Outdoor Solutions’ ‘From Field To Table’ program is likely the most comprehensive hunting course on the market. For new hunters, I can hardly imagine a better start in the world of procuring your own meat.
Learning how to hunt can be daunting. And as someone who became a hunter within the past decade, I know this struggle well.
You want to put meat on the table, adventures in your pocket, and tell stories around the campfire.
But you’re not exactly sure where to start.
If I’d had the experience of taking founder Greg Ray’s Outdoor Solutions’ From Field To Table course 7 years ago, my hunting life would have started on the best foot. I would have made fewer mistakes in the field. And processing my own animals would have been much less confusing.
Thankfully, I was able to attend a 2022 course in December, and I can certainly say I walked away with more knowledge than I came in with.
Why Take a Hunting Class? And What Does It Entail?
Learning how to hunt big game can be an exciting prospect — at first. But once you have a tag in your pocket, life can feel more than a bit overwhelming.
The reality of hunting is that it’s really difficult. In most DIY hunting scenarios, it’s difficult to find critters in the first place. It’s difficult to get a good shot opportunity — and once you take the shot, a new world of knowledge and experience is forced into play.
And frankly, it isn’t an easy task to learn how to best care for the meat you’d like to put on your plate.
Even if you want to take your animal to a processor, you’ve got some work to do once it’s on the ground. And depending on where you killed the animal, it might take more than just a quick field dressing to get it back to the truck and into the coolers.
Here’s where Outdoor Solutions steps in. It designed the From Field To Table course to take hunters of all experience levels from the field to, you guessed it, the table. At each step along the way, designated experts help you out.
Outdoor Solutions Course Outline
The course starts with time on a gun range. There, you learn strict safety protocols as well as how to dial in rifles and create a space where each shooter feels comfortable at a certain distance. For most beginning hunters, that’s 100 yards.
Outdoor Solutions employs military veterans with absurd amounts of instruction experience to get folks dialed. These folks are seriously impressive and helpful, even for experienced shooters.
From there, hunters head into more opportunity-rich environments. For the purposes of a field-to-table hunting course, private properties abuzz with wildlife and knowledgeable guides don’t guarantee an animal. But there will certainly be opportunities to put an animal in the freezer.
From there, you’ll participate in the next 2- to 3-day phase of From Field To Table: butchery, processing, and cooking. The class culminates in a multicourse meal in which participants broke up into teams. Each team took responsibility for one course, as you would in a real working kitchen.
Ultimately, in my course of From Field To Table, we were able to take meat home from the trip. And that’s the icing on top of a serious cake of information.
Sighting In: My Hunting Class Experience
I’m making a small assumption that our time on the long-range shooting course was probably a bit less than other groups, but most of us were comfortable with a rifle. And the one person who was our newbie picked it up easily.
We sighted in our rifles alongside shooting experts. For me, that’s a treat in itself. I mostly figured out how to shoot on my own. Because of this, I picked up a few bad habits and missed a few things along the way. The guys helped sharpen my shooting and troubleshoot a few spots that seemed minor but paid off in spades on the range.
And it’s worth it to note that if you need help with shooting, Outdoor Solutions also offers a long-range shooting school, with some courses aimed specifically at marksmanship for hunters.
For us, we spent a bit of the first day on the range, and another half-day or so. Each of us was shooting new Weatherby Mark V rounds, and I landed on the 6.5 RPM. It’s a punchy new round, but I liked the feel of it and felt comfortable out of the gates.
Before this trip, I’d exclusively hunted big game in Montana as a DIY hunt. This means no guide hunts with me; I simply go out and try to find animals. Mostly, it’s a losing game. And that’s OK; it’s part of the deal.
But hunting in Texas is an entirely different thing. My course was hosted in its entirety by the Guitar Ranch, a private operation in Texas that totals about 35,000 acres of free-range wildlife. The ranch teems with whitetail, hogs, and game birds like quail and turkey.
On the ranch — like many ranches in Texas — feeding wildlife corn and other grain is the name of the game. And what felt like dozens of blinds were scattered across acres upon acres, set up near steel feeders that certainly habituate animals to hang close for a twice-a-day feeding.
Blinds are typically within 100 yards of the feeder, and they mostly go unoccupied. So when we were dropped off at a blind, animals really didn’t notice or mind, as long as they didn’t catch our scent.
The caveat to this is that we got to see a lot of animals, and the ranch educated us on the specific animals we should be looking for.
For deer, the game managers wanted us to look for an older age class of buck with a certain level of maturity. Does were fair game. And they told us to look for female hogs without piglets, from 40 to 70 pounds. Not too big, not too small. These are the hogs that tend to be best on the plate.
A Bit of Success
I killed my buck on the first hunt of the trip and my hog on the last. In between, I saw many huntable critters, but I paid attention and wanted to do my guides proud.
This, in my opinion, is a true harvest hunt. You certainly aren’t putting a stalk on an animal from the ground, nor are you putting on mile after mile in search of game or even just sign. It’s pretty cut and dry. You sit in a blind; you wait.
But it’s a great opportunity for a beginner to have a close shot, with an ample amount of time, and someone nearby to help should anything go awry.
For reference, I took shots at 64 yards and 100 yards, respectively. Each was well within my comfortable shooting range. For comparison, I’d shot my Montana pronghorn at just over 300 yards earlier that fall.
After a successful hunt, our tagged animals were field-dressed — mostly by guides— and they then went into the enormous meat locker to hang.
Our course mostly comprised hunters and chefs with a significant amount of experience butchering and processing our own animals. This changed the nature of the course somewhat. Knowledge was deep, so we went all-in on the ins and outs of processing. To put it frankly, I seriously nerded out.
Chef Albert Wutsch led the way from the whole animal to a meal of fine-dining small plates that made up the final dinner of the trip. Put simply, Wutsch is a gem. An executive chef and longtime culinary educator, Wutsch is a teacher through and through, down to the absolute minutiae.
The three sections I picked up as the main components of Wutsch’s world were (1) butchering the whole animal, (2) processing the animal into parcels of meat, sausage, and grind, and (3) cooking with wild game.
For me, butchering was the highlight of the course. Wutsch walked us through each muscle group, noting which deserved which style of cooking. He also taught us more advanced styles of knife work to help us get the most out of each animal.
Beyond that, our talented crew also shared specialty cuts, like french roasts, porterhouses, ideas for whole hams, and more.
I’ll be honest: I didn’t really know what I was in for on this trip. And when I realized we were going to be in the kitchen cooking a restaurant-ready, multiple-course menu for folks on the ranch, I was pretty excited.
Now, I previously worked in what restaurant folks call the front of house. I’ve waitressed, bartended, and bussed tables at many points throughout my life, and I often really enjoyed the work. But I more identified with our cooks on the line, and the power of force which they moved through their workday was always something I much admired.
To participate in that kind of atmosphere — even just for a night — was straight-up fun. The kitchen bustled and sang with sizzles, smells, and feet running from here to there. Hot pans were everywhere. My partner and fellow writer Cosmo Genova and I pulled off our sauerkraut and brat menu addition in a tiny corner in the back, and we had a blast getting it done.
We then had to plate and present our dish to the room once it came time for sharing. And if I regret one thing about my restaurant past, it might be that I didn’t give life on the food line a go.
It really was the best way to end a week of hunting, processing, and cooking. We each shared in the revels of our hunting success. And the food on our plates came directly from the animals we’d harvested just a few days before.
It’s quite the transformation.
Field-to-Table Hunting Course: Pros and Cons
Should a new hunter take a course like this, I think a few things need to be understood. The first is that not all hunting is so flush with opportunity. If you go to Texas for your first hunt but go hunting in my home state of Montana next, you might be up for a rude awakening when the miles don’t add up to meat.
But the opportunity and knowledge sharing are really what you’re paying for. I don’t think much out there can beat this kind of setup. I could have filled more tags, but I knew I could only fly with two animals. It’s a serious meat hunt, especially if you can drive out for the opportunity.
The one thing I felt lacking in the learning process was perhaps an unintentional result of all of us being experienced in field dressing in one way or another. When the animals came in, the guides on the ranch field-dressed (or gutted) each animal very quickly and efficiently.
But for me, I like to be a part of the process of each animal that I kill. I felt a small disconnect there and tried to involve myself more than the guides likely wanted me to. I’d venture to guess that brand-new hunters would be walked through this process in detail.
It’s one of the most daunting parts of the hunting experience, and it’s crucial for cooling meat and taking proper care of it in the field. Should you go, definitely request to learn this in a hands-on way.
Upcoming Courses, Costs, and Locations
If you’re interested in taking a course with Outdoor Solutions, you should be. It will offer a wide swath of options in 2022, from elk hunting in New Mexico to hunting black bears and fishing in Alaska to the deer/hog Texas combo I was lucky enough to hunt.
Course fees vary from $3,500 to $7,000, with some types of hunts requiring more cash than others. If you have the funds and the need for expertise, it’s a fair trade. You’re doing guided hunts, with meals included, generally on private land.
In my experience, this is a similar fee to paying for a guided hunt in which the education offered is minimal. Here, you’ll be learning a ton while getting access to a lot of critters in an environment that functions as a classroom.
Final Thoughts on the ‘From Field To Table’ Experience
I walked in not knowing entirely what to expect, and I walked out a much more competent butcher. That, for me, is really exciting. Not only does it expand my abilities on the butcher table, but I feel it also helps me more deeply respect the intimacy of the hunting process.
When I hear that someone dislikes wild game, I wonder what happened. Was the meat field-dressed properly? How was the animal shot? Did they cook the cut of meat correctly, and what steps might have been missed?
I’ve failed at some dishes, but the wild game itself was never at fault. And the more I know about it, the more love I’m able to put into each dish.
Listen. If you want to learn how to hunt, I can’t imagine a better team. Ray and his team go above and beyond to make sure hunters are taken care of, educated, and leave better than they came in. And that goes for us experienced folks as well.
Right now, two eyes of round from my Texas whitetail are in the oven with a smidge of wine, salt, butter, and garlic. I’ll finish each one with a hot sear. And I can just about guarantee that it’s gonna be a great meal.