Gone Hunting for Food

Hunting for food may be the latest foodie trend, but it also lets young urbanites reestablish a relationship with food and with the past.

| July/August 2013

It’s nearly sunrise and Justin Stephenson is about 20 feet above the forest floor on a 32-square-foot tree stand. The November weather in Ontario cottage country is frigid. Stephenson’s bundled up in heavyweight camouflage, hunter orange vest, and hunter orange toque. His 870 12-gauge shotgun with a rifled barrel rests, butt on the wooden floor. He has been out here for an hour and 15 minutes, and the sun has started to rise. By now, he’s trying not to fall asleep. He thinks: Maybe it’s useless getting out here this early. He made too much noise climbing up to his perch on the stand. He is never going to get a deer. 

He barely finishes this last thought, though, when he hears a noise so loud that he later describes it as “a drunk horse stomping through the woods.” At first, when the deer walks into the clearing, he thinks it’s a fawn. But that’s not it: as the deer gets closer, it gets bigger. And bigger. At 100 yards away Stephenson can finally see the deer is a massive eight-point buck. One of its antler tines looks broken, possibly from fighting. “It was just,” says Stephenson, “this gnarly beast.” 

He gets lined up for the shot, but the buck is at him head on—not a shot he wants to take. The bullet could shoot through the deer’s stomach and intestines. Stephenson’s entire body is ringing with adrenaline, but he waits and thinks: Am I really going to do this? By the time he resolves to shoot, two minutes have passed. Forty yards from the stand now, the deer sees Stephenson in the tree, and turns and runs toward the other side of the clearing. Stephenson shoots once, but it’s too late; the buck’s gone. The next time this goes down, Stephenson promises himself, I won’t think twice about it. 

Stephenson has been hunting as an adult for the past eight years. Every fall, the 41-year-old drives out to a hunting camp with a group of his friends from the city to hunt deer. He also hunts ducks and geese north of Toronto, a few times each season. He’s also a self-described city guy. Stephenson lives in Toronto’s Corso Italia neighborhood and is a full-time video director/designer, perhaps most well-known for designing and animating the title sequences to feature films like David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis and A Dangerous Method. That big buck wasn’t the first animal he’d ever shot, but it was so big and so impressive, it made him think twice before pulling the trigger. 

Thanks to the popularity of books such as Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Vancouverites Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon’s The 100-Mile Diet, hyper-local has become cutting-edge eating. Killing for your own meat is as local, and visceral, as it gets. And books about hunting such as Call of the Mild, The Mindful Carnivore and The Beginner’s Guide to Hunting Deer for Food are gaining popularity. 

Not to mention, we also live in a throw-back era when everything old is new again; hunting’s increase in popularity among the “cool” crowd really isn’t that surprising. It’s cool to have a garden, wear your grandfather’s clothes, and grow your beard out. This atavistic aesthetic is visible in art, music, fashion, and even dining culture: put on some plaid and grab a drink at the Farmhouse Tavern (an actual restaurant in Toronto).