I often get asked why I hunt and fish, with some people calling me “cruel” and even “evil.” “How can you love animals [which I do], yet hunt and fish?” As I sit and pen this article, I have three pheasants in the oven, the product of this past fall’s harvest. Many people hunt and fish, and they all have their reasons for doing so. Some do it for sport; some do it for food. Some have a questionable reason, such as that it’s less expensive to hunt than it is to buy meat and fish (which I’ll address later). For me, it goes much deeper.
Not for Sport
If you ever walk into my home, you will never see a deer head hanging from any of the walls. There are no mounted fish, ducks or pheasants. I have nothing to prove, and there are no trophies. The primary reason I hunt and fish is to put food on the table—what I harvest feeds my family and friends. I never take more than what I need or what is legal. Yes, the killing of fish and animals is involved, but it is never taken lightly. Those who call me “cruel” are usually doing so while munching on a cheeseburger. (Where do these people think the meat for that burger comes from?) There is no “sport” in killing anything, and every time I do kill something, there is deep sorrow.
Walking in the footsteps of my Native ancestors, my relationship with the world around me is deeply spiritual. At one time, there was a deep connection between people and the earth—a connection that many people seem to have lost. This connection with the earth is one that is felt by ethical farmers, hunters and fisher people everywhere. Like the Native people who have come before me, I have a deep respect for all life, and recognize that humans are just one small part of a great circle. There is a common phrase among all Native people: “We are all related.” This doesn’t just apply to people, but to all things. Everything has a spirit, and all things—rocks, animal, birds and more—are part of the circle, each one relying upon the other in some way. For me, hunting and fishing keeps me an active participant in that circle.
Prior to every hunt or fishing trip, I burn sage and offer prayers to the spirits of the animals and fish, asking for some of them to give their lives so my family can eat. After the animal is harvested, another prayer is offered to give thanks to the animal’s spirit. I owe it to the animal to use every part of it. Meat is put into the freezer or given to those in need. The remains of the fish are put into my garden to feed the plants. Feathers, bones and hides are given to people who use them to make items to be used by others.
I harvest all game and fish in the most humane manner possible, doing whatever I can to make sure the animals don’t suffer. If I cannot make a safe, humane shot, then I don’t shoot. I also don’t kill anything that I do not intend to eat or need to kill in order to protect myself or my family.
I know where my food comes from—do you? Being a hunter and a fisherman, I am an active participant in processing the food my family eats. My family knows that meat does not originate on a foam plate wrapped in plastic. The meat I harvest from the streams, lakes, forests and fields is not injected full of chemicals and antibiotics. When you buy meat and fish in a store, do you really know where that meat comes from? Do you know what kind of life it had? Was it sick prior to being processed? Even domestic livestock, chickens and farm-raised fish need to be treated with dignity and respect.
The simple activity of hunting and fishing also conditions my body. Rather than spending time in the gym, I hike to remote streams to trout fish and spend days tracking deer. Cold mornings may find me hiking to small ponds to hunt ducks or to a field to hunt spring turkeys. I’m burning calories, building muscle, increasing my cardio and working to feed my family all at the same time. Being outside also alleviates stress and the other health issues associated with it.
Some people argue that harvesting wild game and fish is less expensive than buying it at the grocery store. However, when you factor in the costs of licenses, hunting and fishing gear (including ammunition) and other incidentals, harvesting fish and game can be very expensive. If you also factor in your time, hunting and fishing can be cost-prohibitive.
But how much money is spent every year on health care? What about gym memberships? Today, these are billion-dollar industries, yet our Paleo ancestors never needed gyms to stay in shape. They also didn’t worry about health issues like high cholesterol, high blood pressure or obesity. These people ate lean (wild) meat and fish, as well as plants that they foraged. They spent their lives in constant movement, not sitting in a cubicle staring at a computer screen. Maybe we would all be a little healthier, thus saving money, if we took an active role in what we ate. And maybe the money saved on gym memberships and poor health could offset the costs associated with hunting and fishing.
The issue of hunting and fishing is different for all people, and these controversies will never go away. Some are against it, and that’s fine. Some claim it’s a sport, while others see it as a more meaningful existence with the world around them. Those people who came before us survived by taking advantage of, and respecting, the world around them. They harvested wild game, fish and crops as they became available. Life was a constant struggle, yet as a whole they were a healthy people. Granted, there are many other factors involved in being healthy than just hunting and fishing, but it’s clear that the food that we eat and how it is obtained plays a big part in our overall health. That is why I hunt and fish.