On Hunting

“VIEWPOINT” from Kalamazoo Gazette, 11-12-07

With at least one major difference, explaining the emotions attached to deer season to non-hunters is pretty much like trying to explain the satisfaction of parachuting to non-jumpers (straight legs). The difference is that hunting has been an integral endeavor for mankind since modern homo sapiens emerged (by some estimates) about 100,000 years ago. The urge to fly has probably been around for a long time, but the ability to do so safely is a recent development.

I didn’t grow up in a hunting family, yet every November as a child I felt a powerful urge to be in the woods and eventually got started hunting as a college student and stayed with it for many years thereafter.

When I moved to Kalamazoo  from the U.P. almost 40 years ago I continued to hunt below the bridge. When kids came along I decided to hang it up and saw no point in teaching my kids hunting when we lived in an area with very little public land. For years after that I spent my Novembers in ice rinks, listening to pucks echo off the dashers and the sounds of tiny skates scraping slush, and all the while,my heart was in the woods.

In my late 50s I came back to hunting through another door. For the past six years I have ridden along with conservation officers to gather experience and information in order to make my Woods Cop mysteries as authentic as possible.

The technical side of hunting today is, of course, somewhat different than when I left it: elevated blinds, commercial attractants, baiting, trail cameras, magic ears, deer calls, unbelievably warmer boots and clothing and more. But the basic goal of killing a deer has not changed.

The biggest and most significant change is far more unsettling — the graying of the hunters.

In high schoolo, in the Upper Peninsula and across much of the state, Nov. 15, the opening day of deer season, was an official holiday or an excused absence. Most young people learned to hunt from their parents and relatives, family friends and older siblings, and hunting was very much a family affair.

Now I see relatively few yong people during deer season and fewer older men and women following the rituals of a lifetime, much less passing them on to the generations behind us.

State and nationsl statistics show a steady decline in the purchased of hunting licenses over recent decades, and the conservation officers I’m privileged to work with report fewer hunters. There is no shortage of game animals and birds in the woods, only hunters.

Hunting can teach a lot of life lessons, for example, the importance of preparation, in the acquisition of knowledge about and skills required by the undertaking — about geography, terrain, weather,animal behavior, camouflage, safety and many other factors that come to bear.

It also teaches discipline, patience and a certain self-reliance, not to mention the need to set goals and make plans. And it exposes us to sights, sounds, smells and even thoughts that cannot be stimulated by TV or in a theater.

In preparing to take a life, the hunter must learn to respect life and this is neither contradictory nor hyperbole. We learn through the planned taking or harvest of an animal that all the food we eat comes from the harvesting of animals and other living entitites, and as hunters we learn to face the reality of just what that means.

I have worked with conservation officers in all 15 U.P. counties and in another 15-20 counties below the bridge. This season I will work closer to home, and while I will not be carrying a firearm I will be rooting for hunters to relish their time outdoors and to be successful, which may or may not include fresh venison in the freezer this winter. You see, even when a hunter works hard,prepares well and does everything right, success is not guaranteed. If that seems like a metaphor for life, it is.

I hope hunting and its many traditions endure. Some people wilkl not agree, bu right now it seems like I’m watching an old friend die slowly, clinging to each breath, and that’ s sad.

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