The Mini-Van Buck Hunter: Chris Eberhart

What I’m about to say has been a long time coming.

We need to reprogram what we eat and how we live. Humans today are walking and talking habit machines. No, seriously. We’re all guilty of it. Yet, we often fantasize ourselves getting lost fishing on some pristine river, and later frying up a fresh filet. Or better yet, cascading down some burly bike trail in Northern Minnesota. What stops us? For most of us it’s as simple as getting absorbed in our work, our home life or the ever easy Netflix binge. Some might say that’s just how it is — but, it’s time we be true to ourselves. It’s in our Midwestern DNA to connect with the great outdoors. 

It’s early morning. I’m caught up in doing design work and clicked play on the Joe Rogan Experience Podcast. Oftentimes it’s static noise where I jump in and out of his banter. But, for some reason, I couldn’t help but fixate on his guest Mark Sisson — the author of The Primal Blueprint. Think of him as a purveyor of our Paleolithic predecessors some 10,000 years ago. What did they eat, how did they live, etcetera, but his work focuses heavily on their diets as hunter-gatherers. His words sent me off in search of an individual who carries on this primitive way of living right here in the Midwest. It wasn’t long before I struck gold by stumbling across a single photograph.

In this particular shot, there’s a weathered 90’s shaggin’ wagon front and center. A flannel shirt sits draped over the front seat looking to get air dried — and a bow set atop what looks to be a week’s worth of outdoor gear. That’s when I spotted him… like a tractor beam sucking me right into the scene itself. Laying on the floor of this van was the widest rack of a white tail buck East of the Mississippi. Why this buck wasn’t hoisted on top of the van like a prized trophy escapes me.

Either way, there had to be a story behind this hunter.

8a250a03-59eb-4e3b-a793-e2ec89433809

The man with the van is Chris Eberhart. He’s a Michigan native and an expert bow-hunter — following in the footsteps of his father John. When he’s hunting here in the Midwest, Eberhart will spend days on public land in search of the elusive thirty-point buck. His mantra is to hunt as inexpensively as possible — so, he uses his van as both his mode of transportation and pop-up tent. What struck me the most about Chris wasn’t his relentless pursuit to perfect his bowhunting. Rather, his ability to bring hunting full-circle.

Eberhart prepares each meal like the famous Parisian chef Auguste Escoffier. The hunted animal is cleaned, prepped and cooked with the art of haute cuisine. Eh, it’s not the easiest formula to live by, but there’s a lot we can learn from Eberhart’s way of life. So, we sat down with Chris to about his Midwestern upbringing and how hunting is essential to community and conservation.

Let’s dig in.

MWG: Name, vocation and hometown.

Chris Eberhart, Writer – Chief Editor – Small Business Owner, Currently, I live in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, but I consider my hometown Clare, Michigan, where I grew up.

How do you respond when people ask, “what do you do?”

Some people have told me that I am simply a Survival Artist. I have a professional job, but I don’t think that answers the question. The question “What you do?” should be answered with declaring your passion in life. I hunt, travel, and try to experience as much of this world as possible in this very short life. Of course, experiences are only valuable when they can be shared.

Who comes to mind as your greatest influence?

I can’t point to a single person who was my greatest influence. Many people have greatly influenced different aspects and phases of my life. These people are generally ordinary people, who in some way are extraordinary. There are amazing individuals all around if you know where to look. For instance, my father was my greatest hunting influence. I am a lifelong runner and my high school track coach was also very influential. There are many men and women out there who contributed and helped me out along my path.

Chris_Book

Favorite author or book you most often recommend?

I usually recommend the book that I am currently reading. A couple of my favorites are Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, because it is about running and relates our development as humans to our hunting past, A Scavengers Guide to Haute Cuisine by Steven Rinella, because it ultimately about hunting and eating, and God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens, since I believe everyone should at least attempt to challenge their deepest beliefs.  

What’s been the best purchase of yours for under $100?

The thing that immediately comes to mind is actually three things: A knife, and compass, and a lighter. Those three things will keep you alive in almost any situation, and only cost a few bucks.

Preferred spirit or drink to finish a day with?

I am a relatively light drinker, but enjoy a variety of drinks. It usually depends on the situation. At home I like glass of red wine in the evening, preferably a dry pinot noir, or similar. Another option is beer. I worked as brewer a couple decades ago and am fond of craft beer, particularly a good stout.

From what I remember, you often go in search of state land when you hunt in the Midwest. I know you distance run for endurance and eat what you hunt, as well. Describe a day in the life of an Eberhart hunt around the Great Lakes? Favorite spot?  

Hunting around the Great Lakes for me means hunting whitetails. My father, brother and I are about as serious about whitetail hunting as it gets. In fact, we have developed our own way of hunting. (See: Bowhunting Whitetails the Eberhart Way) Every hunt is planned in great detail regarding timing, and proper position regarding a host of factors that revolve around specific behavior patterns of mature bucks. Most of the work for a hunt is done months in advance of the actual hunt, with spring scouting, physical preparation, and detailed planning. On the actual hunt I might be in a tree a mile back in the forest a couple hours before daylight. Usually I stay on stand until at least noon, but will stay all day if I have to. Following that routine for a few days becomes exhausting. There is a period around the end of October and early November that can become very physically challenging. Physical strength and endurance helps mental endurance and resolve, which is the point where most people have difficulty while seriously hunting mature whitetails.

What about the Midwest helped define you? Makes it special?

Many people in the Midwest are deeply connected to the outdoors in a utilitarian fashion. Using the land and the outdoors creates a great appreciation for that land that is different from the virtual world of spectators, so common today. Taking part in the natural world is better than just watching. At no point did humans step outside of nature, and being relegated to just spectating is entirely unnatural. I grew up in a hunting and fishing family that fed itself mostly from game hunted or fished, or grown in the garden. Being privy to making my own food from a young age defined me, and is indeed special.

How would ‘you’ define a Midwestern Gentleman? 

I think a Midwestern Gentleman must be connected to the natural world of the region, and have a passion for life that includes creativity. There also has to be an innate curiosity and sense of wonder about the world. A Midwestern Gentleman will naturally be hard working, pragmatic, and smart in a worldly manner.

Do you ever take anything sentimental with you when you hunt? Better yet, is there something that travels with you on each and every hunt you go on?

I don’t have a sentimental attachment or belief in any kind of talisman. Knowledge about your prey, its behavior, and the environment are far more valuable than any good luck piece. The key to being lucky is to study, prepare, and practice. Of course, there is the mystical experience of the numinous that so many hunters enjoy. I feel this is mainly a response to the great pleasure hunters feel being able to fully follow their natural instincts as humans, to be doing one of the few things where full participation in the natural world is still allowed. The one thing I do carry with me at all times is small photograph of my daughter, but that has nothing to do with hunting.

Outside of the mini-van adventures — What, if anything, has surprised you the most out in the wild? Any close calls on a wild hunt? 

I’ve often been surprised out in the wild. For instance, I have gotten lost in big wilderness in British Columbia, and had to hike many miles before finding my way out. I have often been surprised by bear encounters. Running into a sow with cubs, as I have on a few occasions, is something I hope never occurs again. One of my biggest surprises though was on my first hunt in Africa, in Namibia. I was with a single native tracker and as we began our hunt I literally not only felt like a beginner, I felt like a small child going for a walk with his father in the woods for the first time. The environment, sound, and smells were so completely different than anything I had experienced up to that point that it was almost overwhelming. Hunting in Africa was literally a life changing experience.

565_475495359139517_146506265_n

Lastly, let’s jump into your cooking and preparation. We’ve spoken about your haute cuisine preparation. — Talk to us a bit about your belief that eating wild game can save hunting, and how communities should reconsider how they eat?

I believe the greatest respect you can give a prey animal is eating it and celebrate its life by securing your own. Part of this respect is giving every effort to prepare it to the best of your ability. In some cases, that might be a on a stick over a fire, and other cases it might involve some serious effort in the kitchen to come up with a gourmet creation. The principle reason for hunting is gathering food. Making sure that this aspect is at the front of any discussion about hunting is critically important. Most people understand the practical importance of food gathering to our lives as humans. Showing respect for a wild animal by eating it is about a purely human as it gets. It embraces our natural position in the world as predators, and is in stark contrast to egregious violations of mass agriculture, and the denial of the natural world as demonstrated by both vegetarian and vegans. (That however gets into a much more complex discussion.)

Sourcing food local is a great thing for any community. Communities are only strengthened when food is grown or sourced locally and shared. What is more local and organic than shooting a deer in the back forty and sharing it with neighbors and friends? This naturally creates a sense of belonging, and leads to caring for your local habitat. People who don’t consider themselves as part of a community naturally won’t care as much about that community. Wild food only strengthens the local attachment. Community leaders should do everything possible to encourage local food development, such as arranging local food markets, or holding wild game dinners, where people are welcome to try foods they normally wouldn’t encounter.

55693_485822628106790_1580025881_o

Cheers to Chris for his time. If you’d like to learn about some of his whitetail secrets, you can find his book online at Amazon. Much of his personal writing can be found on his Facebook page or Hunter’s Path.