Hunting helps me, at least, put life into perspective. It’s a way of connecting with nature in its most primal context. It reminds me of the responsibilities that come with our place in the world as consumers, predators and conservators. That it’s such a beautiful, spiritual and practical experience to many of us must be incomprehensible to those who think it’s all about the kill.
The preparation begins long before opening day and in many ways never stops at all. Marksmanship, for instance, is a year round activity. Different weapons will be used for different seasons and different prey but a hunter who isn’t concerned about taking game humanely is no hunter at all. Learning about animals, their habits, routines, tracks and calls is a life long activity as are all aspects of field craft from fire starting and knot tying to orienteering, knife sharpening, field dressing, butchering and so on. Hours will be spent acquiring, organizing and maintaining equipment. Learning rules and regulations pertaining to seasons, hours, zones, limits and required tags and permits. Scouting to find optimal hunting locations that can be located comfortably in the dark.
Finally, opening day arrives and I take the pre-dawn walk into the woods with my son. As with all of our hunting experiences together, I get to enjoy this twice, through his eyes as well as my own. We walk quietly watching for sign; the rubs, scrapes, tracks, droppings and bedding areas that the uninitiated would pass by without notice. The silent ritual of choosing our trees, climbing with our tree stands like giant, camo-clad inchworms as quietly as possible, glancing at each other to make sure we’re positioned to optimize our coverage of habitat, shooting lanes and deer runs. Once secure, we haul up our rifles, load them and settle in to wait for quiet to return to the forest.
Our presence is soon forgotten and we get to experience the forest awakening to greet the late fall or early winter day. Squirrels, birds and chipmunks resume their routines, foraging, hunting, calling to each other. We alternately watch for movement with our peripheral vision, stare intently in the direction of a stealthy sound or close our eyes to focus on the sounds around us. I can’t begin to describe the sound of the gently falling snow that covers us softly as we disappear almost completely into the landscape but I can tell you it’s an experience we both treasure along with many other mostly little things that we wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. The chipmunk that ran across my son’s boot without knowing he was there, the hawk that flew by us at eye level as we sat still in our trees, the sound of a buck blowing as he caught our scent, the pride I felt when my son didn’t take a shot at a trophy buck because he couldn’t ensure a clean kill. Hunting is about so much more than the kill.
This I Believe.