The spir­i­tual ethos of hunt­ing in Idaho

On a hunt­ing jaunt in Idaho, one writer tra­verses the way of the an­cient mys­tics

Red Magazine - - Editor's Note | Contents - WORDS AND PHO­TOG­RA­PHY JENNA V. GENIO

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...

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