Tag Archives: Deer hunting

The Rise of Identity Politics in Hunting

By Jack Kredell

Somewhere around the time of Larry the Cable Guy­ hunting became a lot more than a seasonal pursuit. There were hints of the progression in the 90s, but overall it was a decidedly post-9/11 shift. As hunter participation was actually decreasing (and continues to decline), the visibility and commercial viability of hunting suddenly exploded. Hunting was now something more than a lifestyle: It was a brand.

You began to see as much camouflage in the mall as you did in the field. Decals of bucks with double drop tines, a characteristic rare enough in the wild that most of us will never encounter one, became plastered on the windows of F-250s everywhere. Camouflage went from performing the task of making you unseen to making you seen. Sure enough, pink camouflage was quick to follow for female hunters to be seen and counted, too.

Hunter

Image: http://www.trbimg.com/

Larry the Cable Guy’s use of redneck blackface made him a millionaire by branding the “blue collar” identity that was also the source of his comedy. People felt represented by him because he fully identified with the thing being made fun of: them.

After 9/11, as a result of cultural forces that are probably still too new to understand fully (social media being one of them), hunting evolved into a fixed and marketable identity with a defined set of politics. Hunting became just another popular identity, one of many in the popular cultural landscape. A reality television show about duck hunters becomes one of the most watched in TV history. For the first time, you could identify as a hunter (even without actually being one) and it made sense. It came with a known set of cultural and political affiliations. All you had to do was wear a Mossy Oak hoodie and people understood who you were. In a way, wearing camo is no different than wearing a your favorite team’s jersey. But what exactly is team hunting, and what does it represent?

In a surplus economy, hunting-as-subsistence is not going to be part of your average hunter’s identity. Very few us can make enough money to live by hunting or trapping. The one way that all of us can identify as hunters is through consumption. Some very smart people figured out that if there’s one thing that hunters seem to enjoy as much as hunting, it’s shopping.

But not everybody was hip to it. Fudds were born. Fudds resisted the rising tide of the monoculture by embracing a more austere post-war approach to hunting. For a Fudd, hunting means fair chase and a pre-64 Winchester Model 70 in .270. The arrival of the controversial AR platform made hunting a contested second amendment issue. If you came out against so-called black rifles, you were not only anti-hunting, but indirectly, anti-second amendment as well. Because hunting is not a right, hunters realized they had to bow down to second amendment politics (and its marketplace). Then Jim Zumbo came out against the AR platform and became the sacrificial Fudd. He was struck down by the outdoor powers that be, which seemed at the mercy of the new market for the AR. 

This progression towards a popular hunting identity has lumped hunters into a monolithic group synonymous with powerful rights-based politics. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; the more unified a group is, the more leverage it tends to have. However, unified and homogenous are not the same thing. Groups that are too homogenous are weak because they alienate members who disagree as well as those like-minded non-members who would help the cause. 

It’s at this moment when, consciously or subconsciously, hunting shows begin to appear that challenge the status quo. You can read the efforts of hunters like Steven Rinella, Randy Newberg, and Remi Warren as in no small part responding to those aspects of hunting that the post-9/11 landscape has downplayed, ignored, or even repressed. In Rinella, it’s the materiality of food consumption and its relationship to history and landscape; for Newberg it’s the egalitarian principles of public land hunting; in “Solo Hunter” Warren invokes a tradition of rugged self-reliance. Independent YouTube also contributed to the changing landscape of outdoor media.

These were not so much rebellions against the status quo of mainstream hunting media as proof that hunting is deeply varied in practice. Hunters do not all agree on what constitutes hunting, nor do we all agree on what the future of hunting should look like.

Which leads to the single biggest problem with hunting today: It is the culture itself that is prohibitive in the way we hunters get to decide how our economic and political power should be used. We can’t agree on the biggest threats to hunting because we’re not allowed to disagree.

Hunting is a deeply regional activity. A whitetail hunter in Iowa will face different roadblocks and conservation issues than an elk hunter in Idaho. This basic fact should invite differences of opinion, even irreconcilable ones, into the hunting discourse. Yet we’ve developed a climate where to disagree with one form of hunting is to disagree with the whole and be labeled an anti-hunter. This behavior is not what’s going to get us through the long nights ahead of us. 

My Thoughts on Hunters Criticizing Hunters: Do it

Image: http://www.prohuntersjournal.com/

Image: http://www.prohuntersjournal.com/

By Jack Kredell

When did hunters become so sensitive? Every other week some think piece comes out in one of the major outdoor publications warning hunters about the dangers of criticizing other hunters. In the big hunting forum I frequent, whenever somebody posts something critical of high fence operations or comes out in favor of wolves, they get called an anti-hunter. You’d think we were the most sensitive group in America. Most recently, “Outdoor Life” published an article by hunter and blogger Tyler Freel that faithfully repeats the dogma:

Worse than any anti-hunter’s criticism is friendly fire, attacks from within our community of hunters. The only thing anti-hunters would love more than to see us destroy hunting from within is to see all hunting gone. I don’t know if hunters attacking and belittling each other’s methods is more common now than in the past, but it is certainly more audible and visible. And it’s often reduced to a simple and damning phrase: “That’s not hunting.”

This appeal to self-censorship is a disturbing trend within the outdoor community. It’s disturbing for several reasons, the most obvious being the apparent inability of hunters to deal with criticism. Another disturbing pattern is the deep and self-righteous investment in what non-hunters think of their activities. So much so that hunting is often depicted for them as opposed to other hunters. This kind of extreme reactionary behavior is the real reason why hunters and anti-hunters have a problem with one another. It’s how we’ve arrived at the silliness of people posting bloody grip and grins on Facebook and then getting upset when they’re called a monster. The problem comes from within, not from without.

Within, not from without: Hunters are afraid to pass judgment on one another because the mainstream elements of our culture tend to promote the view that our way of life is under attack from the outside. The modern hunter lives more or less in a constant state of emergency. There isn’t a day that goes by where the modern hunter’s inbox isn’t bombarded with emails begging for attention and money about this or that politician and this or that company refusing to accommodate gun owners. It follows a logic that we should all be familiar with from this political cycle: Blame anything or anybody for our problems except ourselves. Not enough jobs? Build a wall. Elk are all gone? Kill the wolves.

The idea is that we have to band together to combat this external threat, a threat that never actually occurs (meanwhile the guns and ammo fly off the shelves, and it’s a victory for the NRA). It’s ironic how the prohibition on judgment reproduces the very political correctness that annoys conservatives.

Does PETA want to end hunting? Yes. Are there lots of groups that would like to see an end to hunting? Sure. Is the EPA part of a liberal conspiracy to weaken industry from within and close rivers and streams to fishing? No. Did the auto insurance industry, in cahoots with state fish and wildlife agencies, introduce wolf-hybrid coyotes to the eastern United States to reduce deer vehicle collisions (many hunters in my state believe this)? Doubtful. The only way we’re going to get out of this insane deadlock between hunter-conservationists and environmentalists and between hunters and anti-hunters is if we mutually disown the more irrational elements of our respective sides and really come to terms with what we both want. Because I really do believe that the majority of us want a similar thing: Land that belongs to everyone and no one simultaneously and that anybody can enjoy the way they see fit.

Why My Grandfather Stopped Hunting

Image: en.wikipedia.org

Image: en.wikipedia.org/

By Jack Kredell

Once my grandfather reached the peak of his hunting prowess, sometime in his late 50s, he became more and more reluctant to hunt. It seemed odd that a man who had killed a deer or elk almost every year since he was a teenager would suddenly lose interest in hunting. Was it apathy? It didn’t seem likely.

At the end of a yoga class a few weeks ago, we were instructed during shavasana, or corpse pose, to let our mind wander freely. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, exhaled, and let my mind go blank. I soon found myself on a ridge top looking through binoculars at the 8-point I would shoot a few minutes later. I raised my gun but found the shot too difficult to take standing, so I began slowly to crouch, letting my left elbow come to a rest on my left thigh. Here I breathed, exhaled, and pulled the trigger. For the first time since killing that deer, I recalled the physical violence of the gun going off, the way it popped and bucked deep into my shoulder, the half-moon gash on my forehead from the impact of the scope.

That one was so much more violent than the first two, but not because I couldn’t handle the recoil. It was violent because I felt I knew this deer better than the first two. Finding this deer had been a little different. For the first time, I had stalked a deer and entered its world completely undetected. I had plenty of time to decide not take this animal’s life. I almost felt his equal, and I didn’t want the experience to end. Killing him felt like an act of betrayal.

When you’re first starting out, getting a shot at a deer occurs when your world and their world suddenly and fortunately (for you) collide. That moment of chance is where most hunting takes place. Throw in the pressure you put on yourself to get a deer, and you can understand why people routinely miss or wound deer. That moment is fleeting (you think), and so you take the shot. The difference between this kind of hunting and the hunting where I felt I had slipped into the buck’s world is that in the former, the trigger pulls you while in the latter, you pull the trigger.

It was then, during this vision on the yoga mat, that I understood my grandfather’s waning desire to hunt. Simply put, hunting had become too intimate for him. His ego was no longer part of his practice. He was more aware than ever of death and dying, both for himself and for others. He had practiced the art of still hunting his entire life, and by middle age, he had no problem entering an animal’s world. The labor it now took to get within range of a deer required neither evidence nor reward. But it wasn’t the satisfaction in knowing he could kill the deer that prevented him from doing it. For the first time in 50 years of hunting, he knew he actually couldn’t.

The Style of David E. Petzal

By Jack Kredell

Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” reveals a profane yet common reversal in which the father is led by the son. In the post-apocalyptic future of “The Road,” the father is a heartsick refugee while the son, who was an infant when the event occurred, is at home. While the father continues to serve as his son’s guardian, he is no longer his authority. It’s simply not his world. As brutal as the present is for the father, it’s the memory of the former world that destroys him.

I mention the predicament of “The Road’s” nameless father because it seemed like an apt metaphor for the duality of David E. Petzal’s output over the last couple of years. Petzal, who is one half of Field and Stream’s “The Gun Nuts” blog, is a case study in how not to get Zumbo’ed despite an obvious distaste for the tactical development of today’s gun and hunting markets. Without a doubt, he is writing about today’s world; what I find odd is how he seems to loathe every aspect of it without having the courage to say so. I find that disingenuous.

For the most part, Petzal writes with a kind of gentle armchair pomposity about all things gun and hunting related. His hunting and firearm experience is vast, and he is humble. But there is something contrived about his style, the hallmarks of which are sentences that strain towards aphorism; solemn references to Shakespeare or classic writers who might be considered outside the purview of his audience; boilerplate tough guy bwana hunting narratives; easy and obligatory swipes at Hilary Clinton…etc, the overall effect of which is that brand of smug and pandering we’ve come to know so well during this election cycle.

David E. Petzal.

Image: http://www.fieldandstream.com/

But what sticks out most about Petzal’s language is the quaintness of it. It’s full of nostalgia. It insists on trying to describe and define the present according to various laws of history. It’s classical without being excessive and perverse—it’s Disney classical.

David E. Petzal is indeed a guardian of a certain kind of world, which may or may not exist. When he tries to relate to this world, which is the world of Black Lives Matter and black rifles, he no longer feels like an authority. He simply comes across as a crank with a quaint prose style.

Are Deer Hunting Cartridges Arbitrary?

How many times has picking the wrong rifle cartridge ended a hunt prematurely versus being unfit to hunt due to cold or poor conditioning? Nobody has ever gone into the woods to hunt deer with a .243 only to give up after seeing a big buck because they didn’t have a .300 Win Mag. Almost ritualistically, we continue to rehash the same arguments over guns and ammo at the expense of other items that have more bearing on actual hunting.

Type of hunting cartridges.

Image: 1source.basspro.com/

My point isn’t that big game rounds aren’t different, but that most white-tailed deer hunters are unable to take advantage of their differences. The task of deer hunting west of the Mississippi doesn’t really discriminate between a .243 or a .300 Win Mag. Because of modern bullet construction and the fact that most white-tailed deer are taken under 200 yards, a deer shot in the vitals with a .243 is just as dead as a deer shot with a .300 Win Mag. Yet we keep asking ourselves the same stupid question: What is the most effective deer round? The only answer to that question is, how much recoil can you stand? Everything else is basically meaningless.

Image: www.statesymbolsusa.org

Image: www.statesymbolsusa.org/

In my early 20s, I bought a 7mm Remington Magnum because I loved the look and feel of the gun, an older Sako Finnbear. It was an aesthetic choice. All I knew about the cartridge at the time was that it was plenty capable of taking a deer. Since then I’ve killed a couple deer with it, but never at distances greater than 100 yards. Where I hunt in Pennsylvania, it’s rare that you get a shot over 100 yards unless you want it that way or you’re hunting over an agricultural field. So what is a 7mm Remington Mag? At 50 yards, a 7mm Mag produces an obscene amount of energy—around 3,000 ft-lbf. What distinguishes a 7mm Mag from a .30-30 is that the 7mm Mag has the same energy at 500 yards that a .30-30 does at 50. They are vastly different cartridges. But again, I’ve never taken a shot over 200 yards, so I might as well be shooting a .30-30 (or any other deer cartridge for that matter) because I’m nowhere near being able to make use of its downrange energy. It’s not a problem, but it goes to show how arbitrary rifle calibre selection is when you’re shooting under 200–300 yards.

Most big game cartridges offer perfectly adequate performance under real-life hunting conditions. The constant hair-splitting over the ballistics of big game cartridges is mostly hypothetical nonsense that benefits gun makers but not hunters—it simply sells guns. To me, a discussion about the merits of different Vibram boot soles is more valuable and interesting than whether the .270 or .308 is a better deer round. We’ve somehow managed to equate hunting with shooting when, in many aspects, the shot is the least important component of the hunt. Guns don’t kill animals; smart hunters do.

Go Hunting in a Local State Park!

There are plenty of hunting opportunities available at state parks where you can see gorgeous views, illustrious trails, and, of course, lots of local wildlife. The best part of getting involved in the hunting scene at a nearby state park is that you won’t have to travel too far to enjoy the great outdoors. State parks are one of our most valuable resources in this country, so make sure you utilize them! Here are just a few states that offer exciting hunting events that you might want to join in on.

Controlled Hunting and Trapping Events, Ohio

Hunting in Ohio.

There are an estimated 600,000+ deer and 200,000+ turkeys in Ohio. [Image: http://hunt-ohio-deer-and-turkey-on-public-land.com/]

Join the Ohio Division of Wildlife and traverse through various areas that are normally closed to hunters. Youths and adults are eligible to participate, and individuals will be chosen based on a random computer generated drawing. There are opportunities to take part in controlled trapping, controller waterfowl hunting, and controlled deer hunting.

Learn more here.

Open Hunting, Managed Hunts, and Hunting Workshops, Virginia

Top counties for hunting in Virginia.

Image: http://www.gameandfishmag.com/

Virginia is an obvious choice for hunting, and luckily they have plenty of options! Similar to Ohio’s style, they have a lottery system-based for managed hunts for deer and feral hogs. Additionally there are also specific hunts tailored to youths (ages 12–17) and the disabled. If interested, you can make a reservation for specific sites, even claiming a certain zone or stand. Or simply partake in Virginia’s open hunting areas, which can be found at Fairy Stone State Park, Grayson Highlands State Park, Hungry Mother State Park, or Occoneechee State Park.

Learn more here.

Reserved Hunts, Indiana

Pheasant hunting in Indiana.

Pheasant hunting in Indiana. [Image: http://www.indianapheasant.com/]

Although the application submission deadlines have passed for many of these, they’re useful to keep in mind for the future. There are chances to get involved in various state park hosted deer, pheasant, and waterfowl hunts. From January 31 until March 24, you can submit applications for adult and youth turkey hunts as well, so keep your eyes peeled for those!

Learn more here.

Before you head out hunting this season, make sure you download our Pocket Ranger® Fish and Wildlife apps to aid in your adventures. Happy hunting!

A Day on the Mountain

I hunt from dark to dark each day because if I climb down the mountain, I know I won’t climb back up. My feet get cold, I run out of food and water, but I tell myself it’s worth it because there are two weeks during the year when I can do this, and I can only get off work for one. I also enjoy the limitation of not being able to do anything but hunt. So I maroon myself. Two weeks ago in Maine, I put in 50 hours without seeing anything—not a single deer. I was now approaching 80 hours of hunting, and my body was feeling it. I was beginning to doubt myself as well.

As I was walked home at the end of the third day of the 2015 Pennsylvania rifle season, a Jeep stopped behind me. The driver offered to give me a ride to the bottom. We talked about what we saw that day. He was a real Pennsylvania hunter. He had his own names for all the different topographical features in the area. He also spoke with the thickest Western Pennsylvania accent I’ve ever head. My speech is a clumsy hodgepodge of all the places I’ve lived plus television influences. When he spoke, it was like listening to flute music. His name was Lewis, and I said thanks for ride.

The next day—Thursday—I decided to take my walking stick. The day before, I slipped in some mud and hit my kneecap on a tree stump. When I got home, I couldn’t bend my leg. I kept waking up in the middle of night worried that I might not being able to hunt in the morning. Then I remembered my walking stick. Walking sticks are also useful for slowing you down, which is key when you’re still hunting.

Later that day I was walking along in this manner when I heard a nearby shot. A few seconds later a small buck came running out of the brush and stopped 15 yards in front of me. I raised my rifle instinctively and peered at him through the scope. My first thought was that he was legal. I could shoot this deer if it hasn’t already been shot. But then his right leg dropped and he fell over. I watched him draw his breath through the scope. Then I walked over. His antlers were still green, meaning the deer was actively making rubs. The stringy bark of birch and maple saplings clung to his brow tines. I looked towards the shot and saw a hunter crouched behind a fallen tree. I waved him over. It was Lewis. He shot the deer open-sighted and offhand with his great grandfather’s Remington Model 14. It’s an odd and beautiful gun. The twist on the magazine tube is oddly mesmerizing. I told him congratulations and moved on.

Once I was out of sight, I sat against an oak tree and had a sandwich. I texted my friend to say the going was tough. He texted back saying, “Shoot the next buck you see.” OK.

I decided to still hunt my way over to a ridge below where there are several narrow benches that deer use when feeding and traveling. The area my course would take me through is the only part of the mountain that I haven’t spent extensive time on. The soil there is sandy and the trees, mostly birch and maple, are smaller and so tightly packed together that you sometimes have to thread your gun through them like a needle. The trees provide excellent cover and deer sign is everywhere.

By 1:30 in the afternoon, I made way through to top of the ridge. My plan now was to hunt the ridgeline until I felt it was late enough to wait out the evening above one of the benches. I bumped a group of does while waking the ridgeline and chided myself for being clumsy. Slow down.

It was then I noticed a particularly active deer trail leading down over the top and decided to go have a look. As I peered down, I saw the backend of a deer as it disappeared into some mountain laurel. I stopped and listened for movement. Something was making its way toward me from my left. The wind was in my favor, and if he kept the same direction, I’d be able to see him before long. Then i saw a flick of a tail about 80 yards below. Through my binoculars I saw a flash of white bone through the dense cover. I slowly knelt to a seated position in case I was going to have a shot. I looked through my binoculars again, and as I did, the buck walked out of the thicket. I saw three up and raised my rifle. I put the crosshair behind his shoulder and followed him until he stopped. He raised his head, and I fired.

IMG_0912

As he tumbled over, I saw the white of his belly. He kicked a few times and was gone. I lit a rare cigarette and sat against the deer to let it sink in. When I went to wipe the sweat off my brow, my hand came back full of blood. The scope had cut a nice gash on my forehead.

What’s in a Daypack?

Contributed by Alex Vail of The Flying Kayak

The hike up the snow covered mountain wasn’t by any means easy. Each step crunched as our boots sank in the snow, and the steepness of the terrain made our leg muscles burn with each step. I turned to my hunter to see how he was doing, and he was absolutely winded.

“Are you all right?” I asked as we stopped for a break.

“Yeah,” he responded, slightly out of breath. “This pack is just sorta heavy.”

I looked at his daypack and quickly realized just how much he’d overpacked. The entire pack was bulging from all the gear that was crammed into it, and it was so full that the zipper actually popped off its track. Even the kitchen sink was threatening to fall out and slide back down the mountain to the truck.

I checked myself and realized I was completely comfortable. Recently I consolidated my daypack and lightened it up quite a bit. And it was at this moment that I was extremely thankful for doing so. Optimizing weight and taking only what’s absolutely necessary is vital when out in the field. It’s definitely important to take the essentials, but by catering what’s in your pack to the activity you’re participating in can really cut down on weight and make the whole day much more enjoyable. The following are a few tips to help you optimize exactly what goes into your pack every day.

The Essentials

There are a few items that always go into my daypack regardless of what activity I’m doing. These things practically never come out. One of the most important items is your standard compass.

Hand holding a compass from his day pack

Image: Alex Vail

If you’re as good at getting lost as I am, having a compass on you at all times is a must. It’s one of those things that you’d rather have and not need than need and not have. 

Inside my pack I also always carry a small kit with basic survival items in it, such as matches, a fire starting kit, a small extra pocket knife, fishing line/hooks, and an emergency blanket. There’s also a tiny basic first aid kit that’s secured inside as well. It fits neatly in a pouch on the pack and never really leaves unless I need something inside of it.

Man's hand holding a camo first aid kit from day pack

Image: Alex Vail

Water definitely makes the essentials list as well. I don’t care how cold it is or how short the walk is every day, water is a must. It’s necessary to try and plan out about how much water you might need over the course of the day since water is quite heavy, but it’s a good idea to carry a little more water into the field than you think you might need.

Finally I consider a good knife to be the last piece of essential gear. There are so many uses for a knife that the list could go on for ages, everything from starting a fire to cleaning an animal. A knife is another must.

All the Rest

green day pack on the floor

Image: Alex Vail

Everything else that is carried in your daypack can be considered “extra” or nonessential. These things might be essential for exactly what you’re doing each day, but they aren’t things you’d necessarily need each time you went outside. It’s important to make sure you’re taking exactly what you need each day, so you must consider what activity you’re doing. Look at binoculars, for example. Are you hunting pigs in the Georgia swamps where you can’t see beyond 50 yards? Then the binoculars aren’t necessary—leave them at home. Or are you hunting mule deer in the high desert in Colorado where you can see upwards of three miles? Bring them along.

The same thing holds true for clothing, food, etc. Are you going to be walking far in chilly weather? Then put that sweater in the daypack so you don’t get sweaty while you walk. Are you only going to be out until around lunchtime? You can probably leave the cook stove and food in the truck. I’ve had some hunters insist on carrying an entire extra box of ammunition, which of course adds weight, and I didn’t stop them. But there are alternative methods to cramming that entire box into the pack. Not everything needs to go inside of it. Use an ammo sleeve for the stock of your gun, for instance. Or rather than cramming that multitool inside, slip it onto your belt and help alleviate not only the weight in your pack but also the amount of time you spend rummaging through the pack in search of one item. 

So the next time you’re getting ready to head out into the field, ask yourself, “Will I really need this today?” Do this with each item, and you may be able to lighten up your daypack considerably and make it a much more efficient, better-suited pack for the day. Your back with thank you later.

Skin a Deer or Elk with an Air Compressor

Are you ready to explore the unexpected relationship between skinning large game and compressed air? If you are and find yourself in possession of an air compressor, I highly recommend this clean and quick method to skin your next deer or elk, brought to our attention by @SMHuntington.

Image: www.quincycompressor.com

Image: www.quincycompressor.com

1. Hang It Up

You can hang your deer head up or head down, but if you hang it head up by the antlers, you risk detaching one or both. This is more likely to happen later in the season as the bone base weakens following the rut. The other advantage of hanging a deer head down is that it tends to be more stable because the legs form a wider base than the head. Butchers, for example, hang deer head down.

2.  Cut a Slit and Insert Nozzle

Use a knife to make a very small incision in the skin covering the deer’s thigh. The hole should be not wider than the nozzle so that when you insert the nozzle it forms an airtight seal. If your cut is too wide or the hide rips, insert the nozzle and seal the edges with duct tape.

3. Air Time

Once you turn on the air, the skin should start to separate from the muscle. If your progress is slowed by air leaking from a large entrance or existing wounds, turn the air off and seal the holes with duct tape. It shouldn’t have to be perfectly airtight to work. Lastly, you’ll want tie the deer down with an anchor rope to prevent it from floating away after it fills with air. Deer balloons are a hazard to aircraft.

4. Rinse and Repeat

Assuming your first effort was not a resounding success, repeat the first three steps as needed. The goal is to completely separate the skin from the layer of fat between the hide and muscle. Once separated, the skin will appear loose and flabby.

5. Peel

How you perform this step depends on how you intend to use the hide. If you want a complete hide, make the traditional cuts along the inner thighs and down the belly so that the hide peels off in one oval-shaped piece. If you’re not particular about the hide, you can pretty much cut anywhere and begin peeling. Keep your knife handy for any spots that may not have separated.

The Epistemology of Hunting

Image: artpassions.wordpress.com

Image: artpassions.wordpress.com

How exactly does one become a better hunter? Knowledge and experience, obviously. But while credible knowledge on the subject is readily available from a variety of sources, the greater question is how to make it useful in practice. While we like to assume that knowledge is powerful in itself, that’s rarely the case. In most fields, you need a certain basic level of understanding to make use of more specialized kinds of knowledge. Likewise, you need a certain amount of experience to make full sense of another’s experience.

Much like Freud’s tripartite theory of the individual psyche, there are three fundamental factors at play whenever you are hunting. First and foremost, there is you: the hunter, the person walking around the forest or sitting in a tree stand. Second is the version of you who is a better hunter than the current you. The thing about this person is that they don’t exist yet. Third is your quarry. If you hunt on public land or under the conditions defined as “fair chase,” then it is almost guaranteed that your quarry is better at evading you than you are at finding it. What this means for you—the current you, that is—is that in a perfect world, your quarry and the very best version of you as a hunter are nearly one and the same thing. The goal therefore is to become closer to the better you—the very best version of you that current you can imagine.

However, there’s a problem with this.

The problem is that the very best version of you is limited by what you currently know about hunting. Your idea of the better hunter is not the best possible hunter, but the best possible hunter as imagined by you right now. And the best version of you is nowhere near as good as the animal you’re hunting. So how exactly do you become a better hunter? How do you enable yourself to imagine ever better versions of you?

The answer is, I think, in mistakes—both your mistakes and the mistakes of your quarry (let’s just call this luck for now). Mistakes, depending on how badly you want to become better at what you do, will either work for or against you. Learning from your mistakes is difficult enough, but by far the hardest thing in today’s world is making enough time to make mistakes. In hunting, mistakes are wonderful because they let you know exactly where you didn’t have or failed to apply knowledge. When you can successfully apply knowledge to an endeavor, it becomes stored as experience. Thus an experienced hunter is one whose knowledge has been tested in the crucible of experience. It’s that simple. Knowledge can come from within, such as when you learn from a mistake; or it can come from without, such as when a more experienced hunter gives it to you. But unless you verify it in the world, it is only potentially useful.

To sum up: A person new to hunting is not a good hunter because they cannot imagine what a better version of hunting looks like. But in five years, that same hunter (hopefully) will have turned mistake into knowledge. And with that knowledge, they’ll have made even better mistakes, mistakes more advanced than any novice could make, which in turn becomes the new theses of an ever-refining dialectic of experience. To free the unicorn from the mind’s stable, one simply has to imagine unfastening the latch.