In a previous post about the upcoming MeatEater episode that will feature author Timothy Ferriss, I mentioned two facts that are important for hunters to understand. The first was that 95 percent of American adults do not hunt, and the second was that we live in a democracy. What this means, of course, is that we are grossly outnumbered when it comes to a voting majority, and that our continued existence is reliant on the general public’s impression of what we do. In order to guarantee the preservation of our lifestyle, we need to draw new people into the fraternity of hunters while at the same time ensuring that a majority of the non-hunting public respects the ecological and cultural roles that we play.
It takes a lot of work, but it doesn’t need to be an unsavory task. It’s not like hunters need to go from door to door with pamphlets, or head downtown to form a picket line at a busy intersection. In fact, the easiest things we can do to help win the cultural battle against hunting happen to be some of the most pleasurable activities that I know of: eating wild game, and sharing game meat with others.
I call it “venison diplomacy,” though it works just as well with duck, squirrel, bear, rabbit, or elk. I first realized the effectiveness of venison diplomacy many years ago, when I’d have non-hunters over to my house for dinner. Before we ate, I’d always notice their general lack of interest in the various hunting trophies–horns, skulls, antlers, hides–that decorated my home. Later, though, after serving them a carefully prepared meal of wild game, I’d watch their interest in hunting suddenly come alive. Soon they’d be begging me to take them hunting. I’d then give them a nice antelope roast or a package of homemade black bear bratwurst, and within a week or so they’d be calling to tell me about their non-hunting friends who were also blown away by the food I’d passed along.
The diplomatic potency of wild game is easy to understand. We humans are pragmatic beings. In general, at our core, we appreciate wise use and we’re offended by waste and inefficiency. After all, how many times have you heard non-hunters respond to the subject of hunting by saying something like, “Well, I guess it’s okay if you eat it.” And while this viewpoint is limited—I’m certainly not hacking on coyote hunters who are selling into the fur market—it demonstrates a basic belief system that unites people: hunting for one’s own food makes sense. If you need further proof, sit a non-hunter in front of a TV and let him or her watch a show where the host walks up to a freshly downed buck and expresses immediate disappointment in the antler growth. That wins the hearts and minds of non-hunters about as well as accidentally shooting out the window of their house.
Considering my views on this, you can imagine how excited I was when Tim Ferriss first contacted me about doing some hunting. His primary interest was exploring the intersection of hunting and food, and I was more than happy to go there with him. Any doubt that I might have had about his sincerity was put to rest on our first hunt, in South Carolina. One day, Tim sat next to me by the fire and ate a spit-roasted squirrel as casually as if he were eating corn on the cob. Later that night, we dined together on deer organs and a gang of street pigeons that we killed near a grain depot. A few months later, when we were on our Alaska caribou hunt, he enjoyed a variety of other somewhat strange foods with the gusto of my two-year-old eating a bag of pretzel sticks. The first thing I thought was that this guy has a strong stomach. The second thing I thought was that he’d be a great ally to hunters. Considering Tim’s massive fan base, I figured that his embracement of wild game deserved its own tag line. Perhaps “venison diplomacy, through a megaphone.”
Over the years, I’ve discovered that hunters are a pretty sensitive gang. Surely, someone out there is fuming mad that I said something negative about trophy hunters, even though I admitted to decorating my own home with hunting trophies. To address these concerns, I’ll point out that Tim Ferriss has become something of a trophy hunter as well. Not only is he a great fan of trophy meat, but he’s also a firm believer in squeezing as much as possible out of the animals he harvests. He had his deer hide tanned, and plans to get it made into gloves. He kept the hooves of his deer in order to make a wall-mounted coat rack. As for the skulls, he had both of them cleaned for display in his home. I believe that he will look upon these emblems of the hunt for many years with fond memories.
And the memories won’t be limited to those of great animals that he killed. The memories will be of great meals that he’s eaten along the way.
And those, my friends, are the best hunting memories you can have.