The lure of adventure through the hunt draws us into the wilds to share the most involved and intimate interaction with the wildlife we cherish. Some of us are content to hunt animals in close proximity to home or even in our own backyards. Yet others feel the urge to “see what’s over the next hill”, to experience far away places and cultures and pursue species we have only seen and dreamed of in pictures and videos.
So why do we travel to hunt? We travel to hunt for exactly the same reasons that we hunt in the first place. We hunt because for nearly two million years our ancestors hunted. Six or five thousand years of so-called “civilization” have not been enough to evolve us into herders and farmers, much less into managers and freelance writers. It is an established scientific fact – ask any modern researcher, why is “the modern person” so fond of watching half a dozen of multi-millionaires play ball, or why do we seem to fit so badly into our perfect air-conditioned, fast-food, 9-to-5 environment, and they’ll tell you it’s all because the rate with which our genes evolve is too slow for the cultural change we are experiencing.
The only problem I have with modern science is, why do the same people who spend pages of fine print to prove, to the highest academic standards of precision, that every living human is a hunter-gatherer, will then, without taking a breath, claim that hunting is morally wrong?
But all people are controversial by design, not just researchers. We humans have a built-in capacity of holding to two mutually exclusive concepts at the same time. In fact, this is how our brain makes up our mind. Did you know that the typical scene from a cartoon, where a character has a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other, each telling diametrically opposing things, is a near accurate description of what is going on inside our head each time we have to make a decision? There’s one portion of our brain that screams “Go for it!”, and another that pleads “No, please don’t!”, and whether we do or don’t depends mostly on which of them is louder – that is, emits more neurotransmitters.
Hunters, as you have most likely experienced, are no exception – and it shows, among other things, in how we often can’t make up our mind where to go hunting. Many hunters claim – and not without reason – that hunting can only be truly successful if you know the terrain. That’s true, and there’s a lot of pleasure in revisiting, year after year, the old hunting grounds where you fired your first shots. Few things will give a hunter a deeper satisfaction than the moment when you are going through your sweet spot, accompanied by a novice, and suddenly tell the novice to get ready, and before he or she has time to wonder why, a covey of partridges flares up. And to the unspoken or spoken “but how did you…” you only smile – because decades ago it was you and your grandfather, that’s why. Most hunters love to come back to old, familiar proven places – if they can; with the spread of cities and constructions, that very wood or lake may no longer be accessible, and then you, much like your ancestors before you, will have to search for a new place to hunt.
And it’s human nature, too. All the Homo Habilis and Homo Erectus and Homo Sapience that walked the Earth before civilization was invented were nomads. They were constantly on the move, and never stayed at one place too long to exhaust its potential to feed the tribe. Those who didn’t move died out, and thus the drive to explore has been entered in our genes right next to the hunting instinct. Raise your hands those of you who are hunters. Now, remember what you feel when you drive through a strange country, and see a good-looking bit of wood or hill or lake at the side. If you then don’t feel an urge to get out of the car and explore it a bit, let your hand down. I think I see all hands still up.
You all know the stories about how “primitive peoples” sold their land to “civilized men” for peanuts, because they didn’t believe land could be owned. Or, maybe, it’s just that the original, hunter-gatherer idea of what makes land “yours” was – is – different. We don’t claim a title to an area by handing over some pieces of paper and writing words on others. You make land yours by learning it, by knowing where the streams run and where bears come out of their dens in spring, where wild berries grow and where elk bugle. In this way, a hunter who travels may be richer than the biggest landowner in the country – provided the landowner never goes beyond the office and the proscribed putting-on-the-Ritz routes.
There’s an apparent contradiction between the drive to explore and the desire to own – if you want to know the land, you must stay there for a while familiarizing yourself with its intricacies. But, like with many either-or questions, the correct answer is “both-and”. You don’t have to select just one option and stick to it till death doth you part. You can take turns.
See the small game opener at the family farm, slap all the old hands, hear the regular campfire stories. Then quench your explorer’s thirst and go to Romania for a driven boar hunt, to Texas for snow geese, Kamchatka for moose, Africa – for whatever. As long as you can afford it, and as long as you feel the urge to see what’s there beyond the horizon – go for it! This is a land investment that will return the dividend of memories as long as you live, and you can’t lose this investment no matter how many people you share it with, the same way as the backyard where you used to play when you were 5 is still yours, even though the house may have been sold years ago. Explore the bottom of the Danube, the rice fields and sun-baked veldt, make yours those geysers.
Then move on.
Perhaps, to revisit the old half-forgotten hunting grounds, perhaps to a still newer environment. We are sophisticated beings, with room for a little of everything inside – that’s why being us can be so much fun. Especially when you feed our primal desires and travel to a new place to hunt.