A Heritage of Fellowship

Walt - Royal Oak, Michigan
Entered on September 1, 2005
Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: community
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I was in my mid-20s before forming an opinion in one of the younger debates in America’s history: that chasm between hunters and anti-hunters. I wasn’t born into a hunting family, but I married into one. Without inclination either way, I immersed myself in the world of camouflage, blaze orange and whitetail deer to experience hunting, and the culture of my wife’s childhood.

Armed with a camera and a keen sensitivity towards God’s creatures, I began to understand “buck fever,” an electric anticipation that hunters experience. Though the season doesn’t open until November, hunting begins late in the summer with quiet walks in the woods, scouting for signs of deer. Together, parents and children honor family and the outdoors while locating the perfect spot to sit. They meet in local hardware stores and the sporting section of Wal-Mart to purchase licenses and new equipment, hopeful to fill their tags and plates in a few months.

Despite this ambitious planning, hunting is not about the kill.

As a rookie, the preparation rituals engage and mesmerize me. The night before the first hunt of the year can only be likened to the magical excitement that every child has felt on a sleepless Christmas Eve. We pack our bags with sandwiches and coffee, ammunition and flashlights. We throw darts and tell jokes.

Generations come together and, though no one ever defines it, we revel in a heritage of fellowship. The night is short and we soon gather back at the coffee pot for a few bites of toast before setting out into the woods. Our group looks like a funeral procession, silently walking into the dark. However melancholy we appear in the pre-dawn mist, it is not about the kill.

The dichotomy of solitude and camaraderie form a unique emotional experience that I believe is what hunting is about. It’s about watching the glorious colors of sunrise and sipping black coffee from a thermos. It’s snacking on peanuts and trying not to crunch the shells underfoot. It’s trying to stay warm without moving; watching for movement between bare trees and holding your breath with every snapping twig, only to find a squirrel has boldly crept within arm’s reach. It’s about sharing your peanuts with that squirrel, then wishing it would go away. It’s about catnapping, enjoying boredom, marveling at the majestic proximity of deer, and the euphoric rush of taking aim with film or trajectory.

Game may or may not be taken, but this does not complete the experience. It’s the “I love you” that no one says, but everyone hears as family members sit silently in twos and threes, scattered throughout the woods. It’s watching the sunset with tired, wind-burned eyes, then, waiting for familiar silhouettes to emerge from the darkness. It’s about sharing stories from the day over a warm meal. Hunting is about all of these things, sometimes all at once, but hunting is not about the kill. This I believe.