Last November, outside of Craig, Colo., Brazilian-born Leo Zacharias removed a loaded .45-caliber pistol from his belt and handed it to his girlfriend, Colorado native Stephanie Loveless. If the strange man she was being left behind with tried anything, Zacharias told Loveless, she must defend herself.
When Zacharias tells the story nowadays, his girlfriend laughs it off. For someone who wasn’t in that situation, it seems over-cautious to hand a girl a loaded weapon in the event she has to defend herself from a day-glow clad hunter from Colorado Springs.
But a few hours before the handoff, Zacharias had just shot his first elk — a cow, or female. And not so long after the wounded elk dashed into the brush, another hunting party had shot her again. She was dead, and Zacharias and Loveless, two Boulder residents who had never done anything like this before, found themselves arguing with three strangers, all holding guns, over who the elk’s rightful owner was.
Loveless and Zacharias may not be part of a large movement, per se, but they certainly could be. Their hunting trip was a result of a growing distrust of industrial agriculture, grocery-store meat, and the source of much of the food they ate.
“Over time, learning where meat comes from, I got to the point where I was like, ‘I don’t want to eat the meat from stores anymore,’” says Loveless. “You can be in control of all of your food, if you put the right kind of thought into it.”
They have space to plant a small garden, but not room to raise livestock, chickens or goats.
Loveless has had an interest in food sustainability for years, she says. In college, she started picking apples off the trees in the neighborhood and canning them.
After a trip to Montana to see her father, where she shot a gun for the first time, Loveless decided she would take the idea of providing her own food a step further. She ate meat, and she realized she needed to know what it was like to kill an animal.
“My mom would say, ‘I can’t believe you are going to kill animals,’” Loveless says. “‘The thing is,’ I would say to her, ‘You’re killing animals, too, just not with your own hands.’ It comes from some CAFO [Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation.”
But the decision to hunt her own food didn’t simplify things. You can’t just buy a gun and wander into the wilderness and shoot a plate of sausage.
“We didn’t know what the hell we were doing,” says Loveless. “We watched YouTube videos and went to hunter safety. We actually spent a lot of time at Bass Pro Shop — more than I was comfortable with.”
Loveless and Zacharias bought guns, equipment, took a safety course, and got licensed. All told, they spent upwards of $6,000 just preparing to go out and hunt. And, best-case scenario, that only gets you a carcass.
You need to know what to do with the body.
Loveless learned how to cure meats — think salami — at Il Mondo Vecchio, a meat processing company in Denver with an emphasis on sustainable and regional food sources. She read books, like Primal Cuts, by Melissa Guggiana, about how to butcher animals, where to find choice cuts of meat, and what to do with them.
The tense hunting trip last November resulted in about one-third of a full-grown female elk for Zacharias and Loveless. They came to an agreement with the other hunting party that had shot the animal to share the meat and had hauled the carcass, piece by piece, out together.
“We ended up being friends with the other hunters,” says Zacharias. “They were cool.”
Loveless and Zacharias butchered and processed the meat themselves. They still have a freezer full.
And she now knows what it’s like to kill an animal.
“Three days after we first ate our elk steak, we’re sitting there, and we’re really enjoying it, and then we started to cry,” says Loveless. “We said, ‘Three days earlier, [the elk] was running around,’ and that did it. We were in tears.”
Theo Romeo is executive editor for Cleanenergyauthority.com.