Friday, February 5, 2010

Exploring the meaning of hunting

I have a question for all of you that hunt or assist in the hunt in any way - What is the meaning of hunting to you, and why is it an important part of your life? This is a deeper question than "Why do you hunt?" which focuses on motivations. I'm looking for the what do you get from hunting that justifies the time, money, effort and sometimes grief that you put into hunting and being a hunter.
I've done the "Why do you hunt?" question with many groups and come up with some long lists. Interestingly the lists generated by poachers looks very similar to hunter education instructors. But when you dug deeper into the reasons, much different priorities emerged. But even more telling was the fact that many of the poachers had never thought about why they hunted (or why they broke the game laws). For example, "Challenge of the hunt", was on all lists. Yet many of the poachers had been arrested because they had shot at the decoy deer, from their vehicle, under a light. Go figure!
What I'm interested here is the next level deeper. If you are thinking one reason is to get wild meat, I'd like to know why - beyond the protein. Does it represent something to you, is it an affirmation of your ability to provide for your family, a direct connection to the circle of life, a spiritual sacrament...
I'll post my thoughts below and look forward to seeing yours.


  1. A quote posted in one of the earlier discussions resonated with me:

    I don't know if you ever saw the Fritz Lang film "Metropolis" -- part of that canon of post-industrial works which demonized mechanization as a dehumanizing and isolating influence. My favorite quote on this subject comes from Andree Collard:

    "Alienated, fragmented and possessed, modern man is as rootless as a plant 'grown' in sterile soil -- and often just as lifeless. Human dependency on nature's processes has been replaced by dependency on man-made, insane products -- products developed and manufactured at the cost of plant and animal pain, and at the cost of human decency."

    To me immersion in the hunt gives me a strong tether to the real world and is an antidote to the virtual, dependent world I am increasingly exposed to. If I lived in a city, I suspect it would be like even more important to me.
    Could being out in nature with out the possibility of a kill also fill this role? Do I really need to hunt and occasionally kill to fill this need. I suspect it would, but not nearly as well. In my mind, it is a bit like waking up and hearing a loon calling and then hearing a wolf howl. The loon is nice, but the wolf call already has the hair on the back of my neck up, even before I'm fully awake.
    Most of the time in day to day life I am only partially awake. I know this because when the sounds of a deer walking toward me registers, I become fully awake and truly alive. Just thinking of this I can see the buck coming into my tree stand this October and my heart picking up its pace!

  2. For me, hunting is a reminder of my connection to the rest of the natural world. When I am hunting I must be aware of how I move in my environment, sometimes how I smell, how i look and how I sound. These are things I rarely consider (besides smell and look :))in my day to day life. I see myself as a natural part of the environment not a cultural/social member of society.

    It also helps reinforce the value and brevity of life. Whenever i am taking the life of another living thing, i am forced to contemplate its existence. Regardless of how much that seems like anthropomorphizing, I still do it every time. Each critter has a life and I am taking it. That deserves some contemplation and meditation on my part. This is a strong spiritual opportunity for me and I am thankful for that.

    I also gain skills that are quite useful outside of a hunting experience. I learn patience, stillness, gratitude, acceptance, and compassion. I can also be faced with my own impatience and annoyance in a way that i don't see when in the office. If i get pissed off at the ducks that didn't come to the spread of decoys, I see that right away and recognize that it isn't really appropriate behavior. My anger won't make anything better. But patience and acceptance will help me be more at peace and ready for the next flock that comes by.

    And of course, it is a peaceful way to spend a morning, day or weekend. No television, internet, cell phones, etc. Just being in nature and recharging my batteries.

  3. Well said Colleen. I can see the big sky of Idaho now...

  4. Eric, do I have to keep this to under 10,000 words? It's a big topic!

    For me, hunting means learning about land and animals. It means learning about myself, too, my attitudes and the workings of my mind and heart. It means a humbling and sometimes startling participation in the cycle of life. It means respect and connection. And, particularly as a former vegetarian, it means confronting at least a few of the deaths that inevitably sustain my life.

    For me, though, hunting also means a lot of negative things: the callous brutality and disrespect some hunters display, the unnecessary suffering of some animals, the careless handling of firearms and the tragedies that sometimes result, and so on.

  5. I hunt for many reasons, but I won't catalog them all here. Many are listed above. At the risk of sounding weird, or pretentious, I will throw this into the mix.

    I was raised a preacher's kid, which I think partially explains why I continually struggle with basic existential questions. I have come to conclude that I hunt to ward off despair, angst, absurdity, alienation, and boredom. I hunt, therefore I am. When I do not hunt (and my fly-fishing capers qualify) I am soon aware of a descending lethargy and listless sense of meaninglessness. It may not be politically correct, or ethical even, but under all of the aesthetics, which remain very important, ultimately this is the meaning of hunting to me.

  6. Cagey - my grandfather was an artist and a music lover. He said he loved Bach because his music had infinite variety. Hunting reflects that same complexity to me, both on the ground and within me.

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