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Why We Hunt

by  Dave Fisher

          How long have we been reading, thinking, or even writing about hunting?  Most of us can’t even remember; it just sort of happened.  Many of us simply grew up in hunting or fishing families and it has always been a way of life.  Others came about it because of close contact with a friend or loved one.  Still others began hunting simply because it was a curious notion and some long past force pulling at them.

          Back in 1974 or there about, I started writing about hunting.  It had become a strong passion of mine and suddenly a few magazines began buying my stories.  My father wasn’t really a hunter, but we did have a few guns around the house and once we even had a pair of male beagles my dad brought home from a bar one night.  It was a gradual thing … my hunting and finally writing about it.  Probably one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received from an article was:  “You can tell … this guy’s been there.”   It was an appropriate compliment.  When I was around 30 I over heard my dad telling someone, “Yeah, that boy would rather hunt than eat!”  If you’d see me now, I’m not sure you’d agree, but I got a real chuckle out of it then, because it was true.

          During this meager and humble career as an outdoor writer, I’ve always wanted to write an article entitled: “Why We Hunt”.  It just seemed a natural thing.  I’ve read lots of them.  Guys explaining in minute detail about the primeval urge of modern man to connect to their long dead cavemen ancestors and to go out and kill something, drink its blood and eat it.  I read these articles, and in some ways I guess they were right, although I’ve never felt like I had too much in common with a caveman, ancestor or otherwise.

          Now almost 30 years has gone by and even though I have had hundreds of stories and how-to articles published by many outdoor magazines, I still haven’t written this article.  Why?  Mostly because in all this time I still haven’t put my finger on one certain reason why I actually go hunting.  Yeah, I love deer meat, love rabbits, and I’ve never been much for vegetables.  I’m carnivorous … my eggs are in the front of my head … I must be a predator.  This is probably another reason.

          Some of us in various wars and situations had to kill other human beings.  It’s a terrible thing.  In all the years I’ve hunted I can honestly say I’ve never really enjoyed the killing of anything.  I’ve accepted it.  I know that it is part of the hunt, and I’ve been pleased with myself when I finally had the quarry at hand, and made a quick painless shot.  But, I’ve never been happy with the actual taking of life, and I admit here now that I have been choked up a little when after a long a grueling spring turkey hunt, I’ve killed a beautiful tom. I enjoyed hearing that gobbling for what could have been weeks … and now I killed him.  They are just ugly birds to many, but to me they are the most beautiful creatures on earth.  It is a shame that sometimes one must give up his life so that I can say I got a gobbler or I went hunting this morning. Sad sometimes, but I accept it.

          They say that we hunt because it is in our blood and that here in America it is an American tradition.  I think that’s true and I believe that with all my heart. The Indians had hunted for centuries before the Pilgrims showed up, and for awhile things changed little.  But then the white settlers started to intrude more and more into their territory, and the Indians started fighting for their land.  It’s an old story of who was right and who was wrong but we wouldn’t have done anything less if it would have been our land that we were born on.

          The Indians hunted for survival.  They hunted for food, clothing, and even made shelter out of deer and buffalo skins.  The Indians claimed that they would die if not allowed to hunt.  In fact, many did, but many more were herded onto reservations and their hunting days were over.  Although these survivors didn’t die, their  way of life was changed forever.  Hunting was part of their entire being.  Of course, we should feel very sorry for the Indians, but we should not let them off so easily either.  Once equipped with more modern weapons many tribes slaughtered game with no regard for conservation, preservation, or game laws instituted to ensure the species survival.  I have seen entire bays netted by the Indians where they killed every single fish possible without regard for any type of preservation.  

          Good or bad, I admire the Indians for the ultimate hunters they were before the influence of the European whites.  They were in tune with nature and were very skillful in their trade.  Of course they had to be and an empty game bag or pack sled meant a hungry week back at the lodge.

          How could an article about hunting not mention the camaraderie and the sheer fun that goes along with hunting with a great group of friends?  The Indians knew this and often hunted in groups; then spent many months recalling the stories later.  So it is with us.  Although I was never a part of a family “hunting camp” I knew many many that were, and sat for hours listening to stories from the “deer camp”.  Deer camps used to be spread out all across Pennsylvania, and the roads would be jammed with hunters over the Thanksgiving weekend.  Sometimes it didn’t matter whether any deer were killed and everyone had a family member that spent 30 years at deer camp and never got a deer!  But they still went every season and the place would never be the same if they weren’t there.

          I’ve been on a few of these group hunts in the south, In Oklahoma, New York and later in Michigan with Holly Wolfe and the guys.  It was exciting and fun to be out there laughing and carrying on and listening to the dogs run.  Then later in the evening, much to our wives chagrin, we would play the entire day all over again gut- busting laughing and describing each and every aspect in great detail.  It was fun and who could relate better than others who shared the same interests and experiences.

          Sometimes it is hard to find a suitable hunting partner and personalities do clash frequently, so a well matched hunting partner is a valuable commodity. But at times in my life I have been a loner and the hunting instinct has taken hold of me so strongly that I was going hunting even if no one else did.  So it was and is that many times I have found myself in the woods alone inching across the top of some ridge seeking a flickering whitetail or listening to my pack in the valley below.  I have found great solace in the woods alone.  No distractions from telephones or TV, it gives one a chance to think and search his soul.  Many decisions of life were finally reached while hunting.  Like the beam of light came on and the answer was there all along just needed the energy to be seen.

          Dogs and rabbit hunting has always been a special passion of mine, but I enjoy almost any type of hunting.  The special bond between some dogs and their hunter/masters is so strong it transcends the boundaries of hunting. 

          I remember the time that my hunting partners and I lost 6 dogs on a Sunday morning while hunting on Beaver Island.  All were recovered by Thursday except my beloved dog “Lightning”.  Lightning was that very special hound that gave 110% to please her hunting partner … me.  When she was found I drove almost 1,500 miles to bring her home.  I knew she would never be the same and the nine days she spent in the woods had taken a great toll.  Still I was very pleased to see her back in her familiar place in the kennel.  She had given her whole life to me and chasing rabbits and it was fitting that I was able to bring her home where she could spend her remaining days.  I look at her grave frequently and think about all those years we spent together hunting.

There are rewards associated with hunting, or maybe I should call them trophies.  For those of us that don’t have a room full of plastic towers and blue ribbons, we have large whitetail mounts, turkeys in glass, rabbits, squirrels, and even a lot of rabbit feet immortalized in plastic shotgun shells, and other memorabilia associated with many days afield.  They’re important to us … the rewards of hunting.  Just the sight of some can transport us back to the instant we made the shot and the ‘trophy’ was ours.  The trophy could be a beautiful mount or simply the memory of spending a day hunting with Bob or Lightning.

After all these years and thinking about this, it is still difficult to put into words why I hunt.  We all have many and different reasons.  Sure it’s exciting, it’s challenging, it’s a way of communing with good friends, it provides some delicious meals, and sometimes gives us the solitude and the closeness with nature we all seek at one time or another.  And yes, it surely puts us in touch with a primeval urge that all our ancestors must have had at one time. 

One fall day in 1968 my brother another friend and I went hunting all day on a Saturday.  Man! We had a terrific day and our game bags were loaded with rabbits, squirrels, and pheasants.  We had a job ahead of us cleaning all this game.  The problem for me, however, was I had promised to go on a romantic hayride with my new found 17 year old girlfriend.  No problem a quick phone call took care of that nicely.  Well, she told me years later how broken hearted she was when I cancelled out of the hayride at the last minute, but for some strange reason she understood how much hunting meant to me.  I married her a few years later.

Why do I hunt … I am not sure exactly, but I can’t imagine it not being a part of my life.  I’m sure you feel the same way.

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