he was supposed to fall where she stood. That’s how I’d pictured it back in Massachusetts, unreasonably confident as I let slip references to my planned whitetail hunt in Texas to my bewildered New England friends. But it didn’t go that way. Instead, she bounded 20 yards past mesquite and prickly pear and lay kicking in the salt grass. A final spasm of white 100 yards away, 20 seconds after I was sure she should have finished. My stomach dropped straight through the 30-foot blind. I had punted it, I knew right then. I had taken a 5 a.m. flight the previous morning from Boston to Harlingen, 20 miles from the Gulf Coast and the Mexican border, for a weekend course in hunting, butchering, and cooking wild game—and I’d screwed it up. Hunting had drawn my interest only months earlier, after going out West to write about public-land issues. I was, frankly, impressed by the sportsmen holding the line against development and big oil, and their grounded conservation ethic. I was hungry for it, too. At the annual Backcountry Hunters and Anglers meet-up in March, I’d been served a wild-game dinner that transcended description: moose consommé and bighorn risotto and other dishes I still crave. The trouble was coordinating with the handful of far-flung sportsmen I knew well enough to take me out and teach me. So when the opportunity came up to escape the cold in Massachusetts and get started with a From Field to Plate (fromfieldtoplate.com) course last November, I bit. It wasn’t how I’d meant to begin—much of what drew me to hunting centered around this seductive idea of grit and the sportsmen’s equivalent of earning your turn. I didn’t, to be honest, see a ranch and tower blinds in that picture. But the course, designed to quickly initiate new hunters into the shrinking ranks of the country’s 11.5 million, promised to fast-track first-timers straight to the part that interested me as much as anything: the meat.