Field to Fork: Learn How
to Source Your Own Meat Field to Fork: Learn How to Source Your Own Meat

Have you ever considered the path your food takes from the field to your fork? Consider that juicy burger and fries from your neighborhood burger joint. It tastes good going down, but is it good for you? Was it ethically sourced and organically processed? The only way to truly know is to get involved in the process.  And what better way to connect with nature and get up close and personal with the meat on your plate than to try bowhunting?

If you’re new to the natural-foods movement (think: health-conscious locavores, Paleo dieters and the like), you’re probably thinking, “easier said than done,” right? Wrong! The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources’ three-day “Field to Fork” program teaches new and could-be bowhunters everything they need to know about obtaining locally grown free-range meat. From learning about deer and archery equipment to finding places to hunt, taking that first shot and preparing the meat for a meal, Field to Fork traces the venison’s path from….well, field to fork.

“But I don’t live in Kentucky. And I live in an urban area with limited places to hunt.”

That’s OK. Contact your state wildlife agency or local archery store. They can point you to similar programs and local public lands where you can bowhunt.

Here are four things to expect from a “Field to Fork” program:

“Field to Fork” programs connect individuals from diverse backgrounds through one common goal: obtaining affordable, organic, ethically sourced red meat through hunting. These programs teach valuable deer-hunting skills and provide a supportive, encouraging social community. Photo Credit: Brian Clark

“Field to Fork” programs connect individuals from diverse backgrounds through one common goal: obtaining affordable, organic, ethically sourced red meat through hunting. These programs teach valuable deer-hunting skills and provide a supportive, encouraging social community. Photo Credit: Brian Clark

1. What is “Field to Fork?”

Sourcing truly organic red meat for a reasonable price at local butcher shops could be challenging in metropolitan settings. That’s why Brian Clark and others at the KDFWR developed the “Field to Fork” program. This three-day weekend course teaches adults with little or no hunting background some basic deer hunting skills so they have the confidence and social support to obtain their own venison.

The program attracts participants in their 20s to 70s, and about one-third of participants so far have been female. Rather than coming from small towns and rural areas, most participants hail from suburban or metro areas, with some driving one to two hours to take the courses. Their primary motivation? Putting meat on their tables and feeding their families. That’s why the program focuses on the meat retrieval and preparation aspects of deer hunting.

“Culinary aspects of the experience are explicitly addressed to cater to the interests of many participants,” Clark said.

Jackson Landers, author of “The Beginner’s Guide to Deer Hunting for Food,” cited cost as an additional motivator for bowhunting for food. “It’s a lot of local food available for less money than buying a pig,” Landers said. “Once you have your (bow) and a sharp knife, all you really need to buy is a license each year to keep taking deer.”

Kentucky has offered the program annually since 2010 in the Lexington and Louisville metro areas, and enrolls roughly 20 participants per class.  So what should you expect when taking a class? Keep reading!

On the first day of the three-day Field-to-Fork course, a wildlife biologist discusses deer biology and ecology, and a conservation officer reviews hunting regulations in a classroom-style setting. Photo Credit: Brian Clark

On the first day of the three-day Field-to-Fork course, a wildlife biologist discusses deer biology and ecology, and a conservation officer reviews hunting regulations in a classroom-style setting. Photo Credit: Brian Clark

2. The Basics

First things first: Get familiar with the local hunting regulations, and the animals you’re hunting. What do they eat?  When are they most active? Where can I find them in the woods?

KDFWR’s Field to Fork program covers all that and more. On the first evening, a wildlife biologist discusses deer biology and ecology, and a conservation officer reviews hunting regulations, like license requirements. During intermission the participants sample summer sausage and grilled venison poppers. One bite of these tasty venison appetizers, and you’ll be ready to pick up a bow and head to the woods.

The group ends their first day by discussing deer hunting strategies and access to public and private lands.

“Field to Fork” participants earn their hunter-safety certificate, and receive hands-on shooting instruction and range time with crossbows and compound bows. Photo Credit: Brian Clark

“Field to Fork” participants earn their hunter-safety certificate, and receive hands-on shooting instruction and range time with crossbows and compound bows. Photo Credit: Brian Clark

3. Hands-On Practice

The course’s second day begins with a hands-on field workshop that includes simulated blood-trailing and retrieval of deer. Next, they watch a field-dressing and quartering demonstration, and learn basic butchering techniques and meat-safety protocols. After learning how to prepare venison for the table, it’s time to eat.

“Lunch features several delicious venison dishes and complimentary sides, prepared by culinary arts instructors who are skilled in working with game meats,” Clark said.

Formal archery instruction continues after lunch, and participants can earn a hunter-safety certificate if they need it.

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources’ Field to Fork course includes a field-dressing and quartering demonstration, and teaches basic butchering techniques and meat-safety protocols. Photo Credit: Brian Clark

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources’ Field to Fork course includes a field-dressing and quartering demonstration, and teaches basic butchering techniques and meat-safety protocols. Photo Credit: Brian Clark

4. Don’t just talk about it. Do it!

The best part about taking a “Field to Fork” course is applying what you’ve learned and going on your first hunt. After receiving instruction, you’ll spend the rest of the course afield with a mentor of the same gender to learn hunting and woodsmanship skills (tracking, trailing, navigating your stand, etc.). With a little luck, some participants use their new skills to harvest their first deer.

Pictured above are Kentucky “Field to Fork” participants and their mentors. The pairs spent a portion of the course afield learning hunting and woodsmanship skills. With a little luck, some participants used their new skills to harvest their first deer. Photo Credit: Brian Clark

Pictured above are Kentucky “Field to Fork” participants and their mentors. The pairs spent a portion of the course afield learning hunting and woodsmanship skills. With a little luck, some participants used their new skills to harvest their first deer. Photo Credit: Brian Clark

5. AM I A BOWHUNTER YET?

After taking the course, all you need to do is buy your hunting license and gear up. Most states have reasonably priced licensing fees for residents, and a local archery store can help you pick out your first bow. You’ll spend some money on the front end, but it’s worth it for 60 pounds of affordable, organic, ethically sourced red meat. And that’s if you only take one deer.


Ready to get started?

Learning how to source and prepare the meat you consume is unbelievably rewarding. Deer stew, venison brats, pepper-crusted venison roast and smoky chipotle venison tenderloin are within your reach. Here are a few ways to get started:

  1. Check out Archery 360’s “Intro to Archery.” You’ll get a quick introduction to different types of bows and how to shoot.
  2. Contact your state wildlife agency to find a program in your area.
  3. Now that you’re armed with enough knowledge to ask serious questions, find a bowhunting shop in your community and talk to an expert, get some instruction and meet likeminded people.

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