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Why we hunt

Deer rifle season starts Monday (tomorrow) morning, and for about three quarters of a million Pennsylvania hunters, this is an early Christmas. The excitement is palpable at every gas station, outdoor store, and hunting area.

I’m hoping my son will get a deer, either a doe or a buck, because last year he was twelve and slept through the taking of a buck we had planned would be his to harvest. Now that he’s thirteen and feeling more focused, we are both excited about his prospect of becoming a man. The hunting rite of passage is as old as humanity, and is more meaningful than just about all others I can find. This is a big step for my boy, and I’m operating as his guide, spotter, coach, and cheerleader. It’s tough to tell who is more excited, he or I.

I myself hunt because it makes me feel fully human. Asking some newer hunting buddies who hail from big metropolitan areas why they hunt yielded these responses:

“Hunting off the beaten path makes me feel more connected to the food we eat. I enjoy the strategy, teamwork, cooperation and effort that it takes to put together a successful hunt.” -Shai

“I hunt for the chase, the mystery, the outdoors and to outwit.” -Jon

“I hunt because it brings a tremendous sense of honesty to my life. Although I keep kosher and do not eat the animals I harvest, I donate the meat to friends and to the homeless through state programs. Participating in every step of the process, from field to table has given me an appreciation for and honest perspective of the meat I do eat. Furthermore, a hunt that ends without game is still a success because it gives me the opportunity to honestly reflect on everything else in my life.” – Adam

“I hunt to understand what it means to provide for oneself. While living in a major city, it is very easy to exist but no way to understand what it means to provide for oneself. Hunting is a way to force yourself to think about what’s really important and how to refocus our efforts to accomplish it. Plus it allows for a really really great stories knowing I have certain skills that will help me in certain circumstances is a necessary endeavor.” -Max

“I hunt because it’s real. Not some video game or some movie or tv show. Although the ultimate goal of hunting is to kill, hunting makes me appreciate life. It reminds me how rugged and yet precious life can be. It makes me feel alive. It makes friendships more meaningful, time more valuable. Hunting reminds me to live, not just exist.” – Irv

These are men fairly new to hunting, but their answers likely speak for the millions of other more experienced hunters in America.

Bottom line: Hunting is a deep, often spiritual undertaking.

Recently I hosted a hunter from Scotland, where it is actually illegal to bow hunt. He came to America to hunt buck, turkey, and bear at our cabin in the Pennsylvania “Big Woods.”

After nine days he had passed on some nice bucks, because they were not what he wanted. After a lifetime of killing deer with silenced rifles in Scotland, this man came that far distance just to experience a more primitive, more challenging way of hunting.

Though he returned home with no heads or hides to show for his remarkable diligence, he tells me “I am haunted by whitetail deer, I even dream about them now” because they are so cagey, wary, beautiful, difficult to kill. His sensory experience alone in the woods with one of humanity’s oldest weapons, and his memories of that, were sufficient satisfaction for him.

Good luck tomorrow, hunters. Enjoy our sport, which is safer than cheerleading, basketball, football, soccer, and a host of other recreational pastimes Americans readily accept as part of our culture. Except hunting is not a pastime. It is us, it is human.

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