October 08, 2021
Walking through my den the other day, I couldn't help but smile as my two adult sons—both home to visit for a couple of days—sat and sketched out their meal plans for an upcoming western big-game hunt.
I was all smiles because I vividly remember my first bowhunting adventure out West when I was their age, full of confidence that I could conquer any mountain in front of me. Give me some quick-to-heat ramen noodle packages, some granola bars, a bit of trail mix, and a good selection of Old Trapper Old Fashioned Beef Jerky and all was good in the world.
These days, as age, maturity, and the push of time against my middle-aged body has demanded it, I'm a little more careful about the food choices that find their way into my pack. The beef jerky is still very much there, but all of the other stuff is generally gone as I've had a few health problems surface over time. Put simply, today I'm a bit choosier about what I fuel my body with, focusing less on calories and more on better nutrition.
That word right there—nutrition—has become a frequent focal point in my life, and not just because it makes my doctor happy. It's also because it makes me feel better and enables me to keep getting up hours before sunrise, find my way to a frigid treestand, and spend all day bowhunting during the height of the November rut.
In other words, when it comes to the hunting fuel—or nutrition—that I put into my backpack, my blind bag, or my hunting vest these days, it generally follows the concept of you get out of your body exactly what you put in.
With that in mind, here are a few thoughts about nutrition for the deer hunter, four concepts centered around one thing to avoid and three things to carefully stow away in a hunting pack. While not foolproof rocket science—and certainly not based on my medical expertise, or lack thereof—it serves me well today, no matter what the altitude happens to be at my hunting camp.
Lose the Double Cs
In the early days of my hunting career, you were likely to find oatmeal pies, powdered doughnuts, and candy bars. While I'll freely admit that those things still taste pretty good even to this day, they offer virtually no nutritional value, are filled with unwanted saturated fats and trans fats, and end up leaving me experiencing an energy crash when the sugar fix wears off.
In short, if you are what you eat, then you don't want to be eating these things steadily when you're going to spend a large amount of time in the woods. You need enough calories to get your body through the day of course—keep in mind that your calorie needs will vary greatly depending on when, where, and how you are hunting—but you'll want to avoid overdoing it in the calories and carbs department.
Simply put, make sure that your calorie and carb choices are good ones, healthy fuel to help sustain a day in the woods.
That's why you'll find a sandwich in my pack constructed from whole grain bread, lean turkey, mustard, and some lettuce and tomatoes. Peanut butter isn't too bad, nor is almond butter, but go easy on the sugary overload of jelly, no matter how good it tastes. And instead of a bag or two of regular potato chips, opt for fruit and vegetables or baked chips instead.
Why such a fuss here? Well, besides the unhealthy possibilities of upping cholesterol levels in some and leading to the brink of diabetes in others, a steady diet of high-calorie, heavy-carbohydrate food can make you feel sluggish to the point that you might want to take a mid-morning snooze. That might be OK in your easy chair at home watching the big gridiron game of the week, but it's not what you want when you're strapped into a treestand 20 feet up in the air and hoping to be awake and alert when Mr. Big comes sauntering by.
Pack Away the Protein
If you want to be alert and focused when the shot opportunity of the season—heck, maybe the shot opportunity of a lifetime—comes calling in the deer woods, eating and snacking on protein-rich foods can help boost your mental sharpness, help rebuild muscle fiber that has suffered on arduous hikes and limited sleep, and help fuel you body for the long hours spent on the stand.
That's where a power-packed protein-rich snack food like the beef jerky products made by Old Trapper come into play, items that often find their way into my deer-hunting pack, duck-hunting blind bag, or even my upland-bird hunting vest.
Made by the Oregon-based company founded in 1969, Old Trapper is lean and mean, not to mention great tasting, thanks to the company's ongoing commitment to high-quality meats, real wood, real smoke, and a low and slow process that leaves their meat products being tender and oh so good.
The Forest Grove, Oregon, company got its start with the time-honored traditional recipe that they use to make the Old Fashioned Beef Jerky mentioned above, but they've hardly rested on their laurels in the five decades since beginning their business in a humble Beaver State grocery store.
Today, the Old Trapper meat-making way produces a number of lean jerky and meat products, various seasonings ranging from sweet to spicy, and all of the natural goodness that customers have come to expect while giving their taste buds a real treat in the woods.
The jerky delivers plenty of nutritional value, too, since the Old Fashioned flavor features individual servings that are low in calories (70 per serving), low in carbs (6 grams per serving), and filled with protein (11-grams per serving).
If standard jerky is what you're looking for, give the Old Fashioned traditional flavor a try, because it's as good as beef jerky gets. So, too, is the Old Trapper Teriyaki Beef Jerky, Old Trapper Peppered Beef Jerky, the Old Trapper Hot & Spicy Beef Jerky, or even the Old Trapper Zero Sugar Beef Jerky.
If you want something more like a cut of steak, try out the Old Trapper Old Fashioned Kippered Beef Steak, the Old Trapper Peppered Kippered Beef Steak; or the Old Trapper Teriyaki Kippered Beef Steak.
And if your taste buds yearn for something else, try the Old Trapper Original Deli Style Beef Stick, the Old Trapper Original Beef & Cheese Snack Stick, or even the Old Trapper Pepperoni Sausage Stick.
Load Up on Seeds & Nuts
Years ago, the thoughts of many were that fats in most forms were bad for your health. While there are still fats that you want to avoid with your diet—here's looking at you trans and saturated fats—we now know that the human body needs healthy fats to work properly.
Certain nuts and seeds are often good additions to your snacking choices, you'll always find me with a bag of cashews, almonds, walnuts, or sunflower seeds stashed away in my hunting pack.
Besides helping reduce the risk of heart disease, such products can help lower bad cholesterol levels, improve the lining of your arteries, lower levels of bodily inflammation, and help reduce the risk of blood clots.
How do they do that? By adding unsaturated fats, Omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, Vitamin E, plant sterols, L-arginine, and more to the body. Suffice it to say, nuts and seeds are a great way to power up the nutrition levels in your body during an afternoon deer hunt.
Just be careful to not cancel out the healthy benefits of eating nuts and seeds by packing away heavy-salted choices, sugary-glazed products, or chocolate-covered nuts.
When it comes to keeping your body primed for hunting adventures, one of the most important things you can do is to stay properly hydrated. And keep in mind that like a football coach friend of mine says, if you wait until game day to try and hydrate, it's too late.
Keep in mind that it's also important to make sure that you're putting in some quality liquid that is going to help your body do more than simply wash down a few spicy bites of a snack product like Old Trapper Jalapeno Deli Style Beef Sticks. While an occasional soft drink or alcoholic beverage won't hurt too much, water is a better choice since it hydrates and keeps you from loading up on beverages high in carbs and calories.
While plain old water is good, I'll admit that the taste can get boring when that's all you ever drink. That's why I'll often add some sort of low-sugar electrolytes drink mix to my water bottle, or more recently, a product like the Fuel packets from Mossy Oak Wellness, the Ignite packets from Mtn Ops, or the Hydrate & Recover packets from Wilderness Athlete. The Vitamin C stick packs you get at your local box store will work well too, giving your body a dose of vitamins and minerals—along with hydration—all keys in helping us stay healthy in these challenging times.
How do you know if you're staying properly hydrated? In general, healthy adults will need four to six cups of water per day, although that can vary due to daily needs, medicinal intake, and health conditions.
You'll also have a fair idea that you're hydrated properly since your urine will tend to be clear or light in color, along with finding yourself a pound or two lighter after a hard day on the mountains or in the woods. But if you find yourself thirsty, tired, lethargic, dizzy, confused, unusually sore, or with darker than normal urine, those are fair indications that your body is not hydrated properly.
One key thought here—as with any of the thoughts in this story and with anything related to your health and daily nutritional needs—is to be sure and discuss this with your doctor if you have nutritional and/or health concerns.
The bottom line is that hunters need to be a little more mindful about what they put into their hunting packs or blind bags this fall because what you put into your body can play a key role in what you get back.
If you want to make a down payment on future health woes, as well as make sure that you're tired, grumpy, and sore, head for the donut aisle at the local convenience store.
But with a little extra thought and dedicated shopping effort, you can turn the tables on poor nutrition, even during a long autumn day spent hunting in the November deer woods!