Why Do We Hunt?
by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., February 17, 2007.)
"I was a deer hunter long before I was a man." So begins the first chapter of a book called Come November by Gene Wensel. It's a sentence that made me think.
Man was a hunter long before he farmed the land,
worked in an assembly line, or sat staring at a computer monitor.
Man was a hunter long before he farmed the land, worked in an assembly line, or sat staring at a computer monitor. From man's earliest excursions outside the camp with a stone-tipped spear to his latest trip afield with a scattergun, this big-brained biped -- although slower and weaker than most of his prey -- has been a hunter. And something important will be lost if he ever stops.
It's odd that modern evolutionary thinking -- the dominant paradigm explaining our origins -- views man historically as part of an eat-or-be-eaten natural system, yet so many moderns seem to think that man should now step away from eons of hunting heritage.
Very recently, only 400 years ago, Europeans left a culturally advanced society to face a continental wilderness much larger than they could conceive. Just 200 years ago an adolescent nation was only beginning to understand the scope of the wilds they were free to explore. And only 50 years ago virtually every home in America had a gun and almost everyone respected the culture of hunting. Only in the present generation has hunting not been an essential part of life.
Today hunting has matured to become a great industry supporting thousands upon thousands of small businesses backed by creative entrepreneurs who bring hundreds of new products to market each year. The revenue generated pours millions upon millions of dollars into state and national coffers -- dollars specifically earmarked for the support of wildlife. Whatever anyone else contributes to the support of wildlife is dwarfed by the contribution that hunters and fishermen make through their tax dollars alone.
But hunters tally up more than tax dollars. Sportsmen were the first to band together to create organizations dedicated to conservation. Members of groups such as Ducks Unlimited, Trout Unlimited, the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation -- the list goes on and on and on -- vastly outnumber members of all other conservation groups combined. It's safe to say that hunters are the reason we have ducks, trout, turkeys, elk, sheep, moose, bears, deer, and other large and small species in abundance. Besides their money, hunters also pour their time into enhancing habitat for the benefit of virtually every species -- including non-game species.
Without hunters, the majestic whitetail would be a rarity, but its population is burgeoning across the country. Without hunters, the wild turkey would only be a memory, but instead we have many more than our pilgrim forefathers saw. And it's because of hunters that waterfowl is plentiful. So, when you hear geese honking their way north this spring, thank the hunters.
Yet hunting is in decline. In the long term, that does not bode well for America's wildlife.
Take deer, for example. Hunters are the one predator that efficiently keeps deer in balance with their habitat. Hunting deer is a vital service that hunters provide to society, so hunting is about more than venison for the table.
If the number of hunters continues to decline, the service they provide will diminish. It will be performed by hired sharpshooters and measured by a body count. Without hunters, those who render this "service" in the future will not need an acquaintance with the habits and life cycle of deer, or an appreciation for the deer themselves.
What we are as humans comes from a hunting past. When we turn our backs on our past we lose a heritage and a link with the natural world. A few thousand years ago we began to cultivate crops and livestock. A few hundred years ago we formed an industrial society. "Civilization" has taken man out of the hunt -- hunting is no longer the key to our survival -- but that does not mean the hunt must be taken out of man.
Hunters wonder why so many are severed from our past. We are human, so we hunt. We are the predators that think, so we hunt. We are the predators that care about the animals we pursue, so we hunt. We are the only predators that make sure wildlife populations survive for the future. For hunters, the question is not, "Why does a man hunt?" The question is, "Why do some not hunt?"