The spiritual ethos of hunting in Idaho
On a hunting jaunt in Idaho, one writer traverses the way of the ancient mystics
We drove by the golden hills of Idaho to meet our strapping guide at his ranch, towering over a Native American reservation in the town of Stites. The private property was vast, boasting hunting blinds, dirt roads, and a healthy population of coyotes, whitetail, mule deer, and ducks. My companions had tags for two whitetails; their missions were clear. Hunting is controversial, but I count myself lucky to have met the best kind of sportsmen: ethical, educated, and conscientious. Hunters must register and pay for an annual license and a tag, a permit to harvest a specific animal. The finite tags protect populations and create tax revenue that goes back to wildlife management. Poaching is considered disobedience.
I learned that many hunters are, in fact, some of the most passionate conservationists you’ll ever meet. They appreciate and know more about wildlife, natural behavior, anatomy, and the land than the average nature lover. Conservation efforts spearheaded by hunters are to be thanked for the resurging population of North American animals. Hunters, alongside animal rights activists, contribute to the protection and preservation of natural habitats. Sometimes the government spends millions of taxpayers’ dollars to cull wildlife populations, relieved by the fact that hunters actually pay for the honor, and the earnings directly fund environmental causes. Responsible hunting exists and it requires skill, awareness, and virtue.
Every dawn, the hunters headed out into the freezing fog, and every afternoon they’d come back with no luck, until the very last day when fortune finally favored them. One of them had such a remarkable experience, facing his whitetail only a couple of yards away, brandishing a rare, asymmetrical rack of antlers. The hunter stressed the importance of shooting to kill—only when one is confident and sure— to minimize suffering. In the past, he chose to down a limping, wounded buck instead of one that would make for a more desirable trophy. It was an example of the many choices hunters have to make that eventually show their character and gain the respect of their guides.
After recounting that morning’s experience, we couldn’t mock old civilizations for their superstitions. Animism must have been the effect of their dependence on and constant exposure to the outdoors, not to mention the awe-inspiring events they must have witnessed. Hunters, who trek or wait for hours in unforgiving terrain and weather conditions, also have a primitive connection to the wilderness, which others in the city wouldn’t understand.
After days of taxing tribulations, one whitetail appeared so close and so striking, that the hunter could hardly believe it; it was probably Earth’s karmic reward for being so respectful. All alone, he laid his hand on the deceased deer and found himself thanking whatever powers that be for a good hunt—like how mountaineers thank a mountain after a safe descent.
As we drove the carcasses to the butcher, I was deep in my own reflection. It’s something that all outdoor enthusiasts can attest to, because of certain events that can easily be described as miraculous. I guess nature has a way of making mystics of us all.
Opposite page: Deer hunters drag their prize after a successful hunt. This page, clockwise from top: The deer hunter was just about to disappear around that hill; a corner decorated with taxidermy and eclectic furniture; Husqvarna and Sako bolt-action rifles rest on a Honda FourTrax Rancher.