The Column, No. 63:
Why We Need to Hunt
“We're sorry to kill you, Brother. Forgive us. I do honor to your courage and speed, your strength.” So says Chingachgook in a scene from The Last of the Mohicans, as they approach their fallen prey. For many, the notion of hunting is poorly understood, if it is indeed understood at all. Yet hunting and trapping is the history of the world, a core component of nature. Long before man appeared, hunting was an important part of the world. The history of life on planet earth has meant hunting, long before the word was ever spoken. It is the way the world works. Though no one was around to inform a prehistoric fish, reptile, or bird that they were actually hunting, there was no need. It is nature's way. To not understand this is to not comprehend nature. If you hunt, you well admire the beauty and speed of the pheasant, the nose of the bear, the ears of a moose, the speed of the pronghorn, the strength of the elk.
What is it we truly understand, much less respect, about the McNugget, the fish filet, a hamburger, or a hot dog? Do we admire the courage of the pizza, the strength of the pepperoni, the beauty of the Buffalo wing? I've heard the question, “Why is it you hunt, anyway? Why don't you just go to the supermarket where they make it?” No one can possibly live a week in the United States without thanks to animals that sustain us. That we do not shames us and exposes our ignorance. What human can go through life and claim no benefit from animals?
That we utilize renewable resources is beyond dispute. Food, clothing, shelter, medicine is not a new idea. For everyone that takes Omega-3 rich fish oil, do we really think that a large group of fish suddenly decided to donate oil to the human race? Have fish decided to live in aquariums for our relaxation and amusement? For anyone that has ever watched the Kentucky Derby, have you ever questioned why you are watching it? Are horses whipped just because they are out doing what they like to do? Is your son or daughter committing some unspeakable crime by attending biology class? Did turkeys and cattle decide to breed themselves into slow, overweight, slothful and stupid creatures? From a vintage WKRP in Cincinnati, a frazzled and disheveled Arthur Carlson gushed, “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”
With some of the disingenuous, yet self-concocted spin on hunting and trapping, you might think that some people upon finding mice in their homes would opt to buy them a condominium in San Diego? It is sometimes both convenient and calming to artificially isolate ourselves from the way the world works. When we turn on an electrical appliance in our home, the last thing we would like to think about is the coal mining accident that could only have happened with our relentless thirst for energy. It is inconvenient to think that our unquenchable craving for petroleum enables wars and disasters in the gulf alike. The more we can isolate and insulate ourselves from the reality, it just makes things easier. The tragedy of our self-imposed ignorance is not what we do to ourselves, it is the ignorance we blissfully pass along to our children. Perhaps we don't like to get our own food, paying mercenaries to fetch it for us. Perhaps we don't like the idea of mining our own coal, making our own electricity, or refining our own gasoline. Nevertheless, we shouldn't be adverse to learning where things come from. It is difficult to appreciate, much less respect that which we have never had any personal contact with. It is another case of “Out of Sight, Out of Mind.”
No one cares more about healthy, vibrant game populations than the hunter. Hunting has been synonymous with freedom for a very long time, certainly far longer than the white man has existed in North America. It was Chief Dan George who commented, “If you talk to the animals they will talk with you and you will know each other. If you do not talk to them you will not know them and what you do not know, you will fear. What one fears, one destroys." The notion of conservation today should both puzzle and perplex. While we say we wish to save the whales and the condor, we felt no such need to save the Indian and their way of life. We still feel no need to restore the American Bison, the Wolf, or the Grizzly Bear. Though no less part of nature, the notion of preserving and restoring what we have destroyed is not as convenient. In an age where anything that we don't agree with is quickly labeled “terrorism,” it takes no deep thought to quickly recognize that, to the Lakota, the United States was the penultimate terrorist organization. To the American Indian, our notion of “wildlife” would be a strange and peculiar one. For the bulk of the history of North America, there was little else. It was only life.
Theodore Roosevelt and John Olin, both devout hunters, were the greatest conversationalists in modern North American times. The Antiquities Act of 1906, signed into law by President Roosevelt, was an important step. Roosevelt did not shy from using it, creating Devil's Tower National Monument in 1906 and then the Grand Canyon National Monument. The Grand Canyon Game Preserve was established by proclamation in 1906, the Grand Canyon National Monument in 1908. A good window in the mindset of Roosevelt is contained in his comments from 1903, after visiting the rim of the Grand Canyon: “The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison--beyond description; absolutely unparalleled throughout the wide world. Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness. You cannot improve on it. What you can do is to keep it for your children, your children's children and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.”
In 1937, the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act (also known as the Pittman-Robertson Act) was passed in the U.S. Sales of guns and ammunition fund it. The hunter and shooter continually fund it today, augmented by DNR fees that are becoming exorbitant. Yet, today's hunters do more than any other group to promote healthy game populations. The problem today is we need more hunters, far more. If you do not hunt, you are missing something. You are missing something vital, as are your children.
We must hunt and should hunt. We cannot appreciate, much less respect what we do not understand. As Chief Dan George noted, what we do not know we fear. What we fear we tend to destroy. You cannot learn what you are not familiar with. You cannot obtain understanding of the way nature works and the way the world has always worked by not taking part in it. You cannot possibly appreciate food if your contact with food is founded primarily on the ejection of it from a vending machine or from a drive-through. Admiration of nature has never been a spectator sport. To hunt is not to shoot nor is hunting a guarantee that we will find. To find and learn, though, we must go looking for it. We cannot share what we do not know and have never experienced. We are not compelled to conserve, much less preserve what we fail to experience first-hand and appreciate.
History is best as a teacher rather than something to be enslaved to. No one likes the idea of going through life carrying a perpetual apology. We did not appreciate the Bison and had no qualms about destroying them. We could not understand the Indian, so we feared and destroyed them. We did not let the technicality that they were humans with great wisdom and deep cultures deter us.
Some may find the words of Sitting Bull ringing a bit too true today to derive any comfort from them:
"Yet hear me, friends! We have now to deal with another people, small and feeble when our forefathers first met with them, but now great and overbearing. Strangely enough, they have a mind to till the soil and the love of possessions is a disease in them. These people have made many rules that the rich may break, but the poor may not! They have a religion in which the poor worship, but the rich will not! They even take tithes of the poor and weak to support the rich and those who rule. They claim this mother of ours, the Earth, for their own use, fence their neighbors away from her and deface her with their buildings and their refuse.”
Our minds are not prisons unless we make them so. We must hunt to understand, respect and appreciate nature. If we do not actively seek to remove our own ignorance, we cannot acquire the experience and reason to avoid repeating the same mistakes. While we can perhaps never fix, we can aspire to both fix and improve. We can hunt to learn and hunt to become inspired. Theodore Roosevelt and John Olin both found a goodly portion of their life's meaning in the outdoors. Certainly, we should try to afford our children and grandchildren that same opportunity. We desperately need to hunt, just as they did.
Copyright 2010 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.