The Wilderness Experience: Passive vs. Active
Thanks to Brandon at Superior Wilderness Designs, I've had an interesting revelation about how I've chosen to interact with the wild places I visit. For years I've taken hunting for granted; I've just always done it so I never really gave much thought to what exactly I was doing out there in a holistic sense. When compared to that of a non-hunter, it's quite striking how much more I understand the natural world than they might (these are general terms...let's not split hairs here. I know there are plenty of non-hunters who are well aware of their surroundings).
I was exchanging emails with Brandon prior to recording Episode 23, when he made mention of how when he's backpacking, he can sometimes feel like he's in a more passive role versus an active or interactive one. He got me thinking and for the next few days I began pondering this idea of how lucky I am to call myself a hunter.
As hunters we sometimes find it difficult to explain what it is we're doing out there in the first place. I'm watching via social media what seems to be a nightmare at nearly all levels of the spectrum. Hunters are getting attacked for doing what they do and it's freakishly vicious. There are young people who receive death threats from random people just because they show pictures of themselves hunting. This is crazy! The only thing I can attribute this to is a failure of the hunting community to find common ground with the non-hunter.
For a while there, it seemed hunters were finally figuring out a way to show the world what it means to hunt by creating high quality hunting films that focus on the environment around them and the process, but now the trend seems to be going back to showing the kill shot, watching an animal die, and the good old fashioned grip and grin. I feel like this is once again pushing the wrong idea of hunting and my fear is it's only going add fuel to the fire. The "grip and grin," as some like to call it, is like taking a picture on top of Everest without telling the story of how you got there. Only mountaineers can connect with that view, the feeling, the smile, or the idea, and the non-mountaineer simply views it as "oh cool, another summit picture." The same goes for long distance hikers finally making it to a terminus point and taking a picture in their disgusting clothes. To the non-Thru Hiker, they just see a tree hugging hippy standing next to some sort of monument without having any reference for what that monument actually means.
In my conversations with Brandon, he made me realize that there are non-hunters out there who desperately desire to interact with the natural world in the way that a hunter does. Unless you're hunting, you have no real reason to travel through the brush, find and admire game trails, look for rubs, note where animals tend to be feeding and not feeding, and for sure you have no reason to feel the rush of calling in a bull elk to within a few yards. As hunters, that's what we do and it's our job to explain it better.
Backcountry hunters have a unique understanding of the natural world in a way that the average non-hunter doesn't even know exists. When I hiked the PCT in 2017, my hiking partner was unaware of the game signs along the trail and would ask me how I knew deer and bears were in which areas. Over the course of a couple thousand miles, I taught him which prints were which, what they meant, and how big the animal likely was. I remember the first time he pointed out a set of prints on his own and couldn't help but smile. In that one single moment, he went from being a passive hiker to an interactive one.
So, what does all this mean and what am I trying to say here? I guess I just wanted you to know that thanks to talking to a guy like Brandon who has never hunted but who loves the backcountry just as much as I do, I now feel that I'm closer to explaining to the world why it is I feel the pull to hunt. Feeling more interactive with the natural world is not the only reason I hunt, but it certainly plays a huge part. Sitting on a hill waiting for the sun to come up, watching a herd of elk graze a hillside, and feeling the cold on my face is all part of the experience. It's more than that though. It's knowing why those elk are on that hill and understanding why I need to be out in the cold in the first place.
If you're a hunter and you're feeling frustrated with the idea of a non-hunter not understanding you, just remember that not everyone has experienced what you have. Know that they don't feel the connection to that grip and grin image you posted to social media, because they have no idea how you got there. Also know that there could be a chance that they too would love to interact with the natural world in the way that you do, but simply don't know how. They might not even know how interactive hunting can even be!
We as hunters must be willing to teach non-hunters what we know in order to showcase our love for the natural world and order of things. It's only through educating those who are not like us that we might begin to make progress to save our beloved past time. If we are not willing, then we are not trying.
This blog is meant to build a community of people who love the backcountry so I encourage you to help build it with me by commenting below.
For the love of the natural world.