In general, the more we know and understand something the less we fear it, right?. Well, see for yourself.
Since fishing is really underwater hunting, I will refer to both hunting and fishing as hunting in this writing.
I was born into a hunting family, surrounded by hunting friends. As with most youth, I wanted to fit in, wanted to be respected, and in so doing, I too hunted and fished – even trapped for a short time. I loved to be out in the wilds – in the fresh air – and I loved to see animals. Being out hunting taught me much about the outdoors and for that I am forever grateful.
Still, by the time I was in my early 30’s I began to question the ethics of my actions. In fact I remember sneaking out to my car to go hunting – changing into my hunting clothes when I got to the trail-head or boat landing. I got to the point where I simply didn’t want to be associated with hunting or other hunters – didn’t want to have to explain myself. I knew my reasons were full of holes, flimsy as a fly swatter. Still, I hunted, it was a really hard habit to break. As with most any addict, I occasionally stopped to analyze why – why do I continue to do this? I love animals, why do I harass and kill them?
People hunt for a variety of reasons. Hunters enjoy being out in the field, enjoy being in the moment of the hunt. Some hunters hunt for food, and some hunt to rid an area of a specific animal they consider a pest or competition, or kill an animal that is out of balance (conservationist). But above all, most hunters these days hunt for sport. They enjoy the pursuit, the feeling of owning something beautiful and wild, of fooling or duping an animal which is sharp and aware, and the feeling of power and success.
This became apparent to me not so much by self analysis, but by talking with other hunters and non hunters. “Why do we hunt and kill the animals we love so much?” I’d ask. Most hunters told me that they didn’t kill the animals out of hatred, but out of love and respect – which seemed to make absolutely no sense – at first.
Upon considering the human psyche, I began to notice patterns. There are many people who are jealous and possessive about their partners and mates I thought. Some hurt or even kill them when confronted with what they consider betrayal – as with the all too familiar love triangle murder suicide. I’ve come to coin this as immature love – that kind of love which is born of control, possession, and selfishness. It’s born out of ego – the “little me” as Eckhart Tolle likes to call it.
So, I wondered, would a man continue to hunt if he did not need the food and had no one in the world to tell or brag about his “successes”? Would he continue to hunt if he were the only human on earth and needed animals for companionship?
I quit hunting once I came to realize all of this, after all, I did not want to think of myself as one who acted out of immature love. I sought to deepen my love – to strengthen my heart – an effort I toil with to this day.
Recently, Wisconsin, my home state, opened its first hunting/trapping season on gray wolves in many decades. I have to wonder what is going on in the hearts and minds of the hunters who pursue such noble quarry – after all, many deer hunters and ranch-men want to kill wolves so they have more for themselves. I wonder how many of these hunters and trappers began their pursuit for such an animal out of some kind of hatred, but soon came to know the magic of wolves. I would love to feel the transition inside their hearts when they move from doing something out of hatred to doing something out of love. Still, no matter if it’s from a place of hatred or selfish, immature love, they continue to hunt and kill. I wait – not so patiently, not so contently as these hunters move to the next level – the transformation from selfish love to that of mature unselfish love. That’s what keeps me going – that little bit of hope – that moment of nirvana when someone tells me of their own transition.
Animals are such mystical and wondrous beings. From their graves, whether it be a slaughterhouse, a pool of blood in the forest, or a trophy on a wall, they can kill us, they can patiently allow us to grow up, and above all, they can teach us about ourselves.
Kenneth Damro – author of A Northwoodsman’s Guide to Everyday Compassion