Crouched in the shadows, you creep through the forest under a rising sun. Your prey is close—so close you can smell it. Focus sharpens as something rustles in the bushes. Any second now. Then, with the fury of a pheasant exploding from a cattail patch, a head of broccoli takes flight, catapulting through cottonwood limbs. You shoulder your 20-gauge, and as soon as a lane opens up, pull the trigger. The airborne veggie splits in two and hits the ground with a thud. You eject your empty, reach down, and admire your prize—what a specimen!—before sliding it into the back of your vest. Perhaps you’ll mount this one, or maybe invite friends over for a broccoli stir fry. Either way, it’s another great day in the woods for a vegan hunter.
Wait—vegan hunting? Yep, it’s a thing, and for some folks it’s Montana’s latest greatest tastiest trend. How it works is simple. Guides spend the late spring and early summer placing fresh produce in remote areas, often hidden from view. For large, solid veggies, modified clay-target throwers are installed, with motion sensors to trigger the launch. Come fall, high-paying, meat-free clients are sent on a treasure hunt to track down their bounty and harvest it as one would a live game animal.
In 2020, local outfitter Ed Apterdye began offering trophy vegetable hunts alongside his normal big-game hunts.
If this has you scratching your lettuce head, you’re not alone, but here’s the wildest part—vegan hunting was pioneered by a traditional big-game outfitter. Ed Apterdye was born in Paradise Valley long before anyone reading this. He’s made an honest career out of guiding elk and deer hunts for five decades. But recently, despite an impressive 85% success rate and five-star Google reviews, his operation has begun to spoil, with fewer and fewer reservations each year.
“Life ’round these parts is changin’,” Apterdye says. “People in Montana used to actually like rollin’ up their sleeves. Now, seems like they just wanna appear to have their sleeves rolled up.”
With vegetarianism, skinny jeans, and Just For Men sales increasing across the state, Apterdye pondered how he could resuscitate his ailing guide business. If he could offer the hunting experience without the actual killing, people might just go for it. Turns out, his solution hit the nail on the proverbial head.
Recently, there’s been talk of allowing crossbow hunting during the first two weeks of January for winter-resilient parsnips.
One of his first clients, Eda Plant, an art-gallery owner from Santa Fe, considered it a much-needed indulgence of primal desires. “As a vegan, I naturally married a kind, gentle man who would never own a gun, let alone hurt an animal,” she explains. “But a girl’s got instincts, you know? I’m not saying I’m going to bang a bearded rugby player, but I did enjoy shooting the shit out of some artichokes.”
Even the most skeptical hunters were quickly convinced. Last year, Apterdye accompanied a traditional tweed-clad bird hunter from Denton, Texas into the Absarokas. Two miles in, his Cocker Spaniel flushed a bushel of spring-loaded turnips. Less than a minute later, Apterdye’s client had shot enough turnips to make savory side dishes for the next four months. “By the time we got back to the truck, he had converted to vegetarianism and decided to open a produce-hunting ranch in west Texas called the Flying Eggplant,” says Apterdye.
Business boomed so rapidly that competing outfitters weren’t far behind. In just two years, the vegan-hunting industry brought in $10 million in revenue. Outfitters are now contracting local farmers to grow produce, hiring seasonal employees to put in the hard miles hiding the food, and getting volunteers to teach the ethics of safe and smart vegan hunting. There’s even talk of allowing crossbow hunting during the first two weeks of January for winter-resilient parsnips.
State wildlife biologists and conservation groups argue that less conventional hunting pressure has led to an overpopulation of big-game animals. For the first time in Montana history, local ranchers are advocating for more predators on the landscape to help reduce crop damage.
But the sport has experienced some growing pains. Last month a hiker on the Triple Tree trail was hospitalized for a gunshot wound after a visiting hunter from Missoula mistook him for an avocado. Needless to say, not everyone is happy with the new craze. In fact, a bunch of dyed-in-the-wool vegans appear to make up the moldy end. A newly rebranded organization, Plants Experience Trauma Also (PETA2), is pushing back against the sport, advocating for restaurants to only serve non-GMO2 (Gun-Mangled Organisms) vegetables in their dishes. PETA2 asserts that plants feel pain, too, and that such a practice as vegan hunting is a gross display of unnecessary violence.
On the other side of the coin, state wildlife biologists and conservation groups argue that less conventional hunting pressure has led to an overpopulation of big-game animals. For the first time in Montana history, local ranchers are advocating for more predators on the landscape to help reduce crop damage. Which may, at long last, help the access issues public hunters have faced for the last couple of decades.
There’s no doubt about it: hunting in Montana has taken on new roots. “I never thought I’d live to see the day,” Apterdye says. “But hell, if there’s money to be made, I can tolerate just about anything.” All available reservations for 2023 veggie hunts in southwest Montana were booked by March. Openings (and regulations) for the 2024 season will be released at the start of the new year.
To learn more or to book a hunt, visit veganhunters.com.