Everyone has their own reasons why they hunt. A person’s decision to go afield is a very personal one, and if you surveyed 100 hunters on why they hunt, you’d get at least 120 answers. But we try to put ourselves into neat little boxes at the expense of others. Read any post about hunting in Africa and the “I’m a hunter but” comments won’t take long to find. Big game hunting with dogs is another huge divider amongst us and the anti-hunters know it, just look at the most recent bills around the country trying to ban predator hunting and the use of dogs..
One of the most approachable reasons people give for hunting is food. We were taught that you kill what you eat. Wild game makes up much of our caloric intake even if we have access to grocery stores. Many people have recently realized that the systems we rely on to put food on our tables has many weaknesses. Hunting and fishing are reaching a new kind of demographic: the so-called “locavore.” But what about when that meat goes to someone else, and the money helps to protect habitats?
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The meat hunter is often pitted against those that choose to chase bigger bucks and exotic species. The “trophy hunter” is the target of much ire from within. It manifests itself in comments like “I play tennis for fun. Hunting is the same as getting groceries.” Even the MeatEater brand and Steven Rinella, who makes a living traveling far and wide, has a strange habit of limiting the discussion to talking about targeting older age class whitetails.
Trophy hunting is a loaded-term. Sure, there are greedy, rich dudes out there just trying to show off. But most of the time, the hunters are just regular people who scrimp and save and are chasing more than just scores. The morality contest is just asinine and hypocritical. Spending thousands to hunt your local duck hole or traveling across the country for elk is hardly an economical way to source meat. Also, if you call yourself a meat hunter but pass up legal deer, then you are not just a meat hunter. You are chasing something else. Dividing ourselves only serves to harm us.
The truth is we hunt for a myriad of reasons. There’s so much more than food for most hunters. There’s also camaraderie, adventure, and challenge. Then why do we divide ourselves intentionally in the face of opposition? Why not tell others of the whole experience? The peace we feel listening to the whippoorwills in the twilight with a warm fire and a sundowner. The only time sunrises can be beautiful is apparently when you take some supposed moral high ground.
We should not cheapen the experience by reducing it to a single factor. If that were the case, we would still hunt with punt guns and jacklights. The terms “sportsman” and “sport” are quickly falling out of favor, but they are the reason hunting still exists as it does in the United States. People like Teddy Roosevelt realized that there was more to the story. They recognized that wildlife and wild places have intrinsic value. That they’re more than just food. They are precious simply because they exist and the hunt is a sacred piece of the human experience.
I am not a meat hunter or a trophy hunter. I’m just a hunter and there’s room for both. I crave the adventure and enjoy many game meals each week. A map hangs in my office. It is dotted with pins of the places I’ve been. Many are hunting trips. Next to it is the fallow deer stag I shot in Croatia. We ate part of that deer as a stew over gnocchi in a 16th century stone building. The rest went to market. Supper tonight was wild pork chili courtesy of a sow I shot on New Year’s Eve. I view both on an equal plane. Special in their own right. Whether the result is a full freezer or a picture and memories, hunting is woven into my psyche. I hunt simply because I love it.