The Only Hunter at the Party

You’re at a party or any social gathering. Introductions and mingling are taking place. Someone asks you, “So, what are your favorite hobbies?”

You contemplate. “Should I say hunting?”

You do, and realize it was a mistake. You are now being grilled by a guy/girl who has never stepped 40 yards off the beaten path. Never known the feeling of reverence after taking a wild animal. Never known the feeling of setting the table and putting down a platter of the most delicious meal your family will eat that year.

This is a relatively new problem. You think 200 years ago, you would run into someone who doesn’t hunt or did not come from a family that hunted? No way.

But those were different days. To stand up and publicly announce yourself as hunter to the general public is a little unnerving today. The person(s) in front of you don’t even have to be anti-hunters, but just non-hunters. Here’s the likely follow-up questions I will get (some good and some just plain ignorant) and how I answer them.

1. Don’t You Feel Bad When You Kill an Animal?

You could say, “No, I only feel a bruise if the recoil or sting-slap was bad,” like this popular internet meme says. But to me, that’s a lie. I feel more. I feel gratitude that God has provided meat for my family. I feel relief that the animal died quickly and humanely. And I feel horrible if something within my control caused that animal to suffer any amount of time. I feel proud of my skills as a woodsman.

So, my response to this question is as follows:

“If I didn’t feel something, you’d have a right to call me a bloodthirsty killer. I feel something so deep in my soul that it is hard to describe the feeling to someone who has not felt it him or herself. It’s gut wrenching, but it’s in our nature. ”

2. Why Don’t You Just Buy Your Meat from the Grocery?

There may be one thing hunters and PETA can agree on: Animals in the current industrial agricultural system are treated poorly and are not wild at all. There so many responses to the above question that address health benefits and costs, but I usually just say:

“Eating animals you hunt yourself is a more ethical alternative than eating those from the store. The animals are wild and not living in confined enclosures, being stuffed with antibiotics and waiting for their number to come up at the slaughterhouse. To be part of the process of taking a life is more honest to me, somehow. It’s more personal. It’s more meaningful. I don’t take the harvest for granted.”

3. Aren’t you worried there will be no [insert animal here] left one day if hunting is allowed?

The person who asks this question must have missed high school biology. Hunting is conservation. There is a list of statistics as long as my arm that supports it. Hunters are the reason there are more than 32 million deer in this country today, compared to 500,000 in 1900. We care for the natural resources. We fight for the protection of natural areas. We annually contribute $1.6 billion to conservation groups. The list of conservation efforts from hunters goes on and on. 

I try not to muddy my response with figures though, so I prefer to say something on an emotional level like:

“If nobody hunted deer, we would be up to our eyeballs with them. And these wouldn’t be the majestic deer you see today and saw in Bambi. These would be mangy, disease-ridden, undernourished deer. In some suburbs, we are already seeing this. And what happens? They call in snipers to cull the deer once Mr. Wilson down the street loses some plants in his garden. Hunting is the only tool we have to allow wildlife populations to grow within their limits.”

4. Do you just care about how big the antlers are?

 I practice Quality Deer Management. My QDM philosophy is an effort to grow the healthiest herd of deer our land can support. A by-product of that is seeing more mature deer with bigger racks.

 That deer on the wall is not just something I shot. I helped it get that big and healthy and I am proud of that fact. And the buck and I have a history. Every time I look up at him, I remember it. The times I let him walk when he was younger to the time he grew wise and slipped the noose a few times. To the meals we enjoyed after the harvest. I learned more about myself when chasing that deer and he is hanging up there as a reminder. It’s hard for a non-hunter to understand this.

 This is more of a personal question. My answer is probably very different from other hunters, but I tell them:

 “I care about a higher-quality, healthy deer herd.  One result of this is often bigger antlers. But it’s not the antlers I care about most; it’s how we got there – from working the land to balancing the population of bucks and does to the many encounters on trail cameras and in the field. Older deer are wiser and harder to hunt. It’s a barometer of my hunting skills.”

 These are some of the things I get asked by non-hunters often. They are not anti-hunters or PETA activists (who, in my experience are impossible to reason with), but really curious about hunting and the culture around it.

Living in Nashville, I have converted a few hipsters to hunters just by talking to them and asking them if they’d like to hit the woods sometime. It all starts with some dialogue. It seems as a hunter, I always have my guard up. The questions feel like condemnations for my love of hunting. But more and more, I am realizing non-hunters are just curious and maybe even interested in becoming a part of the outdoor culture.