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Monday, May 23, 2022

Why We Hunt (A Philosophical Response)

“Why, in this day and age, do you still hunt? You don’t need to for survival. It’s a violent act and it’s difficult to understand why anyone would choose to hunt who doesn’t have to.”

For most of human history, our lives were occupied with survival. We would spend our days hunting and foraging for food. Humans were a part of the natural world much like the other mammals that inhabited the earth. There was a balance to everything. Little was wasted. If an animal was killed, every part of it was used. This is who we have been for the vast majority of our history.

With the rise of western civilizations, farming rose to prominence. The security granted by an abundance of crops and livestock increased our quality of life. We reached a point where eventually, humans were able to focus on other things than just survival. Great civilizations were formed. Specialization occurred. One person would farm enough crops for the village, while the others would perform different jobs that they excelled at. Trade allowed everyone to get food, and the gross product increased for all.

As civilizations’ standard of living increased, the population increased. Technology became a large part of this machine, enabling one person to perform more work than before. When the industrial revolution happened in the 1800s, it was like a switch had been flipped. Giant and powerful machines automated production and it increased exponentially. The population of the world increased to levels never before possible.

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Animals were hunted to the point of extinction using advanced weapons and sold for profit. The natural resources in North America declined, and more and more people became reliant on mass food production and factory farming. Eventually, most people forgot how to hunt, how to forage, and how to survive on their own.

This brings us to our modern world. With 7 billion people, the planet is well beyond its natural carrying capacity. We are rapidly depleting what resources the earth has left. Our survival depends on an enormous food production and distribution network. To quote Aldo Leopold, “most people think food comes from the grocery store.” We have largely lost our connection to the natural world and spend our lives working indoors while staring out at remnants of what we once had.

Our life expectancies have increased, our financial wealth has grown, and more people have their basic needs met regularly than at any other time in our history. Yet we struggle. A large portion of our food is made up of chemicals and unhealthy artificial substances. Depression, substance abuse, and unhappiness are major problems in our society. The country is bitterly divided over politics. In an age where we experience life through social media and television, the question is, what have we given up for these gains in security?

While we are still a part of this modern world, some of us dream of reconnecting with a simpler time. We work our jobs during the week, but on the weekend we pack up our gear. Forgoing our warm beds and television we head into the backcountry to camp and hunt. Single-minded in our focus we have one thing on our minds: to kill and harvest an animal. The daily stressors fall away and the chaos subsides as we hike into the mountains.

Secure in the knowledge that there is no thrill quite like getting the best of a mature deer, we patiently hunt. So much of it is just being here and existing with these beautiful creatures. Seeing the bubbling of a small stream. The wind blowing through tall pines. The sounds of an owl in the early evening announcing its presence. To exist in this world seems, at times, like the only thing that truly matters.

Eventually, we have to pack up our gear and head back to civilization. If we are lucky, we are leaving with a cooler full of venison, a mind full of wonder, and a body that aches.

Some night, weeks later, we return home from a long day at work. Heading to the freezer we pull out a venison backstrap. As it sears in a heavy iron pan surrounded by chopped onions and minced garlic, the smell wafts up towards our nose. Suddenly, it reminds us that we were once a part of the earth as much as any other living creature. “I must return to the woods again soon,” you think as you sit down to dinner.

 

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