WHY EVERY MAN SHOULD GO HUNTING
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
~ Robert Frost, Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening
I climbed with my friend up a hill in the cold morning twilight, rushing to get myself to my position before the woods began to awaken.
All my life I was told this was a bad thing. Hunting was backwards, terrible. Why would anybody want to shoot an animal?
I didn’t know.
But I felt I had to do it.
Both as a carnivore and as a man – it felt like an obligation, a rite of passage.
So here I was in the Appalachian Mountains, dressed in orange, with a rifle in hand for the first time in my life, trekking quickly through the forest in the early twilight.
Self-discovery wasn’t the only reason I was here, however. Hunting sounded exciting. When I imagined myself on this expedition, I pictured hearing the rustle of leaves, wondering what was making the sound, seeing a deer and feeling the anxiety over whether I’d get a shot – feeling my senses peak with the rush of adrenaline through my body.
All of this would prove to be true. Yet like in war, these moments of tension were mere punctuations in long sentences of boredom and silence.
Finally, my trudging up the hill ended. I found myself a position behind a tree with a view down the valley as well as up the ridge as the sky began to change from navy blue to pale yellow and crimson. I sat down.
And I waited.
The temperature was freezing, and my fingers and toes were turning numb in pain. But I stayed put, searching, listening, and hoping as the sun gradually began rising above the horizon.
Hours passed and gunshots cracked in the distance – creating little winces of envy reminding me of what I was missing in my brisk, lonely spot. Until finally, in the late morning, I heard a crinkling across the ridge and saw some movement: A beautiful, bright eyed deer with a bushy tail, abounding into the clearing. It was 80 yards away, and in clear view.
I gradually moved my rifle into position. The deer – unaware – moved closer, until it abruptly stopped a mere 30 feet from me to eat. I could tell it felt uneasy. Unable to focus on the grass beneath it, it jerked its head up to look at me repeatedly, suspicious of me and my intentions.
I turned off the safety.
Looking into the scope I saw it: an easy shot, a perfect shot, a clean shot.
I moved my finger over to the trigger.
And then I stopped.
The deer was a doe. I was here to hunt buck.
And so I lowered the rifle, clicked back on the safety, and resumed my post, as the deer – hearing the careless movement – darted away.
Truth be told, I knew the deer was a doe from the second I saw it (they don’t have horns). Yet still, I wanted to bring myself to the precipice – and I’m glad I did. That moment – along with the entire remaining day, which included butchering a neighbors deer – taught me some powerful lessons about not only being a man, but about life itself.
Hunting Lesson #1: Life Is Death
“Now there really isn’t anything radically wrong with being sick or with dying. Who said you’re supposed to survive? Who gave you the idea that it’s a gas to go on and on and on?” ~ Alan Watts
Most people can’t stand death.
It scares them. Angers them.
And people who cause it are “bad people.”
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not here to condone murder or anything like that.
But one thing hunting made me really reflect on is an uncomfortable truth most of us avoid:
On its own or as a consequence of something else, because it has to. Otherwise how could you have life?
All life is recycled death.
And habitats, environments, worlds can only support so much of one thing before it gets out of equilibrium and destroys itself, reasserting balance.
Take deer, for instance. Deer are a high volume species. There are millions of them across the United States and millions more are born every year. With no natural predators anymore (sorry wolves), they are straining their habitat and need to be hunted and killed, lest they destroy it and inevitably kill themselves out of starvation.
One of the deer I saw was just a baby. Yet because other deer that day died and the population was controlled, now she has a better chance to live.
This death and birth pattern is an endless cycle, repeating itself not only in nature but in the entire universe.
I was lucky. Despite not getting a deer of my own, later that day I received another opportunity to be apart of it. A neighbor who had also bee hunting shot a deer generously gave it to us, along with responsibility of butchering it – while it was still warm. It is impossible to handle something that has just been alive like that and not feel the cycle of life and death viscerally.
Gross? Maybe. But for me it was truly a major gift and powerful experience.
Hunting Lesson #2: To Be In Touch With Your Killer Instinct Is To Be In Touch With Your Masculinity
“A real man is a violent one, and masculinity is nothing if not restrained aggression.” ~ Mike Cernovich
There is an uncomfortable truth about men:
We are at heart fighters and killers.
Have been, and always will be. And despite much indoctrination to the contrary, men’s status – and desirability – have long been determined by their ability not only to inflict violence but to withstand it.
(Question: Why do you think women like tall, strong, muscular men? Hint: Who’s most likely to win in a fight?)
Yet simply because a masculine man is at his core violent, it does not mean that a masculine man should fight and kill unnecessarily or sadistically. Women – and society for that matter – want men to be able to kill, but to only do it when necessary, for food or survival (of them or others). Indeed, the development of reason and ethics did not concern the abandonment of violence, but the constraining and channeling of it to society’s benefit.
We seem to have lost touch with this over the last couple of decades in the West. Rather than focus on restraining the violent side of man, we have focused on eliminating it. And the broader cultural implications of this aside, the fact that most men have lost their ability and emotional capacity to fight and kill – whether for food or for defense – has dissociated men from a core part of themselves. And frankly, it has made them less masculine, confident, and emotionally resilient – and consequently, less attractive.
Hunting gets you more in touch with this side of you. You cannot command a weapon of death, kill a living being, or even restrain yourself from killing a living being, without sensing it. And it was an incredible, empowering thing to experience indeed.
Hunting Lesson #3: The Woods Are Our Natural State Of Being
“Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life…When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence, that petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
I have suffered most of my life with anxiety. Some days are better than others. I have never let it hold me back, but I’d be lying if I said it was always easy.
Being in the woods, however – in nature – took all of these troubles all away.
Hunting puts you deep in the nature for hours. And while daydreaming is inevitable, it is impossible to feel stress about the things you “have to” do in life, your alleged shortcomings, when you are in a place that couldn’t care less about them.
Indeed, with nothing else to do, you start to pay attention. You admire nature’s incredible beauty, every texture of color. You listen for the crinkling of leaves. You watch the birds fly from branch to branch. You feel every sensation of the breeze on your face.
You slow down.
Being in nature is naturally meditative. During the summer I would take this to heart at the beach listening to waves. The feeling is similar when hunting in the woods, except it is more quiet, and because you are trying to find deer you are paying attention to the world around you even more.
My meditation practice was easier when I returned from hunting, and I felt more at peace than I had felt in months living in New York City. It was a benefit I hadn’t expected, but it reminded me the importance of nature and going back to it in this busy world.
Hunting Lesson #4: There Are Few Better Tests of Discipline
“The first and best victory is to conquer self.” ~ Plato
When I got to my spot the temperature was 23 degrees. It – and I – barely budged the entire day. It would be an understatement to say this wasn’t comfortable, even with a massive amount of warm clothing on. Despite having under-armor, a sweatshirt, a ski jacket, two hats, underwear, jeans, ski pants, two pairs of socks and two pairs of gloves on, it was a struggle to keep my fingers and toes from becoming completely frozen and numb. You take for granted how much heat you generate when you move around.
But it didn’t matter. When you’re hunting, you can’t just get up, jump up and down, and get your blood circulating to warm them up. You have to remain as still as possible. If your fingers and toes hurt, suck it up: you’ve got to deal.
It was a great test of discipline. Your mind needs to gain control of your body or you will scare off all the deer. I moved very little while hunting, yet looking back I probably needed to be even more quiet. Maybe if I had, I would have seen even more deer, including an elusive buck. It was a lesson learned.
Ultimately I ended up staying outside for 8 hours until I called it quits, 7 of which I was immobile with nothing but the sounds of the forest to distract me. Maintaining that sort of self-control not only was surprisingly pleasant, but gave me a great boost of confidence that translated into great work the rest of the week.
Is hunting for every man?
I’m sure to many it may seem miserable, boring, or even wrong.
But you won’t know what it awakens within you until try it.
In more primitive cultures it was almost universally a ‘coming of age’ experience for boys, and my experience showed me why. Despite being 15 years overdue, I felt like I had approached a threshold; one you only cross when you get your first ‘kill.’ There is something about experiencing death that takes you from a boy to a man.
I think every man should get more in touch not only with their masculine essence, but with their connection to nature itself.
If this is something that also interests you, there is nothing quite like being out in the woods, with a weapon, trying to provide food, to get you in touch with both. There’s nothing like hunting.
Try it out and let me know.
PS Venison is a delicious meat. A lot in flavor and texture to beef, but much leaner, and consequently much healthier. There’s not much fat on it, and the more fat you cut off, the less gamey it tastes. I had this stew after I went hunting and it didn’t taste gamey at all. In fact it was SO good I was even able to trick Kate, who didn’t want to eat deer, into loving it. So if your concern is you won’t like deer, trust me, you’re making a mistake. I’m happy I have enough to enjoy the rest of the year!