Into the Wild
Hunting as a Way of Life in the West
Photography: Nancy Whitehead
(page 1 of 2)
Here in the West, hunting is less a diversion than a way of life; a seasonal pattern and rhythm—a way of being in the world.
Late season waterfowling, and the joy a hunter feels, amid such clemency of weather, reminds me of the passion experienced by the naturalist John Muir, who so often exalted to be high in the mountains, in any weather, or of the watercolor artist Walter Anderson, who would, when desiring rapture, lash himself to the tops of trees along the Mississippi Gulf Coast in advance of oncoming hurricanes, to be swept into the wildly uncontrollable flow of a great force—a force in which birth, growth, decay, death, and birth again were all tangled up at once: a force we call, in a kind of shorthand, life.
It’s been said, by philosophers and hunters such as Paul Shepherd, Doug Peacock, and others, that hunting is the organic act that has first and most shaped human intelligence. I believe this, and believe such genetic linkage—when and where it is still present—helps explain the seemingly mystical power and potency that hunting holds over those who practice it with respect and honor.
Such a hunter cannot travel out into the forest or the plains, the mountains or the marsh, observing each dawn’s rising of the world, and not marvel at the force that hand-selected every tiny working of the natural world, crafting meaning in every tiny breath and gesture. Looking at the iridescent hues of a bird’s wing in a certain angle of late-season sunlight, the hunter cannot help but pause, amid his or her sweating exertions or shivering labors, and, again, marvel.
What painted by hand—and continues to paint with such subtle adjustments, year by year, generation by generation—the world, and our place—each thing’s place, both the animate and the inanimate—in it?
In the autumn, and in the hunt, we are deep enough in that world to perceive that we somehow stand poised almost at the edge of being able to answer such a mystery.
I’ve been a hunter since my mid-teens, when I began hunting quail and doves with my parents in south Texas, which is where I grew up. Hunting in Texas meant then, and still means, for the most part, hunting on private property—the ranches of friends, or ranches leased for hunting. My mother and father and I would venture into the thorny thickets of mesquite and huisache in the autumn heat, hunting with shotguns behind whippet-thin English pointers with names like Buck and Sadie and Rip. >>>