I have hunted since I was 14 years old and have always had a fascination with the outdoors. I grew up in a generation where a large portion of the population where I lived hunted, and the majority of them hunted to supplement their diet. I didn’t know anyone of that period who was a trophy hunter.
To me hunting was a magnetic call. Whether it was because of my aboriginal ancestry or just a love of wilderness and adventure, I was out there in the mountains every chance I had. I was fortunate to have a neighbour who shared the same passion and taught me how to hunt and to hunt ethically. There used to be an old saying, “If you can’t eat it, don’t shoot it”.
There was a point in my life, a number of years, where I did not hunt. During that time I reflected on why I hunted. There is no deep philosophical answer to that question, simply put, I am a hunter, and I do not have to apologise to the critics of hunting. I took a friend hunting, who didn’t have a firearm but wanted to see what it was like. At the end of the day he told me he had really enjoyed the experience because everything he saw was contrary to what he had been led to believe about hunting.
Over time I evolved as a hunter and I reached a level of development where I didn’t have to take a deer to have a good hunt. For me it became the overall experience of the hunt and being out there as part of the natural cycle of life and death in the natural world. When I hunted all my senses would be fully alert and in tune with the natural environment. I would become part of the rhythm, the smells, the sounds, the unseen activities, the sighting of a cougar, the direction of the prevailing breeze – hunting high in the mountains on rocky ledges with standing old growth timber all around me, centuries old. I was never a road hunter. I would climb to get into these areas of old growth forest. In this environment there was a sense of silent memories of history from another time and life on this island, when the mountains were untouched by mankind.
Yes, I made some dumb mistakes learning to hunt and I’m sure that for any young person learning to hunt there comes a time when a situation happens which dictates whether they will continue to hunt, or quit. Any hunter I know understands that there is a responsibility to be a humane and ethical hunter. I know that when I’m deer hunting and take an animal for food, if I don’t feel any remorse after taking this animal’s life, I’d best quit hunting.
Today as a hunter I spend more time in the field just looking and being, which has its own rewards. Two episodes of many I’ve had stick in my mind. I used to hunt the Dove Creek alder bottoms and had the unique experience of a young buck coming up to me while I was sitting against an old Douglas fir. It smelled my boots and I actually had to shoo him away but he left in his own good time. Another time, I was standing on a big old blow-down when I caught a movement in the ferns and out popped a mink. It jumped on the log and came straight towards me. When it got to me it stopped and sat between my boots, much to my surprise! The mink looked up at me for a few seconds and then continued on its journey.
I am happy to have fresh venison in the freezer. There’s a degree of satisfaction in not having to depend on the grocery chain stores as the only source of food for the table at home.
For interested readers, In Defence of Hunting by James Swan, an environmental psychologist with a strong ecological conscience who has written many books and has taught at several universities, is available at the library. It is an excellent read with some very interesting insights on hunting and the men and women who hunt.
Jim Swift is an artist, and an outdoor enthusiast since childhood who has enjoyed many adventures in the wilderness.