The canine lymphoma came on unexpectedly and swiftly. In a few short days my little buddy Brisco went from his usual plucky self to an emaciated shadow who could barely stand. I stayed by his side until his very last breath. I get choked up thinking about it even now, a year later. To those who know me, that’s not at all surprising. As a kid, I cried my eyes out while watching “Homeward Bound” in theaters, and I still wear my heart on my sleeve. But for someone who knows me only superficially, as a hunter and outdoorsman, they may find such sentimentality to be at odds with the icily dispassionate persona frequently associated with hunters when it comes to animal life. Perhaps they’d even see it as hypocritical, in some respects. After all, I kill animals every year. I’ve shot dozens of species of birds, small game, and big game, and I’ve been doing so since I was 10 years old. How can I reconcile that with ostensibly having such an affection for animals? The thing is, I don’t see that I need to. I believe one can be a part of the natural order while still showing kindness and tenderness toward all animal life—domesticated and wild.
Now, one has to acknowledge that there’s clear difference between pets and wild animals. Our pets live alongside us, depending on us to survive. They steadfastly face our hardships with us and share our experiences. We trust them around our children. In fact, we consider them family members themselves. Conversely, wild animals live by nature’s rules—and those rules are savage. Living in such an unforgiving environment, where disease, starvation, and predation are always mere heartbeats away, these creatures develop a singular focus on two things: surviving as long as possible and propagating their species. They possess a calculating and dispassionate view of their world. If their survival is threatened, wild animals have even been known to abandon or eat their young.
In nature, despite what Disney movies may have led us to believe, woodland creatures don’t frolic playfully with one another or die peacefully of old age. If you’ve ever seen footage of an elk or moose ripped to pieces by a pack of ravenous wolves, you know that the dynamic of life and death in nature is fickle and cruel. To prey, a human hunter inserting themselves into this world is no different than the presence of any other predator.
Although I know this to be true, that doesn’t mean I don’t still feel a sense of sorrow and mournfulness when I successfully harvest game. Sure, there’s a sense of elation, too—I put in a lot of hard work and came away with organic, nutritious, humanely harvested food for my family—but it’s tempered by the knowledge that I alone was responsible for taking this beautiful creature’s life for my benefit. That’s never gotten easier for me as the years have progressed, and I still consider it a solemn responsibility to bear.
You see, hunters are—far more than many give us credit for—the closest observers of nature. We spend hours in the woods or on the plains, tracking, scouting, or patiently waiting. We eagerly look over trail camera footage to see if that big buck from last year managed to survive the winter. We build wood duck houses and plant food plots. We do more for wildlife conservation than any other group of people on the planet by way of our donations, our volunteer hours, and the funds generated by our gear and tag purchases. We do genuinely, authentically love and respect the animals we hunt.
We don’t derive joy from causing pain, so we do our best to be merciful. Unlike other creatures in nature, hunters are able to swiftly and humanely dispatch their prey using modern tools like compound bows and firearms. Even so, we train to be better marksmen and to refine our fieldcraft so that, when an animal’s final moment arrives, we can deliver a swift and noble end. We respect the game we take by limiting the waste left behind from the harvest we worked so hard to attain. And we do our best to ensure the health and wellness of the species we’re pursuing, because few would miss those animals in their absence more than us.
I love animals and I’m a hunter. And that’s more common than you might think.