Why We Hunt: Two Important Perspectives
By Dr. Randall Eaton & Shane Mahoney
(Editor Note: You need to know why you hunt to protect your right to hunt. This is because the general public misperceives the motivation of hunters and the anti-hunters misrepresent it. At Conservation Force, we are focusing on this important issue worldwide. I am the President of the Pro-Chasse Task Force of the International Council of Game Conservation (CIC). Conservation Force brought America's two leading speakers to address "Why We Hunt" to the CIC Conference in Slovenia. The philosophical perspective and insight of either man would have been enough by itself. Combined, it was a dynamic and inspiring presentation. I cannot duplicate here that lengthy program, but I did ask both speakers to put part of their message in article form. Their articles follow. - John J. Jackson, III.)
Why We Hunt - Article 1
Randall L. Eaton, Ph.D.
We hunt because we love it, but why do we love it so?
As an inherited instinct, hunting is deeply rooted in human nature. Around the world in all cultures the urge to hunt awakens in boys. They use rocks, make weapons or sneak an air gun out of the house to kill a bird or small mammal. In many cases the predatory instinct appears spontaneously without previous experience or coaching, and in the civilized world boys often hunt despite attempts to suppress their instinct.
The fundamental instinct to hunt may link up with the spiritual. An analogy is falling in love, in which eros, the sexual instinct, connects with agape or spiritual love, a vertical convergence of lower with higher. Initiation on the path of love changes our life irreversibly. Henceforth, we shall know the meaning of authentic love experienced with the totality of our being.
Hunting is how we fall in love with nature. The basic instinct links up with the spiritual, and the result is that we become married to nature. Among outdoor pursuits, hunting and fishing connect us most profoundly with animals and nature. As Robert Bly said in his best-selling book, Iron John, only hunting expands us sideways, "into the glory of oaks, mountains, glaciers, horses, lions, grasses, waterfalls, deer."
Hunting is a basic aspect of a boy's initiation into manhood. It teaches him the intelligence, beauty and power of nature. The young man also learns at a deep emotional level his inseparable relationship with nature as well as his responsibility to fiercely defend it.
Essentially, hunting is a spiritual experience precisely because it submerges us in nature, and that experience teaches us that we are participants in something far greater than ourselves. Ortega y Gasset, the Spanish philosopher, described the hunter as the alert man. He could not have said it better. When we hunt we experience extreme alertness to the point of an altered state of consciousness. For the hunter everything is alive, and he is one with the animal and its environment.
Though the hunter may appear from the outside to be a staunch egotist dominating nature, on the inside he is exactly the opposite. He identifies with the animal as his kin, and he feels, as Ortega said, tied through the earth to it. The conscious and deliberate humbling of the hunter to the level of the animal is virtually a religious rite.
While the hunt is exhilarating and unsurpassed in intrinsic rewards and emotional satisfactions, no hunter revels in the death of the animal. Hunters know from first-hand experience that "life lives on lives," as mythologist Joseph Campbell said. The hunter participates directly in the most fundamental processes of life, which is why the food chain is for him a love chain. And that is why hunters have been and still are, by far, the foremost conservationists of wildlife and wild places, to the benefit of everyone.
The power of the hunter’s mystical bond with the wild animal is measured by his unparalleled achievements in environmental conservation. For example, the 700,000 members of Ducks Unlimited have conserved over 12,000,000 acres of wetlands to the benefit of the entire living community of North America. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has conserved over four million acres and successfully reestablished elk in the northeast and midwest U.S. There are more wild turkeys and deer in the U.S. than at any time in history. While other environmentalists are waging rear-guard actions, the hunting community is on the offensive.
Today, as for countless millennia, proper initiation to hunting engenders respect for all life, responsibility to society, even social authority, and spiritual empowerment. It develops authentic self-esteem, self-control, patience and personal knowledge of our place in the food chain. According to Dr. Don T. Jacobs, author of Teaching Virtues, "hunting is the ideal way to teach universal virtues," including humility, generosity, courage and fortitude. As I said in The Sacred Hunt, "Hunting teaches a person to think with his heart instead of his head. That is the secret of hunting."
Consequently, the most successful programs ever conducted for delinquent boys have focused on hunting. The taking of a life that sustains us is a transformative experience. It's not a video game. Hunting is good medicine for bad kids because it is good medicine for all kids.
Hunting is a model for living. When we hunt, we discover that we are more than the ego. That our life consists of our ego in a mutually interdependent and transcendent relationship with nature. We keep returning to the field because for us hunting is a dynamic ritual that honors the animals and the earth on which we depend both physically and spiritually.
While interviewing Felix Ike, a Western Shoshone elder, I asked him, "What kind of country would this be if the majority of men in it had been properly initiated into hunting?" He replied, "It would be a totally different world."
In a world imperiled by egoism and disrespect for nature, hunting is morally good for men and women, boys and girls. Hunters understand the meaning in Lao Tzu's statement,
The Earth is perfect,
You cannot improve it.
If you try to change it,
You will ruin it.
If you try to hold it,
You will lose it.
Some aboriginal peoples believe that the Creator made us perfect, too, and that He made us to be hunters, dependent on nature and close to the earth. Like Narcissus, civilized humanity has fallen in love with itself and turned its back on its hunting companions and its animal kin. Beware the teaching of the ages summarized in this admonition from Loren Eiseley, "Do not forget your brethren, nor the green wood from which you sprang. To do so is to invite disaster."
We are the tribe of wild men and women whose hearts hold the promise for recovery of proper relationship to the animals and earth. If we should lose hunting a far greater disaster will befall nature, society and the human spirit.
Randall L. Eaton may be contacted at 513-244-2826, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: www.randalleaton.com
Why We Hunt - Article 2
"Hunting For Truth -
Why Rationalizing The Ritual Must Fail"
(Special Note: The following article is reprinted with permission from Outdoor Canada. Note that Shane suggests that the "why" issue be more correctly characterized as the "relevance" of hunting today.)
Across the wide belt of the North American continent a profound debate surges. It is a collision of worldviews; a refinement of man's view of himself; a reinterpretation of Eden; a great contemplation of the future of mankind. Yet, despite this profound nature, the debate in question is delivered to the public as a clash of soft sentimentality and rigorous rationalism, the central theme portrayed by both sides as something so far removed from its essential self that it is at worst belittled, at best trivialized. The evisceration of man's greatest achievement, naturalness, is the work of two opposing forces, each wrapped in the cloak of conservation, striving for supremacy in a tournament of frauds and follies. The problem for hunting today is that nobody will tell the truth.
On the one side, there are those who are opposed to hunting, who obviously do not hunt, and who portray the activity as barbaric, unnecessary, and inappropriate to today's society, and mankind's future. They concentrate on the suffering of the individual animal and upon the behavior of persons who might inflict it. They portray nature as more benign, more right, without man than with him; and hunters as fermented juveniles who enjoy killing as a diversionary sport and who see animals as targets for their violence. To persons who argue for animal rights, hunting is a cruel wastefulness and the hunt an anachronism, something we should have put behind us, as we have bear baiting and cock fighting. Hunting is empty of merit, devoid of value and without deep meaning. Its adherents are therefore the same. The activity is personified and therein lies the target. The concept, the rich idea, of hunting, becomes displaced. For the public, the gruel is watered down until it can be bottle-fed. The question is asked: "why (do you) hunt?"
On the other side, stand those who support hunting, primarily hunters themselves, but not exclusively so. They fall for the trap. Their arguments in support of hunting are that it helps manage wildlife populations, it provides healthful recreation, physically and socially, it provides meat, and it generates wealth, especially in rural economies. Supporters argue it is their right, and not the animal's rights, that are to prevail, and because their activity harms no one, but benefits many, they should not be interfered with. Hunters don't discuss animal suffering, but concentrate on the health of populations. They rightfully point out the contributions, financially and politically, hunters have made to conservation, often when other voices of support were not being raised. They trot out the balance of nature, without ever defining natural balance. They portray anti-hunters as misguided extremists whose views would have mankind being overrun with tick-infested deer, drowning in goose macaroni, or starving so other predators might thrive. Hunters argue simply, or simply don't argue. They too keep the debate easy ...to digest.... or dismiss. One thing they conscientiously avoid however: they never, ever answer the question "why (do I) hunt".
Why is this? What is it about this short little question that is so ponderous, so daunting? What is it that hunters fear; what is it they do not comprehend? And, if they do comprehend, why won't they offer an explanation? Why so quick to identify the benefits of hunting but so reticent to at least try and describe their true motivation for engaging it? This is a conceptual divide that must be breached. We have been treating the two as though they were the same. They are not. Explaining the benefits of hunting does not in any way explain why we hunt, and why we hunt is the question, really, that society is asking. We confuse and avoid the issue...but we will either answer it, or we will be dismissed. The one thing we must protect and define for hunting is its relevance; notoriety and debate will not kill it. Fabrication and irrelevance will. Once deemed irrelevant, hunting will no longer be debated; nor will it be engaged in. If we want continuity and recruitment, if we want respect and tolerance for what we do, then we best get busy earning it...by explaining to the reasonable majority what hunting really is.
Hunting is not simple. It is the generator of our human condition, the crucible of intellect, and the fire of creativity. It is our mirror of the world, the image-maker of wild creation; it has defined how we see, literally and figuratively. It is the only absolute rediscovery mechanism available to human beings; the mind-body fusion of all meditative, spiritual experience is derived from its pasturage. Those who return there know full well the sense of universal intimacy it gives over. Explaining this odyssey is our greatest challenge; but succeeding will be our greatest achievement. The world remains perpetually absorbed by this search, yet hunters know the way. Why not celebrate the truth for a change? Hunting is a deliberate journey to the union of birth and death; it cannot but create a deeper perspective and appreciation for the glorious importance of both. What society does not dream for such citizens?
Like it or not, we have to search deep within ourselves, journey to the place where the mind is floating free. We have to voice what is silent; capture what is shadow. The hunt is a universe of emotion that overwhelms, scatters all notions of other preoccupations and delivers the persona complete. Hunting is a love affair; turbulent, gnawing, and all possessing. It is composed of lives, but has a life of its own; a life held precious by the participant who, in part, creates it. But then there is the "other", unpredictable, honored. Yes! An affair of the heart; and like all such affairs it drags the mind along, a great force subjugated by the senses engaged to their fullest; but alive just the same, and capturing memories and creating fantasies that are nearly one and the same. Hunting is an immersion; a drowning in connectedness that squanders pride and privilege; the true hunter is the humble man, the enthralled child and the knowing prince. All is ready, nothing is restive; all is rhythm, nothing is in friction. Hunting knows why the senses were made! It displaces both the practical and the excess. It represents evenness, oneness and the knowledge of self. Hunting is a cataclysm of inward progress. We hunt for spiritual reasons; we hunt to find inner peace; we hunt to understand the world. Hunting is our first great myth! The true hunter is both the alert and the meditative man. Thought and action combined in purpose; a hymn for the unity of world and self. Hunting is a search for all.
Truth makes a great message; not an easy one! But saving the preciousness of life is never simple. We need remember, however, that if hunters are viewed as dopes, hunting is viewed as a pastime for the dim-witted; if hunters are viewed as slobs, hunting is a wasteful debauchery; if hunters are viewed as juvenile, hunting is deemed delinquent. Only hunters can change such stereotypes. The task at hand is to articulate the relevance of hunting; not its correctness, nor its practical service to human kind. Rationalizing the mythology is both a tactical error and a diminishment of pride. Lies and excuses usually are. - Shane Mahoney.
Who Is Dr. Randall Eaton
Dr. Randall Eaton is the foremost psychologist of hunting. He has taught Jose Ortega y Gassette's Meditations on Hunting in universities, written books and made documentaries on "Why We Hunt" and its extraordinary importance to mankind for itself. He has devoted his professional life to this important subject. He is also a member of Conservation Force's professional team trying to save hunting around the world. He is the author of The Sacred Hunt, I and II, and he produced The Sacred Hunt, an award-winning documentary.
Who Is Shane Mahoney
Shane Mahoney is the Head of Research for the Canadian provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador. He is considered the foremost philosopher of hunting today. He has been the keynote speaker at virtually every important conference in North America over the past several years, including the Outdoor Writers Association of America, The North American Wildlife Conference and the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies Conference. He was the moderator of the Premier's "Hunting Heritage Symposium" held in Ontario. Most recently, he led a two-day program on "Why We Hunt" at the North American Wildlife Conference in Washington, D.C., which was the first such program in decades. Shane serves on the CIC's Pro-Chasse Task Force as a professional member. He is also a member of Conservation Force's Think Tank and Board of Directors.
Why We Hunt - An Ancient Activity
Hunting is an ancient human activity. As such it means experiencing an original way of life in unspoiled nature. Hunting can be the purest form of eco-tourism.
And yes, of course we enjoy hunting.
Of course we enjoy the thrill of a stalk. Yes, of course we enjoy the adrenalin rush when facing a wild un-collared lion. There is nothing wrong with that, these are inherent components of our own nature. City people seem to have forgotten that man can and should be part of nature. And above all, the laws of hunter and hunted are the very foundation on which nature rests.
If we still want nature – and that is the principle decision mankind has to take – we have to understand and accept it as it is; and true, honest hunting is the very school of life....
Please forgive me, if I here state that the same wild fire that some boring anti-hunters instinctively and unknowingly admire in the eyes of a lion, before it was man-handled and collared, is still alive in a hunters heart.
But we don’t enjoy killing. We have to kill to have hunted. And when at times we have to kill, we try to do so clean and quick and painless. At the same time death is part of life – it is not always easy to accept this, and this is the very difficult part of hunting, but it also is part of nature.
We hunters want and need nature.
The principle of sustainable use ensures large-scale nature conservation outside of National Parks – and that is what every nature lover should support free of irrational ideological agendas.
Africa is unique in the diversity of its wildlife and the stark beauty and silent grandeur of its landscapes.
Like all other continents, Africa will run its course to catch up with the first world. Nature lovers from the developed countries of the north cannot expect that African Governments will neglect their people in favour of wildlife.
But it appears logical that African countries protect some of their natural beauty not only for its own sake, but also to the best advantage of the national wellbeing. And the principle of sustainable use is the proven concept to combine these two important aspects.
President Kai Uwe Denker, NAPHA's 40th Anniversary AGM, 2013
To Understand Why We Hunt, You Must Know it
By John J Jackson III
When called upon to explain why you hunt, is there a magic formula or “elevator statement” to answer the question? What does it mean in human terms to those that do it as distinguished from the conservation and ecosystem services provided by hunters which are far easier to define and express (conservation infrastructure, management budget revenue, law enforcement, research, habitat acquisition, etc.) No nonsense, the user-pay system works!
The extraordinary force it holds over us is not simple and does not lend itself to easy description. This article briefly explores the heartfelt expressions of genuine hunters and hunting community leaders rather than statisticians and surveyors. Hunting holds a higher-order cultural, spiritual and emotional appeal that is too complex and extraordinary to lend itself to a simple explanation. It is a genuine, intense, complex, relationship with the natural world and the game that forever holds us captive. It is as genuine as life, but how can we make others understand? How can the “call of the wild” be described, the euphoria one feels on a clear, blue sky spring day high on a mountainside, the exultation from having all your God-given senses really focused, the preparation and pushing yourself to new physical heights, the self-discovery and self-actualization when immersed in nature?
The above title phrase, “know it,” is quoted from Aldo Leopold. He is considered the “Father of Wildlife Management” and authored key works such as Wildlife Management, still a fundamental textbook, and Sand County Almanac, the foundation of the land ethic and the entire environmental movement. He advised, “I suppose it is IMPOSSIBLE to explain this to those who do not KNOW IT.” (Emphasis added). In short, it can not be explained to non-hunters. They have to “know it.” I have come to accept this as axiomatic. Why we hunt defies explanation unless you know it.
Others have verbalized the frustration of explaining why we hunt. Theodore Roosevelt wrote in The Wilderness Hunter that “No one, but he who has partaken thereof, can understand the keen delight of hunting in lonely lands.” He also wrote, “But there are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm.” A more contemporary hunter, Charley Dickey, in The Hunter’s Call (1983) wrote, “I breathe because my body needs oxygen. I eat because my body must have energy. I hunt because I am a hunter. These are simple things which I accept, and perhaps no explanation is possible.” Expressed differently, Ernest Hemingway in An African Journal (1972) wrote, “There is much mystic nonsense written about hunting but it is something that is much older than religion. Some are hunters and some are not.” In short, get used to it.
Ron Spomer wrote that “Hunting is one of those pleasures that you won’t understand if you have to have it explained, which is good because folks who enjoy it can’t fully explain why.”
Professor James Teer, one of Conservation Force’s own founding board members, agreed. “I decided long ago that the joys and societal values of hunting cannot be described adequately to non-hunters...” in It’s a Long Way from Llano, an autobiography, 2008.
Perhaps a quote from Karen Blixen of Out of Africa fame is a good sum up the point. Until she hunted, really hunted, she did not understand though she was surrounded by hunters and certainly had an inquiring and capable mind. After returning from a hunting safari she wrote to her aunt in Europe, “I owe an honest apology to hunters whose ecstasy over hunting I have never before understood. There is nothing in all the world quite like it.”
The confounding difficulty when explaining why one hunts is compounded by the divergence of game species, conditions, methods and skills, preparation, places, obstacles and scenery, and even the elements. A small collection of hunter quotations proves the point while also partially expressing the rich diversity of hunting.
Any claim by the uninitiated non-hunter that hunting does not have deeply rooted importance to those who hunt would be disingenuous. Aldo Leopold was not making it up. The tens of millions of hunters speak loudly of its hold on hunters. That should be respected and fostered. Its importance is as real and valuable to the human condition and quality of life as other higher order relationships that defy description like the love between men and women. It is so important to those that do it that it would be immoral to deprive us of it particularly when it has been proven to be such an essential tool of wildlife and habitat conservation. Hunters are an indispensable army, perhaps the largest in the world, of citizen conservationist and heroes. The growing human population and competition for survival space is making hunting even more relevant.
Do not apologize for not being able to express the indescribable joys of the hunt to the uninitiated. Many of the best people in the world are and have been hunters and hunters are pillars of wildlife and habitat conservation, like it or not.
But there is much more reason to examine why we hunt than explaining hunting to non-hunters. Certainly, we can heighten our own enjoyment and happiness from hunting by expressing what we can in words as well as all forms of art be that paintings, photography, sculpture, taxidermy, etc. ( Yes, taxidermy is an art form as well as a monument in celebration of the hunt and respect for the animal). We hunters are fortunate to know hunting and intimately know nature through the eyes of a hunter but we can always gain by knowing it even better.
Aldo Leopold succeeded in partially expressing why he hunted waterfowl when he wrote that he would go to his blind an hour early to hear the goose music. He also explained,
A deer hunter habitually watches the next bend; the duck hunter watches the skyline; the bird hunter watches the dog; the non-hunter does not watch. I must add that knowing it does not mean watching it on TV and having Disney-stuffed animal-like toys among your possession or beloved pets in or outside of your home. Nor is photographic voyeurism remotely like the excitement and game changer of la Chasse.
Karen Blixen, In Shadows on the Grass, resorted to analogies when she wrote, “Hunting is ever a love affair. The hunter is in love with the game, real hunters are true animal lovers.
“The person who can take delight in a sweet tune without wanting to learn it, in a beautiful woman without wanting to possess her, or in a magnificent head of game without wanting to shoot it, has not got a human heart.”
Jack O’Connor expressed the “magic on the mountain” in The Bighorn (1960). “The wild ram embodies the mystery and magic of the mountains, the rocky canyons, the snowy peaks, the fragrant alpine meadows, the gray slide rock, the icy, dancing rills fed by snowbank and glaciers, the sweet, clean air of the high places, and the sense of being alone on the top of the world with the eagles, the marmots, and the wild sheep themselves.”
So how does hunting hold up against popular outdoor recreation? The golfer Sam Snead (1912-2002) wrote, “The only reason I ever played golf in the first place was so I could afford to hunt and fish.”
Of course, hunting is far more than mere recreation for real hunters. Barones Anne Mallalieu: “Hunting is our heritage, it is our poetry, it is our art, it is our pleasure. It is where many of our best friendships are made, it is our community. It is our whole way of life.”
Ernest Hemingway made no bones about his love of the chase: “The way to hunt is for as long as you live against as long as there is such and such an animal; just as the way to paint is as long as there is you and colors and canvas, and to write as long as you can live and there is pencil and paper or ink or any machine to do it with, or anything you care to write about, and you feel a fool, and are a fool, to do it any other way.”
Hunting is to be enjoyed over and over again. Perhaps the ultimate hunt is a safari in Africa, the pantheon of hunting experiences. Hemingway, in Green Hills of Africa, wrote, “I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up and was not happy.” And he wrote, “All I wanted to do now was to get back to Africa. We had not left yet, but when I would wake in the night, I would lie listening, homesick for it already.”
Similarly, Robert C. Ruark in Horn of the Hunter wrote, “There was part of me, of us, back there on a hill in Tanganyika, in a swamp in Tanganyika, in a tent and on a river and by a mountain in Tanganyika. There was a part of me out there that would stay out there until I came back to ransom that part of me...”
Shortly before her death at the age of 77, Karen Blixen wrote, “If I should wish anything back of my life, it would be to go back on safari once again with Bror.”
Of course, no description of hunting can be complete without a quotation from Jose Ortega y Gasset, Meditations on Hunting (1972): “When one is hunting, the air has another, more exquisite feel as it glides over the skin or enters the lungs, the rocks require a more expressive physiognomy, and the vegetation is loaded with meaning. But all this is due to the fact that the hunter, while he advances or waits crouching, feels tied to the earth through an animal he pursues, whether the animal is in view, hidden or absent.” He also wrote that “Hunting submerges man deliberately in that formidable mystery and therefore contains something of a religious rite and emotion in which homage is paid to what is divine, transcendent, in the laws of nature.”
Many hunters have expressed the total fascination and infatuation they have for the game they pursue. In sum, according to Hugh Fosburgh in One Man’s Pleasure, “The essence of being a real good hunter is, paradoxically, to love the particular species of game you’re after and have enormous respect and consideration for it.” Karen Blixen said it directly with, “One feels that lions are all that one lives for.” And indirectly when she wrote, “I have seen the royal lion, before sunrise, below a waning moon, crossing the grey plain on his way home from the kill, drawing a dark wake in the silvery grass.”
So I too suppose that why we hunt and what it means to us cannot be described. The elevator statement reply to those that ask might best be, “You have to know it to understand, but I would not want to live without it.” You are on good footing to add that you are a steward of the game you hunt, as, of course, hunters have to be, and you hunt and know the habitat as well as the game that you care so deeply about. Maybe add that like Aldo Leopold, you like the sound of goose music along with the smell of marsh grass before daylight, the bugle of a bull elk in a mountain meadow, the trumpet of a charging elephant, or hundreds of other experiences that one has to know to understand. Maybe tell them that because you are a hunter you have had hundreds if not thousands of to-die-for experiences emerged in nature. Tell them you can not explain a love relationship or the feeling of euphoria on a clear spring day, but it is some of the best life has to offer.
Thank you for asking.