For Organic Meat, Some Localvores Take To The Woods

Dec 29, 2014

When you think of Vermont's hunters, an image of a father and son in the woods might spring to mind.

But now, more and more hunters are learning the sport as adults for the opportunity to harvest organic, local meat.

In a lot of ways, Kristen and Jason Schmitt live like a lot of young professional couples.  They don't own a TV, but their six-year-old daughter is streaming video on a Mac in the living room. The family is media-savvy and health-conscious. They also hunt.

Kristen Schmitt heads to her tree stand on the couple's property. She's dressed in full camouflage and is hoping to get a deer.

After climbing up the stand, she readies her bow and arrow for the hunt.

"One thing I should say, is when you put the arrow on...you want to listen for the "click," and then you know it's on," said Schmitt. "If you don't hear that, then it's not hooked onto your bow properly. Then you could misfire, which would be not cool."

She's in this, at least in part, for the venison. She pays close attention to the kinds of foods she and her family eat. The Schmitt's eat mostly Paleo - a trendy diet that cuts out most grains, nuts, and definitely processed foods.

Schmitt has written about hunting for national publications, and she's also filmed a DVD geared to women who are learning archery. Despite that, she isn't what you might think of as a typical hunter. She was born and raised in metropolitan Detroit, far from the woods of Wells, Vermont where she now lives.

Years ago, she didn't even eat meat. Now, that's changed.

"A lot of the reasons I chose to be a vegetarian stemmed from animal mistreatment, and things like that," said Schmitt. "The nice thing about living in Vermont is there are lots of local farmers."

Schmitt says after eating wild-caught salmon and the fresh venison that her husband brought home from hunting trips, she decided to try her hand at bow hunting. She says the meat is as free-range as it gets.

"You can get a really good quality meat that you can harvest yourself in the forest," said Schmitt. "That is an animal in its natural environment, eating natural food. It's not being force-fed grain or things it wouldn't necessarily eat."

She's not the only one who feels this way. Chris Saunders, Hunter Education Coordinator for Vermont's Fish and Wildlife department, says new hunters like Schmitt are becoming more common. They're Vermonters who want local, organic meat, and are willing to take to the woods to get it themselves.

Saunders says his agency has even geared new training seminars to localvore hunters, focusing on cities like Burlington and Montpelier.

But he says foodies need to be aware that killing a deer isn't as simple as a trip to the farmer's market.

"You could hear crickets, when at the Burlington seminar I said 'you guys have got to understand, the success rate for deer is about 15 percent," said Saunders.

Schmitt knows that all too well. With a few archery seasons under her belt, she still hasn't gotten a deer. And she says there were challenges to getting started.

"For me, getting sized up for my bow, I had no idea what to expect," Schmitt remembers. "I called an archery dealer, and he started asking me 'are you left-eye or right-eye dominant?' 'How much weight do you think you can pull back?' And it's like, I have no idea."

You might assume barriers like this mean new hunters would clash with old-school, lifelong hunters. But Schmitt says most have been supportive.

And Chris Saunders says his agency has had an easier time bridging that gap than in other states, where city-dwellers might not have as much exposure to hunting or firearms.

"A lot of us live in rural areas," explains Saunders. "We have all sorts of people in our neighborhoods, from back-to-the-landers to lawyers to loggers. I think because of that it seems a lot easier of a sell, and the groups seem to mix a lot better."

But still, he says it isn't clear yet whether these new hunters will affect the number of licenses sold. That's a figure that's been on the decline for decades.

As for Schmitt, she's doing her part to keep hunting in the family.

"It's empowering," said Schmitt. "I think it's really interesting, especially if you have young children, to see the mom going out and doing this, and having it be more of a family activity. It's not just 'Dad's going out hunting.'"

She says her husband killed two deer this season, and her daughter has already been fitted for a bow.