Hunting and Gathering

I've never been a hunter. I don't really know why.

I'm certainly more than happy to get up at insane hours and wander around in the half-light looking for wildlife. My moral principles aren't compromised by eating meat--in fact, I'd probably feel less compromised by eating a game animal that had lived a healthy life in the wild, rather than a domesticated animal that had been crammed into a berth at a factory farm for years. And I don't really have a problem with shooting at targets, either with guns or with a bow.

Still, I've never really wanted to blast away at a living thing. I think part of the problem is that I see the contest between hunter and prey as somewhat unsporting. A deer, or a dove, or a turkey, has little in the way of resources to escape the encounter unharmed; it's got instinct, whatever physical abilities it can bring into play--speed, camouflage, flight, whatever--and whatever experience it's picked up in its brief lifetime, assuming it's got the longterm memory to use that experience. (And if you look at the size of a dove's head, I don't expect it to have much.)

A hunter, by contrast, has not only his own physical and mental abilities, but centuries' worth of accumulated wisdom and technology. Every trick that one person learned and passed along, every bit of information that was written down by an earlier hunter, and every bit of progress in the fields of metallurgy, gunsmithing, textile manufacturing, transportation, and biology is his to use. In a very real sense, it's not a battle of deer and human, but one of deer and humanity.

Humanity has been kicking animals' asses as a species for quite some time. How can one single animal, and one that isn't even a predator, get a fair matchup against the collective knowledge of the species that drove the moa, the European lion, the passenger pigeon, and the Tasmanian tiger to extinction?

I have a proposal.

First, consider the human being's natural abilities: binocular vision, bipedal motion, a few reasonably sharp teeth, an opposable thumb, and a big ol' brain. None of these by themselves constitute an unfair advantage against, say, a ten-point White-tail buck, which has hooves, horns, and impressive acceleration.  Put such a buck in an arena against a naked human and you'd probably get a pretty even match; there's not much a naked human can do in an arena, except maybe think up a way to get out of it. That's a legitimate use of the big ol' brain, but it would sort of defeat the purpose of the contest.

Second, consider that the big ol' brain, being a natural part of the human's arsenal, ought to be a legitimate part of this sport, just as the deer's antlers are. We want to challenge the hunter, not handicap him. All we're trying to avoid is giving the hunter ten thousand years' worth of equipment when he goes out into the woods.

And that's exactly what we do. When you go in for Real Hunting, you face nature as Nature intended: naked, armed only with your wits, your limbs, and anything you can find to use as a tool. This last is important: your ancestors were capable of picking up rocks, limbs, even antelope thighbones, and using them to help bring down prey.You should have that same opportunity to use what Nature provides. (And no, you can't use a broken Pepsi bottle or a discarded strand of barbed wire as a weapon; if you're going to do that, it's only a matter of time before a hunter thinks leaving a Bowie knife or a Browning semi-automatic lying in the forest and pretending to stumble across it would be legit.)

Other than that, there are no rules. Bring down your prey however you want; brain a rabbit with a well-thrown rock, or set a vine snare for a weasel. Charge at a deer and send it over a cliff, or brain a beaver with a birch branch. There are no restrictions on season, nor is there a limit on your kills. So long as you kill it in the Real (and sporting) fashion, all is well; failure to hunt in the Real way would be the only grounds for revoking a Real Hunting license, but your license will never need to be renewed. And if you're successful, you have another important advantage: like your ancestors, you can use what you kill to make new stuff.

Yes, prey does not provide meat alone for the Real Hunter. He can use the bones to fashion tools--cutting edges, or spear points, or short-handled war clubs--which will make it easier for him to bring down the next animal. He can fashion himself a spear, or even a bow and some arrows--but he can't hunt with anything unless he's made it himself from what he's killed.

Perhaps even more than weapons, the main trophy the Real Hunter will claim from his prey will be clothing. Yes, you can create shoes and warm clothes from the fur and hides and sinews. In fact, the other hunters will know at a glance what you've killed, because you'll be wearing it. From the coonskin cap on the top of your head to the tip of your deerhide shoes, you will be a walking billboard for your own badassness. A naked hunter is obvious to all as either a complete novice or a total incompetent. But if you're wearing mountain lion--dude, you are no longer just a weekend hunter with an Eddie Bauer gift certificate. You are fucking Orion himself.

Obviously not everyone will find much appeal in Real Hunting. Those who prefer to sit in a tree stand manufactured by Pennsylvania metallurgists clutching a gun made in Germany while wrapped in camouflage-printed polyester-and-velcro coveralls made in Taiwan will be able to do so (with all the existing rules and restrictions, of course), but if Real Hunting were in place, they would do so knowing that they didn't have what it takes to best Bambi mano a mano. No, they had to bring in assistants from all over the globe and throughout history, all so they could claim victory in a contest as hollow as a Duke basketball game in Durham in November.

All I'm asking for, really, is a little sportsmanship. And a cut of the licensing fees. Is that so much to ask? I think not.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on December 30, 2009 9:10 PM.

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