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Out of the Woods: Similarities and Differences of a Global Hunting Culture

Hunting is a controversial topic for many consumers in our food system no matter what country they call home. The hunters I associate with in the U.S. practice their trade with an exceptional degree of morality and respect for the animal lives they take to feed their families. Since hunting and fishing are American pastimes in the rural area I grew up in, young hunters are frequently taught to be humane, environmentally respectful, law abiding, and to only take what they can use. As in any industry, there are those who abuse the system and whose actions are less than commendable… that is an argument for another day. In the U.S. hunting and fishing are relatively easy interests to practice. Fishing licenses can be purchased over the counter at department stores, Walmart’s, gas stations sporting good stores and online by the day, week or other time allotment. Passing a hunter safety course is mandatory in most states to receive a hunting license, unless hunting on a private hunting preserve. Gun control laws are highly opinionated and debated. Rifles, shotguns and muzzleloaders used for hunting, in many cases do not need to be registered with the individual states as handguns do. Some states actually allow hunting with a handgun as well as other long barrel firearms. In most areas, the minimum age to hunt is just 14 years old with a legal guardian who is not permitted to carry a firearm. In-season hunting permits can be obtained through one’s corresponding state throughout the year, for a fee. States many times issue higher animal allowances when they are trying to control a particular animal population such as deer or moose. Since predators such as wolves, cougars and other larger animals have become extinct, human hunters now act as the sole animal management tools for controlling wild animal populations. In some states, there is no fee or maximum allowance for hunting on one’s own land, as long as it’s “in-season” for a particular animal. When an animal is taken, hunters have the option of butchering the animal themselves, or taking it to a professional to be processed and packaged. Hunters must have a permit to sell the meat commercially, and all meat must be processed and inspected in a regulated facility.

Christian took us into his "vault" to see his super secret process of making a local regional specialty, speck. Speck is a cold-smoked meat aged for up to several years for a distinctive salty and spiced flavor.

In the Süd Tirol region of Northern Italy hunting is much less recreational and much more regulated. This is largely due to overhunting and the extinction of wild game in many parts of the region. Citso de Rachewiltz of Dorf Tirol explains that the last wild boars in Tirol were hunted in the 1700’s. Only recently have the animals begun to migrate back into the area from other regions, but they are still highly regulated to prevent re-endangerment of the species. It is very rare to see a deer jump out in the middle of road, or to experience other wild game sightings, as is common in the U.S. in many rural regions. There simply aren’t as many animals roaming the woods freely. Hunting is not as popular among young people unless it is a means of feeding one’s family. To receive a hunting permit, one must take a detailed ecology test about the animal and region one wishes to hunt. This is to prevent negative impacts on the environment and to encourage humane practices and understanding by hunters

Christian, a butcher at Metzgerei Gruber in Prado, Süd Tirol, makes venison and wild boar salami from the meat brought in by local hunters. He does not buy the meat directly, but from a game meat distributor. This distributor obtains meat from hunters where it is thoroughly inspected and processed separately from beef or pork. Christian explains that when game meat is processed in his facility, that is the only thing going on. The entire operation is shut down from processing all other types of meat, and only the wild meat is worked with at that time to prevent cross-contamination or any batch mix-ups. Workers seem to be very concerned about keeping wild and conventional products separate for the safety of consumers. This is regulated similarly in U.S. processing locations.

The differences in hunting practices between the U.S. and Süd Tirol are very distinct. Americans who grew up in rural communities view hunting and fishing as connections to their local ecosystems. Animal lives are taken for food and fiber, creating an industry for specialty meats and animal products that can potentially boost a region’s economy. Due to differences in animal populations and cultural practices, Italians are not as invested in hunting as a regional pastime. Both regions, however, take safety and food regulations seriously regarding the processing and packaging of game meats. Wild game consumption is not everyone’s cup of tea, however both the U.S. and Northern Italy strive to make sure their unique industries are safe and fair for consumers.

Do you consume wild game as part of your diet or have you ever considered it? What are some regulations you have questions about that we did not cover? Do you think hunting is a commendable practice in the meat industry? Let us know your thoughts!

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