In my hometown it’s still legal to walk around with a gun. Newcomers find this upsetting, the locals find it comforting. Having grown up in a town where guns were more common than gun-crimes, I can’t identify with those who blame guns for crimes–nor can I relate to those who see hunting as being as immoral as guns. Guns, hunting, to me they ain’t nuthin’ but a thing.
This weekend, my sons went on their first hunt. This gave me cause to reconsider the matter. Many see hunting as nothing more than an invalid display of male aggression–the unfair killing of majestic animals by those with an exaggerated sense of macho.
I hate hurting any living creature, but I’ve been hunting. It had nothing to do with my desire to kill anything. Having done it, I know it’s a sport. Not a who-can-kill- Bambi’s-mother sport, but a sport which requires preparation, practice, patience, skill and luck. In fact, the amount of skill required to be a good hunter, leaves little room for aggression.
To me football seems more violent and aggressive than hunting, yet, people cheer for football. I’ve only recently begun to understand football, so I canvassed some of the men I know who are passionate fans of the sport, to make sure I understood their enthusiasm. The responses surprised me. Instead of saying they loved the roughness, they noted the strength and guts of the players I learned men love to see a team pull together, they love it when an underdog upsets a champion. Many cited the strategy–in other words, the non-physical part of the game. Everyone I asked said they loved backing a team–even a losing team, because there was always the possibility their team would pull together to become a champion.
I realized there is much more to football than what I was seeing, which is how hunting is. As I watched the boys preparing for their hunt, I was witnessing a small-scale rite of passage–a man-test. They had been to the rifle range to practice and repeatedly reviewed the rules of gun safety. Finally, the day had come, they would be in the wilderness with adults carrying loaded guns.
One would think that carrying a rifle or shotgun would make a boy feel powerful, but they aren’t experiencing any Rambo fantasies. Instead, they are unsure because they are going out with the sobering knowledge that with that gun are expectations and responsibilities. The goal is to come home with wild game, but this sport is not a game. They are nervous and hoping they’ll remember all they’ve learned. Charged with the grown-up responsibility of not shooting anyone or anything they didn’t intend to, they don’t want to lose face. This is a time to be serious, not stupid. It is a time to be patient, smart and quiet. It is a time when they will know whether or not they can succeed in doing the thing for which they’ve prepared.
Not every hunt is successful, and the hunt doesn’t end with a kill. A kill means the hunter must confront the animal whose life has been taken. It isn’t a moment of glory, but a moment to consider life and death, as they realize the creature’s blood is still warm, its eyes still glistening. This is a sobering thing for a any hunter, but especially a young hunter.
Despite the fact that they didn’t bring home any wild game, the hunt was a success. They remembered the stuff they’d been taught and they did their best. Just as with all sports, one side triumphs over the other. This time The Arizona Wild Game won.