Ever get that question “Dude why do you hunt?” It’s an unavoidable reality in today’s world where so many have become completely disconnected with what’s actually getting crammed down their piehole. It’s fashionable today to go with the easiest answer “I hunt for the meat.” Yes, it’s true, I myself do hunt to feed my family. The meat I pack away every year is undoubtedly better and safer than what I might find in a store. Hormone free, free ranging, leaner, higher omega’s, just a few of the many reasons we prefer it. I’ve yet to hear a convincing argument that wild game isn’t the better choice, but is it just me or does anyone else get a slight twinge of guilt when food is the only answer? Food is a very important reason, but it’s not the only “why”.
It’s not simple.
It’s not even something I feel fully capable of defining in it entirety. It took my wife Hillary years to understand it, and she lives with me. I’ve been guilty of sometimes cringing at having to once again define my “why” to someone who I know won’t quite understand it’s true importance. If you know me, you get it, and if you don’t, then usually I don’t care. But as I’m maturing, I realize in today’s world, it’s the responsibility of us who hunt to be able to define our reasoning, because if we don’t, our way of life could disappear into the urbanization of thought.
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 millions of steps in my life, wondering to myself if anyone else had ever stood in this same 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 respect animals they seek to kill. Many urban folk don’t understand the distinct difference between legal hunting and poaching. All they know is animals are dieing.
What I have found though, is that many people are intrigued more than revolted. 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 it’s head in the disheartened youth who are realizing they are missing something, and it’s growing the backcountry athlete movement. The challenges endured by the backcountry hunter is a true testament to the love and passion we have in our pursuit. Why would one hike for miles, brave the elements, carry heavy loads, endure pain and fatigue, all to put meat on the table? I mean you can walk to the corner store for that. Good question, that is again, hard to explain.
My short list of WHY’s
- Challenge. 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. Mental fatigue can be overwhelming for someone not experienced in the art of being alone. 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 in my book. 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.
- Participation. 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. I also get to live on one of most amazing continents in the world, I get to freely walk into wild lands and harvest large game animals, without fear or persecution. My participation is a vital piece of enjoying and ensuring 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.
- Conservation. Hunters give more dollars to protecting animals than any other group. The great mistakes of our ancestors in the North American decimation of species like the buffalo, led to the greatest conservation of animals on the continent. In other countries around the world, conservation and responsible hunting is what has saved species, supported villages, and changed the reckless poaching of animals. I believe in conservation, public lands, and the freedom for everyone to enjoy the outdoors. Hunters were America’s first true conservationists and they continue to do more than any other group by managing animals in a way that ensures their survival. It’s hunters dollars that are used to benefit both hunted and non-hunted animals. Our dollars are used to create countless habitat enhancement projects which help and protect much more than just the animals in which we hunt. You don’t have to hunt to be a conservationist, but all responsible hunters are conservationists. Teddy Roosevelt said it best “In a civilized and cultivated country wild animals only continue to exist when preserved by sportsmen. The excellent people who protest against all hunting, and consider sportsmen enemies of wildlife, are ignorant of the fact that in reality the genuine sportsman is by all odds the most important factor in keeping the larger and more valuable wild creatures from total extermination.
- Respect. Respect comes in many forms. I respect all animals I kill. The elk, deer, bear, cougar- these are all majestic creatures. The respect concept might be confusing to non hunters because some have confused taking a photo with a dead animal as simply showing off one’s trophy. The photo to me is respecting the magnificence of the animal and allowing me to remember the effort and success of my hard work. My respect comes from understanding how that animal lives year round, what it takes to survive in nature’s unforgiving environment. 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.
- Tradition. I grew up hunting and I fell in love with it early in life. From chasing small game such as rabbits, quail and various game birds, I feel hunting is and always will be deeply engrained in my soul. It’s taught me so many life lessons, 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 to 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, when it was a struggle to survive, that is what excites and fills my dreams at night. Might I have what it takes to survive in the days where a successful hunt was crucial to live. I guess you could say I am an old soul, stuck in the urbanization of the modern world. I feel it is a must to continue the tradition of hunting that 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 of the past and it’s relevance in today’s disconnected 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, their own thoughts, they’re disconnected from 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 try as hard as they can to tune out and avoid the harsh realities of nature. Many consume poor food, cheap products, crave wealth and fame, but feel depressed and alone like no other time in history. My solution: go out into the wild and be alone. Get connected to yourself. Then think of others and not just yourself. Acquaint yourself with hardship, suffering, and let go of your attachments- even if just for a short trip. Unplug from the noise, and bathe in the quiet. This is mainly what I get from backcountry 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.
If you know me, you know I don’t talk much, sheesh! this is the most I’ve communicated to the world about WHY I hunt ever. Times change though, these days it’s become all too clear that if I want hunting to be a part of my daughter's and grandchildren’s futures, being quiet isn’t what it’s going to take to keep it alive. When folks ask me “why?”, I know now that this shouldn’t be looked at as an annoyance, but an opportunity, a chance to educate and define my reasons as clearly as I’m capable. It’s on us hunters to do our best at defining the “why” if we want to continue this incredible way of life.