-Sometime after 6 am, I’m not sure. I don’t want to check my phone to see, because I really don’t care. It’s cold, damn cold. I awoke in the cabin at 4:30 am and began the process of getting to the top of the mountain. The tree stand was waiting for me, frozen, coated in ice like everything else in the woods. I’m strapped in and sitting, watching, waiting. The sun is trying to make its way over another ridge, miles from my perch. Hmmm, must be closer to 7am. When emerging light becomes more than just a backdrop and starts to illuminate the woods I begin to feel more relaxed and yet more tense at the same time. Relaxed because this is my element, tense because my senses are heightened; the slightest motion or sound commands my attention. It could be any moment now. A few minutes pass and the overcast challenged sun is reinforced by the snow on the ground. I ask myself, “could I see well enough to make the shot…at this moment?” Then a muffled blast reaches my ear from somewhere in the distance. It doesn’t always take long to hear that first shot. Someone else walks into the woods and spooks a bedded deer, which ran 100 yards, where a blaze orange figure awaited it, maybe even expected it. Its rifle season in Pennsylvania and the woods are alive.
What makes a person hunt?
Ask hunters, why do you do it? You’ll most like hear many versions of the same few answers; for food, for the experience, for constructive use of my time. Some, and I believe especially those who have hunted their entire life as a family tradition, might say “if I have to explain it, you wouldn’t understand.” You might, and I sincerely hope not, find someone so bold as to say they do it only for the “trophy.”
If you don’t hunt, or know anyone who does, chances are your only exposure to this activity is on TV. I’ve probably made this point before, but the TV hunting personalities (they’re not all created equal), are not always the best representation of hunting. Just ask yourself the question, “how does this person get to be a paid TV hunter?” Well, it is endorsements. You see it all the time if you’re watching close enough. The earlier footage of their careers was more about the method, the game, the experience, and the simple truth; you don’t always get your quarry. Then due to quite a bit of marketing effort, the footage catches the attention of manufacturers who think that hunter might be a good representative for their brand. Here comes the money…and the pressure to produce. Would YOU want to pay someone to endorse YOUR product if THEY couldn’t get the desired results??? No way. Instead of real hunting the now “professional hunter” will take to high fenced ranches and private properties with feeders. All they need to do is show up and wait for the buck they paid for, a gargantuan beast of epic whitetail legends that grew so big because he was fed nutrients he couldn’t have obtained on his own in the wild. The magic of editing makes it glamorous….maybe even exciting. But it’s not realistic, and to me, it’s not hunting. And if it is, it is not very sporting.
But as usual, I digress.
The motivation to hunt is a personal one. Perhaps like religious or political views. What we can clearly understand is that 5% of the U.S. population is hunters. This is not much, and unfortunately on the decline. We as a society have gotten away from this activity, and yes, that is a bad thing.
I recently read an amazing book by Allen Morris Jones titled ‘A Quiet Place of Violence; Hunting and Ethics in the Missouri River Breaks.’ With only a mere 5% of America hunting, that leaves a lot of others. The majority are neutral to hunting, while a sizable portion is anti-hunting. The fight to preserve the tradition and opportunity for future hunters is underway. Jones discusses ethics in his work because the anti-hunting argument is predicated largely on the idea that they are on the moral high ground. Ethics can be debated, what cannot be debated is the big picture. This is where Jones masterfully introduces readers to what so many have so easily forgotten, the cycle of life.
If you asked me personally, why Tom, do you hunt? In the past I would have said, “To connect with nature.” After reading AQPV I found a better way of expressing it, and that is, ‘To Participate in Nature.’ Jones begins his book by sharing with us what we all learned in grade school, the life cycle. Small organisms and plants grow, animals eat the plants, predators eat those animals, and predators die, returning to the earth and contributing to organic and plant growth. Scientific fact points out, and so does Jones, that for each and every step to occur, death must occur. In fact, the only thing that ensures the cycle of life continues….is death.
Steven Rinella, an accomplished outdoor author, hunter, and TV personality once made the point that given the entire history of modern man, a non-hunting lifestyle is still experimental. I agree, how can we so easily dismiss thousands upon thousands of years of food acquisition through hunting, when our “grocer” system has existed for what, a few hundred years? On a similar note it is accepted that man being a top level predator was a catalyst to our dominion and subsequent evolution over other species. If you’ve ever read the book ‘Ishmael’ by Daniel Quinn, and I suggest you do, you will read that from an anthropological point of view mankind’s first mistake was putting food under lock and key, instead of continuing working together for food as a community, through hunting and gathering. The way I see it, we stepped out of our natural role as predators, started to bend Mother Nature to our own will, by domesticating animals and cultivating our own food, society was formed and we shot ourselves in the foot.
In his own way Jones defends that point stating that complexities brought on by society, and technology have displaced us from nature, it alienates us from the “process” as he calls it. He further shows us the difference between hunters and those who are just nature enthusiasts. He uses an example of a hiker. For someone who has a passion for walking through the woods or mountains, the scenery is merely an object to be enjoyed and observed, whereas the hunter participates in the process of nature. The hiker eventually goes home, he or she may recall that deer they saw and say, “what a pretty animal.” The hunter seeks to understand the deer, its habits, and its instincts; and competes against it with their own instincts. They don’t see the deer as a pretty ornament, but for what it truly is, a living, breathing, thinking source of nourishment. Together, with that deer, the hunter becomes involved in a relationship, as Jones puts it, “bigger than them and the deer combined.”
AQPV goes much deeper on many aspects of hunting including sporting aspects of hunting, archery vs rifle hunting, religion, and philosophy. Who knew 5% of our population could tap into something so deep, something so vital to the entirety of humanity and our place in this world?
I’d like to think somewhere in every hunter is that carnal instinct to return to the process that made us. That whatever their response to our ‘Why Hunt?’ question, it comes from somewhere deep inside. I’d like to think one day anti-hunters will realize hunters are connecting to something deeper than they can understand. Also that it is hunters who protect the lands and the animals through conservation. We are stewards of the land and water. If it wasn’t for us sportsmen, certain activist groups would have nothing to try and "save," lest they want to switch their cause to housing developments and urban sprawl.
Why do we hunt? I didn’t answer that question, never meant to. I just wanted to give readers a little fruit for thought, and get the ball rolling.
–It’s got to be close to 9:30 am. I am cold but have resolved to sit and wait, I’m confident in my location. A strange noise at the top of the ridge, brush moves, four doe run out. Damn, they’re on the move. What to do? A good quarterback doesn’t throw to the receiver, he throws to where the receiver is about to be. I set the sight between two limbs of a forked tree further down the hill, where I think the doe will pass by. The first doe trots behind it; I "bark" for attention, the deer stops for a split second…the same split second that I squeeze the trigger.
Now the real work begins…
Now the real work begins…