In today's world, is it possible to live 100% off the land? Daniel says the prospect of procuring all of your food from the wild would be very difficult nowadays. Although he is a skilled modern day hunter/gatherer, he isn't trying to live exclusively off the land. Instead, Daniel sources as much as he can on his own, filling his freezer with meat and stocking up on vegetables, plant foods, wild rice, seaweed, maple syrup and other things he can find on the landscape. Whatever is lacking is then purchased at farmers' markets or the supermarket. Looking back at a time when people actually did live entirely off the land, Daniel says things were different and those people were able to forage and hunt on massive expanses of land with different ecozones and ecotypes. Those people didn't run into no trespassing signs or Wal-Marts, he says, so the possibilities in terms of foraging and hunting for 100% of your food were more realistic then. Daniel doesn't come to the table with the goal of getting all of his food from the woods, instead it's a personal lifestyle choice and he hopes by sharing it he can inspire others to dabble in it as well.
Although he's well versed in hunting, fishing and foraging, Daniel says that hasn't always been the case. He spent a decade living a vegan lifestyle and it wasn't until his 30's that he started hunting. Once exposed to hunting, Daniel says he took to it quickly because his interests are in wild food in general - hunting, fishing, foraging - the whole package. Daniel says he represents, in some ways, a lot of the new recruitment into hunting today. Many people are coming to hunting with their motivation rooted in food, nutrition and health rather than hunting as a tradition or legacy. Daniel says he was blessed to find good mentors to teach him and guide him when he was first starting out and with those skills he has been able to be meat independent ever since. When it comes to foraging and plants, Daniel says that is something he has been practicing longer than hunting. He notes it also tends to be more complex. Like with hunting, having a good field guide and/or mentor to show you the ropes of foraging is important. Learning to identify edibles, knowing where to look for them, avoiding toxic look alike plants - all of these are easier with the help of a mentor. There are certain plants, however, that don't take training to identify, Daniel says. Things like blueberries, raspberries and wild strawberries are easy to positively identify and for that reason, he says fruits are a great place to start. Daniel says a lot of hunters out there don't know much about foraging and he hopes to be able to inspire those hunters to start utilizing some of the other things that are on the landscape. These hunters are already out there, he says, and there are a lot of amazing plant foods they could get access to that they would really enjoy, that would also complement the meat and fish they already harvest.
White-tailed deer are by far the most popular big game animal in the United States, but Daniel says there is another animal that should sit at the top of the heap for meat quality. Bear meat may be one of the best meats in the woods and also one of the most underutilized, he says. There are a lot of myths that surround the quality of bear meat, however he has yet to find any truth to them. Having hunted, killed and eaten many black bears of varying age ranges, young to old, he says with confidence it's probably the most underappreciated game meat. Daniel says the meat is delicious, but notes the fat shouldn't be overlooked. He likes to render down the bear fat to make great cooking oil that he can use year-round at home. Bear fat, in particular, is something that has historically made bears valuable. Daniel says we likely under appreciate the degree to which early European settlers relied on bears to survive and that's because of their fat content. The reason that humans love fats and sugars, he says, is because we have a biological imperative to find them because they are the most difficult things to secure in the wild environment. Today we have access to more than enough fats and sugars, however back in a time where food was more difficult to come by and had to be hunted and gathered exclusively, those fats and sugars weren't as readily available. When those early people were able to find a food source that was also a good source of fat, like bears, they relied on it for essential calories to get them through the winter. Today we likely don't appreciate bear meat and bear fat in the ways that people of more modest times did.
Finally, Daniel talks about foraging opportunities available right now. Winter foraging can be fairly bleak as most plants are dormant. However, there are still some options available to those who are willing to get out and try. First, Daniel says one of his favorite things to forage for this time of year is a mushroom exclusive to birch trees called "Chaga". This mushroom looks like a big black canker on birch trees. Daniel says he likes to break these Chaga mushrooms off the tree, take them home, dry and then grind them down. Once ground he then boils them and makes tea. The Chaga mushroom provides a host of great health benefits with powerful immune modulating and anti-cancer properties. It also helps optimize the immune system and is an adaptogen which helps the body adapt better to stresses in its environment. It tastes great, he says, in part thanks to the vanillic acid it contains and more importantly, it's good for you. You can harvest Chaga mushrooms year round, he notes, however during the winter months they are often easier to find as the leaves have all fallen and they don't impede your vision through the timber.
Be a student of nature, fine tune your hunting, fishing and foraging skills and be sure to watch the new series, "WildFed" on Outdoor Channel, Mondays at 7:00 p.m. ET.