Am I a hunter? What is a hunter?

This is what I pondered this gorgeous autumn week while I sat quietly amid aspen trees, thorny rose shrubs, and tall grasses. I was dressed in camouflage, gun in hand, watching for deer. It was archery and muzzle-loader hunting season and I had bought my licence.  I reflect on my reticence to self-identify as a hunter. Is it because I lack the experience of my husband who has hunted most of his life? Because much of my experience hunting has been to follow his lead and seemingly reap unjust rewards from his skills? Is it because I’m a woman in a non-traditional role? Or is it because the word itself lends itself to negative connotations in our society?

Aspen overhead

Many people haven’t had a positive role model of a hunter, and may equate a hunter with painful emotions evoked by Disney’s representation of “man” in Bambi, instilled in our psyche at a vulnerable young age. Perhaps they relate it to a media story of poachers who act illegally and without moral compass, but are named hunters rather than poachers. Perhaps you don’t know what to think but you envision people (mostly men) chasing animals in their trucks, carelessly yielding dangerous weapons. None of these sit well with my experience of hunting, but I won’t say these types don’t exist.

Merriam-webster defines hunt as a verb meaning to chase and kill (wild animals) for food or pleasure. This seems simple and yet it doesn’t feel like it fits me. I’m not chasing. As for the pleasure component, that is complicated. Do I enjoy taking a life? No. I feel much remorse, awe, humility, and I mourn the loss of the animal’s life. I do what I can to honour its life. Do I enjoy the act of connecting with the natural world in order to harvest meat? Yes. I acknowledge that I am a consumer, whether I buy food at the grocery store, whether I am vegan, vegetarian, or omnivorous. Hunting feels ethical to me, from many standpoints. Even though it is not easy, I want to see the blood on my hands to remind myself for the gratitude with each meal I eat, whether I am eating something I killed, or a plant or animal someone else harvested. I recognize there is an environmental impact of every food we eat, and I weigh my choices with care and intention, backed by years of experience in conservation biology. I consider the health and well-being of the animal’s life before it dies, and how humanely it dies.

Yes I guess I am a hunter. What doesn’t sit well with me is the action component of the word hunt. Synonyms are chasing, stalking. When I hunt, I feel like I’m BEING, not DOING.

I’m seeing, hearing, feeling, and breathing. I am connecting with the sights and sounds of the natural world. Some might call it a meditation. The earth beneath my body, its temperature and energy ground me. Trembling aspen leaves whisper and echo with a familiarity that tells me I am home. Stillness surrounds me and life abounds simultaneously. Insects work diligently, birds call and soar. Chickadees and juncos feed and call near me, the leaves crunching loudly beneath them. I sit so still that a junco’s wings brush my nose as he flies by. I wonder if the chatter of a squirrel or magpie might teach me who is approaching.   I wonder if I will first see or hear a deer when it finally arrives in my field of vision. I find if I stop concentrating intensely, I sense when and where to glance to find a deer approach. I don’t see or hear it, I somehow feel and know it.

panoramic of field

When I let go of all my pretences and worries about whether or not I am a hunter, I find I’m a person outdoors, excited and enlivened by nature and wild things, and my natural instinct guides me. This past week I stopped following my husband and challenged myself to start thinking like a hunter:  about wind directions, food sources, seasonality of social behaviours. One night before I fell asleep, I saw a vision of the location I should visit next and followed that intuition.  On another afternoon I approached a field and keenly sensed I was being watched and I was intruding. I paused and acknowledged I am a guest and I asked permission to enter. I didn’t know who I was asking, like I don’t know where these messages come from. But I stopped judging myself and started to pay attention. Later that evening as I departed the further depths of the field, I found three moose where I earlier sensed this. On another evening I had the privilege of watching two fawns frolicking in a field, running and bounding after a long day at rest, their doe carefully keeping watch nearby. They passed by me more than once at close range and I did not think to lift my weapon. I had no impulse to separate any of this family unit. My freezer is not empty enough and my time is still abundant.

I am grateful for the opportunity to observe while unobserved. There will come a moment I will feel the RIGHTNESS  of opportunity and instinct. Something runs deep in my veins that leads me to the hunt, and yes I do enjoy it, but I do not chase. I take much care and focused intention with every moment and I am grateful for the opportunity to witness all the life around me. I recall moments of childhood: trying to trap a cottontail rabbit, building a chickadee feeder, collecting beaver bones, catching wood and leopard frogs.   I have become, or more likely that I always was a hunter. I am connected with the source of life. It sustains and empowers me.  The challenge has been to push aside my ego and remain true to my instincts.

Yours truly

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10 thoughts on “Am I a hunter? What is a hunter?

  1. In the core of my being I deeply respect what you have shared here and appreciate you for these words, for your deeds and your bravery. To honour yourself is very admirable but to have the courage to share it is so very inspiring to me and I want to thank you for being a role model in this way. I bow to your strength and beauty inside and out. ❤️🙏

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  2. Awesome. I believe that anyone that has spent time afield and ingested nature at it’s finest can relate to every word you have written. I have not “hunted” for several years. My hunting now revolves around photographs. My harvest sits on my computer. I may be back some day and it will be for the very reasons you speak of. Thank you for your inspiring description of a hunter. Respect is number one and realization of that is satisfying in itself.

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    • Thank you for your feedback Mark, I am so glad this resonated with you. Indeed many of us feel these things without using weapons. I’ve “hunted” in many ways in my life.

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  3. Nicole, this is a great piece. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings. The definition you include from Merriam-Webster about “…for food or pleasure,” struck me particularly hard. It reminds me of a speaker on hunting ethics I once saw. I believe he was quoting Joseph Campbell when he said that what hunters felt after the kill was closer to happiness than it was to pleasure. A huge distinction, I think.

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  4. Hi Nicole! I’ve met you on several occasions in the green space in Delisle walking/running our dogs. I haven’t seen you in a long time!! And then the internet led me to this, your entry in this blog. Thank you for writing this. My reason is different from the others that have commented so far. I was not subjected to hunting throughout most of my life and was once traumatized when my friend opened the door to her garage while I was standing nearby and a deer was hanging from the rafters. I was 20 yrs old and that was the extent of my exposure. I’ve always felt something towards deer – somewhat of a profound respect and I think they are beautiful. I often joke that I may have been a deer in my former life.
    So when social media gained popularity and then I moved to Saskatchewan where there are so many hunters that live among me and then post their heroic pics of their trophies- I’ve never been able to understand it. Until I read what you’ve written here. So thank you for describing your experience and your definition of hunting and what it means to hunt. I now have a new perception.

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    • Christine! Thank you so much for replying and sharing your thoughts and experiences. I am humbled to know I’ve shifted your perspective even an inch. I understand, the trophy photos can seem tasteless and tend to diminish the experience the hunter has had. Some are downright harsh. I like to think they are well-intentioned, and comes from a place of deep instinct to be one with nature, but sometimes there’s just a disconnect that happens where we are influenced by peers or media and because we don’t live in close connection to nature anymore. We lack mentors experienced in teaching deep respect for life and the hunt. I like to believe that the possibility for such exists in all of us and is ready and waiting to bloom, in the right circumstances.
      We don’t live in Delisle anymore but let’s try to connect virtually.

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