In A Sand County Almanac, Leopold boasts that:
There are two kinds of hunting: ordinary hunting, and ruffed-grouse hunting. There are two places to hunt grouse: ordinary places, and Adams County.
He goes on to expound the particulars of what makes for an extraordinary ruffed-grouse hunt. The attributes are unique and cherished by the writer in much the same way as all of us come to covet a place where we hunted, and then caught our prize: be it a pumpkin, mountain peak, ten pound fish, patch of mushrooms, good deal on a purchase, parking spot, breathtaking photo, sunset, or a Buck deer. We remember.
We remember because we are all hunters. Hunting is instinctual and undeniable. Prehistorically, it kept us alive. Now, it enables us to thrive.
Unfortunately, “hunting”, in today’s world seems synonymous with killing. Although Leopold began his journal entry boasting of hunting grouse, he dedicated most of his October journal entry describing what he observed, thought, experienced, and never mentioned a shot bird. Yet in today’s increasingly urban landscape, we’ve over emphasized the final act. Perhaps our snap-shot focused society has mislead us all into thinking that is what it’s all about: the trophy picture.
Taking a step back, obviously, it’s not. Contrary to the image above, I believe it’s mostly about the stories. Perhaps this is the excuse of a hunting failure. I admit to being a very unsuccessful deer killer, yet when I trudge up through the Ponderosa Pine, Douglas and Grand Fir forests of the east Cascade Mountains, I run into a fair amount of deer.
Literally, once a good sized Buck ran straight into me, and though I could of reached out and scratched his ears; I drew back my bow string, and with arrow poised for a shot, watched it shamelessly clatter off my sights with the rhythm of my pounding heart. Spooked, the animal stopped still, its ears perked, and keyed into my camouflaged hide-out. From the thicket I can’t imagine what it thought as it tried to reason out what creature made such sounds? During the adrenaline rushed seconds, I strained from the tension of the taught bow string while flicking–and failing–to get the arrow shaft back on to the sights. It was too much for the frightened beast, and as I finally let out a labored breath, it blew out a warning snort and bounded away.
No deer this year, nor the last, yet that year I did manage to score some half-dollar sized blisters. “The big bucks are above the tree line,” I heard. So I trudged up Dirtyface Mountain and after what seemed like a hundred switchbacks and equal amount of doe deer (which you cannot shoot), I made camp to get out of the cold and rain and patch my heels. Long hours were spent in my tent eating nuts and staying warm. Finally, after two days of “hunting”, I quit the high elevation wilds, and walked back down the mountain, only to find one slinking six-pointer cross in front of my car as I drove through a neighborhood.
Needless to say, after a few seasons of trying, I never killed a deer, but I’m a good hunter and an okay story teller.
“A Hunter with a Heart”
In Julianne Lutz Warren’s biographical tribute, Aldo Leopold’s Odyssey, she summarizes some of Leopold’s thoughts on hunting in Chapter 9: Wildlife and the New Man. Among many quoted gems within the essay, Warren consolidated Leopold’s idea of a Sportsman as a “civilized” hunter. Adding: “He was “a hunter with a heart,” one who realized that “his power to destroy carries with it [or] places upon him the responsibility to conserve.”
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not my aim here to justify hunting, or even try to bridge an understanding of whether it is necessary or irrelevant. What I hope to get across is the importance of hunting in my ecological, conservation-based education. Without it, I do not think I would have a balanced understanding and appreciation for wildlife. Sadly, by taking beauty from Nature I realized how much more precious it is to keep creatures in the skies, streams, and forests.
Like many of my arguments, I seem to only evade, squirm, and then tentatively stand on righteous quicksand. Not because I lack moral compass, but rather I do not wish to be yours. Temperance is a tepid voice. In a time when politics are polar, belief is violent, and everyone is either “us” or “them”, the mighty middle, the silent majority, just wants to do good work.
For now, my work is in the fields or in the mountains. I wear work or hiking boots and carry pruners or a camera. My rifle remains in the gun safe. Never fired and maybe never will be, yet I don’t plan on preventing a young student of Nature from having that opportunity. If so, I think we’d deny good people the chance of being nurtured by the land. We may even repress the Hunter and, in turn, find him elsewhere and unwanted.
Preservation, Conservation, Recreation
A last thought I’d like to share is how hunters often defend that which they aim to kill, and moreover, the land and habitat that animals depend on. Steven Rinella wrote a short piece for Outside Magazine‘s November 2018 issue. In This Land is OUR Land, Steven reminds us of our common ground in that we all protect public lands for mutual benefit. Whether you’re a backpacker, fly fisherman, mountain biker, or naturalist, all parties should galvanize around issues and places we value, because extreme forces would like divide the land for private, restricted ownership, and overexploitation.
This equal access is only possible with the Mighty Middle. Yet, it’s also a messy middle as Freedom is messy. We all have a moral compass, it’s just not everyone’s on the same heading. So have a little understanding and appreciation for the next person. Try to relate with what others value and figure out how we all can experience our passion.
Once you learn to read the land, I have no fear of what you will do to it, or with it. And I know many pleasant things it will do to you. Aldo Leopold, “Wherefore Wildlife Ecology?”
With that in mind, below is an excerpt from the USDA Forest Service’s webpage: “What We Believe.”
Motto: Caring for the Land and Serving People
The phrase, “Caring for the Land and Serving People,” captures the Forest Service mission. As set forth in law, the mission is to achieve quality land management under the sustainable multiple-use management concept to meet the diverse needs of people: It includes:
- Advocating a conservation ethic in promoting the health, productivity, diversity, and beauty of forests and associated lands.
- Listening to people and responding to their diverse needs in making decisions.
- Protecting and managing the National Forests and Grasslands so they best demonstrate the sustainable multiple-use management concept.
Providing technical and financial assistance to State and private forest landowners, encouraging them to practice good stewardship and quality land management in meeting their specific objectives.
- Providing technical and financial assistance to cities and communities to improve their natural environment by planting trees and caring for their forests.
- Providing international technical assistance and scientific exchanges to sustain and enhance global resources and to encourage quality land management.
- Helping States and communities to wisely use the forests to promote rural economic development and a quality rural environment.
- Developing and providing scientific and technical knowledge aimed at improving our capability to protect, manage, and use forests and rangelands.
- Providing work, training, and education to the unemployed, underemployed, elderly, youth, and disadvantaged in pursuit of our mission.
Not bad. The government gets a bum rap, (lately it seems, by its own constituents), but what’s above lies at the heart of what they, (and possibly Leopold), try to accomplish. So support their mission, and support individuals and groups that want to keep public lands public.