“When a hunter is in a treestand with moral values and with the proper hunting ethics and richer for the experience, that hunter is 20 feet closer to God.”
Fred Bear, legendary outdoorsmen, conservationist, and bow-hunter penned this quote decades ago, yet it still strikes me as tremendously accurate. You may or may not worship a God, but it’s undeniable the connection that humans have with nature. You may not think of hunting as a spiritual activity, but I would argue that it is. The natural world that we live in is filled with wonder and awe, which can be easily taken for granted. Hunting has shown me many things, but the one that stands above all is the wholeness that is felt when connected to the wild world.
As the sun was slowly illuminating the spring sky from behind lofty clouds, I found myself alone, sitting atop a cut bank of the Eklutna River. I begin most days hunting with my mind awash, thinking of where to walk and anticipating the stalk of an animal; yet this morning, for whatever reason, I began with a different mindset. Maybe it was because I had a view worthy of a postcard or because I was free of the demands of day to day life. But looking back, I think my smile was born from the genuine sense of belonging I felt in that moment. Towering craggy peaks, the constant murmur of flowing water, the dawn chorus of songbirds and the crashing of a lone moose occupied my senses. The grandness of nature made me feel small, but I also felt connected to a purpose bigger than myself. There is no greater way to enter the natural world than to place yourself within it as a hunter.
Much More Than Killing
I find it unfortunate that some people think that hunting is a barbaric practice that has become outdated. For some reason, along the path of life, these men and women came to see hunting in a negative light. Regardless of what caused this belief to manifest, our job as ethical hunters is to educate those that are under informed. Too many people, even here in Alaska, where hunting is a part of our culture and constitution, lack an understanding of why this activity is vital to the health of the ecosystem and the people that live in it. Whether it’s conservation, habitat restoration, or ongoing research; hunters are the top contributors to the health and stability of wild animal populations. Through government enacted laws and non-profit hunting conservation groups, millions of dollars have been committed to wild game and habitat in the name of hunting.
As a hunter, I have a deep appreciation for, and love of, the animals that I hunt. I understand that the big game animals of Alaska bring tremendous value, on many fronts, to the people of our state. The animal has tangible value in its meat and hide, giving the person who shot it a physical reward. But the more abstract value that these animals provide runs much deeper than a full freezer.
Hunting has taken me to places in our state that I may have otherwise never visited. I’ve climbed unnamed mountains, floated small streams, and wandered the tundra in search of wild game. In these places, I’ve seen vistas fit for the silver screen, witnessed and felt the brutality of the wild, and learned lessons that carry over to my life back on the grid. As much as I love eating wild game and providing meat for my family, it’s the value that cannot be grasped that keeps me coming back year after year.
Clear Your Mind
I don’t want to sugar coat what happens when you hunt; you shoot an animal with a bullet or arrow with the intent to kill. Death is an inevitable destination for all living things, and as a hunter, I have inserted myself into the circle of life to utilize this animal for sustenance for my own family. But the actual event of making a clean shot is just the climax of a much broader narrative. Hunting removes you from the distractions and busyness of our modern culture and gives you an opportunity to live simply and slowly.
I predominately hunt with nothing more than my weapon and a backpack full of gear, using my own body to carry me into the backcountry. When you set out on foot for a week of wilderness living, while searching for game you will discover the true splendor of the natural world. Besides living within the beauty of the wild, you also find renewal of your soul.
The simplification of day to day life that is experienced when in the backcountry lends itself to a personal reboot. At times we can all experience the mental fog that is brought in by the constant bombardment of information. Scrolling and clicking our way through thousands of bits of information that is mostly superfluous clouds our minds and creates stress.
When you go hunting your life is reduced to a few meaningful necessitates. You seek shelter, you search for water, and you eat. Without those three things secured, your hunting trip will be short lived and your misery level high. When you have been walking all day with a heavy pack, trudging through the rain while the soles of your feet feel as thin as coffee filters, I guarantee you won’t be wondering what you‘ve missed on Facebook. It’s the thought of camp, a warm sleeping bag, a hot meal, and a cold drink of mountain water that keeps one foot in front of the other.
You won’t have to deal with jealousy, boasting, affirmation, or hatred when you step foot into the wild. It’s just you and your hunting partner against nature, living by the rise and fall of the sun and subject to the fickle will of nature.
The Duality of Nature Equals Simplicity
The natural world consists of animals, plants, and inanimate objects. Together they all share a common bond: life and death. The rocks, water, dirt, and snow do not have “life,” but they do hold the cards in the game of survival for everything that truly does live. This philosophical notion of ownership is why I think humans long to be outside. Only in the last two or three generations have we become isolated from the natural world. Cars, technology, the internet, and smartphones — the list seems to grow with every year, but all this convenience has slowly decreased our time spent outside. On the other hand, the duality of nature, life, and death is eternal and easily understood.
While our society continues to grow and become increasingly complex, more people than ever can be found converging in the mountains rather than the malls. This change in recreation makes me very happy. If the weather is halfway decent, most weekends you will find the parking lot at Mt. Baldy 20-30 cars deep. Even though at first I’m a little perturbed that my evening run may be a little crowded, I about face and smile. I never see anything but happiness on that mountain. People may sweat and grimace under the strain of climbing the steep face, but when you reach the summit and take in the views, joy is found. Regardless of my mood prior, once I place myself outside and see the beauty of nature, I become joyful. This feeling is exponentially increased when I insert myself into the natural world as a hunter. I experience a rainbow of emotions when I go hunting, but cumulatively, I feel joy. Whether it was a hard-earned animal to fill the freezer or 10 days of hiking with a gun; time spent living in nature, among the beauty of Creation and the simplicity of life, is a fulfilling experience. Life and death bookend all living things. Rather than turn away from this truth, embrace it and learn from it as a hunter.