“Funny, you don’t look it” is a common response when people learn I am a hunter. Aside from the fact I am gay, I am a gentle and thinking man and people find it hard to believe that I can make the choice to hunt down and kill a game bird or animal. Yes, hunting, unlike my gayness, is an ethical choice I make. It is an ethical choice I keep to myself a great deal of the time as I find I have more venom spat at me for choosing hunting, than for being gay. I chose to conceal the truth of my gayness and my relationship with Mika from most of my hunting buddies (all of whom are heterosexual men and women from a plurality of ethnic and religious backgrounds and generally conservative) until recently, fearing I might lose them as friends and hunting buddies if they knew the truth or at the very least they would be uncomfortable knowing. Turns out they were not bothered in the least and are happy for me, that I am in a long term relationship with Mika. We remain friends and hunting buddies, taking to the field in pursuit of game, enjoying our sport. Everyone who takes up hunting has their own reasons for doing so, but as for me, I have had a lifelong passion for hunting, the outdoors and wildlife.
From as far back as I can remember I have loved the natural world. I spent my spare time as a boy exploring the ponds, marshes, streams and meadows, watching the wildlife and reading books on natural history. My father and one of my uncles had a passing interest in hunting. I remember accompanying them when I was old enough when they went out in pursuit of cottontail rabbits and squirrels. My father taught me how to shoot a gun when I was 8 years old. I was given an air rifle when I was 12 years old and promptly began taking a frightful toll on the songbird and small mammal population in the nearby woodlands. At the time I did not know any better, but now I look back on those days with profound regret as this was not hunting, but rather killing for the sake of killing. I still had a great deal to learn about hunting, hunting ethics in particular, and over the years, through trial and a good deal of error, I am proficient in hunting technique and in ethical conduct while out hunting. Yes, let there be no misunderstanding that hunting, at least for me and my hunting buddies, is not about killing for the sake of killing. I do not approve of killing for the sake of killing, actively discourage it in mentoring new hunters and refuse to have anything to do with people who fail to appreciate the difference between hunting and killing for the sake of killing.
There is a spiritual facet to my interest in hunting. In my Roman Catholic background, I was a practicing Roman Catholic for many years and in Catholic teachings, the use of animals by humans, including hunting is legitimate, provided it meets the criteria spelled out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church listed here:
2417 God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image.198 Hence it is legitimate to use animals for food and clothing. They may be domesticated to help man in his work and leisure. Medical and scientific experimentation on animals is a morally acceptable practice if it remains within reasonable limits and contributes to caring for or saving human lives. (2234)
2418 It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons. (2446) (Catechism of the Catholic Church)
In addition, in Roman Catholicism there is Saint Hubert, the patron saint of hunters. His feast day is November 3rd. The ritual known as blooding, practiced in European and North American hunting cultures, where a hunter who has killed his first big game animal has the animal’s blood smeared on his cheeks, originated in Europe during the Middle Ages as a tribute to Saint Hubert. As Don Dubuc notes:
when a hunter killed a deer a knife would be placed on the wound and covered with its blood. With the blade three crosses of blood were traced on the hunter, one on the forehead, and one on each cheek. This was to symbolize Hubert’s encounter with the deer with the crucifix in its antlers and for the hunter to acknowledge receiving the saint’s blessing for the kill. Other hunters in the group would stand and shake his hand in congratulations.
When I shot my first deer in November, 2012, my friend and hunting buddy Jason Quinn carried out the ritual in smearing my cheeks with the deer’s blood. It was a proud moment for me, one in which I felt a mix of triumph and sorrow in successfully hunting down and killing my first deer. We shared the venison between us and it was so good to eat.
While I am no longer a practicing Roman Catholic, hunting, for me, remains a spiritual experience only more in keeping with my having embraced Deism. The nature of my spirituality as it relates to hunting is best described in the publication Meditations on Hunting by the Spanish philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955). In discussing the spiritual aspects of hunting Ortega y Gasset observed:
I have said “religious,” and the word does not seem excessive to me. A fascinating mystery of nature is manifested in the universal fact of hunting: the inexorable hierarchy among living beings. Every animal is in a relationship of superiority or inferiority with regard to every other. Strict equality is exceedingly improbable and anomalous.
Life is a terrible conflict, a grandiose and atrocious confluence. Hunting submerges man deliberately in that formidable mystery and therefore contains something of religious rite and emotion in which homage is paid to what is divine, transcendent, in the laws of nature. (as cited in High Country News)
I spend most of my time in the outdoors viewing, photographing and learning about the wildlife and the ecosystems that support it. I enjoy sharing my knowledge and experience with others in promoting the conservation of wildlife and the habitat that it needs to survive. I have membership in various groups dedicated to the conservation of wildlife habitat, such as Ducks Unlimited Canada, as I think it is incumbent on me as a hunter to support the effort to conserve the wildlife resources and the natural world for which I have had a lifelong passion. I will continue to enjoy all the time I spend in the outdoors, but especially look forward to taking to the field with my dog, Hera, my friends and hunting buddies, in pursuit of game, enjoying the thrill of the hunt, the camaraderie, sportsmanship and spiritual experience I get from hunting.
Posted by Geoffrey