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Born to Hunt

Born to Hunt

If you’re a road runner, triathlete or trail runner, you’ve likely read or know someone that’s read the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. Even if you’re not an endurance junkie, it’s a fascinating story about human potential and worth checking out.

Although there’s no question McDougall took creative liberties in telling the story, he brought to light some fascinating information that, in my opinion, didn’t get the attention it deserved.

As the book title suggests, he makes the case that humans were born to run. That we don’t need fancy shoes, shorts, shirts, energy gels, or anything superfluous to run farther or for longer durations than most would think possible. It’s an alluring theory, and one based on some compelling scientific evidence.

Anthropological data supports the fact we’ve been foraging, scavenging, and hunting for a minimum of 2.6 million years. Initially we likely would have scavenged and foraged more than we hunted. However, we have archeological evidence that shows our human ancestors were consuming large animals like wildebeest and kudu 1.9 million years ago. This was before we had conceived of weapons like bows or even rudimentary spears.

“How did we manage to kill these animals without any tools or weapons? We ran them to death.”

How did we manage to kill these animals without any tools or weapons? We ran them to death. Literally. Or at least that’s one of the leading theories amongst the anthropological and evolutionary biology communities.

Drawing on the work and of many highly regarded researchers, in Born to Run McDougall suggests that, because of numerous physical characteristics still present in our bodies today, early humans were uniquely specialized and highly capable long-distance runners. Better in fact than any other mammal on the planet.

So, in the absence of the power and killing ability of a big cat, or the intelligence to build tools like a spear, we learned we could outlast just about any animal and run them to exhaustion.

Once fully exhausted, we simply walked up to the animal, and with a rock and a swift knock to the head, we had meat. This is called persistence hunting. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s a rabbit hole worth descending.

“McDougall’s widely embraced conclusion was that our ability to run long distances was central to human evolution.”

McDougall’s widely embraced conclusion was that our ability to run long distances was central to human evolution. Running allowed us to eat more meat and, because of that, our brains grew, we got smarter, and evolved to where we are today.

But, here’s where it gets interesting. One of the researchers behind this theory, and one often quoted in McDougall’s book, is Dr. Daniel Lieberman of Harvard University, an evolutionary biologist.

He not only believes that our unique physical characteristics and capabilities were crucial to our success as a species but that our abilities as hunters and gatherers, as much as runners, produced significant advancements in our cognitive abilities as well. In his book The Story of the Human Body he writes:


“Today few people know much about the animals and plants that live around them, but such knowledge used to be vital. Hunter-gatherers eat as many as a hundred different plant species, and their livelihoods depend on knowing in which season particular plants are available, where to find them in a large and complex landscape, and how to process them for consumption.

Hunting poses even greater cognitive challenges, especially for weak, slow hominins. Animals hide from predators, and since archaic humans couldn’t overpower their prey, early hunters had to rely on a combination of athleticism, wits, and naturalist know-how. A hunter has to predict how prey species behave in different conditions in order to find them, to get close enough to kill them, and then to track them when wounded.

To some extent, hunters use inductive skills to find and follow animals, using clues such as footprints, spoor, and other sights and smells. But tracking an animal requires deductive logic, forming hypotheses about what a pursued animal is likely to do and then interpreting clues to test predictions. The skills used to track an animal may underlie the origins of scientific thinking.”

In plain English, Dr. Lieberman is suggesting that hunting especially was such a taxing cognitive test that it was instrumental in the development of our brains, intellect, and therefore survival and expansion as a species.

So, although it’s easy to find information and research that definitively links the consumption of meat to the advancement of our brainpower, it appears that the activity (hunting) that led to that meat consumption was equally critical to our cognitive development.

The point being, McDougall popularized the evolutionary basis for our ability to run long distances. But to me, the more important question is, why did we bother running in the first place? We were hungry.

Running alone costs the body a lot of energy. These days, it’s perfectly normal to run for the sake of burning energy. In ancestral times, this was not the case. Everything we burned had to be replaced via foraging, scavenging, or hunting. Otherwise we’d eventually die of starvation. Every minute of energy output had to be weighed against the potential reward for doing so.

At some point in human history, we realized that the sustenance we were foraging didn’t sustain our energy stores the same as the meat we were scavenging. But, that scavenged meat was opportunistic. We didn’t have full control over that energy source. So, we took control and started hunting. Unsuccessfully at first, but we eventually got damned good at it.

In summary, what I’m trying to point out here is that we weren’t just born to run. The physical characteristics that allowed our ancestors to successfully persistence hunt were and still are unique to the human species. But we needed a good reason to expend that energy and test those physical abilities to their limit. And that was to hunt.

So, when you hear someone from the hunting community say, “We all come from hunters”, that’s not because they want everyone to start hunting. Nor is it to suggest that everything we humans once did should therefore be acceptable. Our history books are full of examples of past behaviors that should never be repeated.

What they are saying—whether they realize it or not—is that a lot of compelling evidence suggests that who we are today is deeply rooted in our hunting ancestry. And, as much as modern life couldn’t be more different than the hunter-gatherer lifestyles of early hominins, it’s hard to look anywhere in the health or fitness realm without seeing some reference to paleo, ancestral, natural, organic, or free range.

For many people, those terms resonate, and for good reason. But is it such a stretch to suggest hunting should be an equally respected part of that same discussion? If you look at the evidence and history of our species, it’s tough to dismiss the importance of hunting.

Bear Meat is Better Than You Think – Try This Recipe Today!

Bear Meat is Better Than You Think – Try This Recipe Today!

Is there a more contentious game meat than bear? 

The modern stigma that surrounds the consumption of this well documented staple (historically speaking) of many Northern Hemisphere diets—Canada, USA, Russia, and many Scandinavian countries to name a few—is awash in hyperbole and misinformation. 

“They’re full of worms!” 

“You’ll get trichinosis!”

“They taste like rotting fish!”

“You feed that to your kids!”

The truth is, like any meat, the edibility, flavor and palatability of bear meat will be highly dependent on the environment it came from, the handling practices of the meat itself, and of course, how it’s prepared.

If people were to put the same effort into researching the culinary history of bear meat as they do posting their disgust and outrage about it on social media, they might be surprised by its prevalence and acceptance around the world. Siberian bear pelmeni (dumplings), Slovenian bear goulash, Finnish canned bear (basically bear Spam) …I could go on. I even found an article on The Atlantic website titled Bear: A Meat Worth Trying.

To be clear, there are precautions that need to be taken in terms of trichinosis and not all bears will taste the same. But a quick online search for the CDC or Mayo Clinic trichinosis prevention guidelines will keep you safe. But the same applies for chicken and pork you buy at the grocery store.

As for taste, it’s not complicated. A deer (or cow) that lives on a diet of corn, soybeans, acorns and alfalfa is going to taste very different from a different deer (or cow) that lives on free-range grasses and forbs. It follows that a mountain or forest dwelling bear that lives off the typically omnivorous and seasonal diet of grasses, forbs, berries, deer/moose/elk calves, small mammals like marmots, and carrion will most likely make for great table fare. A bear that feeds heavily on dead and decaying migrating salmon, may not.

I am good friends with numerous chefs that hunt and many have come to love black bear meat for its versatility, and frankly, availability. Black bears are plentiful across much of North America and represent a quality source of organic protein when taken from the appropriate habitats at the appropriate time of year and handled with care (like any meat).

When working on this article, I reached out to one these chef buddies of mine and asked, out of curiosity, what his favourite bear recipe was, hoping he’d provide an example of the versatility of bear meat. He didn’t bat an eye: bear curry. Having tried his bear curry recipe before, I wasn’t surprised. My entire family loved this dish. 

So, below you’ll find his recipe and instructions for preparing this meal, and to be clear, bear is not necessary. You can substitute the bear for lamb, bison, beef or any wild game for that matter. The best cuts to use would be a braising cut like neck or shoulder.

*Recipe and Photos Credit Connor Gabbott

Photo By: Connor Gabbott

Ingredients:

1” Diced bear meat 3.5lbs

Vegetable oil as needed

Onions 2 (medium size)

Garlic cloves 6

Ginger One 4-inch piece

Thai bird chilies 2 (based on personal preference)

Bay leaves, dry 2

Curry powder 2 Tablespoons

Cumin powder 1 Tablespoon

Turmeric powder 2 Teaspoons

Low sodium chicken stock 2 Liters

Diced tomatoes 1 can (400ml)

Sour cream ¼ cup (don’t buy the light version)

Salt 2 Tablespoons (personal preference, could be 2-3 tablespoons)

Water As needed

Preparation:

  1. In a large heavy bottom pot, heat up a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium heat until the oil spits and pops when you put a piece of meat in.
  2. Once the oil is hot, scatter a single layer of diced bear meat over the bottom of the pot and allow it cook undisturbed for 2-3 minutes or until the meat is brown on one side. See the picture below showing how much meat goes in the pot at one time and the amount of browning you want on the meat.
  3. Flip the meat over and brown the other side.  Adjust the heat if necessary so that the meat is slowly browning and not burning.
  4. Take the meat out of the pot and repeat the browning steps with the rest of the meat in batches.
  5. When you remove the meat place it into a strainer so that the excess oil has a chance to fall off.
  6. Wipe the excess oil out of the pot with a paper towel or if the pot is burnt on the bottom wash the pot
  7. Place a couple more tablespoons of fresh vegetable oil into your clean pot and put it back on medium heat.
  8. When the oil is hot again, put your chopped onions into the pot and cook while stirring them until the edges start to brown. About 5-10 minutes depending on the heat. See the picture below for what to look for.
  9. Add in your chopped ginger, garlic, bay leaves and chilies and cook while stirring for 2 minutes.
  10. Add in the spices and stir for 30 seconds.
  11. Add the chicken stock and the bear (or other) meat to the pot, turn the heat to high and bring it to a simmer. Take a minute to scrape any brown bits off the bottom of the pot so these don’t burn as the curry cooks.
  12. Simmer the curry for 2½ – 3 hours or until the meat is tender when you eat it. If the meat becomes exposed as the sauce reduces, add some water to keep the meat covered the entire time
  13. Once the meat is tender, add in the can of diced tomatoes and simmer for another 20 minutes.
  14. Turn off the heat and mix in the salt and the sour cream until it dissolves.
  15. Taste the curry and adjust the salt and spices to your taste. The finished curry should look like the picture below.

About Curtis Adams

Curtis is a jack of all trades and master of none. He is a freelance writer, film maker and avid outdoorsman that calls B.C. home, and is a sought-after ghost writer in the cooking, branding, and business community. He doesn’t use social media.