Editor’s note: This is a guest article from Eric Voris.
A few short generations ago, hunting was a common piece of many family’s experiences. Whether a man was a passionate outdoorsman or not, by and large, he had some connection with hunting. It was a familial affair, and at the very least he could expect that every fall he and the other men of his family — father, grandfather, uncles, etc. — would head to the woods in search of deer to enjoy both sustenance and camaraderie. A couple generations even further back, and this would have been a regular occurrence throughout the year simply to provide food for one’s family.
Fast-forward to today, and we find hunting in decline. It is hardly seen as necessary with the prolific existence of grocery stores and massive farming operations delivering reliable truckloads of meat to our neighborhoods on a daily basis. And with the decline of close ties between extended and multi-generational family lines, the masculine camaraderie and rite of passage hunting affords have fallen from the common experience as well. Many men don’t hunt simply because they were never introduced to hunting — it just never came up.
However, I would argue that every man who is not morally opposed to eating meat should give hunting a try. In primitive times, becoming a hunter was considered essential to becoming a man, as the role symbolically and literally aligned with each of the traditional imperatives of manhood: protect, provide, procreate. Hunting was considered a creative act that paralleled battle, sport, and sex, and required and developed all the manly attributes — physical strength, mastery of tools, discipline, determination, initiative, etc.
Today, hunting isn’t a necessary prerequisite for manhood, but it continues to be good for men on a profoundly deep level, as it still develops those age-old masculine qualities and connects a man with that ancient ethos in 3 spirit-enhancing ways:
1. Hunting Connects You to Your Food
How do you feel when you stand at your grill, beverage of choice in hand, flipping the steaks you just picked up at the grocery store? Sure, it’s always a good day when you’re eating steak. And, if you happened to pick them up on one of those “Hurry, these are about to go bad!” mega-sales, then you’re probably feeling pretty good about your savvy purchase. But where is the story? Do you actually take time to consider that there was once a cow surrounding the air-space around that steak, and do you think about where he came from, what his life was like, or — as morbid as this sounds — how he died? Honestly, I never did before I hunted.
When I stand at a grill cooking a choice cut from an animal I harvested myself, I am overwhelmed with satisfaction and pride. I relive the entire hunt that led to the taking of that animal. I reflect on how hard he made me work for it, and I find myself immensely grateful to that animal and the fact that, because of him, my family has meat tonight. There is a connection to the food we consume that I never experienced before. I have dabbled in gardening and while eating fresh produce from your garden has a similar effect, it is nowhere near as intense.
It also makes for great conversation when you have guests over and you are grilling up some wild game. Not only are they curious about this strange meat that, in most cases, they’ve never tried before, but reliving the story with your guests (possibly skipping some of the gorier details) invites them into this connection with the food they’re about to eat as well.
Finally, you cannot get more organic than a wild animal that has lived its entire life eating the organic matter that grows naturally in its habitat, having absolutely zero physical contact with a human until the day the two of you met. Even your most gourmet, free-range, grass-fed, zero-antibiotic, massaged-to-sleep-every-night cut of beef at $49/pound is not as organic as an elk you pulled out of the forest yourself. If you’ve ever stumbled upon one of the many terrifying documentaries about mass-farming operations, and worried about the horrors of what might be in your meat, hunting solves those problems by providing a freezer full of clean protein.
Everything about the dining experience is just better when you’ve procured the repast yourself.
2. There is Great Satisfaction in the Pursuit Itself
Hunting is hard . . . period! It’s possible that through carefully chosen clips of kill shots, viral videos of guys engaging in some pretty unethical “hunting” behavior, or even the movie Bambi, that you’ve been led to believe hunters are maniacal rednecks who possess overwhelming advantages against the game they prey upon, allowing them to easily kill whatever animals they’d like. They drive a big rusty truck into the woods, pull onto the shoulder, shoot everything that moves, throw it in the pickup, and speed into town to show off the carcasses filling their truck bed. That horrible stereotype is illegal in most cases, unethical for sure, and is simply not how 99% of the hunters out there go about chasing their quarry.
Real hunting involves early mornings, long hikes through often rugged country, hours sitting behind a pair of binoculars, constantly trying to beat an animal’s keen senses, sneaking into shooting range undetected, and making a good, ethical shot to dispatch the animal quickly (which requires countless hours of practice in the off-season). And if you manage to get through all of that successfully, the real work begins. Now you must field-dress the animal, quarter it up into manageable pack-loads, and then get it out of the woods — often on your own shoulders for what can be miles back to your truck. There is nothing easy about hunting!
Yet, the challenge presented in hunting an animal is exactly what makes it so good for the heart of a man. A few days of hunting is like a crash-course in grit and determination. As you spook an animal, miss a shot, struggle just to find where your prey is located, convince yourself to go up and over just one more mountain ridge, spook another animal, and generally experience failure after failure, you grow immensely as a human being. Whether you leave the woods with an animal or just an unused tag in your pocket, you will find yourself stronger mentally, emotionally, and physically simply by gritting your teeth and willing yourself to keep going. That struggle is also what makes the fruits of a successful hunt so satisfying.
The grit and stick-to-itiveness developed while hunting will serve a man well in every other area of his life. You will be a more patient father, a more diligent employee, a more confident entrepreneur . . . whatever your lot in life, hunting will make you better at it. If you can pick yourself up and press on after days of constant failure in the field, many of the challenges of normal life just don’t seem that big anymore. And if you manage to harvest an animal after all of that, the boost in confidence you experience is second-to-none.
3. Hunting Provides Catharsis
Without getting overly philosophical here, I have found there is something that happens deep within me during a hunt. Despite all of our modern comforts and civility, men are still hardwired with a more “primal” side that we aren’t sure what to do with. That part of us that not all that long ago would have been responsible for protecting our families or tribes, that would physically respond to a mortal threat, and even provide food through hunting — we still possess that. Unfortunately, the typical “American Dream” life doesn’t have much use for that primal man. We may try to access it by poring into our work, or we lift weights or play sports, and those are all well and good. Yet, having tried all those other ways to engage that inner man, I have found nothing as effective as hunting.
When I hunt, I can almost feel my place in the food chain — my role in this massive ecosystem that is earth. I feel as if this person within me that twiddles his thumbs all year while I sit at my desk, drive in traffic, and mow my lawn finally gets to come out and play. If I may risk overstating it: I feel like my most authentic self when I am in the woods chasing an animal. I believe this so strongly that I build my yearly calendar with gaps to hunt at strategic intervals. I can physically tell when I have gone too long without a hunting adventure — I start to get restless, I feel less engaged in my regular life, and if I go too long I legitimately start to get depressed. Yet, even after a quick weekend hunt, I am restored and refreshed — ready to dive back in to the hustle and bustle of my more civilized, suburban life.
I have talked to numerous other men who identify with this conflict in their own nature, so at least I know I’m not the only one. There are countless others who feel as if there is something they’re missing, some part of them that just can’t seem to settle down and be content with the “normal” life they’ve worked so hard to build. I believe it is this unrest that often leads guys down more destructive paths: to mid-life crises, to abandoning their families seemingly out of nowhere, and countless other clichés that often befall the modern man.
If a guy is feeling at the end of his rope, and may be considering some sort of major life change just to try and scratch an itch he can’t quite identify, he should give a week in the woods chasing an animal a try. He may just begin unlocking the answers he is looking for. Now, I am not saying the simple act of hunting is what is missing from his life. What I am saying is that a week spent in nature, with plenty of time to be with his own thoughts, and the opportunity to begin accessing this part of himself he isn’t even sure exists, can be a profoundly healthy step towards wholeness.
What are you waiting for?
If you have made it to here and what I’ve said above is hitting home, then it’s time to go hunting. There are countless resources available to guide you through the process in your part of the country, and if money is not a big issue there is certainly a guide or outfitter who would be happy to offer his services. The gear required to hunt can quickly become expensive, but a man can go on his first basic excursion with a handful of borrowed gear and garage-sale finds and still have a great hunt. Give it a try, see what it’s like, and I bet as you stand at your grill cooking a steak that has a story, you’ll already be mentally planning next year’s hunt.
Eric Voris is a husband, father, and passionate outdoorsman. He firmly believes that hunting is one of the healthiest things a man can do for his soul, and runs a website called Late to the Game Outdoors which is designed to help guys become better men through hunting and the outdoors. You can find more resources to help you get outdoors on his website, on Instagram, and on his YouTube Channel.