In a recent post, Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman highlighted the increasingly popular occurrence of “canned hunts,” a pay-to-shoot experience, where hunters kill tame animals in enclosed areas. The practice is disturbing to anyone who knows hunters who have respect for the act of hunting and for the animals they kill. Writing for Vermont’s Local Banquet, Robert F. Smith counts himself among such hunters. His exploration into why he hunts is reverent and voices like his are important when you see videos like the one Keith posted, where pseudo-hunters get some sort of thrill out of killing what amount to large pets. “[W]hy hunt?” Smith asks,
Hunting is often portrayed as barbaric and cruel, and hunters are presented as ignorant yahoos with a blood lust… . Some of the televised hunting shows do little to help that image, with their canned hunts on fenced-in game ranches where hunters are driven to a stand and then pick and shoot one of dozens of trophy bucks that are drawn in to special feeding stations. I don’t know that kind of hunting… .
A hunter taps into the very core of what we are as a species. We’re the product of 2 million years of evolution as a genus, a branch off the australopithicenes, and about 400,000 years as the distinct species homo sapiens. We evolved as hunters, and have become the most effective, most adaptable and successful predators on the planet.
Hunters like Smith are of the type I grew up with, so his logic and reasoning are familiar to me. He does take the discussion a step further, though, arguing that the hunter/gatherer system that predated agriculture led to equality, while the farms and labor it takes to keep them up has led us to the class system we find today:
Hunting a deer or antelope or harvesting wild berries or nuts is only a few hours of intensive work for several days’ worth of food, while raising, feeding, watering, and protecting a herd of sheep or goats, or planting, cultivating, and harvesting a field of grain, is unending labor. While the tribal system of hunter/gatherers led to equality and leisure time, agriculture brought in slavery, religion, caste and class systems, and the plight of poor peasants and field workers that continues today around the world.
Ultimately, though, the answer to the question “Why hunt” is elemental for Smith. It’s who we are; it’s part of what makes us human: “Hunting is an ancient dance as old as life itself, written into the very core of what we are as humans.”