There are some things that many of you don’t know about me, and sometimes that is for the best. I work in a corporate environment and frequently people learn something new about my personality and they say “Well, that’s a surprise…”
And they’re not always saying that just because I don’t look like a ‘typical’ hunter.
I don’t drive a big 4x4. I don’t have a drawl or a regional accent or even any ‘rural’ affectations. I’m not politically conservative, and I don’t talk about guns or ammunition at all. And thus some people are downright shocked when it comes up that I am a hunter. And I used to think there was something wrong with me…perhaps I wasn’t doing it right? Maybe I wasn’t as serious a hunter as I thought I was. Was I a ‘closet hunter? And I’m not talking about the kind of person who goes to housewares stores looking for cabinetry. Maybe I wasn’t proud enough? Maybe I needed posters and bumper stickers?
That was when I realized that there wasn’t something wrong with me. There was something wrong with all the people judging the book by its cover. I mean isn’t that just typical urban/suburban nonsense to assume that everyone who hunts has to be some dip-spitting, plaid and camo wearing, foul-talking, beer-swilling, blood-lusting hillbilly? Just like those insulated city-dwellers to not have a clue about the wilderness and what nature is really all about…not the way us hunters do. I mean, how hypocritical could you be to have a negative view of hunting and still eat meat from a grocery store? To weep when someone shoots a deer, but to stomp on earwigs and spiders? What a load of elitist, liberal, B.S.? Right?
And after thinking that way for a while, I realized that something wasn’t wrong with them and something wasn’t wrong with me. Something was wrong with all of us.
I went through a similar crisis of identity when I was late in high-school and into my early university days. You see, you may not believe it (again with the preconceived stereotypes) but I’m really into punk-rock. I mean really into it. I have thousands of dollars of CDs, because I still buy hard-format music (that’s right I’m just that much a punk-rock hipster and support those bands accordingly). I have spent close to equal amounts of money on going to concerts and buying band merchandise in the form of posters, decals, hoodies, and t-shirts because unlike the ‘big’ label artists, most of the bands I follow are two or three bad merchandise weeks away from ceasing to be a band and resuming a transient life of itinerant work and squatting in homeless shelters. Late in high-school I started to develop the classic identity assertion; dressing strangely, getting drunk at house parties and lying to my parents about it, blaring loud music and generally being an insipid, dopey kid. In university I went even further, adopting bizarre haircuts (yes I did do the mohawk and ripped jeans look for a while) and going to obscure philosophy classes and workshops in coffee houses where I talked about evil conservative governments, and social activism, and generally became an even more insipid and irritating young adult.
But the whole time I was trying to be a hardcore conservative, country-talking, liberal-bashing, chest-slapping hunting stereotype, I was still buying album after album of nihilist, socially progressive, free-thinking punk rock. Hell, I was even getting into ‘real’ country…not this modern cookie-cutter nonsense, but real dyed-in-the-wool, gritty down home country and rockabilly. Not because I’m some music snob, but because the message spoke to me. And those messages were ‘Do it your own way’ and ‘don’t let anyone control or determine who you are’ and ‘The rights of people matter, and no one can take those away’. These are, coincidentally, the same messages I hear in a lot of the discourse on modern hunting. Don’t believe me? Pick up a Petersen’s and tell me that’s not a punk rock publication at heart. They do it their own way and agree with them or not, they are going to keep doing it that way. I'm not for all their views, but they write some darn good hunting stories there and ultimately that is what I'm paying for.
And the whole time I was in philosophy and politics seminars trying to come up with a solution to world hunger or disprove the existence of god (or prove the existence of god for that matter, because frankly, you can’t do either), or the hours spent trying to impress people with how I was a hip, progressive, modern intellectual I was wishing I was in a goose blind watching the birds lock-up and drop into the decoys or I was dreaming of leaning against a tree on a steely November morning listening for a deer to come tip-toeing through. Because that message spoke to me too, and that message is (or at least I think it is) that there are things out there that are well beyond my control and understanding, and wild animals reside in a plane of comprehension so utterly foreign to humanity that the best we can hope for is the thrill of deceiving them enough so that we can pursue them, observe them at close quarters, and if we’re lucky, take one home for the cookstove.
Both of my ‘constructed’ identities were false. I couldn’t be an abjectly fanatical hunter and fall victim to the patterned entrapments of that culture. I didn’t want to own a big truck, and I didn’t care about Toby Keith, and I certainly had enough of a conditioned distrust of the institutions of god and country thank you very much. But I could not likewise be a card-carrying social progressive and dismiss the economic and ecological value of hunting and fishing, or place the rights of animals above even the rights of humans, or deny the importance of the hunting tradition in the way it shaped who I was, because growing up in a family that hunted imprinted a love of both the raw wilderness and the pursuit of game on me that was indelible.
Sometimes I could not relate to a conservative hunting establishment in the same way I couldn't relate to liberal academic establishment. Which was when I learned how stupid those labels and paradigms really are. Because, the funny thing was, when I realized that I didn't fit into either of those archetypes comfortably, I found exactly where I fit in.
For me that place was here. It is where I am now.
So what’s the point of this entire oh-so-boring confessional from a man that most of you never have (and probably never will) meet? Just so much free-thought I guess, spurred recently from an observation I made in our modern era’s ubiquitous social media.
In my ‘following’ of certain people I noticed a dichotomy. Literally half of the people I followed would be typified as the "hunting community". These people (and for some I’m sure it is strictly a PR exercise designed to keep their sponsorships…either that or they are going through the identity construction I went through over a decade and a half ago) spent the last few days spewing hackneyed nonsense about gun control, and the resurrection of their personal savior (even though, sadly, many spelled resurrection or even ‘risen’ incorrectly), and the granfalloon trappings of NCAA rivalries which ultimately mean nothing but are still used as a barometer of relative regional worth. And I was at first amazed that people cared about stuff like this. But really, I followed them not for their religious or political or social commentary, but because they loved the outdoors and hunting as much as I did, and that they told good stories, and that they understood what I understood about the importance and value of our shared hunting experiences.
The rest of the people I followed were the comedians, writers, thinkers, social activists, and musicians that spoke to, informed, and appealed to the rest of who I am. I guess for some this may seem schizophrenic or convoluted, and perhaps you may even think it hypocritical (yes, I buy records from a band of hardcore vegans with semi-Communist political viewpoints…but holy crap can they ever shred a guitar solo and their drummer is simply one of the fastest that I’ve ever seen...after all that is what I'm paying for) but it does not matter what you think. Just as it does not matter what I think.
Where it gets dangerous is when you or I fall into the easy trap of letting the words, actions, thoughts, and ambitions of others over take our own values and we become nothing more than the mouthpiece of someone else's agenda. It is when you stop being who you are and start ‘acting’ like someone you think you should be. Sometimes it is obvious, but usually it is insidious and slow. Just because I hunt and my Dad hunts and Ted Nugent hunts and my cousin Dane hunts, we are not all even remotely the same person. Thinking and behaving otherwise would be ridiculous.
That is the parallel and the peril of the modern world. Because I can almost fully assure you that Fred Bear, Jack O’Connor, Peter Hathaway Capstick, Tom Kelly, Robert Ruark, and others in the pantheon of modern hunting greats had no time for any of that crap; they were in it for the hunt.
And maybe, in our efforts to define ourselves as hunters, we've forgotten that last bit.