Into the Wild
Hunting as a Way of Life in the West
Photography: Nancy Whitehead
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Where I live now, and have lived for the last 20 years—in the low elevation mountains and rainforest off extreme northwestern Montana—I can travel on foot 20 miles or farther without crossing a single fence or even an active road, and in weather far more inclement, and exhilarating, than any I knew as a child.
When I am afield, I am able, in every glimpse, to marvel more fully at the incredible grace and sophistry of the world’s acutely integrated cycles. The journeys of the hunt provide for me a beautiful and always sensate reminder of our own place in these cycles, and, again, of our responsibility within it during our brief occupation of landscape and time.
Why then do I awaken before dawn, wade out into the frozen fall morning with a weapon and not a camera? For me, and those of us who are connected to the landscape and its natural processes, to deny that seemingly crude aspect of the entire process would then be a kind of extinguishment. The disowning, if you will, of a contract that was negotiated in us perhaps before we were born, or, at the latest, when we first entered a certain landscape.
I’ve thought about it a lot, and while I am convinced there is still in many of us that powerful genetic mandate to hunt and gather—a survival instinct, nurtured by the pleasure and passion for the mental and physical challenges, as well as the gastronomic prize, in hunting—I do believe that the call and urge to hunt might be even sharper for some of us.
When I was younger, I embraced without hesitation that there were only two true defined seasons in the year: fall hunting season, and then all the rest of the year. As any hunter knows, it is the anticipation—particularly in the crepuscular hours—that is as much at the heart of the hunt as anything.
Rarely do I consider any of us yet fitted all that gracefully to this dynamic and vibrant larger world, which we so often perceive we dominate, but which we do not dominate and cannot control in the least. Surely, more than anything else, we as a species are a work-in-progress, trying (but sometimes not very hard) to adjust the hitch in our gait and stride to meet that of this dynamic world’s, and the seasons. And it is in hunting season that I most feel fitted and capable of meeting that biological challenge, and this awesome opportunity for, and awesome responsibility to, life.
Again, I’m grateful to have a place, an identity, and a way-of-being, that allows me the chance to more fully fit myself into the natural world’s—particularly the world of our wilder backcountry—processes and patterns.
The attentiveness and respectfulness in many hunters’ relationships to both their quarry and the shared landscape could be said perhaps to approach that of prayer.