Cameron Hanes works as hard as any athlete on the planet. And he’s changing the way the world thinks about bowhunting.
Cameron Hanes is eating elk, and it doesn’t sound like other food.
I can hear the famed bow hunter and ultramarathoner chewing on the other end of the line, and the sounds coming from his side aren’t wet and smacky like they are when most people eat on the phone. They’re clean and sinewy, the noises a man makes when he’s eating an animal that fed on the land around him until he killed it himself. The sounds are lean and tough and unapologetic, chewing the way a man should chew. This, I think, is how a man eats when he is part of the natural food chain.
“This is as pure as it gets,” Hanes says between bites of elk, though yesterday, it was bear. “I can’t replace that feeling of purpose of what it means to be a provider by buying something at the store.”
I feel suddenly insufficient for planning my afternoon trip to Publix instead of the Everglades to kill a deer. But this is the effect talking with Cameron Hanes has on you, because no matter how hard you’re working or clean you’re eating, he’s doing it better. And he’s not telling you about it to brag. He’s matter-of-fact about running a marathon a day then protein loading on meat he carried 20 miles out of the mountains. That’s just life for one of the hardest working men on the planet and one who’s changing the way the world looks at bow hunting.
Outworking Everyone is the Great Equalizer
Cameron Hanes was born in Eugene, Oregon, which in addition to being home of the University of Oregon, is also a hotspot for bowhunters. The men who lived there worked in the woods felling timber or setting chokers, and in their spare time, everyone took to the mountains to hunt. “People looked up to you if you killed a big buck every year, so I rifle hunted as a kid, then started bow hunting when I was 19,” Hanes says. “Been bow hunting ever since.”
Once he got a bow in his hands, Hanes was hooked on the mental challenge, physical difficulty, and connection with wildlife bow hunting provides. “Killing with a bow is definitely harder than killing with a rifle,” he muses. “I’ve always looked up to bow hunters as the baddest guys out there, the ones who could weather any storm and be prepared for the mountains..”
He honed his craft by combining a relentless work ethic and sharp survival instinct, using them as equalizers in the unforgiving terrain of the Oregon mountains. Growing up the child of divorced parents with alcoholism on all sides, he says hard work in the mountains was his way of leveling the playing field with those born with more advantages. Outworking everyone, he says, was the only way he could separate himself without money or connections. “If I was tougher, and more prepared physically and mentally for the challenges, I had the advantage in the mountains,” he says.
“If I was willing to push harder, I called the shots.” — Cameron Hanes
His training has been superhuman ever since, living by a daily mantra of “Lift, run, shoot” that he’s broken down through several workouts on his YouTube channel. Some days he hits chest. Then, he runs a marathon. Some days he’ll do a CrossFit workout. Then, he runs another 20 miles. He averages over 22 road miles a day, ending every session with work on the bow, not satisfied unless he’s done something to make himself uncomfortable.
“I wanna hurt. I feel like unless I’m outdoing everybody, I’m not really offering my best,” he says. “You need endurance to push every day, and strength to pack animals out after you kill. But it doesn’t matter how fit you are, if you can’t hit the animal you want to hit, you’re not gonna have to worry about the rest of that (stuff).”
He’s trained with everyone from professional football players to Olympic medalists, distance runners, and MMA fighters. UFC’s Michael Chandler, CrossFit champion Rich Froning Jr., and a host of ultramarathoners have all made their way to Oregon to train with Cam Hanes.
Finding his Place in the Food Chain
Hanes trains both for himself and in preparation for the brutality of bow hunting, which he is helping transform from redneck recreation to extreme sport. Along with fellow bow aficionados Joe Rogan and Steve Rinella, he’s shifted the image of a bow hunter from a bubba in a blind to a grizzled outdoor athlete competing in the ultimate test of man versus mountain. But it’s more than a physical challenge, Hanes says. It’s the purest way of hunting while showing respect for the animals you kill.
“When I was a kid, I didn’t give a shit. I wanted to kill a buck—and hopefully it was a big buck,” he says. “Now I’ve gone from being a kid who didn’t know what taking a life meant, to learning what it means to be respectful to the land and the animals you kill.”
Revering the Past, Looking to the Future
Hanes talks endlessly about his respect for animals; about how trying to outwit an animal in a place it lives every day is as much a mental feat as it is physical. He speaks of paying homage to the game he shoots and views hunting them as his natural place in the order of things. The similarity to Native American philosophies isn’t unintentional.
“I’ve read a lot of books, heard a lot of stories, and been enamored with Native American culture,” he says, adding that part of his family is Cherokee. “Part of my journey is thinking about how they may have thought about hunting hundreds of years ago. I like the approach they have with their connection to the land and animals, and if I can honor and mimic that in some way, that’s my goal.”
The animals Hanes shoots aren’t trophies, which is why he says he doesn’t really concern himself with killing the biggest buck anymore. His kills are sustenance that enable him to hunt more, completing a circle of life that’s been going on forever. “I kill the animal, and it fuels me to keep this process going,” he says. “I feel like I’m falling in line with how life is supposed to work. I’m in a better mind space, and I’m a better bow hunter for it.”
Using elk meat to help you shoot more elk is poetic, sure. But much like his fellow game meat ambassador Joe Rogan, Hanes also insists it’s the cleanest eating you can do. “Game meat is better for me not only because it’s higher in protein; wild meat has been in the mountains and that’s as pure as it gets,” he says. “It’s the highest utility as far as pure protein.”
A Reluctant Role Model
Beyond subsisting off game meat, the chiseled 55-year-old also avoids sugar as much as possible and doesn’t drink. The body his diet and training have given him has made Cameron Hanes a model for burgeoning bowhunters, though it’s a role he’s not completely comfortable with.
“I get worried about being looked at as a role model, because I’m a (screw) up most of the time,” he says. ”I know all my weaknesses and the mistakes I make. [Joe] Rogan and [Steven] Rinella, they’re good frontmen. They’re articulate and well-spoken and can explain things. I’m just a small-town bow hunter.”
He’s thankful for the opportunities he’s been given and relishes messages he gets from people who share the positive impact he’s had on their lives. That they’ve been inspired by his work ethic to lose weight, to be a better father or husband, and to do the right thing even if it’s not the easiest. That, he recognizes, is the influence he has on people.
Hanes also shies away from being called a spokesman for bow hunting, but he is excited at how popular the sport has gotten in the past decade or so. “The sport is going great,” he says. “I go to the local pro shop, and it’s packed. People are in there, they’re fired up. They’re getting in better shape for the mountains, and the feedback I get on social media is 99 percent positive.”
A Role Model, Nonetheless
Still, what he remains most grateful for is the opportunity to be out in the mountains, connecting with nature and the animals who call it home. “Being that close to ‘em, and having that connection to the animals I’m hunting, it motivates me,” he says. “Being a part of that predator-prey relationship in the mountains. I value any time I can spend hunting animals I respect in a country I love.”
It’s a oneness with food few people get to experience, which may be why his eating sounds ring more natural than unnerving. He may not be his—or many people’s—idea of a role model. But for a man looking to reconnect with nature and push his personal limits, it’s hard to imagine anyone better.
Right now, the predator seems to be enjoying his prey, or at least enjoying the feeling he has devouring it. His training for the day finished, he can relax and savor the serenity of his beloved mountains while enjoying a piece of elk meat.