Hunters often claim, “I’m not a sport hunter; I eat what I shoot,” as though the end (the act of consuming a carcass) justifies the means (the unnecessary killing of a wild animal).These people choose to live in areas where “game” is abundant, often because local wildlife agency policies have eliminated natural predators or favored one species of grazer over another. As ruralites, they pretend they are “living off the land,” practicing a pseudo-subsistence lifestyle. Whenever a person has all the modern conveniences at their disposal—a truck with GPS, a cell phone, a four-wheeler, a cooler full of beer and groceries and a warm house or shack to go home to—they aren’t really hunting to keep from starving, they are in fact just sport hunters in disguise. I should know, I was nearly sucked down that slippery slope once myself.
Years ago, I went through a brief live-like-an-Indian phase and enrolled in an “Aboriginal Life Skills” course— the same one that the author of “Clan of the Cave Bear” later took to learn how Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal man may have lived. For me, it was not so much an anthropological study but more of a wilderness survival course. Our final assignment: a ten-day back-country excursion armed only with a blanket, a knife and an ample supply of biscuit roots and wild onions gathered prior to the expedition. Although our tribe of modern-day abos had plenty of the nutritious tubers to go around, much of our time was spent out hunting for animals to roast in the fire pit.
I carved a bow out of a young juniper tree and the class instructor lent me one of his blunt-tipped arrows. With this mighty weapon, I shot a harmless chipmunk. The arrow didn’t kill the poor soul outright, but knocked him to the ground, wounded and trembling. I had to finish him off with a club like some brutal character from a cave-man story. I was praised by the folks back in camp, but felt anything but pride for my feat. The tiny morsel of chipmunk flesh was cooked in a rock oven, along with a porcupine the teacher’s assistant clubbed to death that same day.
We were taught how to tan animal skins using deer brains, fashion knives and arrowheads out of obsidian and build crude wooden shelters; but the main lesson I learned from the course was that we didn’t need to be slaying animals in order to survive. We were acting like a bunch of sport hunters out playing games at the expense of the resident wildlife.
The thing that brought that message home with clarity was when some of our group started baiting deadfall traps for the mink we occasionally saw along the banks of the river we fished. Mink meat is practically inedible, but their fur is quite a prize for those wanting a treasure to show off to others. Trapping the mink was not aiding our existence; it was another form of recreational carnage.
Ultimately, what I gleaned from the experience was something almost too taboo to suggest: I realized that even primitive societies must have had times when their relatively austere hunting practices provided them with far more resources than they ever needed for basic subsistence. They were no longer killing simply for survival; at some point humans started doing it with a motivation nearer to that of a sport or trophy hunter. (Only later did I discover that prehistoric man used fire to drive animals off cliffs, resulting in the annihilation of whole herds or the extinction of entire species.)
Modern people who claim to want to “participate in nature,” but depend on technology at every turn to spare them any physical discomfort, are actually just sport hunters at heart. A bear lives off the land, chipmunks (except for the regulars at my bird feeder) live off the land, moose live off the land, but today’s hunters live off grocery stores and burger joints—sporadically supplementing their hoard with the spoils of their latest sport-disguised-as-subsistence hunt.