Hunting for Food in the Wild
By Ron Messina – There are many excellent reasons to go hunting for food in the wild. Recent food shortages at grocery stores around the country got me thinking. In this age of pandemics, when the food supply we’ve taken for granted is suddenly disrupted, having the ability to stock your freezer with wild game during hunting season is a comforting thought.
Years ago, there were plenty of hunters, but fewer deer to hunt. Today, it’s just the opposite: there’s about half the number of hunters in the woods as there were 50 years ago, and, in many areas of the county, greater numbers of wild game to hunt — most notably the white-tailed deer, a very adaptable animal.
Deer are a common sight in suburban neighborhoods, farms, forests, and unfortunately, along roadways, where deer/vehicle collisions all too frequently occur. Deer populations are managed primarily through regulated hunting. An average mature whitetail can provide about 50 lbs of lean, healthy venison. That’s a lot of healthy, organic meat! If you know how to cook venison, you will agree that you can’t beat this delicious meat.
Lately, there’s interest in ‘all things local’ when it comes to food. Hunters embracing this ‘locavore’ lifestyle value their venison steaks, tenderloin, and burger more than the prospect of a buck’s trophy antlers. And they enjoy the unique challenge of bringing food from field to the table.
Hunting is the perfect activity for those interested in the ethic of a light ecological footprint. Free-range animals don’t require any of the resources commercial food operations do; wild animals don’t need feed, fertilizer, or antibiotics to grow, or the fuel required to ship them to your local grocery store. They literally live in your backyard.
Deer are so plentiful in the counties surrounding Washington, D.C., hunters stalk them in a special urban archery season — sometimes literally in their backyards — alongside the playground equipment.
For those who are interested, it’s a great time to learn to hunt: state wildlife agencies that regulate hunting are actively recruiting new hunters. Many of the baby boom generation of hunters are now getting too old to continue hunting, so an influx of new hunters is needed to replace them. Wildlife agencies need hunters to help to manage game populations, and they need the revenue from hunting license sales to fund their operations.
As a result, ‘Learn-to-Hunt’ programs are springing up all over the country. These programs let students ‘test drive’ the hunting experience. The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources’ Hunting Recruitment Coordinator, Eddie Herndon, says the hunting instruction classes in his state fill up fast.
“My agency hosts multiple mentored hunts throughout the year that match new hunters with an experienced hunter in an assigned area. These programs work because they allow new hunters to learn from the field, blind, or tree stand rather than on their own through online resources or classroom instruction.”
Taking a wild animal requires knowledge of safe gun handling and skills like shooting, tracking, and the ability to process an animal after the kill. Hunting ethics require fair chase, and adherence to seasons, bag limits, and laws. Once learned, these details become second nature; but taken all at once, it could be daunting for a beginner. Learn the basics of how to process a deer and stay ahead of the game.
That’s why finding a good hunting mentor is essential in learning to hunt. If you don’t know any hunters, contact your local wildlife agency’s hunter education coordinator — chances are there’s a mentorship program available, as well as a hunter safety education class.
In the past, hunting sometimes had a certain stigma attached to it. Kristen Black, Manager of Communications for the Council to Advance Hunting, says she actually “grew up anti-hunting” because, “I was uninformed about the need for and benefit of population control. And, the messaging I saw on media platforms was all negative — blood and gore, disrespect for the animal, and words like “sport” and “trophy” being associated and prioritized over “conservation” and “healthy food.”
But hunting has evolved. Black says the field has mostly recognized and corrected these problematic tendencies and encourages all hunters to welcome those who would like to learn. More women have become interested in hunting over the last 10 years. Women hunters comprise the fastest-growing hunting demographic, making up about a quarter of the registrants in hunter education classes in Virginia.
“New hunters simply want an opportunity to learn what they can do to help the environment and put some healthy and ethical food on the table while doing it. A mentor is someone who advises on equipment, teaches how to look for signs of wild game, and encourages the participant to try in whatever capacity they can,” Black added.
Amy Barr of Virginia decided to learn to hunt at age 40. It was something she’d always wanted to try, and she liked the idea of taking responsibility for acquiring her own natural food. She kept chickens and goats, and foraged for wild edibles; hunting wild game seemed to be the logical next step in her progression. Now a seasoned duck, turkey, and deer hunter, she says hunting allows her to serve the healthiest of meats to her family.
“I go to the grocery store, pay for stuff, bring it home and cook it — that doesn’t hold a candle to tracking, finding, and harvesting wild game and putting it on the table. And my kids announce, ‘this is the deer mom shot!’ There’s a huge sense of pride.”
For those like Barr, hunting has a lot to offer — it’s a great way to connect with the natural world, a good source of exercise, and an honest way to come by your protein. The quality of the free-range meat is unsurpassed, and the overall experience of immersing yourself into your environment, whether you are successful or not — will keep you coming back. Give it a try, and hunt your own wild game this year!
In order to hunt:
- Find a Hunting Mentor
- Complete a Hunter Education Safety Course
- Carry the Appropriate License or Permit
- Know the Hunting Regulations for Your Area
- Have the Right Equipment for the Hunt
Hunting for food is a rewarding pastime even if you have unsuccessful hunts. Enjoying all that Mother Nature has to offer can’t be beaten. Do you enjoy hunting for food in the wild? We would love to hear your stories in the comments below!
Originally published in Countryside September/October 2020 and regularly vetted for accuracy.