By Mark Kenyon
Why do you hunt?
It’s a question that I’m sure many of you have been asked. Maybe by a curious non-hunter or maybe from a staunch anti; the question can come from many angles and for many reasons. And while it might seem like a simple question on the surface, any one of us who’ve tried to articulate the answer knows that’s not really the case.
For most, an explanation of why we hunt is complex, deeply layered, extremely nuanced – and in many cases, hard to put into words. And with that being so, when the question is unexpectedly set before us, many times we struggle to get the thoughts and feelings we have in our heads out into the world. We ramble, we stumble on our words, we misspeak our mind, or completely forget important aspects of our hunting motivations; the challenges of answering this question, in the unexpected moment, are many.
Unfortunately, if we fail to answer this question clearly, it has deeper ramifications than just short-lived embarrassment. In a world where our rights to hunt depend on the acceptance of the non-hunting majority, it’s increasingly important for us to be able to effectively communicate our motivations for participating in the hunting way of life.
I’ve struggled with this myself at times, but the below four ideas have helped me immensely. Maybe they can help you too.
Beneath my four pointers, for the sake of an example, I’ve also shared a simplified articulation of how I frame my answer to this question.
4 Pieces of Advice
1. List It Out: In the past, when asked to explain why I hunt, I’d quickly jump to the first thought in my head and then ramble on from there. I’d mention meat, I’d mention tradition, I’d talk about conservation and ecosystems and participation, and then meat, and conservation … and where was I? Without having a pre-thought through template for how I wanted to discuss this topic, I inevitably would get lost in my thoughts, I’d forget key aspects of my explanation, or simply come off sounding like a fool. Given the importance of this question, and how often I get asked it, I realized I needed to develop some way of organizing my thoughts – and the first step in my process has been to simply develop a numbered template. I sat down, listed out the most important aspects of why I hunted and thought through each aspect. By doing this, when the question comes about in the real world, I then can think through each number on my list, have a clear flow, and articulate each point I wanted to make. And I’d encourage you to do this too.
Think about why you hunt, and each part of that answer, then write each down on a sheet of paper. Look at your list, clarify your thoughts on each, and then organize that list in the order you think makes the most sense. If you can do this exercise and commit your list to memory, you’ll be able to much more succinctly and effectively answer this question when the moment arrives.
2. Start with Food: When explaining why I hunt, especially to non-hunters, I believe it’s important to begin the conversation with an aspect that anyone and everyone can relate to. And that’s food. There are many, many reasons why each of us hunts – but I think it’s safe to say that every one of us has food on their list. And food, as evidenced by many national surveys, is a motivation for hunting that many non-hunters can wrap their heads around. If you want to have a positive conversation with someone about why you hunt, start with an easy win and an easy topic for non-hunters to engage with you on. From there it will be a lot easier to dive into the more intangible aspects of what we do.
3. Don’t Be Afraid To Tackle The Tough Topics: Shane Mahoney, in Episode #83 of The Wired To Hunt Podcast, urged our listeners not to be afraid to explain that we hunters love animals. And it’s true, I do love wildlife and wild places. And while many non-hunters have a hard time understanding how someone can love wildlife and then also seek to kill an animal, we have an obligation to try and explain it. I don’t know about you, but I have a deep passion for animals and their habitats, and as a hunter I’m able to connect and participate in that world in a deeper way. That’s not always easy to articulate, but it’s important to try and convey these deeper aspects of hunting to those who might not have any idea. By following pointer #1 and thinking through these topics, and developing an internal template for discussing them, you should have a better chance of clearly explaining this tough-to-explain part of our engagement with the natural world.
4. Practice: How would you feel if you watched another hunter being asked why he hunts by an on-the-fence non-hunter and then that hunter proceeded to absolutely botch his answer, so much so that the non-hunter is confused or even turned-off by his explanation? I’ve been in that situation myself and it makes my stomach turn. Every time someone asks us about hunting, especially why we hunt, it’s an opportunity to open someones eyes to what I believe is an incredibly positive activity – but it’s also an opportunity to blow it. Don’t blow it.
The best way not to blow it is to realize the importance of these kinds of conversations and to prepare yourself for them. Take the above pointers into mind, and then practice thinking through your answer. Actually talk through it sometime and I promise it will help your next conversation like this go a lot smoother.
So with all that said, why do I hunt? Here’s a simplified version of my own “template” for this question.
1. I hunt first and foremost for food. I eat meat and I believe the most sustainable and ethical means of acquiring meat is to hunt it myself. 99% of the meat eaten in my home comes from an animal that lived a wild and free existence and was then quickly and ethically killed by myself (and most likely butchered and packaged by myself as well.) No meal tastes better or is healthier or is more ethically acquired than those that I was responsible for from the field to the table.
All life requires other life. We all have an impact. We all are responsible for the death of some wild creatures – whether it be animals we kill for food – or animals that are killed by others for our food – or animals killed to put the leather on our shoes – or animals killed when the cornfield is plowed or the home foundation cleared. None of us are free of that, I simply choose to take responsibility for as much of it that I can, and do so in the best way I know how.
2. I enjoy hunting: In addition to the benefits and enjoyment I get out of acquiring that food, I enjoy other aspects of hunting as well. First and foremost, through hunting I move from just observing the natural world, to actually participating in it. Different than when you hike or kayak or just watch wildlife, while hunting you become an active participant in the cycle of life. The senses are keener, the tiniest of changes in habitat take increased importance, the behavior and biology of my quarry becomes paramount. During the hunt I connect with a deeply embedded aspect of being human and being a living creature on this earth, in those moments I am fully alive, fully engaged, fully in-touch. And this connection with nature, as a hunter – as a participant, it’s a joy.
While hunting I’m able to explore beautiful environments, unwind in the quiet of nature or engage in the frenzied chase, and of course, observe and appreciate the animals and species that I admire and cherish. And finally, I enjoy the appreciation and respect that hunting gives me for life and for death. The rush of the hunt is always followed by the sobering realization of the kill and the heavy responsibility it carries with it. I don’t think you can fully appreciate life, your own or those of a wild creatures, until you are forced to understand the reality of death, and how thin the line is in between.
3. Hunting is a good thing: And on top of all of these things, I continue to hunt because on a larger scale, I know that hunting is a good thing. I and my fellow hunters are participating in a natural process that has been going on for millennia, and we are doing it in a sustainable and managed way that not only feeds our families, but also helps create balance in ecosystems and landscapes. Hunters can help manage populations of animals in a way that allows humans and animals to co-exist, while still allowing wildlife populations to flourish. We hunters spend millions of dollars donating funds to conservation organizations, donating our time to volunteer on habitat work, advocating for wildlife, donating ethically acquired meat to the hungry, paying increased taxes to support conservation and wildlife work, and so much more.
Because we hunters have a more intimate and engaged relationship with wildlife and their habitats, history has proven that we work harder and give more back to them than any other constituency. Ever since hunters such as Teddy Roosevelt sparked the modern conservation movement in the early 1900s, hunters have cared for and worked hard for the continued well-being of wildlife and we always will. For these reasons and so many others – hunting is unequivocally a positive force for good and for the conservation of wildlife and wild places.
This of course is an imperfect explanation too, I’m still working on better articulating my thoughts and feelings as well, but it’s an example of my flow-of-thought when trying to answer the question, aided by the three buckets I created – 1) Food 2) Enjoyment/Participation 3) Greater good. The specific words and stories will be different each time, but at least with this template I know where I’m going and I’ve got a basic idea of how to get there.
So, if you’ve made it this far, I’d only like to add one more thing. I don’t believe there is any single right answer to the “why do you hunt?” question, but I do think there is a right way to answer it.
And that is thoughtfully, carefully and with the full understanding of its importance.
Do you have any other thoughts, questions or advice on this topic? Please share with us in the comments!