Hunters, Locavores and Critics, Oh, My!

Hunters have a bad reputation in the United States, and sometimes, I am sad to say, it is warranted.

I mean, Ted Nugent’s “Whack and Stack” rhetoric, while it certainly is attention-getting, doesn’t really positively influence the anti-hunting crowd towards changing their minds. The whole NRA mindset that Americans should have virtually unlimited access to every kind of firearm under the sun tend to make liberal city folk twitch–and sometimes with good reason. The fact that across the country, lots of innocent people are accidentally shot in the woods, in their homes, in their cars or in their own yards, by stray bullets fired by either stupid or drunken redneck hunters every hunting season is at best a case of a public relations nightmare for the hunters of America; at worst, it is an indictment of all of them as irresponsible, uncaring, selfish gits.

Shall I even make mention of Dick Cheney paying to shoot at birds raised in cages who are thrown into the sky right where his gun is pointing? Or the fact that he is so untrained in gun safety, he managed to shoot his friend and “hunting” buddy in the face at point blank range by accident?

I mean, if you mix all of these facts together, and throw in a dash of unreasoning liberal fear of firearms for good measure, you have a recipe for a very low public opinion of hunting and hunters in the U.S.

There is a cure for that low opinion, notes Steven Rinella in his recent Op Ed piece in the New York Times entitled, “Locavore, Get Your Gun.” Even though Rinella makes the incorrect statement that the locavore movement has ignored hunting as a viable means to eat locally (Michael Pollen describes in detail his very own wild boar hunt in California in The Omnivore’s Dilemma), it is true that there are very few self-proclaimed locavores who hunt. There are plenty of hunters who eat what they kill, but they tend not to call themselves locavores.

Here in Appalachia, nearly every hunter I have ever known–and I was born and raised in Appalachia and have lived in this region most of my life–has eaten what he or she has killed. With very few exceptions, hunters in Appalachia kill for food first, and trophies second. There is a good reason for this–there are a whole lot of poor folks in rural Appalachia and killing several deer, wild turkeys, ducks and a bunch of squirrel or rabbits and cleaning and cutting them up yourself and putting them in your freezer is a cheaper way to feed your family than to buy meat at the local grocery store. Hunters who get lucky and kill more than their own families can use have traditionally shared with the extended family and neighbors–in recent times, this has extended to giving excess meat to food pantries and homeless shelters to feed those who cannot go out and hunt for themselves.

What it comes down to is this: here in Appalachia, hunting (and fishing, for that matter) is very deeply entwined with our culture, just as farming is. Self-sufficiency is a thread long woven into the fabric of our lives here in the hills and we are proud of our ability to eat well on very little money. These traditions are not as prevalent as they were in the past, but truly, they are yet quite alive and well in the world of modern rural and semi-rural Appalachia.

Hunters here in Appalachia are not all angels, of course. We still have the drunken fools running about armed in the woods wreaking havoc upon wildlife, humanity and buildings, just like other parts of the country. What we do tend to lack, however, are the rich weekend hunters in their expensive Eddie Bauer Elmer Fudd clothes, plunking down top dollar to hunt domesticated exotic animals at so-called “hunting parks.” Shooting at wild animals raised in unnatural conditions where they have no natural fear of humanity, and they have lost all instinct for flight is not hunting. That is just shooting at living targets.

Even so–when people in other parts of the country bring up criticisms of hunters where they generalize that they care more for trophies, drinking and reckless behavior than ethics, safety and feeding their families, I always shake my head. Sure, there are hunters like that around. But most of the critics who go on about how awful every hunter in the world is, and that they are all like this, are almost always people whom I think may not have ever met a real hunter in their lives.

Where I grew up, and where I now live, that is just not the norm. Hunters here are pretty much what I would classically call a locavore, in the most visceral and true sense possible. They go out, find their meat on the hoof, stalk it, kill it, field dress it (a very unpleasant process–you gut and bleed it right there in the woods–and it is a smelly, messy task–trust me on this), and either take it to a butcher to process it, or, if they have the equipment, they skin, behead and cut up the carcass themselves.

Personally, I think that anyone who has the stomach to do this deserves respect. Because they not only are confronting the ugly reality that meat must come from a living being head on–they are doing a good portion of the dirty work of making meat edible on their own.

Very few modern people who eat meat can do that. Many of them cannot even look at a bit of meat on the bone without wincing–yet they eat the meat anyway.

Personally, I give more respect to a hunter who takes some amount of the responsibility for killing and butchering the animals that his or her family eats than a suburbanite who sneers at hunters and hunting, and eats factory farmed meat while making note of how sensitive they are because they hate to think about meat coming from animals.

So, hey, locavores–let’s stand up for the ethical, safe hunters we know. Let’s reach out to them and recognize them as people who were locavores before the term was popular. Heck, they were locavores before the word was even coined.

Because, really–they are doing the same thing we are doing–they are eating from their local foodshed.

They just happen to be doing it differently than many of the rest of us are–but they still deserve respect.


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  1. I agree with you, on everything! I’m admittedly squeamish with meat. When I got married, I had to force myself to learn to handle raw meat, particularly whole chickens (I had never cooked). I have since decided I need to face the reality of meat eating, or, as I told my husband, I have no right to eat it. I also believe the wrong is not in eating the meat, but in how the animal is treated prior to its death, and that the animal and, after death, its meat, need to be treated w/dignity (no turkey bowling!)

    Comment by Rachel — December 15, 2007 #

  2. Like you, I grew up in Appalachia and saw a lot of hunters. My family were decidedly NOT hunters. But I never had a problem with hunting (and still don’t) as long as people eat what they kill. Seems silly to me to eat meat but decry hunting.

    Comment by Diane — December 15, 2007 #

  3. You know we have take a kid to work day maybe we need to have “Take a whiny anti-gun Bambi hugger hunting day”. After they see the work that goes into most successful hunts they may understand a little more. I also bet after having their backsides frozen off the wouldn’t turn their noses up a little deer chili or a ladle or 3 of squirrel stew.

    Comment by Bryian — December 15, 2007 #

  4. I’m a city kid, born and raised – and more to the point, I agree heartily with what you are saying. I’m hoping to someday get trained and go hunting for food for myself and my family.

    I told my exhusband that if he couldn’t stand meat on the bone then I would no longer make him meat. I refuse to cater to people who can’t deal with the fact that meat is a dead animal. If they can’t deal with that fact, then they need to be vegetarians.

    I was in Virginia visiting a friend’s family. The father accidentally hit a deer after dropping someone off, and he brought the deer back. Everyone else (I was with a largish group of friends) went inside except for me and some local kids. I stayed and watched him hang and gut, and skin and butcher the deer. He sawed off the antlers and gave them to me. It was the most honest food I’ve ever eaten. And I think he really respected me for staying and learning what I could.

    I try to say “thank you” whenever I make meat. And I always try and treat it respectfully.

    I like hunters and small scale farmers.

    Dick Cheney though, can kiss my ass.

    Comment by Nicole — December 15, 2007 #

  5. Well, there are hunters and there are hunters. My brother, alas, is of the NRA, everybody should have tons of guns, kill them all, bang bang bang, trophy kind. He and his buddies get on their Harley’s, roar into the woods, leave grease and grunge all over the place, ignore all the signs and shoot em up as many times a year as the law allows. And, I suspect, there’s a bit of illegal shooting as well because he and his friends just like the loud bangs and fantasize that they are killing the enemy du jour. I doubt if he’s ever cleaned, much less eaten anything he shot. My late grandfather was of the kind that you respect; shoot for food and bring it home for the larder. However, even though my grandmother was a superb cook, she could never make venison taste good – no matter what she did, it tasted like shoe leather. You would wear out your jaw chewing the darn stuff. Good gravy, though.

    Comment by Nancy — December 15, 2007 #

  6. While I could never hunt or kill an animal myself (one of the reasons I don’t eat meat), I think that hunters who hunt for food have the right to do so. But I have yet to meet for-food hunters. My experiences tend to lean towards fishing bullets out of cats (it moved! it must be a deer!). Okay, it was one cat. But it made an impression.

    True story:

    I’m riding my horse on my boarding farm’s property. In fact, I’m riding in a fenced-in riding ring. It’s fall, so I’m wearing a bright red vest over a brightly-colored long-sleeved T-shirt. My horse (blood bay with a white face) and I don’t look remotely like a deer.

    Yet, from over a hill I hear a yell, “Don’t shoot. It’s a horse.” So how long did I have a high-powered rifle aimed at my head?

    For every decent hunter, it seems that we must deal with drunken, trigger-happy, idiots living the Rambo dream. To get a hunter’s license, people should be required to do a kegstand and then correctly identify “deer” from “cat,” “horse,” “white mitten,” and “clapboard siding.”

    Comment by Karyn — December 15, 2007 #

  7. Urban born and raised, I decided that if I was going to continue to be a meat eater then I’d better learn take full responsibility. I spent the money and time required by the Canadian government, which regulates training in firearms safety and animal identification, to become a licensed hunter. I found a rural community that accepted a newcomer or two into their hunting gang. I learned how to field dress (a horrible messy ugly experience), hang to dry age, butcher (also not a lot of fun), and preserve meat. Many new hunters today miss learning the ethical values of a traditional rural hunting society. Creeping age and hearing loss from shooting off all those guns has now shifted my meat eating to farm-raised grassfed bison and elk, but I truly miss the hunting experience.

    Comment by Al Hunter — December 15, 2007 #

  8. Hey now, I will hear no ill spoken of Uncle Ted. 🙂

    My grandmother has hunters skulking around the edge of her farm every year. She owns Holstein cows. If there is a cow that resembles a deer less than a Holstein, I haven’t seen it. Fortunately, she hasn’t lost one yet, but only because she and the workers keep shooing those orange-clad morons off their property. I think Karyn’s hunting test is spot-on. 🙂

    Comment by Elizabeth — December 15, 2007 #

  9. Well all you tree hugging left wing liberals need to get an education when it comes to hunters and hunting. When ever you see a deer, bear, wild turkey, beaver, bald eagle, elk, wolf, etc, thank hunters. Most wildlife varieties were exterpated or drastically reduced from most states by the beginning of the 20 century due to habitat distruction and unregulated killing by vegitable farmers nationwide. Guess who supplied the money and effort to reintoducethese species back into their native habitat. Thats right hunters. Most hunters are very dedicated conservations. Every bullet, every gun, every bow and arrow, etc sold in the USA 10% goes to the federal governmnet and is redistributed to the states for Wildlife Conservtaion every year since 1933. Every hunting license, every fishing license sold, themoney goes to wildlife consrvation. All you tree hugging left wing vegans my question is how much did you donate to wildlife conservation last year. My guess is zero. But eating your veggies caused some farmer to completly distroy any wild habitat on his farm to raise yoyr veggies. So every time you see wildlife Thank A Hunter!

    Comment by Richard — December 15, 2007 #

  10. Richard: Um. Who’re you talking to again? *looks around in confusion for all those tree hugging left wing vegans posting comments on this post that provoke that sort of counter post*

    Perhaps you would wish to make your post on a site that has some ‘tree hugging left wing vegans’?

    (Isn’t conservationism the definition of tree hugging?)

    To the rest: Mine apologies.

    To the post: So – it’s not just up where you are Barbara. I’ve got a few pounds of deer sausage in my freezer from my favorite Eagle Scout. 😉 His family had an extra this year – the rest went to be dressed and donated to local churches for their meals to take to those in need over Turkey-day. Recent regulations in his county prevent the homeless shelters from accepting non FDA certified meats. 🙁

    And I’ll never forget the father of another of my friends, who took out a deer who kept getting into his garden. We got a call asking if perhaps we would like some at 8pm – headed out there and helped dismember it for the freezer. Really a learning experience. And tested my skills in working with lean lean meat.

    Comment by Bastlynn — December 16, 2007 #

  11. Bastlynn–you got to it before I did.

    Richard–if you actually bothered to read my post, and the replies, you would see that we were in FAVOR of hunting for meat.

    And excuse me, but just because a person is a vegan or a vegetarian does not make them anti-hunting. Some vegans -are- PETA members who are anti-hunting, but not all of them. Some of them are vegan for health reasons, or because they do not want to support confined animal feeding operation agriculture.

    And why is tree-hugging bad? Why is it bad to want to preserve the environment–which you say hunters do, because without wilderness, there will be no hunting? It seems to me that hunters are, well, uh–tree-huggers.

    And by the way–it is true that ten percent of every gun and bit of ammunition sold in the US goes to the federal department of the interior programs and is used, in part, in wildlife and wilderness conservation, but really–can we pat hunters on the back for that? They didn’t make the law that instated that practice–that was Congress. While hunters are gun owners, and it is their money as gun buyers which support this tax–that doesn’t mean that they do so willingly and knowingly. Some do willingly understand and support this tax, but others, I am sure would rather not pay it and pay less for their guns and ammo.

    As for the rest of you–my readers never cease to amaze me. Even though everyone has run across the stereotypical drunken shoot-em-up dipshit hunters–most folks still know of a few who hunt respectfully and carefully, for meat.

    That makes me feel good inside.

    Nancy–your grandmother cooked the venison too long. It is extremely lean meat and you either must cook it at high temperature very fast, or at low temperature very slowly–and if you roast it or cook it under dry heat of any sort, it behooves you to add fat of some sort into the equation. That is why a lot of people put bacon on top of a venison roast. Or baste it with butter or olive oil or pork fat.

    Comment by Barbara — December 16, 2007 #

  12. Barbara – YOU ROCK! Love your blog and love the way you handle the occasional troll that wanders by. If I ever get any venison, I’ll remember your warning about not cooking too long.

    Comment by Nancy — December 16, 2007 #

  13. Even though I’m a pretty-much-vegan who lives in Ohio, I agree with nearly every point in your essay. I think the animal rights movement would benefit from praising sane, thoughtful, respectful, and responsible hunters and meat eaters who at the very least take some responsibilty for putting their own meat on the table.

    And Richard is apparently an illiterate fool.

    Comment by sgt pepper — December 16, 2007 #

  14. When I read Richard’s comment, I didn’t think he was attacking this article, or the commenters, as much as he was *agreeing* with Barbara’s article about respecting hunters, but with a testosterone-laden style of writing.

    But after reading the other commenters’ responses to his comment, I guess he could have been ranting, thinking this was a post against hunters.

    Comment by Sherri — December 17, 2007 #

  15. I heartily agree with your posting, and obviously more and more people do. Obviously, our mostly-urban population is too big to be supported solely by hunting-*but* in moderation, the act is a much more honest and less wasteful means of food acquisition.

    My husband and I both feel pretty strongly about this, but we are both ourselves the products of an urban environment. We don’t know how to hunt. My dad did it when he was younger, but he now lives far away from any familiar hunting grounds and doesn’t feel comfortable teaching us. Perhaps hunting would get better press if it did some outreach the way that small family farming has done with farmers’ markets and CSA programs. Invite people to come and learn about it! Linking up people who know how to hunt and those who want to learn would be great. We don’t all have the family backgrounds to find someone easily. Why doesn’t the NRA, with its considerable publicity machine and ostensible interest in protecting the rights of hunters, promote try to teach people how to hunt responsibly? I love how this posting ties together locavore movement and hunting, but people won’t change unless they can envision how to do it.

    Comment by Suzanne — December 17, 2007 #

  16. I come from a hunting area, also (Wisconsin). The deer are so plentiful now, because so few people hunt, that they have to bring in the National Guard to cull the herds.
    My nephew, who hunts with both rifle and bow told me once that after every time he dresses the deer he goes into the woods (and pukes his guts out)…15 years, now! He used to give me a deer when we lived there…I miss that!

    Comment by Katie — December 17, 2007 #

  17. Thanks for this, Barbara.

    I grew up in an hunting area too (South Dakota) and my dad was and is an ethical hunter — eats what he shoots and NEVER drinks while he’s hunting. He and his friends will be the first to criticize the shoot ’em up drunken redneck hunters or game-farm customers, and animal rights activists who tar all hunters with the same brush lose a lot of potential allies against the worst offenders by doing so. We ate a lot of pheasant and venison while I was growing up, and it was a shock to later find those meats in pricey restaurants at premium prices — for us they were cheap substitutes for chicken and beef. As for vegetarians, my partner is a vegetarian who has no problem with hunting, and has said several times that she’d eat what my dad shoots long before she’d eat factory-farmed meat from the grocery store.

    Comment by Andrea — December 17, 2007 #

  18. I thought of this post while viewing this news video: Hunters Donate Tens of Thousands of Pounds of Deer Meat to Help Feed the Hungry

    Comment by Sherri — December 28, 2007 #

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