It is hunting season. Every early November in Northern Minnesota when the trees lose their leaves and the skies turn grey there are little cabins that stand vacant all summer that begin to light up. The woods fill up with the gentle smell of smoke burning from wood stoves spread throughout the state. The forest comes alive with guttural laughter and the vibrant glow of all that blaze orange.
There are so many family traditions in this world that I personally don’t understand. It should come as no surprise that my family’s longest standing tradition is understood by very few and misunderstood by so many. In this world hunting is viewed as barbaric and outdated. But the truth is that the most vivid orange thread that weaves through the soul of all hunters is the familiar walls of their hunting camps that have come to feel like home. The camaraderie and the bond that is strengthened every November with their hunting parties will always bring joy to this historic sport.
If you were to take a poll I would be willing to bet that there are very few hunters in this world that hunt entirely alone. As someone who was raised to be a hunter I can tell you that hunting cannot be done without a strong support system. It just takes too much effort otherwise and it loses all pleasure. When I asked my older brother “What is the number one reason you hunt?” without hesitation he responded “Family. You’re all there with a common goal; it’s a good feeling to have people who understand you.” When I asked him what he would say to someone who didn’t believe in hunting he replied “It’s like religion; a person shouldn’t have to defend them self.”
For me to stand on a pedestal and defend hunting might be slightly hypocritical because I myself no longer hunt. However, my reasons for giving it up have nothing to do with a corruption of morals; I just find it boring. I do think that those people who judge hunters might feel differently if they understood why so many of them do it. Most hunters profoundly believe in the preservation and conservation of our planet and they have an unrelenting respect for wildlife. When I asked my father why he hunts he said “I can spend eleven hours in the woods by myself and I love to be out with the master of the woods, the big buck.”
He is after a challenge and he never shoots an animal that is young and still thriving. He has been hunting many years and it makes me proud to know that he will never kill an animal just to kill it. When my father was younger hunting was necessary to keep his young family fed throughout the year. Now that his family is grown he is after a greater trophy; he wants to hunt the animal that could very possibly outsmart him and according to him; frequently does.
Hunting requires a specific set of skills as well as dedication, patience, diligence, endurance and respect for the weapon. Hunters rise even before the sun when the world is silent and still asleep. Even if you hunt in a party you and your hangover from the night before must stumble through the dark to your stand alone. There is a certain solitude that comes with being in the woods with only the wildlife and your thoughts to keep you company, that even the most expensive yoga class cannot provide.
My oldest brother’s response to the number one reason he hunts: “I didn’t think about work or any of my everyday stresses the entire time I was out. Nothing else can motivate me to spend that much energy just observing my immediate environment. And now I have some really exciting memories to draw on the rest of my life. Most of a person’s hunting happens in the off-season via memories built on the trail.”
Late night poker games, wind-burned cheeks, tall tales told by the wood stove, a seemingly bottomless beer keg, Johnny Cash and Johnny Horton, shit talk, fried venison, shots of whiskey and blackberry brandy, hand warmers, wool socks, rifles, memories and blaze orange…these are the things that make up a hunting season, not the number of deer on the pole.
People have come and gone from our hunting party. Lives have been lost over the years but there is also new life and a younger generation to carry on the tradition. Our old hunting cabin burned down but we built a new one, a place to make new memories. In my family, attendance at the hunting camp is more crucial during Hunting Season than it is during Christmas. There are those who only come for the company and the party and even when a person gives up hunting, such as myself and my mother we all still pull out our blaze orange and bedazzled camouflage every year and join in the celebrations to support our hunters.