15 October 2008

The Joy of Hunting and Secret Places

Butte Montana is blessed with unparalleled four-season outdoor recreation in our backyards. Mountain wilderness, broad prairie, lush bottomland, steep-walled canyons, rivers swift & slow--it's all here.

This is hunting season. Big game such as elk, mule deer, whitetailed deer, and pronghorn antelope abound. Tags are easy to come by, there is a generous five-week long season, and there is abundant public land. One may also apply for special hunts for bighorn sheep, moose, and mountain goats.

It is hard, sometimes, to be a hunter in postmodern America. Many view hunters as blood thirsty killers with no respect for nature, redneck Joe Six-packs that ride down a terrified deer and shoot it from their ATV. It does not help that some hunters are this way.

At its best, hunting embodies a deep connection with and respect for nature.

This is one reason that “secret spots” are so valuable and must be closely held. While it is a great pleasure to introduce others to special places, it is important that they be held dear. It is a lot of work to form a deep connection with nature, to “figure out” a good hunting spot: it doesn’t just happen.

In turn, I appreciate others that figure good hunting places and share them with me. It’s not that I need any new places to hunt. But I do enjoy seeing how other hunters plan & perform a hunt on home ground—-especially if they do it successfully & well. This is why I would love to give my soul over to the Kalahari people (!Kung San or Khoisan) for a few weeks.

I am very fortunate to have had Dave Carter as a hunting partner who worked with me in figuring out some “secret spots.” Dave & I hunted together for about 15 years and worked incredibly hard to hunt these placeseffectively-—we spent many weeks at pre-season hiking & scouting, and never expected to just “show up” somewhere and get lucky. Locating a place with a good population of antelope, mule deer, whitetails, or elk etc is not a big deal. The important part is in learning the lay of the land, where animals are likely to be under various conditions, and how animals are likely to behave.

There is a ridge along the Big Hole River that is a very easy place to hunt mule deer and a very difficult place to hunt pronghorn antelope. There is only a single herd of antelope, and their use of the terrain makes for tricky stalks & long shots. Effective stalking and long shots seem impossible for neophyte hunters or for those not confident in their abilities. Things I take for granted – tracking a herd of antelope two miles before stalking and killing one – do not come easily. No wonder that so many antelope hunters resort to random acts of road hunting!

Hunting, like so many forms of tacit knowledge, is cultural. Such things cannot be learned from books. Luckily, because we are human, our parents can come from among anyone in the village. All hunters, before they get too old, should find a hunting/outdoors apprentice and pass along their knowledge. Those who love nature will defend it.

This applies equally to other outdoor activities that depend upon a deep connection with and respect for nature: backpacking, birdwatching, fishing, etc.

Keep the flame alive.

1 comment:

troutbirder said...

I don't hunt anymore mostly due to the bad knee & increasing lack of public access. You've explained the ethos of the true hunter very well and I concur completely. Here in Bluff Country we are now seeing more "fenced in hunting" (they call it "harvesting") No fair chase and it puts the rest of hunters in a bad light. Makes me sick actually.