The Compassionate Hunter

Learn the benefits of harvesting wild meat as a more sustainable, humane, and healthier approach to meat consumption.

| February 2016

  • A black-tailed deer doe munching on fireweed.
    Photo by Miles Olson
  • A unique and comprehensive, fully illustrated guide to the complexity, ethics and spirit of the hunt, "The Compassionate Hunter" by Miles Olson is a must-read for beginning and experienced hunters alike. It will appeal to anyone who wishes to delve more deeply into the complex, humbling and ultimately profound reality of our relationship with the food that nourishes us.
    Cover courtesy New Society Publishers

Wild meat, hunted in a responsible way, is one of the most healthful, sustainable foods possible. Depending on how it is done, hunting can be as local, intimate and humane as it gets. And aside from this, it demands the hunter enter a world of awareness, wildness, life and death that we have lost connection to as a culture.

The Compassionate Hunter's Guidebook (New Society Publishers, 2014) by Miles Olson is a guide for those that come to the act of hunting with pure intentions, motivated by a desire for healthy food that comes directly from the land where they live. This practical manual suggests that hunting is not a "sport" and the animals whose lives are taken are not "game." It combines a deep, philosophical exploration of the ethics of killing with detailed instructions on every step of the process.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: The Compassionate Hunter's Guidebook.

Compassion and hunting

A friend recently told me how ironic it is that some of the most impressive conservation work being done in the US is funded by organizations made up of hunters. How bizarre, she remarked, that the people preserving and protecting habitat for wild creatures are the very ones who make a pastime out of killing them. As a hunter, I didn’t find this bizarre or surprising at all; hunters have more directly invested in the preservation of healthy wild ecosystems than most other people. As someone who at one time was not a hunter, and who still remembers the popular conceptions and misconceptions around what that label means, however, I completely understood what she was saying.

Many people have a picture of the hunter in their imaginations that looks a bit like this: a macho, male, aggressive, over-stimulated, gun-toting redneck who likes to blow the heads off of innocent wild creatures for kicks: someone with no respect for nature or life. Now, I have to acknowledge that this image is based on a certain level of truth. The fact is, there is a spectrum of hunters, a spectrum of what hunting can be and can mean. On one end of this spectrum are people who head into the bush to shoot something just for the thrill of it. That’s all. They might have a picture taken posing proudly beside the grizzly bear or bull moose they have slain to document their impressive feat. They do not eat any of this animal, they just take its life for fun, as if it was a character in a video game. While this kind of conduct represents just a tiny fraction of hunters, and is illegal in many states, it does still happen. Then you have hunters who actually take the meat from the creatures they kill for eating, and at the very other end of this spectrum you have those who use all of the meat, bones, fat, organs and skin of their prey, when possible. These subsistence hunters aren’t hunting for “sport,” and the creatures whose lives they take are not part of a “game.” They are hunting so they can eat, and taking personal responsibility for all that entails with humility and respect. They have a deep respect for the animals they kill, since their own sustenance depends on those very animals. This book is about those hunters and that kind of hunting.

Hearing stories about disrespectful hunters and declaring that hunting is wrong is about as thoughtful as seeing pornography and deciding that sex is wrong. Both acts can be beautiful, sacred things, but both can also be senseless, oppressive and outright ugly. Which direction they go in has less to do with the simple, mechanical act itself and more to do with how it is approached; the integrity, empathy and respect of those involved. Hunting itself is neither inherently good nor bad. It can be a very humane and responsible way of getting food. It also has an inherent potential to crack the heart of the hunter open, to stir up from the depths of their being huge questions about the nature of life and existence. But it can also be as shallow and disconnected from emotional and energetic reality as pornography is. This all depends on perception and empathy; on whether or not the hunter is open to seeing their prey as a sentient being worthy of respect, feeling the depth of what is really going on when they choose to take its life and fully honoring the sanctity of that life.

2/2/2016 10:56:49 PM

Great article Miles, This is a piece that really hit home to me.. I think many of the "vegan hippy types" and "reckless / irresponsible hunters" could benefit from this most! Since I was a kid, when my father first taught me to hunt, he instilled in me a deep respect for animals and nature. He taught me to only take an animal if I could do so without causing it unnecessary pain and suffering. I'm the type of person that would let 10 deer pass by then to take a bad shot that could prolong the animals death. Almost every deer I take dies without almost any tracking required because I always aim for the heart and use broadheads. I'm going to spread this article as much as possible, and your hunters guidebook looks great! I'd love to buy some as gifts, are they available from Chapters or online only? Robert Walters

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