I’m not at the end of my hunting trail. But I’m pretty sure that I can see it from here.

Over decades, I’ve striven to have wild game be a principal source of protein for me and those I love. However, it’s never quite been that, despite my best efforts. My larder has always veered between opulence and penury. Some years, I’ve had parts of two deer, a wild hog, plus ling cod and crab meat wrapped up and packed in a freezer for our provenance. But in other years, nearly zero game.

Still, I remain proud of both my gains and losses. You can never say which end of the hunt game will offer you the best lessons. Or, as a mystic in the Middle Ages (sorry, I forget which one) philosophized, “Thou guideth by Thy voice, Thou teacheth with Thy silence.” Out in the woods, I’ve found that success and failure are both astute and clever teachers; it’s simply that one is rather more subtle.


All of us know that if you bring up hunting as a topic of conversation, you tend to provoke heated debates on its pros and cons. Often, non-hunters deride it as a bloodthirsty sport. But I must say: whether bloodthirst is a prime motivation really depends on how hungry you are. Any good account of the Lewis & Clark expedition underscores this point, as does many a tale from the mountain men.

If you must contemplate serving your own boiled, worn-out moccasin for dinner, or a sparse handful of anonymous greens, a hot stew of freshly-killed rabbit will begin to look far more attractive—no matter how many rocks you might need to hurl before you begin to cook.

Plus, to even dub hunting as a “sport” seems utterly laughable. I mean, perhaps some may address this activity in a sporty way, but not me. I take my hunt far more seriously. I’d dub it a passion, a high art form, or a sacred primeval ritual. It bears scant resemblance to a trivial pastime or casual pursuit. No points are actually put on a board, nobody truly wins or loses, nothing is triumphant or defeated. What happens is simply that the great circle of life is given another spin, much like a prayer wheel.


However much vegetarians or vegans may want to argue with me, I’ve really got no beef with them. The way I see it, we’re all welcome to scrutinize the human situation, then each of us can proceed to make a personal call. I’ll confess that I even tried vegetarianism myself. Just once. But like Jimmy Buffet, I only lasted ‘bout seventy days. I was in my 20s, working construction, and steadily felt weaker, less able to do my job. Simultaneously, I raised a bantam rooster as part of my exploration. Ultimately, I killed, cleaned, roasted and ate him. Strength came flooding back that very night. QED: I would be a carnivore.

However, I decided to establish my carnivorism at an essential level. Meaning, I wanted the nutrients I ate to come from wild game that I myself pursued over land and sea. That way, I could ensure an animal’s passing was swift, merciful and efficient, not a long or drawn-out process of rising terror for a poor critter. That way, I could ensure all butchering was clean and thoughtful, not a hurried chore performed by some underpaid and abused migrant kid toiling in a fetid corporate knackery.

You see, I do grasp why the more gruesome aspects of an industrial meat plant drive some folks to seek out and adhere to a veggie menu. It’s just that my solution seeks to tread a different path—in a literal way.


Hunting has always helped me relish a sense of following in my remote ancestors’ footsteps. The mentality and the sensuality of such a primal legacy can be awakened only by melding yourself deeply with forest environs, then learning to move along in the way that animals move.

Of course, physicality is a big part too. Nothing makes me get up so early or trudge such steep hills, or sweat through so much dust and heat while I chase that perfect shot. And even should I fail to score one on that day, I glory in my comprehensive muscular ache as I plunge into slumber—knowing I’ll arise in the predawn to try, try again.

Like a Good Book (in this case, the I Ching) says, “Perseverance furthers.”
Nothing helps you stay young and fit for longer in life than constant rallying to beat the crap out of yourself in nature’s realm. A realization that you’re going to do that over and over again gives you considerable incentive to train and prepare your body for the ordeals lying ahead. You know, on those other, non-hunting days, when you find yourself stuck back home in “civilization.”


And even on those days when your game pack happens to look as empty as Santa’s sack on New Year’s Eve, you can still achieve a memorable harvest. Simply leave yourself open to the steady acquisition of ever-higher skills in the woodsman’s art. For example, I’ve discovered that achieving stealth outdoors is first of all a mindset, then it’s a deployment of a talent at movement that can only be acquired via a long string of outings.

Despite popular misconceptions, draping yourself in camo clothes or tiger-striped gear is actually the least of it. Amateur hunters may contribute to this heresy when they buy (literally) into a fantasy of competence. Meaning: those Delta Force wannabes tarted up like militant cosplayers who roar around on logging roads in vehicles that are also streaked with camouflage paint. The only game such Nimrods ever see are critters they startle from naps or scare into each other’s path. That method may work sometimes, but any victory on such terms is pathetic.


Genuine stalking requires a willingness to slowly tread the edge of light and shadow, to utilize the false horizons of landscape, to read mosaics of green, brown and gray, to perceive an unfelt breeze in the sway of grass and flutter of a leaf, to scout out faint game trails that lead to water or toward a shaded refuge, as well as discovering the cleverest route into a valley or over a ridge. It means knowing that, of two possible spots to place a foot, one shall be the most desirable—then setting your boot sole down as softly as a stalking cougar’s paw. It means making frequent pauses amid your progress to empty your mind of all else, then letting our wide and wild world flow in through every sense.

Hunting taught me this: to wait and to display patience is almost never a wrong thing. Such a lesson applies equally well to the practice of writing, and to the nurturing of human relationships.

Some of my other realizations include the following items. Grazing by deer, bison, elk, antelope and other critters is an amazing way to transform grass and forbs into a rich human food; eliminate hunting, and you cut yourself off from this supply. Every life is sacred and should be valued as such; animals themselves grasp and utilize this principle quite well. Meat ought to not ever be a mere recreational indulgence; the act of eating it, at its very core, is a communion with our wild world.

So why, then, do I now gaze ahead to contemplate the end of my hunter’s path? Several reasons. I think I’ve already gathered much of what I’m able to learn from my decades-long focus on the harvest of game in the wild. Also, I must admit that I’m at the age where a biological demand for protein has faded. From now on, much smaller doses will do me quite nicely.

And in the Big Picture, it’s grown clear that eating too much meat is bad for an individual human’s health, and even worse for our planet’s health. As a species, we’ve got a distance yet to travel yet through a period of trouble and travail before any grand balance might be restored. Yet I like to envision a day when industrial, wholesale meat and seafood operations are once more displaced by natural cycles and processes, and heedless humans are replaced by those thoughtful enough to foster such cycles, and participate in them in a sustainable way.


To cite one prospect: when the Oglala Aquifer—which sprawls under our Great Plains states, from North Dakota to Texas—is finally pumped dry and corporate agribusiness plummets out of business, then our mid-to-montane west can return to a Buffalo Commons, where cowboys snip the fences to wander an open range in partnership with mounted tribesmen.

Hey, a guy can dream. As for me, I wish to perhaps harvest one more deer, at most. Afterwards, I’ll still intend to take those long stalks in the woods that I so enjoy for as long as I’m able to amble the wild. But I’ll hang up my rifle on pegs and be out there toting a camera. One with a zoom lens, naturally. That should help me keep the big picture in focus.