The fun part of hunting

I’ve been asked by non-hunters a couple of times variations on “you think it’s fun to kill innocent creatures? Are you mental?” I replied that of course killing isn’t fun. But it got me to thinking… what IS the “fun” part of hunting?

Let me see here… Spending money on “good” equipment, only to find out it isn’t, and having to spend more on something else? No, that’s not it.

Driving out to some remote place to camp out in the cold? Nah.

Getting up early, in the pitch black, often in freezing temperatures, or wind, or precipitation, or all three, as many times as needed? Nope, assuredly not.

Freezing my butt off for hours, or stomping around broken terrain looking for something that is really good at hiding? No.

Pulling the trigger? Not really.

Bending over for a while, gutting it out? Dragging a carcass that weights as nearly as much as I do, perhaps more, out of the deep weeds? Skinning, butchering it in the field, boning it out, grinding burger and packaging all the parts, sawing up bones for the dogs, filing a hunting report, cleaning all the equipment? Not those things, either.

Eating the final product? No, I wouldn’t call that fun. It’s good, but not “fun.”

And I think there is the rub. Fun is the wrong word. I think the right word is “satisfying.” Hunting successfully is something that takes some reasonable skill and effort to do  well, and a bit of luck. It’s a task that not everyone is willing or able to do. It has an end product (venison) that is worth the effort. It’s a very primal sort of activity that fires up something deep down in the lowest level of our brains that says “I went out, got food, I am useful, life is good.” There isn’t any “part” of it that is really fun, though there are moments of beauty, and wonder, and surprise, and frustration, and boredom. But it is satisfying in a way that nothing else is, because food is at a lower “need” level than companionship, or fun, or just about anything other than water and air.

And related to it, a lot of spouses don’t “Get it,” in part because their “gatherer” instincts can be met by going to the supermarket. They resent the time and effort spent to go out and get the kill, and it’s a mystery to them. When they are not supportive, or actively resent it and make their feelings known, it causes friction. When they are supportive and say “I don’t get it, but it makes you happy and it puts food on the table, have a nice time, dear!”  the guy thinks he’s got the greatest wife in the world (fortunately I am in this category), and he’s more likely to willingly put up with the things the spousal unit does that don’t make any sense to HIM.

And a lot of that friction, particularly in modern society, when all our basic needs are so abundantly well met, is all because to many adults only see “fun” things as being proper to pursue, like a child, rather than merely being “satisfied” at a very basic level.

20 thoughts on “The fun part of hunting

  1. To me, the appeal of hunting is largely in the prolonged, heightened sense of awareness that the hunter experiences. The nearest thing a non-hunter might get to that would be route finding on a challenging alpine climb, but even then the route isn’t trying to hide or escape from you.
    Experienced hunters will almost always spot critters far sooner than their non-hunting compadres when out hiking together. And stalkers or still hunters will also likely be more aware of their surroundings, since they are more likely to be familiar with off-trail navigation than their day-hiking or backpacking brethren.

    • Yes, that too. I like the weather, even when it is so totally silent that a single falling leaf fifty yards away seemingly makes a racket, and it feels like you could hear ants talking. Looking, really looking, at things. Smelling. Step, pause, sense, repeat.
      But I think that is part of what tells my lower brain that what I’m doing is fundamental, primal, important. And when it ends with meat on the table – you don’t just “feel” useful, your lizard-brain tells you that you KNOW you are.

    • It that were true, you wouldn’t need to shoot the animal. Photo hunting would be enough.

  2. Here in Minnesnowta I’ve done the majority of my hunting from tree-stands. No, there’s nothing “fun” about going out at oh-dark-thirty to find your way through pitch-black woods in -20F temperatures to your stand, or any of the other things you’ve noted. But for me, as a cube-dweller for 50-55 hours a week, the opportunity to simply sit as still as possible, for hours on end, without any phones ringing or e-mails pinging is a major part of it.

    The sound of a flight of geese overhead (no honking, just the rush of air on their wings), the waking up of the woods from pre-dawn blackness to the sun shining on the snow and warming up. You’ve mentioned the heightening of the senses…I’ve come to full adrenalin-rush only to realize that the sound of the herd of elephants behind me was just a mouse rustling through the leaves.

    I don’t think anybody (other than psychopaths) actually enjoys killing anything. But that moment when a buck materializes out of the swamp and steps into the clearing following a couple of does is so frozen in time for me…lining up the cross-hairs on the scope, the moving of the trigger…I have no recollection of the report or recoil of the rifle, only the white-out of the scope from the muzzle-flash, and the flinching of the buck as he takes off at a run; working the bolt to chamber the next round, and then the crash, crash, CRASH as it goes down out of sight in the swamp. The checking of the watch to note the time, and the the crawling of time to wait to be sure it’s really down. Come down from the stand (waving away the does that are too dumb to figure out what’s happened, and only run away when that huge orange turkey comes out of the tree), find the blood trail, and then go into the swamp, seeing the buck hung up in a tree where he finally went down.

    Yeah, bleeding out and gutting is a kind of nasty job, but the sights and smells of that task are quickly over. I always think to myself a thank-you to the animal for providing sustenance for me and my wife (as close to religion as I get), and hope that this kind of ending wasn’t too painful.

    Fun? I don’t know. I think you’ve hit on the right word of “satisfying” to describe the overall experience.

    • “Fun? I don’t know. I think you’ve hit on the right word of “satisfying” to describe the overall experience.”

      I do know, speaking for myself.

      Have you ever watched a cat pounce on a mouse, kill it, and eat it? “Satisfying” doesn’t describe it, but “pleasure” does.

      I enjoy killing food, and I mean I find great pleasure in the whole experience, from entering the woods and fields while the world still sleeps, watching and listening to it come alive even before the sun rises, to hearing and/or spotting my prey and knowing that it doesn’t know I exist, to settling the crosshairs on the exact spot I want the bullet to strike, to pulling the trigger and not hearing the muzzle blast nor feeling the recoil, to watching the animal react, run, fall, and die, to putting my hands on a year’s worth of warm summer sausage, to field dressing it, loading it into my truck, taking it home, skinning it, boning out the meat, grinding it up, and loading it into my freezer.

      For me, it is no mere cliché; Happiness is a big gut pile.

      It is a primal thing, just a part of life and death on this planet, and I enjoy it immensely.

      • This.

        I hunt because I’m a predator. I love killing animals. I shoot varmints too, not just meat. Controlling the varmint population serves a useful purpose but that’s not why i do it.

        I don’t have to demur that “of course I don’t enjoy the kill, I’m not some sort of psycho. ” because I do enjoy it, and I’m not ashamed of it because it’s not wrong. God and the states where i hold licenses agree that it’s proper for me to hunt as I do.

        And i find it suspect logic that so many of the “you wouldn’t kill bambi would you? ” crowd overlap with the crowd that supports a woman’s right to choose to have a child grotesquely murdered out of her loins.

  3. I hunt to keep my skills honed for the time I’ll need them, and for the satisfaction of doing a job right.
    Although store bought meat is easier, cheaper, and leaves me with more time, it also allows me to forget the process of getting meat to my larder.
    I do not allow myself to depend on the stupermarket to feed me, for it may fail.
    I also can my own vegetables, grown in my own garden, for the same reason.
    Great post, thank you.

    • Yes, that is part of it too. It reminds the family that the neatly wrapped stuff at the store was once a living thing. It’s a connection to the process of life. And yes, it’s also good practice for the possibility of a uncivil confrontation, so I have the skills and mental state to deal with it and move on.
      You are welcome.

  4. Well said. I always enjoyed being participant in nature rather than a mere observer. Every animal I ever hunted understood predation as part of their every day life.

  5. I feel the same way about Boomershoot. For me the long days of preparation and stress about the weather, target detonation rates, safety, equipment failures, etc. is not fun. It’s “rewarding”.

  6. I forget the attribution, but someone said, “one does not hunt in order to kill, one kills in order to have hunted.” A friend and hunter who has since passed on to “the happy hunting grounds” said while we were sighting in my dad’s deer rifle and I was putting in earplugs, “you won’t hear it anyway”. As Blackwing said, he was right; it’s only at the range where the blast, noise and recoil bother me. As for pleasure/fun, I can only contrast it with in-city experiences — everything is intensified, and that is why even the non-game food tastes better on the hunt.

  7. I agree with all of the above.

    One could say that you’re getting closer to objective reality when out hunting, and that in itself is rewarding, if not “fun”. All the cultural stuff; the politics, the relationships, the opinions, the preferences, comforts and emotions that we so often focus on as though they were everything– all of that completely ceases to matter. It’s just you and reality. Getting as close as possible to real objectivity is your best and only chance.

    You’re challenging yourself in a useful purpose, learning and adapting. “Fun” is irrelevant. The hunts you’ll talk most about for years to come are the ones that presented the most or greatest challenges, or the ones in which you witnessed the most amazing things. Either way, “rewarding” is a good word, but I don’t know if there is an actual “right” word for it, because even if you’re unsuccessful there is something to lure you back to it.

    The spouse may not understand, and may make comments that border on insults about it, as my wife does, BUT she is always glad when I come home successful. She hardly ever even eats the meat, but she will “brag” to others about my hunting successes. Though pride is not a good thing (and maybe it’s something else) she seems “proud” that I’ve done what I’ve done.

  8. Those who react to hunting and hunters with a kind of scorn; notice how poetic everyone sounds when they talk about actually doing it.

    “I always think to myself a thank-you to the animal for providing sustenance for me and my wife…”

    Yes; and hunters have sensed this for millennia, that no matter how much time, expense, practice, advance scouting and preparation you go through, when you come away from a successful hunt you’re left believing that something was gifted to you, which is at the same time humbling and uplifting.

  9. Jose Ortega y Gasset said it most succinctly: “One does not hunt in order to kill, one kills in order to have hunted”.

    If it were just about the killing, we’d all get jobs in abbatoirs and live happily ever after.

    Hunting scratches a very primeval itch. We are, after all, predators. I’m not aware of any environment on Earth where a society could survive on just the vegetation that grows naturally there. We *NEED* to eat meat, or at least we did until we came up with technological substitutes. We’ve subsumed those primitive instincts for hunting in large part, but they still exist, and there is something very satisfying about the whole experience. Even when unsuccessful, the thrill of the chase is enough to sustain.

    Part of the problem has been that the sorts of people who intuitively understand it often aren’t the same people who are able to effectively articulate the attraction that it has. When they do show up, they are often dismissed with a handwave. They can’t be intelligent, they’re *HUNTERS*. They’re mouth-breathing Neanderthals.

    Still, one must try.

    • I like that quote. It makes sense to me, but I suspect that to a non-hunter that doesn’t already understand, it’s nothing but a pithy pseudo-intellectual nonsense phrase to be ridiculed. I’ve talked to non-hunters about the fact that we are predators, and they often respond with something like “I’m more evolved than that.”
      And I agree that some of the people that understand it the best are not the most articulate folks in the world. And yes, one must try… that is why I wrote the post.

      • It’s the opposite of pithy pseudo-intellectualism, Ortega y Gasset is one of the premier modern political philosophers.

        The pseudo-intellectuals are the ones who won’t read the essay supporting that succinct summary because they lack the will or ability to engage with it on an intellectual level.

        Throw that back in their face. 😉

        • To be *COMPLETELY* honest, I’ve read Ortega y Gasset’s “Meditations on Hunting”, and there are some problems with it. It’s not perfect, but it’s at least an honest attempt to articulate what motivates hunters.

          First, it’s entirely to wordy. Ortega y Gasset goes off on irrelevant tangents at points in the book. It would make an excellent essay if the main points in it were distilled down in to a much shorter essay.

          Second, he gets some things wrong. The book-length essay (it was supposed to be the forward for a book on hunting!) was written, as I recall, back in the 1940’s. We know more about the history of man and of his place in the natural order of things than we did back then.

          There are lesser known hunter/philosophers, like David Sigurslid, but they tend to be a bit more judgmental against what they view as hunting that isn’t necessarily up to their “purity” standards. That can actually be more detrimental than helpful.

  10. The fun part to me, and this comes after genuine introspection, is the feeling of kinship with my hunting partners that comes with standing in freezing water for a couple of hours, seeing no ducks, and then leaving after making tenantive plans about “let’s do something later.”

    I think of the men I’ve stood in a duck blind with or looked out over an empty field in vain efforts to kill coyotes, some of whom I’ve also gone to war with, and can think of no better time spent with better people

    • Yes, that too. This last hunting trip included one guy who is still getting out even though he’s a WW II vet with a disabled hunter license, a friend of his he’s known since childhood who has hunted all over the world, a retired navy guy, and the old guy’s 60+year old son that we have hunted with numerous times. It was also the oldest guy’s birthday. Good folks.

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