Over the course of a year, I find myself answering all kinds of questions about hunting.
Among those questions, the classic W’s are well-represented. Where am I spending opening day? When am I going to head into the woods? Who am I hunting with?
But as yet another deer season looms — Saturday marks the residents-only opener of the firearms season on deer — it occurred to me that I’m rarely asked what might be the most important question of all.
Why do I hunt?
There are plenty of quick, semi-accurate answers to that question, I suppose. None of them are really true, though. Not entirely. Not quite.
I could tell you that since I’m an outdoor writer, it’s a requirement of the job. That’s not true, of course. Sportswriters aren’t required to shoot hoops, and political writers aren’t forced to run for office. Neither, then, is actual participation a requirement of the outdoor writing gig.
I could tell you I need to put food on my table. Then (if you’ve been following these columns for any length of time) you’d break into laughter, realizing how little success I’ve had as a deer hunter over the years.
Or I could tell you that hunting is a way for me to actively take part in the management of our wild game populations, and without hunters, management efforts would suffer. That sounds like an admirable mindset, but when I’m sitting in a ground blind or tromping through the woods, I’m not wasting time thinking about the optimal carrying capacity of that parcel of land, nor any other management equation.
The answer, then, is more difficult to pin down … or, perhaps, it’s much more simple than we realize.
My reasons for hunting are different than those of many others. I did not grow up heading into the woods with my dad or uncles. I didn’t absorb the hunting lifestyle as a child. I didn’t head into the woods as a teen because everyone I knew hunted. Instead, I didn’t take up hunting until I was an adult. I chose to take part in the activity.
And now, each year, I spend a lot of time in the woods taking part in a sport that I’ve come to enjoy immensely.
Which leaves the question. Why?
Here’s a partial list: I hunt because it gives me the chance to walk silently through the woods, to learn about nature and to sit on a stump, doing nothing, without feeling like I should be doing something else.
I hunt because it recharges me after a day or week or month in the office. I hunt because I get a chance to think about life (under the guise of telling others I’m thinking about the big deer that might choose to participate).
I hunt because I never know what to expect in the woods, and the allure of those possible surprises — a bobcat saunters by, a moose stands alone in a cutting, a pair of deer prance past, a ruffed grouse takes wing in startling fashion — are always worth the trip.
And most importantly, I hunt because I have good friends who hunt, and getting the chance to spend a few hours together grows increasingly important as the years pass.
To be certain, solitary hunts are part of the game. Over the course of a season, I’ll often venture into the woods on my own, as friends toil at work, unable to get out. (My bosses do allow their outdoor writer the opportunity to do some “field research” on occasion).
But special days spent hunting with longtime friends are simply the best. Sometimes, a few animals actually decide to participate in those outings. Even when that doesn’t happen, the adventures prove memorable, and the trips are worthwhile.
As we head afield this weekend, I have a challenge for my fellow hunters: Consider that key question. Why do you hunt?
I look forward to reading your answers and may share a few of them with readers in a future column.
Have fun out there. Good luck. And most importantly, be safe.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-990-8214. Follow him on Twitter @JohnHolyoke.
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