In our efforts to recruit new hunters, the focus seems to be on getting children involved at an early age. Getting started early is a good thing… but there is a growing trend of what Tovar Cerulli calls adult-on-set hunters. Cerulli is a hunter from Vermont who, not too long ago, converted from being a strict vegan to acquiring meat through hunting. He details his journey of becoming a hunter in his first book, A Mindful Carnivore: A Vegetarian’s Hunt For Sustenance. It’s a transformation that may sound odd to those who grew up in a hunting family. But as more people see the benefits of eating wild game they are heading to the woods in an effort to put quality, free range meat on the table.
Cerulli grew up as a meat eater and an avid trout angler. But as he grew older he transitioned to fewer meals with meat and eventually became a vegetarian, then a vegan. He initially made the decision for health reasons. Later, Cerulli learned the realities of what it took to put meat on grocery store shelves. “I started to learn a little bit about the environmental impacts of the meat industry on a large scale. I also became concerned about animal welfare.”
Cerulli moved to a rural area after college. He began growing vegetables to provide food for the table. Cerulli noticed rabbits, woodchucks, deer, and other animals began feasting on his garden. He realized farmers had the same problem and that lethal means were used to control wildlife populations on farms. Even as a strict vegan, Cerulli discovered he was doing harm to wildlife. “When I realized… how many deer were being shot and killed by people growing salad greens in California, people growing pumpkins in Upstate New York, people growing just about everything… I was stunned.”
It was that knowledge and some health concerns that prompted Cerulli to begin eating meat again. He started with eggs and eventually began eating chicken. He then decided to take responsibility for the meat on his table. He decided to go hunting. But his decision wasn’t a casual one. It took him a few years before he felt comfortable with the notion of becoming a hunter. “There was discomfort just in owning a firearm. I hadn’t had a gun in a long time. I was around them a little bit as a kid… I certainly had not killed anything with my own hands in a long time, bigger than an insect. It was ethically and emotionally a stage by stage process to ease into the idea.”
Cerulli started hunting small game but ultimately began deer hunting. “If any game animal here in New England was going to put a fair amount of food in the freezer, it was going to be a deer. A snowshoe rabbit would provide a meal or two. But a deer would provide 75 to 100 pounds of meat. So I clearly had food in mind when I took up hunting.”
Like many new hunters, it took a few years before he successfully took a deer. Buck-only tags were the norm in his area so he needed to wait for an antlered buck. Three years after his first hunt, Cerulli killed a buck. A wave of emotions flooded his mind. “At first, I was in complete shock. In shock that it happened, surprised. But also in emotional shock. I didn’t know what I felt. It was so overwhelming. When that started to wear off in the first hours, what I really felt was grief. Here’s this beautiful animal that is dead on the ground… I felt really sad about it… I had some real doubts that I would ever want to do that again… It was actually doing the butchering myself, which I always intended to do… it was doing that, spending those hours, taking that animal apart that allowed me to come to peace with it in a way.”
To hear more of my conversation with Tovar Cerulli, press play at the top of the screen.
If you want to know more about Tovar’s story and his new book, A Mindful Carnivore: A Vegetarian‘s Hunt For Sustenance, see his website: TovarCerulli.com