Hunting — the way of life in the West that connects so many of us to our families and ancestors is also one of the truest expressions of human nature in a historic sense.
Unlike farming and the domestication of animals — where humans wield their will upon the world — hunting sets a human in direct competition against the will of nature, against animals far more adapted to surviving in the wild.
Without claws or sharp teeth, armed only with humanity’s wit, we craft tools to elevate our status as predators. We rely on reason to develop strategies to overcome our shortcomings in seeing and smelling.
Through these technological and tactical evolutions, we embody the essence of humanity. And the carnivorous spoils of our efforts provide the high-calorie diet necessary to sustain our mental prowess.
While the technology has advanced beyond spears and slings through millennia, the experience of hunting today remains almost unchanged from the days of the caveman. Sure, rifled barrels and high-powered optics improve a human’s odds, but the pursuit of game animals is still rightly called a hunt, as so many unsuccessful hunters can attest each year.
Even without success, though, hunting can provide camaraderie and a sense of a tribal connection between friends and family members in a party.
Traveling over rugged country to a tucked-away family deer hunting spot in the mountains of Eastern Oregon recently, my father recounted stories of ventures he had taken there with his father and grandfather, who died before I was born.
I heard tales of my great-grandfather bouncing his head off the side window after falling asleep en route and of my grandfather accidentally igniting a sleeping bag with the ash of his cigarette in a doorless Jeep.
When we came upon one of the last hills to traverse before the hunting ground, technology failed us. The pickup could not make the crawl up the mountain, and we were forced to set out on foot.
Shortly into the journey, I spotted a buck grazing. With his tail toward me, I opted to wait for a better shot, but the buck soon laid down behind some brush. If I didn’t already know he was there, I may never have seen him.
I moved within a couple hundred yards and tried to position myself for a better shot. And then I waited, not wanting to spook him into the short run it would have taken for him to disappear over the ridge. And waited. And waited.
About fifteen minutes later, a cow that had been grazing made its way within 20 yards of where the buck bedded down. Finally, the buck stood up, and I expected to have a decent shot. The buck obviously wasn’t too startled, however, as he remained in the one place I didn’t have a great shot and resumed his breakfast.
My eyes began watering and getting blurry as I stared through the scope on my .30-06 for at least 15 more minutes — practicing more patience than perhaps ever before in my life.
Finally, he turned, and I took the shot. He tried to run but died within 15 yards of where he was standing when I pulled the trigger.
The drive back off the mountain was filled with more stories about my ancestors and my father’s hunts when he was a child.
At the post-hunt feast, we cooked the heart and liver in an attempt to recreate my grandmother’s cast iron cooking that I got to enjoy before she passed away several years ago.
Later in the week, my father and I took my younger cousin out hunting, and he shot his second deer, his first buck.
Through it all, I was immersed in a family tradition that transcends the Hart family tree.
By participating in the timeless tradition of hunting, I experienced nature on its own terms — simultaneously a part of the natural procession and in competition with it.
By hunting, I achieved a state of harmony with nature and, in the process, actualized the essence of humanity.
Sean Hart is the editor of the Blue Mountain Eagle. Send your hunting stories and photos to firstname.lastname@example.org.