Bang for the Buck
Steve is an information technology professional who is increasingly conscious of where his food comes from. He raises a garden each year and gets his family’s meat and other produce from local sources as much as possible. As part of a healthy lifestyle, Steve wanted to learn how to hunt to obtain his own lean meat, but none of his friends or family were hunters.
He heard about a Field to Fork learn-to-deer-hunt course being held in fall of 2016, and signed up in hopes it would help kick-start his hunting efforts. The program, offered by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, was just what he was looking for. After completing the weekend course covering all the basics about deer hunting, Steve asked permission to hunt on a family member’s farmland. On his first outing on his own, he harvested and processed his first deer, an adult doe.
Steve’s teenage son was intrigued and wanted to accompany him on his next hunt. Although his son had never hunted and didn’t accompany his father on his Field to Fork course, he did take a Hunter Education class online and then completed his Hunter Ed certification by going to a “range day” to target shoot and demonstrate some of the safety practices he had learned in the online class and had rehearsed with his dad. Steve’s son managed to get a deer during his first weekend hunt as well, with mentoring from his father. The two were able to put over 70 pounds of lean, delicious meat in the freezer economically and while enjoying time together in the outdoors, another one of Steve’s goals.
Michelle is a university administrator who had a budding interest in hunting. Her boyfriend had gone deer hunting a few times but he was still early in the process of developing as a hunter. Because they wanted to share hunting together, and because they welcomed the chance to cook meats they had personally harvested, Michelle and her boyfriend took a Field to Fork course. In the three years that have passed since then, the couple has brought home several deer to meet their nutritional needs while enhancing their relationship together. They subsequently took a Hook and Cook fishing class to learn to catch and use their fish.
Field to Fork courses seek to impart the essential knowledge and skills necessary to pursue, harvest and process their own game meat.
Like Steve and Michelle, dozens of prospective and novice hunters have participated in Field to Fork courses over the past seven years. Field to Fork offers adults who were not raised in a hunting household, or don’t have a potential hunting mentor in their lives now, the opportunity to learn to hunt with others who also are new to hunting. Participants in past courses have come from a wide array of backgrounds, often motivated by the desire to obtain additive-free meats, live a healthier lifestyle, know where one’s food comes from and how it’s treated and be more connected to nature.
Field to Fork courses seek to impart the essential knowledge and skills necessary to pursue, harvest and process one’s own game meat. Instruction is provided by experts from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, the Quality Deer Management Association and local conservation and hunting organizations. Mentored hunting experiences are also offered as part of the course, in which participants go on actual hunts with experienced mentors (instructors and trained volunteers). Course sizes are typically 20 or less, to allow for active participation and personalized instruction. To date, courses have been offered on deer, turkey and waterfowl hunting. Other game species will be addressed in future courses.
A typical Field to Fork weekend deer hunting course begins in a seminar setting, with an overview of relevant deer biology and ecology, hunting regulations, hunting strategies and finding places to hunt. Break time features local beverages and venison treats such as grilled tenderloins, summer sausage and jerky, along with introductory tips on cooking venison.
The second day of a weekend deer hunting course is held mostly outdoors, and begins with blood-trailing and retrieving a fresh deer carcass in the field, simulating the first steps in caring for venison after making a lethal shot. Next, participants observe and help to “field dress” and quarter the carcass. Butchering and meat safety come next. Techniques are covered in detail to help participants develop a comfort level with the subject matter. A noon luncheon featuring several venison dishes cooked by a local chef is a highlight for many participants; the chef shares insights on cooking venison dishes and complementary sides.
The final afternoon of formal instruction takes place at the shooting range, where participants learn and practice shooting with a rifle and crossbow. Experienced archers can also target practice on the range before going on a mentored bow hunt.
Mentored hunts are offered during Saturday evening, Sunday morning and Sunday evening time slots to participants who want to take advantage of the additional learning opportunity. Some attendees forego these hunts because they have family or friends who will be taking them hunting, but most go out during at least one of the hunt time slots. Participants are paired with mentors, who together scout for promising hunting spots based on deer “sign” such as active deer trails and hoofed “scrapes” used by deer for scent-marking their home areas. If a deer are harvested, participants may take the venison home with them. Attendees who don’t harvest deer during their mentored hunts can take venison meat samples (from the carcass butchered earlier) home with them as they depart from the course. In any case, everyone has opportunity to cook fresh venison to complete their Field to Fork experience.
Field to Fork learn-to-deer hunt courses are being planned for this fall in several central Kentucky locations, including the Louisville area. Prospective participants should contact Becky. Wallen@ky.gov for more information, or pre-register after Sept. 1 at fw.ky.gov.