Annual Wild Game Dinner in Bath benefits wildlife, economy

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By Laina Stebbins
Bath-DeWitt Connection Reporter

BATH — Bath may be a relatively small community compared to others in the state, but what it lacks in population size it makes up for in natural bounty. The third annual Wild Game Dinner, hosted by the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy this month, will once again highlight Bath’s plentiful natural resources by showcasing local hunters’ contributions to their township while benefiting wildlife conservation efforts.

Taking place March 19 at the Bengel Wildlife Center from 6-10 p.m., Bath’s 2016 Wild Game Dinner will feature a silent auction, music and door prizes, a cash bar, and an all-you-can-eat strolling dinner of wild game and other food. Food will be replenished until 9 p.m.

The provisions at these dinners can vary greatly, ranging from relatively standard wild game choices to more exotic ones for adventurous eaters.

For this particular event, participants can expect “some bear, venison, some duck, some geese, some lake trout, and a whole list of other different game,” said Kim McKenzie, Office Administrator at the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy.

“Other things that we are looking for are elk and moose, and anything [else] that people would be willing to try,” said McKenzie.

Contrary to what one might think, wild game dinners across the country have proven to be extremely beneficial to wildlife conservation and restoration. These dinners do not promote the hunting of endangered or threatened species, but instead encourage responsible hunting and self-sustainability in sourcing one’s food. They also contribute substantially to funding for wildlife habitat restoration.

Wild game dinners serve several important functions. First and foremost, events like these bring a community together to socialize and eat great food they might never have gotten the opportunity to eat otherwise. After all, the commercial sale of local wild game was banned federally in 1900 and this has not changed since.

Despite this antiquated ban, wild game dinners provide hunters a rare opportunity to share their bounty with the public, which could potentially turn others on to the benefits of a self-sustaining lifestyle.

There are also huge economic and environmental benefits to hunting one’s own food. Nationally, according to a 2014 wildlife conservation fact sheet published by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, “hunters and recreational shooters have contributed over $9.2 billion to wildlife conservation through the excise tax paid by manufacturers of hunting and shooting arms and ammunition.”

In fact, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service states that “the sale of hunting licenses, tags, and stamps is the primary source of funding for most state wildlife conservation efforts.”

The various ways by which hunters/sportsmen contribute to conservation each year. (Chart: Wildlife Conservation Fund of America)

Breaking down the various ways by which hunters/sportsmen contribute to conservation each year. (Chart: Wildlife Conservation Fund of America)

Similarly, funds brought in by the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy’s annual wild game dinner are channeled primarily into wildlife habitat restoration efforts. According to McKenzie, this kind of restoration is the central mission of the conservancy.

Wild game dinners may also encourage hunters to hunt, trap, and prepare their meat responsibly. These responsible hunting practices set forth by wildlife conservancies also deal with the deer population management component of hunting, as an overpopulation of deer in an area often bears destructive results.

“One consequence for an unmanaged deer herd is more car-deer accidents,” said Randy Bell, MSU Extension Educator for Community Food Systems.

Gardens and farms are also at risk when deer and other wildlife populations get out of control, according to Bell, because they are “particularly attractive to wildlife, including deer and all kinds of critters.”

“We humans are really competing with the wildlife in a lot of cases for that kind of food,” said Bell.

“We don’t want our conservancy overrun,” said McKenzie on the topic, “so we do have some management going on throughout the year during specific times.

The popularity of wild game fare can also be at least partially attributed to the growing awareness of organic, locally-sourced food. Hunting the food yourself can cut out the middleman, allowing hunters to eat organically and locally without the extra costs.

Leaner and healthier than beef, venison is a common dish at wild game dinners. (Photo: Shaw Academy)

Leaner and healthier than beef, venison is a common dish at wild game dinners. (Photo: Shaw Academy)

Oftentimes, families involved in these dinners have embraced the concept of farm-to-table living. This means they prefer their meats to come from their backyard or neighborhood woods than from their local grocery store, citing health reasons, taste, and cost as factors that have nudged them in the direction of this type of lifestyle.

Townsfolk taking part in the shared experience of trying new foods together will most likely find themselves to be more in tune with the area they live in, and perhaps even find themselves to be more culinarily adventurous from that point on.

Tickets can be purchased online at www.MiWildlife.org or by phone at (517) 641-7677 for $25.

The Bengel Wildlife Center in Bath, MI, located at 6380 Drumheller Road. (Photo: Michigan Wildlife Conservancy - Bengel Wildlife Center)

The Bengel Wildlife Center in Bath, located at 6380 Drumheller Road. (Photo: Michigan Wildlife Conservancy – Bengel Wildlife Center)

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