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.

 

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.

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.

Women, Masculinity and the Future of Hunting

If you pay attention to Hollywood and the Mainstream Media, you’ll know that right now, everything female is good and everything male is bad.  Well, that maybe an oversimplification but you know what I am getting at.  Just the other day, the University of Texas declared masculinity to be a mental illness. We’re at a strange time in our society and there’s definitely a culture war going on in America.  Much like every other topic to discuss, people want to make things simpler than they are, to put them in neat little boxes labeled “this” and “that” or “good” and “bad”.  Gender and hunting are no exception to this.  However, I feel like trying to simplify gender and hunting issues actually complicates them much more than need be.

It’s simple.  Women make great hunters.  Women have always been great hunters.

Okay, let me unpack this.  I won’t go into a great amount of detail about the history of women hunters because there’s a plethora of great stories out there for you to explore yourself. Whether it was in ancient Greek or Roman mythology, Celt or Nordic tribes or in the Wild West, there are countless examples of women hunters.  Just look at the Wikipedia page of hunting gods for examples to get you started.  

Just think about it simply.  Who provided food when men went off to war or left home to work as miners or railroad workers?  In the Wild West, who provided for food when the men died of disease?  The Wild West as a great example because any place where people were free from law, free from the pressures of “civilization” or the rule of the Church, women had more rights (because no one was infringing on their God given rights that they were born with).  Utah, long considered a very conservative state, gave women the right to vote a long time before women won their suffrage in other, “more civilized”, places.

But I digress.

The main reason hunting has been considered “masculine” in America is because traditionally men have been a large majority of the hunters and it was usually a set of skills handed down father to son out in the field while the women stayed home.  Hunting itself is neither masculine nor feminine, it’s human.  However, a boy’s one on one time with their dad is masculine, is healthy and odds are those boys learned a lot more about being a man during those hunts than they did about hunting.  That is why I still find that to be an important tradition and I believe we need strong men to raise boys in a way so that we will continue to have generations of strong men.  I am not attacking that at all, I am in 100% support of that and am committed to getting more young men into the outdoors.

So, what of me?  The lone man in a house with two women?  While my girls don’t go along on every hunt, we’re a hunting family.  Hunting is one of the many things we do together.  At our daughter’s age, it’s small game and fishing right now and when she’s older I’ll take them on turkey and big game hunts as well.  As far as I’m concerned nothing changes except the lessons we teach our daughter. I don’t need to teach her about being a man because she’s going to be a woman.  Her mother is doing an excellent job of teaching her how to be a great woman. I will teach her to hunt.  I will do my part as her father to teach her about being human because there is far more to learn outside than how to be a man. 

It’s of the utmost importance that we hunters take our daughters afield just as we would take our sons afield.  The future conservationists are just as likely, if not more likely, to be female than male.  It shouldn’t matter if that woman wears make up or doesn’t, or if she uses blaze pink or blaze orange, or if she wants to fish in a bikini or in waders.  All that matters is that she’s outdoors and we pass along our ethics and love for the wild.  Getting all wrapped up in tangential aspects of what a woman wears etc. is avoiding the most important thing; that women are a growing segment of the hunting community.

For those fathers who have sons, take them hunting, insert masculine traditions and rites of passage into your hunting trips.  Take your uncles, buddies or grandfather and have some male bonding, that’s awesome.  But if you have daughters, take them along too (and their mothers if they want to go), treat them the same, give your daughter her first beer or snort of whiskey when the time comes.  I promise you she’ll remember those times with her dad the rest of her life just like your son would.  

 

 

Why I Shoot a .30-06

If you’re here looking for the favorite argument of shooters, “what’s the best caliber for…?”, this isn’t it. This is more autobiography than anything else.

Let me begin by giving you a nickel’s worth of background.  The .30 caliber cartridge has been around since the 1890s and went through several refinements by several folks before Springfield made the final adjustments in 1906 (if you don’t know, the .30 is the caliber and the 06 is the year).  I won’t bore you with the ballistics history, but in 1906 the U.S. military, namely the Army, made it the primary caliber rifle cartridge and it remained the primary cartridge for over 80 years seeing combat in all of the wars and skirmishes the U.S. was involved in over that time as well as being a favorite of big game hunters throughout the 20th century.  

Now, in 2018, the .30-06 isn’t sexy anymore.  There are newer cartridges such as the 700 Win Mag or 6.5 Creedmore. There is nothing wrong with any of them and all are great big game cartridges.  However, I think the choice of cartridge says a lot about a person. Perhaps you are a woman or have a smaller frame, you may feel more comfortable shooting a .270.  Perhaps you have to have the latest and greatest thing, whatever the hunting and gun magazines tell you is the sexy caliber of our time.   Perhaps you just shoot what your buddies shoot or what your dad shot.

Me?  I’m old school.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

I like wood stocks, classic calibers, using my backpack as a rest and you might even find me wearing red plaid.  I’m not totally against the 21st century, I have a scope on my rifle, I’m typing this on a MacBook Pro, I’m not a dinosaur, but I also don’t think that everything new is automatically better either.  I’d like to think that I share a lot of traits with the big game hunters that came before me when it comes to faith, family and conservation.  And, I’d like to think I share at least some qualities with those brave men in uniform from the 20th century who risked or gave their lives for our great nation.  My sense of bravery, duty, patriotism and honor may pale in comparison to theirs, but I’d like to think they serve as inspirations to me even if I’m not worthy of standing alongside them.  

As I knock upon the door of middle age, I know I’m becoming a relic, just like the .30-06.  I hope and pray that those coming behind me will take my generation and learn from us. That includes correcting our mistakes, but I hope they don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.  Not everything that has worked and worked well for a long time needs to be discarded just because it’s “the old way”. Some things are tried and true and battle tested.  

I’m not much one to judge, not about preferences anyhow, so go ahead and shoot whatever caliber you want, that you’re comfortable with and that works for you. But ask yourself, what does it say about you?  Maybe it says nothing, maybe I’m just a guy who looks for meaning in everything I do, down to the smallest of details and my affection for the .30-06 is nothing more than me paying tribute to many great men who came before me, hoping that a little of what they had rubs off on me.