When it comes to hunting on a homestead, I think there may be this romanticized view of it. There is this idea that a bit of land can be obtained and that a person can easily live off it with the available resources.
Homesteading is a lot of work but the problem with the above idea is that resources are not equal across all land, some areas have more than others. This becomes even more of an issue when an individual wants to live off their land through hunting.
I have encountered a misconception among some people several times where they think once they leave the city and are in the “country,” that wild game populations are much higher than they actually are. This error in knowledge breeds two lines of thought.
The first is that they think these animals are evenly spread across all areas and therefore it does not matter where their plot of land is located.
Secondly, the belief is that wild game can be hunted all the time and as much of it can be taken as they need.
Anyone who has ever spent even a minimum amount of time hunting in their life knows that the first thought is obviously false. A person can spend an entire day sitting in or scouring through one location and never come upon a single animal. Yet, if they travel five miles down the road, there seems to be wild game everywhere.
The second belief comes with its own set of complications. To start, there are very few places, where a person can go out and hunt at any point in the year. Here in the US, hunting is a strictly regulated activity.
Landowners do have some leeway or privileges in certain situations but overall, they too must abide by the hunting seasons and regulations that are in place.
Not only is it regulated as to when you can hunt but also how many of a particular species can be harvested. The length of a hunting season and the number of species a person can harvest daily or for the season changes every year. These two regulations are dependent on a couple of factors, but it is primarily based off that species population.
Without Hunting Regulations
Let’s imagine for a moment that you lived in an area where hunting regulations did not exist. You, and everyone else, could hunt year-round and take as much as you want because no laws are saying otherwise. Generally speaking, this is a recipe for disaster. I’ll give you two broad and possibly extreme, examples of what I am talking about.
In 2017 there were roughly 33 million whitetail deer in the US and a human population of over 300 million. That doesn’t even come out to one deer per person. If every person in the US tried to go out and get just one deer, the deer population would be wiped out overnight.
For the second example, I am going to go back in time just a little bit and this one always astonishes me. In the early 1800s, it is estimated that there were fifty to sixty million bison in the United States. By the end of the century, their numbers had been reduced so much that they were almost extinct. Overhunting does not appear to be the only cause of this, but it certainly was a significant part of it.
So, even if you live somewhere where someone is not looking over your shoulder, it can certainly be detrimental to your way of life if you do not use sustainable hunting practices.
I think it might help to start this section by quickly defining what sustainable hunting is. I believe the simplest explanation is this, sustainable hunting involves employing practices that maintains or grows a species population.
Here is a quick, oversimplified example. Let’s say a plot of land can only support five whitetail deer. You only require one to make it through the year, but you would feel more secure if you had as much as possible stocked away.
Are you going to harvest only one or all of them at once? If you want the population to be maintained you are only going to harvest what can be replaced every year, meaning you should only take what you need.
As sustainable hunting pertains to your homestead there are two questions you should ask yourself.
Do you want to be able to live off the meat you hunt?
Or, do you merely want to supplement your diet by hunting once in a while?
The answer you come up with is important because it will determine the hunting methods you choose and what type of animals you will be harvesting.
Land Area and Animal Size
The first thing that needs to be figured out is if the homestead even has enough land for hunting. A two-acre plot, for example, is not going to be enough to hunt on. Most of the land will be occupied by the home, outbuildings, vehicles, livestock, crops, etc.
Sure, you may get lucky with the stray rabbit or possibly something larger wondering onto the property, but it is difficult to rely on that as a sustainable source of meat. To hunt sustainably, you will need as much land as possible. More land means more habitat which means more wild game.
The second thing that must be considered is the type of wild game available in your region. If you live in a region that primarily has small game, it may be more difficult living off that because it will require more work in harvesting larger numbers.
According to the USDA, a person needs almost two and one-half pounds of lean meat per week (based on a 2,000 per day calorie intake) 2.5lbs of meat multiplied by fifty-two weeks comes out to 130lbs of meat per year per person. Of course, this amount will vary depending on the person and their lifestyle, but it provides a good starting point.
Living off the land with hunting becomes much more doable in the presence of large game such as deer, bear, elk, and moose because you may be able to get by harvesting only one of these animals a year.
To be on the safe side, you would probably want to harvest two whitetail deer a year because after they are processed, they usually yield less than one hundred pounds of meat.
Here is a general rule of thumb you can use to gauge how much meat to expect from an animal. Whatever the animal’s weight is pre-processed, you can expect 40%-50% of that weight to be the meat you get out of it. This is not an absolute figure, and it can certainly change depending on the type of animal, but again it will provide an estimate.
With that in mind let’s take a look at a few common animals that are here in the United States and the amount of meat you can expect out of them. I obtained the following numbers by looking up the average weight of the animal and calculated a 40%-50% yield based on that number.
Please keep in mind that these are rough estimates and not a guarantee. Real-world results may be lower or higher. Also keep in mind that how an animal is processed and what is used from the animal will impact the yield you get.
· 150lb whitetail deer will yield between 80lbs-100lbs
· 395lb black bear will yield between 158lbs-197lbs
· 617lb elk will yield between 247lbs-308lbs
· 892lb moose will yield between 357lbs-446lbs
This may have seemed obvious before but by laying out the numbers you can easily see that the larger the animal is, the less of them you will need to harvest per year.
Supplementing your diet with wild game is going to be much, much easier because it will not require as many animals to be harvested from the land. You can simply fill in the gaps with meat from the store or purchase meat from a local farmer.
How to Hunt Sustainably
Once you have decided if the animals in your region are the right fit for your lifestyle, you will next need to figure out what the animal’s population is like. There are two ways to determine this.
The first and best way is to contact your local Department of Natural Resources. They should be able to give you a good idea of a species population in your region or at the very least they can direct you to a resource that can.
The second way is for you to go out and scout your land to visually observe what animals are present and in what numbers. Without a proper tracking program in place, this can be difficult to obtain accurate numbers, especially with smaller animals. However, when you are doing this be sure to note defining features of an animal so that you are not counting them more than once.
Once you can obtain accurate numbers of the species on your property or area, you can then make an informed decision for the best hunting practices on your homestead.
Manage Your Land
Sustainable hunting isn’t just about how many animals are harvested from a property. Another aspect of it is land management. This requires a landowner to be informed about the resources on the property as well as what is going on across the property at all times. Protecting and nourishing resources such as water, food, land, and habitat, will give species a better environment in which to thrive.
This includes adjusting or even getting rid of plans the landowner may have for the property if those plans negatively impact the available resources.
Of course, what a landowner does on their property doesn’t always affect just them but can affect a species population in the area. Therefore, it is good to have positive, working relationships with your neighbors so that you can work together collectively to promote good land management practices on a larger scale.
Given the right location, one person may be able to sustain themselves on a homestead through hunting where meat is concerned. However, supplementing a diet with wild game is a more realistic approach, especially for smaller homesteads that may not have the land resources to support large populations of game.
Overall, living off wild game alone can be difficult due to hunting seasons and regulations. To be successful, every season should be taken advantage of with a harvest of large, medium, and small wild game.
Whether a person is looking to solely live off wild game or to simply add to their diet, sustainable hunting and land management practices should be used. Doing so will help to keep future populations of wild game on the homestead for years down the road.
Thanks for reading and I hope this article helped you to begin thinking about sustainable hunting on your homestead.