Written by: Brad Fitzpatrick

The rest of the world is catching on to what hunters have known for a long time: wild game is delicious, healthy, and widely available. Here are five reasons why game meat is the ultimate source of lean protein.

The pandemic of 2020 has exposed weaknesses inherent to our nation’s supply chain of fresh foods. One of the first items to disappear from store shelves during the early stages of the outbreak was meat, and many consumers learned a hard lesson about the vulnerabilities of relying solely on store-bought protein to feed their families. Thankfully, supply eventually caught up with demand, but the important takeaway from this short-lived shortfall of food was clear: relying solely on store-bought beef, chicken, and pork leaves us vulnerable in a time of crisis.

Panic buying prompted by the pandemic led many Americans to consider the stability of their food resources. But one group of consumers—hunters—had a distinct advantage over their non-hunting counterparts regarding access to protein. Suddenly, hunting became more than simply sport—it became an effective tool for securing a source of natural, affordable lean meat.

There are lots of reasons to stock your freezer with naturally sourced wild game meat that go beyond basic supply and demand, too. Here’s a look at five reasons why wild game should be a staple in your daily diet.

Wild Game is Hormone and Antibiotic Free: To maximize profits most domestic meat animals—chickens, pigs, and cattle—are kept in concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. CAFOs concentrate animals in smaller spaces for improved efficiency and maximum growth, and to accelerate that growth domestic animals are fed diets of grain and given hormones and antibiotics. While this system is an effective method of producing meat for large human populations, CAFOs rely on unnatural conditions to promote maximum growth in the shortest time span possible. The use of hormones and antibiotics accelerate weight gain, but at what cost?

In 2017, the FDA passed a law requiring that antibiotics that are important in human medicine (and which are also used to accelerate growth in domestic stock) can only be administered by a veterinarian to eliminate antimicrobial resistance to antibiotics important to human health. We’re only just beginning to understand the impact of the hormones and antibiotics used in meat production on those who consume store-bought beef, chicken, and poultry.

In contrast to feedlot animals, wild game is completely hormone and antibiotic-free. By feeding your family wild game you’re ensuring that the meat on your table has never been exposed to products that could adversely affect their health.

Wild Game Meat Is Low in Fat: Heart disease is the number one cause of death worldwide and there’s a clear link between eating diets high in saturated fats and coronary artery disease. To remedy this, doctors often recommend increased exercise and limiting fatty foods, including red meat. However, wild game meat is significantly lower in fat than domestic grain-fed beef and is therefore healthier for the cardiovascular system. 3.5 ounces of grain-fed beef contains about 14 grams of fat, so the average 10-ounce sirloin steak contains roughly a full day’s recommended fat serving. By contrast, venison contains just 1.4 grams of fat per 3.5 ounce serving—a tenth of the fat you’ll consume when eating the same portion of grain-fed beef. Other game is even leaner: moose meat contains just 1 gram of fat per serving. An equal-sized portion of elk meat contains just .9 grams of fat.

You can also substitute other forms of wild game as part of a heart healthy diet. Grain-fed poultry contains 4 grams of fat per serving, and that’s much higher than pheasant (.6 grams of fat per serving). Rabbit is another white meat substitute and contains 3 grams of fat per serving, a 25% reduction compared to chicken. Wild turkey contains just 1.1 grams of fat per serving. Domestic pork is very high in fat (14 grams per serving) and can be replaced with wild boar (1.4 grams/serving), bear (8.3 grams/serving) and waterfowl (4 grams/serving).

In addition to lower fat content, wild game also promotes heart health by encouraging an active lifestyle. Getting outside and pursuing game is one of the best ways to improve fitness and burn calories, and these activities aren’t just limited to hunting season. The time you spend setting up tree stands, scouting for sign, hanging game cameras, and training hunting dog also helps improve overall health and reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease.

Wild Game is Sustainable: Domestic livestock can have a major impact on the environment, and there’s nowhere that’s more apparent than in Africa. While I was in Namibia in 2007 studying the impacts of wildlife game ranching, I was astonished by how little impact wild game had on the native habitat. Whereas cattle grazed selectively on grass and ignored other forage options wild antelope were adapted to feed on a variety of native plants. What’s more, wild game didn’t damage soils like cattle and goats. In fact, there are whole regions in Africa that have become deserts simply because herds of domestic goats have overgrazed native plants and damaged the topsoil, leaving the habitat susceptible to erosion. Here in the United States cattle aren’t as likely to damage vulnerable soils, but cattle do demand more water than wild game. This is particularly problematic in areas with low rainfall where water supplies are already taxed.

Wild game also requires less care than domestic stock. Time and resources must be allocated to maintain cattle, sheep, goats and chickens but wild game doesn’t require fences, feed, or excessive water. The money used to purchase hunting licenses and tags and revenue from the Pittman-Robertson Act (an excise tax on items related to hunting) supports habitat and vital research to ensure that game populations remain stable and healthy.

Hunters Control How Meat is Handled: Unlike most consumers, hunters have complete control over their protein from the time it is killed until it reaches the freezer. This requires some additional work: hunters need to learn how to safely field dress and butcher game, but the cost of setting up your own butchering station will offset the cost of having someone else handle your game and will save money over purchasing store-bought meat. Cost aside, learning to harvest, field dress, butcher, pack and store meat offers the hunter complete autonomy with regard to securing their protein. You’ll never have to rely on the grocery store to provide you with fresh meat, and you’ll never have to question where that meat originated or how it was handled during the period between slaughter and purchasing.

What’s more, learning to butcher your own meat is very rewarding, similar to the feeling gardeners have when they harvest a crop from their own land and use those resources to feed their family. And, as the father of two small children, I believe it’s important for my kids to understand where the food they consume originates. Eating wild game has given my kids a new appreciation of hunting, but it will also make them carefully consider the source of the food that they consume in the future. This will prepare them make better decisions regarding nutrition and health in the long term, and it will also teach them to appreciate and preserve natural resources.

There’s a World of Wild Game Meat You Haven’t Tried: Have you ever eaten a freshly seared, seasoned elk tenderloin? How about a perfectly cooked bear roast? If you’ve never had fresh pheasant with mushrooms and red wine, wild rabbit hassenpfeffer or crispy pan-seared duck breast with cranberry sauce you’re missing out—and you’ll likely never have the chance to taste these delicious meals unless you hunt or befriend a hunter.

Wild game meat cannot be sold legally in the United States, a legislative roadblock set up to curb the rampant and unregulated market hunting that decimated wildlife populations in the United States in the early twentieth century. This means any opportunity you’ll have to eat wild game is limited unless you hunt, and if you don’t hunt you’re missing out on some incredible table fare. I’ve eaten some very good steak, pork, turkey, and chicken, but it would be sad to live in a world where those four meats represented the limits of my protein options. The truth is there’s a wide range of exceptional meat sources in our country that can only be utilized by hunters. And you don’t have to go to exotic locales or spend lots of money to procure excellent meat, either. Dove season opens in most states on September first, and there are few dishes as delicious as fresh dove breast with jalapeno, bacon and sour cream. Squirrel is also excellent if you find a recipe that balances and enhances the meat’s natural texture and flavor (Sporting Chef Scott Leysath’s Braised Squirrel Pot Pie recipe does so beautifully), and cottontail rabbit enchiladas are a staple around my house. I’ve even had wild pigeon breast with mango and bacon that was far superior to any chicken dish I’ve eaten in a restaurant in recent memory. Being a hunter allows you to secure a variety of wild game meats that you couldn’t enjoy otherwise.