Only Jared Rowley’s truck lights provided light as he drove out into the Harold Crane Waterfowl Management Area on Sunday morning before sunrise.
“I don’t know how many sunrises I’ve seen, but it has been a heck of a lot,” Rowley said as he navigated the bumpy dirt road.
The sky was still a dark blue with the lights coming from the few trucks parked out in the lot near the entrance to the wetlands as Rowley put on layers of camouflage and prepared his backpack. It was still 15 minutes before the legal time to start shooting when Rowley slung his shotgun over his shoulder and trekked out along the muddy embankments to hunt.
Rowley grew up hunting deer and small game like rabbits and pheasants. This wild game was a part of the family’s diet and he has continued that tradition, but expanded upon it with his small business, JRS Wild Game Processing, which operates out of his home in Orem.
“I don’t ever remember taking animals to a butcher, we always did them ourselves,” Rowley said. “Coincidentally, later on, I ended up being a meat cutter.”
When Rowley was 17, he started cutting meat at a local grocery store in Mount Pleasant. Since then, he has worked in retail meat throughout his professional career.
While working as a meat cutter at a grocery store, he started to receive requests to process meat from animals that friends or family harvested during a hunt. This part-time job turned into an opportunity to make extra money, but still be able to see his family.
“We’ve really tried to build the business in and still maintain our ability to hunt and have fun and spend time out in the hills,” Rowley said.
Fifteen years ago, Rowley formalized the business, but aimed to maintain a balance with time to pursue his passion for hunting, which was what brought him to meat processing.
The tradition of hunting continues on in Rowley’s four sons. He beams with pride when showing a photo of the ducks his son harvested from Utah Lake. “It is just about the hunt, the experience, nothing better than going with my boys and enjoying the time together,” he said
Rowley also has encouraged his sons to learn about how to process their own meat and to participate in the family business. Rowley believes that providing an opportunity for the boys to learn how to be able to cut their own meat is a positive thing for his sons.
“I think it is just a matter of letting them experience it,” Rowley said.
This passion for hunting and self-sufficiency comes with a large amount of effort from Rowley. Rowley mentioned that there is a joke that “it is all fun and games until you shoot something and get it on the ground and you are miles away from your truck, and that is when the work begins.”
However, the effort that goes into the process of hunting and harvesting meat is what the experience is all about for Rowley. There are many lessons that he tries to teach his kids, but one main one is, “The effort you put into it is what you get out of it.”
Hunting as a familial experience is common for many hunters. Covy Jones, the big game coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources said, “I hunt, because my dad hunted, I know that is not true for everybody, but for a lot of youth, either their mom, their dad, their grandma, or their uncle, or their aunt, somebody got them into the sport.
“If there is not that person, that has that tradition and is able to have that opportunity, they will fall away, because it is hard to get into and it can be intimidating.”
Jones explains that the Division of Wildlife Resources is working to engage youth hunters, but also maintaining adult hunters.
“One of the things we’ve realized is in order to maintain youth hunting, we have to maintain parent hunting,” Jones said. “We have a lot of programs focused on youth, and we will continue with those, but just having opportunity in general is important.”
The Division of Wildlife Resources is looking to grow the community in all areas.
This effort to encourage hunting in all generations is essential for the basic level of conservation that hunters provide.
“Hunters are the original conservationists,” Jones said.
Jones explained that hunters are an integral part to helping maintain populations and also provide a monetary resource for other conservation efforts that are needed for population management. In addition, the personal benefit that comes from the harvest is important for many in the state.
“It gives families good, clean meat. It gives an opportunity to understand where food comes from,” Jones said. “(There are) a lot of positives to harvesting your own meat and knowing where it came from and realizing there is a sacrifice when you harvest an animal and realizing meat doesn’t just come from a grocery store.”
This motivation, hunting for meat, was found to be approved of by 85 percent of respondents in a recent survey by Responsive Management, a natural resource survey firm, compared to trophy hunting which was only approved of by 28 percent of respondents.
Even though Rowley benefits from meat processing, he finds that the education and benefits that hunting brings isn’t always because of harvesting meat.
“You want to talk about a good conversation, just go out and listen (to your kids) and watch the animals,” Rowley said. “It is not always about killing an animal, I mean, you can take pictures, you can observe and watch their habits and learn from them. That is the biggest thing I would say, enjoy the time with your kids.”
He said he believes these positive experiences are what will keep youth coming back to hunting, which is important for conservation within the state. “For conservation’s sake, take a kid out. There is never a more valuable time spent than with a young boy or girl out their in the hills, teaching them and having some fun,” Rowley said.