vaccinations and their feed is not genetically modified. It is as organic as you can get.
Since wild animals feed exclusively on natural vegetation, their meat often contains more zinc, iron and omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fats, yet the human body cannot manufacture them—we must get them from food. Omega-3 fats are an integral part of cell membranes, and according to Harvard University, “They provide the starting point for making hormones that regulate blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of artery walls, and inflammation. They also bind to receptors in cells that regulate genetic function. Likely due to these effects, omega-3 fats have been shown to help prevent heart disease and stroke, may help control lupus, eczema, and rheumatoid arthritis, and may play protective roles in cancer and other conditions.” So, it is no small thing that wild meat provides a better source of Omega-3 fatty acids than farm-raised meat.
Second, wild animal meat has far less fat marbling than beef, meaning that it is leaner with fewer calories from fat. It is educational to take a moment and review the beef grading system. We typically deal with prime, choice, select and store brand grades. Prime is the highest quality and comes from young animals with 8-12 percent marbling (the amount of fat interspersed within the lean meat). Choice still has marbling and the wonderful flavors it provides, just less than eight percent. Select is leaner still and standard and commercial grades are sold as ungraded or store brand. There is one other type of beef you may have heard of: Wagyu, originally from Japan. This is $50 per pound meat and typically has a marbling of 45-60 percent, more fat than lean meat per pound, and apparently is amazingly flavorful and tender, but it is too expensive for me to have personal experience with.
Most wild big game such as bison, elk, moose, deer, bighorn sheep and caribou have fat stores, but very little of it is intramuscular. Fat is stored around the organs and on the outside of muscle, leaving the meat very lean. Lean meat is considered healthier than more fatty meat—fewer calories and less cholesterol. Wild meat excels here—elk meat may have only 0.9 percent fat, deer 2.0 percent and wild rabbit 2.3 percent.
There is an entire movement surrounding the harvesting and consumption of wild meat partly because of these healthy benefits. It is amazing to see the wide variety of people who have become interested and proficient in harvesting their own protein. Websites such as hunttoeat.com, eatwild.com, and meateater.com are common and provide techniques, recipes and more for those interested in wild meat.
There is a darker side to wild meat though. As usual, things are not always as they seem and are often more complex than simple answers can address. Next time I will hopefully add to this discussion.
Help Idaho Wildlife
When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.
C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles!
See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live.
And tell them that you heard about it from Nature-track.com!
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Harriman State Park, Island Park
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho