Updated: Dec 14, 2020
2020 has been my best deer season ever! And I didn't personally get a single deer! NOPE...Even better- my kids and youth hunters got them! So far we have seven deer in the freezer and Caleb is still out there chasing 4 leggeds. So as of this writing we are busy deboning, grinding, packaging and stuffing sausage casings!
This has been my most rewarding season mentoring these kids to become the next generation of deer hunters and leaders. I am the "CEO" of our little deer hunting company and my role is to put the right people in the right place so they can make big wins... To give them all the tools and know how they need then watch what they can do with it....not for me to make the kill but for them to secure the wins. That's what leadership is about. Now I say all this CEO stuff tongue in cheek but even on a whimsical slant the pursuit of hunting wild fare has always served me with way more than meat, but valuable life lessons. Being a leader, a mentor and a Dad is not a job or title... its a relationship.
Part of this is giving them room to make mistakes.... to run out of gas on the atv (and learn about that setting called "reserve tank", after they've walked back!)... to place bait in the wrong spot where it can't be fired on from the stand/blind.... to rush a shot & miss... to lose arrows... to forget essential gear... and of course to accidentally spook deer when we are playing on our phones. It also means not taking the easy option every time... it means we field dress, skin, quarter, debone and totally process/package every deer we take. Sure it would be easy to just drop it at a butcher shop... but we could also just hit the Burger King drive through if we wanted easy. Our society has lost much by controlling or mitigating every possible mistake and by always taking the easy options. Every member of our little deer hunting team gets the full deal- hunter safety, marksmanship training, harvest (not just trophy hunting either), blood trailing, field dressing, dragging, skinning, quartering, deboning, grinding and packaging. We all collectively suffer in the missed shots but also celebrate in the wins as a team!
I mentioned "trophy hunting" so let me say this... I like to take the monster buck just as much as any hunter but the wildlife biologist in me understands our primary role as hunters is population management for the health of not only the deer herd but the habitat...and fewer car accidents! I understand we are moderating the population growth of a species with both K-selected and r-selected reproductive strategy traits (I have heard logical and vehement arguments both ways for white-tails by other biologists). So our team is encouraged just as much or more to take a female deer. Indeed experience has taught me the harvest of a big buck full of rut or starving for corn is ridiculously easy... conversely it takes a truly skilled hunter to harvest a mature doe anytime. So pure "trophy hunters" are not really the best fit for our little deer team. Though we would agree big bucks offer great yield for the grinder!
I shared a bit of my disdain for "trophy hunters" when Sophia asked me "Dad why is it that in Kansas you can only take one buck?" I replied "Most trophy hunters would never shoot anything except bucks if that was the case". Deer populations are generally unaffected by trophy hunters and as such they play almost no role in helping to control population growth. Trophy hunters do however pay big bucks for their out of state deer tags and spend money at local businesses in Kansas where a tourist never darkens the doorway.
The evolution of professional deer population management is an interesting story. Growing up deer hunting in Florida in the 70's and 80's it was set up exactly the opposite as present day Kansas- hunters could shoot any and all bucks they wanted (2 a day) but could never, ever, under any circumstances shoot a single female deer! As deer populations and conflicts continued to increase eventually a "doe day" was added to the nearly 3 month gun season! But even then a generation of hunters who were never to shoot does were very reluctant to fire on one of these formerly "protected" female deer. Of course my Dad could remember the great depression and shared how if any edible wildlife seen was immediately killed and most wildlife was "edible". It took several decades for wildlife populations to rebound from the scarcity of the great depression. And the hunters of my Dad's generation had that wildlife scarcity ever present in their minds making it very hard for them to shoot female deer... as they vividly recalled the times when you couldn't even find a deer track.
We wildlife biologists love to take claim for the rebound in wildlife populations over the last 100 years in this country. But if we were being completely honest we would acknowledge the rebound was as much a result of socioeconomic and cultural shifts as it was wildlife science. And should our world fall into disarray... sort of like 2020! We could certainly be right back to a time of wildlife scarcity. Everyone would become a hunter in a very short time if the food system collapsed! And in those austere circumstances harvest limits or game regulations would be no factor! No one would give a flip about wildlife science either! When humans get knocked down the Abraham Maslow hierarchy of needs pyramid the claws come out! The squirrels and pigeons in the park would be welcomed to the dinner table. Animal rights protests would instantly be gone! PETA would close their doors!
I've traveled to most continents on this earth and have lived on more than one... missing Antarctica, Africa and Australia.... in every locale I have always been interested in the relationships of people to wildlife and food. The tougher and more austere the human condition the scarcer the wildlife has certainly been a theme. Hunger makes a person very pragmatic in many things, including their relationship with wildlife. Meanwhile here in America for my entire lifetime we have entire sections of huge supermarkets dedicated to food for our pets. Indeed entire stores such as "petsmart" set aside for the health and welfare of pets which we (hopefully) will never have to eat!
Seth and I spent a couple of weeks backpacking around Peru a few years ago. We set eyes on some incredible wildlife habitat but no wildlife, at least not like what we are used to seeing say in Estes Park CO or any other scenic spot in the USA. One day in Cusco we spotted an enclosure full of guinea pigs... it was the first animals we had seen aside from the plethora of stray dogs which seemed to be thriving everywhere...we soon realized the enclosure was attached to a restaurant so we decided to check it out... upon a quick perusal of the menu we found the G-pigs were served either fried or roasted! I recall using my best Spanish to ask the waiter for a "young" guinea pig from the pen....They tasted like chicken. The guinea pig might be a great pet for a city dweller as we go into 2021... should things get worse!
Just as being a good Dad or an effective CEO is not a title but a relationship... so is being a Hunter. Or more plainly put- being HUMAN. It is a relationship... it is Ecology 101. A hunter forms a deep relationship with his quarry and it's habitat. One life lesson a hunter quickly gains is the dependency we have on other forms of life- be it plant or animal. Taking the life of an animal or even a plant is not something one should take lightly. Hunting is a lesson in food pragmatism. The aloofness we can obtain on a processed, curated food diet is indeed an illusion. Where one can stand on a lofty ethical temple mount of "no animal was harmed in the preparation of my food" simply because it came to me at the local Whole Foods in a nice neat package. Even "green house gas righteousness" has hit the processed food industry... an industry full of marketing wizards eager to capitalize on misguided human emotions and a populace unable to differentiate between "correlation" and "causation". This aloofness in the modern American relationship with food is downright disgusting to me. The hypocrisy, capitalistic marketing, disregard for actual science, false narratives, poor nutrition, and general sense of entitlement to food is slobbish, ignorant, sheep like, and unabashedly void of gratitude to the circle of life. But nonetheless droves of obsequious green conscious customers line up everyday at Whole Foods to overpay for well marketed food gimmicks. The "relationship" with food in modern America is more about bulk deals at Costco than gratitude for partaking in the circle of life. Now far be it for me to trumpet from my own high morale food pedestal and fall into the same trap... I am not trying to tell you how to approach your relationship with food... but I make an attempt to have my food strategy align with my personal values, health goals, scientific understanding and tastes. So while my prose may come off as sanctimonious I am certainly well aware of my own shortcomings, struggles and proclivity to just turn into the fast food line!
All of this 'food aloofness" is very new even in America. My grandfather was for all practical purposes a subsistence farmer in the small community of "Cork" Florida just west of Plant City. His eggs came from his chickens, his milk he got every morning from his cow, he made his own cane syrup for sweetener, gathered his own pecans and grew a wide variety of crops.... and even had his own honey bees. His day and life revolved around his relationship with food.... he never set foot in a Costco or super Walmart. He lived into his 90's with no health insurance, no doctor, no SSN number and no "knowledge" of the "Healthy food pyramid". This is the type of individual the modern health, food and pharmaceutical industry is very afraid of! In my youth I saw my Pop Pop as sort of a backwards oddity due to go extinct... now as wisdom sets in I find myself trying to run back to his ways. I can't explain exactly why but the closer I can make my connection to my daily food the more whole and alive I feel. Just contrast how you feel pushing a buggy in walmart with walking out to collect your own eggs outside... one is pure drudgery the other pure therapy.
My Pop Pop. Marcus Donald Shepherd 1908-1999 on the back porch steps of his home near Plant City FL with one of his hunting dog pups.
NOTICE: How many modern American men today above the age of 18 could even squat down like this? Much less raise an entire family (4 kids) from the food they produce with their own hands?
Modern life has separated us from our food and the circle of life. I would venture to say rampant "food allergies" are indeed a direct result... if your body has no relationship with your food it sees it as a foreign object. If our kids were out planting peanuts, hoeing the weeds away from the plants, digging them, picking them off the root vines... would there be a such thing as peanut allergies? I say no. Now we are a couple of generations down the road from ever touching a peanut plant... and look how our bodies react. We have reached a point where our own bodies are totally disconnected from the food we eat. How large was the animal rights/vegan movement during the hay day of my grandfather in the 1920's-30's? How many of his cohorts even knew what a food allergy was? Now we see both as not only common place but plausible and expected. The first question I get upon signing up for a conference is "Food allergies and Dietary Restrictions?" to which I always answer "none" & "keto-carnivore" respectively. So far I have never then arrived at a conference where they set aside a spread for my dietary needs... but they always have a "vegan alternative" spread... So they really are not asking about our specific needs they are just trying to know how many are vegans! Take your kid anywhere and you will be hit with the same questions. One time on a fully loaded 737 just before pulling away from the gate we had a child go into anaphylactic shock because he touched peanut dust on the seat back tray. We all watched as medical staff rushed on board working feverishly to save the child. Some of you have probably had similar experiences... On this occasion it delayed our departure causing me to miss my connection and of course I never heard how things turned out for the kid.
According to foodallergy.org every year over 200,000 Americans require emergency medical care.... because of FOOD! I wish I could say that sentence to Pop Pop. Food! Food is so dangerous now! I wish I could ask Pop Pop before coming over to eat at my house- "Hey Pop before you come over, do you have any food allergies or dietary restrictions?" I can only imagine it would be as if I were speaking Chinese to Pop! The rate of food allergies continues to increase as we get further and further separated from our food and the circle of life. The prevalence increasing almost 20% every decade!
With all this... What does modern society do? How does it react? WELL OF COURSE IN THE MOST ASS BACKWARDS WAY POSSIBLE! Instead of working to reconnect with nature and the circle of life... we double down on separation! A single peanut is now forbidden on Delta Airlines! Yes... instead of getting back to nature and curing the actual problem we rush head long into making it all much worse! The pharmaceutical industry knows exactly what the cure is to all of this.. its plainly simple... but cures do not make $$$.
We see the same knee jerk dumbass reaction today with the corona virus... instead of protecting the vulnerable we mask up and hide away the entire population. Which will absolutely weaken the ENTIRE POPULATION. Creating an environment for Covid 20 or 21 to really be a catastrophe. Instead of allowing exposure to the vast majority of the population and making the entire population stronger we are doing everything we can to create a weak population. And sorry... the vaccine will not make the population stronger... except for a moment in time. Very quickly most respiratory viruses evolve and with every person taking the exact same vaccine we will not have real "herd immunity" but an artificial immunity to but one or a handful of corona variants. This will not be the Polio vaccine... it will not wipe out respiratory viruses.
Will our society wake up? Will we face the truth that separation from the circle of life, from any work, from sunlight, from dirt, from livestock, from fishing & hunting, from gardening, from any hardship does nothing for us in the long run except weaken us? My guess is NO. But this is natural. Evolution is not friendly. Evolution does not give a shit about our feelings or emotions. Evolution simply kills the weak and stupid. In its own time. When I see a kid wearing a surgical mask and being pulled out of school by well meaning parents my human emotions weep. But evolutionary forces will not weep. Covid 23 or some other virus will be advantaged by such moves and kill the shit out of them. Hand sanitizer stations every 10 feet and masks are doing nothing except weakening our population and paving the way for a mega death disease outbreak. Don't believe me?! Well go back just a few years in time and ask Pop-pop "Pop do you see a day when kids will die if a peanut touches them?" and see if he would have predicted that! If we continue on this current track a real pandemic is looming... and the more we lean into the "science" the worse it will be. Particularly "political science"!
All of this is why sometimes I choose to eat with my hands dirty or pick my nose after working outside! Its why I will do everything possible NOT to wear a surgical mask in my daily life. Its why I get outside as much as possible... even breathing outside air (without a mask!) has been shown to benefit ones internal gut bacteria. It's why I do the complete processing of every deer I kill... this year every deer my youth kill! It's why I kiss a beautiful woman right square on the mouth! It's the same reason I jump rope, do pushups, do pull ups and throw kettle bells around... it all makes me stronger. And when I make myself stronger I make society stronger. Its altruistic. The selfish people are wearing M95 masks, hiding indoors all day and ordering everything on Amazon. They are getting weaker and weaker by the day and hastening the arrival of the real pandemic. As for me and my team I pledge to set the example everyday of how we face hardship and how we live within the circle of life... with respect and gratitude for each day and every meal.
In 2020 our society aggressively censored and shielded people from pictures, writings or anything which could be "harmful" or "dangerous" on line. This shielding while borne of good intentions will do nothing but weaken our population. We cannot even face the sight of seeing our food being harvested! A picture like the one to the left of me skinning a deer is very likely to get censored or "shielded" as potentially harmful content! Ironically this is one of the safest things one could be doing in our population! So not only are we hiding from real external stressors such as in the microbiology realm but we are also hiding from anything which could perturb our feelings! Cultivating further weakness and separation from the real world. We are on track to create a population of both weak immunity and character.
Unfortunately most people are selfish, nearsighted and fearful... so get ready for more pandemics with greater severity... they are the "food allergies" of our future. While Pop-pop could have never imagined a thing called "food allergies" I contend to you right now our future will be one of throngs of weak people dying. I don't mean to be the bearer of bad news but the future vigor of our population does not look good. Now I am no "prepper" but I do believe in being as healthy as I can and much of my approach now is to be more like Pop-pop... he didn't even know what "pizza" was! He never ate Chinese food or barely anything processed. So now I look at everything I eat and ask myself would Pop-pop eat this? Would Pop-pop even know what this is? Fortunately Pop-pop did have a weak spot for chocolate... mixing copious amounts of chocolate in his freshly procured, non-pasteurized milk for an evening after meal dessert! My one splurge is 90% cocoa Swiss Dark Chocolate... Sam's choice at $1.98 a bar! Fortunately it is a "Carbon Neutral Product!"
Another thing I wish I could ask Pop-pop... "Hey Pop how can you be sure your food is actually "carbon neutral"? I don't see a carbon neutral label on any of your cows or chickens. Yet another common thing in our modern vernacular which Pop would have been totally confused on.
Suffice it to say if you believe that dark chocolate bar is really "carbon neutral" then you are likely the same type of person to believe masks protect us, vaccines will be the cure and homeschooling/zoom is the way to go for our future! You likely are the first to jump on the "follow the science bandwagon" but have little in the way of advanced courses in any of the sciences.
So as the "pandemic" rolls to close out 2020 I plan to end the year exactly as I started it. Getting outside...getting dirty.... procuring and preparing as much of my own food as possible... spending time with my kids and Sandy the dog... kissing a beautiful woman square on the mouth.... jumping rope in a tabata fury.... soaking up Florida sun.... slinging kettle bells... and not wearing a mask. And most importantly ending the year with even more gratitude than I started it! Gratitude for all the great time I was given to be with my kids and even Sandy the dog in 2020. Gratitude for growth, for strength, for challenges and for the circle of life.
To close out today's blog take a look at these precious moments of my youth hunters as they participate in the circle of life!