WHY I HUNT
I hunt because my father hunted, and he took me with him, and so we built a bond that has endured past his death, and because his father hunted, and his father's father, and all of the fathers in my line and yours, as far back as those fathers who invented spears and axes and recorded their adventures with pictures on the walls of caves.
I hunt because it links me with the boy I used to be and with the young man my father was then.
I hunt because it keeps my passions alive and my memories fresh and my senses alert even as my beard grows gray, and because I fear that if I stopped hunting I would become an old man, and because I believe that as long as I hunt I will remain young.
I hunt because I don't buy futures or sell cars or swing deals or negotiate hostile takeovers, or litigate or prosecute or plea bargain, but because I am nevertheless, like everyone else, a predator. So I go to the woods where I belong.
I hunt because I love ruffed grouse and woodcock and pheasants and quail and ducks, and because I can imagine no more honorable way for them to die than at the hands of a respectful hunter. As Thoreau understood, ". . . the hunter is the greatest friend of the animals hunted, not excepting the Humane Society."
I hunt because the goldenrod and milkweed glisten when the early-morning autumn sun melts the frost from the fields, and because native brook trout spawn in hidden October brooks, and because New England uplands glow crimson and orange and gold in the season of bird hunting.
I hunt because when I stumble upon overgrown cellarholes and family graveyards deep in the woods, it reminds me that I’m connected to the farmers who cleared the land and grew their crops and buried their wives and children there, and who in the process created ideal grouse and woodcock habitat, and because I like to believe that I am the first man in a century to stand in those places.
I hunt because Burton Spiller and Gorham Cross hunted, and Corey Ford and Ed Zern and Lee Wulff and Harold Blaisdell and Frank Woolner, and because they invited me to hunt with them, and because they were men of my father's generation who treated me like a man when I was a boy, and because they were writers who knew how to tell a story, and because they inspired me to try it for myself.
I hunt because Art Currier and Keith Wegener and Jason Terry and Rick Boyer and Skip Rood and Tony Brown and Marty Connolly hunt, and because these are generous and intelligent men who don’t take themselves too seriously, and who are saner than most. They love and respect the out of doors and Nature's creatures, and their friendship has made me a better man than I otherwise would be.
I hunt because the ghosts of beloved companions such as Bucky and Duke and Julie and Megan and Freebie and Waldo prance through the woods, snuffling and tail-wagging, making game and pointing, and especially Burt, my beloved Brittany, who all loved to hunt more than to eat, and whose enthusiasm and indomitable spirit will forever inspire me, and because hunting dogs make the most tolerant friends. They are smarter in many ways than we are, and they can teach us things we otherwise wouldn't understand if we’ll just pay attention.
I hunt because I believe Thoreau was right: "Fishermen, hunters, woodchoppers, and others, spending their lives in the fields and woods, in a peculiar sense a part of Nature themselves, are often in a more favorable mood for observing her, in the intervals of their pursuits, than philosophers or poets even, who approach her with expectation."
I hunt because I’m convinced, as many anthropologists argue, that prehistoric man was a hunter before he became a farmer, and because this genetic gift remains too powerful in me to resist. I do not need to hunt in order to eat, but I need to hunt to be fully who I am.
I hunt because it teaches me what it taught our earliest ancestors: the benefits of cooperation, inventiveness, division of labor, sharing, and interdependence. These are skills that bird hunters must master. Without these derivatives of hunting, our race would still be primitive. As the psychologist Erich Fromm observed, "[Humans] have been genetically programmed through hunting behavior: cooperation and sharing. Cooperation between members of the same band was a practical necessity for most hunting societies; so was the sharing of food. Since meat is perishable in most climates except that of the Arctic, it could not be preserved. Luck in hunting was not equally divided among all hunters; hence the practical outcome was that those who had luck today would share their food with those who would be lucky tomorrow. Assuming hunting behavior led to genetic changes, the conclusion would be that modern man has an innate impulse for cooperation and sharing, rather than for killing and cruelty.”
I hunt because if I didn't, I would have seen fewer eagles and ospreys, minks and beavers, foxes and bears, antelope and moose, and although I do not hunt these creatures, I do love to enter into their world and spy on them.
I hunt because I love old 20-gauge double-barrel shotguns, and scuffed leather boots with rawhide laces, and canvas vests with a few old breast feathers in their game pockets.
I hunt for the scent of Hoppe’s gun oil and camp coffee and wet bird dog and frost-softened, boot-crushed wild apples.
I hunt for the whistle of a woodcock’s wings and the sudden explosion of a ruffed grouse’s flush, for the tinkle of a dog’s bell and for the sudden, pulse-quickening silence when he locks on point, for my partner’s cry of “Mark!” when he kicks up a bird, for the distant drumming of a grouse, like a balky engine starting up, for the high predatory cry of a red-tail hawk, for the quiet gurgle of a deep-woods trout stream, for the soft soughing of the breeze in the pines, for the snoring of my companions, human and canine, in a one-room cabin, and for the soothing patter of an autumn rainstorm on a tin roof.
I hunt because it is never boring or disappointing to be out of doors with a purpose, even when no game is seen, and because taking a walk in the woods without a purpose makes everything that happens feel random and accidental and unearned.
I hunt for the keyed-up conversation, for the laying of plans and the devising of strategies, for the way memory and experience spark imagination and expectation as we drive into the low-angled sunshine on an autumn morning, for the coffee we sip from a dented old Thermos, and for the way the dogs whine and pace on the way to the day’s first cover.
And I hunt for the satisfying exhaustion after a long day in the woods, for the new stories that every hour of hunting gives us, and for the soft snarfling and dream-whimpering and twitching of sleeping dogs on the back seat as we drive home through the darkness.
I hunt because it reminds me that in Nature there is a food chain where everything eats and is, in its turn, eaten, where birth, survival, and reproduction give full meaning to life, where death is ever-present, and where the only uncertainty is the time and manner of that death. Hunting reminds me that I am integrated into that cycle, not separate from it or above it.
I hunt with a gun, and sometimes I kill. But, as the philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset has written, "To the sportsman the death of the game is not what interests him; that is not his purpose. What interests him is everything that he had to do to achieve that death -- that is, the hunt. Therefore what was before only a means to an end is now an end in itself. Death is essential because without it there is no authentic hunting: the killing of the animal is the natural end of the hunt and that goal of hunting itself, not of the hunter. The hunter seeks this death because it is no less than the sign of reality for the whole hunting process. . . . one does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted."
I hunt to prevent myself from forgetting that everything I eat once lived, and that it is important to accept responsibility for living at the expense of another life, and that killing is half of the equation of living.
I hunt because it is hard and demanding and sometimes dangerous work, and because performing difficult work well gives me pleasure.
And I hunt because it is fun, an intense kind of artistic game, and I like to challenge myself to do it well. As Aldo Leopold wrote: "We seek contacts with nature because we derive pleasure from them . . . The duck-hunter in his blind and the operatic singer on the stage, despite the disparity of their accouterments, are doing the same thing. Each is reviving, in play, a drama formerly inherent in daily life. Both are, in the last analysis, esthetic exercises."
I hunt because, in the words, again, of Ortega y Gasset, it gives me "a vacation from the human condition," which, all by itself, is a full and satisfactory reason.
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