Field-to-Fork Courses: Boosting Hunting Participation and More

“Field to Fork” programs connect individuals from diverse backgrounds through one common goal: obtaining affordable, organic, ethically sourced red meat through hunting. These programs teach valuable deer-hunting skills and provide a supportive, encouraging social community.
Photo Credit: Brian Clark

Author: Cassie Scott

Tyler Ridenour contributed to this article. 

The natural-foods movement is thriving as urban and suburban dwellers re-evaluate where their food comes from, and the route it takes to their table. To capitalize on that trend, many state wildlife agencies offer “Field to Fork,” “Gourmet Gone Wild,” or “Hunt. Fish. Eat.” programs to teach basic hunting skills to adults with little or no hunting background.

These programs provide social support and try to boost the participants’ confidence as they learn how to “source” their own meat. The programs also help them see the connection between hunting and sustainable organic foods. In addition, the programs help recruit and retain hunters and expand the shooting community.

Samantha Pedder, director of business development for the Council to Advance Hunting and the Shooting Sports, says hunting’s demographics are shifting, so the archery industry must seek new audiences.

“The average age of hunters is increasing across the nation,” Pedder said. “The rate at which millennials are picking up the sport, in comparison to the rate at which (previous) generations did, is much different and presents a big problem for our industry. This is a trend that we as a community need to address to ensure a strong pool of … future hunters.”

Pedder said recent research by Dr. Loren Chase at the Arizona Game and Fish Department analyzed the ages of people who bought hunting and fishing licenses in 23 states. Chase shared his findings in an article, “The Disappearance of Hunting and Fishing,” which predicts hunting and angling participation will keep worsening in the years ahead.

Figure X. - Those born in the 1950s and 1960s have had a higher propensity to hunt through time. Soon, that group will attrite due to the physicality of the activity, and hunter declines will be exacerbated.

Even so, Pedder thinks “Field to Fork” and other programs are great ways to engage new audiences, and boost interest in hunting by targeting nontraditional segments.

“These programs expand the channels for people to enter our sport,” Pedder said. “They … provide much-needed innovative ideas, and promote (new ways to think) about our customers.”

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources worked with partnering organizations to develop its “Field to Fork” program. KDFWR and its partners have offered the program annually since 2010 in the Lexington and Louisville areas, and enroll about 20 participants per class. They intend to expand the program’s frequency and locations as they add partners and sponsors like Mossy Oak.

Brian Clark, a private-lands wildlife biologist for KDFWR, helped develop the program. He said it attracts adults of all ages, but the average age is 40. Clark also said about one-third of “Field to Fork” participants are female, and most hail from suburban or metro areas. They’re more racially and ethnically diverse than most Kentucky hunters. Some drive one to two hours to take the course.

Kentucky’s “Field to Fork” participants earn their hunter-safety certificate, and receive hands-on shooting instruction and range time with crossbows and compound bows.

The course’s experts discuss hunting regulations, hunting strategies, deer biology and ecology, and access to public and private lands. A hands-on field workshop includes simulated blood-trailing and deer retrieval, and a field-dressing and quartering demonstration teaches basic butchering and meat safety.

Participants also learn to use bows, crossbows and firearms, and they can earn a hunter-safety certificate if they need it. After completing their coursework, they’re paired with a mentor to learn hunting and woodsmanship skills before going to the woods to hunt.

Clark said post-program surveys found that many participants buy licenses and go hunting after taking the course. They also buy bows, crossbows, firearms and hunting/shooting accessories.

“If these newcomers come full circle and transition into hunters, they purchase licenses, which support state fish and wildlife agencies, and conservation,” Pedder said. They’re also likely to buy equipment, which drives business to archery shops and increases funds for the Pittman-Robertson Act, further funding conservation.”

Pedder said “Field to Fork” and similar programs strengthen our wildlife-management systems and practices, and create hunting advocates to encourage other food-driven people to try hunting.

“Many of them are parents or grandparents who, in turn, can create new hunters,” Clark said.

Pictured above are Kentucky “Field to Fork” participants and their mentors. The pairs spent a portion of the course afield learning hunting and woodsmanship skills. With a little luck, some participants used their new skills to harvest their first deer.

These types of programs are growing in popularity. Wildlife agencies in Georgia, Minnesota and Wisconsin are promoting them, and other states plan to start their own programs soon.

“If states want to diversify who their constituents are, this program might help them,” Pedder said. “The best part is, this program is full of resources and can be picked up and implemented right away. All the tools are there.”

Those interested in developing similar programs for their state should visit Locavore.Guide, an online toolkit that helps agencies, nonprofits and industry groups offer introductory hunting programs for adults, particularly those motivated by food.

Clark and other state-agency representatives recently teamed with industry partners, including the Archery Trade Association, to create a Locavore guide with funding from a federal grant.

The Locavore.Guide website contains hundreds of resources to create programs, including train-the-trainer videos, modules for hunting and fishing, and practical resources for novice end users. Visit the Hunting and Fishing for Locavores YouTube channel and the WildLocavore Pinterest page for even more resources and ideas.

To learn more about the ATA’s outreach and education programs designed to grow bowhunting and archery, contact Josh Gold, ATA’s senior director of education and outreach.

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