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.
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