Uruguay 2008 with Ariel
Over the years I have tried to answer the question of why I hunt using rational and scientific argumentation, talking about the negative impact of human development over nature, the virtual elimination of predators and other animals that compete with society’s scarce and disputed economic resources, and rationalizing that the only way to preserve a piece of nature or a little bit of wilderness is by extracting an “economic surplus” from them, and that only hunters, among all members of society, are willing to allocate the time and money to manage nature in such way.
However, as I began to dedicate more time to hunting and the outdoors I also tried to explore not only why I loved to hunt but why I had to hunt. Which compulsion would make me crave for autumn and winter and dislike summers or how could I explain to my wife that I am not trying to punish myself when I wake up long before first light and go out in inclement weather to hunt or worse yet why I spend more money on my Labrador retriever than on our children college fund?
After chasing it for many years, from when I hunted quail and shot fish in my childhood in Brazil to going on safari in Africa, I believe I finally found the answer to such pressing and profound question. It is still rational and scientific, but biological and philosophical instead of economical in its content.
I am not an anthropologist or a philosopher to write a treaty on human evolution or meditate on hunting, I am a hunter, and as a hunter I can say that deep in my genes and in my soul the predator lays, patiently waiting for opportunities to surface and strike upon its prey. I hunt because I am a predator. I am on the top of the food chain and as part of nature I must perform my ecologic function, occupy my niche, and feed on my prey.
Although detractors of hunting would like us to believe otherwise, Homo sapiens are as integral and important components of nature as any other creatures, and as we went through a similar evolution process as all those living creatures we evolved as the most successful predator this planned has ever had. Evolution shaped us not only physically but also emotionally and psychologically, and not even in our modern yet stupid time will misguided and ill-intentioned people be able to negate that.
Of course, it could be argued that humans being rational creatures should be able to control their most basic instincts, but by doing so we would only further remove ourselves from the natural world and then nature would play a constantly diminishing part of our life until by being ignored for so long it would be forgotten. And if nature becomes unimportant by being ignored and forgotten what can we expect that will become of it, a wasteland of shopping malls, golf courses and subdivisions or worse yet a dump yard for human rejects?
By castrating our instincts and not hunting we would not only deny ourselves the much needed vacation from our demanding lives and pressing (and some times depressing) routine, the human condition as mentioned by Ortega Y Gasset, vacations in which man can develop true happiness but also risk developing a total disregard for nature, a disregard that could have a most terrible outcomes, the end of all wilderness within human reach.
Hunters, more than any other group in human society, are responsible for conservation since we not only want to be able to hunt today but also in the future, and we want our children and their children to be able to have as close a communion with nature and we do. Hunters have a symbiotic relation with their prey, while hunting provides us nourishment for body and soul, we make our prey stronger by helping providing suitable habitat and maintaining the prey population within the habitat’s carrying capacity. Hunters interact with their prey year after year after year.
Because of this constant interaction between hunter and hunted, predator and prey, at one time I was afraid that the burning ember that keeps the predator alive deep inside us could be extinguished either by lack of fuel or by too much fuel but I no longer worry about that. Due to circumstances of life I had to spend many years without hunting. It was hard but I endured and Hemingway, Ruark, and other close friends kept the ember burning. On the other extreme I was exposed to Africa and not even its abundance of game could tame the predator inside me, for all the excitement of the chase was present again on the first opportunity, either shooting a pheasant over my dog or drawing my bowl at a whitetail doe.
The excitement and trill of the chase, the fulfillment that it gives us, reminds me that men are entitled basic rights, among them “the pursuit of happiness”. But, happiness is a state of mind, is doing what we like, pursuing what gives us pleasure. Happiness is in the action, not necessarily in the achievement. Ortega Y Gasset really captured the essence of men’s pursuit of happiness in saying that “the hunter does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, he kills in order to have hunted”.
And, since the happiness is found in the action, and the continuation of that action, not necessarily in the achievement, then, I hunt not only because I am a predator, but I hunt in order to be happy.