At 23, Lily Raff McCaulou left her life as a freelancer in New York's indie film community to take a newspaper reporting job in the Central Oregon town of Bend. After interviewing many of the region's hunters for work, McCaulou developed an interest in hunting, despite her previous aversion to guns.
Raised as an animal lover with disapproving feelings toward what she thought was a barbaric sport, McCaulou's perspective gradually changed in the six years since she first learned to shoot. In her new memoir, Call of the Mild: Learning to Hunt My Own Dinner, McCaulou discusses how she sees hunting as a logical activity for anyone who cares about the environment and conservation, and dispels many of the misconceptions around the practice. TakePart's Kelly Zhou caught up with McCaulou to discuss Call of the Mild, which is in bookstores now.
How did this book come about? It sounds like you had quite the journey.
I was never planning on learning to hunt; I just became more and more interested in it when I moved to Oregon. I started keeping notes pretty early on in the process. I was covering a really rural area as a beat reporter and I just kept coming across people who hunted and they weren't what I was expecting. I had this image in my head of a hunter, of a stereotype, and the hunters I met didn't meet that stereotype. They were really thoughtful about the animals they killed and had this understanding of the natural world that I had never given hunters credit for. It was long-term exposure to hunters and rural culture that changed my mind.
How did you first learn to hunt?
I didn't have anyone close to me who knew how to hunt—most people have a mentor like a father or a husband...[but] I took a hunting class, which is something kids have to do before they get a hunting license. That was one of the funny moments, taking hunter safety with a bunch of kids. It was a little bit of a misunderstanding. I was told it was an all-ages class, but when I got there it was just a bunch of 11 to 12-year-old kids and me—and I was 26 at the time!
But it ended up being really great because I was really scared of guns when I started out. I think a lot of my fear of guns stemmed from when I was a kid and heard all these horror stories about kids with guns. There was something reassuring about seeing all these kids taking guns really seriously and handling them carefully; it made me think there was a way to do this that was responsible and really forced me to change my mind.
Tell us about your first hunting experience when you first started.
The first thing I ever shot was a pheasant. When I gutted it, I was so nervous about it, but when I actually did it, it was so easy that it was anticlimactic. It was kind of like if you've ever bought a turkey or chicken from the grocery store and you have to pull the giblets out, that's pretty much all it was. And so I thought, "I can do this."
How did becoming a hunter change the way you think about the food you eat?
It’s actually changed how I eat quite a bit. I eat less meat than I used to. I still buy meat, so I don’t only eat the meat that I kill. But I think because it's just made me so much more aware of what meat really is, that I try to eat it more sparingly, and it makes the meat I eat a little more special that way too. Hunting has also gotten me interested in foraging and just made me again more aware of what goes into the food that I put on my plate. So I do try to eat food that’s more local. I really pay attention to how it’s labeled, where it was raised, how it was raised.
What would you say to people who are trying to be more conscious of the way they source their food, but might be uncomfortable with the concept of hunting? How do you reconcile the two?
I would say there are so many more options than there were even five years ago for most of us. There are more small farms that really try to raise their meat in a healthy, sustainable and ethical way, so there are options out there. One thing I would encourage people, even if they’re not going to hunt, is to just be open-minded about trying different types of meat—one thing I learned while researching food issues is that we all tend to eat the same animals over and over again. Even if you’re not going to hunt, if you ever get a chance to try wild venison or goat meat, which might be just a little bit outside your comfort zone, it might really surprise you and might be really good.
Interview condensed and edited.