By Mark Kenyon
Too often today, in the media and in our conversations, the act of hunting is reduced to a simple process of finding game, using gear and finally killing.
In reality, we know there is something in between. We know that with every step we take into the wilderness and each time we set our sights on an animal, there is much more at hand. There are thoughts and doubts, revelations and worries each time we embark on and then return from the wilds. There is love and death, celebration and sorrow.
These thoughts and emotions encountered along the way make us who we are, and mold our human shapes and souls into creatures more in tune with ourselves and the natural world we live in.
Rarely though, do we have the ability to communicate these things as eloquently as we’d like. And for this reason, we turn to the great wordsmiths of the dirty, prickly wilderness world.
As a lover of all things wild and rugged in the outdoors, I’ve come to treasure the works of nature and hunting writers that can clearly describe the inexplicable mixture of majesty, wonder, and occasionally sorrow, which I encounter each time I step outside my door. And today, I wanted to share with you a small collection of these works. These short, but poignant quotes – when read by a true reveler of the wild – will speak to the soul.
I’d encourage you to read each one of these quotes slowly, and then take a moment after to let it settle. Chew on each a moment, and then let it speak to you. And then finally, enjoy.
“When I was young, I was a hunter, walking wooded hillsides with confident steps and a gun in my hand. I knew the blur of wings, the rocketing form, and the Great Moment that only hunters know, when all existence draws down to two points and a single line. And the universe holds it breath. And what may be and what will be meet and become one – before the echo returns to its source.” – Pete Dunne
“But love of the wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth which bore us and sustains us, the only home we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need – if only we had eyes to see.” – Edward Abbey
“I have always tempered my killing with respect for the game pursued. I see the animal not only as a target, but as a living creature with more freedom than I will ever have. I take that life if I can, with regret as well as joy, and with the sure knowledge that nature’s way of fang and claw and starvation are a far crueler fate than I bestow.” – Fred Bear
“We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.” – Aldo Leopold
“Despite our ever-changing, ever-indignant world with its growing ignorance of and indifference to the ways of the wild, I remain a predator, pitying those who revel in artificiality and synthetic success while regarding me and my kind as relics of a time and place no longer valued or understood. I stalk a real world of dark wood and tall grass stirred by a restless wind blowing across sunlit water and beneath star-strewn sky. And on those occasions when I choose to kill, to claim some small part of nature’s bounty for my own, I do so by choice, quickly with the learned efficiency of a skilled hunter. Further, in my heart and mind, I know the truth and make no apologies for my actions or my place in time.
Others around me may opt to eat only plants, nuts and fruits. Still others may employ faceless strangers to procure their meats, their leather, their feathers, and all those niceties and necessities of life. Such is their right, of course, and I wish them well. All I ask in return is no one begrudge me – and all of us who may answer the primordial stirrings within our hunter’s souls – my right to do some of these things myself.” – M.R. James
“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” – John Muir
“He tried to stand but fell, his back broken, his teeth barred in silent pain. If elk could scream, the woods would have fewer hunters. I thought, “I’ve never shot an elk this big; what a trophy. If I shoot him in the head, I’ll ruin the mount. My God, he’s suffering, shoot him. No! To hell with the trophy, you’re just like the hunters you despise.”
I shot him at the base of the brain. He quivered, looking ahead wide-eyed, straining, then slowly all the life force slid from those eyes and his muscles lost their tension. He took one last, long, slow breath and died. I cried inside and out” – George N. Wallace
“All America lies at the end of the wilderness road, and our past is not a dead past, but still lives in us. Our forefathers had civilization inside themselves, the wild outside. We live in the civilization they created, but within us the wilderness still lingers. What they dreamed, we live, and what they lived, we dream.” – Thomas K Whipple
“Life in the open is one of my finest rewards. I enjoy and become completely immersed in the high challenge and increased opportunity to become for a time, a part of nature. Deer hunting is a classical exercise in freedom. It is a return to fundamentals that I instinctively feel are basic and right.” – Fred Bear
“We often say, in the grip of great emotion, that we “forget everything.” From the decision to shoot until the collapse of the trigger, until the freeing of the arrow, I am truly not aware of the frustrations of my daily job, my hopes and fears for my family, or even the familiar aches and awkwardness of my body. Consciousness becomes concentrated into a laser-focused bond between the eye and the animal. At such moments I am as pure a creature as I’ll ever be, involved in an act of monumental seriousness. It really has little to do with sport as the term is used today, and it sure as hell isn’t a game. It combines the delicious, fearful anticipation of shouldering a great responsibility with the euphoria of discovering that you can, for however brief a moment, bear its weight.” – Bruce Woods
“While hunting, I’ve cried at the beauty of mountains covered in snow. I’ve learned to own up to my past mistakes, to admit them freely, and then to behave better the next time around. I’ve learned to see the earth as a thing that breathes and writhes and brings forth life. I see these revelations as a form of grace and art, as beautiful as the things we humans attempt to capture through music, dance, and poetry. And as I’ve become aware of this, it has become increasingly difficult for me to see hunting as altogether outside of civilization. Maybe stalking the woods is as vital to the human condition as playing music or putting words to paper. Maybe hunting has as much of a claim on our civilized selves as anything else. After all, the earliest forms of representational art reflect hunters and prey. While the arts were making us spiritually viable, hunting did the heavy lifting of not only keeping us alive, but inspiring us. To abhor hunting is to hate the place from which you came, which is akin to hating yourself in some distant, abstract way.” – Steven Rinella
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” – Henry David Thoreau
If these quotes spoke to you, I’d encourage you to share this with others, and then share with us in the comments section any other quotes you’ve found that strike a similar chord.