As hunters, we all will inevitably be put in a position to explain, either in person or online, why we hunt. Sometimes this will be in response to someone who is simply curious. Other times we could be confronted by someone who has already made up his or her mind that they oppose hunting in general, or some form of it, and is just interested in winning an argument. How we respond individually and collectively will have a significant influence on how we, and hunting in general, are viewed and then accepted or rejected.
So, how do you answer this question: Why do you hunt?
It’s good advice to first gauge who you’re speaking with. Since people who are dug in against hunting are not going to change their minds over a truthful and sincere response, sometimes the best play is to not play at all, rather than swinging at low pitches in the dirt. Others who are sincere in their curiosity are simply that—curious. Neither person should be considered the enemy. If we immediately jump to the defensive, things typically don’t go well from there. It is therefore always a good idea to be prepared and know, if possible, who you are talking to.
As hunters, in answering the question of why do we hunt, we need to be honest—not just truthful.
It’s true—hunting is a significant mechanism for conservation and game management. But getting up at 4:00 in the morning, slinging on a backpack, and venturing out into the cold to participate in wildlife management is not why we hunt. It is not conservation calling when that alarm goes off. It is also true that conservation and wildlife management is funded in large part by sportsmen’s dollars, but paying into this system is a benefit from hunting, not why we hunt.
Repeatedly quoting how much money is funneled into wildlife conservation from hunting as a justification for hunting can actually do more harm than good, especially when confronted by someone who already thinks hunting is all about ego worship and paying a high price to kill something.
Supporting wildlife management and helping fund these efforts are part of the bigger picture we need never apologize for when and if we have the time to tell the whole story to a willing listener. People asking why “you” hunt is a more personal question that requires a more personal answer.
The truth is, there are many reasons why we hunt, and any one of them would suffice. One reason that should resonate with everyone is, in a word, freedom.
There is nothing more personal than freedom, and everyone understands what freedom means, or should. One of the greatest benefits compelling us as hunters is exercising our freedom to hunt, which is not a freedom for everyone in many countries. Just as game species may be the truest indicators of quality, natural environments, hunting is an indicator of quality natural freedoms. In a very real sense, public hunting is a very American way of viewing natural resources like wildlife.
The hunter is probably as free as it’s possible to be in this fast-paced, instant information overload, techno-society of ours. Free, not because we abandon civilized codes and restraints when we go afield, but because we can transport out of and beyond the commonplace, and insert ourselves into a quieter, deeper, wilder and older world from whence we came.
I was in a hunting camp several years back. The day had been successful; three of our party had filled their deer tags, and sprits were high. After the game had been cared for and supper was digesting in our bellies, the scene was alive with talk, stories, laughter and anticipation of the next day. As I watched this group of hunters engage with each other, it dawned on me. These men were free.
Our freedom has arched the trajectory of human existence across all time. It was freedom from oppression and servitude that loaded the ships destined for the New World and a new life. It was freedom that endured the hardships of carving a new nation out of the wilderness. It was the belief that all men are created equal and should be free that eliminated slavery. It was freedom that sends our troops into combat. Freedom is therefore not only an American ideal but a human one.
“Hunting exercises, expands, and enhances my freedom.” Tell them that.