Article Contributed by Field Staff Writer S. Stone.
In recent weeks there has been a lot of controversy over so-called trophy hunting. This is not a new phenomenon, but is a topic that rears its head whenever a hunt is for an animal that is tied to people’s emotions. These controversies over trophy hunting ultimately lead to the ethical nature of hunting as a whole. Many see hunting as archaic, unnecessary, and cruel, or that the hunter is making up for something missing in his manhood department (and female hunters get attacked far worse). I can understand why people who do not hunt can be confused as to why hunters choose to actively engage in an activity in which the end goal is to end the life of another sentient being. I can easily speak to the point of the providing one’s own food, knowing where it comes from, but to me that does not speak to the real value of hunting. It is the main reason most of us started hunting, but there are more significant reasons why I hunt and what I think those who do not hunt need to understand. As Jose Ortega stated in his Meditations on Hunting “I do not hunt to kill. I kill to have hunted.”
One of the things that our society likes to do these days is to give wild creatures human names in an attempt to personify them and make them less animal and more human. The problem is we are trying to change the wrong thing when we try to personify wild things. We need to realize we are not something separate from animals and nature, but in fact that we are animals ourselves. Yes we have developed unique skillsets that have allowed us to control and manipulate our environments, but we are still just another animal. For whatever reason, we attempt to put ourselves in a higher plane than animals and disassociate ourselves from nature as if it is this foreign thing. That there is us and then there is nature and that we cannot be a part of nature anymore. Hunting is me being a part of nature again, at least for a little while.
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There is a huge difference between being out in nature and being a part of nature. When you go out for a hike and see a deer and watch it for a time you are merely observing nature. You are viewing that animal from a disassociated viewpoint, which is fine. When you are hunting though, there is so much more involvement on that level and you become hypersensitive to all things around you. When you make the conscious decision to pursue an animal many things are going on throughout the experience. Your senses become heightened and you notice small things that you would never consciously notice before, which are imperative if you are to be successful in your pursuit.
You become hyperaware of the wind against your face, pushing your scent away, or on the back of your neck, which could put your scent in the direction of your quarry and alert them to your presence. Watching where you place each footfall, trying to not step on anything that could make noise and the angst that is felt when you snap a twig underfoot. A sound that, at that moment seems as loud as any gunshot. Your ears straining to every sound, from the rustling of the leaves, to what could be the footsteps of an animal. Eyes constantly scanning, trying to pick out a shape that does not fit or look right, a patch of fur or the flick of an ear. All of these things have become foreign to us in our day-to-day lives, but were at one point key to our success and survival.
At the time when you first see the animal that you have been pursuing, your senses, which already are heightened, seem to go to a place which does not seem possible and there are other physiological changes. Adrenaline levels increase, you can feel your heart rate going up, and your breathing patterns changes. All of your senses feel as if they could snap at any moment. Every movement you now make is pained, trying to ensure you do not alert what you have worked so hard to locate. At this point the decision needs to be made; do I or do I not take this animals life.
The conscious decision to take another sentient being’s life is not one that is ever taken lightly by a hunter. At no other time is the finality of one’s choices made clearer than when a hunter decides they are ready to take the shot. The decision to squeeze the trigger or loose an arrow will have a result and finality that will never leave the hunter for the remainder of his days. In that moment time seems to slow down. The sound of a gun going off is deafening, as seems to be the sound of an arrow in flight at that moment. Seeing your shot hit its mark and your quarry fall to the ground is the greatest mix of emotions. The joy and pride at being successful in your pursuit, knowing all the failures that preceded your success and the hardships that you have endured to reach this moment. And then, there is the feeling of sadness, almost a remorse, at the taking of another creature’s life. It is a strange sensation when you feel both joy and sadness at the same time. And then there is respect and gratitude. Respect for the animal’s to evade detection and its ability to survive in a world that is so unforgiving. Gratitude for the giving of its life to help sustain mine and that of my family.
Once the act is completed then the challenge of breaking the animal down and getting it from the forest to the plate begins. Great pains are taken to ensure that the meat remains clean throughout the process, which can be a challenge if it needs to be hiked out from deep in areas with no access. Carrying the broken down parts, piece by piece, on your back until all that remains are what nature will take care of itself. Hiking out in the pitch black if necessary. Once that is completed the skinning and cleaning of the meat to ensure it cools properly and none of it spoils. And the final stage of cutting and wrapping the meat. The time and energy it takes to get that animal to this point is lost on many people, the connection to one’s food removed by the modern convenience of supermarkets. Every meal that I have I will relive this hunt and remember this animal. That meal is no longer just a meal.
Killing an animal is not the only measurement that makes a hunt successful. It is just the final act of the hunt itself. The opportunity to be engrossed in nature and for a brief period to be an active part of it is what makes a hunt successful. Taking an animal in that pursuit is just a small part. So why do we hunt? Well hopefully this gives you a slightly better understanding of why. In actuality it could take a novel to try to explain, and still not be able to fully clarify why. To truly understand why we hunt you need to experience it yourself. I suggest to anyone that is even the least bit curious to get involved and find someone to take you out. No, it’s not for everyone, but I am positive that, even if you do not become a lifelong hunter, you will gain far more respect for what hunting truly is about. Most people just observe nature, hunting allows you to be a part of nature. I heard something similar stated by conservationist Shane Mahoney and thought it is the perfect way to sum up why we hunt.