Game Dinners For Non-Hunters

My first real attempt at serving game to non- and anti-hunters was in February 2005. I had some duck breasts from an Oregon hunt the previous December and decided to share them with about a dozen friends, mostly from Manhattan.
A few weeks beforehand, I invited one of my old friends from back home to come as well. I hadn’t hunted growing up, so the idea of me in the field was still new to this person. It wasn’t enough for them to email back to say they couldn’t make dinner. They had to officially declare that I was now a stranger to them, that I was no longer the kind, Fly Away Home-watching animal lover they’d known in high school, and that I should just go to the grocery store and buy my dinners like everyone else.
So, feeling a little—okay, a lot—hurt from that email, I took stock. I’m a good person: I recycle, sponsor two children in Bolivia, and visit my grandfather every chance I get. I’m an animal-lover: I include my cats’ names on my answering machine greeting and give Christmas presents to my cousin’s retriever. I’m also a meat-eater, which means I understand that for the chicken sandwich I ate at lunch, something had to be killed. And I’m a hunter, which means that I’m willing to step up and do the killing myself.
If all anti-hunters were vegetarians, I wouldn’t be confused. But there’s such a thing as a meat-eating anti-hunter. And I’ve coma across a lot of them--including my friend to whom I’ve become a heartless stranger. What is it about hunting that gets meat-eaters so upset? The combination of an anti-hunting viewpoint an omnivorous diet in the same person seems to require of certain element of self-delusion. And my friend is an example of the kind of walking contradiction that sees nothing ironic about voicing their objections to hunting over a turkey dinner. Where do they think that drumstick came from? Why is going to the grocery store to get the meat of a butchered animal fine, while going into the field to get the meat yourself is despicable?
Before I started hunting, a slice of turkey made its way into my sandwich in some vague, guilt-free way that had nothing to do with another animal. Maybe it started out in a coop or a pen of some sort. I really had no idea. Maybe its journey to me involved handlers, packagers, maybe pluckers, and truck drivers. And of course, there was the anonymous person who killed my food in the first place—who did the dirty work I’d never even stopped to think about, let alone bother with myself.
But the night of that February duck dinner with my friends from Manhattan, I knew exactly where the lean, preservative-free mallard breast on my plate had come from. It started as a beautiful bird that I took out of the mouth of a dripping wet black Lab that had swum 15 yards into the Columbia River to retrieve it. I carried it to camp, sliced out the breasts, froze them in zip lock bags, brought them home, and finally served them to a table full of friends, who were not hunters, but were willing to try something they knew was important to me.
I had another dinner for about 15 friends last May. Although we had plenty of chicken in reserve, I was thrilled that they all opted to eat the antelope (that’s it pictured pre-dinner in my freezer). –K.H.

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