It’s mid-September and in North Carolina, like many states, that means that deer season either has started (for bow hunters) or will start soon (for rifles). I was raised around hunting and fortunately experienced the pride and excitement (along with many other emotions I’ll touch on later) that come from the hunt as well as sitting down at a meal that came from my own hands. So, as an adult living in suburbia, when this time of year rolls around, the trees start giving up their leaves, and animals are packing for the coming winter, I feel the call to head back out and scout for our dinner. That usually leads me to asking other men if they hunt or have hunted and I have noticed that a large portion of them respond as if disgusted by the idea. Not only have they not hunted, which isn’t that unusual even in the south, but the desire to hunt is blocked by the thought of having to kill an animal, field dress it (or gut it) and process it to the freezer.
Maybe that man is you or one of your children. I hope this article will help you see the benefits of hunting and how it can impact a man’s heart and even help unite his family.
The Essence of the Hunter Man
"Hunting, fishing, drawing, and music occupied my every moment. Cares I knew not, and cared naught about them." – John James Audubon
It’s important to understand the nature of a hunter. Like many things in modern culture, there is a stereotype attached to hunting and hunters that isn’t without merit, as most stereotypes are based on some truth, but does not really give us a complete definition of the hunter. We typically relate hunting to a bygone and savage means of obtaining food practiced today only by indigenous people or rednecks who just like to murder animals to make themselves feel like a man. This is a growing perception which only goes to show how far we are in our ease and detachment from true living, and illustrates why we need to preserve the tradition of hunting.
In short, a hunter is someone that wants to provide for themselves and their family, to know where their food is coming from, loves nature and wants to see animals and the environment flourish, wants to be a part of a sport they can actually participate in rather than just watch, and loves the hunt itself, knowing that his intelligence and skill (and sometimes a bit of luck) earned him and his family the right to eat the food provided. He’s often a man who recognizes that observing nature provides insight into his own life, sees the evidences of God in the creation for which he was made, and in the comparison to the grandeur of nature, becomes humbled and thankful.
The Importance of Hunting
Teaches the respect and responsibility of firearms
I believe I was about 5 years old when my grandfather called me out to the barn. I knew he was working on his gun and maybe doing some shooting but I was surprised when he asked me to give it a shot. If my memory serves, I sat the rifle stock on a bail of hay, tucked the butt into my shoulder, and without aim or concern of the target, pulled the trigger and felt the biggest kick to the shoulder I would ever receive. That day will likely never leave my memory and certainly taught me a valuable lesson about guns. However, it is a different lesson when you see an animal you have shot, laying on the ground dead or nearly dead; you become aware of just how powerful and serious a rifle or shotgun is.
Firearm ownership is not just about respect, but also about maintaining and using the firearm. Fear often comes from what is unknown and so many people today fear guns because of their lack of knowledge. Knowing how to shoot, clean, and field-strip your firearm is necessary for a hunter and is something that most boys and girls should know how to do. While there are many guns, most rifles and shotguns operate the same way and are fairly easy to maintain.
Teaches the reality of death and the importance of life
Not to sound morbid, but death changes your world view. For many men, they do not experience the reality of death until they are older, as their grandparents or other family members pass on, and depending on how close they are to those people, the whole event can seem very surreal and disconnected from real life. Obviously the death of a person is much more traumatic than an animal, but that is why having some fundamental building blocks are so important. Resolving the reality of death in your mind before it is someone you are close to can help with the grieving process. It also helps us understand the difference between the death of a human versus that of an animal for food. That is an important distinction that is all but lost on the last few generations.
It’s should be noted and expected that killing an animal does produce a wide range of emotions, but a mix of pride and sadness are generally at the top. No hunter enjoys putting a suffering animal down or knowing that a gut shot deer who got away will suffer a slow death. Many men have spent hours into the night and going back the next morning to pick up the trail for a wounded animal. It’s not because of the value of the meat, it’s because of the value of the life.
Produces a respect for nature
With all of the focus on the environment, concerns about oil spills, global warming, protecting geese, and whatever else we can think of to be worried about, it would seem that we are a people that have a deep respect for nature. However, what we typically have is ignorance and fear due to our lack of true respect for nature and it’s ability to take care of itself. A true respect for nature includes not only concern for treating our environment well (which comes more naturally when you depend on the land for your livelihood), but also understanding how incredibly complex, resilient, and magnificent nature really is. When the BP oil spill was taking place I remember the reaction from some of my coworkers. They really believed the beaches would never be the same; that their children wouldn’t have the opportunity to vacation in the same locations they did. However, a very short time later the stories (limited albeit) began to surface about the oil disappearing as nature began to “clean itself”. Here is an example. This should be no surprise to those who spend anytime really getting to know the out of doors.
Toughens you up to the sight of blood
One thing is for sure at the end of a successful hunt: there will be blood, and likely lots of it. Whether fishing or hunting big game, there is going to be some bleeding. You may remember your first few times baiting a worm on a hook, or digging a hook out of a fish’s mouth, it’s not clean and pretty or easy like on TV. The process of field dressing an animal or skinning any game is a messy one but it’s a task that must be done. In fact, it is as natural a part of the process as serving it on the dinner table.
If you are going about this for the first time or teaching first timers here are a few tips:
- Be Pragmatic – Just approach the process like changing the oil in a car or fixing a flat tire.
- Don’t pressure them to go farther than they are ready – Everyone meets this challenge at different speeds. Just ask for help and get them involved.
- Explain the process – In many cases knowledge helps overcome fear. Describing the process, including the organs, is important. I remember when my grandfather cut open a deer’s stomach to show what it had been eating and how important that information was.
- Let them know you are proud (and be proud of yourself) – Recognize that this can be a real challenge and make sure you let them know that they accomplished something significant.
Teaches the rewards of contribution to the family at an early age
After I shot my first squirrel I was so proud and of course thought it was the biggest squirrel in the woods. For some time afterwards whenever my grandmother would cook a squirrel in stew or fry them up (yes we ate them and they are delicious) I would ask her if that was my squirrel. She would say yes, and led me to believe that the tiny critter fed the family for many meals. (Really you need about two per person)
Many children help out with chores around the house which typically means they are cleaning up after themselves, which is a very good thing. However, sharing a meal together from the trophy of your hunt means to provide for the family out of your own abundance and there is a pride that goes along with it. I find a similar feeling when I have grown vegetables from seed and we all get to enjoy the bountiful rewards.
Brings the family closer together
Scouting, hunting, and processing the game is a family effort. When I was a boy, my grandmother would rise at the same time as my grandfather and I and make sure we had a good breakfast at home and some to take with us on the hunt. Field dressing animals is best done with a partner. Larger game animals, like deer, took a good while to get the meat ready for the freezer. We would all pitch in and sit around the table working the meat into their proper sections (tenderloins, roast, steaks, etc.); each person their own butcher. Any time you can get your family around the table, conversations that wouldn’t otherwise take place are going to occur. (The same applies to shucking corn or shelling peas)
Of course, the whole family celebrates on a successful hunt and gets excited about the prospects of finally bagging the big one and outdoing each other.
I feel as if I have only scratched the surface but hopefully this will motivate you to think more deeply about the role hunting plays in a man’s development. It certainly goes beyond food. If nothing else, get out of doors more and experience nature. Then find a friend that hunts and could use some help skinning a deer or processing the meat. If he’s a good friend you might be treated to some venison stew or steaks. Then when you start seeing burgers instead of Bambi you can hit the field.