The NRA vs. the World

It’s the age-old argument.  Something isn’t right, do you tear down the whole thing, or do you work within the system? Do you focus on the trees or on the forest?  Maybe, there is no right answer.  Maybe, that’s the problem.  However, it doesn’t stop us from needing a solution.

Ron Paul, who is a libertarian hero, ran as a Republican for most of his life in public service.  His son Rand Paul, who is perhaps more conservative than his father, is a sitting U.S. Senator and also is a Republican.  While these two men are out of step with many Republicans on a number of issues, they feel the ideals of liberty are better served with them in Congress than with them running as Libertarians and gaining somewhere around 3% of the vote.  They know that simply running as a third party means having zero influence on national policy. The Gun Owners of America and the Firearms Policy Coalition, as well as many others, are always criticizing the much, much larger National Rifle Association for being too lenient on gun control, much as Libertarians are constantly criticizing Democrats and Republicans.  

Much like both Dr. Pauls, I have chosen to focus on the forest, rather than every individual tree.  I criticized the NRA for years, and still do when it is warranted, but two years ago, after the Sutherland Springs shooting, I broke down and joined.  When I saw an NRA instructor take down the lunatic shooter, I knew which side I wanted to be on.  I wanted to get more involved and be a part of the solution rather than sit on the sidelines and hurl insults that no one will hear.  

I have written about the need for solidarity amongst outdoors people in spite of our differences, but I think it is equally important that all firearm owners band together as well.  Sure, we can debate our differences, but the in-fighting, insults and division need to be mitigated by our common goal of protecting our God given and Constitutionally protected rights.  We all know the gun grabbers’ agenda is “death by a thousand cuts” and I don’t think posting memes of elephants defecating on social media is going to hold back the tide of the emotional, illogical, fear mongering gun control zealots.  

As much as I respect the work of these smaller, more hardcore, gun rights groups, the reality is the NRA is the only organization that has a voice on a national level.  Furthermore, the NRA does an overwhelming amount of good work from the Eddie Eagle program to free hunter education programs to its legislative work.  For example, do I agree with their support of a bump stock ban?  No, but thinking a libertarian or anarcho-capitalist utopia is possible is just as naïve as the Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Ortez’s idea that socialism would work if we just tried it one more time.  

Much like other parts of life, it’s complicated, nuanced and sometimes contradictory, but would you rather slow the erosion of your rights to a trickle or lose them altogether?  No organization is perfect, especially an organization as large as the NRA. However, gun owners criticizing the NRA for not standing up for every little thing while going to the polls and voting for constantly compromising Republicans every two years is a bit of a contradiction all to its own.  

European Hunting Culture vs. American Hunting Culture in a Nutshell

One of the benefits to large tech companies tracking everything you look at is that they’re able to see what you like and show you other things, things that you may not be aware of but might like as well.  Honestly, this is really the only benefit to tech companies tracking everything you look at.  Since I follow pretty much nothing but hunting pages, Instagram is always showing me other hunting pages and this has led me to follow a few European pages and it has been interesting to say the least.

Brantas Hunting Clothing is a company based in Poland.  I started following them because my wife is from Poland and I wanted to see how folks over there hunt.  Since it is a clothing company, most of their posts involve the clothing, which in and of itself tells us a lot about the differences in culture.  

In order to explain this, let us go back in time.

Before Europeans colonized what is now the United States, only the very rich in Europe were able to hunt.  If you owned the land, you owned the animals on that land, and pretty much all of Europe was owned by someone.  If it didn’t have an owner, then it was owned by the king.  If you were a peasant and you were hungry, or low on meat, too damn bad. The royalty and the landed gentry would go hunting in fine clothing, knowing they wouldn’t get dirty because their servants would do all the dirty work.  

When the lower class came to America, everything changed.  For one, there was far too much land and far too few landed gentry for them to control hunting in the same manner.  Also, many settlers, think Daniel Boone, often pushed deep into Indian country to do their hunting.  Many also chose to go settle new lands far beyond the reach of the European colonizers.  These early settlers lived off the land.  They hunted and they made clothes of what they had available, which was often the furs and skins of animals.  It turns out, they learned from the Indians, that this clothing was also incredibly practical.

As hunting evolved in America, it became a tradition for the rural lower class more so than the urban middle and upper classes.  I believe part of the anger towards hunters was born in the classism that has been rampant in our culture ever since the Industrial Revolution started growing our cities.  Hunters in America have held onto certain traditions and rituals that many urban folks see as “primitive” or “savage.”

Today, not much has changed.  Hunting in Europe is available to the commoner now, but it is incredibly cost prohibitive.  It might be legal to do, but the financial cost and draconian firearm laws keep most folks from being able to hunt.  Thanks to Theodore Roosevelt and his peers, animals in the United States are owned by the people, not the land owner.  Thanks to TR and his peers we have public land to go hunt on.  Any American in good legal standing can go hunt if he or she desires.  

I still find hunting in other parts of the world fascinating and it is interesting to me to see how folks in other places dress when they go hunting. That having been said, I love North America and I love the animals we have here.  While I hope to be able to hunt in other parts of the United States and Canada someday, I have no desire to go elsewhere.  My dreams are still of living like my great uncle Daniel Boone, roaming the woods and mountains for elk.  

We Should Support All Women, Unless They Disagree With Us

If you spend any time at all reading the news, you’ll see how our First Lady is treated.  The pro-immigration, open borders proponents, will mock her Slovenian accent.  The pro-sex feminists will call her a “whore” for having modeled underwear.  Those opposing the confirmation of a Supreme Court justice accused of high school indiscretions will hold signs that say, “Rape Melania.”  As this recent Op-Ed by Carrie Lukas points out, in spite of what they might say, certain folks aren’t interested in women’s equality, they’re interested in homogeny.  Any threat to that needs to be dealt with by any means necessary.

No matter the strides made by women over the last few decades in our society, women definitely take harder hits online than men.  This is especially true of women hunters.  Even this article in the Washington Post about the problem starts off with a critical barb in referring to her “Noah’s Ark of death”.  Most of the women mentioned in this article are women I have followed and admired for years.  Kendall Jones, Melissa Bachman and Eva Shockey are the type of role models I want for my daughter.  They’re hunters and conservationists, but they’re also wives, mothers, friends and Christians.  They’re women doing what they want to do, how they want to do it.  I was taught to believe that was the true point of the feminist movement of the 60’s and 70’s – to let women make their own choices. Unfortunately, it seems today that women making their own choices is only approved of when those choices are the same ones the critics would make.  

Sounds to me like these critics are telling women they’re out of line and need to get back in their place.  Funny how that works sometimes.

Ladies, you didn’t vote how you should have?  You must be racist or too weak to fight the patriarchy.  It’s definitely not possible you just made up your own mind because if you did, you’d have come to the exact same conclusions we did.

Ladies, you don’t support gun control? You must love to see the slaughter of innocent children at school every day.  Maybe you’d change your mind if your kid was murdered.  

Ladies, you like to put your own food on the table by hunting?  You’re sick. I should be carrying YOUR decapitated head in my bag.

Keep in mind that, according to a recent Gallup poll, only 3% of people in the United States identify as “vegan”.  So, 97% are consuming some animal products.  Roughly 5% of Americans identify as “vegetarians” which brings the meat-eating population to around 92% of America.  So, are the anti-hunters coming completely from those 8% or are there some lunatic hypocrites out there buying pork chops and condemning hunters? I think it is largely vegans, but there are some hypocrites out there as well (Ricky Gervais comes to mind here).

So, why does the anti-hunting crowd, who we know leans to the left, use sexism to attack female hunters while out of the other side of their mouth, they’re screaming “sexist!” at every man they disagree with?  I don’t think it’s any coincidence that every one of these women are attractive.  The anti-hunters are using the attractiveness of the female hunters to get their own clicks. It’s great for them that they can call Kendall Jones “former Texas cheerleader” or say “former beauty queen” Olivia Opre.  

Because it’s not about gender or race or orientation or any other group, it’s about control.  Controlling the narrative.  Controlling the actions of others.

I have been critical, as have others, of hunters posting a “grip n’ grin” photo because it lacks the proper context that would allow us to send the right message to non-hunters.  However, no one deserves to be threatened or have their families threatened.  Even the name calling shows a weakness and sickness in our society.  The fact that these folks go after women with a greater amount of vitriol because they expect women to conform to certain social roles shows just how backwards, bigoted and hateful these folks truly are.  If these people think it’s a woman’s right to have an abortion, then they damn sure should think it’s a woman’s right to feed her family however they see as the best way possible for them.  

I’m not standing up for these ladies because I’m a man and they’re women. Hell, each one of them can out shoot and out hunt me and are more than capable of taking care of themselves. I’m standing up for them because they’re the kind of people who would stand up for me.  I’m standing up for them because I want my daughter to grow up in a world where she can make her own decisions.  And quite frankly, we all should be standing up to bigotry and hate of all kinds, wherever we see it.  

Paying for National Parks

Recently I saw a comment on a friend’s Facebook page from one of his British friends saying the idea of paying to get into a large parcel of land was something he couldn’t wrap his head around.  Being married to a European immigrant and having spent a fair amount of time in Central Europe, I can understand why someone unfamiliar with the system would feel that way.  National parks in Europe do not get the tourism that national parks in America do, nor do they have the amenities many of our parks do.  

This led me to think back to earlier this year when the National Parks Department toyed with the idea of raising entrance fees to many parks. There was outrage from a certain segment of the population and I just couldn’t understand why.  For one, the annual pass was going to remain at $80 per year (which is an absolute steal).  Two, if the park entrance goes from $35 to $45, is that really an outrage?  If you planned your whole family vacation around visiting this park, are you really going to change your plans over $10? Keep in mind for you unfamiliar, this entrance fee is good for seven days for your entire car.  So, to do the math, if you drive a minivan into the park with six people in it, that’s $1.07 per person, per day.  Are you telling me it’s not worth it now?  Where are you going to go instead?  Disneyland?

Our national parks and public lands are a bargain vacation.  Sure, you can rack up hotel bills, meals out, etc. but you can do that on any vacation.  If you’re willing to do a little work and hit the grocery store, you can save money and have enjoyable meals in the park.   

National Forests and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land have few amenities, get less visitors and are usually free (some high trafficked areas might have small day use or campground fees).  However, our national parks get millions of visitors per year which means maintenance on roads, campgrounds, picnic areas, and educational services in addition to a larger number of rangers to serve and protect the visitors in a multitude of capacities.  Although rangers are famous for the hats that they wear, they wear many figurative hats from biologist to police officer.  

Personally, I enjoy getting away from the crowds in national parks and I like to frequent wilderness areas, BLM land and national forests.  These visits rarely cost me a dime.  My daughter, at six, has camped in dozens of these places already on family camping trips.  However, especially for a child, trips to our national parks are a cherished American tradition.  Where else can she see bison from the car or geysers shoot out of the ground?  These are magical places only ruined by the sheer number of other visitors who often have less than desirable manners.  

In 2019 Colorado is raising the price of certain hunting licenses and tags. It’s a few bucks.  While some people are getting upset about it, I’m more than happy to pay the extra money.  It’s still an absolute bargain for everything Colorado Parks and Wildlife does throughout the year.  Our national parks are the same, if you can’t see the value in what you’re paying for, maybe you just don’t value it enough.   

The Absurdity of Anthropomorphism

This post was influenced by an essay by Paul McCarney published on www.truthaboutfur.com

 

According to Merriam-Webster, anthropomorphism is “an interpretation of what is not human or personal in terms of human or personal characteristics.” In other words, it’s giving human qualities or characteristics to something that is not human.  Animal rights activists are the professionals at this, treating everything from amoeba to horses as if they were just like you and me.  As it happens, they’re not like you and me and seeing them as such is viewing nature through a distorted and perverted lens.

This is not to say we don’t have things in common with other animals, especially other mammals.  Other mammals give birth to live young and the mothers nurse the young from their breast milk.  Coyotes can be loners but can also choose to work together in certain situations for the common good.  It has been said that bears, when skinned, look so much like a human, many people refuse to eat bear.  There is nothing wrong with accepting, and even admiring, these commonalities in other animals.  

However, this reminds me of a picture that has gone around the internet for years. It’s a copy of a letter to an editor that a person wrote about a wildlife crossing sign that was recently put up in their town.  The writer complained that they should move the wildlife crossing to some place safer because that was a very dangerous section of highway and it wasn’t safe for the wildlife to cross there.  Because in this person’s mind, the wildlife can see and read the sign and will cross wherever the sign tells them to.  

I hope we can all agree that deer can’t read.  Let’s just start there.

Why can’t we love animals for all the ways they’re different than us?  Humans are one of the few species on earth where the female is more attractive than the male.  I love seeing mallard drakes in the creek behind my house, their majestic green necks and heads standing up proud and tall.  Or a mature bull elk that carries around eighty pounds of antlers on his head like it weighs nothing at all.  Or the way a pronghorn can hit speeds of up to sixty miles per hour and maintain it for miles, but yet can barely jump over a log.  A person does not need to invent ways to admire and appreciate wildlife, God gave us reasons to love every creature, even if it is only as basic as spiders that eat mosquitoes.  

Treating animals as if they’re human neither benefits the animals, nor the humans.  We cannot tell the whitetail deer not to run out in the middle of the road or stay out of the soybean fields.  Once the population is past carrying capacity, the animals will just starve to death from lack of sustaining habitat.  Then there are coyotes, wolves, winter, disease and many other ways for animals to die.  Sure, humans can starve to death, but in America, that’s rare and of course, all animals are susceptible to disease, but not too many humans these days being killed by predators or winter.  Because we are not like other animals.

I truly believe that accepting and appreciating the differences in animals, specifically between humans and other wildlife, drives a deeper desire for conservation than anthropomorphizing them does.  Those of us who do admire those traits we don’t share spend a lot of time out in nature observing and, at least part of the year, interacting with them. The type of folks who anthropomorphize, with a few exceptions, are the type that just want them to be left alone, they’re just happy they’re out there, somewhere where they don’t have to deal with them.  

True love, just like with your spouse, is loving them because of how they’re different than you.  And just like with your spouse, you can try like hell to make them just like you, but it never works.  

Forgiveness in the Field

Inspired by this recent post by Brody Henderson as well as recent sermons from my church, Flatirons Community Church in Lafayette, CO available on YouTube here.

 

As hunters there is a lot of pressure on us to not make mistakes. Both self-imposed ethically and also, the consequences in the age of social media are serious, not just to us, but when one of us screws up, it affects all of us.  In spite of that pressure, and perhaps occasionally, because of that pressure, we all make mistakes. Some mistakes are bigger than others and some consequences are bigger than others, but we’re all going to fail at times.  

It’s also important to remember to forgive yourself, which is often more difficult than forgiving others.  

After my elk hunt this year, I find myself forgiving my friend for not making the same decisions I would have made if roles were reversed.   Also, I’m trying to forgive myself for cutting out of my second camp earlier than I should. 

Even in forgiving my friend, I feel the need to forgive myself.  It was my assumptions and not his words that got me into the mess I was in.  He never committed to helping me, he only said I could tag along.  I should have known better.  I should have set clear expectations with him earlier so I could have made other arrangements.  It’s not fair to him to expect him to make the same decisions I would have made.  

Mostly though, I need to forgive myself for abandoning my second camp when I did.  I let the circumstances of attempting to get to my first camp irrationally influence my decision making regarding the second camp.  When all the hunters pulled out and left, when several of them told me the elk were doing the same, I allowed that to justify my fear of being out there alone and decided I too should pack up and leave.  I should have stayed there.  I should have trusted my ability to survive in the extreme cold.  I should have trusted my orienteering skills and my Garmin GPS as a back-up.  I should have spent at least a couple days wandering through the woods looking for elk.  

After getting stuck on the side of a mountain, miles from the next person the day before, my fear was understandable.  However, that fear was something to be conquered, not something to be conquered by.  That night was the first night I had ever spent alone camping and it got down to zero that night…

…and I was fine.  That should have buoyed my confidence.

This trip also finds me trying to forgive an unknown hunter.  While glassing some sagebrush I came across a dead 3x4 mule deer buck.  He hadn’t been dead long, there was steam coming from his body cavity and he was still in rigor.  The shot placement might have been a bit low, but it wasn’t that bad, he couldn’t have run that far after being shot.  However, there he laid, and there was not another hunter around me for twenty miles. If he’d been shot late the night before, he should have been tracked the next morning.  If the hunter had come upon him, already chewed up by coyotes, they still should have punched their tag.  Maybe this hunter couldn’t find him and did the right thing by punching their tag, but the feeling in my gut is this deer should have been found (you could have pulled your truck within 100 yards of it).  However, after a certain point, anger serves no purpose, I am choosing to give this hunter the benefit of the doubt and forgive them.

At the end of the day, forgiveness means you’ve learned a lesson.  One you hopefully won’t make again.  Whether it is forgiving yourself, or needing to forgive someone else, you’ve walked away from the situation wiser than you were before. This isn’t just good for you, it’s good for all of us.

Life is All About Conflict

Once upon a time, life was nothing but conflict and struggle. Struggle to keep yourself and your children alive, struggle to find food, struggle with disease, struggle to stay warm and dry in the winter, just struggle and more struggle.  In modern times, we’ve solved many of these issues that we dealt with for thousands of years but what we cannot solve is the fact that we’ve evolved to overcome adversity.  If there is no adversity to overcome, we need to create it.  This is why many people run marathons, do crossfit, take incredibly challenging jobs and this is why many people hunt.  These people have found healthy outlets for their need to struggle.  However, there is a growing segment in our society that wants to deny their nature. I won’t go into all the areas where this is happening, because you could write a book about it, but there is a general emptiness and unhappiness that resonates from people who deny their nature in the name of “progress” or modern times.  Sometimes their goals are well intended, but you don’t undo hundreds of thousands of years of evolution just by saying, “this isn’t the way it should be” and then getting mad at those who don’t comply and calling them nasty names.

There is infinitely more peace and freedom in accepting your nature than in trying to deny it.  

Paraphrasing John Lennon, peace is here if you want it.  I don’t mean it in the same way he did, I don’t have the same faith in human nature that I think we will end all wars, but I do think internal peace is here if you want it.  And who knows, maybe if more people find that internal peace, we can end all wars. But you have to have some peace in your own heart before you can make peace out in the world.

We crave that conflict and struggle.  But instead of looking inward for conflict, we glue our eyes to social media to find out what crazy thing Donald Trump or Maxine Waters has said today so that we can get outraged.  We crave those dopamine hits from the anticipation of our anger no differently than a drug addict or porn addict crave their next hit.  We focus on the brokenness of the world so that we don’t have to face the brokenness of our own hearts and lives.

Life is about conflict, but you have the choice of where to go to battle. You can go to war with the world and you will continue to struggle and never get ahead.  You will never find peace because you will never conquer the world, in fact you will only sew hatred and vitriol as you fail at saving the world.  Or, you can go to war with your own heart.  You can heal yourself, find your true nature and embrace it, becoming a happier, more loving and better human being.  Not only will your life improve, but you will improve the lives of the people around you.  

I cannot tell you what this looks like for you, only that I can easily tell the difference between those who go to war with the world and those that go to war with themselves.  I can tell you to look at biology, evolution and history for clues, but there are too many variables and one size does not fit all.  I can tell you that all human beings are spiritual creatures and you should pursue that, but, in spite of my own beliefs, I cannot tell you which path to take.  I can tell you that you should put down the phone and turn off the TV and the laptop every now and again.  It’s good to ingest as much knowledge as possible, but unless you spend some quiet time in reflection, your ideas are not truly your own, but rather a regurgitation of something you heard or read somewhere.  Go get quiet and make up your own damn mind.

I can also tell you that while you alone cannot change the world, you can change the world around you.  Redirect some of that energy you spend on politics or sports on your children, your spouse and your friends and family.  Your relationships will improve which will provide you with a happier and more emotionally stable life.  

Hunting is one way I exercise my true nature.

Hunting is as human as sex.  Those who would tell us to give up hunting are the same ones constantly pushing sex in our faces.  Sex is part of being human, it’s part of being a mammal, but so is hunting.  We are, thanks to technology, more often predators today than prey, but sometimes, we’re still prey.  I live in bear country, but every time I go off into the mountains and sleep in a tent, I inevitably hear from multiple people, “Aren’t you afraid of bears or wolves?”  Usually I answer, “no”, but this hunting trip I’m about to go on, I have to admit that I am a little afraid.  If all goes well, I will have an elk on the ground and I will be focusing on dressing and butchering it to pack out.  Bears are looking for one last meal before hibernation and it doesn’t get much better than a dead elk.

That fear makes me feel human.  And feeling human, truly human, is one of the most liberating feelings there is.  Rather than running from that fear, or letting that fear control my life, I am embracing that fear.  When I am in the mountains with bears and wolves, I am at the place in the food chain God intended me to be.  I am not in some high-rise apartment in New York protected by armed guards having my food delivered to me.  I am taking risks that others cannot or will not take and because of that, I will have rewards that others will not reap.  

I’m not really much of a 21st century man, but I’m trying to be where it makes sense.  My wife is currently the breadwinner in our family and I do my best to support her.  I usually am the one who quits work early to pick up our daughter and my ego is not bruised by any of this.  However, though I pray I never have a need to, I will not hesitate to resort to violence if necessary to protect my family.  I will leave my family for a period of time to go hunt.  I will be the Christian leader of the household God calls me to be.  Not everything that has been done for eons needs to be replaced.  In fact, I’d argue, we need to keep tweaking how we do things, but in America at least, I wouldn’t call for an overhaul of any institution or cultural more.  

Conflict is natural.  Conflict can be good.  Conflict, when handled properly, is how things grow.  So, the question you have to ask yourself is, “Am I engaging in conflict that is going to make me be a better person?  Or, is the conflict I’m engaged in really only designed to make me appear like I’m already a good person?”

Hunting is Not About Left or Right. Stop Politicizing it, Please.

Recently, Frank Miniter wrote an opinion piece on Fox News called, “What the Left Doesn’t Understand About Hunters”. In reading his article, I felt for him and his frustration, but I think it is misdirected.  His new neighbors, who have moved to the country from Brooklyn, may indeed be left-wing, but I think the trouble with their lack of understanding is that they’re urban, not that they’re lefties.  They didn’t grow up around hunting and their only experiences with hunters are through negative media portrayals.  This is understandable, but I hope that his new neighbors are open-minded enough to learn about hunting and conservation.

Our nation is becoming more and more urbanized, if for no other reason, than that is where the jobs are.  Farming is increasingly becoming a corporate affair and other rural jobs are drying up faster than ever.  For those of us who love rural life and activities, this is the true cultural divide in this country.  Many of us don’t understand why someone would want to live in Manhattan and many Manhattanites wonder why anyone would want to live in the middle of nowhere.  It’s understandable, but the real problem are the people making enemies out of the folks they don’t understand.  

Hunters, historically at least, may lean to the right, but to tell you the truth, most of us would rather talk about hunting.  For the sake of transparency, I will tell you I’m a pro-public lands libertarian.  However, one of my favorite places to hunt and quite frankly, just one of my favorite places to hang out, is my buddy’s farm and winery in Henry County, Kentucky. My buddy was kind enough to let me come hunt his farm many times when I lived in Kentucky.  I would drive up to his place with Rand Paul and Ron Paul bumper stickers on my truck and he’s not only a registered Democrat, but he’s currently running for office as one.  He and I have a lot in common, politics isn’t one of them, but he definitely understands hunting and hunters.

Within hunting, there are several political issues such as environmental policies and gun rights and increasingly, such as in New Jersey, some are attacking hunting straight on.  In the case of New Jersey, I don’t believe this is a left vs. right thing as much as it’s an urban vs. rural thing.  The population centers in New Jersey are making decisions for the rural areas without the benefit of experience or knowledge in these matters.  Furthermore, they’re making these decisions on an emotional level rather than as a result of scientific data.  As hunters, I think we should be united on these issues.  I have written before about, especially in the West, the difficulties of being a hunter when it comes to voting.  Democrats are often trying to strip you of your gun rights and Republicans are often trying to lease our public lands to energy development.  Only having two choices doesn’t bode well for anyone, especially the hunter.  We may be small, but if the Democrat hunters stand up for gun rights and the Republican hunters stand up for our environment, I believe we can have an influence.

As one of my favorite music sites recently wrote, “if we can’t all agree on Dolly Parton then we’re never going to agree on anything ever again.”  While I believe that to be true, I also believe that if we all can’t unite around hunting, if we can’t put our other differences aside to focus on protecting this one, non-political thing that means the world to us, are we ever going to have peace in this country again?  If hunting is as big of a part of our identity as most of us claim that it is, can we not be hunters first and conservatives or liberals second (or later)?

Forging New Traditions

Restless Native is one of my favorite podcasts and its host, Brad Luttrell, on almost every episode, says we have to stop talking about “heritage” and “tradition” because new hunters don’t have a heritage or tradition.  I don’t like agreeing with him on this point, but he’s right.  At least in general, he’s right.  The younger generation especially, they’re going to do things differently, use different equipment and come to hunting in new ways.  However, I do think these new hunters are interested in tradition, they’re just interested in doing it on their own terms.

A perfect example of this is the backcountry fitness trend.  Sure, the folks who participate in this are using gyms and modern chemistry in the form of protein powder, pre-workout drinks, and other supplements.  However, the idea behind it all is getting deeper into the backcountry, getting out there where there are animals, but no other hunters and being able to haul that animal to camp on your back.  If that doesn’t take you back in time, before the age of four-wheel drive trucks, ATVs and side by sides, I don’t know what does.

Another example, though I admit I have no data to support this, is the interest in bowhunting seems to be rising.  Although a lot of these guys are using modern compound bows, more and more are switching to recurves and traditional bows.  Both of these hunters, even the compound bow hunter, are learning and mastering ancient skills that humans have used for thousands of years. Sure, a compound bow has a lot more range than a spear or atlatl, but the bow hunter connects to his or her ancestors and the animal in a very real and spiritual way.

Like a lot of things in life, I find myself caught between two groups, in this case, the old guard and the new.  Being an adult onset hunter myself, I was not initiated into any particular tradition.  Much like the fact I chose the Chicago White Sox as my baseball team when I was a kid (my dad hated baseball), I have chosen certain traditions and honored certain aspects of the hunt based on what I want to get out of it.  With baseball, it was as easy as the fact Bo Jackson was so incredible to watch, but with hunting, the connection is much, much deeper.  Coincidently, Bo Jackson’s life-long passion is bowhunting.

Many folks in the outdoor world talk about using food as the gateway into hunting.  It is true, that the desire to produce one’s own food and for stewardship of the earth are pushing new people into hunting.  It’s also true, that food is steeped in tradition, in everything from cooking to sharing a meal with loved ones.  Hunting, however, takes a lot of time and money and gardening and shopping at Whole Foods is a lot easier.  What are the traditions that are going to keep these new hunters in the field year after year?  Is it camaraderie?  Hunters have said companionship is a major draw for years.  Is it being alone and connecting to God?  Is it testing one’s self against the elements, other hunters on public land, and connecting to our ancestors through a shared experience?  To hunt is to be human in much the same way to love is to be human.  Not everyone does it, but it certainly makes life a richer experience.  

As Joe Byers recently wrote in Outdoor Life, there is a new kind of hunter.  However, new doesn’t mean alien.  These younger and mostly urban folks are still human.  Maybe grandpa didn’t give them their first rifle when they were ten, but they’re not getting into something as ancient as man himself without a desire to connect to something deeper and greater than what modern life has to offer.  I think food and the other things our community is using to attract new folks to hunting is great, but unless we support and nurture their ability to connect to spiritual aspects of hunting, many of them are not going to stick around.  They have to be able to have the experiences, even if it doesn’t look exactly the same as it does for the rest of us.

 

Everyone Has Faith in Something, Even if That Something is Nothing

In my last post, I used a phrase I find myself using a lot these days, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”  But what is evidence?  There’s empirical evidence and there’s spiritual evidence.  This is not to say that what I feel is scientific evidence, it is definitely not.  Feelings are not facts.  However, when there is a lack of empirical evidence and you’re putting your faith either in the existence of something greater or putting your faith in the presumption there isn’t something greater, what are you looking at to push you one direction or another?

Some people find it easier to believe in nothing because there is no evidence to show that there is something greater.  I get that, because “seeing is believing” is definitely easier.  We can’t see gravity itself, but we can see the effects of gravity, therefore we know it is real.  That is how I feel about the existence of God.  All the hard sciences are just studies of the universe God made and quite frankly, evolution is a much more powerful creation story than what you find in Genesis.  I know all the arguments, I love evolutionary biology, I find studying the way God made the world to be endlessly fascinating.  If Genesis was a biology text book, it’d be boring, but it’s a spiritual text book.  How God actually created the universe is such a wonderful example of what God is capable of that’s well beyond our human means of understanding.  

What I ask is, when you’re looking out onto a Pacific sunset, or watching the sun rise over the mountains, or see a baby calf nursing on her mother, when you look at your child, when you see all the beauty and love this world has to offer, don’t you feel something?  I know it’s easy to say that’s just an emotion, but why do you think you feel this way?  What is the evolutionary purpose for appreciating beauty and feeling connected to it?  Is it scary to think there may be something bigger behind your soul?

Forget Christianity for a minute.  Forget all organized religion.  Just walk into the woods, walk up a mountain, and look out on a magnificent vista.  Tell me we’re alone as intelligent, spiritual creatures.  I dare you.  I don’t think anyone being honest can do that.  You can believe in something greater or not, but every human is an agnostic because we don’t know, we believe in something or we believe in nothing, but not one of us, at least for the last 2,000 years knows scientifically.  This is the very purpose of faith.

Almost everyone has faith (I’m allowing for a few poor souls who may not). Faith that the sun will come up tomorrow.  Faith that their spouse is being the person they claim to be.  Faith that our children will grow up to be good people. Sometimes that faith is not rewarded, but we still have it until we choose not to have it anymore.  Maybe one day science will be able to prove that God doesn’t exist.  If that’s the case, I’m sure there will be a lot of folks who lose faith, but until that day, we’ll keep it.  And I highly doubt that it will ever be able to be proven or disproven, but I have been wrong before and there’s a good chance I could be wrong again someday.

For several years, I tried to let my doubts take over.  I tried to let my logical, data driven mind rule my consciousness.  I really tried hard.  However, when I went into the mountains, when I got away from my fellow man in the urban centers and looked up at the stars in a clear sky, I knew in my heart I was wrong. I tried to block it out, but it was way more powerful than me.  I realized that the choice I was making was no choice at all, but simply trying to ignore what I knew to be true.  I think people do this every day, not just in regard to the existence of God, but people ignore all kinds of things they know to be true because they don’t want them to be true.  

Ultimately, faith is a choice and it’s one you have to make on your own.  No parent, no pastor, no astrophysicist, no blogger can make this decision for you.  I just implore you to go spend a couple days in the wilderness, turn off your phone, quiet your mind and see what you can connect to.  We spend our lives so connected to so much that sometimes the most important connection we can make gets crowded out by thousands of insignificant little things.  No matter what you choose, take a minute and reprioritize your connections, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

The Importance of Spending Time with the Right People in the Outdoors

At the beginning of the year, I had the worst hiking partner I’ve ever had. We only went on three hikes together and he ended up disliking me as much as I disliked him.  We had a ton of things in common such as our faith, marriage, we were both recent transplants to Colorado, roots in the South (albeit different parts, but he lived in the area my family is from which is how I knew him) and our love for hiking.  However, his topics of conversation focused strictly on our differences and he brought a lot of negativity, anger and hatred to the trail.  He also sought out different things from our experiences.

Different strokes for different folks are fine, but I’m not the kind of guy who wants to hike up a mountain just to get a good look at the city.  I also like to use the wilderness as a way to heal my heart from the frustrations and conflict of daily life.  I think wilderness has the power to bring us together, but this dude just wanted to fight all the time.  Like a lot of people today, he didn’t want to hear an alternative opinion, he wanted to hear his opinion communicated back to him.  

If you ask hunters, most will tell you that spending time with family or friends is one of the best things about hunting.  I imagine hikers, climbers and others would say the same thing. Taking on an adventure with someone is a wonderful experience, not just in the time together, but also in needing to work as a team to accomplish your goals.  It could be as simple as one person carrying the tent and the other person carrying the food on a backpacking trip, or it could be roping up and helping each other cross a river or fast-moving creek.  No matter how easy or difficult the task, working together for a common cause creates a solid bond between people.  

It’s a fine line to walk between inviting new people into the woods with you and also hedging your bets so that you get the experience you want to have.  A lot of folks will not take a new person hunting for risk of having a bad experience.  One person can ruin an entire trip through any number of different methods.  I definitely understand why someone would not take a stranger on a long hunt, but you can always try people out on small game hunts or bird hunts.  I invite pretty much everyone I know to hunt small game with me.  The more the merrier I say, but I admit, when it comes to a long, big game hunt, I only want to be around people I already have a relationship with, who I believe I can get along with for an extended period of time and know that I can trust them with my life.

The R3 community is focused on growing hunting and two of the three R’s involve inviting new people outdoors (Recruitment, Retention, Reactivation) so it’s of utmost importance we invite new people to go hunting or fishing with us.  I feel the same way about doing this as I do launching any other collective project – it’s important to set expectations and prepare the people ahead of time.  An easy way to do this is simply to let people tag along the first time.  On a small game or bird hunt it’s simple because you’re most likely going home every night.  They’re simply walking through the woods with you or hanging out in a blind. Also, many states have programs where you can go hunting one time before you have to take Hunters Education.  It’s a way to “try before you buy”.  If you live out east, you can also take someone out for the day deer hunting as many folks go home every night there too.

After a day or two in the woods together, both you and the new person will have an idea of whether or not this is going to work for the two of you.  If you have a great time, try something bigger, but if you don’t?  It’s okay. You tried.  Maybe that person just doesn’t want to hunt or maybe the chemistry just isn’t there for the two of you, but hopefully they’ll have a better understanding of hunting and will be pro-hunting in the future.

Keep your traditions and continue to hunt and fish with your loved ones, but don’t be afraid to add some fresh blood.  Just make sure you set expectations before you do and everyone should have a good time.  And who knows?  Maybe you’ll be responsible for someone new starting their own traditions with their friends and family.

Chronic Wasting Disease - To Worry or Not to Worry?

Right off the bat I will tell you, if I can use data and logic to make a decision rather than feelings, I will do it.  However, often times science is unsettled and you still have to decide. This happens many times in life and that is when we use our “gut”.  I once heard the “gut” described as our subconscious brain analyzing past experiences, acquired knowledge and current stimuli and guiding you to the safest outcome.

My gut tells me not to worry about eating meat from an animal infected with Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).  But, let me break this down because this is not a black and white issue.

·     There is no record of a human ever contracting this disease from deer or elk.  This doesn’t mean it is impossible, of course. Recently a man in New York died and they believe the cause might have been Creutzfeld-Jackob Disease (CJD).  He was an avid squirrel hunter and it is theorized that he contracted it through infected brain fluid or tissue.  However, they have not confirmed the diagnosis through autopsy (which is the only way to diagnose).  

·     CJD is an incredibly rare disease (only a few hundred cases have been recorded, almost all of those tied to mad cow disease in the UK) and of those very few cases, they believe over 85% are caused by factors unrelated to genetic or environmental causes, leaving only 15% of cases to be caused by genetic or environmental factors.  

·     CWD was first identified in 1967 in a wildlife research facility in Fort Collins, Colorado.  CJD is a very fast acting and noticeable disease.  If hunters were dying disproportionately from this disease, we’d have a record from the last 51 years.  This is not saying a hunter hasn’t caught it and died without being diagnosed, but if it has happened, it’s been incredibly rare based on the number of hunters, their friends and family in this country eating venison and elk every year.

·     CWD is extremely rare, even in places like Northern Colorado where it was first discovered.  Less than 6% of deer and less than 1% of elk in these areas are affected.

As I always say to people, on a number of different topics, absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence.  However, that is not to say you should make decisions out of fear of what could be true.  Therefore, I am going to eat meat from my harvest in the field this year, but I am going to take the following precautions:

·      I am not going to eat the brain.  This would probably be true even without CWD.  I’ll eat damn near anything off an animal, but the brain is not appetizing to me. Even though I would eat the eyes, I am also leaving those for the coyotes and other scavengers.  

·      I am going to bone out the neck meat.

·      I am going to have the carcass tested before feeding it to my family.

However, I will eat some fresh backstraps at camp and I am bringing some bones home with me for use in osso bucco, bone marrow consumption and finally, for bone broth.  If my animal tests positive, I will of course dispose of the meat and bones according the rules of Colorado Parks & Wildlife.  

CWD is a big problem in our cervid population and it is something every hunter should worry about in regard to the health of our herds.  If you want to wait on the test results before consuming your harvest, I won’t argue with you (unless you’re my hunting buddy, but that’s what we do, talk about hunting), but I am not going to concern myself with CWD when less than 1% of elk carry a disease that has no evidence of being transferred to humans.  Eating a fresh meal in camp is one of the time-honored traditions and sacraments of the hunt.  I am choosing not to deny myself an opportunity to commune with my ancestors in this tradition over such minuscule risk.

Why Aren't We Talking About Class When We Talk About Obstacles to the Outdoors?

DISCLAIMER: As is often the case, these blog posts are inspired by things I’ve read, things I’ve seen or things I’ve heard.  There are some comments that inspired this post but I am not going to say who said them because they were a part of another conversation and I do not think they properly represent the opinions of the speaker.  The person who said it is someone I have a great deal of respect for and I do not want to besmirch his name without him having a chance to expand upon those thoughts and quite frankly, it was only the spark to this post, the fire behind it was already burning.

 

Hunting versus other outdoor recreation.  Hunting joining other outdoor recreation to form a coalition. Urban versus rural.  Upper class versus lower class.  When it comes to facing outdoor issues, alone or together, there are a lot of delicate moving parts.  For all that people have in common with each other, the little things that define us also have the power to destroy us.  

“I try to buy everything I can from Patagonia because they care about where they source material from.  I’m not buying crap from Walmart.”  

That’s paraphrased, it’s been a minute since I heard it, but that’s the gist of it.  

Well, that’s nice, I’m glad he can afford to buy a bunch of very expensive clothes.  I’m also glad he doesn’t have kids and doesn’t have to buy new clothes for someone long before they’re worn out because the kid has grown out of them.  There are many of us who really can’t justify spending that kind of money when something from Columbia or another lesser priced quality company will do.  There are many of us who can’t even fathom being able to afford Patagonia.

Many urban environmentalists have never been to small factory towns or coal mining towns, unless possibly to exploit them (i.e. news stories, documentaries). They don’t understand the people who live there.  Jobs are plentiful in cities, they don’t understand these folks just can’t get other jobs if the mine shuts down or the factory moves to China.  They don’t understand that these people shop at Walmart, not because they don’t care about third world slave labor, but because it’s what they can afford.  In my hometown, if you want to buy a Patagonia or North Face jacket, you’re going to drive an hour to either Indianapolis or Louisville.

Whether you want to rock climb, canoe or hunt, these things cost money… lots of money.  Urban kids at least have access to some groups who can assist with this, probably not enough kids have enough access, but due to population density, there are folks out there working on it.  The poor, rural kid from the coal town?  Not only does he see someone wanting to put his dad out of a job, but he sees these rock climbers with their expensive gear coming in and having fun in his backyard. He doesn’t see himself in these rock climbers because everyone he knows goes to work in the mines and comes home too tired to go climb rocks for fun.  

Rich, poor, urban, rural, we all want clean air, clean water and beautiful mountains.  We should be working towards renewable energy.  Clean air, clean water and public lands should be non-partisan issues. However, as we work towards a more sustainable future, we cannot steamroll over hardworking American families to get there.  Just because you won’t feel the effects of shutting down that oil pipeline while driving your Prius in Boulder, doesn’t mean that there aren’t any.  

As we move forward, trying to work together for the outdoors, I think we need to be more conscious of the class issues.  We talk constantly of diversity, of different forms of recreation, of women becoming hunters and we talk about getting more diversity into the outdoors because it’s all white people.  If we do talk about poor kids, it’s about using city parks to reach those urban kids of color.  I’m all for all of those things, but we’re not talking about the economic hurdles into the outdoor space.  If someone is talking about this, I’m not hearing it.

We have fewer and fewer hunters, we hear about it all the time, but tags are just as hard to get.  Why? Because wealthy hunters can still afford to go out-of-state to chase game.  It’s getting harder and harder for the average Joe or Jane to get into hunting, but if you have the money, you’re all set whether you want to chase whitetail in Ohio or Dall Sheep in Alaska.  This is true across the entire outdoor space, not just in hunting.  My family and I wanted to go whitewater rafting this summer, but it was going to cost $400 or more for the three of us to do it. Sure, we could have afforded it if we weren’t prioritizing other activities, but some families don’t have the choice to prioritize, $400 for 90 minutes of fun is just not a possibility.

So, what’s the solution?  I don’t have all the answers but there’s three things I see immediately.

1.     We need to accept this is an issue that stands in our way of recruiting new folks to the outdoors.  We need to talk about this every bit as much as other forms of diversity.  Whether you’re black and urban or white and rural, money is one of the roadblocks you’re facing to getting involved in the outdoors.  Even if someone takes you on a summer camp in the woods and you fall in love with the outdoors, when you go back to the city what’s going to happen? You’re going to dream of going back to the mountains but not know how you’re going to get there.

2.     Everyone, including the urban dude in the Subaru and $400 Patagonia jacket, needs to realize that not everyone’s reality is their reality.  There is poverty in the United States and there are a lot of families that are working poor and it’s not just in the cities.

3.     Especially those of us with rural backgrounds, we need to step it up.  This could look different for different people but everyone needs to do something.  Maybe this means taking a cousin or old neighbor out and loaning them some gear, or giving some of your old gear away to someone who could use it, help out with your local Boys Scouts (who now accept girls) or maybe, if you still live in a rural area, you could start a chapter of Fathers in the Field at your church or bring some other organization into your area.

I’m committed to doing my part through my work in Fathers in the Field, partnering with Colorado Parks & Wildlife with their hunter recruitment programs, expanding some of the things the Mile High chapter of the Mule Deer Foundation does and looking for any nook and cranny to make a difference.  I challenge all of you to do what you can as well. Not everyone can save the world, but everyone can make a difference, even if it is only in one person’s life. 

Hey Guys, Can You Tell Me Where to Hunt?

If you’re a hunter and you’re on social media, you’ve inevitably come across this situation.  Someone posts some variation of the question, “Hey, I’m looking to hunt this area.  Can anyone tell me where to go?”  Then the comment section is mostly filled with people ripping this guy a new butthole for not doing the work themselves.  

I admit, I’m as tired of seeing this as most people are, but I have mixed feelings about both the question and the response.

First off, as an adult onset hunter who has depended on the kindness of my fellow hunters for a lot of information, I’m sympathetic to those needing help getting knowledge.  You don’t know if the person asking the question is a new hunter or perhaps they’re doing an out-of-state hunt and they can’t come in early to scout.  However, I’m also a big believer in doing most of the work yourself.  When I have the patience, I’ll respond kindly by suggesting they invest $30 in OnX Maps so that they can see topography, watering holes, possible feeding grounds and other things animals gravitate towards.  

Secondly, I’m empathetic to the hunters who are being asked to, essentially, give away their spots.  Most of us hunt units that we return to year after year and the last thing we want is more people competing for the same animals or even worse, setting up in our spots. There are exceptions to this, such as discussed on a recent MeatEater podcast where they were hunting a unit that was only able to be drawn every seven years. Some folks had just hunted it and were willing to give some help because only so many people are allowed in each year no matter what.  

So, I have the following advice to give…

…to the folks asking the questions: 

·     Do your homework first.  This allows you to ask specific questions instead of “hey, where should I go?”

·     Be clear. If you’re a new hunter or coming in from out-of-state, say that.  Ask nicely and don’t expect much of anything.  Stating your case and saying, “any help you can give a visitor would be appreciated” goes a lot farther than a vague question that implies you couldn’t even be bothered to put any thought into what you’re asking for.

·     Expect vague answers.  Yes, I know I said to ask specific questions, but don’t expect anyone to give up too much information.  

·     Build relationships.  Instead of asking folks from your group, who are strangers, for information.  Say, “Hey, I’m going to be in this town for hunting season, if anyone’s around and would like to get a beer, hit me up.”  Maybe after talking hunting with you for an hour over a beer, the person will volunteer some tips to help you have a better hunt and you won’t even have to ask.  

 

…to the folks responding to the questions:

·     Don’t be a jerk. This is pretty much it.  If you don’t want to offer some kind of advice, just scroll past the post.  If no one responds to the post, they will get the same feeling as if forty curmudgeons tell them to “do your own damn work.”  If they say they’re a new hunter though, please show some kindness.  You don’t have to give up any specific information, but it’s an excellent opportunity to mentor them a bit and point them in the direction of finding things out for themselves.  Post a link to a website that sells topo maps, or suggest OnX, or tell them, “post rut, bull elk really look for sanctuary spots, look for those.” 

Hunters can be a lot like the identity politics crowd, “yeah you bow hunt, but you don’t know how hard it is for me because you shoot a compound and I shoot a recurve.”  Point being, we can be our own worst enemy.  Asking for help from your fellow hunters can be a tough thing to do, but I hope people keep asking smart questions and I hope people keep sharing their knowledge with newer hunters. While I fully support having an internal dialogue within the community on a number of topics, we also need to remember we’re all on the same team and, most of us anyhow, want the same thing.

Hey, I'm Irish! Hey, I'm Native American! The Importance of Food to Tradition

I’ve often written about how hunting connects me with my ancestors as well as the natural world around me.  Sometimes people, okay, mostly vegetarians and vegans, criticize this because they say we should move on from that, we don’t need to live that way anymore. Yet, many of these same people can be seen drinking green beer on St. Patrick’s Day or waxing poetic about their Spanish ancestors.  As humans, we have some deep seeded need to know where we come from and this is why genealogy services like Ancestry.com or 23 and Me are huge businesses.  Wanting to connect to our ancestors is normal and is something cultures have done since the beginning of man.

If I’m asked to self-identify, I’ll use words like, “father”, “husband”, “hunter”, or “American”.  If we’re talking culture, I’ll proudly talk about how both sides of my family have been in Appalachia for over 200 years; my father’s family almost exclusively in East Tennessee and my mother’s family from Virginia and western Pennsylvania. And like many folks from this region, it’s safe to assume that the majority of our ancestors came from what is now the Scottish Lowlands and Northern England and it’s also safe to assume there’s some Native American in our lineage, usually Cherokee.  This is important to us, just as it’s important for the guy who has lived in Chicago or Boston all of his life to tell you he’s Irish, even when his ancestors arrived at Ellis Island during the potato famine. 

People also take pride in carrying on the traditions of their ancestors. This may be as extreme as participating in Scottish Games or it could just be growing tomatoes “like grandma used to do”.  We accept all of this as not only normal, but it’s looked upon favorably to connect to these traditions and this is especially true when it comes to food. The folks who call themselves Irish like to eat traditional foods and drink Guinness or Bushmills.  In my house it’s a mix of hillbilly traditions and my wife’s Polish traditions, but so many of those things are centered around food and drink.  

So, I have to ask, if food and drink are so important to us in carrying on those traditions, if we like to garden like our grandmothers used to do, why is it so hard for so many people to view hunting in this same way?  Why is it that their traditions, especially when it comes to eating meat dishes, are cherished, while ours are attacked as barbaric? Why is spending all day in the kitchen preparing corned beef and cabbage so different than spending all day in a tree stand trying to catch a whitetail?  

It might be hard for people to understand our traditions, they are ours, not theirs, but food and tradition go hand in hand.  Think of how many years Jews have sat down with their families to enjoy a Passover meal together – sharing food is sacred.  Perhaps the struggle the anti-hunters face is their inner conflict of knowing that they’re a lot more like us than they want to admit. I’m not the first person to suggest that the best way to someone’s heart is through their stomach, but perhaps it is time to think about inviting people over to your house some time-honored traditions of eating your harvests.

The Politics of a Western Hunter

According to Fox News, Sen. Jon Tester (D) of Montana is campaigning as a hunter but hasn’t held a hunting license for six years. Once upon a time this was a common story, both Republicans and Democrats touted their outdoor skills, well maybe not Dick Cheney, but most politicians did.  Nowadays, hunters are not a big enough demographic to kiss up to in most parts of the country.  

Sen. Tester is a perfect case study for the politics of the western hunter. He is known for being very pro-public land, however, he’s also known for supporting gun control. Western hunters and fishermen depend on public lands, but western hunters also depend on their rifles, shotguns and muzzleloaders, as well as large handguns while in grizzly country. As is too often the case, Democrats support public lands, but not gun rights. While Republicans, at least most of them, support gun rights, but want the federal government to lease every acre for mining or energy development. The Western hunter does not have many politicians, if any, who truly represent him in Congress.  

This is not a new problem but there are still no easy solutions in the current political climate.  

Organizations like Backcountry Hunters and Anglers have been successful, particularly in the west, in bringing together conservatives and liberals on the issue of public lands. However, there is still a great divide even within that organization on many other issues, including guns. Many outdoor enthusiasts will say they don’t believe in doing away with the Second Amendment, but you will hear things like, “but you don’t hunt with an AR-15.” These people obviously have never hunted feral hogs or coyotes.  

Other times you have hunters themselves contributing to the problem. Whether it is a group like Hunters Against Gun Violence who believe in gun control, or the hunters who show up at protests with signs like, “All you need to hunt is a shotgun,” hunters are undermining other hunters. A waterfowl hunter who hunts on private land in the Midwest is thinking only of himself if he is not actively engaged in both of these issues on behalf of his fellow hunter. Different animals and different terrain require different tools for the job. If the Midwestern hunter doesn’t protect the rifle of the western hunter, then the western hunter will not stand up for the Midwesterner when they come for his shotgun next.  

Politically, what has changed? Where have the Blue Dog Democrats gone? Where have the Teddy Roosevelt Republicans gone? Perhaps the solution is to go backwards, to a time when there were issues that would cause rural Democrats to cross the aisle to work with rural Republicans. The 2016 election showed that rural America is still a political force to be reckoned with, but it also showed that the partisan divide has never been wider.   

That divide extends to Western hunters. Some, who either are bow hunters or support some form of gun control, will vote Democrat. Others, who love public land but love their Constitutional rights more, will vote Republican. This is par for the course for hunters who love to pit themselves against their fellow hunters: traditional bow vs. compound; bow vs. gun; one caliber vs. another; or Western vs. Eastern. Hunters have needlessly attacked each other for generations.

However, if hunters do not find a way to unify on many of these issues, they may find themselves in a position of having guns and no place to hunt or having plenty of places to hunt but no guns to hunt with.  

The Importance of Rituals to the Hunt

Ever since the first man killed his first game, there have been rituals associated with the hunt.  Perhaps it was simple superstition.  Perhaps it was a sacrifice of gratitude to the gods.  Whatever it was, humans are ritualistic creatures and although we only know of some of these rituals, it is safe to assume almost everyone had one.  Today, most of those rituals look very different than the rituals of the past, but not always.

Before we go any further, we should define both “tradition” and “ritual” because people often use them interchangeably.  Although traditions can be religious in nature, ritual is more specific to spiritual matters.  So, for the sake of clarity in this article, we will use “ritual” to describe spiritual matters and “tradition” to describe non-spiritual matters.

Most rituals, even for Christian hunters like myself, originate from our pagan ancestors.  Some of these rituals are pre-hunt and some of them are post-kill.  As humans, we have always asked for blessings before the hunt and given thanks for our success after it.  This is not so different than the pre-planting rituals and the post-harvest rituals in our agrarian history.  We need food to survive, so we ask for assistance and when we’re full, we express our gratitude in hopes that our appreciation will be looked upon kindly when it comes time to ask for assistance again.

Studies show that today, most American hunters identify as Christians, but I think it is important to recognize that when it comes to hunting, our faith overlaps quite extensively with our pagan ancestors and those modern-day pagans who hunt.  A few months back, I had the pleasure to sit down with Chas Clifton, a wonderful writer who I became acquainted with thanks to his essay, “The Hunter’s Eucharist” that was published in David Petersen’s classic A Hunter’s Heart: Honest Essays on Blood Sport.  We had a wonderful, albeit rambling, two-hour conversation centered around hunting, but one thing he said to me has stuck out ever since.  “The hunt is complicated, so I think the only way to approach it is to ritualize the shit out of it.  Because otherwise it becomes too complex to realize that you love something, but you kill it.”  

Here we will look at three of the more popular rituals.

·     Prayer– This is undoubtedly the most popular no matter the hunter’s personal spirituality and it takes many forms. Saying a simple prayer, asking God to keep you safe and help you ethically harvest game really makes too much sense not to do.  However, some hunters are more elaborate.  When I was in my 20’s and early 30’s white tail hunting every fall, I used to say a little prayer as I buried a small bit of tobacco as a sacrifice before walking into the woods in the morning. It’s a ritual that I borrowed from the Cherokee to not only bless my hunt, but to connect me with my distant Cherokee ancestors who held the white tail in such high regard.

·     Blooding– People are starting to have mixed feelings about this ritual thanks to diseases such as Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), but many people, myself included, still find meaning in using the blood of the freshly slain animal to mark your face (there is no evidence that disease can be passed through the skin, but I would advise you to be careful to avoid the eyes and mouth).  This is especially true for hunters on their first kill.  According to Patrick Durkin, “This rite traces back to the 700s A.D. as a tribute to St. Hubert.”  However, this ritual most certainly pre-dates Christian Europe.  This can be used as an initiation to a group and also as a way to connect yourself with the animal and with your ancestors.

·     Eating Raw Flesh– Thanks to the worries of diseases such as CWD, this one is quickly going out of fashion.  In fact, many hunters do not want to eat any meat at all in camp, even cooked, until it has been tested for CWD.  This too is a ritual based on ingesting the essence of the animal you harvested.  Many animals we hunt have many admirable traits and this is seen as a way to give yourself some of their strengths.  Personally, going forward, I am not sure what I will do, but I will say it depends on the animal and location; bear absolutely not, North Slope Caribou in Alaska absolutely yes.  The question for me soon will be whether I eat Colorado elk in camp.  

No matter what you choose to do or not do, adding a ritual to your hunt will give it more meaning.  Getting spiritually connected to the land isn’t something that just happens, it’s a relationship and that means you have to give in order to take.  Whether you are a monotheistic Christian or a polytheistic pagan, it’s really the same thing, you want God or the gods, to know your heart is pure and that you are grateful and humble.  You’re not an observer or a user of nature, you’re a partner or participant in nature.

Trailhead Diplomacy in the Age of Divisiveness

I’m not sure who came up with it first, but I first heard of “Trailhead Diplomacy” on a MeatEater podcast.  The idea is that hunters should engage in a kind and civil conversation with other folks we see out in the woods, be it hikers, photographers or any other non-consumptive user.  Anyone, in my opinion, of sane mind should support this idea but it brings up two questions for me.  First of all, in the best-case scenario, what does this look like?  And two, in 2018, is it even possible?

I think it’s possible.  Maybe. If we’re willing to do the work.  

If you’re thinking about online, then no, it’s absolutely not possible. Any post by the Department of the Interior or other government agency regarding the outdoors, even if it’s announcing something good, is met with vitriol and hate for Sec. Zinke and President Trump.  Even if it’s something as mundane as celebrating Public Lands Day, which neither of those men have anything directly to do with (this example I saw but a few minutes ago).  People hole up in their echo chambers online and talk much tougher than they would in real life.  I’m not saying don’t keep fighting the good fight online, but you’re gonna have to get off your ass and do it face to face because, in person, I know it’s possible. 

If it’s possible to go from vegan to hunter, then anything is possible. From Field to Plate recently posted they took a vegan hunting and Tovar Cerulli is another great example of a vegan turned hunter.  I have to admit that these cases are outliers and trying to go about converting vegans is probably not the best use of our time or sanity.  

So, this begs the first question, what does this look like?  In 2018, we often don’t engage any strangers, let alone when we’re carrying firearms in the woods.  A lot of us, myself included, like to talk to as few people as possible when we get out into the mountains.  Are we actually going to do this at the trailhead?  

I think we have to do this whenever the opportunity presents itself, whether it’s at the trailhead, the bar, church or your local PTA meeting. Any chance you have to engage someone in speaking about the outdoors, do it.  Most non-consumptive users are still omnivores and can still be won over but it might take a little time and effort.  We just have to reach them on a common level and this is probably the biggest struggle hunters have had historically in communicating our passion. As Brad Luttrell of the Restless Native podcast is fond of saying, these people don’t understand legacy or heritage, you have to give them something they understand.  

There’s two excellent ways to reach these folks: through their hearts and through their bellies.  

Reaching folks through their hearts can be difficult, but it’s what I’m trying to do here at Mountain Climer.  Folks have to have open minds and open hearts in order to be reached. They have to be seeking a spiritual connection to the land and to their ancestors.  They have to be interested not in the American legacy that Brad is talking about, but their human legacy as a hunter.  They have to know that most of the things in our culture don’t fill their God-shaped hole. These people, when reached however, are the ones who have turned around and asked me to take them hunting.  These people will then turn around and be ambassadors themselves.  Once these people connect on this level, there’s no turning back for them.  I know, because I am one of them.

Food, on the other hand, is the much more accessible route.  I see this every day in my work in the restaurant business selling wine.  People want all those buzzwords I talked about before: local, organic, free-range, hormone free, etc.  More than that, people want to know where their food came from and they’re taking great strides to get involved in the process themselves by gardening, learning to butcher and seeking out co-ops where they can buy food directly from local farmers.  These people may or may not decide they want to hunt for themselves, but they will respect hunting and support it because they now understand it and appreciate our connection to the land and our food.  

However you decide to do it, just be yourself and don’t be afraid to reach out to someone new.  If you speak from the heart and share your stories, you will connect with people, even in this age of divisiveness.  

The Value of Working Hard

Hunting is no different than anything else for most people.  People only work as hard as they have to.  Many western, public land hunters hunt within a mile of the road, causing logjams of people at trailheads and campgrounds.  On one hand, I can’t say I blame them.  For those of you who haven’t done it, can you imagine carrying out an 80 lb. pack, three or more miles, over rough terrain, off trail, perhaps gaining and losing several thousand feet and having to make up to four trips to get the entire elk out?  On the other hand, what’s the better experience?  What’s the situation you’re more likely to remember for the rest of your life; fighting for space and game with a bunch of assholes (because any hunter not in your party is an asshole) or getting out beyond the assholes and having entire drainages or canyons to yourself?

Technology is another way hunters have started to cut corners.  I’m not anti-technology, in fact I think tools like OnX maps are fantastic to have in the field.  However, too many hunters have grown to rely on GPS systems and don’t carry a paper map and compass.  When you’re hunting in the mountains, it’s pretty simple to read a topo map, it’s not a difficult skill to obtain and it could save your life if the battery dies on your GPS.  If you have but a weekend to go out and get meat, do what you have to do, no judgment, but if you’ve got time to give yourself an enriching experience, I suggest you put in the extra effort to do so.

I’ve written several times about how the hunt connects me to my ancestors, but it’s not just the taking of the animals that connects me, it’s the whole experience.  It’s sleeping outside.  It’s reading the mountains and the weather.  It’s the pursuit of the animal.  It’s the dressing and carrying it out on my back and the butchering I’ll do at home. It’s the whole experience from the time I leave my house until the time the meat shows up on my family’s plates.

Ultimately, no matter what you’re doing, you get out of it what you put into it. I think most of us take short-cuts every now and again, myself included.  I’m trying to be better at being more thorough, whether that is in things I want to do, or things I have to do.  As Jesus said, “if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (Matthew 5:41).  You may not always get the reward that you’d like when you go the extra mile, but you’ll always gain something, even if that’s just the pride and satisfaction of doing something the right way.  Odds are though, you’ll learn something and be a little bit tougher than you were before.

The Future of the Outdoors on Social Media is Now

I am a lot of things, mainly a father, husband, friend, hunter, conservationist and I’d like to believe, a thinker.  One thing I am not, however, is a media expert.  I know some media experts and I’ve learned a thing or two from them, but I think the thing that matters when it comes to the future of media and social media is human behavior, which I do know a little bit about, and I believe the technical aspects will follow human behavior.  

We used to live in a world where we could hold our beliefs fairly privately, go to the voting booth and not tell people who we voted for.  That same world allowed us to learn from our mistakes without, for the most part, screwing up our entire life or reputation. Unfortunately, those days are gone and they’re not coming back.  

Examples of this are in our newsfeed every single day.  Sometimes, the crime is egregious, such as Michael Richards being recorded saying a word he shouldn’t have used.  I understand why people were upset at that, however, earlier this week, a professional baseball player was questioned about a five-year-old social media post in which he supported the 2nd amendment. He had to give the obligatory, “I’m sorry if anyone was offended” but refused to back down from his support of the Constitution.  

Those of us involved in hunting, or most of us anyhow, are always involved in two hot button issues: guns and hunting.  

The world is now such that if you were to go apply for a job, you could be denied because there’s a photo of you teaching your child how to safely shoot a gun on your Facebook page.  All that needs to happen is there to be someone in Human Resources who is anti-gun or a vegan.  It’s not fair and it’s not right, but that’s the world we now live in.  Some of us, we choose to be outspoken about our rights, our passions and we’re not afraid of the consequences.  I honor and respect that choice and it’s a choice I’ve made myself. I applied for a ton of jobs in the time we’ve lived in Colorado and didn’t even get a phone call for about a dozen that I was perfectly suited for.  Is it because of my social media presence?  I can’t say for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was in at least a few cases.  

Another recent issue is social media censoring or banning conservative content.  I keep hearing conservatives say, “Why won’t a billionaire conservative step up and create a platform that honors free speech?”.  It’s a good question, it really is.  The good news for outdoors enthusiasts is that some non-billionaires have stepped up to the plate and created a platform for us, it’s called GoWild. 

GoWild is more than just guns, hunting and fishing.  It encourages you to share your gardening, hiking, ATVing and other experiences as well.  They want to see you and your kids outside.  It’s also a place where you can share without worrying about hate mail and threats from those who disagree with you.  If someone is not into hunting, the way the app works, they’ll probably not see your picture unless they’re following you.  If you don’t like a picture you see, you scroll right past it. However, if you see something you don’t agree with, the folks at GoWild encourage its users to talk about it in the comments.  Maybe it’s a new hunter or a young kid and no one told them what they’re doing isn’t ethical. Instead of having them banned or saying nasty things to them, we (the users) encourage them to think about what they’re doing and to make better decisions in the future.  They’re trying to keep some of the old school mentality of using mistakes as an opportunity to grow and be mentored rather than an opportunity to shame the person.  

One of the cooler things about the app is the ability to connect with folks outside your core group.  While most of us hunters prepare for hunting season all year long, the things we do also overlap into other hobbies.  We backpack, canoe, target shoot, train our bodies, and just generally love being outdoors. We also appreciate the responsibility of producing our own food and often have gardens.  These other activities, the way the app is built, allow us find common ground with other folks who might not be hunters.  This is of the utmost importance, because as I and many others have written, we’re about 5% of the population and both hunters and animal rights activists are small minorities fighting for the approval of the vast majority.  

So, the question is, are you going to focus your social media energy on apps owned by California urbanites who are trying to control what you see and hear so that it fits their agenda or are you going to engage with others in the outdoor community in a way that grants you the freedom to share what you choose to share?  I’m not saying you should leave Facebook or Instagram, those are still great places to be connected to people personally and professionally and share parts of your life, I’m simply asking if you want to be a part of the solution to the attacks on our lifestyle and be a part of growing the next generation of conservationists?  

We might be waiting for a long time for a place of political free speech on social media, but for a place where you can share your grip ‘n grins without fear of death threats on your family, the future is now.

 

DISCLAIMER: I am in no way professionally involved in GoWild other than as a user.  I do know a couple folks from the company and they are based in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky so I would be a big supporter of them even if they had a knitting app because I’m always supportive of good people doing good things.  However, my passion for their product and the community it fosters is legitimate and I encourage anyone reading this to go to Apple, Google or wherever you download apps and give it a try and I also recommend checking out their podcast, Restless Native.