Field to Fork, a hunter recruitment program for adults from non-hunting backgrounds, is expanding into seven new states this year after two successful seasons of pilot testing near QDMA Headquarters in Georgia. Of 22 adult participants in the pilot program, 80 percent have continued to hunt on their own within the first year after participation in the workshop.
A modified version of a program created by the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources, QDMA’s Field to Fork pilot started with a unique approach involving recruitment at a local farmer’s market. Visitors were asked if they wanted to sample from a spread of venison sausage, grilled backstrap or venison jerky, and they were provided with a handout titled “Why Should You Hunt Deer?” They were then offered the chance to participate in a workshop that would teach them how to hunt and acquire a wild, healthy, local, sustainable source of food on their own.
“The reception was overwhelming,” said Charles Evans, Georgia’s R3 Coordinator, who partnered with QDMA’s Hunting Heritage Programs Manager Hank Forester to develop and implement Field to Fork. “Everyone was curious, most tried venison, and quite a few signed up to go hunting with us. The first year, we ended up with a diverse group of participants ages 18 to 47 who all shared a common desire to have a connection with the food on their plates.”
The 22 participants who completed Field to Fork-Athens in the first two years represent a range of non-traditional backgrounds and had not been hunting before. That’s one of the most important aspects of the program, said Hank Forester: to keep hunting relevant, hunters must reach out to people who do not fit the traditional mold of a “deer hunter.”
The Georgia program is now entering its third year, and the Kentucky program continues as well, but this year QDMA Branches and volunteers are launching Field to Fork in seven additional states: Michigan, Missouri, New York, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.
A key to success with Field to Fork is partnerships. The Georgia program is a joint effort involving QDMA, Georgia DNR Wildlife Resources Division, the National Wild Turkey Federation and the Georgia Wildlife Federation. QDMA volunteers in the new states are also partnering with other local and national conservation organizations.
One of the primary advantages of an adult-centered recruitment program is that participants can quickly become independent, hunt on their own, and in turn share their knowledge and enthusiasm with others.
“Not only did a lot of our participants continue hunting on their own, many of them shared their venison with friends, family and co-workers,” said Forester. “Some of them tried hunting other species like turkeys and small game. And some of them have even mentored other hunters already. The positive effects of recruiting new adult hunters grow quickly.”
Keys to success with Field to Fork include education and training, partnering each participant with a knowledgeable and supportive mentor, and sharing of success and meals after the hunt. QDMA recently received a grant from the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) to document the program and create standardized training for mentors and Field to Fork leaders. For more information about QDMA’s Field to Fork program, contact Hank Forester at 800-209-3337 or by email.