Why I want to hunt

by Jeff Barnard, AP environmental reporter in SW Oregon for 30+ years (now retired)

Back when I was a kid, I had a burning fever to hunt that I fed with Outdoor Life magazines, Big Red novels, and gun catalogues. I somehow convinced my parents to let me buy an Army surplus rifle (which cost only about $20 or $30 in the 1960s I think). I had a gunsmith partially sportsterize it, turning down the barrel, altering the bolt to clear a scope, and altering the safety for the same reason.

But I never even fired the rifle until a year ago. Nothing ever came of my desire to hunt. My father never hunted, there was no uncle who had ever hunted, and I moved away from the few friends who grew up to hunt. With no mentor, there was no hunting for me.

In my adult life, I went into journalism, joining The Associated Press in Rhode Island, then moving to southwestern Oregon in 1983 to take a job as southern Oregon correspondent. Here I covered primarily environmental issues, such as the timber wars, battles over dams and salmon habitat, and even an occasional story about hunting. Throughout that time I taught myself to catch steelhead from the Rogue and Applegate rivers, but I never branched into hunting. There was no time for both.

But since I retired last October, I have decided I am going to become a hunter. I can no longer say I don’t have time to take up hunting.

The first thing to do is to understand why I want to hunt at this late age. Tovar Cerulli, author of the book, “The Mindful Carnivore, A Vegetarian’s Hunt for Sustenance,” has coined a term for this condition, which usually gets a laugh when I repeat it: Adult Onset Hunting. And where many people learn to hunt from their families when they are young, I am going to teach myself at the age of 65. I am going to do that the way I worked for 39 years as a reporter: talking to people who know what they are doing, reading books, consulting websites and pouring over the information available from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, both personnel and the website.

I have killed plenty of fish, but to prepare myself for the idea of actually killing a warm-blooded mammal — something with big brown eyes that can actually look at me and focus — I have been reading a lot. There has been a lot written on this. Many of the writers speak about hunting in their youth, reaching a point when they no longer want to pull the trigger, and sometimes returning to the hunt for new reasons.

Cerulli want from being a vegan, to eating some meat for health reasons, to deciding that if he was to be an ethical person, he had to be willing to kill some of the meat he would eat. It took him four years to kill his first buck. So I expect success to take time and effort.

I have no mentor, something Cerulli says is key. So I will try it on my own, the same way I learned to fish for steelhead. I expect the process of becoming a hunter will be similar, taking a long time, growing with practice and experience, and never really ending.

The most compelling argument for me for why I would want to go through this process is that hunting gives you a connection to the wild that nothing else does. Natural history writer Pete Dunne writes in his essay, “Before the Echo,” that as a birdwatcher, he is part of the audience watching the great play of the natural world. But as a hunter he is on the stage, one of the actors. Richard Nelson writes in “Heart of the Hunter” that “The sharply whetted concentration of hunting brings on a relaxed, almost hypnotic state that I’ve never experienced any other way, even while stalking animals with a camera.”

Luke Godfrey is a physical therapy assistant who has been helping me rehabilitate my arthritic knee. He will tell you that his first game animal was a turkey, and he pulled the shotgun’s trigger without any expectations he would feel anything. He had grown up in a hunting family, but circumstances prevented him from hunting himself until he was grown. When the time came, a flood of emotions ran through him — excitement, adrenaline, a feeling of responsibility for killing a living thing, and sadness.

“I had tears in my eyes. I don’t know if they were tears of excitement or sadness,” he said. “Probably a combination. It was definitely something I didn’t expect.”

But that didn’t stop him from being a hunter. He killed his first buck eight years ago with an arrow at 30 yards and watched the life go out of its eyes. The same emotions were there, but to a lesser degree. He continues to hunt, with a rifle, relishing this intense time in the woods, taking pride in finding a buck (no mean feat in Western Oregon), making a clean kill and caring properly for the meat so he can feed his friends and family.

Those are things I want to know. So here we go.

Full disclosure: ODFW is paying me to write this blog as a way to promote hunting. It is suggesting the topics for the postings, and has final edit on what gets posted. But I don’t expect to be tackling controversial topics. The assumption here is that if you’re reading this, you are interested in learning to hunt. And while I respect the objections some people have to hunting, I am not here to argue.

Future posts will cover taking a hunter safety course online, scouting and finding places to hunt, safe gun storage, field dressing a deer, digital tools for hunting, sighting in your rifle and choosing the right ammunition, hunting accidents and safety, hunting tactics and etiquette, how hunter dollars are used in conservation, and deer ecology. I might do something on primitive hunts with bow and arrow and muzzleloader. I will not be telling anyone how to do anything. I will just be describing my own efforts to learn.

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