Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Nobility of Hunting

The other day when I missed a grouse I wanted to believe that it really wasn't a big deal, except maybe to Cookie, she wanted to retrieve the bird but I wasn't even close enough to do more than elicit that sharptail cackle of "you missed me." Cookie didn't give me a dirty look, just a disappointed look. I knew I was trying to fool myself.

Since the season opener this was the first grouse I've managed to put up in range and only the third or fourth I've actually seen. Had I been hunting with semi-auto, pump or even double 20 or 12 gauge and shooting decent high brass loads and not my 12 gauge double-barreled muzzle loader I am sure that grouse would have been dinner by now. Instead of a good, clean kill, however, I got a good, clean miss. Now, if I could lay claim to that title of the perfect sportsman who is in the field only "for the experience" I would write that it wasn't the kill but the thrill of watching Cookie wind, scent, find and point the bird that was my motivation for being out. I'm not a perfect sportsman. I wanted a bird in my game bag. I wanted the thrill of seeing through the thin cloud of smoke from the muzzle loader and watching the bird tumble to the ground. I wanted to feel the warmth of the bird when my dog brought it to my hand and I wanted to feel the weight of the bird in my game vest. I missed all of that. Instead, I got to sense my dog's frustration coupled with my own.

Hunting, we often like to claim, is about the experience of being outdoors with our friends and experiencing nature. That claim is a short distance on hunting's circle. Hunting is also about locating our quarry and bringing it to bag--killing the animal. It is within that act, the kill, that each of us, as the hunter, must demonstrate our nobility as a modern predator and dignify that animal's death by our satisfaction of accomplishment. When we deny our satisfaction with the fulfillment of our intent of the hunt then hunting is reduced to one of two extremes: a nature walk with friends or a justification for killing. The nobility of hunting is the savoring of the success of the hunt beyond the moment of the kill. Ted Kerasote masterfully writes about connections between the hunt, hunter and hunted in Bloodties: Nature, Culture, and the Hunt. Kerasote's savoring of an elk steak, and from the flavors of the steak experiencing the elk's life in nature before he killed it, reaches to that nobility of the hunt. It is not a rewriting or explanation of the famous Ortega y Gasset quote: "one does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted." (Meditations on Hunting) The difference between the texts is that one explains the steps on the circle of hunting after the kill and the other helps us, as hunters, to understand why, when we fail to put a bird in our game bag or to fill a big game tag we are left with a feeling we don't really understand--it is simply the understanding that we have not completed the hunt and we will not enjoy those things which come after the kill.
But, not to worry, at least for me, because tomorrow I will be back in the grasslands searching for my favorite bird--the sharptail grouse and my much loved German Wirehair will be with me. glg


Anonymous said...

@Beautifully written,
Commits to pen and paper what I have felt for so many years and was unable to articulate to non-hunters.
Thank You!
From: T. Michael Riddle

Galen Geer said...

Thank you and I hope you will stop by often and comment equally often.
We have scudding clouds building overhead and I sense a great time to go goose hunting is just a few hours away!

Blessed said...

Beautiful Post - and very true, if I usually come home with game in my bag I can just enjoy being out and watching the dog work but hunting is about putting dinner on the table too and I do feel a bit frustrated when that doesn't happen!

KGT (aka Cagey) said...

Great post.