More Consumers Relying on Hunting to Sidestep Rising Food Costs

More Consumers Relying on Hunting to Sidestep Rising Food Costs

Recently I ran into a woman I knew who was looking at the selection of meats in a grocery store. “Wow,” she said, picking up a package of hamburger. “Look at the price of this meat. It’s ridiculous. I can’t believe the inflation.” Then she went on to tell me that she had just begun to hunt with her husband to augment their meat supply to cut back on grocery bills.

“I’m so glad I started hunting with my husband. I love it and never realized what I was missing. We even processed the three deer we killed last fall by ourselves to save more money. We bought an inexpensive meat grinder to make our own venison burger, too,” she said with a grin. “It’s fun, and the kids love to help.” She walked away and came back. “By the way,” she said, smiling, “we bought our daughter a .22 with some of the money we saved by not buying meat.”

I understood her bliss. Like most Americans, she was looking at new ways to save money and shop more judiciously during these times of serious inflation. Hunting is a primary means of accomplishing that objective. As reported in multiple media outlets and on Fox New as recently as Wednesday, many others are doing the same thing.

This is not to disparage American ranchers and farmers who raise livestock that eventually ends up wrapped in cellophane. There always will be plenty of nonhunters and hunters who will continue to buy meat, as it should be. It’s not the fault of our ranchers that prices continue to rise. That’s a function of all the factions that handle meat from the field to the store. Because prices of practically every product we use, meat or not, are constantly rising, we shrug our shoulders, blame it on inflation, and see our disposable income decrease.

Personally, my wife and I purchase very little meat. Infrequently we’ll buy chicken and pork. We’re blessed because our freezer has a variety of meats gathered by hunting. We aren’t anti-beef. When we dine out, we typically enjoy steaks and burgers.

My friend Jon French who lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula hunts extensively with his wife, Margaret, and two sons, ages 10 and 12. Each year they take the boys out of school (the boys do a lot of makeup work afterward) and make a hunting trip to Wyoming. They hunt a unit where it’s easy for nonresidents to get deer tags and also hunt elk and antelope when they draw tags. They typically return home with several whitetail does and whatever else they can harvest. In order to cut down on travel costs they tow a camper.

“We live exclusively on wild game with some exceptions,” French said. “Not only do we love it, but we’re tired of paying the high prices of meat in stores.” He shared how the boys got their hunter safety cards as soon as they were old enough to hunt. Besides their Western hunt, the family also harvests three or four deer each year around their home in Michigan. “We also bring home ducks, grouse and small game from local hunts,” he added. “We process all those critters ourselves and we certainly see the savings. My oldest son made summer sausage from a bear our neighbor shot last fall. The boys learned early on how to respect wildlife and the outdoors. Margaret and I believe that hunting not only helps the budget but creates a terrific bond within our family.”

Jody Sistrunk, a friend in Mississippi, also supplements his meat supply with venison. “My wife, Tracey, and I save a ton of money by not buying much meat. Ninety percent of the meat we consume comes from the outdoors,” he said. “We harvest deer here in Mississippi and also make a trip to Colorado annually to hunt elk when we can.”

Despite the expenses of the hunt, Sistrunk says they still save money when they figure the amount of meat they get from their elk when compared to store-bought meat. He figures the money he saves by not buying meat helps offset much of their elk hunting expense. “And besides,” Jody added, “elk and deer meat is special. We really enjoy it.”

Having said all this, many hunters enjoy both store-bought meat and venison. The latter provides a unique taste that you can’t get from stores. Anti-hunters often suggest that we don’t need to hunt; we can buy our meat. They evidently forget that someone else kills that cow or steer. It’s the notion that we kill it ourselves that infuriates them. They have no clue about the many joys of hunting, whether we’re successful or not. And show me a store where you can buy a moose roast or an antelope backstrap. Good luck. Though it’s possible to buy farm-raised elk and deer venison you’ll pay an exorbitant fee for it.

A couple recently moved to our valley from a West Coast state. He had very little outdoor experience but a neighbor introduced him to hunting. Soon the man brought home a deer, and then the next year he killed an antelope and elk. He and his wife found the taste of the big game exquisite and incorporated it into their meals, which included beef. He says he’s pigeonholing the extra savings to buy a new rifle.

Scott Werbelow, the supervisory game warden in the northwest Wyoming region where he oversees the activities of nine game wardens, told me, “I see more and more nonresident hunters coming to Wyoming mainly to hunt for meat. Many come with doe tags and aren’t interested in a buck. Of course, some hunters will start off on opening day by hoping to shoot a big 4-point muley, but then lower their standards as the next day or two pass so they can take meat home.”

The inflated price of everything we buy, whether it’s a vehicle, clothing or food, has not escaped the attention of the media. Various online and paper publications are addressing a movement across much of the world where people are growing their own food in gardens, gathering it from the wild and hunting. Some years ago, the term “locavore” was established. This describes a person who obtains much of his/her food locally. Some locavores establish strict territories where they secure their food, such as 50 miles from their house. They may be meat eaters, vegans or vegetarians. Many of those who consume meat have made the transition from nonhunters to hunters. They appreciate the fact that wild animals are organic, making a deer’s flesh that much more appealing. Having hunters in that lifestyle grouping is a plus. It helps our reputation when people who are typically recognized as environmentalists, even anti-hunters, are made aware that hunting has a legitimate purpose and is not a despicable activity.

Consumers are also resorting to other ways to save money by buying only food on sale, using coupons, shopping on discount days and completely avoiding certain “luxury” foods such as those found on Charcuterie boards, which are really snack boards or trays that hold a variety of cheeses, nuts, cold cuts and other appetizers. That brings up an interesting, amusing point. In early February this year I was at the deli section in our grocery store intending on buying some salami. The employee asked what brand I’d like. I said XYZ. Then she said that since I was buying XYZ I was eligible to put my name in for a drawing for a Super Bowl Snack Tray. I never win anything but I put my name on a piece of paper and handed it to her. Two weeks later I got a call from the deli. “You won,” the voice said. “Won what?” I responded, thinking it was a scam call. “The XYZ Super Bowl Snack Tray,” she said excitedly. I was dumbfounded. The next day I picked up a huge charcuterie tray that, incidentally, was a big hit at our Super Bowl party. This all makes me wonder if XYZ is experiencing declining sales and is using promotions to boost its products.

screen grab of nra hlf story regarding nra national wild game meat donation month

So far, I’ve addressed people who are shopping differently, hunting more and adopting new lifestyles to beat inflation. How about hunters who help feed the hungry? That’s a huge project within our fraternity. Rising prices affect needy people as well. There are many, many groups around the country involved in feeding the hungry including the NRA, which has been involved in the movement since its inception in the early 1990s and remains a leader in this movement to the point it declared November 2023 America’s first ever National Wild Game Meat Donation Month.

Hunters for the Hungry is a state-by-state cooperative effort among hunters, sportsmen’s associations, meat processors, meat inspectors and hunger relief organizations to help feed those in need. Over the years, these programs have produced hundreds of thousands of pounds of venison that have been donated to food banks, homeless shelters and soup kitchens. One group, Trinity Oaks in Texas, produced more than 1 million pounds of ground venison and donated it to orphanages, food banks and other needy groups. The deer were processed at facilities owned by Trinity Oaks, using volunteers to operate equipment and package and deliver meat.

There are many organizations in the states involved in Hunters for the Hungry. Other foundations and groups are also helping in a big way. These organizations depend on support from hunters. State wildlife regulatory agencies work closely with the groups. There are many ways that funds are raised. Banquets, auctions, shooting competitions and donations made when buying a hunting a license are contribute to generate revenue. The food donation efforts have a working relationship with local meat inspection authorities and food banks and depend on volunteers to assist in the programs. When a deer is donated, the fee may be waived or paid by the hunter. It was determined early on that these groups be aligned in their geographical or political areas due to the many variations in the programs. In some states, legislators and their families are directly involved in feeding the hungry. In Wyoming, for example, First Lady Jennie Gordon started the program Food from the Field.

According to Mrs. Gordon, “This innovative program helps our most vulnerable neighbors in Wyoming. The Wyoming Hunger Initiative, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Wyoming Department of Agriculture and participating processors work together to streamline game meat donation to food pantries statewide.”

Donating meat to the hungry is also a profoundly powerful way to win the hearts of nonhunters. By offering free venison to homeless and poverty-stricken people we appeal to everyone who has compassion for the less fortunate. When you consider that around 4 percent of America’s population are hunters, it’s easy to see where we see defeats in ballot box initiatives. The public votes—and the vast majority of the public are nonhunters. Positive efforts by hunters such as the venison donation programs go a long way to improving our image, especially since antis continually strive to make us look bad. This perk is certainly not the driving force behind the feeding the hungry projects, nor should it ever be, but it helps portray our hunting community in a positive light. And it just might help us win votes when those ballots are considered.

Once I was involved in a project put on by a hunting organization where we fed 1,200 people, offering them venison sloppy joes. I was in a line of servers ladling meat on their plates. One man who appeared to be very destitute looked at me and said, “Sir, may I please have some extra? I haven’t eaten in three days.”

At that moment I was mighty proud to be a hunter.

About the Author
Hunting icon Jim Zumbo is a noted Western big-game hunter who also has hunted deer in all 50 states. Backed by two degrees in forestry and wildlife, he has published more than 2,000 articles in outdoor publications, written 23 hunting books and conducted hunting seminars nationwide for hunter-backed organizations, including the NRA. In addition to serving as a full-time writer/editor for Outdoor Life magazine for 30 years, most of them as hunting editor, he was the host of “Jim Zumbo Outdoors” on the Outdoor Channel. An NRA Benefactor Life member, Zumbo has won numerous writing awards and is active with several conservation groups, including serving three terms on the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Board. His biography, Zumbo, Based on the True Story of Jim Zumbo and His Blog Heard Around the World, by K.J. Houtman, was released in November 2016.