Robert M. Anderson, Hunting Consultant
By: Robert M. Anderson, President
Central Wyoming Chapter Safari Club International
As hunters, most of us at one time or another have been asked the question “why do you hunt”? While it is a seemingly simple question, it can have a very complex answer – and the answer that most of us provide in this situation carefully avoids the basic question. We tend to rationalize our hunting as being beneficial to wildlife populations, necessary to some local economies, etc. rather than answering the basic question of why we hunt.
I recently read an article by Shane Mahoney titled: “Hunting for the Truth – Why Rationalizing the Ritual Must Fail” (from Outdoor Canada and reprinted at www.cic-wildlife.org/index.php?id=17). In his article, Mr. Mahoney discusses the fact that hunters routinely answer the question by identifying the benefits of hunting but rarely, if ever, give a definitive answer as to why we hunt. To quote Mr. Mahoney: “Explaining the benefits of hunting does not in any way explain why we hunt, and why we hunt is the question, really, that society is asking. We confuse and avoid the issue…but we will either answer it, or we will be dismissed. The one thing that we must protect and define for hunting is its relevance; notoriety and debate will not kill it. Fabrication and irrelevance will. Once deemed irrelevant, hunting will no longer be debated; nor will it be engaged in. If we want continuity and recruitment, if we want respect and tolerance for what we do, then we best get busy earning it…by explaining to the reasonable majority what hunting really is”.
I have read this article several times and in so doing have come to realize that Mr. Mahoney is right. As hunters we fail to articulate to the non-hunting public the relevance of hunting and, more importantly, what drives us to engage in a blood sport. Admittedly, this is a complex social and moral issue, but it is clearly an issue that needs to be discussed if we are to retain majority acceptance of our sport in the future. Those of us who hunt know that sometimes it can be a grueling proposition, pushing our physical and sometimes mental, capabilities to the limit. So why do sane people subject themselves to this seemingly physical and mental abuse in pursuit of what many people believe are poor, defenseless creatures. Like anything else in life, we hunt because the rewards can be great – not the material rewards such as the trophy collected, but the spiritual rewards from our life and death interaction with nature. Man, after all, is and always has been a hunter. Our prehistoric ancestors survived by hunting – and the very act of hunting subsequently evolved into a social event as primitive man was required to hunt in groups for their collective good and very survival. Man is also a very puny animal and in order to achieve success in the hunt, they had to learn to work together in order to succeed in taking down large ungulates such as the woolly mammoth and mastodon during the last ice age while minimizing the personal danger inherent in hunting these behemoths. Through the ages, the hunt evolved into a tradition shrouded in spiritualism and while the openly spiritual aspects of hunting may have been largely buried in the modern age, the tradition and social aspects of hunting have not. Nonetheless, the spiritual aspects of hunting continue to survive in modern society on an individual and personal level.
So, why do we hunt??? I think that each individual hunter will need to search his/her own soul for that answer and said answer may be quite complex for some but surprisingly simple for others. For me, it can be summarized as follows:
Camaraderie. I value the time spent in the field with friends and family in pursuit of game. I grew up hunting with my dad and my brother – hunting was a family affair, an excuse to get together, and typically occurred during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays by necessity as this was the only time during the fall hunting seasons when I had sufficient time away from school to hunt whitetail deer. I came to look forward to these outings with my dad and older brother and I continue to look forward to hunting with my friends and family despite the fact that both my dad and brother have now crossed over. Man is by nature a social animal and hunting camp allows us an opportunity to socialize on a somewhat more elemental level where we don’t have to be quite so careful about making social gaffes. In other words, we can be ourselves without pretense, without fear of rejection by our peers and without fear of ridicule when doing something foolish.
Solitude. While this may be a bit of an oxymoron from a “social” aspect, we all have a need to get away, particularly in today’s modern society with the pressures associated therewith. Hunting trips allow us an opportunity to get away from our daily routine, experience the outdoors, and reconnect with our more primitive inner self. The very nature of hunting often takes us to wild lands that we would not otherwise visit and we go to these out-of-the way places purposely in pursuit of specific quarry.
Spiritual Renewal. If you are like me, I come home from a hunting trip completely renewed in spirit. While I can take non-hunting vacations with friends and family, I do not experience the singular feeling of self-renewal that comes from a hunting trip. I need this spiritual renewal in order to persevere in my daily life and to recharge my batteries, so to speak. Nothing else charges my batteries like a hunting excursion.
Self Awareness. The pursuit of game tends to make us more aware, and more appreciative, of our natural surroundings and instills a feeling of self-confidence (or self worth) in us that may or may not result from our daily business life. This feeling may well come from an ingrained need to demonstrate our ability to provide for our families. The old adage “bringing home the bacon” comes to mind and it is important for us even today to know that we have the capability to provide for the well-being of our families. For prehistoric man, their very survival depended upon their ability to hunt successfully, thereby providing their family group with food, clothing, and shelter – the basic necessities of life. That need still exists in man today – the ability to face nature and confirm our personal worth by providing the basic necessities of life, despite the fact that the term “necessities of life” takes on a whole new meaning in the 21st century. The fact that food and clothing can all be obtained at the corner store is immaterial, we still need to know that we can provide from an elemental standpoint and hunting provides us with that assurance.
Development of Relationships. As stated previously, man is basically a social animal – a characteristic that developed over centuries of inter-dependence engendered by our collective need to survive in an otherwise hostile environment. Humans thrive on social interaction and that is one reason early man associated in tribes and villages because there was strength and security in numbers. We still thrive on social interaction and we tend to seek interaction with other individuals who share our same basic interests and values. SCI is a prime example – we all share a common interest and we gather to celebrate and promote those interests. As hunters, we share a common bond and a basic understanding of each other as a result. For myself, I have developed lasting relationships with many of the guides and outfitters with whom I have hunted these past years – not to mention the friendships that have developed through my association with other like-minded individuals.
In explaining the relevance of my hunting, it occurs to me that hunting is a journey of discovery that continually renews my soul. It is a spiritual journey that is not predicated necessarily on the taking of a life, but is a celebration of the circle of life. As the Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset said: “One does not hunt in order to kill. On the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted”. While I don’t necessarily agree that killing is always the logical conclusion of hunting today, I do agree that killing is the end result of a “successful” hunt and that the hunter must be prepared to spill blood in conjunction with the act of hunting. As we all know, the hunt does not always culminate with the taking of an animal’s life, yet through the act of hunting we, as the hunter, take to the field committed to the final act should the opportunity present itself.
While there are many other outdoor activities that test specific physical and mental skills and while one might argue that man can “commune” with nature without spilling blood, I would respond that hunting differs radically from these other “non-violent” outdoor activities. I have backpacked in the mountains of North America, I have dived into the depths of several of the world’s great oceans and none of these activities achieves the spiritual renewal that comes from hunting or the celebration of life itself that results from the hunt. When we go out to hunt, the intent is to pursue a specific animal with the intent of taking it’s life – this is a humbling thought and rightfully should increase our awareness of and appreciation for the miracle of life, while strengthening our understanding of the circle of life and the part that we play in that never ending drama. In primitive times, it was kill or be killed, eat or be eaten and survival depended largely upon man’s proficiency in hunting and defending himself and his family from the dangers inherent in the prehistoric world. We all still carry those innate instincts – the instinct for self-preservation and to provide for our families. While hunting for most of us is no longer necessary to provide food and clothing for our families, the need to hunt is still there, buried deep in the DNA of our collective history. Those of us who hunt are typically peaceful individuals who feel no need to demonstrate our courage or bravado through violence – our souls are at peace because we understand the circle of life and the great responsibility that comes with the power to take life. We also understand that we are irrevocably connected with our quarry and that we have an obligation to be as humane as possible. Some societies, both modern and primitive, still honor the rite of passage when an animal is taken in fair chase.
For me, the discourse above is just the opening shot in trying to understand why I hunt and will undoubtedly be a work in progress as I continue to sort out the mysteries of my need to hunt. Make no mistake, for me hunting is a personal need and I would be lost if my right and/or ability to hunt for the remainder of my years were suddenly taken away either through legislation, accident or illness. Through the years, I have become increasingly uncomfortable with the taking of life yet I continue to do so, but with a much greater respect for the animal(s) taken and with the realization that I have a moral obligation to spill blood as humanely as possible and in the spirit of fair chase to the greatest extent possible. These are self-imposed constraints that have evolved for me personally over the course of some 48 years of hunting. I suspect that many of you have come to similar realizations.
Ultimately we must define why we hunt if we are to provide a plausible explanation to those who are either unfamiliar with our sport or who are opposed to hunting for whatever reason. Rationalizations that we hunt solely to control animal populations, provide economic gain to local communities, or for the freezer are rationalizations that will no longer wash as there are alternatives to all of these explanations that do not include the need or right to hunt. Many in SCI call hunting a passion – if indeed it is a passion, then we need to clearly define our passion or it will inevitably be labeled as irrelevant by society and will disappear. The ball is in our court and we need to stand up and answer the question “why do we hunt” as fairly and honestly as we can when asked. I will close with another quotation from the article by Mr. Mahoney: “Truth makes a great message; not an easy one! But saving the preciousness of life is never simple. We need remember, however, that if hunters are viewed as dopes, hunting is viewed as a past-time for the dim-witted; if hunters are viewed as slobs, hunting is a wasteful debauchery; if hunters are viewed as juvenile, hunting is deemed delinquent. Only hunters can change such stereotypes. The task at hand is to articulate the relevance of hunting; not its correctness, nor its practical service to human kind. Rationalizing the mythology is both a tactical error and a diminishment of pride. Lies and excuses usually are” – Shane Mahoney.
Bob joined Global Sporting Safaris on October 1, 2009 as the African and Asian Hunting Programs Director and serves as the big game hunting consultant for those two continents.
About Global Sporting Safaris, Inc.
Global Sporting Safaris, Inc. is a Full-Service Hunting Booking Agency located in Casper, Wyoming and established in 1991. We have a staff of 7 Hunting Consultants and Fishing Travel Agents with a combined 175 years of experience. We hold integrity, ethics and honesty in high regard and deal with each client in a one on one basis. Global Sporting Safaris invests time, effort and financial resources in developing our outfitters and guides with a constant eye on the quality and professional services they offer.