Meat More Important than Antlers: NSSF Study


Hunting means different things to everyone, but recent research shows more are interested in putting meat on the table.

Results from a new scientific survey show that American hunters most often name the meat as their most important reason for hunting, and that the percentage of hunters who hunt mainly for the meat continues to grow. Responsive Management, which has tracked hunting participation for almost three decades, recently released the latest results of a survey question put to U.S. hunters since 2008.

Asked to choose their single, most important reason for hunting from a list that included for a trophy, to be close to nature, to be with family and friends, for the sport or recreation, or for the meat, about two in five hunters nationwide selected the latter reason—by far the most popular answer. (While research shows that hunters hunt for numerous reasons, this question was designed to identify their top reason.)

SURVEY Meat is reason for huntingRather than any new development, this finding is instead the latest data point in a continuing trend. Whereas the sport or recreation was the most popular reason for hunting roughly a decade ago (when about one in three hunters gave this answer), hunters beginning in 2013 have most often named the meat as their primary motivation for going afield. And while the percentages of hunters naming one of the other three reasons have declined or remained flat over the past decade, the proportion of hunters who say they hunt mostly for the meat has almost doubled.

The reasons for this emphasis on game meat as a primary motivator for hunting participation range from the economic to the sociocultural—the shift cannot be attributed to a single reason alone. An important benefit of hunting is its potential as a source of food that hunters can acquire themselves in a cost-effective manner. During times of economic downturn, such as the recession that gripped the country for much of the last decade, hunting is an attractive option for putting food on the table. Certainly, this perspective is represented to some degree within the substantial percentages of individuals who, over the last several years, hunted primarily for the meat.

Another reason for the uptick in hunters who went out mostly for the meat is the locavore movement, a growing national trend reflecting interest in eating locally and taking a more active role in the acquisition of food, especially organic, free-range, chemical- and hormone-free meat.

Add veggies and spices or keep it simple if you're making a slow-cooked roast for the family, but enjoy the venison you brought home this season.

Add veggies and spices or keep it simple if you’re making a slow-cooked roast for the family, but enjoy the venison you brought home this season.

Through the locavore movement, individuals from nontraditional hunting backgrounds have flocked to lessons and seminars offering instruction on how to hunt and process game meat. Locavore hunters are often educated millennials who hail from urban and suburban areas; lacking traditional hunting mentors, they nonetheless have been moved to take up hunting as adults for reasons of self-sufficiency, health, sustainability, or a desire to reconnect with nature.

The growing popularity of the locavore movement is perhaps best exemplified by the fact that Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook and an icon of the millennial generation, has taken up hunting as a means of procuring his own meat (Zuckerberg was recently quoted as saying that food “tastes doubly better when you’ve hunted the animal yourself”).1

The locavore movement has grown to the point that fish and wildlife agencies are beginning to take seriously the recruitment and retention potential of this new category of hunter. Responsive Management recently worked with the Southeastern Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies’ (SEAFWA) Committee on Hunting, Fishing, and Wildlife-Related Participation and the Midwestern Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies’ (MAFWA) Recruitment and Retention Committee to evaluate the outcomes of a series of pilot programs designed to promote hunting and fishing among young adults in urban/suburban settings. The programs targeted individuals who were interested in locally grown or organic foods.

The locavore movement was also examined in Hunting, Fishing, Sport Shooting, and Archery Recruitment, Retention, and Reactivation: A Practitioner’s Guide, a new handbook produced by Responsive Management and the National Shooting Sports Foundation. The handbook, which covers recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) strategies and issues consistent with the ones identified in the National Hunting and Shooting Sports Action Plan, also features a series of on-the-ground vignettes written by R3 professionals and academics. Several of these vignettes focus on the potential for people to be recruited into hunting through locavore motivations.

Finally, the growth of the locavore movement has become important enough to warrant exploration in a recent documentary. An Acquired Taste, a new film from producer/director Vanessa LeMaire, follows three teenage locavores as they decide to learn how to hunt as a way of connecting with the source of their sustenance.

WATCH: How to put more deer on the ground and venison on your table:

“Without the data, I never would had suspected there was a trend this big,” says LeMaire. “Responsive Management’s The Sportsman’s Voice and The Future of Hunting and the Shooting Sports had been key in my research, but it wasn’t until they crunched some numbers that I realized there was an opportunity to reach out to this new demographic. The statistics were essential to the film.”

LeMaire also notes the positive reception the film has enjoyed among non-hunting foodie crowds.

“So far, the film is proving to be a great eye opener to non-hunters who seek alternatives to factory farmed meat. The experiential style of the film invites non-hunting audiences to live their first kill through the journey of the three teens. Because the adolescents are so authentic, one can’t help identifying with them.

“We’ve had youth and adults stand up after a screening sharing their transformation, and people choking up saying that they had never understood their father or brother’s hunting habits until now, and that, at last, they felt reconciled.”

An Acquired Taste is the winner of a “Best Youth Film” award and screened at the American Conservation Film Festival, the San Francisco Green Film Festival, the Colorado Environmental Film Festival, the Wild & Scenic Film Festival, and many more. Today, a number of state fish and wildlife agencies are considering integrating the documentary into their conferences, hunter education programs, and fundraising events. The documentary’s trailer can be viewed here.

From rural residents who have stalked game their entire lives to urban millennials who have only recently become locavores, an increasing number of hunters today are heading into the field first and foremost for the meat. This latest research on hunter motivations reconfirms the value of hunting as a source of sustainably harvested organic meat, in addition to its economic, recreational, social, and naturalistic benefits.


Here’s an easy, tasty venison chili recipe from Stacy Harris, one of our favorite cooks. Harris has several books available in with fantastic tips for preparing venison, wild game and other dishes. She also has a new book available here that would be great for your collection, too.

Easy Venison Chili
1 16-ounce can of tomatoes, diced
1 tablespoon minced canned chipotle chili in adobe sauce
5 slices bacon, finely chopped
4 pounds venison stew meat, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Pepper and Kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 jalapeno chili, seeded and chopped
1 can kidney beans
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 & 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 & 1/2 teaspoon oregano
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups beef broth
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons yellow corn muffin mix

Always make sure your venison is dry and the skillet is super hot before you brown the meat. Browning enhances the flavor of the dish by giving more depth of flavor.

In a food processor, place tomatoes and chipotle chili and puree until smooth (this should only take about 10 seconds). In a Dutch oven, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp. Transfer bacon to paper towel. Leave the fat in the pan.

Pat venison dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat the fat until smoking hot. Brown half of the venison. (Do not crowd the pan or the meat will steam instead of brown). This should take about 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to bowl and repeat.

Add the olive oil, onions, and jalapeño to Dutch oven and cook for about 5 minutes or until softened. Stir in kidney beans, chili powder, cumin, oregano, and garlic.

Cook for about 30 seconds. Stir in broth, tomato mixture and brown sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 1 hour. Uncover and simmer for about 30 minutes longer.

Ladle 1 cup chili liquid into medium-sized bowl and stir in yellow corn muffin mix. Whisk mixture into chili and simmer until chili thickens. Check seasonings. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or cheese.


Get More Great Recipes From Stacy!

Click the photo to get your copy ...

Click the photo to get your copy …

In her book, Happy Healthy Family: Tracking the Outdoors In, Stacy Harris gives the information needed to melt away any intimidation of cooking from the wild and techniques to simplify the process of making succulent, excellent meals. Her tried and true recipes come from a heart to love her family through cooking extraordinarily delicious food gathered from the garden, and hunted and fished from the wild. Get your copy now for home, camp or Christmas gifts!