Philosophically, the hunter believes in objective truths, the power of archetypes, and an essential view of the world.
I include “objective truth” above because it is very easy in modern life to agree with the sentiment that truth is almost entirely socially constructed. It is much harder to go with the flow, however, after having experienced the raw power of nature and the truths She enforces on the willing and unwilling alike.
In the wild, well-defined archetypes are of practical value. I mentioned in my previous article that the hunter must internalize the behavior and “point of view” of the pursued animal. What is the ideal, essential animal thinking and doing as it crosses this particular landscape? This mental model is the key towards sorting through a large landscape and finding only those points where one is likely to cross paths with the hunted. It is also only hard-won by years of observation in all kinds of weather across many different landscapes.
I theorize that trophy hunting — intentional selection for prime specimens rather than strictly hunting for sustenance — is understandable through this Essentialist lens. The hunter looks for the archetypal Buck as a tribute to celebrate the “soul” of the animal that he has internalized. For Steve Rinella and his lifetime pursuit of a trophy mule deer, this is absolutely the case. I am not familiar with safari-style hunts, so I cannot talk on hunter motivations in that case.
It also resolves an apparent paradox at the heart of hunting — hunters often claim to love the animals they kill! This is often hard for non-hunters to swallow.
I witnessed this first hand while on a farm stay in upstate New York. A new-to-farming couple purchased old farmland and brought in a forester to consult with them on how to best guide the health of the new forest. The couple were both city people that were embracing the back-to-the-land cultural current.
In the initial conversation, it came out that the forester had been raised hunting deer in the area. “I can’t believe you would kill the cute deer,” the husband says, “I’ve always been against hunting. It’s cruel, why do you hate them?”
The forester says he actually loves deer, and that he serves them by increasing forest health across the region.
Later, while walking the land, the forester comments that the health of the woodland is poor. There is almost no green undergrowth save for ferns, which indicates a local overpopulation of deer, and new saplings and any valuable woodland crops like ginseng will not be successful. He also suggests a few strategies to increase the carrying capacity of the forest, and to shield new saplings. “Those goddamn deer,” the husband quips, “I can see why you hate them now. I guess I’ll have to get a shotgun.”
The forester sighs. “The deer are just being deer.”
It is not about loving or hating specific animals. The forester loved the whitetail subspecies, and made his life’s work about making the world better for them as a whole. That also involves respectfully killing individuals in a way that corresponds with their archetypal & ecological function as prey animals. This is also why the prospect of turning them into something else by dosing them with birth control, as has been suggested by some as a cruelty-free solution, is so abhorrent. Besides being impractically expensive in most areas, it extends the reach of our society and our socially-constructed mores into the woods, obliterating an older and more sustainable truth in favor of a transitory, arbitrary, top-down social order that in the end destroys what they once were; there is evidence that many of these chemical methods fundamentally alter the biochemistry, behavior, and social order of animals that we apply them to, for example in America’s wild horse population. The agent PZP has been widely applied in immuno-contraceptive efforts for more than 30 years now, and to first-order it appears safe or even beneficial. It has even been used in animals meant for human consumption to improve body condition. However, take a look at this 2010 literature review from Reproduction:
“An interesting contrast thereby arises in which quantitative studies showed that side effects were consistently found, whereas qualitative studies and anecdotal reports suggest that side effects were generally absent.”
The truth is there is a lot we don’t know, or care, to see because of the politics of chemical contraceptive methods. In the cited article, quantitative studies show that PZP application absolutely results in greater female antisocial behaviors like aggression and abandonment of the herd, fundamentally fragmenting the fascinating and complex social lives of these animals. It also may drive mass die-offs from disease; individuals with a weak immune system that does not respond to the PZP are much more likely to reproduce, decreasing fitness overall. It makes them as a whole less than they were, not more. What is most cruel?
It is not easy to fix a culture once its lineage has been broken in this way, animal or human. Look at my fumbling attempts at learning hunting as an adult, or how hunting hounds are trained using the existing pack, not in isolation, not from scratch. Look at the struggles of HEMA to reclaim a unique Western Martial Arts system from fragmented Renaissance texts, while Far Eastern civilizations managed to preserve a lineage intact. I ask you to consider that we permanently lose an important, uniquely American cultural facet when we project urban anti-hunting and anti-gun policies onto rural areas. A facet we may need to be resilient as a country, given that the only thing left & right can agree on is that the human world is critically imperiled, even if it is for different reasons.