Not all traditions are healthy

My father was into guns, but he wasn’t a hunter. I grew up around guns but no one ever took me hunting. At this point in my life, I’m too old to give a shit about it, as either a sport or an activity that, ideally, puts food on the table. If I want meat for my fridge, I’ll go to Walmart and buy prepackaged beef or pork. I’m not going to freeze my ass off going out in the woods to shoot it.

This is prime deer hunting season in Arkansas, and I know many, many men who have abandoned the towns for the woods. Most of my in-laws are now spending or have spent the past few days on the trail of Bambi. No doubt they’re planning on spending as much time as possible between now and Thanksgiving on the hunt. Myself, I couldn’t give less of a damn.

As I close in on my 50th year, and read the headlines and try to make sense of the world around me, thus weighing what is important and what is not so important in whatever calculus I hold dear, I come to a few conclusions about hunting and guns. Since the activity or club has been closed to me for the majority of my life, I will state that I don’t give a fuck about hunting, and I think most people spend far too much time, effort and money on it. I can understand getting out and shooting a deer in order to make sure that my family has something to eat, but here is the deal: none of the men out in the woods this week are starving. They’re living it up in private deer camps, which are actually extended-stay hotels decked out with big kitchens, large eating areas, and comfortable bunk rooms (if not private bedrooms). There are indoor bathroom facilities and all the accoutrements (including television!) of home. I know — I visited the family camp last year. It is nothing less than a home away from home.

Many deer camps are the equivalent of family vacation homes, with nice large fireplaces, comfortable couches, changing rooms, mud rooms, and plenty of space for parking. I don’t know of a single deer camp with a bad roof or a dirty floor. I know of none without electricity or running water (or at least readily-available well water). They have first-aid and laundry facilities.

No one is roughing it, at least, not as Mark Twain understood the term.

No, these guys are on vacation, pretty much, away from their wives and children (unless they bother bringing their wives and kids with them ….. which some do and some don’t). There’s plenty of food, and here’s the thing: they bring their food from town. They don’t rely on what they shoot in the woods for their breakfast, lunch or dinner. Nobody’s going without. No one is sleeping in a tent or on a cot. For cold weather there are blankets and heaters, and everyone has a smartphone, so they can snap selfies and post them on Facebook.

What hunting takes place occurs from the safety of a tall stand, mounted about as high as the average pine, and deer are attracted by food supplements like corn that has been distributed by electronic “feeders.” There are game cameras everywhere that allow the vacationers to keep track of wild hogs and bears — which are almost as common as deer. Some days a hunter will bag something, but most days, none will. I have heard of some hunters who’ve gone months or even years without shooting a single thing.

I know myself well enough to know that if I went to the trouble of leaving my actual home for days on end to climb up in a tree and wait for hours for a deer to walk by, I would grow bored in a hurry if I ended up with nothing. Knowing myself, I know that I would call a halt to the activity pretty much after the first day. I keep thinking of that old adage: “Fool me once, shame on me…” I’d start looking for the exit and fast. Worse, my brain would start racking up all the other things I could do with my time, which one might generously refer to as “time better spent.” Binging The Sopranos or the Star Wars saga while drinking a nice cold beer might be a good place to start. Anything but sitting out in the woods tricking myself into believing that any aspect of “hunting” is necessary to life.

Could I shoot a deer? Probably. I feel no affection for the animals, and I’m well aware of their stupid propensity for crashing into cars. Is it admirable for a man to go out and bag a big buck? Yeah, sure … but don’t rub my nose in the trophy photos, please. Let’s see you go into a slaughterhouse and pose next to a recently-deceased cow or pig. Let’s see how many likes you get on Facebook for snapping a shot of some road-killed dog or cat. A dead animal on social media is still a dead animal on social media, and I don’t care that your kid killed it.

Men who stay out in the woods hunting for longer than a couple of days — especially if they are unproductive — really need to come home. Life goes on. Work goes on, taxes still must be paid. Homes need tending. There is nothing in my life that requires me to disappear for days on end, and I don’t care to pick up the slack for those who do. A vacation is fine, camping out is fine, but playing Elmer Fudd hunting wabbits is just a little ridiculous.

My feeling is that hunting clubs are cults, and the mentality that tells generation after generation that hunting must be done at all costs, no matter what, is a subtle form of brainwashing. I want no part of it, thanks. I can eat just as well without it — and I know the hunters can, too, when you consider how many hamburgers and hot dogs they’ll consume in a given week.

Guns, of course, are a necessary part of the hunting culture. I’m sorry, but I’ve never thought of a gun as anything other than a weapon for self-defense. I don’t go in for rifles. That’s just me; some folks don’t necessarily go in for shotguns. For that reason, I have a healthy respect for guns. They’re not something you should just stand around fondling. Put that fucking gun up. Make sure it isn’t loaded. Make sure you hand it to someone the proper way — unloaded, butt first. Know how to check the breech to make sure there’s no round in it. Handle the gun as little as possible — put it away with the safe on. A gun isn’t a fucking toy, and if you’re not an expert with a gun, I really don’t want to see you with one, much less go traipsing through the woods with you. Accidents happen all too easily, and an accident with a gun can easily mean death.

Now, one can use a variety of guns while hunting — muzzleloaders, etc. – and bow hunting is a popular pastime. These all have their place, and more power to those who know how to use them. It’s too late for me.

I’ve tried, but I can’t think of hunting as anything other than a sport, which I can take or leave. It’s not necessary for living. And I think far too many people spend too much time on it. Not every tradition is a healthy one.





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