Defining a Hunter

Identifying as a hunter would appear to be pretty simple on the surface. I hunt, therefor I am a hunter, right? Like many things in life, it’s not that simple. As a self-taught adult-onset hunter, there is a grey area that I experienced for years where that title was difficult to define, which begs the question: when does one truly become a hunter?

Beginning my hunting career at the tender age of 30, there were several barriers to entry which made getting my foot in the door difficult. First was my location, Toronto, which is Canada’s biggest city, where the true outdoors is a lengthy drive away. There is also little to no hunting culture to speak of. If anything, hunting is viewed as a fringe interest at best, but is often met with uneducated negative stereotypes.

Then, there was a lack of mentorship, or a peer group from which to learn and to help with land access, which is a whole other barrier in itself. It took four years of learning, and by learning, I mean failures, until I punched my first tag.

Four years is a long time to do something without actually being successful. Four years of telling people that you hunt, yet in the same breath, tell them that you’ve never actually been successful. It felt a lot like having all the gear and practicing for a game you’ve never played.

It was in these conversations that I found myself internally struggling with my personal definition of being a hunter. At the time, that objective of taking an animal was the final step in completing the process, but before that happened, I felt like a fraud calling myself a hunter. I could say that I hunt, but saying I was a hunter was still beyond me. And while withholding the title of hunter was self-imposed, I just couldn’t wrap my head around using it without having taken that final action.

In my fourth season of hunting, I was invited to an annual deer hunt during rifle season. Still being an archery hunter, I borrowed an old, beat-up lever action 30-30 from one of the guys, and through a willingness to go deep into the woods and a bit of luck, I finally punched my first tag, completing the process and in my mind, earning my title.

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During the four years of my identity crisis, I hadn’t considered that there were other variations of this same predicament but on the other end of the spectrum, which I learned about during that same trip. One of the younger guys in the group had been on this annual trip for years with his father but was completely devoid of enthusiasm towards hunting. He was like a child being forced into football by a father trying to relive his high school glory days.

Even though he’d taken deer throughout the years, the very thing I was seeking and the core of my own definition of a hunter, he didn’t consider himself one. Sure, he hunted, and had been successful, but his disinterest in it was enough for him to not identify as one. Yet at the same time, even with my dedication and passion for it, I considered him more of a hunter than I was. While on this trip, I had finally achieved the distinction I had sought for so long, yet ended up with more questions.

This identity crisis is also evident with the growing aging segment of the hunting population who are no longer able to hunt. To the ones I’ve talked to, I’ve found they recognize the active pursuit of hunting as their own definition, which, in their case, is in the past. Often, in a disheartened tone they tell me they used to be a hunter. Had you asked me, I would have told you “once a hunter, always a hunter – it’s in your blood” but for the people living it, that’s just not the case.

In the end, the definition is completely subjective and up to the individual to find. You can let others define it, or you can define it yourself. Even that choice is up to you. In my case, while frustrating at times, the search for identity pushed me to be successful and was a driver in me reaching my goal. The truly important part is not letting a definition get in the way, and enjoying the outdoors however you see fit.

Viktor Arzethauser

I occupy a weird space by identifying as an outdoorsman, yet living in a concrete jungle of Toronto. I rarely, if ever, meet like-minded individuals in the city, so I truly appreciate the times when I do, and I savor the stories, ideas and knowledge that we share.

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