Sourcing food is one of the most important things my family is focused on. Where does what we eat come from, and how do we get more of it?
Like most people, we used to just go to Whole Foods, buy “healthy stuff” and eat it.
But once the Covid lockdowns hit and the supermarkets emptied, we saw we had no idea how to get more food if the stores were out. We had no direct relationships with ranchers or farmers, no history of buying from them, and no experience sourcing from them (other than farmers markets, which were also shut down).
We were at the mercy of the industrial food system. If it worked, we ate. If it failed, we starved. That’s not going to work for us, and we set out to change it.
But deeper than that, we realized that even when the industrial food system worked, we had no idea what we were eating. Sure, the Whole Foods butcher said its grass fed and no hormones and all that, I’m not calling them liars—but how was that animal raised? How was it slaughtered? What do I really know about its life?
We were completely and totally detached from one of the most important aspects of our lives: our food.
That is not safe or sovereign or spiritually meaningful, and we decided to change that.
The Bison Harvest
We now have several local, sustainable and very healthy sources for meat we can rely on, and I will talk deeply about our entire meat strategy in a different deep dive post.
In this one I want to talk about one specific example of how we source some of our meat: our adventure harvesting a Bison.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t think about harvesting a bison. I mean, who thinks about bison as a meat source, except for maybe a fun thing to order at a restaurant?
Well, I’m lucky enough that my wife knows the wife of Kirk Blanchard, who is the VP of Operations at Force of Nature Meats. He got us in at Roam Ranch, and offered a chance to not just purchase a bison from Roam Ranch, but to actually harvest it ourselves. This was an amazing opportunity, and I was totally in.
[Roam Ranch is a regenerative ranch that focuses on raising Bison. It was started by Taylor Collins and Katie Forrest (the founders of Epic and Force of Nature) as a place they could use to create a new vision of regenerative agriculture in central Texas. I’ve been eating Epic Bars since their launch in 2011, and always been a huge fan of Taylor and Katie and what they do.]
I’m a big believer in eating locally and sustainably and healthy, and I want to have a direct connection to my food. I want to know the animals my family eats, and at a minimum be directly involved in their harvesting–if not raise them and process them ourselves (we do have cows on our property).
BUT–I didn’t want to just do this myself. A huge part of what we’re doing with the Doomer Optimism movement is building a community around our life in Dripping Springs, and food is the ultimate communal activity for humans.
I invited two friends of our families who live near us, Jon Vroman (who runs a group I’m a member of called Front Row Dads), and Hal Elrod (the author of Miracle Morning). Both are friends, but more importantly, both have kids at the same school my kids to go, both live near me, and both part of my direct community.
This is Jon and Hal with me ready to go shoot the bison:
Introduction To The Harvest
When we got to the ranch, Taylor came out to meet us and gave an incredible speech about regenerative agriculture. I wish I’d recorded it. Even the 6 kids–ranging in age from 5 to 13–were captivated by his story about the connection between the land, the animals and us, and how it all works.
I know it’s the fucking WORST when someone says “This thing happened, I can’t remember details, but trust me, it was AWESOME,” but from here on out, it’s going to pretty much be all pictures and video.
(Note, you can hear Taylor and Katie talk about reg ag in depth here.)
Shooting the Bison
When preparing to come, they asked if I wanted to shoot the bison or have them to do it.
I mean, OF COURSE I WANT TO SHOOT THE BISON!!!
So we had a long discussion about what rifle to use, my shooting abilities, and all of that. I won’t bore you with the details, but I agreed to use their 30-06, and prove I could hit dead center on a target 50 yards away with it (which I did with ease) before shooting the bison.
Once that was done, we headed out to take the bison.
Why does all this matter?
Because shooting a bison is unlike any other animal.
First of all, you don’t really “hunt” a bison. They’re not afraid of humans, so you can get pretty close. I mean, look at this, they were right next to us:
This is why it’s called “harvesting” and not called a “hunt.” In a hunt the animals know you are coming to get them, are afraid and have a chance to get away. The bison just stand there eating grass, giving no fucks about you at all.
But it’s not as simple as shooting it anywhere. Most animals I hunt, like a deer, I want to hit it behind the shoulder, mid torso. That gives you the best chance at a quick and fatal organ shot, specifically a heart shot.
For example, you can see in this pic where I took my daughter hunting, the red dot is the bullet entry. That took the buck down very quickly, and it was dead within a minute.
But even if you don’t hit it perfectly, a mid-torso shot with a high caliber hunting rifle will pretty much always kill the animal within 5 minutes or so.
For a bison, you have to shoot it in the head, and you HAVE to make it an INSTANT kill. And you don’t just shoot it anywhere in the head. It needs to be the front, in the middle between between the eyes and the horns, so it can go into the brain stem and ensure a complete and instant nervous system shutdown.
Obviously you don’t want it to suffer, but more importantly, if you don’t kill it instantly, the other bison will destroy the carcass.
Bison are herd animals, and if a member of the herd is injured, they will circle around it and try to protect it while it recovers and gets back up. But if its badly injured and can’t get up, the bison will surround it and gore it and stomp it to kill it, thus making it suffer way more, and ruining the hide and the meat.
Sounds brutal, right?
It is, but there is an evolutionary logic to this. For a herd animal, a weak or badly injured member is often a threat to the whole herd. It can attract predators and threaten the herd.
Taylor and the guides were emphatic about this aspect, and that’s why they were so insistent about the caliber of rifle and my ability to kill the bison with one shot. They’ve seen what happens when it goes wrong, and did NOT want that to happen.
They told me it might take 30 minutes or more to find the right male that was ready to harvest, and that we might have to drive around and around to get a good angle for the shot.
Well, it didn’t work that way at all. We weren’t even through half the herd when we came upon the bull we were supposed to harvest. And not only was it 30 yards away, it turned to us and started walking right towards us.
The guide James said, “You know, sometimes it seems like the bison picks itself.”
I gotta be honest: even though I am a decent shooter, and even though this was an INSANELY CLOSE shot (you can see above that was taken seconds before the trigger was pulled), and even though I’d hit a literal dead center bullseye at 50 yards with that exact rifle not even 10 minutes earlier–I was nervous.
If I didn’t hit the right spot, I was not only going to cause a lot of needless suffering in the bison, I was going to risk screwing up the meat and carcass, and quite honestly–making a mockery of the very thing I was trying to do.
But this is part of growth: recognizing the fear is there, allowing it space to wash over me and pass, then recentering back on my training and my target, and focusing on executing my intent.
I let it pass, then centered the reticle exactly on the right spot, and slowly squeezed the trigger until the explosion shocked me.
His head immediately went down, his knees buckled, and he sunk in a straight line to the ground.
The bullet hit center forehead. He was dead.
I’ve never actually seen an animal die like that before, where they had complete central nervous system shutdown. It was alive one second, then totally gone, before it even hit the ground.
As soon as the shot rang out and the bison went down, the whole herd came over and circled around it.
I know it sounds crazy, but I swear to god it felt to me like they were grieving their fallen friend. It was profound and sad.
Yeah, I know it’s possible I’m just anthropomorphizing them. But I don’t think so. I was this close to them, I was looking into their eyes. I saw feeling in their eyes. Maybe not like a human or at our level of consciousness, but something real was there.
This actually brings up something I’ve struggled with, as a hunter and meat eater. I’ve been around livestock and animals my whole life. I get the argument vegans make, and they are right–animals are conscious beings, at least on some level, and they don’t want to die. That’s just obviously true.
I also know that humans need at least some meat to live a healthy life. Our bodies evolved to eat meat, and using tools to hunt is a huge part of what literally made us human. Most importantly, I like meat, and I feel infinitely better when I eat meat (yes, I have tested it both ways).
I’ve never been able to bridge that contradiction in my mind, until I learned about how most of the North America Indian tribes treated their hunting kills. Speaking in general terms, immediately after a kill, they would pray over their kill, and thank it. They recognized that they were all part of the same system and they placed themselves in that system, instead of the western view that we are different or outside the system (which is obviously just not true).
That was such a profound realization to me, and obviously the right thing to do.
I researched a bunch of the prayers and rituals different tribes around the world used, and then my kids and I developed our own prayer we say after a kill.
As soon as the herd was gone to eat the new hay that Taylor laid out over the hill, all the kids came up and we all gathered around the bison and I led them in prayer.
Here is the basic outline of what our family animal harvesting prayer is, though it always varies somewhat depending on the circumstances or who is saying it:
“We thank you [animal] for giving your life for our sustenance.
We promise to honor you and remember your gift.
We will use your contribution wisely, and will carry part of you with us always.
We wish you well on the next part of your journey, we will see you again, and we promise to repay your kindness when we can.”
Obviously the prayer assumes that all living things have a soul with an energy spirit that carries that soul, and that we’re all connected in a larger system of some sort.
I did not believe that as recently as 5 years ago. Then I did psychedelic medicine, and well…I realized I was wrong (but that’s a different blog post!).
After we said the prayer I cut the carotid artery of the bison, to facilitate a quicker bleed. Here is a video of me cutting the throat–I struggled with it, the bison hide is SO thick and tough I could not believe it (video here).
Then we strung it up by its back legs to be taken over to be processed.
I don’t have video or picture of it, but a bunch of the kids drank the bison blood as it was hanging and draining out. One kid–Jon’s 13 year old son–was very scared of doing it. He finally dipped his finger in the blood, and so tentatively raised it to his tongue, took the tiniest bit–and then had this expression on his face like I’d never seen before. His eyes went wide, his mouth opened, he quickly licked the rest off and then got more.
Later on, the guy who set the whole thing up for me, Kirk, said, “Man, that is the reason we do this. To help kids connect with their past and their genetic birthright as humans. It was so rewarding to see him feel it in his soul.”
Processing the Carcass
If you’ve never actually processed an animal carcass by hand, I HIGHLY recommend it. It might shock you in many (good) ways.
First off, it’s a LOT of work. It’s hard, physical labor, and wears you out.
Second, you’ll quickly realize how divorced you are from the core parts of nature. Cutting up a whole animal is an INTENSE experience that fully centers you on the true nature of food.
Third–if you’re like me–you will enjoy it, realize how much you like doing it, and how much you missed this thing you didn’t even know you missed until you were doing it.
It begins here:
I won’t bore you with every detail, but the first thing you do basically is skin the legs to the armpits, then you cut off the head. It will probably not come as a surprise to you, but cutting off a bisons head is very, very hard:
From there you basically start skinning it. And that takes A LONG TIME.
But man, the kids were super into it. Once I showed them how to do it and all the details, they loved it:
Once it’s skinned, you gut it. That is something to behold, especially with a bison, which is a LARGE ruminant with a huge stomach and intestines to process all the grass it eats:
And of course, the kids were into it:
But they also played around a ton, and had all kinds of typical kid fun, like rubbing bison blood all over their faces and chasing each other around:
Or showing off the bisons heart:
Speaking of hearts, they’re not just showing that off. We EAT that.
It is one of the travesties of modern western hunting that most hunters–and even most meat eaters–don’t realize how absolutely delicious and crucial organ meat is to health.
Every single “primitive” culture in history has prized the organs meats of its animals, specifically the liver, heart and kidneys (and other organs, depending on the animal and the people). I am HUGE believer in whole animal processing and usage, and we not only use the organ meats, we eat the liver right there, FRESH. Liver is quite literally the most potent multivitamin in nature, and in the vast majority of hunting cultures, eating the liver right after the kill is standard practice.
My daughter loves cooking, so we set up a basic camp stove and took some garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper (that I brought), and she helped me sear the bison liver.
You can eat it raw, and two people did. I’m not there yet. I need some sear and some garlic and salt.
Think kids don’t eat liver?
All the kids except one ate some, and several ate a bunch.
This is the bison packed into the back of my truck, to be taken to the processor. We brought three huge coolers and could only get about 60% of the animal in the coolers. I had to buy like 10 bags of ice to dump on the two shoulders you see there to keep them cool to get to the processor. It will end up being about 300 pounds of meat, and each family will get about 100 pounds. I also use the bones and ligaments for bone broth, we are tanning the hide, and mounting the head:
It wasn’t all fun and games. I ended up getting the middle finger on my right cut up pretty badly (it was my own stupid fault):
This is from later on that day, when I stopped at an urgent care. 7 stitches later, I wasn’t kidding when I said I’d never forget the bison:
Overall, it was an incredible day, and I can’t wait to do this again with other people.
“How can I do this?”
If you want to experience this at Roam Ranch, there’s a pretty long wait list for private harvests like what I did, but the bigger public ones are basically the exact same, and way cheaper (only $175, and you get some meat as well).
There’s one coming up in January, then more in Feb and March.
If you know me and want to do a private harvest like this with me and my family, I might be able to get us one more this year (no promises). Email me and we can talk about it.
Just know, this is expensive (well into the thousands for a private harvest where you keep all the meat), but we can possibly put together several families and split the cost (and the meat) like we did this time.
By the way, to be clear–I paid for my experience. They didn’t even ask me to write this, they aren’t giving me a referral fee if you go to Roam Ranch, etc.
They gave me nothing except the opportunity for that awesome experience, which I am deeply grateful for, and to me, it was worth every penny.
The Video & Podcast
There was a crew there to film this for a podcast I was doing. The guys from the Texish Podcast came out and took part (my favorite podcast about Texas, by the way), and we had a great talk afterwards. I am linking the video as well, because my daughter sat in my lap for the podcast and it was actually a super fun talk. The b-roll footage in there shows the harvesting as well.
You can see little cherub stuffing her face with pecans here: