For those who are seriously thinking about using hunting and fishing to contribute to their dinner table, the real question becomes, just how many animals would you need to tag or catch every year in order to feed yourself and/or your family? Everyone is different and consumption of protein varies, however to level the playing field there are general statistics available to get a baseline. The USDA guidelines for daily food intake in a 2,000-calorie diet suggest that people should eat 5 to 6 ounces of lean meat per day. Over the course of a year, that figures out to about 120 pounds per person, give or take. Those numbers are guided by USDA recommendations, and show a more slimmed down portion size than most Americans actually consume. Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 2018 shows that the average person, in reality, eats about 222 pounds of meat per year. Clearly, there is a pretty significant difference between USDA guidelines and what people are really eating. Looking at both the low and high ends of the meat consumption spectrum, for a family of four that means they would eat 480 to 880 pounds of meat per year, or an average of about 680 pounds. That sounds like a lot of meat, and it is!
In order to secure that much meat, you would have to be a smart and savvy hunter and angler. This kind of poundage has to be translated to the game you are pursuing in order to determine how many animals you would need. If you intend to eat a diet with fish as the only protein, then you better get busy because, depending on the species, it would likely take you a good amount of time to catch the 120 to 220 pounds of fillets required to feed just one person. At that point, you would probably violate possession limits. It's more realistic that outdoorsmen and women diversify and look for effective ways to get the bulk of their meat in large hauls and then fill in with smaller game animals and fish for variety. For instance, on average, elk hunters can expect about 220 to 250 pounds of boneless meat from a mature bull or 160 to 180 pounds from a mature cow. Mature mule deer and whitetail deer bucks will provide, on average, 45 to 55 pounds of boneless meat and the does will bring in 40 to 50 pounds. Bears will contribute 40 to 50 pounds to the freezer and pronghorns will offer about 30 to 40 pounds of boneless meat. For a family of 4 that wants to eat wild game exclusively, it's then reasonable to assume that they would need to take several big game animals in order to make their meat last from one hunting season until the next. A deer hunter with a family of four would likely need to tag 12 or more deer in order to sustain his or her family with venison as the single source of protein. A family of four could also take 2 to 3 elk, a couple of deer and fill in the gaps with small game animals and fish. A family of 4 could also take 6 to 8 deer and if they lived in feral hog territory, they could fill in what they are lacking in venison poundage by killing enough hogs to make up the difference. There are a lot of different animal combinations that a person could kill in order to achieve a year's worth of meat depending on where they live and hunt- moose, caribou, elk, deer, antelope, bear, waterfowl, upland birds, small game, fish, etc. A well-stocked freezer with a variety of wild game and fish is a thing of beauty!
At some point, the ability to put that much meat in the freezer comes down to accessibility and affordability. One of the great things about hunting is that, when done right, you can save yourself a lot of money. By hunting the wild game available in your neck of the woods you keep your costs down, learn a lot about the land you hunt and as a result you can tap into a very valuable resource that will feed you for years to come.
So, is it realistic to feed your family with wild game as the exclusive protein? Of course it is! However, feeding a family of any size will require harvesting quite a few animals and that means a lot of time and work will have to go into hunting in order to be successful. Persistence is key. If you are an experienced hunter, good luck to you, I'm sure you'll find success! For all those who aren't experienced, don't let it discourage you. We're glad to have you joining us in the field and on the water! Hunting and fishing aren't always easy and you aren't guaranteed an animal at the end of it. So, reach out to an outdoor savvy friend, learn as much as you can and give it your best shot. Food will never taste as good as it does when you've hunted or fished for it yourself! You can also rest easy knowing that you have the skills required to put food on the table, regardless of what is happening in the world around you.