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What Being a Hunter Has Taught Me About Life

hutningLots of people think of hunting and they only really think of blood and death. That’s understandable, I guess. In a lot of ways, we only have ourselves to blame as humans for that. Hunters carry weapons and, look, Lord knows mankind hasn’t made the best decisions when we’ve gotten hold of some weapons. And with the amount of school shootings and random violence that abounds these days, I suspect that many people have begun to look at anything that involves a gun as something ultra-violent, end of story. I empathize with those people. Many of them are awesome parents, and they’re my neighbors and my friends, moms and dads exactly like me who simply want a world where their own children can grow up going to the bus stop without the lingering threat of murder hanging over the routine of normal life.

But I am beginning to think that, because so many of us feel that way and have been traumatized by man-on-man violence, we have also begun to see ANYTHING that involves guns, especially hunting, as an actual continuation of the sort of horror that fills up our 24-hour-a-day news-driven lives.

And I think that’s unfair, especially having been raised as a hunter. It’s strange to think about, but I know that the fact that I’ve been hunting since I was 12 years old has taught me so much more about respecting wildlife and their disappearing natural habitats than most non-hunters will ever know. That may sound a bit arrogant or condescending and I apologize if it does, but the truth is the truth.

Chances are, you and I could sit down someday and have a discussion about native North American wildlife, about the up and down plight of the Eastern Wild Turkey, or the effects fracking has had on whitetail deer populations on the eastern seaboard, or even why cute and fuzzy cottontail rabbits are both a blessing and a curse upon the animal kingdom, and I could stare you in the eye and tell you things about wild animals that you had no idea about.

Again, please believe me when I submit to you, as a daddy and a guy who actually LOVES animals way more than he loves simply killing one, that that’s not me bragging to you or trying to put you down. It’s honestly me trying to let you know that, when it comes to wilderness preservation or fighting for public land usage, or making sure that ducks and bears and mountain lions and even hummingbirds and butterflies and bees all have the land and the space and the requirements that they need to survive — in a world where human beings will erect a building on a wetland or a natural prairie or even on top of another damn building if there’s money to be made — men and women who hunt are almost always way more informed and involved in the fight for the cause than most folks who simply cannot fathom the idea of harvesting an animal for food.

I’m not so sure we aren’t confusing meat and hunting and deer, and even farmers and pigs and cows for that matter, with something very, very different altogether.

Teaching children to hunt is not the same as teaching them to be a school shooter. It’s just not. And teaching a young hunter to respect the natural world and to be involved in the active preservation of it is not a case of teaching a child to maintain the woods so that we can all parade on out into them and shoot every damn squirrel or grouse that we see. Carrying a weapon into the forest seems barbaric to a lot of people.

Yet, based on my lifelong experience, hunters probably love forests and rivers and trees and wildlife (and actually SEE and ENJOY those things) far more than most folks who claim that not one more animal should be hunted ever again because killing is wrong and hunting is just killing dressed up like something else.

I don’t believe hunting is that at all. I believe it is one of the most traditional and Earth-minded practices a person could ever be involved in. And I truly believe that any kid exposed to hunting at a young age, by an adult who hunts legally and ethically, will end up appreciating life (and especially wildlife) way more than a child who isn’t exposed to hunting.

Hunting isn’t nearly as much about killing as most people think it is, because most hunters don’t kill a darn thing when they hunt. Yet they keep going back. So if you hate hunting and even hate hunters because you just know that it’s pure and simple bloodlust that lures those demons back into the dark, frigid woods at five in the morning, day after day after day, well, all I can tell you is this.

You are going to be asleep in your warm bed when a hunter watches the most majestic sunrise in the history of mankind come easing up over a distant ridge.

He’s going to see it. And you’re probably not.

And he’s more than likely not going to shoot anything.

And neither are you.

But he’s going to chase that sunrise again tomorrow morning if he can.

And you’re probably going to be in your bed again.

And that right there is the real main difference between the two of you.

***

Pop-pop was always old.

I never knew him to be anything but this shriveled-up, hard-limping beer drinker whose identity, even all those decades later, was still all swirled up in his battleship years — a time long past for pretty much everyone but him. I guess it kept him young in a way. Even in his old age he was still a 19-year-old kid at heart.

I loved him more than words.

When he took me deer hunting, we’d drive together for hours to a farm in the middle of nowhere, a farm he’d hunted for most of his own life. The whole time we were driving, he’d tell me stories of the war or stories about growing up in the 1930’s.

We’d stay two or three nights tops, and we’d both sleep in the same dank, frigid room. Though, technically, I’d barely sleep at all. I was too excited for dawn to come when we would be out in the woods and away from the regular world. In the morning, we’d eat eggs and greasy sausage and put on our orange jackets and tuck Hershey bars into our pockets and Pop-Pop would spray on his drug store deodorant and crack big farts and he’d cackle at me from over on his bed where he was wrestling his boots on.

Then we went out to kill a deer.

Then we killed nothing.

As things turned out, year after year, we never killed a damn thing. Never even fired a shot. But I could’ve cared less. Those were some of the greatest days of my life. Even though the old man who loved me so much has been dead longer than I ever got to know him alive. He was there for me when I needed a man in my life most, when I was the kid whose dad had abandoned him.

When I was 25, as he lay dying in some hospice bed, I held the old man’s bony hand and we talked about baseball and Mom-Mom and all kinds of stuff. But no matter what we tried to conjure back up, the biggest smiles came when we talked about our time spent hunting together. They were magic times, we both agreed on that.

And please, with all due respect, don’t try and tell me the magic would’ve been the same if we had gone golfing or bird-watching or roller-blading together because I was there and I know; I’ve had time to think it over.

And trust me, it wouldn’t have even been close.

Image courtesy of ThinkStock

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