“Why do you hunt?” Living near a large city, I often find myself getting asked this question by those “civilized” folks who claim humans have evolved beyond such barbaric actions. Explaining my “why” is an unavoidable reality in today’s world where so many have become completely disconnected with not just nature, but also with what’s actually getting tossed down their piehole. It’s fashionable today to go with the simple answer “I hunt for the meat.” Yes, it’s true, I myself do hunt to feed my family. The meat I procure every year while hunting is safe, organic, hormone free, leaner, and far higher in omegas than what’s purchased in most grocery stores. I’ve yet to hear a convincing argument that wild game isn’t the better choice, but is it just me or do other hunting enthusiasts get a slight twinge of guilt when food is the only answer? Food is a very important reason and a great contributor to my why, but it’s not the only reason.
It’s not simple.
It’s not something I feel fully capable of defining in its entirety. Some of my reasons are beyond my ability to explain through conversation yet I know what I do is natural, necessary and is deeply ingrained in my DNA. I’ve been guilty of cringing at once again having to define my “why” to someone I know won’t quite understand it’s true importance. If you grew up around hunting you get it, if you didn’t, well, one less person in the woods and no need to educate and explain. This used to be my attitude. As I’ve matured, I’ve come to realize in today’s world, it’s the responsibility of us who hunt to be eloquent and thoughtful when defining our reasoning. I’ve realized if we don’t take the time to explain our ‘why we hunt’ to someone curious on the matter, we are jeopardizing our future as well as our children's future ability to hunt. Our hunting heritage could simply disappear into the very unfortunate and all to scary urbanization of thought.
We as a people simply have lost the ability to provide for ourselves. Many simply pay to have others do the dirty work of providing them food. Many pay to have their lawns mowed, pay to have the car fixed, we pay to have most things done for us. This is the world many folks live in today as self reliance seems to have faded as something to be proud of and respected. The inability to grow food, to be somewhat self sufficient, and the lack of basic essential skills required to last a night in the woods has been lost by many. Hunting is my way of staying in tune with nature, it forces me to maintain and hone my skills which will usually lead to a successful hunt if done well. It keeps me connected with what’s important, it allows me to be self reliant, it forces me to get my hands dirty and to be responsible while taking control of my families most basic need, food.
Nobody really lives without challenging themselves. When I go for a hunt, I have prepared for months. I’ve researched, secured tags, gathered equipment, made food, exercised, loosed thousands of arrows, and made a variety of plans to up the odds of success. I go into the mountains to compete against no one but myself. Often times I find myself alone in the most challenging terrain for extended periods of time with absolutely no one to talk to. I watch, wait, hike, climb, sweat, freeze, eat, drink, and sleep, just to do it all again the next day. I live among the animals for days, sometimes weeks. I decide which animal I should take by the challenge presented, often passing on bucks too close to the truck or trail and opting for a longer, tougher hunt where success isn’t guaranteed. Sometimes I’ll endure mind numbing hours sitting in my tent because I can’t get out due to weather.
When I find an animal, I earn my shot, I take every last bit of meat off of it, I pack it out, and drive it home to then cut it, grind it, preserve it, and share it with my family and others to eat and enjoy. That is my ultimate challenge and it’s rarely easy. Being uncomfortable is the norm and the tougher the hunt the better I’d say. An extremely tough hunt that might have me completely drained both mentally and physically just feels right. It feels as if I’ve somehow earned the animal more by enduring certain elements of harshness while in its environment.
If you want to understand nature, participate in it. Try to fully understand it, realize wild animals are not living in Zootopia where they simply run around singing and dancing like Disney characters. The cycle of life is harsh and cruel, but as a hunter, I get to be part of that cycle which paints the real portrait of nature, not the one hollywood is attempting to paint for us. I get to understand the process of taking a life that will sustain me and my family. Hunters truly understand the meaning of “life sustains life”. I don’t kill irresponsibly, illegally, or without ethics or remorse. My participation is a vital piece of enjoying and ensuring a future for all the amazing natural resources of this area. I feel the participation gives me insight beyond the scope of some less involved in the way of these wild places.
Respect comes in many forms. I respect every animal I pursue, as well as the ones not seen as game. My respect comes from understanding how that animal lives year round. The sheer will these animals exhibit to survive in nature’s unforgiving environment is nothing short of incredible. Taking the life of a fully grown mature mule deer isn’t easy and the respect I have for them has come from studying and learning their habits by immersing myself into their world.
I grew up hunting and I fell in love with it early in life. Hunting is and always will be deeply ingrained in my soul. It’s taught me so many life lessons that I feel compelled to pass these lessons on to my daughters. The tradition of heading out into the mountains with my father at a young age is something I’ll always have fond memories of. Those were the days I learned to pay attention, to work hard, earn my success, to endure and never give up. I now know the absolute importance of those days afield as they made me who I am today.
Hunting is an age old tradition that has sustained human existence since the beginning of time. I enjoy thinking back to the days of old, way back when it was a struggle to survive. When a lack of knowledge, intuition, and a poor game plan could have meant starvation and possible death. Might I have the skills necessary to survive in the days where a successful hunt meant I’d live to hunt another day. I feel blessed to understand and see the all too important value in continuing the tradition of hunting which has made myself a better and more self reliant person. Whether my daughters decide to take up hunting as a way of life or not, they will understand, they’ll know its importance in our past and its relevance in today’s world.
Avoiding the Disconnect
This is a very real syndrome in society today. Many are disconnected from wild places, they’re disconnected from their food, disconnected from nature, they’re disconnected and unknowing of the many adventures awaiting anyone who dares venture into a wilderness setting. The skills lost through this disconnect are tragic in my opinion. We as a people have become over stimulated, ambivalent, lazy, and apathetic. Children are drugged with iPads, adults with iPhones. Many consume poor food, cheap products, crave wealth and fame, but feel depressed and alone like no other time in history. Unplug from the noise, and bathe in the quiet. This is one of the great benefits I get from hunting. It’s not only about killing, because most days there is no kill, most days you spend hour upon hour thinking, reflecting and paying attention to your surroundings. It’s a great time to connect with something bigger than yourself while leaving behind on the mountain, what isn’t serving you anymore.
Pass It On
There is an almost unexplainable magnetic draw that pulls me into the mountains each year. I need to participate in nature, to strengthen the intimate connection I get amongst wild places not seen by most. I’ve taken many steps in my life, often in untrampled landscapes where I find myself wondering whether anyone had ever stood in that exact place. I get an opportunity to observe nature in it’s true environment, and become part of the cycle of life. There is great complexity in explaining to someone not raised around hunting that hunters have an incredible respect for the very animals they seek to kill. The conservation aspect of hunting is nothing short of astounding when you look at what hunting organizations have done to boast populations of many game and non game animals. Some might look at a kill shot and see nothing but disrespect, yet I’d argue that its the challenges, the sacrifices, the correct steps taken to get to that point that we remember the most. These experiences can be life changing for someone new to hunting and can give them an insight to nature they never knew existed.
I know that same pull that I have in me, would inevitably be felt by others, if given the opportunity to cultivate it. It may not be for hunting, but we all hold the memory of what it meant to live with the seasons, with the animals, as part of the ecosystem. I see this intrigue raising its head in the disheartened youth who are realizing something is missing, and this has created a perfect time and place to educate . It’s time for those of us who have have this knowledge to pass it on and share this truth - hunting is more than meat.