Arby's deer and elk meat burgers are leaving a bad taste in hunters' mouths

A group of hunters has taken aim at Arby's for selling sandwiches made with deer and elk meat.

Earlier this month, the Montana Wildlife Federation (MWF) sent a letter to the fast-food chain voicing its objection after Arby's began selling its popular venison sandwich at 3,300 stores nationwide on Oct. 21, as well as a limited-edition elk sandwich at three locations in Montana, Wyoming and Colorado.

A Montana conservation group led by hunters has objected to Arby's selling venison and elk sandwiches.

"MWF is deeply concerned that Arby’s is choosing to offer an elk sandwich at one of its restaurants in Billings, as well as two other locations in the West," MWF executive director Dave Chadwick wrote in the letter. "Farm-raised game meat sandwiches run counter to core Montana values of public wildlife and consumption of healthy protein through ethically killed game.

"Elk and deer are best left as wild, free-ranging animals that are part of the public trust."

Members of the MWF, which was founded in 1936 by hunters, anglers and other conservationists, fear that the widespread distribution of the sandwiches could lead to an increase in game farming. In 2000, citizens in Montana voted to ban new farms for game meat over concerns about unethical captive shooting activities and the spread of disease, according to the organization.

Arby's sources the meat for its sandwiches from a game farm in New Zealand, company president Rob Lynch told NPR.

"You can't procure venison in the United States at scale to commercialize, so you have to go all the way to New Zealand to get this," Lynch said.

Arby's rolled out the venison sandwiches nationwide after an initial test run proved popular at 17 locations last fall in several deer-hunting states like Wisconsin, Tennessee and Pennsylvania. The return of the sandwich just 10 days ago was again greeted by many excited customers, with multiple locations selling out of their venison sandwiches that day.

The MWF asked in its letter for a chance to meet with Arby's officials to find another way "to show respect for our hunting heritage."

"There is a real danger in marketing wildlife as a commodity like this," Nick Gevock, conservation director for the MWF, said in a statement. "This runs counter to Montana’s fair-chase hunting values by encouraging the commercialization of a public wildlife resource."

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