Why do we hunt?

State Sen. Thomas McElveen shows off his prize after a recent turkey hunt.
State Sen. Thomas McElveen shows off his prize after a recent turkey hunt.

Over the years, I've read many articles about hunting and why we hunt. It seems like some authors struggle with the subject matter, as if they're not quite sure about it. They talk about the balance of nature and the need to manage our resources. They talk about the value of the outdoor experience and our connection to the land. Those are all good things, but I think it goes much deeper than that.

Why do we feel like we need to explain our actions to others? So they will understand why we do what we do? Do we hunters even know? I think I'll try my hand at it, and we'll see if my thoughts make any sense.

Our ancestors were hunters and gatherers, and our survival depended on hunting skills. So you might say it's in our blood, and it's built into our DNA. The urge to hunt has been passed down through the generations. We can't deny how we were made and who we are now.

We've developed a love for the outdoors, the animals and plants that share our planet. They are a part of the "web of life" as we know it. Our Creator gave us dominion over the creatures of this world. We depend on these things for our survival. Our food comes from the land, the forest, lakes and rivers and the seas.

We're civilized now and don't need to hunt, you might say. We can grow our food on farms. Yes we can, but it goes deeper than that. Even though we may buy our food in supermarkets, it still comes from the land. We don't have to personally kill that cow or cut those beans, but somebody has to do it.

I think our society lets us shrink from the responsibility of one of the most fundamental processes of life. That "life lives on life" as mythologist Joseph Campbell said. We must kill in order to survive. Most of the time we just let somebody else do the killing.

I believe that hunting is an inherited instinct and is deeply rooted in our human nature. Some of you may scoff and say that we can suppress those primitive instincts. Perhaps we can, but why should we?

Hunters use every sense, every bit of experience and skill that we have. We focus our eyesight, hearing and energy to a higher level. We are keener to the world around us. I think we are more alive when we hunt than any other time. You must be fully alert and ready for anything. We are the apex predator.

I would also ask, "When is the last time your heart fluttered and your palms sweated? Have you known buck fever?"

Perhaps we could just hunt and not kill anything. Well, I love to eat venison, wild turkey and duck. I think wild game is better for you than feedlot cattle and chicken house poultry. And I like to know that I can provide those things. The fulfillment of the hunting experience is completeness.

We could hunt with a camera, and they say a picture is worth a thousand words, but we can not eat those words or pictures.

I believe that the Lord put everything on this Earth for us to use, and we were fashioned in a manner that made us want to use those things.

I'd like to give an analogy or a few examples that I think most people could easily understand. Look at bird dogs. People talk about training bird dogs, but the only thing you're training them to do is to obey commands. They already know that they must point birds. It's in their blood and DNA. They instinctively hunt and do so eagerly.

Now look at the common house cat. Practically every housewife in America knows that no matter how well you feed that cat, no matter how docile and domestic it seems to be, if you let it outside it will come home with a dead bird or a mouse. They must hunt; it's in their blood. They are just being cats.

In a way, we're just like that bird dog and house cat. We are programmed by what's in our blood and in our DNA. We're hunters, like it or not. Personally, I like it.

Now, being on the higher order of life, we can regulate ourselves so we don't overdo things. We don't have to hunt if we don't want to, but we do have a responsibility to preserve and protect our resources and traditions. Hunters shoulder the greatest support toward the natural world, and society as a whole still supports hunting, even if we don't always fully understand why.

To answer my own question, I would say that we hunt for the same reason that we eat, sleep and procreate. We do it because we must.

Dan Geddings is a weekly columnist for The Sumter Item. Email Dan at cdgeddings@gmail.com.