It is an odd thing that there are people in 2019 who willingly put themselves through the misery, deprivation and pain that actually hunting down and killing your dinner can put you through.
The other day, for example, I went rabbit hunting north of Pierre. We’ve had one of the snowiest Februarys ever around here and our local shelterbelts have collected quite a bit of the white stuff. That’s a good thing for bunny hunters. It’s also a bad thing. Post-holing through snow drifts as deep as your thighs are long, isn’t exactly a good time. I did it anyway. And, after making a good shot on a cottontail, I went home with meat in the bag. By the end of the afternoon, I was exhausted, cold, wet and grinning ear to ear.
Humans domesticated plants and livestock for a reason. The life of a hunter, gatherer isn’t exactly comfortable. Just ask someone who has tried to live off an entirely wild diet. Just finding enough calories to power your brain takes an incredible amount of work, every day. It ain’t easy and doesn’t allow a lot of time to innovate. Before agriculture humans had spent nearly 100,000 year doing pretty much the same thing — wandering around looking for stuff to eat.
But when we figured out how to cultivate certain edible plants, herd goats, sheep and cattle, things changed. Civilizations began to rise and fall, we learned to write, do math and create amazing works of art. We went to the moon and back. At least a few of us are planning to go to Mars now too.
In all that time, through all that innovation, at least one thing has stayed the same. Some of us still hunt wild animals. The need to hunt never left the human race. Every civilization on every continent or island has valued some form of hunting as something more than just a way to put meat on the table.
In many cases the right and ability to hunt was valued so highly that only a certain privileged few were actually allowed to do it. During the middle ages in europe more than a few noble knights and a couple of kings died when hunting trips took a turn for the worse. The same can be said in Japan and China. There’s even a story about King Henry the VIII of England nearly drowning when he got thrown from his horse into ditch while off on a lark — that being his falcon, a merlin in this case, was chasing a skylark. Whether that’s true, I can’t say. But it does fit his character.
Why would these people, who sat on top of a feudal system and thus had plenty to eat, risk life and limb for meat? Or, for that matter, fun? The answer is, simply, they didn’t. Nor, frankly, do modern hunters. Hunting isn’t about fun, though it certainly can be. It’s not entirely about putting meat on the table either, though for a lot of us that’s a big part of it.
There’s something deeper going on. A drive, a deep seated, primordial need maybe, to be a part of the natural world. Now, everybody is different. And this drive to be part of nature takes as many forms as there are people in the world. Some people deny that it exists in them at all.
But, there is a growing body of clinical and scientific evidence showing that time in nature has real, quantifiable health benefits. There are doctors issuing “park prescriptions” and there are clinical trials going on right now aimed at determining whether spending time in nature could be considered an actual medical treatment and be covered by health insurance.
There is no more visceral, personal connection to nature than actively participating in the dance between predator and prey. It stands to reason, then, that hunters and probably angler too have long known, at least subconsciously, what science is just starting to explain. The outdoors and nature are vital to a healthy human existence.
Why do we hunt? Because it’s good for us.