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Thinking Like a Mountain: Hunting for Hunters at Public Libraries

Bruce Ingram
Outdoor America 2020 Issue 1
White-tailed deer

In the current climate of social distancing with bans on public gatherings, many libraries are not open to the public. But, libraries are a perfect forum for public outreach and now is a great time for Ikes to contact their local libraries to discuss and plan for future presentations.

In 2016, my wife Elaine and I co-wrote a book, “Living the Locavore Lifestyle,” touting the health benefits people could experience by hunting, fishing, and gathering their own food. The book’s origin came about from my passion to share those outdoor activities with others as well as Elaine’s desire as a breast cancer survivor to share with others – particularly women – how an outdoors-oriented lifestyle (including eating wild foods) can lead to a healthier life.

One of the League’s major objectives is promoting the R3 initiative: recruitment, retention, and reactivation of hunters and anglers. And what better way, and place, to accomplish those goals than for Ikes to spread this message at their local public libraries? During the past few years, I would guess that Elaine and I have presented some 20 such talks at libraries across southwest Virginia. And from those interactions with the public, we’ve learned a few things about how people feel about hunting, fishing, and foraging.

Why Public Libraries?

Even in these highly technical times, the local library remains a gathering place for people of all ages. Typically, libraries seek out local people who want to share their knowledge with others so Ike members shouldn’t have any difficulty arranging presentations through the head librarian or individual in charge of community outreach.

We’ve also learned a great deal about when to give these talks. For example, January through March is absolutely the best period. During the first three months of a new year, people can’t participate in many outdoor activities, so they have time to learn more about things they could do once the weather warms. The absolute worst time to do a presentation is summer.

Most people attending these types of library talks are attracted to possibly becoming hunters – and anglers – because they like the idea of being outdoors and supplying themselves and their family with meat that they killed or caught themselves.

Although the upcoming summer months are not good times to hold library talks, it is a wonderful period to plan talks and visual presentations. Don’t worry if you are not tech-savvy – your local librarian can help you set up an online presentation that could be downloaded any time by library patrons. My home state of Virginia, like other states, initiated an online hunter certification class. This online class provides prospective new hunters an opportunity to view your presentation and gain their hunting certificate without leaving their homes.

Another consideration regarding presentations is the best days and times. Weekends and afternoons are a poor time to give any talk. Monday through Thursday is great, with the presentation starting sometime between 6 and 7 p.m., depending on the usage patterns of a library.

A question Ike members might have is when should they approach a library to plan a future event? From our experience, some librarians plan programs six months in advance, others do so two or three months in advance. The best approach is to simply call the library closest to your house or chapter and ask who you should talk to about presenting a program. Even though summer months are not an ideal time to hold events, it is a great time to work with librarians to plan events that could be held in the early fall, when potential hunters may be thinking about hunting and how they can learn more about it.

Gathering berries
Deer tongue salad

What People Want to Know

If you’re the type of outdoors person who likes to quest after trophy game and fish and wants to talk about the challenges of doing so, you should know beforehand that, as my high school students say, your talk will be greeted with “a big yawn.” Attendees, especially Gen Z and  Millennials, don’t care about antler size. They are all about the experience, especially if it involves eating healthily and saving money.

Most people attending these types of library talks are attracted to possibly becoming hunters – and anglers – because they like the idea of being outdoors and supplying themselves and their family with meat that they killed or caught themselves. That’s also why Elaine and I emphasize that wild game and fish are the original organic meats and extremely healthy to consume. And seeking out these wild foods is great exercise, too.

Elaine and I also found a great deal of interest in food foraging. Folks want to know about which wild berries, nuts, and plants are edible in their area. Ideally, Ikes conducting a presentation should have someone who is well-versed in local wild foods. This shouldn’t be a problem because many members possess a wealth of knowledge about foraging in their area. Also remember that the folks who first venture into the outdoors as gatherers could become tomorrow’s hunters, anglers, and conservationists.

A Typical Presentation

Visuals are an integral part of our presentation and should be for yours as well. The first suggestion regarding images is to not include pictures of dead animals or animals being field dressed. Those images are obviously appropriate for a hunter safety class, but for locavore talk purposes, keep in mind that some people will be at your presentation for just the food foraging part.

We do include a lot of pictures of Elaine cooking wild game, meanwhile emphasizing the joy of bringing home food that individuals have harvested themselves. We couple that with my explanation that I try to harvest 10 deer every year in Virginia and West Virginia, and that we don’t buy red meat from the store. We also cover fishing for food and throughout Elaine discusses recipes that are always a topic of interest.

Another part of the presentation involves wild fruits, nuts, and wild edibles such as watercress, fiddlehead ferns, and dandelions. We display images of such native foods as blackberries, raspberries, black walnuts, persimmons, and many others, once more discussing recipes for preparing them. Ikes should also consider localizing their presentations: talking about pawpaws in Virginia, pine nuts in California, or thimbleberries in Vermont.

Also, don’t overlook the fact that many attendees may not, at first, be interested in hunting or fishing. For example, I recently introduced a friend to the pastime who had never hunted. All we did was go squirrel hunting behind my house where he killed his first bushy tail. Afterwards, he confided to me that his teenage sons and wife hadn’t been particularly thrilled about him hunting and not even the boys had wanted to accompany him. However, when I later invited him and his family to come over and gather mushrooms and other wild foods and have a wild food dinner, everyone was enthusiastic.

We always end our presentations with a question and answer session and mention the IWLA, National Wild Turkey Federation, and Quality Deer Management Association as places to find mentors. We also emphasize that folks wanting to hunt will need to take a state hunter education course.

People Want to Hear Our Message

According to a 2019 Responsive Management (RM) survey, 84% of adult Americans approve of those who hunt for meat. And in another RM survey, it found that the number one reason (35%) hunters pursue game is “for the meat.”

There are a lot of folks who would be enthusiastic about the League’s message. We just need to engage them and your local public library is a natural fit.

Learn more about getting started with hunting

Main image: White-tailed deer are abundant across much of America, and venison is the ideal locavore food.