The farm-to-table movement keeps growing, and it’s not limited to fruits and vegetables. Nor is it limited to the farm. For many, the epitome of natural eating and food freedom is found through hunting. After all, free-range, naturally raised meat is delicious, sustainable and healthy.

And while hunting is a sport often associated with men, Marna Evans, an administrative assistant with the Ontario County District Attorney’s Office, proves women enjoy the activity too.

Hunting for health and family

Evans has been hunting for more than 50 years, most recently with her daughter and two granddaughters. For her, hunting answers a need to both feed and bond with family. Growing up, her family hunted to put food on the table. “When you grow up on a farm, you hunt,” she says.

Instead of going to the grocery store and paying a premium for meat raised on a diet of antibiotics and questionable feed, Evans says hunting provides flavorful, free food from a healthy, sustainable source. One deer can feed a family for most of the winter.

Each year on opening day of deer hunting season—usually in mid-November—Evans’ family gathers early in the morning for a hearty breakfast and to prepare for the day’s hunt. At the end of the day, they share their stories.

Mary Gates, Ontario County deputy administrator, shares Evans’ appreciation for hunting good food. For about 15 years, she and her husband have hunted birds with their dogs. And like Evans, Gates eats everything she hunts.

Both women understand that with hunting comes great responsibility. Evans used to hunt local pheasants, but stopped years ago when wild predators and housing developments made their population dwindle to unsustainable levels.

Gates, too, keeps the local population in mind. “We always say we don’t shoot the locals because there are so few of them,” she says.

One with nature

The health benefits of hunting go beyond the meat. The sport provides a connection with natural stillness and beauty, the kind of setting that’s ideal for leaving stress behind.

For Gates, hunting is a great way for her and her husband to share time with one another and their dogs. She loves training her dogs to be hunting companions.

“I love watching our dogs hunt. You can see the excitement in their expressions,” she says.

To find good hunting grounds, Gates, her husband and their dogs travel out west or to the Midwest. She says bird hunting has led her to discover beautiful places she otherwise would never have considered traveling to. “South Dakota is remarkable,” she says.

Gates says she is always in awe at being able to share space with wildlife that is just going about its daily business.

“I often wish I had a camera instead of a bow. I’ll often just watch,” Gates says.

For Evans, it’s all about watching the animals in their natural habitat and getting to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors at the same time. “It’s a wonderful moment to just be out. Especially when it’s snowing. It’s beautiful,” she says.