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Does hunting make us human?

Does hunting make us human?

Background

There is little doubt that hunting played a decisive role in our species' evolution. But with the spread of agriculture and the domestication of animals, the necessity of hunting diminished. Does hunting still contribute to our understanding of ourselves and our relationship with nature? In many different cultures, hunting has inspired an ethic informing hunters' engagement with prey—arguably one of the foundations of modern environmental ethics. But is the hunter’s ethic still a necessary component of broader environmental ethics? Should it be? We invite you to join the online conversation and meet us in Charleston, South Carolina this November to discuss this timeless question.

Additional Contributors

Jed Meunier

What Type of Hunter Am I?

Nothing I do frees me the way hunting does. When I am afield, time is measured by daylight, by thirst, and by hunger; my mind wanders, all the while keeping a singularity of purpose that is rare in my … Full Response ›
Jed Meunier, Ecologist
Ceara Donnelley

Wild Turkeys, Young and Old, Human and Other

In the first month of his 66th year, my father wrestled a wild turkey with his bare hands. He had previously shot it, in the neck but imperfectly—the gobbler refused to fall. Instead, the turkey … Full Response ›
Ceara Donnelley, Vice Chair - Center for Humans and Nature
James Serpell

Hunting and Our Connection to the Wild

Does hunting make us human? It depends not only on how we define “human” but also on the kinds of hunting we’re talking about. It would be hard, for example, to make a case that … Full Response ›
James Serpell, Director - Center for the Interaction of Animals & Society, University of Pennsylvania
Mark Damian Duda
Andrea Criscione
Joint Response

Understanding Hunting Today

In his foreword to Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold wrote, “There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.” He continues, explaining that his essays “are the … Full Response ›
Mark Damian Duda, Executive Director of Responsive Management
Andrea Criscione , Senior Research Associate - Responsive Management
Florence R. Krall Shepard

Minding the Animal

A non-hunter and an old woman, I have observed five generations of hunters in my family and have concluded that hunting does not make us human. To the contrary, I suggest that hunting, whether for … Full Response ›
Florence R. Krall Shepard, Professor Emerita - University of Utah
Holly Heyser

Humans Gone Wild

Does hunting make us human? No, there are lots of other hunters on this planet, a good number of them as clever as we are. They just lack some of our helpful bonus features, such as opposable … Full Response ›
Holly Heyser, Editor - California Waterfowl
Christopher Webster

Hunting for an Ecological Consciousness

It is inconceivable to me that an ethical relation to land can exist without love, respect, and admiration for land, and a high regard for its value.—Aldo Leopold, 1949 For as long as I can … Full Response ›
Christopher Webster, Professor - Michigan Technological University
Paula Young Lee

Human, Hunter, Nature, Wild

Does hunting make us human? In the New Machine Age, we are all cyborgs—hybrids of flesh and technology, glowing with artificial enlightenment. So perhaps the better question is this: Does … Full Response ›
Paula Young Lee, Author
Stephen Bodio

Old Friends: Nonhuman Partners in the Hunt

"Animals make us human."—Temple Grandin If “hunting makes us human,” it seems hunting must contain a quality that separates us from our relatives. In the last half century, we have … Full Response ›
Stephen Bodio, Author
David Stalling

Long Ago Hunter Today: Seeking Humanity in our Wild Roots

While hunting in the remote Tatshenshini Provincial Park along the British Columbia–Yukon border, my friend Bill discovered the headless but mostly well-preserved remains of a fellow hunter, … Full Response ›
David Stalling, Writer
Hank Lentfer

Honed by the Hunt

Mid-afternoon twilight ushers each hunter from the darkening forest to the warmth of the cabin. One by one, we stomp the snow from our boots, lean rifles in a cabin corner, and hang damp mittens and … Full Response ›
Hank Lentfer, Author and Recordist
Eric Nuse

Fair Chase and the Hunt for Survival

It is sunset. I’ve been in a tree stand for three hours watching the proverbial grass grow. Then I hear a light crunch in the leaves. My heart instantly starts to pound. I am on full alert, … Full Response ›
Soňa Supeková

Hunting Traditions in Europe—The Way of Life for Hunters

From the legend of St. Hubertus, patron saint of hunters: “wildlife must not be just hunted, but equally important is the conservation and understanding of the importance of wildlife in nature … Full Response ›
Soňa Supeková, Vice Dean, Faculty of Economics and Business - Paneuropean University
David Petersen

Hunting as Humanizer: Then and Now

For pre-agricultural foraging peoples—our “savage” human forebears—sacred and secular were inseparable. The same wild animals they preyed upon, they also prayed to. With life … Full Response ›
David Petersen, Author
Tovar Cerulli

On Hating Hunters and Becoming One

Listening to early morning gunfire roll across hills and valleys during November deer season, I used to hear the sound of evil. Hunters were out there committing willful acts of violence, taking the … Full Response ›
Tovar Cerulli, Author
Allen Rutberg

To Save the Wild, Leave Hunting Behind

Does hunting make us human? For the sake of our species, and of all the wild species that have managed to thrive or at least hang on in the modern world, we’d better hope not. As the … Full Response ›
Allen Rutberg, Director - Tufts Center for Animals and Public Policy
Jill Carroll

Predation and The Way of All Things

I hunt to eat. Specifically, I hunt because I’m a carnivore, and eating meat from animals I myself have killed is the most ethical way I have found to be a carnivore. I don’t know if that … Full Response ›
Jill Carroll, Author
Jim Sterba

Our Stewardship Responsibilities as an Apex Predator

White-tailed deer, Canada geese, coyotes, beavers, turkeys, fishers, eagles, and lots of other wild animals and birds are increasingly populating the American landscape, and bears, moose, wolves, … Full Response ›
Jim Sterba, Author
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Hunting is such an interesting topic for discussion, because talking about it among diverse company makes us uncomfortable. With that in mind, I think we have lost track of the central issue that attracts and repels those who hunt and those who hate hunting.

Killing is the focus of ... Read Morethe hunt, not simply causing the death of a creature, which all of us do unintentionally in many aspects of our lives, but killing another being with premeditation and purpose, in particular a being that we in some sense love. Anyone who has hunted has felt that strange affection for an animal and then exhilaration when its body crumples to the ground—yet all of us have been trained not to talk about it, to act as if it is incidental to the hunt, or worse yet, an unfortunate necessity. Killing is rather that which organizes and gives meaning to all of the practices associated with the hunt. Killing the one we love has the psychological power to focus whole sets of practices precisely because it is deeply shameful. The heightened awareness of the hunter is heightened in anticipation of the kill. The camaraderie of fellow hunters is intensified by their mutual confrontation with the shame of killing, of transgressing a moral boundary together. We are not "killers" after all, but responsible members of society. To violate this boundary in an intentional manner and in full view raises the horrible to the sacred and in doing so we announce our shameful relationship to the other.

In response to these troubling existential issues, we commonly subvert the experience of hunting by rationalizing it as "an outdoor experience", "an opportunity to be with nature", "a chance to be with our friends and family", or "an opportunity to be involved directly in the task of feeding ourselves". The first three are inadequate explanations, because they are acts of enjoying or using nature available to anyone outside of the practice of hunting. The last is also available outside of hunting, but misses the point most seriously by avoiding all but an oblique reference to killing. We rationalize the killing because we are afraid of its moral implications, yet this rationalizing has the perverse effect of de-moralizing killing and rendering the animal mere collateral damage in the pursuit of our personal interests. The act of communion in a Christian church is not an oblique reference to killing; rather in communion we the congregants drink the blood and eat the flesh of the one who died for our sins and by our hands. We are doubly guilty for killing the one we loved. One doesn't need to be of a religious mindset in order to grasp the psychological power of that image.

Hunting is a meaningful practice to the extent it celebrates killing as an inextricable and shameful part of our existence. In doing so we confront our limitations as human beings and honor the animal we kill. At its best hunting is an act of communion with nature that we experience by killing nature, and we share this communion with the first human beings.

Hunting does not make us human. Rather, confronting the shame of killing is part of being human, a part we now habitually avoid.

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This article helped me understand a burning desire inside of me. Thank you so much. I came into hunting after college, I am a bowhunter--from a non-hunting family--in missouri. While I enjoy my quiet sits in the stand I long for partnership and a more active style of hunting in the field. I am ... Read More
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Thank you. Sometimes I feel alone in my view that veganism and vegetarianism are acute forms of condescension. I to me it is a twisted view of judeo-christian- morality adopted by self-styled, self-righteous, post-modernist philosophers who have don't have any cognizance of the moral origins of... Read More
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It is a testament to the power of the hunting experience that several contributors to this fine forum are no less than lyrical about the pursuit of prey. Hunting for these writers elicits meditation, spiritual significance, sacrament, even "the deepest kind of happiness a human can experience ... Read Morein an environment that was his true home".

Having hunted underwater I recognise some of these feelings. Watching fish swim far above, like seeing birds soar below, is always special. Doing so while neutral buoyancy frees us of gravity and we become weightless adds a special sense of emancipation and joy. The ocean is no longer our true home, of course, and being 10 or 20 metres down on two lungfuls of air limits such revelry. But it's wonderful while it lasts.

For years, catching fish and eating it, often around a fire on a beach hours later with fellow hunters of the deep, seemed the atavistic manifestation of our true selves, linking us to our forefathers, to other natural predators and, in fact, to nature itself. So while it was clear that stalking and killing prey clearly, sometimes disturbingly, reveals our animal nature, I could similarly countenance that an activity which we engaged in for millions of years is also an intrinsic part of the human constitution.

But being human means reflecting on what we do. And, too often, what I did was injure fish, not catch them. Moreover, there were plenty of other food options and my target was always the biggest, healthiest prey; no natural predator I.

Reflecting on what we do and why can ultimately change individuals. Thus my harpoon gave way to a camera. On a much larger and far more significant scale such contemplation can even alter and improve societies. Thus attitudes to slavery, race, gender as well as to animals have changed in much of the world and, most conspicuously, in the United States.

Thanks largely to the development of agriculture, the industrial revolution and, more recently, information technology life for us is better now in countless practical ways too. For all the scourges that still beset human society, few can doubt that by almost any criterion - life expectancy, poverty, health, hunger - our world is now better than it was.

But in one signal area, thanks, paradoxically, to those same developments this is not true. With few exceptions the planet on whose well-being ours depends has never been in worse shape. And it remains an open question whether on this increasingly urgent issue society will change in time.

To do so we will need to harness all the best human qualities others have displayed here - ethics, stewardship, sustainability, ties to nature and, rarely mentioned but often championed by hunters, conservation. And we will need to apply these qualities not only in the occasional pursuit of prey but in the pursuit of every aspect of our lives.
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Thank you for this beautiful article, which I truly enjoy. I'm just starting to learn about hunting, but my grand-father was a passionate hunter. Unfortunately, he passed before he could pass onto me his skills. Somehow, I always felt there was a world to explore, the world of the hunter and I ... Read More
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I wanted to raise a Jewish (and perhaps Christian) perspective on hunting. In the Hebrew Bible, the story of Jacob and Esau is a very prominent admonition against the lifestyle of hunting and in favor of studying and farming, instead. The lesson may have helped guide our cultures towards ... Read Moreurbanization, away from respect for original peoples, and towards undue deference to intellectual and technological expressions of our creativity.

In a way, the story of Isaac's sons, Jacob and Esau, setting the stage for the persona of Jesus (and St. Francis) and the elevation of the meek may well be sources for what has developed as a profound human separation from nature that we experience in our bible-influenced cultures. There may be parallels in western and in Asian cultures (monks and Bodhisattvas), but each has its unique approaches. For us in the U.S., the split with nature may have been codified in the rejection of Esau's connection to the land and his own animality - and his disconnection from intellectual pursuits and religious study.

Is hunting a way for us to remedy that cultural bias against maintaining our animal connection with nature? I do not favor the idea that we are forced to choose between religion and nature, nor between religion and science. Yet, understanding the sources of our disconnection with nature may well empower us to transform our thinking in ways that encourage us to be both better stewards of creation and more capable of flourishing in sustainable ways.

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Ahhh, but were not Jesus' disciples fishermen. While their pursuit was perhaps not the ultimate perfect pursuit as a Hebrew/Christian for spiritual enlightenment, Jesus did CHOOSE outdoorsmen--through the persona of fishermen--to be his students. It could have as easily been hunters, fishermen ... Read Moreare just aquatic hunters after all. Was it aptitude or availabiltiy, who knows?

Also as a point of interest on in the vein of the Hebrew/Christian direction. The commandment "Thou Shalt Not Kill." The translation of "Kill" in that commandment a word specifically used with people only and is synonymous to the word "Murder." When kill is used in the bible with relation to animals for food is a different word and it is more closely related to the word "Sacrifice". Just an interesting point that Christian/Moral anti-hunters should consider.
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I have seen a friend's falcon knock a duck back into the pond killing it. The falcon landed on the edge of the pond while the dog went into the water to retrieve the duck and then bring it back to the shore and give it to the falcon.

My own birds and dog watch each other when ... Read More
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Wow! An interesting debate and well laid out on two differing , thoughtful views. Thank you!
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Interesting thoughts, no doubt, and well-written.

Once again, however, I feel that the writer is caught up in idealism and a misguided sense that there is some shared, spiritual aspect of hunting or of being a hunter, that overrides all the other arguments. That is simply not so.
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Dr. Krall,

Your commentary came quite highly recommended by David Petersen and another good friend whom I believe just shared your company. They were quite correct in the recommendation, and I am not surprised at all having read this now that you were the wife and partner of Dr. ... Read More
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Very well put Steve! The working partnership between man, bird and dog is what initially drew me into falconry some 40 years ago and still amazes me every new season! Read More
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Thank you, Phillip! Read More
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Thank you for the clear look at humans as animals and your honesty in sharing so many keen observations on humans and our cultures. One of my favorite quotes from the Dalai Lama is, "To seek solitude like a wild animal, that is my only ambition." To me, that "sweet spot" we ... Read More
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Thanks for this remarkable essay, clarifying much about the nuanced world of hunting with which I am not familiar. I particularly like the cyborg imagery. It makes me cringe, but I think that is the point. Beautifully done!

In our culture today, we seem to fear the animal within ... Read More
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I often think about these matters (in part because of the excellent Gary Snyder essay you reference.) The ethical lines are far from clear, the moral high ground swampy; as you point out, eating a vegetarian or even vegan diet still harms other beings.

That said, I've come to ... Read More
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Dear Ceara,

I was deeply touched by your essay.
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Thank you, Elizabeth! It means a lot coming from someone who knew my dad - and who has had her own Ashepoo turkey encounters :) Read More
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Ceara,
What a lovely essay. I especially loved this:
"Hunting was his active entrée into nature’s classroom. There he looked to turkeys, and all wild creatures, to teach him something about the big questions: what it means to live a good life; what it means to meet a... Read More
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Gretel - thank you for this wonderful response. I am so glad you enjoyed the essay, which was daunting to write as a non-hunter! To be honest, I have simply never felt the desire to pick up a shotgun except to shoot a few clay pigeons. Clearly, I had the opportunity to learn, but hunting has not ... Read More
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Several weeks ago, when I began reading the thread on "Does Hunting Make Us Human?," I was not expecting to find an essay leading me to a clear answer of "yes." Yet, I find that answer within the essay by Ceara Donnelley. Thank you for sharing this powerful story.

... Read More
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Earon - thank you so much for this thoughtful and gratifying response. I especially appreciate it because I grew up in New York City among a community of people for whom hunting was foreign and other. I quietly celebrated the fact that my family and father were involved in something different, ... Read More
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I haven't felt compelled to respond to many of the essays in this series lately, but I can't help popping in after this one to say, "thank you."

It's a lot of things I would love to say, but never could have articulated quite like this. Wonderfully written. Read More
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A beautiful essay, Dr. Shepard. If only the ideal of hunting you portray were the dominant paradigm today. Tragically, Woerkom's illustration representing man morphing from organic earthling to mechanized man is right on the money. Hunting is quickly, not even insidiously but overtly, being ... Read More
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Thanks for a very thoughtful and balanced look at hunting and its implications for our relationship with nature.

I wonder, though, about whether there are assumptions that chimpanzee hunters feel no remorse at killing for food, but that human hunters do. Chimpanzees witnessing a kill... Read More
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Excellent piece, Mark! I'm very familiar with your numbers, but this particular analysis has me looking at all of them in a new way. Love it! Read More
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(Oops, and Andrea too - sorry to have left you out!) Read More
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This was a very well written reflection on something I contemplate often. I have been a naturalist and observer of nature my whole life, but it wasn't until my husband introduced me to hunting that I saw the natural world in such a raw and wild way. I felt more connected than I ever had. I ... Read More
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I enjoyed these insights into humanity and hunting. My assumption is that humans are animals. I suspect that hunting does help us to dive beneath the pseudo-rational world we have constructed and to experience being human in a way that is otherwise available only through intense competition, sex, ... Read More
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Correction to my comment: I forgot to include how our humanity is also available through community, compassion, empathy, the arts, celebration and kindness, but those experiences may tend to be more overwhelmingly filtered through our rationalized constructs. They are central to our existence, and... Read More
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This article was not what I was expecting, and it was not disappointing. It was a very interesting read, indeed - thanks! Read More
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I'm so happy to see your voice here! Your late husband's work contributed substantially to my beliefs about hunting and its meaning and role in our lives (as has the work of Dr. Mary Zeiss Stange, one of the Center's senior scholars).

And how wonderful it is to know ... Read More
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You make such good points here. We humans should remember we do not rule the planet. Read More
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Thank you, Coco! Read More
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When I used to hunt jackrabbits with greyhounds, and on horseback, the horses would often sight the rabbit first. They would get "up" in the bridle and start to prance. The hounds would look to the horses to get a line of sight on the hare. The horses knew the hare meant a chase, the ... Read More
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I loved this essay! I especially was drawn to the idea that "Many hunters invest hunting with spiritual significance, for it is difficult to ignore the feeling that taking a wild life and serving it for supper are symbolically weighty acts that have nothing in common with going to a restaurant... Read More
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I'm obliged to you for taking the time to read the essay. Perhaps you and Mary Stange can team up on a research project! Read More
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Thank you for this thoughtful short essay.

As someone who identifies as an "ethical hunter" myself -- I eat only meat that I have killed/caught myself or that was "harvested" by a family member or close friend -- the piece has special resonance for me.

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Thank you for your comments. Indeed, hunting is not a simple activity! I am aware that some hunters don't act ethically, but I am hoping that by setting out the hunter's obligations to the land, this essay will help more understand why it's important. Mine is the opposite experience: ... Read More
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As a hunter I am always happy when someone can explain why I am a hunter better than I can. Thank you. Read More
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Thanks, Steve. It is more intuitive than intellectual, but I'm happy if I can be articulate enough to add to anyone's understanding. Read More
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For this city boy, your article was amazing, Stephen. Thanks for helping me begin to understand how you find meaning in hunting. That understanding enriches my own appreciation of what it means to be human. Read More
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"Other bloods", other minds, being polite to an animal of another species-- more than half the fascination for me. Read More
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Thank you Mary for your response, I found myself mirroring your own upbringing to a point. As a child growing up in the shadows of Philadelphia, hunting opportunities just don't arise much. I did however thoroughly enjoy wildlife viewing; spying a deer was one of my favorite things to do.
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Another thought provoking article David. Well done Read More
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"Does hunting make us human?" More important than any answer we might give to that, the question itself raises interesting meditations of its own-- how it is framed, is it really a question, what does it reveal about our inquiry into our own nature?

I've always been ... Read More
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ps. A typo, but i kind of like "pardadox" -- a term for "pardon me, I left one side out of this equation." :)
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"Does hunting make us human?" More important than any answer we might give to that, the question itself raises interesting meditations of its own-- how it is framed, is it really a question, what does it reveal about our inquiry into our own nature?

I've always been ... Read Morecurious about our venture across the rubicon from braining to minding. It's a one way function. Once crossed, the exact nature of the creature one was before the crossing can never be exactly known again, only guessed. So when we ask about what features of "animal" processes remain wholly intact and carried forward on the minding side of the fence (are "basic" to our nature) we're caught between two equally plausible answers: "none" and "we have no way of knowing" For me, minding seems to imply storytelling, the capacity to imagine answers, create narratives and anticipate unfolding of events.

If nothing else, storytelling is exactly what has been done (what we have done) with this question. We've told stories to one another. Stories about why it must be basic to our nature; or, why it is not (or hoped that it is not); why we wish something we cannot actually know is of fundamental biological importance, or more of a story telling character with options besides hunting that might be told. All this is complicated by the fact that there is a present an impending issue for us, here and now, that makes the answer we give useful in deciding what story might best hold our interest (dominate) the modern "campfire"; clearly a pressing political question. Are we at heart a hunting species or a rationalizing-about-hunting species?

Aldous Huxley came to a split-decision on the matter, suggesting there was genotypic trait in our species that was assigned to some, but not all of us. It lead him to suggest that our society must provide for this in some way--the physicality and predatory impulses--- for those that were of the "physical type". If not, we were simply creating a pressure cooker of impulses in some of us, to explode again and again, as they always seem to do.

But Huxley's reply can also be seen as a story in response to how we framed the question as a "basic nature" question, and presumed 'basic nature' required animal origins which we cannot really know. Susanne K. Langer, on the other hand framed the matter in quite a different way. She did not view human nature as sequential history, but rather as an atemporal condition, in which original possibilities were everpresent in our species as optional lines of development. She saw the fabric of expression as a continuum from act to body to feelilng (emotion) to brain (thought) to mind (process). It wasn't something fixed as predestination, but rather a dynamic relationship between these levels of perception and interaction that was ongoing and ever subject to mediation.

What I'm suggesting is that storytelling may be one of the fundamental mediators of our nature, the thing that differenced us from all that came before and also provisioned us to tell other stories than the ones that fixed all other creatures (as far as we know) in the static adaptive niches that evolution provided for them. Storytelling not only imagines possibilities, but it becomes an act which impinges on our biology, or emotions and our thoughts in feedback loops which enter the basic self-constructive process which minding enables. In Langer's philosophical musings ("Mind -- An Essay on Feeling", e.g.) we are both temporal/sequential creatures designed in evolutionary kettles; and atemporal/self-modifying creatures always redesigning ourselves by operating our capacity to be mindful of ourselves as well as our surroundings. In Langer's view, the question about "basic nature" is already loaded with an assumption about the primacy of determinant biology when it reaches in to the far side of the rubicon and asks how "animal-like" are we? But on the near side we are also indeterminate storytellers as well.

So, what we get is a pardadox, yes. And a paradox is something in which Gregory Bateson suggested, "one must choose sides--both sides." Which is why I suggest we may have framed the question wrong -- as a question, though it may appear to have many answers, has but one side. But, the story of what we "basically are" and what we might do/tell about that, may be enormously larger than our question can answer. May even render it meaningless in a very important way. What the better question, the more realistic frame might be, I haven't a clue. Something to talk-story about sometime, I suppose.
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Thank you, gentlemen, for your kind comments. If we look at the hunting subculture as a metaphor for the mother culture, it's remarkable how many directions we can take our thinking about life, death, and human values today. As with other aspects of life, my motto when talking about hunting is ... Read More
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Outstanding as always! As someone who came into hunting later in life, I can honestly say that your work has helped to guide me in what ethical hunting should be. Read More
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Hunting is as much a part of being human as is the creation of art, and in fact, those two are inexorably linked. Humans first created art in recognition of the hunt; to give thanks to the animals, to illustrate times, locations, and events of successful hunts, and to indicate to others that which ... Read More
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Well said Sean. Read More
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David, I always look forward to your perspective and especially your ability to put it simply into words. Enough words and not too many words. Thank you, dwc Read More
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Incredible perspective, Dave. This is a slightly new direction for you. I hope you explore more about religious thought and the role of hunting in mankind's history. Read More
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Wonderful. Thanks, Dave. Looking forward to :The Good Hunt" Read More
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My point is that, for better or worse, the city-dwellers and suburbanites whom you regrettably characterize as "social bigots" are the people who hold the future of wildlife in their hands. They represent the overwhelming majority of citizens who vote, hold jobs, invest, recreate, sit on ... Read More
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Survival is a purpose, hunting is simply a possible means to that purpose. I feel that the only time hunting can me considered a purpose of a specie's existence is if it is to maintain a balance in nature. Much like how the hunting by spiders keeps the fly population in balance.
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On the other hand, since life was not consciously created one can't really say it has a purpose and that it is left to ourselves to find our own purpose. I imagine that there are some people who truly enjoy hunting and have made that as their personal purpose in life.
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Thanks for the thoughtful essay! I wonder whether one of the benefits of people actually (ethically) hunting wild animals might be that humans may be less predatory towards other people. To some extent, is our society's obsession with economic competitiveness a result of losing the hunt (as ... Read More
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Good question; no clear answer. Anti-hunters allege, with slender evidence at best, that hunting promotes aggression. Others argue that hunting is a "safety valve." This parallels the torturous debate over violent computer "games" and sports contests (football, soccer, hockey). ... Read More
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On the other hand - I am no anthropologist but I have read that some indigenous cultures have systems of tradition that are designed to curb any claims of competitive triumph either over prey or over fellow hunters. What I read into that was that they have found the urge to compete is to some degree... Read More
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Sorry, I just can't agree with your premise. Hunting is indeed a part of what made us, and continues to keep us, human; fulfilling our role as an apex predator. Your dream is to make us all wildlife voyeurs, playing veterinarian with a population of pets, instead of taking back our active, ... Read More
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Thank you for raising this question for us to ponder. I wonder about what makes us feel human. Eating? Sex? Sleeping? Hunting? Community? Music? Thinking, or perhaps not thinking? And, equally as important, do we want to feel human?

For me, being in this community, and ... Read More
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Thanks very much, Earon, for your thoughtful and appreciative response to our question. I think you put your finger on an important aspect of the question: It is not so simply about "being" human, but about "feeling" human. Quite a bit to ponder there! Read More
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Sterba has concisly presented a highly complex situation. We need to once again get politics out of wildlife management and allow our highly skilled and educated wildlife professionals to formulate and institute the best wildlife management plans for people and wildlife. But when you have giant ... Read More
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What makes us human is the same as what makes koalas koalas, orcas orcas, or cedars cedars. It is is the particular set of inherited traits that set the parameters for our engagement with the ecosystems in which we are embedded. Feeding is surely one of the key modes of interaction between organisms... Read More in ecosystems, so in light of our evolutionary heritage as generalist omnivores, hunting is surely one of the key aspects of the ecological vocation of human beings.

I suppose the question about hunting making us human was asked with aspects other than the ecological in mind. Many humans in Western culture now see themselves primarily as economic agents, and perhaps as intellectual or social agents. Only a minority (mainly women) really see themselves as biological entities, and even fewer truly see themselves as ecological agents.

The emphasis of the economic and intellectual over the biological and ecological, and the narrative that this represents “progress”, would tend to lead to the idea that hunting is not or is no longer an important human characteristic. But it’s this very schism between mind and body, between economy and ecology, which has led the West to perpetrate the current ecological crisis.

That’s a value system that needs to be abandoned, if we stand any hope of halting or reversing the accelerating disaster. We will need to value nonhuman nature and also embrace our human biological and ecological embodiment. Among other things, that will mean direct, mindful participation in ecosystems in the modes evolution has equipped us for -- including hunting.
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I’ve thought a bit and decided. It’s not so much that hunting necessarily makes us human. I think the more important reality is that hunting reminds us humans that we are animal.

I am neither scholar nor philosopher… biologist nor anthropologist, but I have some ... Read Moreideas about the sorts of things that make us, “human.” Lay aside the basics of taxonomy, as there’s not much to add there, and think more about the concepts of self-awareness and the ability to rationalize. Consider the determination expressed by much of human culture and society to distance our species from the rest of nature… to set ourselves above all others. That conceit? That’s what makes us human.

Throughout human history, for as far back as we can really look, the general thrust of humanity has been to drive us further from our “animal” nature. That drive is, arguably, responsible for the formation of society and culture as we set laws and mores that inhibit the “savage” tendencies and enable us to live together. You don’t fight, you don’t kill, and you don’t breed with your neighbor’s mate. The Ten Commandments, the Seven Deadly Sins… social controls all, and intended to set us humans apart from the beasts.

The tale is long and convoluted, but it brings us to a time when the most “civilized” societies are also the most separated from nature… and more importantly, from their natural selves. The animal part is still there, of course, as evidenced in everything from our business and political practices right down to our children’s games (what are Tag and Hide-and-Seek if not basic training for little predators?). Still, how many people recognize it for what it is? How many would celebrate it if they recognized it?

And how many, seeing it, try to squash it?

Squashing it…

Squashing the animal out of our very nature…

It’s an exercise in futility, of course, but exercise builds strength. The more we distance ourselves from the animal, the more we divide ourselves from nature. Too many civilized humans already think of nature not as a vital part of ourselves, but as some nebulous construct… as some abstract state that is different from us. It is “other”.

I think, thankfully, that there’s always been a subset of the population that recognizes that nature is not separate, but it is integral to everything that we are. Outdoors-folk, naturalists, environmentalists… we all recognize (and some of us evangelize) the importance of interconnectedness. And we recognize this because we choose to be part of it… even if we don’t all perceive our parts to be the same.

Of all the participants in that subset, hunters connect at the most basic level. We actively participate in the continuum of life and death… predator and prey. Put aside the confounding cloak of modern trappings and technology, and look at its bloody essence. When we hunt we feel ourselves, even for those brief moments in time, animal.

Good or bad?

I don’t know. Value judgments are easy when you’re judging someone else. They’re not quite so simple when you’re looking in a mirror. I can’t speak for anyone else.

Personally, I feel it is a blessing to recognize the animal in my humanity. It’s grounding. I embrace it. I think it’s absolutely important to understand that at the most base level; we’re not that different from the other creatures… and no more or less vital to the world around us either. Each of us wants life, but none of us really has much say in the matter. It’s bigger than the rabbit or the deer. It’s bigger than me.

And when I stand with bloodied hands over the carcass of my prey, I know that his blood is my blood too. Our origins are the same. We defy genealogy. For a moment I am wild… I am untamed. I understand more than ever the meaning of Whitman’s barbaric yawp.
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Phillip, although I am not a hunter, and don't want to be, I deeply resonate with your perspective on the human drive to be something other than an "animal." I agree that forcing ourselves to be non-animal just doesn't work. Culturally, I sense that we unconsciously seek to ... Read Moreemulated gods that we construct, or machines/computers.

Some actually believe that we have evolved as a species into beings that are less like "animals" compared to humans even just a few hundred years ago. History and literature should dispel that notion, but the desire to be something other than an "animal" seems quite powerful.
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