As I mentioned last week, many Alaska hunting seasons are open or are set to open in just a few days. In fact, some of the caribou hunts north and east of here are already looking at emergency closures with quotas having been met. Over time, I’ve been thinking about why I hunt, a practice that places me among a 10 percent minority of American citizens.
First, I grew up in a hunting family. I don’t know what it’s like not to hunt. I remember the effort and planning my father put into his hunting trips for pheasants, rabbits, grouse, and, especially, whitetailed deer when I was a kid.
My father had a comfortable, middle-class job, but we were not wealthy. I remember how my mother always hoped my dad would bring something home from hunting to offset the grocery costs of raising eight kids. A big Michigan whitetail in the freezer was the highpoint of the late fall around our house.
My grandfather used to say that “horns and tracks make thin soup,” so the emphasis on hunting for food rather than “trophies” was always foremost in my family. Shooting a good “meat” animal was first priority. If the animal happened to have a nice rack, that was the frosting on the cake.
Second, I grew up in a firearms family. Target shooting and “plinking” were fun activities. Spending time shooting with my father and brothers was enjoyable and educational too. However, I’m one of those types that needs to see a practical application for things to give them real meaning. Hunting was a practical application for all the instruction on safe firearms handling and the countless hours of shooting practice while growing up.
I was raised to age 10 in rural Michigan in the farming areas around Fremont. As kids, we were always out playing in the fields and woodlots and saw a lot of wild animals. Squirrels, rabbits, and songbirds were the most common, but an occasional deer was spotted while playing.
I have felt a kinship with animals for as long as I remember. That’s why I ultimately chose to study wildlife management and fisheries biology in college. Those studies taught me about things like population dynamics and how hunting, as a properly applied tool, is beneficial for managing populations of wild animals in their ecosystems.
When I was a kid growing up in the Midwest, I remember some loud and “scary” thunderstorms rolling through the countryside every summer. Once I saw a tornado funnel cloud form and touch down. When I understood that lightening caused the thunder, I quit being scared and started sitting outside under cover during these storms and marveling at the power nature was exhibiting (I still do). I learned that of all the things man thinks he controls, the weather was not one of them.
My “need” to be more a part of nature and the natural world also drew me to hunting. I knew some Illinois suburban kids that, as silly as it sounds, thought the chicken and hamburger their mothers brought home from the grocery store actually grew in the cellophane and Styrofoam packages. The idea that this meat came from a living animal seemed ridiculous to them.
I’ve always thought myself a bit more independent than the “average guy.” I didn’t want to be dependent on others for everything I ate, especially when I had the ability and means to do for myself. I wanted to know where the meat came from, how it had been handled, what had been added to it, and how old it was.
While learning to bird hunt with my father and grandfather, I saw how useful and loving dogs could be and I have had pet dogs for over fifty years now. My first dog, a black lab named Troubles, was quite the bird hunter but most of the later dogs have never hunted. Simply owning and caring for these pets has enriched my life in more ways than I can relate.
Some of the nicest people I know I have met as a direct result of hunting. While injuries and advancing years have taken their toll on my hunting ability, I still enjoy getting out as opportunity comes. I have developed lifelong friendships with many of these friends.
One can meet nice people, own dogs, and enjoy nature without hunting. Millions do. But my life experiences are what they are, and they have all led me to hunt. For that, I make no apology.