Lily Raff McCaulou started hunting after she moved West, met hunters and was impressed at how connected they were to the ecosystem.
Hank Shaw took up hunting in his 30s after successfully feeding himself via fishing and foraging for the better part of a year. Hunting, he figured, would provide enough protein for him to close the loop and free himself of supermarkets.
Jesse Griffiths didn’t start to hunt until after he was an established chef, butcher and foodie in Austin, Texas. Now he teaches other people to hunt, butcher and cook everything from catfish to wild hogs.
All three represent a new and growing breed among the hunting ranks: adults who have taken up the pursuit of game to satisfy a desire to control where their food comes from and to better connect with nature.
“There is a huge new movement of food-oriented hunters who are taking up the pursuit specifically for the food aspect,” Shaw said.
“Fundamentally, they want to take possession of what they feed themselves and their families.”
All three are authors and ambassadors of sorts to the locavore-turned-hunter movement. Shaw’s book “Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast,” was published last year. He spent 19 years as a newspaper reporter specializing in politics and working in New York, Minnesota and Sacramento, Calif., where he now lives. As a cub reporter living on Long Island, N.Y., and scraping by on a meager salary, he turned to the sea to feed himself and survived from March to November on fish and shellfish. About 10 years ago, during another reporting stop at the St. Paul Pioneer Press in Minnesota, he told the paper’s outdoor editor about his ability to subsist for months on seafood and lamented it wasn’t possible at an inland location.
“He said, ‘You should just pick up hunting’ and I had kind of been thinking about it and he gave me the push I needed,” Shaw said.
Combined with his already-established fishing, foraging and gardening skills, Shaw had the tools to almost completely free himself from supermarkets and the food supply chain that stretches around the globe.
Now an avid hunter, he started to freelance articles about food — a diversion from political reporting — and started his blog in 2007.
“It was really a space for me to just write about whatever I happened to be doing at the time and it kind of grew into something much larger,” he said.
He started winning awards and gaining a following, secured a book deal and decided to cut the cord of his stable newspaper paycheck.
“I have been doing this full time since April of 2010,” he said. “So far as I know, the site is the largest source of wild food recipes on the Internet, not just game and fish but plants and mushrooms, as well.”
Raff McCaulou grew up in suburban Maryland, studied film at Wesleyan University and moved to New York City to work in the independent film industry before taking a reporter job at the Bend Bulletin in central Oregon.
“I had grown up in a city and always considered myself an environmentalist. I was pretty dismissive of the idea of hunting. I didn’t know any hunters,” she said.
Moving to Bend put her in frequent contact with passionate hunters who cared for the land and the animals they pursued.
“Even though they would never describe themselves as environmentalists, they sure seemed like environmentalists to me. The more I got to know them, the more they seemed like more honest environmentalists than I was,” she said. “They just knew so much more about their surroundings and what was going on in the ecosystem, and they seemed to care so much about the animals they hunted. It sounds stupid now but it was shocking to me at the time.”
She decided to take up hunting to make a deeper connection to the high desert and mountains of central Oregon. But she said food was also an important motivator.
“I had been a meat eater my whole life and I had never accepted what that meant,” she said. “So a big reason I started to hunt was this curiosity about whether I had it in me to actually kill my own meat.”
Now a committed hunter, Raff McCaulou wrote “Call of the Mild: Learning to Hunt My Own Dinner,” a memoir chronicling her transformation. Her first kill was a pheasant taken during a woman’s hunting clinic.
“Until I pulled the trigger on that first rooster, I didn’t know whether I would hate it and never want anything to do with it again, or if it was something I would really become passionate about,” she said. “I really had no idea.”
Her first hunt was filled with that tension. She not only wondered if hunting was really for her but also worried about handling the gun that was still an unfamiliar and somewhat scary tool. After a long day in the field, a pheasant flushed, and she shot and hit the bird.
“It was pure euphoria. I was high for like 36 hours after that. It was amazing. I have killed a lot of animals since then and I have never gotten such a pure rush. I have gotten a watered-down version of that but never like that (first time),” she said. “Every kill since then has been more complicated. More like I expected.”
She’s reluctant to guess at the extent to which people like her and people hungry for natural and local food are swelling the hunting ranks.
But she said the general awareness of where food comes from and the effect of the global food market is opening the eyes of many people who might otherwise be either against or ambivalent to hunting.
“I think there are all these other things happening related to food that are kind of in a small way changing people’s minds and pointing them toward hunting,” she said. “So now it’s not such a weird thing or such a big leap for somebody to hunt.”
Griffiths is helping people take that plunge. He operates a butcher shop and supper club, is a lifelong angler and a locavore who started hunting six years ago.
“I think hunting is just a very natural aspect of that, it is just one facet of sourcing food. It goes along with growing and fishing and foraging and preserving.”
He teaches three-day workshops that immerse students in the full circle of hunting, from field to the table. “They go hunting, they learn to skin and gut and care for their animals after they have been killed and then we teach them butchering and cooking and curing and making sausage,” he said. “We sit them down and we feed them the whole weekend.
"I think that is also educational, to sit down and eat and enjoy it. Food should be enjoyed. You need to sit at a table with good conversation and eat some really nice venison prepared different ways. People understand the whole circle of it and how important it is to have that connection.”
Like him, his students are generally more interested in taking home food after the hunt rather than trophies.
“They are kind of in that 30-to-45 age group. They are interested in food, they are shopping at farmers markets and things like that. Maybe five years ago they wouldn’t have considered hunting because of the violent, gun-wielding perception they had of it,” he said. “I think people are seeing a different perspective — what hunting is — not so much gun culture as food culture.”