Fall has come to our little slice of the universe. With fall comes the inevitable pumpkin-spiced everything, crisp air and for our family, hunting season. So also comes the sharing of photos of animals harvested on social media and criticisms from anti-hunters about what a barbaric practice it is.
We are a hunting family. My husband hunts. This year, after a 3-year hiatus to raise a kid, I will also be hunting. I have a freezer that is less than full, a doe tag in my pocket and a yearning to get out there.
In the wake of the uproar, if you’ll pardon the pun, over the killing of a high-profile lion in Africa, I’ve been hesitant to talk much about hunting. The rancor and ire that event raised raged across traditional and social media for weeks. Quite frankly, I didn’t want to invite that kind of hostility into my life. But I also don’t want to hide the fact that I am a hunter. I’m not ashamed of it. Actually, I’m proud of the fact that I am a hunter. I’m proud that I’m married to a hunter. I will raise my daughter to be a hunter.
Yes, I hunt. And here is why…
I hunt primarily because I love wildlife. Hunting is critical to successful wildlife management. That might sound like a counter intuitive statement, but it’s true. Hunting helps maintain population levels compatible with modern human activity, land use and available habitat. And we hunters pay for the bulk of wildlife management and conservation through license fees and taxes on sporting equipment. My hunting dollars go directly to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to pay for research, wildlife reintroductions, wildlife law enforcement and habitat improvement. The fees I pay for a deer license help more than just deer. They pay for studies on bats, songbirds and fish and for conservation education. Almost without exception, state wildlife agencies like the Wyoming Game and Fish Department are funded through license dollars and taxes on sporting equipment, and those come from consumptive users. Everyone in our state gets to enjoy our wildlife resource because people like me are willing to pay for the privilege of hunting and fishing.
But hunting is also much, much more personal. I hunt to provide a nutritious, organic meal for my family. I hunt only what I plan to eat. I love looking in our freezer after a successful hunting season and knowing that meat will sustain our bodies for another season. I can serve my daughter elk or venison or grouse and know it is as natural and pure as you can get these days. And wild game is delicious. Mouth-watering, circus-in-your-mouth good.
I hunt because the very nature of hunting brings the responsibility of being a meat-eater front and center. I become connected to the circle of life, to the food that I put in my body. When I’m hunting, I’m staring my food source in the eye. I can’t hide behind cellophane wrapping like when I purchase meat in the grocery store. It’s not just a cheeseburger. It is a flesh-and-blood creature that I am killing. I am aware that I am taking a life to sustain my own. I feel that sacrifice deep in my soul as I pull the trigger, as I process the deer’s body. I am reverent. I am grateful.
And I hunt because I enjoy it. I enjoy getting out of my own head and into that of the quarry we stalk. I like the companionship of my husband and getting to watch him participate in an activity at which he excels. I relish in the heightened sense of being that hunting provides – the greater awakening of all my senses as we walk in the woods or across the prairie. Hearing leaves crunch underfoot, seeing my own breath in the morning air, and smelling the musky scent of antelope lingering on the wind. I take pride in having the skill needed to legally and ethically harvest an animal. I like knowing I can feed myself and my family when needed. For me, the entire experience is visceral. Seminal. Spiritual. Hunting helps me remember and celebrate the fact that humans are part and parcel of the natural world. Some try to deny that. Our family embraces it.
I think John Madson, the father of one of my own conservation heroes Chris Madson, said it best…
“I do not hunt for the joy of killing but for the joy of living and the inexpressible pleasure of mingling my life, however briefly, with that of a wild creature that I respect, admire and value.” John Madson.