As interest in locally sourced food soars, the Texas Wildlife Association (TWA) is decreasing the distance from field to table for urban and suburban Texans by co-hosting hunt-to-table dinners and providing mentored hunting experiences for adults.
“For earlier generations in a much more rural Texas, the field and the table were often located within walking distance of one another,” said David Brimager, TWA’s Director of Public Relations. “As Texas’ population has grown and urbanized, the distance between people’s food sources and their plates has increased exponentially—in terms of miles as well as knowledge and experience.”
He continued, “By offering hunt-to-table dinners featuring wild game and local produce as well as mentored adult hunts, we’re providing a short cut to knowledge and experience.”
Over the past decade, Texas, like the rest of the country, has seen the emergence of “locavores,” people whose diets consist principally of locally grown or produced food. It is a modern trend with ancient roots.
Chef Jessie Griffiths, co-owner of buzz-generating Dai Due and Dai Due Taqueria in Austin, said, “The interest in local foods is a resurgence . . . not a new thing. Sourcing food locally is one of the oldest activities known to man.”
Griffiths and his business partner Tamara Mayfield founded Dai Due 12 years ago as a butcher shop featuring naturally produced protein in response to the public’s growing interest in the source and quality of food. While the local food movement got its start in California, it is at home in Texas.
When it comes to eating locally in Texas, we can appeal to a sense of heritage,” said Griffiths, a TWA member who co-hosts the hunt-to-table dinners. “It’s a matter of eating like our great grandparents did—they probably had an incredible diet that was close to the land.”
In addition to an agrarian lifestyle, Texas had its own local food cultures that were influenced by the ingredients at hand. Grass-fed beef, pork and poultry, pastured eggs, wild game, fresh-caught fish, garden-fresh produce and fresh fruits, both domestic and wild, were staples. Immigrants moving to the Lone Star State brought their own spices and preparations to bear on the land’s bounty.
“Travel abroad really showcased cuisines that were built on local ingredients for me, prompting me to ask, ‘What would happen if we locally sourced food from Central Texas?’” Griffiths said. “At Dai Due we limit ourselves to the things we can get locally, but we don’t limit ourselves to existing ideas.”
A hunt-to-table dinner that introduced participants to game as well as hunting and conservation was an idea that resonated with both Griffiths and TWA.
“Whether it’s around a campfire or a table, people connect when they share a meal,” Brimager said. “These dinners bring people together and the conversation allows us to naturally share the legacy of conservation through hunting.”
On April 25, Griffiths and TWA will team up for their fourth Hunt to Table Dinner which will be held at Rain Lily Farm in Austin. By showcasing wild game as the main course, they have embraced a slightly different take on farm-to-table dinners.
“Game, arguably, is the most natural, purest form of protein available,” Brimager said. “By showcasing well-prepared dishes featuring game that has been properly handled in the field, people are introduced to its true taste. Good taste slays a lot of preconceived ideas.”
Getting people excited about preparing and eating game motivates Griffiths and his team.
“I’ve done my job if I get people—those who have eaten game and those who haven’t—excited about its potential as food,” Griffiths said. “For those who have preconceived ideas, whether it’s about game’s taste and even hunting, a good experience at the table can help them get over a negative mental hump.”
According to Thomas Theuring of Austin, it works. He and his girlfriend attended last year’s Hunt to Table Dinner. Theuring, who had participated in a TWA mentored hunt beforehand, was interested in learning more about hunting. His girlfriend was less enthusiastic.
When they arrived, the couple was struck by the ambiance and the welcome. Twinkle lights sparkled in the trees. Long tables were set against a backdrop of gardens. Strangers quickly became friends.
“It was like being at a beautiful family picnic,” Theuring said of the multi-course meal served with paired wines. “The entire community was so welcoming. We arrived as strangers, but shared a common interest so the conversation flowed easily.”
Brief presentations on land stewardship and the relationship between hunting and conservation as well as TWA programs seasoned the meal. Educating attendees and prompting more conversations were the twin goals.
“My girlfriend was skeptical about hunting, but she enjoyed the exceptional meal and all of the people,” TWA Member Theuring said. “Then presenters talked about ‘conserving the land for generations to come.’ That phrase stuck with her and really changed her perspective about hunting.”
According to Griffiths, the presentations and conversations are a meaty component of the meal. Having access to experienced, knowledgeable outdoorspeople makes the prospect of going afield less daunting for novices.
“At these dinners, people come to understand that hunting can be done by anybody, regardless of age and gender,” said Griffiths, who is a first generation hunter. “Strong recruitment is essential if we want to keep our hunting heritage intact and conscientiously manage our resources.”
For Theuring, the Hunt to Table dinners are an ideal way for people to explore hunting and brush up against the hunting community.
“Anyone who is interested in hunting, even those who still have some reservations, should come to a Hunt to Table Dinner,” Theuring said. “You’ll get a great meal, meet some incredible people and learn a lot. It is a completely safe environment to explore what could become a passion.”
Unlike most of the 2018 Hunt to Table Dinner attendees, Theuring sat in a deer blind as a mentored hunter before sitting down as a dinner guest.
“I actually found out about the dinner while I was on my hunt,” said Theuring, a native of Germany who now lives in Austin and works at a tech start-up.
He heard about the mentored hunt from a co-worker whose friend had signed up.
“My co-worker said something like ‘I have this friend who is going on a hunting thing and you should call him,’” Theuring said.
Growing up in southern Germany, Theuring hiked and camped in the Alps. Although he was interested in hunting, he never had the opportunity.
“While there is hunting in Germany, it’s very different because the population is so dense and the space is so limited,” Theuring said. “It is a long, time-consuming process to qualify, so I never even tried.”
When Theuring came to the U.S. first as an exchange student and then as a graduate student in Oregon, he was overwhelmed by the country’s vastness, the amount of open space and the relatively easy access to outdoor activities including hunting.
“I was fascinated because hunting and fishing could be part of people’s daily lives,” Theuring said.
Although his interest in hunting continued to grow, the opportunity to get in the field evaded Theuring until his co-worker made that passing comment.
“I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity,” Theuring said. “I got his friend’s number—and I called.”
As it turned out, the hunt was scheduled for the following weekend on a Hill Country Ranch. Working with TWA staff, Theuring completed his hunter education course and got a hunting license lickety split. He didn’t have a rifle, but through TWA made arrangements to borrow one from a hunt mentor.
“They [TWA] took care of everything—lodging, food, equipment,” Theuring said. “We had a list of things to bring, but the staff and volunteers made it as easy as possible.”
The adult mentored hunts are based loosely on the tried-and-true Texas Youth Hunting Program (TYHP) model.
“Our sponsored hunts emphasize safety, responsibility and conservation regardless of the participants’ ages,” Brimager said. “Our adult hunts include more free time for participants to just experience ranch life and nature while our youth hunts have organized activities from sun up to sundown.”
The hunts take place on private ranches and run from Friday night through Sunday noon. Before taking the field, each hunter spends time on a shooting range where seasoned volunteers ensure the novices are competent, capable and safe.
Theuring had served in the German military, so handling firearms was not new to him. He is the exception instead of the rule.
“Many of the novice adults haven’t ever shot a gun,” Brimager said. “They tend to be nervous and excited, but once we get past those emotions which can really mess with the way people shoot, the new hunters catch on quickly—and are amazingly proficient.”
Every novice hunter is paired with a mentor who is their expert guide throughout the weekend. Hunter and mentor are one-on-one in the blind creating a chance for focused interaction. According to Theuring, the time spent with his mentor was a high point.
“Having a mentor sit next to you in a blind is a very personal introduction to hunting,” Theuring said. “He shared his stories, answered all of my questions and really gave me a perspective on the relationship between hunting and conservation that I wasn’t aware of.”
The weekend piqued Theuring’s interest in hunting and changed his relationship with food. Although he didn’t harvest a doe on his first hunt, other participants did. Collectively, they participated in dressing and processing the deer.
“When I went to the store, I looked at the meat case differently,” Theuring said. “I’d made a connection between the land and the animals.”
The experience also equipped him to educate other people on hunting’s value.
“I have friends who are skeptical of hunting because they think it’s only about killing animals,” Theuring said. “When I tell them about the relationship between the land and harvesting animals that have lived in this most natural state, it’s an eye opener for them.”
Theuring, who was captivated by the experience and the welcome within the hunting community, went on a second hunt.
“Hunting brings you back to the fundamental things of human existence,” said Theuring, who recently became a TYHP volunteer. “You’re away from the hectic city and your cell phone, so it’s you, nature and your thoughts. It’s almost like meditation.”
In the midst of the quiet, a doe appeared. Theuring pulled the trigger. The doe fell—forever.
“In that moment, I experienced an unanticipated feeling of gratitude to nature for providing that deer,” Theuring said. “Yes, I harvested an animal, but it will sustain me and my people for a good, long while.”
The principles of conservation are now part of his ethos.
“While I’m excited to go hunting again, I don’t want to take more than I can use, so I’m content to wait a while,” Theuring said.
Novice Hunting: A Perspective as Told by Jesse Griffiths
“I grew up fishing, and I spent a lot of time catching and eating fish. I was interested in hunting, but I didn’t have anyone to introduce me to it. As a kid from Denton, fishing was just a lot more accessible.
Then, I got into the food industry. I worked at different restaurants including one that specialized in whole animal butchery. At that point, I acted on my interest in hunting. I bought myself a .20 gauge shotgun and found a place to go dove hunting.
In an unprecedented accident, I shot the first dove I aimed at. Of course, I missed all the rest—about two boxes worth of shells—I shot at that day, but the experience opened up a whole new world to me.
As for me, I only like to hunt or fish for things I like to eat. I gorge on fresh fish and blue crabs from the end of February through October. I don’t like to freeze my fish. Then, in the fall and winter I fill my freezer with venison and wild hog. From the time I aim at a hog, I have a plan on how I’m going to use it depending on its size, its age and how fat it is. I also hunt dove and ducks.
While I’m in it for the food, hunting is much more than that. There is definitely a spiritual component. Each animal was alive and it would prefer to stay alive. You have to pursue it with enough intent to take its life. Each of those moments is weighted with responsibility, a degree of sadness and uplifted with gratitude. If every experience doesn’t have that depth, then it’s time to stop hunting.
I think the most important thing you can do is a get a new hunter out there. Of course, there’s only so much time in a season, but if you have access to land it’s incredibly beneficial.
If you’ve got the chance, I’d suggest picking someone who would not only benefit from the experience but from the food. A deer in the freezer is currency for some people.
For me, one of my best experiences has been taking a friend who had never hunted or fished before and helping him fill his freezer. The full freezer was financially beneficial for him and his family.
Today, he is an incredibly skilled hunter and angler. He doesn’t miss—and he doesn’t waste a thing from any game he harvests.
He’s on a tight budget. Every trip afield hinges on making the money spent on gas and bullets worthwhile, which makes me mindful of how I hunt and how I use
2019 TWA Hunt to Table Dinner
Thursday, April 25 at 6 P.M.
Rain Lily Farms
914 Shady Lane, Austin, Texas 78702
Wild Game Fare prepared by Chef Jesse Griffiths of Dai Due
$100/person | Register at www.Texas-Wildlife.org
For more information about mentored hunting, call (800) 839-9453 and ask for Bryan Jones or email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.