Last fall I found myself sitting in a field of prickly Blue-Eyed grass using a young Foothill Pine for concealment; I’d hiked in while it was still dark to find a place to wait before the sun rose. During the pre-dawn hours the mountains were barely-visible dips and peaks around me and the dark gave the slowly swaying trees and grass a ghostly appearance.
When the sun finally rose the valley was bathed in stunning golden light and there I sat, a spectator to one of nature’s many gifts. Piece by piece the enormity of my surroundings was unveiled: the stream gurgling to my left, the shades of gray of a rockslide covering the mountainside before me, and a big cinnamon sow leading a pair of cubs over a winding path to water. There it was, the ferocity and beauty of nature revealed in stages and I was fortunate enough to be on a hunt, enjoying it. No, I couldn’t shoot the sow, but I could revel in the Sierra Nevadas.
In that moment it struck me – again – how lucky I am to experience those moments, not only on my own time but for my job. Everything from the smell of the mountain air to the pleasure of campfire coffee reminded me how awesome it is to hunt.
Of course, it also reminded me then and now of something else: people have forgotten why we hunt. They’re wrapped up in the kill, in getting a trophy buck, in guaranteed hunts and bragging rights. They’re missing out.
It’s an attitude reflected throughout social media. Memes mocking the guys who post pictures of sunrises and sunsets but never seem to holler “BBD!!!” permeate my newsfeed, especially during deer season.
Then there are the written posts in the same vein, the swaggering, chest-thumping claims how the original poster is a “real” hunter because he bags bucks and those guys enjoying the sunrise are nothing but wannabes and fakes.
I tend to take the roll-and-scroll approach, rolling my eyes and going on my way without commenting, but here I am, feeling contemplative. So here’s my totally unasked-for two cents on why I hunt. It isn’t controversial and is highly unlikely to get you all going in the comments but I’m going to share it with you all anyway.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way right off. Yes, meat is the end goal of hunting. Game meat makes up the majority of my family’s meat-eating ways so walking away from a hunt empty-handed can be frustrating. And if you’re thinking I don’t really need that meat, you’d be wrong. So yes, meat is important and appreciated. Even so, there’s far more to hunting than the meat.
Fred Bear once said “a hunt based only on trophies taken falls far short of what the ultimate goal should be.” That sums up the issue of trophies. If you get an epic buck or a cool Tom, right on. I love those moments, too. But if it’s the only reason you hunt or, alternately, go the way of a guaranteed, canned hunt, man you are missing out.
There is nothing like watching the sun reveal or conceal the fields and woods around you. Whether I’m sitting in a duck pit in Arkansas, a tree stand in Texas, or a field of dried Blue-Eyed grass in California, the artistry of nature never fails to entrance me.
Dramatic slashes of color might be favored by photographers the world over but subtle nuances have their place as well. Do you sit back and savor sunrises and sunsets or are you so focused on the desire for a trophy you’ve developed tunnel vision?
Unless your tree stand is immediately adjacent to the highway – something I see semi-regularly in Wisconsin – you’re given the gift of clean, crisp air during hunts. There’s something enlivening about leaving the cities and towns behind for the fresh air of the woods and mountains. It serves as a solid reminder to slow down, breathe deeply, and relax.
I’ll out myself here by admitting I’m a diehard yogi – no, not the cartoon bear – and have a travel yoga mat tucked into the pocket of my luggage. For me, the pleasure of pranayama – breath work – and asanas – postures – the night before a hunt has become a grounding ritual. Moving through those poses in a field of bluebells? A religious experience of the hunting kind.
No social media, no photos, no witnesses. Just me, nature, and my gun. Finding your center in the fields and woods is exponentially easier and somehow greater than attempting the same indoors.
There are endless reasons to get out and hunt. Whatever motivates you to walk out the door, take a moment to enjoy your surroundings. We are fortunate to have the gift of hunting in our lives. There is almost nothing better than sitting in the dirt and grass waiting for whatever is in season to come along. The bugle of an elk, the grunt of a Whitetail, the gobble of a Tom – it’s all amazing. Remember to marvel in those moments. Brand them into the recesses of your mind for future recollection.
The thrill of the hunt isn’t only about that end-result grip-and-grin photo. It’s comprised of infinite moments culminating in the instant you choose to pull the trigger. It’s the sunrise, sunset, and field of bluebells. It’s savoring the wild.