By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer
In a country whose founding relied on a steady diet of fish and wild game, today’s lasting connection of the outdoor tradition to a season of giving thanks remains strong, not only in the Deep South but nationwide.
For many, a tradition of self-reliance and close association with an abundant natural resource has made eating meat harvested from the forests and fields, and fish from the rivers and lakes, a cherished, natural and, sometimes, still-critical part of life.
For those whose tables today hold deer, squirrel, catfish, crappie or countless other provender not found on grocery shelves, Thanksgiving Day means appreciation for a meal, for a chance to acquire it, and for the opportunity to pursue the way of life that brings it all together.
Bubba Tutor was a butcher for 27 years before opening his own meat business on West Oxford Street in Pontotoc. Bubba’s Wild Game Processing is entering its sixth year of helping hunters get their game from field to table. Needless to say, he and his family are regular consumers of wild game.
“I like it because you just kill it off the land,” Tutor said. “It’s all natural.”
“Most folks around here have deer at least once a week,” said Rusty Edwards, of Pontotoc. “It’s a really good source of meat.”
Edwards was passing through the showroom of Richey’s Guns & Archery, an outdoor-centric business in Algoma, and a place where the topics of hunting and food often intersect.
Richey Crew, a well-respected gunsmith, has been growing a business in Pontotoc County for many years and has seen his store’s reputation spread far and wide. In that time, he and his wife Sherry have raised two boys and a girl, often basing a large portion of their family’s diet on deer and other wild game.
With multiple family members stocking the freezer and surrounding the dinner table, Sherry said, there have been years that have seen them harvest and consume as many deer as state bag limits allow.
“That’s pretty much all we eat at our house,” she said. “If we buy meat, it means somebody didn’t do a good job hunting.”
“She’s like the character Bubba from the movie ‘Forrest Gump,’” Richey laughed, “but instead of shrimp, she knows everything there is to know about cooking deer. Deer burger, deer sandwich, deer soup, deer barbecue, deer and rice, deer and potatoes, deer and tomatoes, and it’s all really good.”
In addition to deer, Sherry said they enjoy a wide variety of other game including rabbit, squirrel, turkey, duck and fish.
“Having that resource means, personally, money in my pocket not spent at the grocery store, but secondly, we all prefer it,” she said. “It doesn’t cook away to grease, it’s all very healthy and really lean.”
Beyond the value of the meat and the healthy qualities of the meals, the memories and bonds wild game shared at the table creates are part of the process, another key point of the Thanksgiving season.
For Jon Tatum, a Mooreville resident who grew up in Itawamba County, the wood duck dressing at his family’s Thanksgiving table is an element of the annual meal whose value goes well beyond its place on a plate.
“I guess it means a lot to me because my grandmother cooks it and I killed the ducks,” he said.
Jamison Standard, a Starkville resident whose family roots run to Kentucky, said the wild game portion of their Thanksgiving meal is important because “my father and I tell the stories of the hunts we were on together that produced the meat at the table. This makes for good family moments. Plus, it’s nice that we are able to involve the rest of the family that wasn’t on the hunt with the final process, the consumption.”
‘Eat what we kill’
“Hunting has always been a huge part of our family’s tradition, and it’s one of the things that brings our family together,” Rusty McDaniels said. He’s a Tupelo resident originally from Centreville in Wilkinson County. “The resource is definitely important to us. That’s the way we were brought up, to eat what we kill. It’s a critical part of the whole process. Hunting is more than just the anticipation, the adrenaline and the excitement in the field, it’s a key part of providing for our family. My brother and I were raised that way. We eat deer at our house like it’s going out of style, and I’m passing that down to my boys now.”
Kyle Smith, a Starkville resident who grew up in Missouri, said his family’s Thanksgiving table always includes both a wild turkey and deer roast.
“After all, that is how hunting originated,” Smith said, “to provide food for our families, and Thanksgiving is a great time to share the game we’ve harvested and be thankful for what God has given us. It’s a good reminder to be thankful every day, not just one day.”