“But, why do you hunt?”
Somebody asked me this question the other day, not from a place of malice, but from genuine curiosity. This is a person who has been around me for some time, so they know I like to talk about hunting almost as much as I love hunting itself.
This person asked me this question and I told them I needed some time to consider the answer. My whole life I’ve hunted. Tagging out or not, it’s always been a positive experience, so I never took the time to ask myself…why?
It’s easy to say you hunt for meat. I love the taste of game, and the satisfaction of bringing it home with my own two hands, but it’s not like I need to. I could easily get in my truck, drive to the store, grab some burgers and drive home. It’s cheaper, faster, and easier than hunting.
So that rules out that argument.
I thought to myself what I love most about being in the woods, or why I choose to spend my vacation time shivering on the side of a mountain. Shouldn’t my time be spent with my toes in the sand? Shouldn’t I want the peace I have worked so hard to afford?
The answer was something I didn’t anticipate. Why do I hunt? Because I love the struggle.
About three years ago, I was hit on my motorcycle while riding to work. I’ll save you the details but the short of it is I had no lower body function for about eight months. During this time a group of friends hiked the tallest peak in North America (Denali). I remember seeing the smiles on their faces at the summit. The win burn across their tired, but ultimately conquering faces. I cried that night like I hadn’t in a long time. At that point, my doctors didn’t think I would be able to hike more than a mile ever again. They told me if I could kick a soccer ball twenty feet, that would be a miracle.
I’m writing this to you now from Sevilla, in the South of Spain. Last week I scrambled over 45 miles through the Alcornocales National Park – some of the roughest terrain in Europe, chasing Ronda Ibex with my bow. Kick a soccer ball twenty feet?
Life has to be more than that. So I struggled.
After two years of physiotherapy, I could lift weights again. I could run a mile. A few months later, I could run 5. Now I can throw 40 pounds on my back and leave footprints on the summit. I have a job that allows me to travel year round, and yet until that happened I lived in a major US city, in a state where it’s notoriously difficult to hunt. When I started to make positive improvement, I decided I needed a change. There had to be more to life than making money in a big city. I took stock of everything I valued and made a list. On one side I wrote all the reasons I’ve been sitting still. On the other, all the reasons I shouldn’t. The latter, as I would later come to learn, was not a list of why I should leave, but why I needed to be in the woods. To light fires and sleep on rugged ground.
I realized something in that moment I had never realized about myself. I realized that I didn’t hunt because it was easy. I didn’t hunt because it was hard, either.
Because after my accident, I learned I never wanted to feel as helpless as I did back then, watching the people I love take this world and best it. I learned I wouldn’t have taken the career risks I have; asking for raises or changing my path. I learned the confidence I achieved all those years in the woods with my bow was a quiet confidence, an internal fire I could call upon when needed. I became resilient. My body was made hard, as was my mind.
So, why do I hunt?
To control the extent at which I may struggle.