Most of Alaska’s general hunting seasons have been open for almost three weeks now. I occasionally take a moment from what I’m doing at the time to ponder life. Recently, I’ve been thinking about why I hunt, a practice that places me among an approximately 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, squirrels, and whitetailed deer in the Midwest when I was a kid.
I remember how my mother always hoped my dad would bring something home 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.
Secondly, I grew up in a firearms family. Target shooting and “plinking” were fun activities of their own accord as well as being good practice for hunting. 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 would make an appearance while we were outside playing.
I have felt a kinship with animals for as long as I can remember. That’s why I chose to study wildlife management and fisheries biology in college, ultimately earning a master’s degree in wildlife management. 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. Having the scientific background adds to the understanding and enjoyment of hunting as well.
When I was a kid growing up in the Midwest, I remember some pretty loud and “scary” thunderstorms rolling through the countryside every summer. Once I saw a tornado funnel cloud form and touch down.
When I finally learned and understood that lightening caused the thunder, I quit being scared and started sitting outside under cover during these storms and marveling at the power Mother Nature was exhibiting. This was one facet of nature man could not influence or control.
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 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 of myself as 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 nearly fifty years now. My Black Labs were both hunters; the first being much better than the second. Most of the smaller dogs we had later in life have never hunted. Just owning, playing with, and caring for these pets has enriched my life in more ways than I can relate.
Some of the nicest people I know were met as a direct result of hunting. I have developed lifelong friendships with many of them. Having the common bond of hunting with another person who shares your life values and understands your thoughts and feelings about hunting greatly enriches the experience.
One can meet nice people and own dogs and enjoy nature without hunting. Millions of people do. But my life experiences are what they are, and they have all led me to hunt. For that, I make no apology.