I grew up in a family which used hunting as part of our food strategy. It was a very different way to grow up than many are exposed to and I have had my struggles coming to terms with it – as well as to terms with how others view it (regular readers will recall my 5-year boycott of red meat as an example of the real struggle and consciousness I place on this issue)..
I was trained very early to not speak a great deal of hunting to non-hunters. It’s an explosive topic and, like politics and religion, is something that can break up a dinner party very quickly. It’s a tough topic for me to even discuss here and my stomach turns a little at the thought of opening up about it.
Many didn’t notice when Toronto Life named Hunting as one of the top 10 things you could do to improve your approach to eating local – my head spun. While sustenance hunting is very different than it is often portrayed, it is not something that is often portrayed in a positive public light. Images of drunk Neanderthals driving through the woods in oversized pickup trucks while throwing beer cans from the drivers window and shooting a machine gun from the passenger side is the occasional “public face” of the hunter.
The image below is the image of hunting I grew up with – my parents out for a casual walk through the woods. My father carries my Grandfathers shotgun as they explore the fall colors. There is a hope to harvest a partridge but success is not measured by a death blow. We carried this gun for 3 days over thanksgiving and didn’t see a bird until the gun was stowed away and we were driving home (a surprisingly frequent occurrence). We didn’t firs a shot and yet we had a great hunt – time together with family sharing nature with each other.
My experience of hunters is far different than the stereotype (though I’ve met my share). Many, in my view, are closer to livestock farmers than rabid killing machines. There is an odd balance of stewardship of the forest and things within it which meets an unexplainable reconciliation in the soul with culling it’s population. Each of us justifies it in different ways – the silent majority is often washed away by the voices of the vocal minority.
I have hunted for 20 years. In that time I have harvested (i.e. killed) 3 birds. I have spent more than 5 cumulative months in the woods during hunts with 3- 14 men at time. Our combined effort would be measured in years (or decades) and we have culled about 15 animals during those hunts. Each was completely consumed, the jaws were given to the Ministry of Natural Resources to check for health of the moose population in our area and the hides were donated to our First Nation People to be used for their tradition.
I passed a slaughterhouse in Cookstown this weekend. The pens were empty but waiting. There was a stark contrast between the final resting place of entire herds that walked through that yard and that of the forest that we irrevocably alter. Images like this are part of how I justify what we do (for right or for wrong – I’m not asking for support, simply trying to portray my perspective with earnest transparency).