Category Archives: Outdoor advocacy

Why I Hunt

Every year bike season starts to wind down, the days get shorter and I start to dream about the hunt. The perfect hunt where I sneak through the woods silently, pop up over a ridge, the wind in my face and sneak up on a herd of elk, lining up the perfect shot.

I don’t know where I get this storyline, because hunting never goes like that. There is a lot more shivering sweating, and shivering again, then getting some major adrenaline rushes and pure tiredness. Hunting is a lot like Calvin and Hobbes’ Calvinball. As soon as you think you know the rules, the game changes. This season was no different.

Before I get too far into the hunt, I would like to clear the air on my opinion about hunting. This is just my opinion, and I have nothing against other opinions. Do humans need to hunt for food? No. We have created a system of industrial farming and industrial meat. Don’t fool yourself though. Every steak, chicken thigh, and burger you eat comes from an animal that was killed and butchered by someone. That someone is just not you.

The world has commercialized the killing of animals so everyone can enjoy meat without having to deal with the concept of killing. The success of this system allows most humans to never go hungry. There is no bad crop year, or bad hunting year globally. We can always bring food in from somewhere else. This allows us to continue to prosper and live further and further from city centers. This in turn encroaches on wild animals’ habitat. We don’t like having predatory animals near our children, biking trails, crops, or farmed meat, so most predators are killed. This in turn upsets the balance between wild predatory animals and wild prey. The population of the prey grows beyond the land that is left for them. We at this point have created not only an abnormally nurturing environment for humans, but for prey animals too. We have three options:

  1. We can let the prey animal population go unchecked. This will lead to herds outstripping their food supply, and the animals will die off in droves either from a harsh winter’s starvation, or herd diseases. These herd diseases are called chronic wasting disease and are not good. CWD  can take out an entire herd, and may be spread to humans via consumption of the meat. Think mad cow disease. Imagine if this disease got transmitted to our cows that we eat, or somehow mutated to travel through other means like water. This isn’t a great choice.
  2. We can reintroduce predators. This is being done in Yellowstone to great success from an ecological viewpont. Herds of elk and deer are once again acting like prey. Plants are starting to grow back along the banks of rivers and streams. Smaller prey can once again compete against the elk and deer for food, and scavengers are thriving. The ranchers don’t like it. They claim that wolves are eating their cows. Some hikers are terrified. This solution works in a place as remote as Yellowstone, but near population-dense towns? Not so much.
  3. We can control the herd populations with human predators.
    1. In dense towns (NJ) this looks like deer runs, where the deer are herded up and shot in a group. The meat is donated to homeless shelters generally. The alternative to this is increased deer ticks, auto accidents, and deer eating your expensive landscaping.
    2. Wild game could be sold and people could make money filling their tags. We have a population of animals that we need to control, why not give families a means to provide meat locally for their community? Wild game meat is only legal in Vt., likely because of a powerful beef lobby.
    3. States can control their herds with hunters like you and me. We buy tags hunting that are regulated and either fill them or not. They expect a certain percent to be filled, so they know how many to sell. The states have enforcement against poaching. This is how the animal population is controlled currently in more remote locations (like Colorado), and how I hunt.

With that in mind, I hunt. I am acutely aware of the pressures that animal herds experience from construction projects that encroach on their migration routes, the pressures from campers, hikers, and mountain bikers like myself that are getting more numerous by the day.

I enjoy the experience and work of the hunt, but I also know that when I can no longer stomach shooting an animal, quartering it, carrying it out of the woods, and butchering it myself, I will stop hunting and will probably become a vegan. Every year when I pull the trigger, it is a little sad, but by going through the full process, I know that I will appreciate every calorie I get from my animal all year. How many of you know the story and history behind your food?

#huntingisconservation

Impacts

This summer I wanted to see what small things I could do to improve my environmental friendliness.  Caring about my environmental impact is important to me, and it is challenging to work with this in everyday life. If I were to minimize my impact I wouldn’t own a car, use only public transport, grow all of my own food and never buy meat. However, I like to visit my family and  I travel for work, two things that can upend all the rest of my efforts. With this in mind, it is easy to get discouraged and think that it isn’t worth doing anything. But it is. It really is worth doing, and here are some of the things that I like to do.

Summer Garden

My small summer garden makes me happy. I mostly grow lettuces because in Utah, I need to grow something that has quick maturation. This gives me appreciation for my food and makes me less likely to let veggies spoil during the year. There are lots of ways to make small garden plots work. I bury wood under the soil in order to encourage healthy soil fungi.

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Compost

Compost is the easiest thing ever. All you need is a spot in your yard, and a bit of motivation. I put anything that doesn’t have meat in my compost, layering food and wet things with straw. You can use wood chips or dry dead leaves instead of the straw. Compost makes me happy for a lot of reasons. It keeps methane out of landfills, it prevents my need to buy soil for my garden, and it lessens how much trash I throw out.

Pot and Pan Coatings

There is this awesome technology that helps me cook the best steak, pancakes, eggs, and stew. It is pretty revolutionary and has been since the early 1800’s — cast iron. It is really easy to clean, it can handle any abuse, and can last a hundred years. Nonstick cookware on the other hand wears through, winding up in the landfill and, worse, uses PFOA in manufacturing. The PFOA is burned off before the consumer gets the Teflon pan, but it stays in the atmosphere for a long time. PFOA is considered a carcinogen, so I cook with cast iron.

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Elk Steak Anyone?
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Or Sweet and Sour Chicken?

Panniers

I have these great laundry detergent container panniers that take about 20 seconds to put onto my bike. That way, if I am going to do a local errand, I have absolutely zero excuses not to do it on my bike.

Hunting

There are so many things I love about hunting. I love the sunrises, smell of fall, sneaking around the woods and trying not to get noticed by the smallest animals. I love being part of the ecosystem in a way that reminds me why food is precious. I especially love not buying red meat. For a pound of beef, a farmer needs to provide about 1800 gallons of water. In the west that is a big deal, and getting to eat meat that I know everything about is a huge plus.

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Using my Freezer

Along with pesto that I make with my garden basil, I freeze lots of food, including elk. This means that when I see a great deal on a gallon of curry, I can feel great about buying it and freezing it in silicone muffin tins. By freezing in muffin tins, I can assemble ziplock bags of the perfect serving size for all sorts of things!

Recycle

Recycling is really easy once you get into it. Many towns have zero sort, and if yours doesn’t, you can always presort at home.

Buy Smart

I don’t shop that often, but when I do I try to buy things that are built to last and are built sustainably. For that reason, I love buying Bergans gear. Environmentally friendly fabrics have been part of their clothing way before it was a trend, and they often forget to even mention it in their marketing.

These are just a few of the things I like to do. What are your favorite small steps?

Secret Spot

This may not be a huge secret, but my family didn’t move out to Colorado until I was 8. Up until then, I was a bit of an oddball in NJ. I preferred toolboxes to purses and kickball to gossiping. After school I would swim in the lake behind our house or dig in the mud with my brother, leading to a tug-of-war between said mud pit and one of my brother’s shoes. (The mud pit won, and there will be a fossilized Nike running shoe in a century.)

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In the NJ world where lawns are manicured and the houses are packed in tight, it is hard to find a peaceful outdoors space. I was really lucky. Long time Pines Lake residents, John and Dorothy Knippenberg owned a 30 acre lot a few houses down from us and made it into a beautiful arboretum originally known as Laurelwood Gardens. It was full of great wood chipped paths, beautiful exotic trees, and hideouts where I could just sit and daydream. It became my workout arena during the summers, and the best place to walk the dog.

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Towards the end of her life Dorothy donated the land to the town, making it an official park. The arboretum had a large burl that they were saving for display. My parents suggested that they have a bowl turned for the education center, and they knew someone to take on the project; I instantly signed up. Luckily I was able to find a lathe to turn the bowl and finish it, but the best part was crashing one of their volunteer meetings and presenting  the bowl to Jojo, the lead arborist. Just look at the smiles all around.

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I know this moment can’t even begin to give back all the magic that Laurelwood Arboretum has given to me, but hopefully it can inspire some magic for others.

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Women in the Wilderness

Freshman year, I met my first upperclassmen through a Women in the Wilderness hiking trip. I was the only non senior on the trip, and I was welcomed so enthusiastically it made my week. We hiked up Mt Moosilauke, and they didn’t mind that I had to stop often to rest. I really looked up to those senior girls, and the next year started leading Women in the Wilderness outings. 15814567334_f00d67ffbe_o

A year later I shifted my focus to the Mountain Bike Club. It was really fun to shape a club from its infancy with so much potential. I lobbied to get the club a permanent space for bike storage, improved the leader training and got more trips led. Three years later, with 10 leaders and 10 leaders in training, I feel pretty good about the growth of  the Mountain Bike Club. However, I always felt a bit guilty for dropping the ball on a great program that helped me meet so many mentors.

This year, a friend of mine approached me asking about rebooting Women in the Wilderness. She was hoping to have a community where female leaders from all the clubs would lead trips to get more women outside together doing badass activities. I led my first trip last weekend, and it was a pretty picturesque day for intro to telemark skiing. Next up – women’s pond hockey!