Many of us have been asked to put into words the reasons why we hunt. The problem is, the reasons and motivations that compel me and many others to hunt are pretty hard to put into print. This is my first attempt at explaining what drives me to head into the woods each hunting season.
What leaps to mind is a quote from my father. Someone had asked him why he loved to hunt so much; what was so great about being in the woods. His reply was, "If I have to explain it, you wouldn't understand." This really sums up the feeling many of us have. A recent ad in several hunting magazines shows a fellow festooned in camoflage, with the caption "You can't explain it. But nothing would keep you from it." Our lack of eloquence on this subject is a major factor in the "bunny-huggers'" fight against our rights. The vast majority of our populace is open to suggestion on the topic of hunting, and could take it or leave it. The very fact that the anti-hunting crowd often makes their claims public, with little or no rebuttal from us hunters, will sway many of these neutral folks. It's really a debate with one vocal participant, and the claims made, while illogical and faulty, are the only thoughts to ever reach many of these non-hunters. I believe it's time we delved into ourselves and offered our thoughts, however abstract, to the non-hunting public for their consideration.
I started going to the woods with Dad when I was very young. I don't really remember when I first went, but when I was nine, I got to go on a few hunting trips with him and follow him through the woods. He wisely kept these trips varied, and limited the time we spent on any one thing, as my attention span was fairly short. By the time I was eleven, I got to carry an old heirloom .410 double-barrel shotgun, with the action broken open. If I was to spot some game, then by his permission, I could close the gun and shoot. Soon I was allowed to wander the woods on my own for short times, still following his rule of keeping the gun broken. It was at this time that the hunting seed really began to grow in me. There's just no way to adequately portray the majesty of a forest and the creatures within, when you feel like the only man who's ever stood where you stand. It doesn't matter that you're walking on a well-worn trail, and that you spy spent shotgun shells alongside it from time to time. You feel all alone, at peace, fully alert, ready for anything. I never feel closer to God than I do when I walk in the woods, his most wondrous creations all around me, with the challenge of outwitting them on their own terms in front of me.
The hunting instinct is one of the most basic instincts of mankind. After all, we are the ultimate predator. Take a look at "prey" animals. Their eyes are usually on the sides of their heads, affording a wider field of view. They lose some depth perception with this arrangement, but it helps them survive. Predators, on the other hand, characteristically have their eyes set close together, very useful for estimating the distance between he and his target. Beyond this, the urge to kill lies within us all, especially as children. Without proper channelling of these instincts, children often grow into physically abusive and/or murderous adults. Can any of us honestly say that, as kids, we didn't shoot birds with our slingshots and bb guns, or set homemade traps for other critters? I say that if you can say that, then you either never had an opportunity as a child, or you're an exception to the rule of human nature.
The kill is the fulfillment of the hunt. We hunt to be alone, to observe wildlife without being observed ourselves, to face one of the greatest challenges in this world: to take a wild animal on his own turf, using our brain and little else. Forget the wild tales you may have heard about "automatic" guns and telescopic sites. When it comes right down to it, those things are no good unless you can create an opportunity to use them. We don't swagger into the woods and slay Bambi when he meekly peeks from behind a tree. We have to use every sense, every bit of experience we have, and when we accomplish our goal, it's a milestone. I once watched a videotape on hunting that theorized that, on the average, if you are hunting and get a chance at a deer, that chance will last 7 seconds. In my experience, that's not far off. Sometimes you'll have longer, sometimes not that long, but 7 seconds is just about average. Think of what it takes to be alert and ready, and to make an honest, clean shot on an animal that always believes there's danger behind every tree! In those 7 seconds you must verify that it is, indeed, a legal animal, find a chance to shoot (not easy when you're in brushy country), and you must usually remain undetected by those roving eyes and swivelling ears. What a high! The adrenalin rush I get from it is like nothing else in this world. The fulfillment of long hard hours of hunting is definitely worth it!
I read a quote from a famous writer once, though I can't recall his name. The quote went something like this: "We do not go hunting to kill. We kill in order to have gone hunting." Without the kill, you aren't hunting. That doesn't mean that you have to kill every legal animal you see, but hunting is not hunting if you're not there to kill. But to return to the quote, one does not go hunting expressly for that purpose. Hunting is freedom, a tie to our ancestors, peace, contentment, happiness, joy, sweat, close calls, exploring, hiking, stealth, boring, exhilarating, tiring, satisfying, challenging, and a thousand other things. It's there for you to discover, and judge for yourself if you want to take part in it. But please, "don't knock it until you've tried it." That's the only way you'll ever know for sure.
- Russ Chastain