Wild game meat has long provided hunters with an excellent source of protein. Today, in the age of commercially produced food using antibiotics and hormones, eating what you harvest has become a healthier alternative. While people flock to places like Whole Foods and weekend farmer’s markets for select cuts of organic and free-range meat, for hunters, the best place to pick up quality food is still the woods.
For most of human history and before large-scale farming, wild game made up a large portion of man’s diet. The foods prehistoric humans consumed were different in almost every way than a typical Western diet of today, said Loren Cordain, professor emeritus at Colorado State University’s Department of Health and Exercise Science. “Seventy percent of the calories we get today come from processed foods - refined sugars, grains, salt,” he said. “Go back 10, 20, or 100 human generations, and you’d see we clearly weren’t the same people that we are now.”
Cordain has been studying the health benefits of wild game since the 1980s when he started researching the diet of prehistoric man. His book, The Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Food You Were Designed to Eat, first published in 2001, chronicles the health benefits of consuming wild fruits, vegetables and animals.
As a part of his research, Cordain and Dr. Stanley Boyd, who was pivotal to the Paleolithic nutrition movement, conducted chemical analysis of meats prehistoric man consumed, such as wild game, with commercially produced meat of today. Their results showed that wild game contained better fats, generally lower cholesterol and were all-around healthier options.
Wild Game is Leaner and Healthier
In Cordain’s research, he found an enormous difference when comparing free-range, grass-fed animals to those raised in commercial feedlots, particularly in lower concentrations of fat and calories in the former. As he compared wild game to commercially raised animals, he found even less fat, but more of the nutrients humans need to stay healthy. “Wild animals’ meat contains greater concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids,” he said. “These are very helpful to human health.”
Wild game meat has several qualities that make it a healthier option compared to commercially raised animals.
Wild game contains a healthy balance of omega-6 and and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Typical Western diets are normally high in omega-6, which in lower concentrations are essential to proper nutrition, though consuming too much can lead to health issues like cardiovascular disease and cancer. Cuts of deer or elk contain a good balance of polyunsaturated fatty acids, which help to reduce bad cholesterol levels in blood. This can aid in lowering the risk of stroke and heart disease. These fatty acids also contain nutrients that help maintain cells in your body.
Since deer, antelope and elk lead active lifestyles with a natural diet, their meat contains less total saturated fat when compared with commercial red meat. Wild game typically contains less calories than commercially raised meat and has higher amounts of protein. Game is richer in iron, niacin and B vitamins when compared with livestock.
Cordain also said the living conditions of wild game produces leaner, healthier options as opposed to commercial animals. “Commercial food starts in crowded feedlots, which are narrow environments in which hundreds of thousands of animals are confined to small spaces,” he said. “They are fed in troughs corn and sorghum. They then defecate and urinate next to where they eat. There is disease that occurs when you have these huge concentrations of animals living next to one another. So they’re given antibiotics and other growth hormones and also injected with nutrients to keep them alive and make them put on fat faster because that’s what the whole situation is about - producing bigger, fatter animals.”
Cattle crammed into a commercial feedlot are fed grain, which is not a part of a cow's natural diet.
You can rest assured that what you harvest in the field is free of antibiotics and growth hormones. Research has shown the practice can lead to antibiotic resistance in humans. While livestock get little exercise and are fed grain, wild game has the opportunity to forage natural foods and exercise regularly. This, in turn, gives the meat a richer (or some might say gamey) flavor.
“I think many people that never eat game or have only had it occasionally say it tastes gamey,” Cordain said. “The gamey taste is actually its natural taste. Over the course of one year, my wife and I had wild elk basically as the only meat we consumed. When we finally ran out, we had to go back to eating grain-produced meat and we felt it tasted really awful.”
Hunting Boosts Health
Hunting is also good for your health. Chasing ducks, deer, turkeys and small game provides hunters with exercise to reduce a myriad of health conditions. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease and stroke are two of the leading causes of death in the U.S. Just two and a half hours of moderate aerobic activity a week puts adults at a lower risk for both diseases. That’s easily obtainable with a few long walks to a tree stand or afternoon squirrel hunt.
Regular exercise, such as walking while you're scouting or hunting, can be beneficial to your health.
Regular physical activity, the CDC has found, can lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels. But that’s not all. As long as you keep a regular, active routine, your risk of Type 2 diabetes decreases, as does some cancers like colon or breast cancer. Staying fit and active also helps to strengthen bones and muscles.
Even just being immersed in nature, studies have found, has many mental health benefits like reduced anxiety and depression. According to a 2015 study by the Proceeding of the National Academy of Science, just a 90-minute walk in nature can positively affect your brain. The study concluded that urbanization is associated with increased levels of mental illness, and spending time in nature may be vital for mental health as the world continually becomes more urban.
Eating wild game meat seems to be a trendy topic these days. As it wears off, as all trends do, die-hard hunters will still be in the woods and backcountry doing what they’ve always done. It doesn’t hurt that such an addicting lifestyle is also good for your health.