There was a time when being a hunter meant I didn't share my love of the outdoors for fear of harsh criticism from strangers. I distinctly remember an incident that happened more than a decade ago.
The conversation started off friendly enough. The woman beside me on the flight to Toronto was well-dressed; polished in every way. We chatted about family, travel and work. It was all very pleasant. Until she asked what I did for a living. "I work as a magazine editor for Ducks Unlimited," I said.
She didn't have to say another word. Her body language spoke for her. She took in a deep breath, crossed her legs away from me and shifted as if she wanted to be sitting anywhere but there. "How could you do that?" she asked. Naively, I asked what she meant. "Kill things. Ducks Unlimited is just a bunch of hunters. How can you shoot defenceless animals?"
The scene would play out over and over, on flights, at cocktail parties and at baseball games. Eventually, I learned to keep my trap shut. The fact I was a hunter stayed tucked in the closet, next to my camo gear.
A couple of years ago, in a moment of bravery during whitetail season, I posted a Facebook update beaming about my niece's first deer, followed by my success that week in the field. More recently, I've been flooding Twitter with venison recipes and links to waterfowl cookbooks. I awaited the flood of unfriending and unfollowing.
But something unexpected happened. There were notes of congratulations and requests for deer sausage.
I'd like to think attitudes have changed, maybe just a little bit. Sure, I still get the emails railing against my choices, but more often than not the notes are positive. The most common request: Can you take me hunting?
My guess is this shift in attitude has something to do with healthy living, doing the best for our kids and what lands up on our dinner tables. More and more, food-safety issues pop up in our news feeds. In large urban centres, there's a trend for so-called hipsters to start hunting for their food -- for purely ethical reasons.
This new trend comes from a very old idea that was practised by our pioneering grandparents -- make the most of what you have. It's a sentiment echoed by my own hunting mentor and brother-in-law, Kevin Zazulinski.
"When I cook deer meat, I know where that animal has lived, what it's been eating and who has touched the meat. Me. When I buy meat from the grocery story, probably 20 hands have touched that product. That can't be a good thing," he said.
Zazulinski said the deer he and his family harvest yield an incredibly high-quality meat. "They eat alfalfa, barley and oats all year long. These deer eat better than cattle these days."
As far as benefits beyond food, Zazulinski has some thoughts on that, too. "Take a kid out hunting or fishing," he said. "Or even just for a walk in the woods. That's really where it all starts."
So is there a way to give people the opportunity to get out there and hunt? Delta Waterfowl offers more than 30 mentored hunts across Canada. They've also launched a new program called First Hunt, which offers online resources for anyone who gets asked the question, "Will you take me out hunting?" (http://www.deltawaterfowl.org/firsthunt/index.php)
Manitoba Wildlife Federation offers mentored hunts for waterfowl and white-tailed deer. (http://mwf.mb.ca/wp/programs-3/mentored-hunts/ For more information, call 204-633-4868 or email@example.com)
Ducks Unlimited offers mentored waterfowl hunts starting in September. (http://www.waterfowling.com/about-waterfowling/waterfowling-events/ For more information, contact Chris Benson at 204-467-3249 or firstname.lastname@example.org)
Keep in mind all beginning hunters must have passed the Manitoba Hunter Education Course. (http://mwf.mb.ca/wp/programs-3/hunter-education/)
Shel Zolkewich writes about the outdoors, travel and food when she's not playing outside, travelling or eating. You can reach her with your comments at email@example.com.