Wisconsin program hopes to spark interest in hunting

MADISON — Wisconsin wildlife officials hope the hunting tradition can get new life from the local food movement.

The Learn to Hunt for Food program aims to capitalize on the increasing demand for local, sustainable food and hopes to educate people who are interested in hunting as a food source, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

Keith Warnke, a hunting and shooting sports coordinator at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, got the idea for the program in 2012 after his daughter said she would become vegetarian unless they hunted and killed the animals themselves.

The Madison classes typically fill up within 24 hours, Warnke said. Students include environmental studies students, Department of Natural Resources employees, former vegetarians and others interested in hunting for their food.

"I wanted to see what it takes to make the sausage, so to speak, from an ethical standpoint," said Leo Roth, a recent University of Wisconsin graduate and former vegetarian who took the class in 2015. "It's a serious thing to eat an animal. The animal lived and died so you could eat it."

The classes focus on deer or turkey. Classes include mentored hunts and teach firearm safety and hands-on butchering.

"What I really like about game meat is it's a really strong and flavorful meat," said Jeremie Favre, who is seeking a doctorate in agronomy from the University of Wisconsin. "If I'm going to eat meat with the high environmental impact and life and everything, it's got to be strong."

The classes are provided to students for free as part of the department's efforts to recruit new hunters.

The number of hunters in the U.S. has been declining significantly since the 1980s as older generations of hunters die and fewer young people take interest in the tradition. Natural resources departments are struggling with the decline as their funding comes largely from hunting and fishing license revenues and federal taxes on firearms and ammunitions.