An Imperative for the Future of Hunting
Not long ago, I traded a knife maker several sets of small deer antlers for two hunting knives. The sheath on one of the knives had my son’s initials engraved on it. After he shot his first deer, I realized this knife had more meaning than merely being a keepsake. Using it for the first time would be a crash course in one of the most imperative themes of our time in the American culture. Where does our food come from, and how do we prepare it for ourselves?
Only a few generations before mine, for much of the United States, enduring the cost of taking a wild animal to a processor was unheard of. The responsibility fell to to the hunter to process his game. Many hunters learned game processing by trial and error, or applied the same principles of butchering livestock to butchering their harvest. As the American economy grew, as big game species (particularly whitetail deer) became more plentiful and popular to hunt, and as the overall culture became less agrarian, hunters began trading the late Sunday nights of butchering for simply dropping off whole animals at a processor on their way home from hunting camp.
Now, because of the popularity of this practice and out of some necessity, meat lockers are filled to the brim with animal carcasses during opening of seasons in much of the midwestern and eastern U.S. It’s not uncommon to pull into a processor’s parking lot and see carcasses laying on top of one another outside processing facilities. Many of these carcasses haven’t been cleaned properly after field dressing, and have been exposed to unsanitary conditions before they were dropped off. It’s even common practice today for many processors to let you know up front that you most likely will not be getting your own meat back, especially if it is ground up.
Hunting is Only the Beginning
To many six year olds, food comes from the grocery store. Meat comes bright red in a cellophane wrapped package or thinly sliced in a little plastic box. Animals are things they see on TV, in a park, or at a zoo. Many modern children simply don’t associate livestock or wildlife with food. This wasn’t the case even 50-75 years ago. Many children were directly involved in the butchering process of animals on their family farms. They understood that the animals that were being raised were there for food, and that food had to be gathered each year.
It’s not just important to consider these factors for our youth because they can become subject to the conditions of a game processing facility. The principle is much farther reaching. The hunt is only a portion of living the outdoor lifestyle. Learning how to ethically and legally take, field dress, break down, preserve, and cook a harvest is the connection to food that much of America has lost.
I’m concerned that the availability and convenience of game processing locations, and the non-agrarian lifestyle many hunters lead, will lead many young hunters to lose interest in hunting. The greater the distance becomes between ourselves and what is required to process our own meat, the less valuable that meat becomes to us. What I learned with my son(6) and my daughter (5) is that they absolutely love seeing how an animal is constructed. They love feeling the textures of the fur and the meat. I use field dressing and butchering as a way to teach them about internal body parts, and how God has put creatures together. It’s hands-on education unlike anything they could learn in school.
On top of it all, both of my kids absolutely love to eat the meat we harvest. Typically we have to eat some of it right away, especially if they help me process it. It doesn’t matter if it’s fish, squirrel, or venison back-strap, none of it lasts very long around our house.
A Faith Element
There is also a Christian element to this process. Hunting inherently possesses moral and Biblical principles. On the moral side, my children and I have discussions on a regular basis about the importance of legality, ethics, conservation, responsibility, providing for our family. On the Biblical side, and most exciting to me, hunting opens the door for discussions about things like God’s sovereignty over His creation and his provision for us. When those discussions are most prevalent are when my children see the blood of the animal for the first time. Its then that we get to discuss things like sacrifice and what Jesus did at the cross for our sins. It’s a visual like none other.
Make Instructing a Priority
Some people may look at the pictures of me instructing my son with his knife as we butcher his first deer and think, “No way. That is way too unsafe.” That’s ok. I don’t believe that all children should do what I instruct him to do. If a parent doesn’t have the time or knowledge to instruct their children in these things in a patient and quality manner, then by all means, don’t risk your safety or your child’s.
But if you are an outdoorsman that is capable and you are not instructing your children in a field to table manner, through the harvest, processing, and table preparation, I would encourage you to. My opinion is this, if they are old enough to hunt, they are old enough to help process meat.
Don’t force it, but offer the opportunity for them to take it in at their own pace. Butchering is a time consuming process, so don’t turn it into a pain point for yourself or your children by rushing or excluding them. If you involve them, it’s best to do so when the time allows. Let them branch out now. It could be the difference between a life long means of provision and love for the outdoors and a short lived children’s hobby.