One evening, when I was 11 years old, I got off the school bus, burst through the front door of our house, and announced to my dad I was going to be an outdoor writer. I’d read a passage in a book on the way home providing the revelation there were people in the world who made their living hunting and telling other people about the adventures. Crazy as I already was about hunting, it seemed the ultimate vocation.
This was a decade before Nike was even a half-hearted spark in anyone’s synapse, but my dad spoke similar words of encouragement, “Okay … just do it!”
From that day, my course was charted. I geared everything I did toward this ambition. The product has been a career spanning 30 years so far—with some miles left to walk—I hope! The combination of avocation with vocation has provided incredible opportunities to hunt and travel the world; and to reflect on the core and essence of what hunting is and what it does for the spirit.
Hunting is the original and consummate extreme sport –
We’ve come to know extreme sports as activities like bungee jumping, skateboard aerobatics, ninja obstacle courses, and the like. Depending on your point of view, those who participate might be considered athletes or lunatics, but the reason for doing these things is to feel the rush. It’s the same rush our ancestors felt in the hunt. It’s the same stimulation and brain chemical release whether you find it in street luging or in calling a tom turkey close enough to grab it.
Our Creator endowed us with this marvelous and complex chemistry. It’s the natural performance enhancer originally allowing us to feed ourselves on meat sans fangs, claws and enormous size. And it allowed us to avoid becoming food for all types of predatory animals looking to feed themselves. I don’t claim to comprehend God and His intents, but it seems more likely he gave us adrenalin, endorphins, and dopamine for the purpose of survival via hunting than for skydiving.
Hunting is about the collection of experiences and memories –
Many people ask me, “Couldn’t you make the same memories without killing animals?” I must reply “no.”
Hiking, bird watching, and photography are great. I enjoy them, too, but they are spectator activities. To hunt is to participate in the natural cycle and process of things, not simply view it from afar. The knowledge and emotion gained from grasping, touching, preparing, and ultimately ingesting an animal you have taken yourself are experiences and memories that can not be replicated by merely viewing it. You must truly participate to fully understand.
Yet the essence of hunting exceeds the killing and eating of an animal. My own fondest recollections of hunting, the ones I will take to my grave, have little to do with the kills themselves. Think of it like a game of word association: Say “Dad” and I picture my long-departed father coming through the flap of the big tent at our northern Wisconsin deer camp. Say “beauty” and I’m instantly transported to a point at the mouth of a bay on Kodiak Island, Alaska, catching glimpses of snowcapped peaks between snow squalls as I wait for ducks. Say “friends” and I am in an estancia in Argentina with three buddies toasting the day’s bag of doves about to be served as the feature of a gourmet dinner. Say “mentor” and I see mine in the person of writer/biologist/entrepreneur J. Wayne Fears; he’s bent against the wind and blowing snow as we pursue musk oxen with the Inuit far above the Arctic Circle.
Not one of these mental photographs includes pulling a trigger or releasing an arrow, but none could exist without the experience of hunting.
Hunting is humbling –
… or at least it should be. Sadly, you’d be hard-pressed to tell it by many of the current so-called celebrities who vie for the hunting spotlight today.
Hunting for me isn’t about me. Sure, I love to take a big-racked white-tailed deer or a limit of greenheads as much as anyone—maybe more—but it isn’t to show it off, to build myself up, or to brag. Besides procuring the healthiest, most sustainable kinds of meat from hunting, I gain profound, peace-giving appreciation for my insignificance in the grand scheme.
A few years back, I was fortunate to culminate a lifelong hunting dream of pursuing Dall’s Sheep in Alaska. I was successful in taking an ancient ram that would likely have not made it through another winter. It was a strenuous hunt. In fact, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done physically, mentally, and spiritually in my life. We were taping a television show, and as I finally stood over the ram, I had no words. All I could say was, “… this is special … this is special.”
This hunt afforded me many opportunities to get off by myself deep in the Alaskan wilderness while waiting for the guides and other hunters during long stalks, during hikes to fetch water for spike camp, and taking quick splash baths in the glacial river. When you’re alone in big, wild country you come to realize you don’t mean much. You could be mauled by a bear, fall off a cliff, or spontaneously burst into flame, yet the sun will rise and set, the river will flow, and the sheep will eat grass on the mountain.
Such realizations bother some folks. For me, it is simply getting my mind right. It gives me peace. I don’t find this kind of peace in magnitude from anything but hunting. In looking back over a lifetime spent hunting, these humbling moments are the most vivid, most meaningful, and most peaceful of all.