Over the course of 33 years living in Oregon, I have caught salmon and steelhead with bait, lures and flies, rowed whitewater big and small, and backpacked through wilderness where a herd of elk thundered across my trail.
But I have never hunted.
Now that I am retired, I want to change that. This is something I have wanted to do since I was a kid.
Hunting was not a tradition in my family. I did persuade my parents to let me buy an Army surplus 1903 Springfield. The .30-06 rifle cost about $20, and my plan was to sportsterize it to hunt for deer. I got part-way through the process, but never even fired it until a couple of years ago, after a gunsmith finished it for me. My father never hunted, there was no uncle who had ever hunted, and I moved away from the few friends who grew up to hunt. With no mentor, there was no hunting for me.
I moved to Oregon in 1983 to take a job as southern Oregon correspondent for The Associated Press, based in Grants Pass. Raising a family, I barely had time to teach myself to fish, let alone to hunt. But that changed when I retired last October.
In trying to understand why I want to do this, I have been reading a lot. I have found it is not that unusual. Tovar Cerulli, author of the book, “The Mindful Carnivore, A Vegetarian’s Hunt for Sustenance,” has even coined a term for this condition: Adult Onset Hunting.
I have killed plenty of fish. But I am less certain about killing a warm-blooded mammal — something with big brown eyes that can look at me and focus. People tell me they felt a combination of remorse and elation at their first kill. Do I really want that?
With all the anti-hunting sentiment out there, defenses of hunting abound. Hunting controls wildlife that damage crops and keeps populations at a point the diminishing habitat can sustain. Hunters take true responsibility for the meat they eat. Guns and ammo sales generate serious money for restoring wildlife habitat and helping non-game species headed for extinction. Since 1937, the Pittman-Robertson Act has drawn a surcharge on guns and ammunition that goes to states for wildlife conservation and hunter safety. Ironically, the surge in sales of assault weapons and pistols is generating record amounts of money for conservation. This year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service distributed $695,141,699 nationally, according to its website. Oregon’s share was $15,457,600.
But what motivates me is more in line with the late Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset, who concluded that “The hunter is the alert man.”
Similarly, natural history writer Pete Dunne writes in his essay, “Before the Echo,” that as a birdwatcher, he is part of the audience watching the great play of the natural world. But as a hunter he is on the stage, one of the actors.
Fishing demands alertness and attention to detail. But I want to see and feel what comes from the hunt.
Jeff Barnard wrote for The Associated Press for 35 years, 33 of them based on Grants Pass, Ore. Since he retired last fall, he has been writing a blog about teaching himself to hunt for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.