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The Essence of Hunting

By Steven W. Barnett, Certified Wildlife Biologist, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries

Hunting, by definition, is the act of pursuing wildlife for food and recreation. Word definitions often portray only the extrinsic value or meaning. But, if you slice through the surface layer to what something really means, its true intrinsic worth, a much deeper understanding, or “essence,” becomes evident.

One can only fully appreciate the core value of hunting through one of life’s greatest teachers – experience. Allow me to share a few personal memories and attempt to translate feelings and emotions into words that define hunting to me.

A vivid early childhood memory comes to mind of riding on my father’s back as he trampled through brush and briars in pursuit of small game. I did not carry a firearm, but there was an exuberant joy from being outdoors with my daddy. The eager child-student was being introduced to the outdoor classroom and my father was the teacher. These early experiences helped germinate the seed that grew into a yearning for the outdoors, shaping my life’s journey. Early outdoor “courses” included how to interpret game sign and be safe with a gun. The exhilaration of my first harvested game animal, a cottontail rabbit, provides a visualization of that special moment in time.

The bark of my son’s squirrel dog takes me back to days afield with my grandfather as we squirrel-hunted the hills and hollows along Clear Creek. His tales of hunts as a boy along that same stretch of stream captured my imagination, especially the part about moonshine stills tucked away in the hemlockshaded coves back in those days. Today, those memories are relived as my son and I are in the company of his treeing feist, Hunter. The anticipation of quickly getting to a treed squirrel is still just as strong. Memories are never more vivid than those spent afield with a child. I can attest that family hunting traditions fuel the spirit through the generations and build powerful bonds.

Most people who hunt have at least one favorite game animal that stirs an obsession. If the true meaning, or essence, of hunting is ever more alive in me, it is when I chase turkeys. There are few things in this world that
heighten the senses, sharpen the focus, and create unimaginable feelings of exhilaration than the gobble and drum of a wild turkey. I am confident that these same emotions are shared by the deer hunter hearing the grunt of a buck chasing a doe, the duck hunter watching mallards respond to his calls and decoy spread, and the list goes on.

Although the harvest creates a level of euphoria, it is the hunt that defines the experience. One of my most cherished turkeyhunting memories is an exhaustive effort undertaken in the Sipsey Wilderness Area
many years ago. Fortunately, the turkey gobbled relentlessly that spring morning because it took me well over an hour to cross three deep gorges and negotiate several blufflines before setting up and ultimately harvesting
the bird. I remember very little about the bird, but I can recount, in detail, the pursuit, sprinting to get to the bird before he quit gobbling and lying down periodically before cresting each ridge, soaked with perspiration, to  catch my breath.

Hunting pumps millions of dollars into Alabama’s economy and helps support local communities each year.  However important the value of hunting is to the economy, the worth of hunting will never be measured by dollars. Hunting is much more than the pursuit of game. Hunting clears the mind, sharpens awareness, provides focus on the moment, and nurtures the soul. In these moments, we are truly connected to nature,
and, for me, God’s magnificent creation. This is what hunting means to me. What does it mean to you?

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