May 2, 2003

Hunting: Past and Present

The other day, while my chiropractor was removing the kinks and knots from my back, we were discussing diet. I mentioned that I could never go vegetarian--I like meat too much, and I could never give up hunting. I love the strong flavor of wild venison that has been marinated in whiskey and cooked all day in a crock pot. But, more than that, the hunt itself is a spiritual experience for me, one that I would miss terribly if I stopped.

I told my chiropractor that I enjoyed hunting for many reasons. I find it inspiring to spend time in a beautiful, wild place. When alone in a hilltop forest or walking across a prairie while the windborne snow dances around my ears and clings to my mustache, I feel the glory of God's creation, and I am part of it.

Hunting also forges a bond with the past. For thousands of years, hunters have gone into the fields and forests looking for food to nourish their people. For eons, animals have preyed upon other animals. As I sit waiting for a deer to walk by, I feel my ancestors with me. Their tools and weapons were primitive, but their goal was the same as mine: find a deer, loose the arrow straight and true to bring the deer down clean, track it, butcher it, and bring its meat back to the tribe. I feel the same pride he must have felt when I put a roast pheasant in front of my family. Of course, he had more at stake than I do, whereas I can stop off at Dominick's on the way home and pick up some steaks if I fail, he had to explain why they wouldn't be eating that night. At least he didn't have to worry about licenses, tags, bag limits, and seasons. This quest to reintegrate the past into one's self drives the resurgent popularity of hunting with "archaic" weapons like bows and muzzle-loaded firearms. These more closely approximate the conditions and the required skills of our ancestors. It helps us to share their experience and brings us closer to their world. It also brings us closer to nature and to our prey. It's much harder to get within 10 yards of a deer than within 100 yards.

But it doesn't stop there. When I am in the field; I don't just feel the presence of ancient hunters next to me, I feel animal blood surge in my hunter's heart. When I see a streak of blue from a pheasant running in the grass or sense a deer gliding through the woods, the hair on my neck stands on end and my face gets flushed as I assume my place in the food chain: predator chasing prey. I swear I sometimes get the urge to howl when I'm running after a pheasant. No video game, no type of extreme sport, no movie gives me the same sensation; those things just aren't real. I am driven onward towards my prey by instincts developed over millions of years of evolution, yet in surrendering to my instincts, I feel so amazingly free. When the instinct wears off, I sometimes find that I am streaked with my own blood from numerous scrapes incurred while crashing through thorns. Somehow I hadn't felt it while running.

The company of other hunters, who share the same spirit, simply makes it all the better. We speak of the chase, just as they did while returning back to the cave with meat flung over their shoulders. Of course, they didn't have Kentucky bourbon to marinate their meat in. Too bad.