After spending an invigorating day at Katerra Exotics – the Katy, Texas rancher Pat Bierschwale’s bison ranch – I am newly excited about bison, even though I have loved eating it for a long time. First, a little introduction to Pat. He is not exactly the stereotypical Texas ranch man. He’s a former professional mixed martial arts fighter, a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu; he is also a family man, a husband and father of five. I arrived to find him buzzing vigorously around his somewhat starstruck bison herd like a king killer bee atop his black ATV. He seemed to mount and dismount the vehicle with the ease that could have only come from years and years of practicing a distinct combination of martial arts and ATV riding.
Pat came into his ranching profession half generationally and half nutritionally. Back in the early nineties, he came to understand as a professional fighter, the need for a highly fueling healthy protein like bison, and the problem of the lack of availability of it. That is when the market gap, and his grandfather’s cattle ranch in Leakey, Texas (which also held a small herd of about twelve bison) converged in his mind as a recipe for success. He decidedly made a radical move, and converted all the cattle in Leakey to bison, and then bought the ranch in Katy, which the family fittingly named ‘Ka-terra’, the prefix from Katy and terra being the word for “land” in Spanish.
He began selling bison through word of mouth, and eventually opened his first farmer’s market booth in Houston, where farmer’s markets are still somewhat an emerging trend for a city of well over six million. He is now the guy for bison in Houston, with an exclusive presence at all of the city’s major farmer’s markets and a storefront in Katy as well.
“’Most of my regular clientele seek me out because their cardiologist told them to give up red meat, except for bison.” -Pat Bierschwale
Though elite coaches and athletic trainers I have known have recommended bison as substitute for red meat for optimum physical performance, I usually attributed the recommendation to the lower fat content. However, as Pat explained that these massive animals (males usually weigh over two thousand pounds) are unstoppable athletes – rugged and strong, but also speedy and explosive in power – I came to understand why their muscle fiber is superior food for human athletes. “A full grown male bison can jump a five and half foot fence with ease” Pat informed, my eyes popping at the notion. He described how the big hump on their back acts as a center of gravity for these gladiator battle-worthy creatures. They can run at speeds as fast as thirty miles an hour, and they can stop on a dime, all two thousand pounds of them. Now, picture these beasts running at full throttle, and turning, leveraging the balance of the hump, pivoting a hundred and eighty degrees and taking off in another direction entirely – in order to evade a predator. After hearing him describe their physical abilities, I suddenly understood why olympians favor this ultra-athletic red meat.
Nutritionally, a four ounce portion of bison has about one hundred and twenty four calories, six grams of fat, seventeen grams of omega-3, extensive chains of amino acids, and high levels of vitamin b12, zinc, selenium, niacin, and iron. The amino acid profile is complete and brings the full chain of aminos that the human body cannot synthesize on its own and needs to build muscle, increase energy and optimize mental performance. It is a superfood meat, if you will.
Pat, though, says he knew this from his former cage fighting days, and seemed to move through the details at a clip that suggests these facts are all rote memory for him. While I was processing, he elaborated, “most of my regular clientele seek me out because their cardiologist told them to give up red meat, except for bison.” I was busy connecting the dots in my mind, though, remembering the charts I had recently seen comparing grass-fed meats and dairy to conventional (and it’s not even like the same food nutritionally – a post on that coming up). So, here is the part where I assure you that Katerra’s meat products are all entirely grass fed and grass finished. Pat explains how they care for each animal (though I prefer to call them beasts from now on, ok?) and how sparingly they administer vaccines, and how healthy his animals are, down to the moment they are taken to processing. When I asked how to be sure the bison we buy from supermarkets is equally cared for, he dropped the line that always makes me smile, prefaced with the caution “There’s only one way to know. Know your farmer.” Simple, and not debatable. I warmed considerably. That’s why I do what I do. So you can know the people behind the plow and how and why they do what they do.
Shooting is an American tradition and a privilege. Feel it, bask in it, pursue it, love it, and act accordingly.
1. Safety First. It’s an area that we can get relaxed about, especially if you have been shooting for a long time, and that’s dangerous. At Appleseed, the safety checks and systems are militaristic and non-negotiable, and that attitude is something you take with you when you leave. It’s a valuable, lasting impression that they leave with you. Shooting is an American tradition and a privilege. Feel it, bask in it, pursue it, love it, and act accordingly.
2. Have a system when you shoot. And use it religiously. Relying on feel is a waste of time, and a waste of ammunition (money). Shooting skills means that you get a reproducible result, and that will never happen if you do not develop a system and routine that works for you and you use it every time you shoot. Developing these habits and routines can feel like it’s slowing you down when all you want is to send the rounds down range, but it will save infinite amounts of time and frustration in short order if you commit to doing this.
3. Classic marksmanship is actually fun, not boring. While it is a strict discipline, and all the rules and routines can feel somewhat stifling for someone who grew up shooting freestyle – the mental, physical, and emotional challenge of timed drills from specific shooting positions is stimulating, and the sport is fun. It is also easy to see really quick progress when you give in to the systematic routine and that is invigorating.
4. Get with your own NPOA. NPOA is your own unique natural point of aim. It is as unique as your fingerprint, and only you can feel it and know when you are in it. It is also the single most influential factor in getting reproducible results with your groups. Your NPOA is the position that is most stable from each shooting position. It is not that easy to find, but once you do, you can use this test to see if you are in it before you press that trigger: close your eyes, take two deep breaths, and open your eyes again. Did the target move? It probably did, but when you find the sweet spot, or your NPOA, it will not have budged. Boom. Now memorize it. As you advance, you will be able to close your eyes and shoot seriously tight groups blind, because your body is keeping the rifle still, and your rifle shoots straight (hopefully).
5. Shooting with open sights is liberating. I shot open sights all weekend. At first, I thought it would be a bore to shoot through those little iron gates, especially when most of the shooters around me had all that pretty glass. At the end, though, I walked away with a “Hell, yeah.” I now know that I can hold my own in a trench with a $200 deer rifle in swirling thirty mile per hour, thirty degree winds (the weather was awful!) I felt like blowing the smoke off the end of my rifle and tipping my hat at Clint Eastwood when I left Sunday night. The lesson here is, if you challenge yourself with a little less gear at times, you feel the freedom of your skills building in that gear gap.
6. GI Slings. These were an enigma to me at the start of the weekend – but these obscure limp straps became part of the leveraging system to secure the rifle and reduce movement in innovative ways, and the armband anchor style gave me serious Linda Hamilton vibes. I’m not complaining about the GI strap anymore, it simple, helpful and it is fun and worth learning to use. You get yours here.
7. Friends. I could hang out with nearly anyone that loves to shoot guns any day, any time. Appleseed attracts serious shooters, families with kids, and all around generally great Americans. I can’t wait to get back in March.
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It’s nearly impossible to find one mentor that teach you all the tips, tricks, and time-tested traditions that are passed down when it comes to rugged outdoorsmanship. My mission is to passionately unearth these sometimes tightly-held secrets and share with you as I become well-versed in all things ground, guns, and game. I’m hitting the road, tracking down the experts and aficionados, and delivering all my findings directly to you by way of podcast, video, vlogs, and blogs posts. I’m Amanda, and you can follow my quest via Youtube, Instagram and iTunes, Banter or Stitcher for podcasts and keep up to date or get up to speed with all things hunting, shooting, and growing.