Conservation club hosts annual dinner Saturday

Published 8:45 am Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Squirrel, pheasant, elk and other nontraditional meats will be on the menu at the Dowagiac Conservation Club’s annual Wild Game Dinner, held inside their clubhouse Saturday.

Starting at noon, visitors will be able to enjoy their fill of gamey meat dishes, including venison, rabbit, goose and other dishes prepared by club members, for a donation of $8. Fresh sides, salads and dessert will also be offered, along with beef and pork for those who want a more traditional dinner.

The club has hosted a wild game dinner the past 16 years, said organizer and conservation club member Richard Atkinson.

“Early on, a lot of our guys held wild game dinners during hunting season,” Atkinson said. “We eventually decided to consolidate all of them into one big event.”

Shortly after its introduction, the club opened the event up to the public, the organizer said. While attendance has ebbed and flowed over the decade and a half the club has hosted the event, participation has been steadily increasing over the last three to four years, Atkinson said.

He attributes the recent growth to strong word of mouth within the community.

“If you go to a wild game dinner and all they have is venison, it’s not a big deal,” Atkinson said. “If you go to one with a big array of wild dishes, like squirrel pie, you’ll probably want to tell others about it.”

While many of the animals on the menu are hunted or trapped locally, a few, such as the Elk, come from as far as Wyoming, Atkinson said.

While many of those who regularly attend the dinner are accustomed to eating gamey dishes, there are plenty of rookies who come out for the afternoon as well, Atkinson said.

“You have people who come out who have never eaten squirrel or things like that,” he said. “It’s fun to watch people eat things they have never eaten before.

The Wild Game Dinner is one of two major fundraisers the club holds in the winter, the other being last month’s Hunter’s Rendezvous. Proceeds from the two events go toward the conservation club’s youth education program

“As a 501C3 (nonprofit), we have to give back to the community,” Atkinson said. “Our youth education program helps us fulfill that promise.”

The program provides a number of benefits to area children with an interest in wildlife and the outdoors, including sending kids to camp and offering scholarships. The club also offers various events throughout the year aimed at children, including a youth fishing day, hunter education and a pheasant-hunting day. They also host a free animal education program with the Howell Nature Center, providing children with a chance to see live animals that are brought to the facility by professional handlers.

“It’s a good program for kids 6 to 7 years old, as well as old codgers like me,” Atkinson said.

In addition to the dinner, the conservation club will also sell raffle tickets at the door for $5. Prizes up for grab include a 12-gauge shotgun, a gun safe and a fish fryer.

The dinner will run from noon to 3 p.m. on Saturday, at the conservation clubhouse on M-51. Children plates will be provided for $4. Carryout will also be available for $8.