The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is showing foodies the true meaning of “forest-to-fork.”
The Seward County co-op kitchen in Minneapolis may not seem like the typical hunter hangout spot, but Jay Johnson’s turkey hunting demonstration draws a crowd. The Fergus Falls Daily Journal attended one of his demonstrations to report on hunting’s growing appeal to urban residents. Johnson goes over the basics of calling with the attendees, starting with a box call.
“This is my bread and butter right there,” he said. “Don’t ask me to do anything fancy. I’m no expert turkey caller.”
Johnson is a hunting recruit and retention specialist for the MDNR, and these demonstrations for urban foodies are part of a DNR outreach program that aims to make hunting appealing to a new generation. The last five years have seen a rise in the number of locavores (people who only eat food grown and raised near them) taking up guns and camouflage, and Minnesota is no exception. The wild game demonstrations are one way the MDNR is hoping to entice new hunters to become regular hunters.
In the kitchen, Johnson walks listeners through a typical turkey hunt, from calling the birds to watching them come in. If the hunt is successful, he says, a typical wild turkey will yield five to six pounds of useable meat. The bones can also be used to make soup stock.
Food co-ops have helped spur interest in hunting – mostly deer and turkeys – from people who are concerned about what goes into their meat and who are willing to learn a new skill. The trend is not new; in 2011 Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg challenged himself to eat only meat that he had killed himself for an entire year.
Carla Irwin, a co-op member who raises poultry for food, says that hunting is a worthwhile experience for those who want to know exactly where their food comes from, but it’s not for everyone.
When asked if she would be willing to pull the trigger on a bird, Irwin weighs her answer. “I’m willing to take one and respect the rest,” she said. “So, it’s more about appreciation for the bird.”
According to the Journal, turkeys were introduced to Minnesota in 1973 at the behest of hunters. Their population numbers have soared since then, and it’s not uncommon to see flocks roaming through suburban yards.
Josh Dahlke, a member of the National Wild Turkey Federation, says wild turkeys are a much easier animal to start hunting than deer or bears, and are an easy gateway hunt.
“It’s usually a spring time sport and isn’t crowded with hunters,” he said. “Turkey hunting doesn’t require a dog or a lot of equipment and the kills are relatively easy to butcher and cook.”
Low barriers to entry appeal to prospective hunters like Scott Vonderharr. An outdoor lover and entrepreneur, Vonderharr has never been hunting but finds himself drawn to the sport – a perfect candidate for the learn-to-hunt workshops.
“I have lots of friends that hunt,” he says, “and I have always been intrigued about going hunting but don’t want to be the guy that knows nothing in the group of people that know everything.”
The Minnesota DNR plans on holding turkey hunting workshops in five locations in the Twin Cities area on May 16 and 17.