Hunting is no longer a dirty word. While hunters only constitute about 6% of the US population, interest in and attention to hunting has noticeably increased in the past decade. Most importantly, women and other previously underrepresented groups are getting involved at a staggering rate. To that end, despite anti-hunting rhetoric and mass urbanization calling attention to oneself as a hunter does not attract the same ire it did even a few years ago.
If your only exposure to hunting is popular media depictions of the universally despised (and tragically misunderstood) “trophy hunter,” and the occasional encounter with a bigoted hillbilly who happens to hunt — then a negative perception of hunters as a whole is understandable. But I want to introduce you to a different kind of hunter. A hunter who is above all a conservationist. A hunter who cares deeply for the welfare of the land and the animals that we pursue. A hunter who is an active participant in a sustainable system that benefits everyone and everything involved. Hunters like myself must fight to take our image into our own hands.
As hunters, we must navigate the negative perceptions placed on us with clear intention. Despite a few bad apples, ethical hunters must be willing to share how our philosophical approach to hunting is both compassionate and meaningful. The modern hunter must be willing to participate in an open dialogue, and communicate with our opponents in a relatable way.
I cannot fully explain what compels me to hunt. It is a profoundly personal drive that I have felt since childhood. In a nutshell, I hunt because I am human. I hunt because I feel a connection to the heritage of my species. From timid, opportunistic scavengers, to apex omnivores, we are human because our ancestors were able to obtain enough protein to develop complex cognitive functions over a very long period of time. The ability to harvest and cook meat allowed energy otherwise allocated to the digestion of high fiber plants to be used for other functions, mainly cognition. We crawled slowly up the food chain, while our changing bodies were able to adapt to new habitats and new ways of living. We evolved from quadrupedal scavengers — hiding in trees, to bipedal hunters — peering over the tall grass armed with handmade tools as we stalked our next communal meal.
The spirit of our ancestors — gathered in groups to hunt and survive — still rings true to this day. Whether hunting alone or with companions, the prize of our hard work and dedication is shared and enjoyed among the tribe. Stories are told, lessons are learned, and traditions are passed on. Life feeds life, and so we eat.
The ‘circle of life’ is also a circle of death. Death that we must cause, and that we must come to terms with. It is a glimpse into our own mortality, and what it takes to keep us alive. Sustenance that doesn’t come in a package, devoid of gritty reality. We hunt because it is painful, emotional, and jarring. It inspires reverence and respect for the creatures that have evolved along side us. Evolved to avoid us. We learn to care for the land that sustains a beautiful and diverse ecosystem. Through sustaining these wild places and creatures, we sustain ourselves. To paraphrase the great outdoor communicator Steven Rinella, hunters love wild animals and wild places in a more profound way than anyone else could possibly claim or understand.
As one contributor to www.Huntergreen.org so eloquently put it: “I do not recreationally use the outdoors, I am not a tourist to the trees, I am a participating member of a sustainable ecosystem. A 100% organic system of life.”
While not everyone has the ability to hunt, those of us who do know exactly where our meat is coming from. Obtaining and processing your own meat is unbelievably rewarding, and a radically different experience than browsing your local supermarket. It is a departure from modern normalcy, and shatters our illusions of what food looks like and where it comes from. While society’s cognitive dissonance attempts to avoid it, eating meat or using animal products places responsibility for the death of that animal on the consumer. Even those who abstain from animal products are responsible in other ways due to the needs of a modern lifestyle.
You may not have performed the act of killing, but you cannot separate yourself from the fact that another life was ended for your life to continue.
Hunters do not avoid this reality. Instead, we celebrate the world in all of its beauty and misery. We navigate the perceived pointlessness and injustice of the natural order with philosophical candor. We strive to provide a swift and natural death. We each play our honorable role in the predator-prey dynamic that is as old as time. We do not take pleasure in causing pain. We do not revel in death, but instead develop a deeper appreciation and lust for life.
Guided by these principles, we are bound to an ethic of responsibility and stewardship. We practice our skills religiously, and refine our gear to make sure we are as efficient and ethical as we can possibly be. In addition, hunters are responsible for providing more funding to conservation than any other group. Every hunting license, piece of gear, and box of ammunition contributes to conservation efforts that seek to maintain our beloved resources. Revenue from our purchases go directly to scientific research, habitat preservation, and political activism. Countless organizations and non-profit groups have brought people together for the betterment of the land and wildlife, and to protect our access to those resources. The contributions made to conservation by hunters (and anglers) extends to all species of flora and fauna, not just those we consider “game.” The days of commercial hunting are long gone, and a new age of highly intellectual sportsmen-stewards has begun.
While it may seem counter intuitive to some, controlled hunting is good for wildlife and our fellow man. We help to curb over-population and prevent starvation. We attempt to manage the impact of wildlife in proximity to human activity (mainly in terms of vehicular collisions). We provide for those in need with donated venison and other game. We fill the niche of larger predators that have been pushed to the fringes of the ecosystem. We contribute to the labor and funding of management that would otherwise be supported with tax dollars and often executed by privatized “culls.”
Hunting is also about heritage and legacy. While I am the only hunter in my family, I was given the opportunity to learn and appreciate the traditions of hunting, fishing, and most importantly — conservationism. As American citizens we are entrusted with access to incredible hunting and fishing opportunities and hundreds of millions of acres of public land. Every single American citizen is a public landowner. This land has been set aside for the preservation of our diverse natural resources and for their ethical use by people like you and me.
Hunting is about the connection to our food that is all but lost in today’s society. Hunting is about sharing the bounty of organic and sustainable meat. Our enjoyment of things is so much more powerful when we have worked for them. Whether you are a gardener, hunter, or a home-brewer, you can relate to how much better the fruits of our labor taste. In my mind, there is no finer meat than wild game. There is no greater sight than a freezer full of meat that I can feel good about.
Whether you are a lifelong hunter, or a complete newbie, it is never too late to get involved and to inspire others to join in as well. Taking someone hunting or fishing is one of the most important things a nature lover can do. I was mentored with care and patience, and I look forward to being able to do the same for someone else. I feel as if I have been given a priceless gift that means more to me than words can explain. You don’t have to be a hunter to appreciate how valuable hunting is.
Furthermore, hunting is fun. Hunting gives you problems to overcome, goals to accomplish, skills to hone, and ethics to empower you. Ethics that apply beyond the woods and fields we call home. Hunting seasons come and go, but we are always thinking, planning, researching, refining, and learning. It gives us purpose, and a healthy outlet among countless unhealthy options.
To some degree, hunting is about escape. Escaping the monotony and superficiality of hyper-urban and hyper-social modern living. To escape the grind of a circumscribed global system. To remind us of the apes we are. To test ourselves in a living arena where nature has no remorse, and so we face it with stubborn resilience and humility. The thrill, the adrenaline, the focus, and the challenge will leave you simultaneously empowered and humbled. Whether you are in complete isolation, or hiding in the bush behind your house, every day of hunting is an adventure. Every day of hunting is a test, a culmination, and an affirmation of you as a person. Your skills, your hard work, and your humanity.