Eating To Survive


Ten years ago, I had the misfortune to find myself in an elk-hunting camp near Craig, Colorado. The misfortune lay not in a shortage of elk — we saw decent ones every day — but in the atmosphere and, more particularly, the food that was offered in the camp.

Hunting as much as I do, and in the way I do for the past 30 years I’ve made a serious effort to keep my weight down and my conditioning up, and eating properly is a big part of that. “Properly” simply means meat, fish, fowl and fresh fruit and vegetables, and generally avoiding sugar and bread. Nothing too exotic.

Sammy’s Camel Burger

Of course, falling off the wagon occasionally doesn’t hurt anything. One piece of chocolate cake isn’t going to plaster ten pounds on you or shorten your wind. Still, you should try to stick to what you’re used to. In that camp in Craig, for the first two days, we did not have a single meal that I would consider even moderately healthy. Waffles, pancakes, French toast, lasagna, creamed this and fried that, peanut butter, jams and jellies and endless bread. We left to go hunting at five; before that, the only food available was donuts and muffins. We were told we’d come in for “brunch” at ten, and that consisted of stuff like biscuits and gravy, an American addiction I have never understood. Some people can live on biscuits and gravy, the same as caribou live on lichen. But I’m neither.

Here’s the problem with this. Going out hunting, sitting on a hillside in the wind, with temperatures in the forties, you can’t stay warm, comfortable and focused after eating nothing but a donut. And suppose you wound an elk and have to track it through the day? You’re doing it on no nourishment.

The second morning, I went into the kitchen and persuaded one of the (seriously overweight) cooks to make me a three-egg omelet. As for the other meals, I was on the verge of going into Craig to buy a couple of pounds of jerky, in the interests of survival.

Last year, I ran into something similar in a deer camp in Kansas, but by that time I’d learned my lesson. I now travel with a supply of protein powder and a shaker, tuna fish, sardines, bananas, apples, mozzarella cheese sticks and pickled eggs. It gets a little tiresome, but it’s a good training regime.

More hunters today are careful about weight, diet and fitness than they were in years past, but today’s average diet is far worse than it ever has been. Sugar, junk food and empty calories are everywhere. Cola and chocolate bars are the standard pack-snack, and while Gatorade and granola bars look healthy, they aren’t.

It’s a sad fact that you can no longer routinely expect to be offered real food in a hunting camp. If you want to be hunting seriously after the age of 50, climbing mountains and walking endless miles, you need to stay in good shape. That requires effort on all fronts. The necessary exercise has to come long before you reach camp, but food is something else. The odd waffle won’t kill you — although, in my case, it feels like it is — but you still need real protein and vegetables on a regular basis.

Game meat, of course, is the healthiest protein you can get, and many hunters now make it a significant part of their diet.

It’s deeply ironic to be in a camp of hunters who proclaim that they are there to get a supply of meat as well as a nice set of antlers, and what they are given to eat in the camp is about on a par with the most nightmarish Happy Meal.–Terry Wieland

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5 thoughts on “Eating To Survive”

  1. We need to make a list of healthful and “moderately” healthful food ideas for hunting, fishing and/or trekking camp. It would be a great guide for those that enjoy the great outdoors. Great article!

  2. My question is, what was the camp you were in? Did you pay for the camp and was it on the high end, or the low end. Did you check the outfitter prior to booking your hunt? I have worked in a number of camps as well as my own camp. In all of the outfits I have worked for or with, there was a hearty breakfast, sandwiches (meat,lettuce cheese, tomato, etc…) then a beef stew or steaks and potato’s for dinner. Now back to the B and G, I am truly sorry that your don’t understand that B&G is a meal and a fine one at that. Book a good hunt with good folks and I think you will get good food. Thanks

  3. Ok. Seems a bit over the top to me. The outfitter was trying to give you a variety of food but you mainly mentioned carbs. Lasagna, biscuits and gravy, etc. carbs on good on strenuous hunts. I for one got more offended on a Canadian black bear hunt when the Indian guides were gill netting walleyed and trying to feed us chicken. I told them to bait the bears with chicken and fried up the walleye. I get your point but do t think that the outfitter was doing anything to drastic. Just trying to give his hunters a nice meal. I’m sure if you asked they could have had eggs and bacon/ham/steak to give you more fuel if needed.

  4. Great article. I agree wholeheartedly. Try to find a proper German butcher to obtain some smoked pork shoulder butt or Landjaeger…no refrigeration needed. Then, take along at least some apples and dried fruit, and cheese. One can survive the horrible “food” too common over most of the USA if one packs in a few old-fashioned “off-road” foods.

  5. Would make sense to ask about the menu and/or set expectations before you book. Seems like folks in all walks of life are getting better about asking about people’s diet needs.

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