Why do we hunt? For many, hunting provides us the chance to spend time afield with close friends, both two-legged and four-legged. Here, Pete Warner (left) and Chris Lander bird hunt with Teddy, an English cocker spaniel. Credit: John Holyoke

Decades ago, the answer to the question “Why do I hunt?” was likely more simple than it is today. Those who did hunt and did so successfully, provided food that their families would savor over the coming months. Those who did not? Well they had to find other ways of putting protein on the table.

Nowadays, we can easily take a drive to the supermarket and stock up on all kinds of food. Fish, fowl and livestock is easily obtained, and the essential role of the hunter-gatherer has dimmed.

Still, many of us still choose to hunt. A couple of weeks back, I examined the reasons I’m a hunter and wrote about some of the things I enjoy about hunting. Then I challenged BDN readers to think about the question for themselves and to send along a response: Why do you hunt?

Several people took the time to answer. Be forewarned, however: Some didn’t actually answer the question I posed. And not everybody who responded cared for the question or for the reasons I highlighted for my own participation in the activity.

Here, edited for space and style, are several of your answers.

From Warren D. Southworth, Sr.: Yes, I hunt for the meat. Deer or rarely, moose. There is no other like it. Most of those who say it’s gamey or tough have never eaten prime, properly cared for, knowledgeably prepared venison. It’s also meat with virtually no cholesterol. Grouse and certain ducks are also prime fare. I care little for woodcock, wild turkey or bear, but then I don’t hunt them. Granted, if I calculated the cost/pound of the wild game I eat, I’d probably be money ahead if I shopped at the local supermarket. But that’s not the point, is it?

Aside from tradition and food, then, what is the point? The drive to hunt, I believe, lies deep within me. It resides at the subcellular level, down there in the genome someplace. I am a predator, pure and simple. I could deny it, I suppose, but professional wildlife management and legality make it possible for me not only to accept it but also to pursue it. “Wait!” you say, “if the killing reviles you, then why not hunt with a camera?” Here’s why. Carrying a camera afield is not hunting. The camera makes me only an observer, not a hunter. Unless I carry the gun or the bow (or even the spear, I suppose), I do not experience the tension which exists between predator and prey, and that is what I seek, a deeper knowing of who and what I am and how I relate to other species on this planet. Many Native American cultures, in fact, believed that when a man took up weapons to hunt, he actually hunted himself. I understand that notion. I accept that part of me.

From Robin Emery: You could do all of the things in your article with a camera, except for the meat part.

From Karen Ellis: This is a great question but, as you say, hard to describe to others. I am one of the few but growing numbers of female hunters. I grew up in a family that hunted deer, grouse and rabbits. I have three brothers so I did not get involved in hunting until I was an adult. I sat back and took all the knowledge in from my father and brothers experiences. My husband and I brought up our son to love the outdoors and hunting as well as fishing is a big part of what we enjoy. I decided I wanted to try out hunting to see what it was all about.

My first morning out on opening day in 2012, I shot my first buck. I was hooked. It has become such a combination of things for me. The best part of it is walking through the woods by yourself or with family and taking in the nature around you. The sounds you hear. The things you see. You never know what the adventure that day is going to bring. I find it relaxing and so peaceful. It is great exercise. I have such great memories hunting with my son. A way to regroup from my day and if I am lucky I will get the opportunity to harvest a deer. As you can see I could go on and on about why I hunt because it has become such a big part of my life. Some of my best memories are out in the woods, and I look forward to making more each year.

From Al Larson: Some years ago, I hunted with rifle, shotgun and bow. Didn’t have a lot of luck, but it got me out on frosty mornings in beautiful places. Now my hunting is done with a camera. Like you, I’ve seen unexpected critters in the woods, marten, fox, moose, porkys, bear, bobcat. And farther afield, musk ox, reindeer, grizzlies, and an Arctic fox. My camera has “shot” many, many birds too.

But it is the being outside and seeing wonderful places that makes it great. I don’t need to kill something to have lasting memories. There are times when getting the perfect photo shot is harder than the perfect rifle shot. So whatever drives us out there, we all need to protect the wild places. Once the pavement goes in, the area is lost. Every outdoorsman should work to protect the wildlands we all love.

From Thomas D. Hall: Why do I support hunting?

I don’t hunt, but I very much support hunting and those who want to hunt.

Contrary to the image that some want to portray, today’s hunters are some of the most ardent environmentalists that I have ever encountered. Because of their passion for the activity, they, far more than others, want to preserve our woodlands and wilderness areas. They want for the herds to be healthy, for the waters to be clean and unobstructed so that fish may thrive. They believe the biologists, and subscribe to the ruling and advice that wildlife officials dispense. Hunters want the natural beauty of this earth to be forever preserved.

Why? For the same reasons why I want our outdoors to remain natural! I treasure those times when I can sit alone in the woods, taking in the cool air, the rustling trees and that rare woodlands animal. I emerge from the woods a better person, for the time spent in reflecting, and for the acceptance of how I have been blessed.

And even then, there are the simple pleasures of life that I find in being an outdoorsman; the pleasures that hunters find as well. Nothing tastes as good as that cup of coffee from a thermos, or the banquet found in a sandwich, all consumed while sitting in majesty at the table of a pine stump. Have you ever sat through a sunrise and seen the details of life emerge around you? Have you ever sat through a sunset, and recognized the red, orange and golden colors as the promise for a new day?

And though I have never hunted an animal, I can imagine the satisfaction of the reward for patience, for the diligence in waiting through the cold hours, for the humility of harvesting a God-given being and for celebrating the experience in whole.

We need to do better. We need to keep our environment clean and ever fresh. We need to keep our wildlife healthy. Hunters believe this. That’s why I support hunting.

From Robert Woodbury: This is very emotional for me because I am now physically unable to hunt. And it hurts. Over a quarter-century of diabetes has taken away the feeling in my legs from the knees down and I can’t walk on uneven ground without assistance. First, I was never a deer hunter. I don’t know why. My whole extended family hunts/hunted deer. Everybody. C’mon. Woodburys are from Patten.

Bird hunting was my passion. I didn’t hunt to kill birds (first shot always over the top — second shot right on), although a well-prepared grouse or woodcock was always a welcome delicacy at our table.

I hunted because I always walked behind the dog handler to watched the two work together. Magnificent. I hunted for lunch next to an empty stone foundation with an apple tree nearby with its pungent, rotting smell adding flavor to the ambiance. I hunted because being in the woods, surrounded by nature’s magnificence cleansed the soul and made me whole again, able to handle the work-a-day functions in a more calm, stable and reasonable manner. But mostly I hunted because of the company I kept. Bird hunters are hunting mainly for the same reasons. For lack of a better word, we all have the same “karma.” We can talk to each other and never say a word out loud.

I blamed my present non-hunting situation. I don’t blame my age because there are a lot of 80-year-olds, male and female, still barging their way through alders and raspberry thickets following a dog that won’t take “I can’t” for an answer. There is an old song that tells of the day the music died. A few years ago, I lost four bird hunting buddies in the same year, men and women who were cherished companions. I cried. I sold my guns.

From Ruth Nadelhaft: I read your column in today’s paper — twice. I noticed that some key elements of hunting were missing: Guns, for example. Your enjoyment of comradeship, nature, glimpses of wild animals offer compelling reasons for spending time with friends or by yourself in the woods. But leaving out the purpose of hunting is like describing golfing with no mention of clubs, balls and scoring. I assume an account of golfing would hardly stop at a description of green lawns, friendly conversation, and rides in carts. The point of hunting is hunting. Why go to such lengths to avoid saying that? You’re in Maine, you’re getting paid to write a column about outdoor life in a culture that respects, even valorizes, hunting. Are you traipsing along in the woods with your notebook? Taking pictures with your phone? Are you carrying a gun? Is anyone carrying a gun?

You set up this column as a long-delayed consideration of the “real” question: Why do I hunt? Well, why do you? What’s different about hunting as opposed to “just” spending a weekend in the woods with good friends? This column might have been a first draft. I look forward to the next version.

From Dan Crocker: Enjoyed your piece this morning, and most of my logical, rational reasons for hunting are the same as those you highlighted. And like you, I choose to hunt more for the intrinsic value of being in the woods, whether with friends or alone. I’ve posted quite a few stories to my blog about the bonds we build in the shared experiences in the woods, and that is perhaps the greatest motivator.

But I also find tremendous solace in the woods alone, and often retreat there when things in the real world get stressful so that I can relax, recharge, and refocus. Perhaps the most significant example of that is my blog post about a few hours I spent in a tree stand late afternoon on Sept. 11, 2001.

John Holyoke

John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their...