Ten Reasons Why I Hunt
I just read a fine article entitled I Hunt and Here’s Why. The author was a political pundit of sorts and regularly hob-knobbed with the Washington elite who held him in contempt because he hunted. Though he normally did not speak of hunting because of the persecution, he suddenly felt compelled to write about it. The article contained the standard phrases used by intellectual types attempting to justify their desire to kill game animals: right of passage, primordial instincts, Indian rituals, crossing psychological boundaries, blaw, blaw, blaw. I felt a little lost. But I recognize good writing even if I don’t fully comprehend it. I appreciated the effort. We in the hunting fraternity must stick together while crossing these psychological boundaries. Even if it means going piggy back. Here are the reasons I hunt.
1) Bacon. Hunting season is the only time I can eat bacon without some cholesterol minded authority watching over my shoulder. Nothing in the pre-dawn blackness is better than the sound of bacon being fried on an open fire in a cast iron skillet unless it is the smell of cowboy coffee in a blackened tin pot boiling next to it.
2) Steak. Steak is the perfect hunting food. It can be grilled over an open fire and, if need be, eaten with your fingers. It is also a delicacy that is usually poo-poohed by the cholesterol control crowd, but not by the hunting community, probably because it is eaten with too much bacon and coffee. While interviewing the camp cook for this years elk hunt (my brother) I asked him if he needed help with the grocery list. He stuck his index finger up in the air and scratched out a mathematical equation above his head. “Lets see four hunters times approximately ten meals. That’s forty steaks.” I knew we had chosen the right man.
3) Coffee. As I mentioned before, I make my coffee in an old blackened tin coffee pot over an open fire. I do this by dumping a handful of ground coffee - old cowboy blend (home ground Starbucks French roast) into cold water and place in, near, or on the fire. This year I forgot the lid so it worked even better. When the coffee boiled over it doused the flames that caused the actual boiling but the surrounding inferno kept the remaining coffee hot. An eggshell placed in the bottom of the pot will help settle the grounds and also give you an excuse to eat fried eggs.
4) Wood smoke. The smell of wood smoke does something to me that hunting itself or any killing activity cannot in the way of primordial instincts and rights of passage and crossing psychological barriers and sentimentality. Nothing is more comforting than the smell of wood-smoke – Pine or Tamarack or Red Fir or Black Spruce on a cold, wet day have a way of awakening something deep inside my soul. I remember specific wood stoves and wool clad old timers who played cribbage and told stories and were larger than life. I believe heaven will be rich with the smell of wood smoke.
5) Walking. Where I hunt, if you walk, you will end up alone with the elk, if there are any. The weight of a slung rifle and backpack are light in comparison to the years of accumulated stress and worry that can be walked off in the wilderness. You can also walk off the guilt from eating all of that bacon. You return to camp exhausted but invigorated from fresh air to the smell of wood-smoke. It’s the best time to reward yourself with a steak.
6) Ego. I have a primeval instinct to collect antlers and be successful at hunting. I don’t need to kill something but I feel successful if I do. Also there is being competitive. Sometimes I have a need to be the only guy in camp that gets an elk. Even if it’s a cow. If I am not successful and someone else hunting in the area is, I always attribute it to luck. Dumb luck. There is a certain hope that your peers and possibly even your wife will admire you for killing something. The idea that someone, somewhere may entertain the thought, however intrusive it may be, that you are a good hunter, means you have achieved the ultimate success in life. This is especially satisfying to those of us who choose not to buy a Hummer.
7) The kill. There is something downright spooky about witnessing a creature who began the day happily bounding through the forest only to end up a lifeless quivering mass, wild eyes bulging in panic, tortured breath coming in deep gasps, covered in blood; which describes my brother, the cook, after we climbed to my secret spot through Hellroaring Gone Gorge. And, at the risk of sounding too thoughtful, sensitive and mysterious, there is also something weird and terrifying about killing an elk. I think its all the morbid thoughts that invade when staring down at a dead thing, or possibly the fact that you will soon witness the cook’s expression upon realizing that you brought him along to help pack out this huge thing. I wonder what dying elk think and feel as the last energies of life leave the carcass. One moment he was minding his own business, browsing away, probably preoccupied with predator concerns, and suddenly he is transformed into a mass of meat. You field dress the animal and feel the warmth of life ebb from its organs as you begin the transformation that turns this life into packages in your freezer. It’s plumb weird. Its something that my mind has never been able to fathom - Like trying to figure out how to set my clock come daylight savings time. Apparently, (Attention. Native American comparison Alert) the Indians had a great reverence for the animals they took in the wild and performed rituals as appreciation for that life that would sustain them in their own life of one-ness with their mother the earth and also strengthen them for scalping guys. I am not big on rituals although I usually manage to lose my pocketknife in the gut pile almost every time.
8) Backstrap. The tenderloins of the elk, are the best eating. They are traditionally eaten first and reached only after the animal has been gutted and so tender, they may be torn off the carcass with the fingers, which is particularly helpful after losing your knife in the gut pile. Some hunters are wild about venison liver and onions for the traditional first meal, which can be delicious under the right circumstances. But care must be taken. The backstrap is easy to identify, but to the untrained eye the liver is a mystery. One unlucky fellow I know had the misfortune of eating spleen and onions to celebrate the kill. Fortunately he found my pocket knife.
9 Camaraderie. Nothing is better than the time spent with fellow hunters, especially if you don’t count the time a friend tried to aid his hunting partner with a broken ankle by way of a piggyback ride through pitch blackness out of a deep canyon. Fortunately no further injuries were sustained when they plunged backward into a briar patch because the man with the fractured appendage broke the fall with his backside. It was all in good fun and they had a good laugh about it although not until about two years later.
10) Reality. I like to hunt. Love to hunt. I have no explanation to those who believe it is barbaric. But until they stop eating the breasts of feeder chickens who’s frightening ride in the chicken truck to the chicken butcherer lasts longer than it takes to kill an elk, until they stop wearing leather and killing delicate butterflies on the windshields of their automobiles, until they stop killing innocent mice in traps without so much as a mini ritual, in the words of a famous Mexican movie actor who’s words we live by today: Explanation? I don’t need no stinking explanation! Now pass the bacon.