I received a request to talk about Hunting as a Form of Meditation.
I was already thinking about hunting, which isn’t unusual. Like I said last year, summer sucks for hunters.
I’ve already checked all my gear for the opening of season. I’ve checked the new regulations and changes to game laws. I’ll be getting back into the woods on September first, which means you won’t be hearing as much from me.
What better time than now to discuss everthing I love about hunting?
Hunting is indeed a meditation. This is true for all hunters. I take it a step further, though.
Just like my ancestors did, I view hunting as a spiritual experience. The forest is sacred ground. The act of going on a hunt is a ritual experience that I’ve refined over the years.
So while I am a meat hunter, the act of hunting is not as basic as going out to blast a buck and snack on his corpse.
We must first consider: what are the goals of the hunter? I can’t answer what other hunters goals are, but I can tell you mine.
The Goals of the Hunter
There are actually three main goals in being a hunter. One hearkens back to Goldmund’s request on meditation. The other two play off of the first. The experience of the hunt is not complete for me without all three.
What are these three goals? Solitude, Subsistence, and Solidarity.
Merriam Webster defines Solitude as “the quality or state of being alone or remote from society“. That’s a good definition. The value in being alone is greatly underestimated.
When I pack out for a hunt, I still carry my cell phone. At bare minimum, I keep it on silent. More often than not, I keep it on airplane mode unless I need it.
So I can be TRULY alone.
Being truly alone is something we don’t often experience anymore. Cell phones, WiFi, easy internet access, and social media have created a world where we are always plugged in.
Well, friends, I’m here to tell you that unplugging is one of the best experiences you’ll ever have.
There is no constant distraction. No social media notifications. No text messages or emails reminding you of your first world problems.
The only sounds are of the natural world around you. The only light comes from the sun or moon. In a word, it’s heaven.
You don’t speak, because there’s no one to speak to. Your hearing sharpens because you aren’t saying anything. You will never hear better than when the loudest sound around is the birds and the bees and the wind through the trees.
Your rhythm synchronizes with the rhythm of your ancestors. The beating of your heart, the pangs of hunger, the sights and smells around you all guide you. You realize what it is to be human without the trappings of society.
You begin actively practicing survival and subsistence as soon as you leave civilization.
Merriam Webster defines Subsistence as “the condition of remaining in existence”. Also defines means of subsisting as “the minimum (as of food and shelter) necessary to support life”.
What this means is that a true hunter is not indiscriminately killing. A true hunter harvests only the bare minimum of what he and his people need.
Going beyond what is necessary is a crime on many levels.
Harvesting more game than you need is bad for the herd, weakening the local gene pool. It is bad for the environment, as nature is in delicate balance. Other animals depend on your quarry just like you do. So do species of plants.
Other animals eat what you eat. Plants your quarry eats depend on animals to eat and subsequently defecate their seeds. Taking more than you need affects them all.
Conservation comes into play as well. If you harvest all the game in the area, there will not be any to take next year. You will need meat next year, and hunters will need meat long after you’re dead.
Harvesting more game than you need is bad for you, too. You are expending energy, which is the opposite of survival. Survival is conservation and repletion of energy to extend longevity. Ancient man could not afford to waste this energy, and a modern hunter shouldn’t either.
Finally, we cannot overlook the means of your subsistence: killing and eating other living things. Taking a life you can not give back.
Life and Death in the Wild
Life eats life. Killing and eating is the way of the natural world.
This does not mean we do it indiscriminately. Becoming blooded is an experience you should actually give some thought. Do you even have it in you to take the life of another living creature?
You may disagree with me, but my rationale has always been that killing is only acceptable when done the way noble creatures kill. If you’re unfamiliar with wildlife, you might not understand what I mean.
Some animals, animals of all stripes (Feline, Canine, Primate, Fish, Bear, you name it) will kill something purely for sport. Other animals kill because they are extremely territorial (see animals above, add buffalo and snakes and more) even when there is no real threat.
Simply put, animals DO kill for sport. But not all animals.
Take two dogs of identical breeds, both well fed, neither abused, and watch their behavior around a smaller running animal. Both dogs will chase it, as that is their instinct. Both dogs might eventually catch it. But it isn’t a guarantee that both will kill it.
Be the dog that doesn’t kill unless it is killing to eat.
That’s my decision, anyway. This means I do not hunt for sport, even though I hunt as a sport. I train year round for hunting, but I am not training year round for killing.
I hunt for food, for myself and other living things, and I waste nothing. To waste any part of the animal would be failing to honor the animal.
Honoring the Animal
Before I became a hunter, I didn’t really think about whitetail deer in any capacity. I only saw one deer when I wasn’t in a car.
My first deer season was completely fruitless. I only had a good shot at one deer, and I still missed him. He spotted my movement and broke into a run as I started to fire.
I realized just how much guile the whitetail deer possesses. They are incredible creatures. Absolutely fascinating.
Their senses of smell, hearing, and sight were so much stronger than I realized. They move with perfect economy of motion, wasting neither time nor energy. To top it all off, they can cover any terrain completely silently if they choose to.
In 2016 I had a similar season to my first season. The difference being that I didn’t buy doe tags, and it just so happened all the deer I saw were does. It was still a successful season, because I spent a lot of time watching these incredible creatures.
I have more respect for a whitetail deer than I have for most people I’ve known.
This carries over into my hunting. I do not take a shot I am unsure of.
I will not needlessly wound a deer and force it to suffer a lingering death. If I cannot guarantee myself that the deer will die as painlessly and quickly as possible, I do not shoot.
And above all, I don’t waste the spoils of the hunt.
Eat What You Kill
I eat what I kill. If I don’t eat it, I make sure something else does. In the case of predator animals like coyotes, I make certain the carcass feeds the earth.
I have a personal taboo about leaving a carcass in sand. If I drop a coyote standing in sand, I will drag the carcass to the soil. I also make certain there isn’t a water source near by that could be contaminated.
In the case of game I take myself, I seek to cool the meat as soon as possible. “Gamey” flavor is often a result of meat that is partially spoiled. The meat is partially spoiled because it remained hot for too long.
If I’m very far from a place where I can process my harvest, I will gut but not skin it. Gutted game will keep, even with the hide still on, for a lot longer because it cools faster.
Once I’ve reached a place where I can skin and butcher the spoils of the hunt I begin processing immediately. As each cut of meat is separated, I’ve already decided what it will cooked as.
I harvest the backstrap (loin and tenderloin) in one large piece. The hind quarters make excellent steaks, whereas the front quarters make succulent roasts. The neck makes a fine roast as well. The tougher meat near the ribs can be minced into burger along with any remaining trimmings.
It is happy and messy work, much like the experience of the hunt that led to it. It’s easy to lose yourself in the task at hand. Seeking that experience is the final goal I have as a hunter.
Merriam Webster defines Solidarity as “unity (as of a group or class) that produces or is based on community of interests, objectives, and standards”.
The solidarity I mean is one with the world within yourself. Unity with what it means to be alive. Your motivations become the same as every other living creature that seeks to survive.
Put simply, you become like an animal.
Do you have food? Do you have water? If a storm breaks, do you have shelter?
All the worries of the false, fabricated, modern world fall away. If you misjudge the terrain and break your ankle, you won’t be worried about what bill is due when. You’re firmly rooted in the present moment.
Mindfulness and presence are not optional. If you aren’t paying attention, at best you miss movement that could be your quarry. At worst, you could end up found dead from a multitude of causes.
The entirety of your being must be focused on why you are here and what you are doing. This does not mean that your mind doesn’t wander, though.
Presence Versus the Roaming Mind
When you are alone in nature, being present is critical. At the same time, Solitude is conducive to reflection. These things seem to conflict with each other, but in the wilderness they simply don’t.
It is as if your conscious mind is focused on the task at hand with great intensity, but your subconscious mind is free to roam. I chalk it up to freedom from distraction. There’s simply nothing for your subconsciousness to do but keep you breathing.
When hunting you exist in this state of simultaneous daydream and focus…Right up until the moment you spot movement. When you spot movement, your mind unifies and this is the experience of Solidarity.
Your vision simultaneously blurs and sharpens, your pace quickens, your muscles become both tensed and relaxed. It seems as if you are unable to make the wrong movement. Some call it flow, but us hunters usually call it Buck Fever.
This kind of Buck Fever is different than the kind new hunters get – for them there’s nothing magical going on. They’re just excited. For a hunter with more skins under their belt it is much more like flow state.
Just about every hunter remembers a time like this.
The Perfect Storm
It is like you can’t do anything wrong.
Your movement through the woods is perfectly silent. There aren’t any leaves in your path, despite the ground being flooded with them.
When you’re in the stand, you don’t feel the need to move at all. You’re comfortable, but not so much that it affects your focus.
The wind is in your favor. Even when it shifts, you find it shifts in relation to the deer. Your scent is being blown away from any possible target worth taking.
The sun, the clouds, the trees, and the leaves all seem to blend together to shield you from view. Your silhouette is perfectly broken, not a single part of you is solid to an onlooker.
It’s as if the spirit of the land supports you in your mission. Like some higher or greater being has blessed you.
It doesn’t matter what you want to call it. I tend to think of it as a nod from the land for the nod I give every time I enter the woodlands.
The hunt is a spiritual, meditative, restorative ritual for me. The day that stops is the day I hang up my hat and call it quits. I can’t imagine hunting any other way.