Hunt to Eat, which started as a t-shirt company making pro-hunting apparel that doesn’t slam women, environmentalists, or the animals people hunt. New hunter and Sensi Michigan managing editor Tracy Ross chatted with Putelis after he mentored her on her first deer hunt. We spoke to Putelis about his path to harvesting his own dinner, and why he believes more people should hunt. ichigan native Mahting Putelis wants to turn more outdoor enthusiasts into hunters because of the way hunting connects humans to land, food, and each other. The 39-year-old now lives in Colorado, but his mission, forged early, took root during his childhood in Kalamazoo. Putelis now runs an organization called
How old are you, where did you grow up, and what were you interested in as a kid?
I just turned 39 but everyone assumes I’m 18 thanks to me never growing any legitimate facial hair! I grew up in Kalamazoo. As a kid, I was always up for an adventure—usually on a BMX bike or rollerblades, cruising around. Once I saw the mountains of Colorado for the first time around 7th grade, I didn’t think of much else. All I wanted to do after that was make it out west.
When did hunting spark your interest?
Growing up in a hunting family I was always aware of it, even good at the basic concepts, thanks to my dad taking my brother and me out into the woods to build blinds and look for animal signs. I carried those skills forward as a mountain guide. Once I finally settled down in Colorado at the age of 26, I felt that I would gain a greater sense of place if I started hunting elk. So I got after it.
How did you learn to hunt?
My brother was a big-game hunting guide who lived in Colorado when I started. He taught me everything.
What was it like to kill your first big game animal?
My first elk, my first animal, was and still is the closest I have ever felt to the idea of God. I sat with the elk as it expelled its last breath into the ether and it was incredibly powerful. I wept.
Should people hunt? Why or why not?
For people to eat, animals and plants must die. Some of us take [our food] responsibility into our own hands and kill with bows and arrows and guns and bullets. Others hunt with dollar bills at the store. But one way or another we participate in food systems, and every food system is connected to wild places and animals. We can learn how to hunt, a very involved process, or we can pay someone else to manage it for us. But rest assured that even soybean farming involves hunting; often the farmers have to kill deer to prevent them from eating the plants. Vegans are not exempt from the hunting world. We should all be working towards supporting food systems that are fair and just.
What’s the best thing about hunting? The worst?
The best part of hunting is the moments in between, when you stop and stare into the depths of the wild places you walk. Caught standing still, a bird swoops down and lands on a branch feet from your face, and you get an up-close look at wildness. It’s magical. The worst part is dealing with the uncertainty that wildness brings. You never know how much it will rain, how much the wind will blow, how far the elk have gone.
What are some misconceptions people have about hunting?
I think there are three main misconceptions. One, hunters can hunt anything they want, any time. (Truth: Hunting is full of rules and regulations.) Two, hunters hunt for trophies. (Truth: Hunters are mandated to take all of the animal from the wild. Most hunters hunt for meat. A tiny percentage only want to kill.) Three, hunting is bad for animals. (Truth: Hunters are the reason why animals such as whitetail deer, turkeys, elk, ducks, have made amazing comebacks from near extinction in the 1930s. Hunters care about animal populations and support scientists and wildlife managers to set the appropriate quotas for thriving wildlife populations.)
What is Hunt to Eat?
Hunt To Eat is a way of life. Seven years ago we wanted a cool T-shirt that represented that way of life. It didn’t exist, so we created a lifestyle apparel brand. It is now a lifestyle brand that offers a slew of gear, media, and education. We focus on our three pillars: community, real food, and conservation. By community, we mean the folks who go outdoors, harvest wild meat, plants, or fungi, and take these things home to be cooked with care for themselves or their friends and family. These folks see the importance of wildlife and nature. They take time out of their day to smell the flowers or admire a doe’s footsteps through a marsh, and to share these observations with others. The community is not defined by race, politics, education, wealth, or gender; it’s simply a human community. Hunting, fishing, foraging, and existing in nature are things that human beings have done to survive since the dawn of our existence. Everyone who exists in nature is part of the Hunt to Eat community. And it can only grow from here.
As for real food, yes, we believe yes, all food is “real.” But our focus is on food people obtained themselves. Whether you shot a pronghorn with your bow in Wyoming, picked that morel you saw at the park, kept that rainbow trout to fry it in a pan, or remembered to plant your tomatoes on time, you’re enriching your life with real food. You know where it came from. You know how it died. You know how the meat was handled. No pesticides, growth hormones, or added preservatives. Real food is food you feel proud to consume and share with your family and friends.
As for conservation, we mean conservation in North America, which, unfortunately, has an ugly history. Genocide, war, and the over-harvesting of wildlife and other natural resources are realities that must be acknowledged and discussed when talking about modern conservation. The public lands we love today were stolen from the Indigenous peoples that populated this continent prior to colonialism. Historically, conservation was weaponized to remove Indigenous peoples from their homes, lands, histories, and cultures. To say “conservation” and ignore the word’s negative connotations will hinder diversity and inclusion in the outdoors. However, without conservation as we know it today, many of the wildlife species we love and admire would be extinct, their habitats developed for human use, fragmenting natural ecological processes or destroying them altogether.
While there is no good replacement word for “conservation,” we hope someday there will be. Regardless of nomenclature, we will continue to do meaningful work towards increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the outdoors and supporting the ecological biodiversity and connectivity crucial to all the animals we eat. When you wear Hunt to Eat, you’re representing thoughtful, ethical, and kind hunters and anglers that put community, real food, and conservation first.
Who is Hunt to Eat’s demographic?
Generally anyone interested in where their food comes from.
Why do you want to teach people to hunt?
Understanding oneself as a predator is a life-altering experience. It grows you as an individual and as a part of our humanity. The more people understand how they affect the ecology of their environment, the better our world will be.
Is hunting diverse enough, and if not, should it be more diverse—why or why not?
It is not. It should be. Again, when you have a more diverse population you have a healthier ecosystem.
On Hunt to Eat’s Facebook page, people s hare dishes they make with their game. What’s your favorite, and do you have any that might go well with a cannabis infusion?
My favorite dish is Wild Turkey Schnitzel. It makes the best “chicken” sandwich you’ve ever had. I think it would be really cool to render down bear fat and infuse it with cannabis. Then I would make a pie crust with that infused bear fat. Then I would make an apple pie!
Anything hunters and cannabis users have in common?
We like to sit in the woods and be in awe of wild places.