Part 1 (of 3) Traditionby Don H. Meredith ©
(first published in the September through November 1997 Edmonton Sports
and subsequently as a complete article in the 1998 Alberta Guide to Hunting
The question is sometimes asked when I'm making a presentation about wildlife or the outdoors to school classes, youth groups, or even adults. I've told a story about a hunting experience or how wildlife agencies use hunting as a management tool. I notice some surprised looks and head shaking in the audience, and then a brave soul finally asks, "Why do you hunt?"
At first, I was startled by the question. I had grown up during a time when hunting was considered to be a natural choice for someone interested in the outdoors. Although I lived in an urban area and most of my friends did not hunt, most did understand my interest in it.
Over the last few years, however, attitudes have changed and now I've come to expect the question. Our society has become more urbanized, and many more of us are separated and screened from much of the environment that gives us life. Most of the friends with whom I grew up were only one or two generations removed from living in a rural economy where the taking of wild game for food was as natural as butchering a steer. Today, many young people are three and four generations removed from that sort of background. Stories of hunts past are more myth and legend than inspirations for a lifetime pursuit.
When I first answered that question, why do I hunt, I fell back on my biological training and explained how regulated hunting only takes from the annual surplus of animals produced by game populations, animals that are going to die anyway because there isn't enough food and shelter to go around. But I quickly learned that I was missing the point. These people didn't care about the science. What they were asking was more fundamental, more philosophical. They wanted to know why I wanted to kill something that was enjoying life as I was.
I have to admit I first stumbled for answers to that aspect of the question as do most hunters. We can talk hours on end about hunting to other hunters. But when it comes to explaining our motivations to those that don't understand, we suddenly become tongue-tied. We eventually fall back on old chestnuts like how hunting contributes to the economy, and how hunters contribute more to wildlife conservation than other outdoor people subjects that don't cut much ice with non-hunters and avoid the question, "why do you enjoy killing something that is wild and free."
But we hunters can't afford to avoid answering that question any longer. As a group, we make up an increasingly smaller portion of society (estimated at about 7% in North America, down from about 10% ten years ago), and the vast majority of non-hunters are no longer as accepting of hunting as they used to be. Anti-hunting organizations have become much more media savvy and are being heard a lot more than pro-hunting groups. We hunters must explain what we do in terms non-hunters can understand and appreciate or we may find ourselves without the societal support we require to continue what we enjoy.
I believe that hunting is a fundamental part of who we are as a species. It's an activity that celebrates the fact there are still wild places on this earth where a person can learn and use some of the skills our forbears used to pursue wild game and survive. Using those skills and feeling the emotions and excitement that accompany their use reconnects us with the land, a connection that has been lost to most urban people. Although I fish, hike and photograph wildlife and wild places, it is only through the process of the hunt that I truly feel involved with the rhythms and cycles of the land and my environment.
Hunting is a traditional, natural activity that dates back at least 15,000 years in North America. Many aboriginal North Americans still consider it an important part of their heritage, culture and indeed spirituality. Although we hunters of European background can claim a similar hunting legacy, we have failed to give it the same recognition in our culture as have our aboriginal brothers and sisters. The result has been that many non-hunters support aboriginal or subsistence hunting but not so-called recreational hunting. To me, hunting is more than a recreation. It is an acknowledgement of who we are as human beings, part of the fabric of life on this planet.
© Don H. Meredith 1997 Any reproduction of this work, in whole or part, in any media is prohibited unless expressly granted by the author. For more information, see the copyright notice.