Friday, January 11, 2013

Self Sufficiency and the Modern Day Outdoorsman - My Story

I wanted to change it up a little bit today and get philosophical via story telling.  Self sufficiency and sustainability has become more and more popular in recent years.  "The Omnivore's Dilemma" hit shelves in 2006 and, I think, really got the ball rolling for a new sub-culture of hunters and outdoor folks - the kind who strive to live off the land.  This movement is also characterized by a deep seeded respect for the environment and our own bodies. In reality, this idea has been around for a long time - forever really - but the book certainly helped bring it into the limelight. Then came about a million articles from mainstream media, like this one in Food and Wine magazine.  Of course, it uses the word "slaughter" in the title.  If you truly understand hunting for sustenance, you know the word "slaughter" is a naive exaggeration that gives a poor connotation to the practices of most hunters.  Even more recently, the book "A Mindful Carnivore" was published by Tovar Cerulli.  It details his journey from adventurous youth to vegetarian that came full cirlce back  to omnivory.  Now, he is a dedicated, yet mindful hunter and he tackles modern day hunting/eating ethics with a very open mind.  Another of my favorites is "MeatEater" by Steve Rinella, which was morphed into a show on the Sportsmans Channel.  I think I identify with Steve as much as anyone, as his thirst for adventure is well balanced with his immense knowledge base and respect for the outdoors.  His talks and interviews on YouTube are well worth a look.

A January stringer of catfish - well worth the effort to push toward self sufficiency!

Mary May and I were both raised in rural areas and grew up hunting and fishing.  Our families played major roles in teaching us skills of the outdoors.  We always respected our environment and the things in it, but it really wasn't until we moved, in June 2011, that we began contemplating the benefits of being self sufficient.  And there are many benefits - including healthier living, lower food costs and self satisfaction.  We knew that it was going to be a long, difficult, nearly impossible process.

Mary May with her massive, 198 7/8 non-typical she shot as a teen in Massachusetts

Massachusetts trout on a homemade stringer that we cooked over the fire that evening

So, we began with just a few potted vegetable plants since we had missed the beginning of the gardening season by a few months.  Although we are still trying to achieve that "green thumb" status, we aren't brown thumbs either.  We harvested a bunch of tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and herbs that year.  It was a nice start to our larger, long term goals.

Making some homemade wine...not as easy as it looks!

A part of the outdoor lifestyle that is often overlooked is cleaning and butchering

That summer we also began picking berries.  We picked hundreds upon hundreds of blackberries in sweltering heat.  But, the results were well worth it.  We canned about a dozen jars of jam and made numerous other treats, including a delicious blackberry crumble.  We also attempted to make some homemade wine.  It turned out more like red wine vinegar.  Another lesson learned.

The remnants of our homemade blackberry jam in the pantry

Blackberry crumble from scratch...thirds anyone?

At the start of 2012, we began hunting again.  I had not hunted since 2005 and not hunted seriously since a year or two prior to that.  It was a renaissance for me and I loved it.  Our small game season was full of challenges, but it was an undoubted success.  We hunted numerous pieces of state land in central NC and had luck in nearly all of the places we tried.  One of the highlights for me was my first woodcock, which we then turned into a fantastic woodcock hash.  We were eating a meal or so of game every week.  It was a start.

My first woodcock after our first ever hunt in North Carolina

Woodcock hash - bird, mushrooms, potatoes, bacon, onion and garlic

We also changed up our fishing habits.  We spent more trips chasing species to bring home and eat, such as crappie, catfish and white bass.  That too was a success and and even included a number of trophy fish.  Still, we hovered around a meal a week of food we had harvested ourselves.

Mary May with a stringer of sweet stringer of crappie - all over 12"...some nearly 17"

Is there anything better than a later summer fish fry with friends?

In spring 2012 we started our garden again, this time bigger and better than before - albeit still without numerous growing pains.  But it helped contribute to many a side dish or salad and was a peaceful getaway for us, even if only feet from our front door.  Our gardening skills are steadily improving each year and we are quickly learning to cherish each victory, no matter the size.  It also reminds us to appreciate every moment we spend together - both outside in the garden and in life. 

Some delicious squash and squash blossoms from our garden

Then summer came and Mary May bought me a hunting bow for my birthday.  I was incredibly excited.  I had owned bows as a kid, but nothing like this one.  I practice and practiced and practiced.  But when the season came I learned the hard way.  I made just about every beginner mistake a bow hunter can make.  Next year, I will be much better prepared for my early fall bow hunts.  Thankfully rifle season came and I redeemed myself with a doe and a 6-point, late season buck. 

My 2012 buck - not a wall hanger, but a freezer filler

Mary May and I both passed on numerous small doe and a few small bucks this year.  It was the first time I ever remember passing on a deer, but I found myself more than content with those decisions.  I was beginning to get the gist of sustainable hunting.  And by the end of deer season, we were up to 2-3 meals a week via game meat and fish.

Venison loin and mushrooms in a creamy mustard sauce

Now that deer season is done, the small game season has our attention again.  We've already harvested a bunch of squirrels and are headed out this weekend to try for crappie and catfish.  And last weekend Mary May bagged her first woodcock.  I had a chance at a bird of my own, but he would have fallen directly into a river and not been retrievable - that clever sun of a gun must not be a fan of self sufficiency.

Mary May with her first woodcock...hopefully of many

Squirrel pot pie - a delicious traditional Pennsylvania Dutch recipe

We now average about 3-4 meals a week that were hunted, gathered or caught.  It is a good feeling to say the least.  I hope that as time goes by and we continue to learn, both from our mistakes and the advice of others, we can move even closer to self sufficiency.  Part of me believes it is impossible - at least in this day and age.  Part of me thinks it is almost unethical, because I know we would have to harvest a lot of animals to make it happen.  But most of me is connected to our past.  And that past was filled with hunters and gatherers who knew hardships that I never will.  It is a way of honoring them, the land, and ourselves.  Above all, it is built upon the utmost respect for the wildlife that shares this earth with us.  It embraces the idea of taking nothing for granted and, as I mentioned above, cherishing each and every moment in life.

MM with a doe that fell victim to her shotgun

Tight lines!


  1. Drew
    All I can say after viewing the images and reading this post is "YOU ARE ONE LUCKY GUY"--- most woman are very interested in the outdoors such as hunting and fishing while you and her are dating---but after marriage the interest decreases. Thanks for sharing a post!!

  2. I agree with Bill. You're pretty lucky to have a significant other into the same interests. I see many happy years to come.

    1. Bill and Kevin - I couldn't agree more. I am a very lucky guy. Tomorrow we take to the woods again!

  3. Very interesting blog entry. I think you two are "living the dream!"
    harvesting your food...respecting and appreciating where it comes from...making memories along the way...good for you!

  4. This is why I have been following you, great stuff Drew. Have you tried pickling yet? It is a good way to stretch out veggies, plus it tastes great too.

    1. Thanks man! Pickling is on the list of things to learn. Actually we wanted to pickle some cucumbers last year, but just before they were ready to be picked some sort of bug just wiped them out. We only had a few after, so we didn't bother. Next year, I definitely want to try it though.

  5. wow! very good post. I like this post. I have never been hunting before. My uncle invited me to go deer hunting during the next deer season. I think that I am going to go. It will be a fun experience.

    1. Thank you. It is interesting to look back on this post now and see not only how far we have come, but how far we have to go in the future. Hunting is a very powerful thing. For Mary May and I, we love the planning and challenge, because it connects us with the land and resources. But harvesting an animal always pulls at our heart strings. However, after we clean, process, and preserve the animal, we kind of go full cirlce and feel that connection again. It is a very unique and powerful emotion that only hunters understand. And even then, I think many hunters don't ever really grasp the big picture that hunting encompasses. Anyway, I would encourage you to do some deer hunting and see what you think. Cheers!

  6. Drew, I'm totally happy for you. You guys are doing great job. I'm married for 2 years and we've also similar types of combination in every type of works whenever me and my wife would like to do.

  7. Such a great post and great topic. I like this very much. I know that if you are not sharing this,its not possible. It is a best thinking because couple are liking this very much when they are in dating. Thanks for sharing.

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  9. Any time most people hear the phrase "self sufficient," some of us think of farmers and/or living out in the country with acres of property and practically nothing for miles. The truth is any person can enjoy a increased level of self sufficiency when living inside the city with just a modest plot of property.

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