Even before COVID-19, Savannah Vallier, 26, was starting to become interested in hunting. She was looking for a more ethical and healthier meat option, and wanted to be a more mindful consumer of meat products, she said. When the pandemic interrupted food supply chains around the country, Vallier knew it was time to begin hunting.
“It really made me panic once the distribution chains began to grind to a halt,” said Vallier, who lives in Nashua. “Realizing that I did not know how to physically put food on my table other than swiping a credit card was pretty frightening.”
In New Hampshire, people who have not previously had a hunting license need to attend a hunter education course or apply for an apprentice license, which allows them to hunt alongside an experienced hunter. Vallier opted for the apprentice license, since courses were delayed in the spring because of the pandemic. Now she tries to hunt at least once a week, she said.
“I have a few friends who hunt that vary in experience and I try to get time with all of them,” she said. She’s realized that hunting in New Hampshire has a steep learning curve. “I am very overwhelmed as it is, trying to learn as much as I can. It is not easy to hunt in New England at all.”
Like Vallier, many Granite Staters are showing an interest in hunting. The N.H. Fish and Game Department issued roughly 12 percent more licenses in 2020 (through August) than it did in 2019, according to data provided by Susan Perry, licensing supervisor for the department. Apprentice licenses, which indicate new hunters, were up 55 percent compared to last year.
That doesn’t necessarily reflect a 55 percent increase in new hunters overall. The state has seen a decrease in the number of people taking hunter education, because classes are more limited due to the pandemic, said Josh Mackay, hunter education coordinator for the Fish and Game Department. People like Vallier who would have normally taken hunter education are likely choosing apprentice licenses instead.
Yet, Vallier is far from alone as a beginner hunter this year. Alan Lamontagne, 35, of Rochester, had toyed with the idea of hunting, but never tried it until the pandemic hit.
“This year with everything going on with COVID and the civil unrest I decided it was time to start providing an alternative food source for my family,” Lamontagne said.
In the spring, Lamontagne opted for an apprentice license and went out turkey hunting, but came home empty-handed. Recently, he was in the process of completing hunter education so that he can go out on his own during deer season. He plans to target big game, like bear and deer, and smaller game, like grouse and turkey. He’s excited at the prospect of being able to feed his loved ones.
“Think of hunters as harvesting publicly available ‘grass fed’ organic meat,” he said.
Vallier has a boyfriend, but he doesn’t have an interest in hunting. “As a woman, I have thought a lot about the hunting space being very dominated by men and what tasks men and women traditionally share in the West,” she said. “I am happy to be the person in our team to make sure we have a stable means of ethically-sourced food for us and to share with our families.”
Joseph LaBombard, 28, has been hunting for 15 years. This past weekend, he planned to bring a coworker’s 10-year-old daughter out for her first hunt during youth deer-hunting weekend.
“It’s important to teach kids what the outdoors has to offer, and to show them how to respect the animals,” said LaBombard, of Enfield. “Watching a young kid harvest their first animal and being a part of it is truly a fantastic experience. Watching them get so excited after all the work they put into it reminds me of what I was like when I started out, and if I can share that with others I’m more than happy to do that.”
People who have an interest in hunting should talk to a more experienced hunter, and not rule out the sport, LaBombard said. “It’s not for everyone — I get that,” he said. “Taking a life regardless of species is a powerful thing and shouldn’t be taken lightly. But when done properly and ethically it’s a very beneficial and rewarding experience.”
Although Vallier had yet to harvest an animal, she said she’s happy that she’s investing the time to learn about hunting and become more self-sufficient.
“I think COVID has begun to show people very quickly how unstable relying on massive corporate supply chains are during times of crisis,” she said.
Even before the pandemic, she had an interest in homesteading — growing and harvesting more of her food on her own land. Now, she’s even more sure of that choice.
“Everything that has happened this year has made me really be confident that I’m making the right lifestyle change to better serve myself, my family and our land,” Vallier said.