Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Hunter vision: Why is it different?

Hunting has completely changed the way I see animals in nature - it's one of the great surprises and delights of becoming a huntress.

But today, a non-hunting friend asked me this: Why?

She asked in response to a post this weekend about my day at the lake, but the answer seems to be worth a post of its own.

Here goes:

Have you ever grown a plant for food? When you grow a plant for food, the interest you take in that plant is different than your interest in other houseplants and flowers, because its success determines whether you get to eat its fruits, leaves or roots. You have a connection with that plant - a vested interest.

You also see other people's food plants differently. Fellow gardeners look at each other's gardens and say things like, "Wow, your heirloom tomatoes are really healthy! I've been having lots of problems with mine this year, so we won't have many to can for winter." Non-gardeners had no idea that the tomato plant was a fine specimen, if they even knew it was a tomato. They buy their tomatoes at the store.

Now, imagine being part of a primitive society and hunting for survival. Every animal you see is a potential meal - sustenance for you, your family and with big game, your whole community.

But you're not just looking at it as meat on legs; you're watching to determine the outcome of your interaction. If you are particularly stealthy, smart or strong, or if the animal makes a mistake, you get dinner. If the animal is particularly wary or if you make a mistake, the animal escapes. You aren't just watching; you have a connection.

Of course, most modern hunters do have other options for meat, so the sense of urgency isn't the same. But the connection is. It's the same competition whose outcome depends on the savvy of one party and the mistakes of the other. (And any hunter can tell you that having a high-powered rifle does not ensure success; hunter mistakes, animal wariness and luck make animals the winners far more often than not.)

Just as gardeners tend to see all plants differently - not just the ones they plan to eat - hunters see all animals differently, even when they're not hunting. Is this animal wary enough to escape hunters - human or nonhuman - or is it careless enough to become someone's meal? And just as gardeners appreciate healthy plants, hunters take delight in seeing healthy, thriving animal populations.

This connection with the animals we hunt also creates a very deep relationship with the food we eat. When's the last time you had any feelings this intense at the grocery store? Your success at the store depends on two things: how well-stocked the store is, and how much money or credit you have to spend. The fate of the animal whose meat you buy was predetermined; you never had to match wits with it.

In an era when humans have become increasingly disconnected with nature, hunting provides an intensely meaningful connection. That's why we go to tremendous effort and expense to get our meat from nature instead of from the store; that's why it changes how we see everything.

© Holly A. Heyser 2010


Dan said...

yep. As hunters, we become part of the food chain, not merely outsiders looking.

Having a vested interest in our surroundings makes sense; it makes us slightly more successful as hunters and it makes us aware we're not the only predators out there.

Friends are constantly amazed that I can see animals and thier activities at great distances. They call it "hunters eyes", I call it smart. Last year in CA, the hunter success rate was 18%. I wonder what the mountain lion success rate was?

Tom Sorenson said...

That's a very interesting point - and quite true. I know that my brother, when he took up fly fishing, as opposed to spin casting, the main thing he noticed is that he started paying attention to bugs and flies - what types, what colors, etc...He said, always before they were annoying bugs and he didn't care - then he started fly fishing...same with fish activities - before if fish were jumping, they were just jumping. Now, he identifies it as they're feeding, and he notices the different ways they rise (I wasn't even aware they came to the surface in different fashion!) It's made him much more aware of his surroundings. You alluded to gardeners - I'd say it could be the same with even flower gardeners. To some, salvia is just a pretty purple flower - to a flower gardener, it's salvia, or purple sage, and it means something - they identify with that - they understand what it takes to grow the plants, they understand the beuaty - and the usefullness - of plants.

I'm quite long winded today - sorry about that! Bottom line: love your posts - you obviously put some good thought into them.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Dan, I'm the same way about spotting game (though I'm not as good as Phillip.

And Tom, good point about the fly-fishing and the flowers. And if you're long-winded, then what I'm I? Mercy!

Blessed said...

I caught site of a buck and doe running across a field about 350 yards away the other day and identified the buck as a buck before I even got the binoculars out to make sure - my husband was so proud of me!

I completely understand what you are saying - I know that in the off season I'm watching migrations, seeing how many quail are in the covey I happen to scare up and watching for fawns - I truly enjoy watching the animals in their natural environment going about their business. I'm also evaluating for next season where I should be when the time comes to put some meat in the freezer.

Dan said...

I hunted with Phillip in Texas, he's...ok :)

SimplyOutdoors said...

I think that having that direct connection with our food, and being so aware of our surroundings and the animals within it is what sets us apart from other people.

Great post.

Phillip said...

Heck, Dan... a blind man could spot game in Texas!

Holly, another great post. It's really cool following along as you go through this... I dunno... pilgrim's progress... to becoming a hunter. It's sometimes like seeing through new eyes.

I do know that a few years back when I took up bowhunting, I started seeing wildlife and its habitat in a much deeper way. It opened a new level of appreciation, and I found myself digging not only the "shot potential" of every animal I spotted, but the habits and traits from a much closer point of view.

I'm sure that what I'm seeing is only a microcosm of the bigger experience you're getting right now, but I sure do like it.

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

For me, there's something else as well: I like to see that Nature is doing her thing. The Hunter's Eye has a custodial element to it, in that I am always looking at wild places to see if everything looks as it should. Are there lots of bugs zipping around? Birds eating bugs? Other critters eating the birds, and so on? Seeing turkeys and deer and waterfowl gives you a sense that they are OK out there.

Being a hunter is like being an actor in the Great Play, not merely a bystander sitting in the audience. Honest hunters care about Mother Nature year 'round because the worst thing that could happen to us is to have the theatre burn down on our watch.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Ooooh, well said!

mdmnm said...

Michael Pollan addresses this a bit in "Omnivore's Dilemma".

Ortega y Gasset does, too, when he talks about the hunter as a participant in nature, rather than a mere observer. That's certainly the way I feel.

NorCal Cazadora said...

And not surprisingly, I love both of those authors - I love their striking honesty.

nonhuntingfriend said...

Thanks, you guys. I may have to refer a few people here.