Hunter as Naturalist: An Oxymoron?

When hunters hold themselves to standards of hard work, respect and compassion, the seeming fissure between the hunter and the wildlife conservationist slips away, revealing a person with a deep reverence for nature and for the symbiotic relationship between predator and prey.

| November 17, 2011

  • Racks David Petersen
    Antlers embellish the walls of our homes, our barns and, in previous centuries, our castles. They are stark testaments to status and skill, souvenirs of adventures in the wild, and striking, one-of-a-kind natural art. In “Racks: A Natural History of Antlers and the Animals That Wear Them,” accomplished hunter David Petersen profiles the noble creatures — deer, elk, moose, caribou — behind this storied emblem, offering facts and stories and chronicling his own sense of wonder regarding antlers and their bearers. First published in 1991, the 20th-anniversary edition of “Racks” includes insightful postscripts that further ponder the ancient, natural act of hunting and the inextricable bond between hunter and hunted.
  • Hunter As Naturalist
    To get within striking range of a deer, a predator must understand and strive to defeat this remarkable animal’s superb senses. This is the challenge of the human hunter as well.

  • Racks David Petersen
  • Hunter As Naturalist

The following is an excerpt from Racks by David Petersen (Raven’s Eye Press, 2010). A self-described “campfire philosopher,” Petersen is the former Western Editor for MOTHER EARTH NEWS and the author of nine books. David and his wife, Caroline, live in a self-built cabin in the rural Colorado Rockies, where they garden, gather wood to heat their home, and hunt for dinner and philosophy. In recognition of Petersen’s ongoing work to protect public lands, fish and wildlife habitat, the Colorado Wildlife Federation named him Conservationist of the Year in 2010. This excerpt is from Chapter 8 of Racks, “The Hunter as Naturalist: An Oxymoron?” 

Like yin and yang, deer and deer hunting are inseparable — so it is now, so it has been since the dawn of humanity. And so, I am here to argue, it should be.

But only if it’s done right. Which increasingly it is not.

What follows is intended primarily to objectively inform the approximately 80 percent majority of Americans who (unless they’ve been understandably tainted against hunting by the Outhouse Channel or similarly bad examples) hold no strong opinions one way or another.

I am a hunter. Not merely “a person who hunts,” but someone to whom this ancient, natural and honorable activity is an essential and deeply meaningful part of life. As such, I take no small umbrage at uninformed and unfounded attacks from anti-hunters or, on the other side of the philosophical coin, at the disgraceful behavior of some who pass themselves off as hunters these strange and sickly days.

When I speak kindly — even affectionately, of “the hunter” — I refer to the man or woman who stalks unobtrusively through forest and field or sits quietly alongside game trail or watering hole, and who eats what he or she kills, no exceptions, whether making meat is the primary motive for hunting or not. While I acknowledge the grunt work and patience required to lure in and shoot a bear over bait, there’s no woodsmanship involved in it — no hard-won skills, no real challenge, no compassion, no sense of fair play and, ultimately, no point, even when the meat is eaten (and bear meat can be delicious — the pork of the wild kingdom).

12/7/2011 8:18:08 PM

Wonderful article. Noone can love nature more than someone who lives it. A hunter, even a modern slob that hunts for fun (meat donated to friends or food bank) are more intune with the glory of nature than the slobs that continually want green lives but can't pull themselves away from cpu's cellphones and ipads. I don't hunt nearly as often I as I've wanted to.... and it's a true regret. Your article is truly a service to the sport and to conservation. I don't agree with everything, but it strikes a great chord

12/7/2011 2:44:39 PM

The environment should not be partisan.

12/7/2011 2:42:56 PM

The Sierra Club works with hunting groups.

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