Why Hunt?

(The musings of a stage three and a halfer)
By Allen Carter

Aside from the obvious “to eat”, I find I want to hunt even when I’m not hungry.  Notwithstanding I prefer my meat free range, low fat, antibiotic and steroid free (that’s another article), and cleanly processed in my kitchen, I still like to hunt.  I especially like to go with my family or friends, or someone who is new to hunting.  But I also go alone.  There are reasons for both – that you hunters know and that those who have not experienced it don’t yet comprehend.  There is primordiality to hunting, a rush and a focus that can’t be found in much else.  Is it a murderous rage?  Are we serial killers who need the stimulation?  Or is it something else?

Never mind that hunters contribute the most dollars to wildlife conservation worldwide, far more than so called animal rightists.  Never mind that more species have been saved by hunters than by the endangered species act.  Never mind that legal hunting in modern times has never extincted anything.  As example elephants in Africa are now doing so well largely because western hunters are willing to pay handsomely to pursue them.  Consider that most avid hunters spend a lot of time thinking about the environment and how to preserve the whole of it.  For it is the whole of it, the flora, the fauna, the air and water that gives them the experience they seek.

Theodore Roosevelt is a most applauded and recognized conservationist.  History praises him, his face one of our four best, is on Mount Rushmore.  Scads of places and stuff including a wapiti species and teddy bears are named for him.  His visionary idea of national parks and reserves caught on worldwide.  And he was a big time hunter.

It’s been said that there are four basic stages in a hunter’s evolution.  Stage one; you just want to kill something.  These are typically adolescent males with raging testosterone who enter the sport with a rite of passage view and are anxious to prove themselves.  Once killing something is accomplished stage two ensues which is wanting to kill something big.  This seems to me like the adult version of stage one, proving oneself worthy and capable in the big bad world and probably is a male predominant stage.  Stage three is participation in outdoor pursuits for their spiritual refreshing and relationship bonding qualities.  Mentoring begins to be meaningful and the harvest of the game becomes somewhat secondary.  Phase four is the development of concern that these activities can be available in perpetuity, for posterity and the maintenance of the species and habitat.  At this point the hunter is secondary to the conservationist.  One thinks with a wide view and feels like a child of the earth.  This is the mature hunter.

Ancient hunters decorated their caves with pictographs of that which they revered.  Modern hunters do too, only now they have invented taxidermists, wildlife prints, and digital photo frames.

Not everybody needs to hunt.  I don’t mind eating bread from wheat somebody else grew for me (running a combine is boring).  I suppose many folks would just as soon eat meat somebody else killed and packaged and maybe even cooked for them.  With high fenced game management now practiced world wide the boundary between farming and hunting blurs.  For that matter open range private management is done to increase yield or quality whether on 40 acres in Iowa or 40,000 acres in Montana.  Actually the states do this with their fish and game departments for public lands to increase production and harvest and hence revenue for management.  We are no longer true opportunists in the field because we manage.  We have to manage because there are so darn many of us now.  But man has managed game as long as he has been able.  There are myriad examples, from nomadic reindeer peoples with their semi-domesticated herds, to Europeans releasing hogs to the wild where’er they went in hopes they could eat them later.  Or consider the plains Indians relationship with bison, preserving calving grounds and prescribed burning of prairie.  Maintenance and enhancement of the herds was and remains vital to human life.

In actuality it’s all farming.  We take what food, clothes, or shelter source occurs in nature, provide a fertile habitat for its propagation, and then harvest it.  Whether we do this as individuals, groups, or governments is immaterial.  If you simply buy a hunting license and take an animal on public land you have just participated in your states wildlife farming cooperative.  The distinction from farming to hunting then becomes the distance from which we kill it and the degree of opportunity for escape.  We control this by rules and laws pertaining to weapons, allowed locations or time of year, harvest limits, gender restriction, etc.  I propose that modern game management has more booklets and rules and more stuff like helicopters to relocate bighorn sheep than the primitives, but the principles are the same and always will be. 

This premise is loosely based on the “I hunt to eat” idea but I bet many of you shoot stuff you don’t eat.  I have taken a bear I didn’t eat but I used his hide, not for a winter jacket but for a decoration to see and feel.  This should cause one to consider his ethics.  I have.  Some predator harvest benefits prey species and prevents the deep cyclic die off of both species (here we are managing for preservation again).  If we like mule deer we probably need to remove some cougars.  Or if you like cougars, keep a few mulies around, so you can’t let the deer decimate their range either.  Nature left alone will manage it, but with deep, risky cycles.  Remember that more stuff went extinct before man was present in sufficient numbers to impact, than since.  I have in years past blazed over a fair number of rock chucks which I did not use at all, this at the request of the farmer whose alfalfa field was being mowed like a city park by the pests.  Where’s the line again?  I would wager that even the most hardened animal rightist is likely to set traps in their home if mice are infesting their Cheerios.  It’s a judgment call, a matter of degree. 

I see a bit of “whack and stack” talk by hunters, even on TV.  Most of these guys still get it but they are just enjoying their pursuit and doing a little trash talking to the quarry (who is none the wiser).  A football player may bluster too although in reality he has respect for his opponent.  To a degree this is ok, but cross the line and you look like an idiot.

So hunt well, hunt often, harvest occasionally, mentor and conserve.  It worked for Teddy Roosevelt and will work for you.