Why Do I Hunt?
As hunters we are often asked why we hunt? Because, truth be told, in today’s world it is a choice. One can easily go to the grocery store and acquire meat or choose to hike a mountain without the goal of stalking an animal. As an avid hunter, I am baffled by my ability to feel so passionate about hunting yet be unable to fully articulate how I feel. When I ask myself, why do I hunt, the words often escape me.
This inability for me to communicate why I hunt has lead to many missed opportunities for meaningful conversations with members of the non-hunting public. Recently, I have made a goal to practice communicating my motivations for hunting, for which there are many.
Filling a tag is not my only goal, obtaining high quality meat is at the top of the list. When I sit down to a meal I prepared myself, made of venison from a deer I harvested, processed and butchered, I feel thankful for that animal and the environment from which it came. I’m connected to it. On the contrary, when I purchase a steak from the grocery store, I unwrap the plastic, peel the meat from the styrofoam plate, proceed to cook it, and feel no connection. I surely do not know where it came from or what kind of life it lived. There is nothing natural about this process.
I feel connected to the wild places from which I harvest game. This connection gives me a sense of ownership and responsibility to protect and preserve that land. When faced with the question why do you hunt? I sense certain people’s frustration towards me. They struggle to understand how I can love an animal and still be able to kill it. For me it is possible. I love wildlife and wild places, and yet I do kill animals. There is a somber realization that comes with taking the life of an animal. As soon as I pull the trigger and I know I have made a successful shot, a sadness rushes through me. Then, as I begin to eviscerate the animal I think of my father, my sister, my significant other, my brother in law and his children and all the people who will consume this animal. I picture the meals shared and the somber feeling I felt just moments before transforms into feelings of accomplishment and gratitude. I am grateful for the opportunity to harvest and provide high quality meat in an ethical and environmentally friendly way. I find solace knowing that this animal lived a free and wild life.
For years I struggled with the thought of hunting Maine’s black bear. I read literature, wild game cookbooks, listened to podcasts, watched documentaries and studied black bears. If I was going to hunt a bear I thought it only fair that I have a better understanding of them. What is their diet? What type of habitat do they need to survive? How do you age them? What physical characteristics are attributed to sows and boars? What is their lifespan? What are their breeding habits? Do they have predators? How does one butcher/process the meat? There was much thought and contemplation before pulling the trigger on my first bear.
Through hunting I have found a deeper understanding of the natural world and I have chosen to be an active participate in it’s cycle of life. When I am hunting my senses are at their sharpest, more clear than if I were just walking through the woods. I am aware of the wind, the smell, the sounds, how my feet press against the earth, the pace in which I move, I am focused. With this focus, the stresses of everyday life fade and I am totally immersed in my surroundings. I am living in the now. I am alive.
When asked why I hunt my mind floods with an endless stream of emotions, images, and sensations. As I close my eyes to reflect on past hunts:
I feel fear, yet, a curiosity so strong it pulls me toward that dark hollow cave formed from a partially uprooted beech tree. My heart racing as I approach. I must know what lies beneath that rooted shelter. As I begin to lean in closer, peering into the hollow space I tell myself, “that space is big enough for a bear.”
I feel peace, as I focus on the howling wind flowing through the evergreens above me. Carrying with it the fresh smell of pine. I reach up and grab some fir needles gently rubbing them between my thumb and forefinger allowing even more scent to be cast into the air. I close my eyes and take a deep breath in.
I feel a sense of caution as I breath into a deer call and send a bleat echoing into the forest ahead. Standing on a moss covered rock I wait for a response. Within seconds, a coyote appears, silently moving towards me with soft deliberate steps. Her tan and red fur contrasted against the snow covered ground. I can see her canines resting on her black bottom lip as she flares her nostrils working the wind. She is hunting.
I hunt for the meat, for the love of animals and wild places, for the connection to the natural world. I hunt to live. I challenge you to take the time and reflect. Ask yourself, why do I hunt?