I blame it on Bambi. Whenever I try to have a rational, calm discussion with a non-hunter about why I hunt, that adorable little baby deer is the first thing that comes up. It doesn’t seem to matter if I explain that no real hunters are out there searching for does with newborn fawns munching on the first blades of grass in the spring. In fact, anyone who does that is poaching—the most reviled practice in the hunting world. Still, people who don’t hunt just don’t get it. Many look at hunters and see killers, savages, and barbarians. Perhaps this stems from the Disney-fied culture we live in today, where so many are raised from childhood on media that portrays hunting as brutal and hunters as bloodthirsty misogynists. (Just look at Gaston from “Beauty And The Beast.“) The truth is, though, for most hunters, hunting isn’t about killing. It is not about some misconstrued view of man’s dominance over nature. No, in fact, it is the furthest thing from it.
Hunting is one of the oldest surviving practices we have in our culture today. It’s a remnant of ancient times when the survival of mankind depended on going out and spearing a mammoth to provide meat for the tribe. As man evolved and became more agrarian, hunting evolved as well, changing from a necessity to a cultural tradition. It became more than a sport, it became an art form, one practiced by those who loved the wild places left in the world. Hunters like Daniel Boone, Ernest Hemingway, and especially Theodore Roosevelt became leaders and cultural icons.
These hunters became advocates for stewardship of the land. Hunters were the first conservationists, the first to look upon the great natural wonders of the land and seek to save them for future generations. Groups and organizations like the National Park Service, the National Wildlife Federation, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, and countless others were formed by hunters. It’s that ideal, that desire to preserve and guard the land and its wildlife, that draws many modern-day hunters to the woods today—myself included.
While all hunters dream of big antlers and trophy-size game, meat is often the driving force behind our pilgrimages into the forest. This is a point I always try to emphasize with non-hunters. Unless they’re vegetarians, by choosing to eat meat they are participating in the cycle of life. And very few of those carnivorous non-hunters actually know where their meat comes from. Hunters, conversely, know where that animal lived, because we walked there. We know what it ate because we scouted for it. We know where it died because we were the ones who did the deed. As hunters, we develop a special relationship with meat, as we have, in a sense, created it by taking what was a living creature and converting it into sustenance for ourselves and our families. It was not done by some nameless slaughterhouse or butcher shop, but with our own two hands.
This creates a respect and even a love for wild creatures that people who simply buy their food in the supermarket simply can’t grasp. We feel grateful for the animals we harvest and perhaps even feel a certain tinge of sadness at their death. But hunters understand that through death comes life, and it is through this understanding that hunters can better connect with the larger world. They see it clearly for all its varied colors, not just in the black-and-white version that the rest of humanity gets from its glowing screens, delivered take-out, and plastic-wrapped meat glowing dully in the artificial lighting of the grocery store.
To hunt in the modern era is to reconnect with a simpler time while mankind continues its unbridled sprint toward modernization. No true hunter goes into the woods to kill an animal out of simple bloodlust or for the cruel enjoyment of blasting off their guns and simply killing. If they do, they aren’t a true hunter. True hunters are the ones who have found a primal yet spiritually pure way to simply slow down and reset their souls by enveloping themselves within the natural world. There are a lot of non-hunters who would argue that hiking, skiing, or nature walks do pretty much the same thing, but they don’t.
By hunting, we aren’t just visiting the natural world, we are becoming a part of it. Hunters are reinserting themselves into the natural order, becoming part of that ever-revolving circle of life and death. By doing so we understand it better. We know what the morning wind blowing through the trees sounds like. We know the difference between the fox’s bark and the coyote’s yelp. We know how the first blue light of dawn looks as it spreads over the mountains and the smell of approaching rain. Paradoxically, modern-day hunters are reverting themselves to become more evolved. This is why we hunt, and it is a beautiful thing.