My Turn: The importance of hunting


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

As we celebrate the bounty of the harvest this autumn, let’s not forget another celebration taking place across the nation — the opening of our hunting seasons.

Many people — young and old, male and female — are taking to the woods to participate in a food system that has been occurring for over 50,000 years (agriculture is only 10,000 years old) and is as much a part of being human as walking upright. Yet, when we talk of food systems and food security, hunting is never mentioned; yet, it is probably the largest single source of organic meat nationwide.

Hunting, which is a highly regulated system of food gathering, has 100 years of proven mechanisms to fund the conservation and professional oversight of wildlife and land, the results of which are the robust wildlife populations America now enjoys. Known nationally as the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, funds through hunting license sales and excise taxes on firearms and ammunition directly support state wildlife agencies tasked with the conservation and management of wildlife and their habitats. Most state wildlife agencies, including MassWildlife, are self-funded through these fees and not the general public’s tax dollars; a system in which those who hunt or fish pay the majority of the bills to conserve and manage our nation’s wildlife.

This is why hunting really is conservation.

Imagine what we could accomplish if the rest of us who benefit from wildlife — kayakers, hikers, bird watchers and mountain bikers — contributed even half of the dollars toward wildlife conservation that hunters do. Wild game, historically the high cuisine of the rich, has been enthusiastically embraced by today’s foodie movement. It is low-cholesterol, lean meat — a healthy alternative to commercial beef or chicken.

Chefs turned hunters, like Hank Shaw of Hunter, Angler, Garden, Cook (honest-food.net), are reintroducing to the mainstream the benefits of harvesting food through hunting and the delectable tastes of game meat. Hundreds of websites, blogs and podcasts are exploding with creative recipes to cure and cook wild game.

For those concerned about animal welfare, it doesn’t get more free range than the great outdoors. Wild game requires no fences, no antibiotics, no manure storage; just healthy land and water.

It is clear people want to taste real food and they want to know where that food comes from. Hunting offers a profound connection to these desires. Last fall, I harvested a 183-pound white-tailed deer with my bow. From that deer, I obtained more than 100 pounds of meat used for steaks, roasts and burgers. As tradition dictates, that meat was shared with the landowner who graciously let me hunt on his property as well as my co-workers, family, and friends. Twenty people enjoyed the meat, and they all listened to the story of the hunt, the deer and the land.

On average, there are 10,000 deer harvested annually by hunters in Massachusetts, with a conservative estimate of 50 pounds of meat per deer. That’s approximately a half-million pounds of organic venison obtained annually. Add in turkey, waterfowl, bear and small game and one could estimate that close to 750,000 pounds of organic meat is obtained annually from Massachusetts’ forests, making hunting possibly the single largest source of organic meat in the state.

These types of numbers are being calculated by a group called Conservation Visions (conservationvisions.com), founded by scientist and conservationist Shane Mahoney. Conservation Visions is working on Wild Harvest Initiative, a multi-year program to evaluate the economic and social benefits of wild animal harvests in America and Canada.

Although most Americans do not hunt, it is important we recognize and maintain its importance not only as a key part of our food system, but its critical role in wildlife conservation. Hunters also need to better communicate their story because it’s not about a head on a wall, but strengthening a profound connection and love for all things wild. It’s also time that all who love the outdoors start shouldering the cost of conservation. Hunters can’t do it alone anymore.

As summer passes by and the crisp air of autumn moves in, look south in the dawn sky and see the constellation Orion the Hunter. Let it remind us that for millennia hunting has been a critical part of our food system that has influenced our culture, our country and what it is to be human.

Tom Wansleben lives in Greenfield.