Want organic, sustainable meat? Kill it yourself, say veteran hunters trying to appeal to the next generation of recruits to keep the sport alive
BOGART, Ga.—A group of veteran hunters set out last month in a forest northeast of Atlanta with apprentices. Among them, a former vegetarian, a Haitian-born grad student and a farmers-market manager. They wore camouflage and carried crossbows.
They were aiming to kill white-tailed deer. But the real target: new hunters.
The number of Americans 16 and older who hunt is down 18% from two decades ago, according to federal data. An older generation of hunters is trying to lure recruits to the sport by pitching it as a good way to ensure meat is local, sustainable and probably organic.
"Earthy crunchy aligns very well with deer hunting," says Charles Evans, 29, who works in hunter recruitment for the Georgia Wildlife Federation.
The December hunt, aimed at relative newbies, was organized by Field to Fork, a project started in 2016 by a 60,000-member national hunting group. The project locates its human targets at places such as a farmers market in Athens, Ga., where it provides samples of venison.
The trainees use crossbows, which are quieter than guns and let them train and hunt on properties closer to civilization. For some first-time hunters, the equipment is more palatable than firearms—though most rifles can shoot farther.
Frank Kennedy Jr., 25, on the hunt from nearby Winder, Ga., says he joined the program because he wanted to "eat food where I knew where it came from" but found hunting "intimidating from the get-go." Now he regularly goes out to the forest to hunt.
Once a staple of American life, hunting has declined as the percentage of people living in rural areas shrinks and fewer people have the time or need for a pastime requiring patience and the willingness to kill an animal.