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By Keith Tidball, PhD

Across CONUS, big game hunting seasons are kicking off, and the most popular game animal, the white-tailed deer, will begin making appearances in freezers and in some family meals.  Military family practitioners may benefit from being aware of both the food security and nutritional possibilities of game meat, but also of the morale and recreational opportunities presented by hunting, all of which are a part of a community’s capacity to enhance the resilience of military families.

Two white tailed deer in the forest White-tailed deer offer a healthy, affordable, and fun pathway to obtain protein sources for military families to augment their food budgets. A number of cooperative extension system partners are deeply involved in researching and communicating the food security implications of not only hunting deer but many other species of wild fish and game, such as the Wild Harvest Table program at Cornell University. This program includes step-by-step instructions for field dressing and processing, preparing and cooking, and presentation of wild-caught meat.

Deer meat is a good protein choice for people watching their diet or actively working to prevent or those living with cardiovascular disease. It differs from other red meat in part because it is leaner, has less fat and fewer calories, and is high in essential amino acids. Deer meat is a nutritious option. A three-ounce cut of deer meat has 134 calories and three grams of fat. The same amount of beef has 259 calories and 18 grams of fat, while pork has 214 calories and 13 grams of fat (full nutritional information).

What about the food budget implications of augmenting the bottom line with deer or other game meat? An interesting article on a popular homesteading website claims that “a smaller deer yields around 40 lbs of free range, truly organic meat. A larger deer is double that.” The article goes on to ask the question we all want the answer to: “So what is the value of that venison?” The best comparison would be to take the price of local, pasture-raised meat, and compare the cuts. At our local farmers market, basic pastured ground meat generally gets somewhere around $10 per pound. The better quality steaks fetch $15 per pound or higher. So, a smaller deer would be worth $525 in meat (relative to your local farmer’s market meat prices) … A bigger deer could be worth $1000! While we haven’t researched this and substantiated these claims, they do sound reasonable, and interesting!

So, how do service members and their families take advantage of these nutritional and economic possibilities? The U.S. Military operates on and occupies nearly 25 million acres across the country. Many of those acres are prime wildlife habitats managed in cooperation with local, state, and federal partnerships to preserve habitat and manage species. As with other areas, hunting is a key management tool. The military provides opportunities for active duty service members and their families, retired and disabled service members, and even civilians, to hunt and fish where they are stationed and where they live. In fact, the Sikes Act of 1960 recognizes the value of military lands to the conservation of natural resources. It ensures that ecosystems, so important to community capacity, are protected and enhanced while allowing military lands to meet the needs of military operations through Integrated Natural Resources Management Plans.

Most military installations give preference to active duty and reserve component individuals and their families when it comes time to assign their areas for daily hunts.  Would-be hunters need to do more than drop by the installation Department of Wildlife and pick out a great hunting area, though. Installations often have multiple layers of requirements for hunters on post, including safety classes, additional fees, and qualifications for some areas to hunt. Additionally, some installations are updating their rules on bringing firearms on post. For example, Fort McCoy will soon require that all firearms brought on to the installation must be registered through the Fort McCoy Police Department

Military family practitioners should encourage service members and their families to check with their installation’s MWR office to see if they have programs or can point them in the right direction. A quick web search will turn out such sites as Fort Eisenhower, Joint Base Lewis McCord, Fort McClellan, and Fort McCoy. For a full listing of active duty and guard hunting and outdoor game program locations, visit the iSportsman portal.