Ephraim Love proudly holds his first turkey.
Locavore, meet hunter
Hunter recruitment takes a new turn to connect young adults with the source of their food.
Kathryn A. Kahler
Karl Malcolm describes himself as a "tree-hugging hunter" and even had bumper stickers made to advertise the fact. Emphasizing the strong ties between hunting and environmental stewardship is one of the ways he thinks we can bridge the "great illogical divide" between hunting and the growing numbers of nonhunters who are in search of a more personal connection to the natural world and their food. Some call it the "slow-food" or "locavore" movement and its devotees have an interest in buying locally grown food from stores, farmers' markets or community supported agriculture, growing their own gardens or even raising chickens in their backyards. Malcolm believes hunting fits well with those core values and is trying to start his own dialogue to recruit a different kind of hunter.
Malcolm is a graduate student in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology. He has held two Learn to Hunt (LTH) programs and is planning a third for this fall. He describes his LTH programs as a bit different from others in that his are catered more to adults from nonhunting backgrounds.
"A lot of the participants are from urban backgrounds, have no experience hunting and don't have hunters in their families," said Malcolm. "But they recognize that if they're going to eat meat, this is a really great way to go about getting it."
The two events held so far have been "Learn to Hunt Turkeys for Food" – he adds the last two words for emphasis for his events – held to coincide with the spring turkey season. The first, held in April 2010 was geared for college students on the UW-Madison campus. The second was held in April 2011 with about 20 participants ranging in age from 19 to mid-30s.
Because he wanted to attract and engage people who are concerned about where their food comes from, he approached Madison's Willy Street Coop, where he is a member and regular customer, to host the event. After some lengthy conversations with the open-minded co-op managers about his motivations for hunting and his desire to eat locally grown foods, they agreed to host the event and generously provided their state-of-the-art kitchen and meeting facilities.
Malcolm initially planned to round up 15 of his hunting friends and colleagues as mentors, then advertise it through the co-op to recruit 15 participants. He soon found advertising wasn't necessary.
"I literally mentioned it to a couple of graduate students on campus and a couple of my friends who are frequent shoppers at Willy Street and it was a matter of days before I had more than 20 interested first-time hunters and had to scramble to find more mentors," said Malcolm. "I think that speaks to the fact that there really is a high level of interest in the community of nonhunters to learn more, but they perceive a lack of opportunities for training."
The first day began with an introduction to the basics of firearm safety and target practice at the Waunakee Gun Club, whose leadership and members donated their time and space at no cost. Participants were equipped with camouflage, blinds, decoys and other gear loaned for the event.
The next phase of the event moved to the Willy Street Co-op facility on Madison's west side, where DNR Warden Todd Schaller and other experts covered the basics of hunting regulations, turkey identification and hunting tips. That evening participants were treated to what might have been the most beneficial part of the experience.
"We had a potluck dinner that was wild game-centric," explained Malcolm. "Kate Golden – one of the first-time hunters who was also last year's Madison Iron Chef champion – took a few wild turkey breasts I gave her and smoked them in her home smoker. So one of the entrees was smoked turkey salad. Another was one of my easy-to-make specialties, sloppy-does. Just about everything in the spread contained something that was either hunted or gathered."
Malcolm used this low-pressure, social gathering to open a dialogue between mentors and hunters about their motivations for being there. What resulted was an open discussion of stereotypes and perceptions many nonhunters have of hunters.
"If you're a nonhunter trying to evaluate why people hunt," said Malcolm, "all you have to do is drive down the road and see a bumper sticker with a 'Size Matters' deer skull and antlers to start drawing conclusions about hunters' motivations. Research has shown time and again that when hunters are polled they list 'quality time in nature' and 'time with friends and family' as being far more important than the bones growing from a deer's head. But you don't see bumper stickers with a doe head and 'Size Doesn't Matter,' or better yet 'Delicious' written underneath. My main goal is to try to tear down some of those stereotypes. In my opinion, the hunting community would benefit from being more vocal about the real reasons many of us actually hunt."
As mentors and hunters took to the woods and fields over the next two days, some shot turkeys and others didn't. When the hunters harvested turkeys – six in all – they brought them back to the co-op for demonstrations on how to dress a turkey and preserve the meat.
Jennifer Stenglein, a graduate student with the University of Wisconsin Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, hunted with her mentor, Steve Swenson, on Aldo Leopold Foundation property near Baraboo. She had very limited hunting experience going into the event and found the most beneficial outcome was the chance to give hunting a try without having to make much of an investment. Of course, the turkey she harvested was a plus as well.
"I was just blown away by the fact that so many people came together and volunteered their time and resources," said Stenglein. "It was just a great experience to be able to get food off the land that's completely organic and free-range – and extremely tasty!" Stenglein turned her turkey into turkey Marsala within 24 hours of its harvest.
Malcolm summed up his feelings about why he thinks hunting will remain an important part of our conservation heritage.
"The condition of the land will continue to be decided by people and communities who either value healthy, wild places or those who do not. As we become increasingly urbanized, the more people who care, and the deeper their connection to the natural world, the better. Hunters will remain among the most devoted conservationists because our connections to the lands and waters we hunt are among the deepest that people can have to a place. Nobody needs to tell a hunter that land stewardship is important – we all know it. Nobody needs to be told that the things they love matter."
Kathryn A. Kahler is a staff writer for Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.