Walk Softly and Carry a Heavy Stick

Mule Deer Scat

As I try to live more sustainably I keep learning about how far I have to go. Case in point - Sustainable Meat Eating. I'm an omnivore and I have learned a lot about the negative health and environmental impacts of Factory farmed meats. I'm shifting my diet away from CAFO produced meats, but I still want to eat some meat. My options are to choose animals which are raised in a more humane way, wild-caught meats, and hunting wild game myself. This fall I found out how difficult it is to catch your own four-footed meal.

While I don't eat as much meat as many people I know, I'm not a vegetarian. Thinking about factory-farmed meats from the grocery store, how far removed I am from the source of the meats I eat and a little inspiration from 'The Omnivore's Dilemma' led me to apply for a deer hunt permit with the NM Dept. of Game and Fish. With advice from a hunter friend, I applied for a permit in the south eastern corner of New Mexico. New Mexico divides hunting permits by area, game and choice of weapon: bow and arrow, muzzle-loader, and 'any legal sporting arm'. My hunter friend shoots muzzle-loading, black powder rifles and since he was generous enough to take me along so would I.

Most deer hunters choose 'any legal sporting arm' because they can use a modern hunting rifle with a scope which is easy to reload and accurate at ranges up to hundreds of yards. Muzzle-loading rifles take much longer to load with separate lead ball, patch, black powder and cap. Rifles with 'open' sights are also harder to aim, with a practical range of not much more than 100 yards. While I shot well at the firing range, it was obvious that deer hunting with a 'primitive' rifle wouldn't be easy.

My first attempt at sustainable loca-carnivorism began with a stop at a sporting goods store. I have most of the standard camping gear and clothes I needed with one exception. I've never owned 'hunting' clothes before, but an orange camouflage cap is a great way to make the 'I'm not a deer' fashion statement. With camping gear, orange camo, deer permit AND hunting license I set off with two experienced hunters for five days in rugged southern New Mexico.

Deer hunting in open terrain generally means a lot of hiking. This is hiking across deceptively hilly and rocky, ankle-twisting ground. It is walking through plants with more thorns than leaves that invite you stop for a moment, until you can extricate yourself from their barbs. Hunting also means looking for deer signs, e.g. scat and hoof prints, not the shiney metal kind. I spent the better part of five days walking cow paths, scrambling through arroyos, looking at deer poop, sidestepping cactus and mesquite while enjoying a full spectrum of weather.

Did we see any deer? Oh yes, we saw several bucks and does each day. But they usually saw (smelled or heard) us first. Deer hunting is like playing hide and seek with a toddler, except you are the toddler. I learned that deer aren't bothered by trucks rumbling along BLM roads, but they are easily spooked when the truck stops and people get out. I also learned that it's tough to stay focused on walking through thorny brush while looking for deer in the distance and vice-versa. All told, the mule deer of southern NM gave us some exercise over the five days of our hunt.

While I didn't have a 'successful' hunt my first time out, I had fun and learned quite a lot. I learned that mule deer are darn wily and thrive in a rugged, arid land. I also learned that hunting for your own meal isn't easy and I'm glad we didn't buy a chest freezer before I left. I'm not discouraged and I've started thinking ahead to next hunting season and what I might do differently. I'm not a 100% local omnivore, but I'm working on it. So, I'm planning next year's garden and maybe I'll get a fishing license too.

More Info:

Wikipedia - Factory Farming / CAFO

The Omnivore's Dilemma

Wikipedia - Hunting Rifle

NM Department of Game and Fish


Friends of the Earth - We can eat meat, ditch factory farming and save the planet


Walk Softly and Carry a Heavy Stick

Yes, hunting game could be an exciting experience. And most of all, it could give you good exercise. We could also stay close to the environment around us. Those of us who stay in cities gradually lose touch with nature. Game hunting could unite us back with nature once again. We run a global sustainability directory called Climatarians which highlights such lifestyles.