Photo courtesy of IDNR.

August 1, 2023

Why Hunting is Important to Me as a Member of Gen Z

Often it can be easy to forget why we started doing something, and what drove us to take a certain action. This can be applied in many parts of life as we like to ponder the rationale behind the actions we take. Sometimes to better appreciate something we must go back and look at the bigger picture. As a graduate student, I do this often to gather a better understanding of why what I am doing is so important. This same curiosity spilled over into my interest in the outdoors, mainly hunting. I wanted to better understand why we as a species hunt.

A side by side image of a Canada goose and a package of goose meat on a kitchen counter next to an image of shredded goose meat and a sandwich on a blue and white plate with several condiments on the counter behind the plate.
Knowing where their food comes from and sourcing it themselves has taken on more importance for a growing number of locavores. Photo source Hunt Illinois.

The answers you get can vary depending on who you ask, but there is a grouping of common answers that include providing food for the family, trophies, conservation, economic benefit and cultural practice. However, there is one growing perspective on “why we hunt” that I find to be the most interesting, and that is the locavorian perspective. A locavore is someone who seeks to better understand where the food they eat is coming from. This movement never really had a true beginning, as humans generally did not have to be cognizant of where food came from. However, in recent decades food has started coming from faraway places thanks to export and import practices throughout the world.

A graphic titled Eat Healthy Eat Local Hunt Illinois with statistics on the differences between wild harvested food and industrially produced food.

Industrial practices with food production changed over time, leading to an age in the U.S. where it is impossible to truly know where the food you buy in the supermarket came from. Everyday health concerns are being linked to unsavory farming, processing, and packaging processes that have left a bad taste in the mouth of a growing number of Americans. Since it is hard to know what is in your food if you can’t track down where it comes from, most people who are concerned with what is in their food start with where the food is made. Because of this they often eat locally (hence the name locavore) since locally produced food is often more organic and natural.

While many options exist for finding locally produced, farm-raised, organic meat, nothing is more organic than untamed, uncaged wild animals. Therefore, locavores have been flocking to hunting as a method to obtain local food. Often these hunters are non-traditional, meaning they do not come from a family of hunters or a culture that passed down hunting as a tradition. More and more Gen Z and Millennials are picking up hunting for this very reason.

That is why it is very important as conservationists and promoters of hunting that we recognize the importance of this perspective on hunting and begin pushing for more outreach that includes this non-traditional group of hunters. Many groups have already been doing this, one of the more notable examples is the Illinois Natural History Survey’s Learn to Hunt podcast. They have had many episodes that include the importance of the locavore movement within hunting.

A photo of two blue and white plates, one with cheeseburgers made from ground venison (deer meat) and the other showing the clear packaging the meat came in. Spears of green asparagus are on tinfoil in the background.
Grilling with locally sourced venison. Photo source Hunt Illinois.

The most important form of outreach to provide this group of hunters is promoting where to hunt. Often these hunters are new, and most do not have the habitat on their property or access to property required to properly hunt most species, which is why ease of access and information on public hunting sites is so important. My co-worker Kaleigh Gabriel wrote an article in this journal on public hunting sites that gives a tutorial on how to plan a hunt on Illinois public lands. Having the tools available and easy to use allows more people to take up the practice of hunting, no matter their reason for wanting to hunt.
It is clear that this new group of hunters is at least somewhat motivated by healthier eating options, which allows us to circle back to this idea I started with of why we hunt. While I only explored one driver of this activity, I think it is important to constantly be asking these questions as time goes on. The continuous change of social dynamics, industrialization and urbanization, and even physical changes to the environment, all affect the why of hunting. It is integral to hunter recruitment and retention that we continually ask ourselves why people hunt and do our best to provide them with the information needed to make their efforts fruitful.

It is also important in our community to share our experiences as a hunter and how it can provide an opportunity for anyone to eat local and eat organic. The YouTube channel Hunting and Fishing for Locavores provides many easy to follow “how-to” videos on hunting, and recipes for what can be made with the meat harvested during a hunt. This channel is a great resource for any new hunter as it provides details on how to begin hunting and what to do once a successful hunt is complete.

A recipe for fried turkey nuggets. Ingredients: 2 lbs skinned turkey nuggets, 2 cups buttermilk, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 large egg (lightly beaten), 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour, 2 teaspoons paprika, 1 teaspoon MSG (optional), 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, and 1 teaspoon black pepper.  Directions: Cut turkey breasts into 1-inch cubes. In large mixing bowl whisk together the buttermilk, egg, salt and MSG. Add nuggets to mixture. Add enough peanut oil to cover the bottom of a large skillet with 2 inches of oil. Heat oil to 350 degrees. Combine dry ingredients ina shallow bowl. Tap off excess liquid from nuggets and toss them in the dry mixture to coat. Fry the nuggets for 4 to 5 minutes ot until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. Remove the nuggets from the skillet. Drain and cool.

I am a member of Gen Z and although I was brought up hunting, I wouldn’t say I had the strongest passion for it until recently. My research into the different perspectives on why people hunt has pulled my attention back to the activity. I strive to be mindful of what I put in and, on my body, since we live in a world where that is becoming easier to do. Finding this term “locavore” really helped me figure out why hunting is so important to me, and hopefully by sharing this knowledge I can help you, the reader, gain a newfound interest in hunting.

Hyler Pence is a graduate student at University of Illinois Springfield pursuing his Master’s Degree in Environmental Studies. He serves as the Graduate Public Service Intern (GPSI) for the Wildlife Division of IDNR. Pence grew up in Macoupin County and enjoys spending his free time outdoors with his fiancé kayaking, fishing, and hunting. He is looking forward to a career in wildlife biology or a similar field.

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