Hunting for America (Part One)
Publisher’s Note: It just wouldn’t be autumn here at Whiskey & Gunpowder without a signature piece or two about the great outdoors from Jim, our resident woods-and-waters addict. Whether you’re a hunter, fisher-person, birdwatcher, “forest bather” or anything else, we think you’ll find something to like in this series. Tell us so at WhiskeyandGunpowderFeedback@StPaulResearch.com.
Over the last year and a half or so, I’ve seen several articles in the mainstream press about a new fad that’s sweeping the more genteel strata of this nation…
It’s called “forest bathing.”
A number of these articles claim it originated in Japan during the 1980s, and it’s reportedly an incredible boon to health and well-being.
To “forest bathe,” you go out into the woods, open up your senses, and surrender your entire consciousness to nature…
You watch. You listen. You smell. You touch. You quietly wander.
Then eventually — if you do it right — you’ll transcend sensory experience and begin to connect with nature’s deeper truth.
You’ll sink toward a place where there’s total harmony and balance…
Where life is simple, and the order of things makes perfect sense…
Where there is no politics, morality, prejudice, or judgment…
And where not even feel-good psychobabble gobbledygook like this can penetrate.
Then, when you’re fully immersed and “at one” with the spirit of the forest…
You may be able to sense the collective consciousness of others who’ve known the natural world the pure and honest way you do, in that moment.
There are millions of them, stretching back to the very dawn of mankind…
They’re called hunters.
And the truth is, that forest you’re bathing in might not even exist without them.
Love the woods? Thank a hunter (for a change)
These days, the average American is indoors over 90% of the time…
And more than 80% of us live in urban areas, far removed from nature. That percentage is growing by the year, too.
So it’s no wonder that to a lot of these people, a simple walk in the woods seems like refreshing, spiritually nourishing medicine for the soul, mind, and body.
But what they’re experiencing is nothing new — and it most certainly was NOT discovered in Japan forty years ago (what a hoot that notion is)…
It’s as old as the forests themselves, and nobody knows it better than hunters.
A good hunter is more acutely in tune with the natural world, and his (or her) place in it, than anyone else.
They know the wind, and the scents it carries. They know the animals — what they eat and how they behave. They know how to move quietly, and slip undetected through the shadows and cover…
But I digress. I’m trying to make a point about hypocrisy and double-standards here.
And that point is this: I like seeing people of all kinds out enjoying nature, whether they’re my fellow hunters and fisher-folk…
Or the joggers, hikers, birdwatchers, mountain-bikers and forest bathers who venture out to the woods to exercise or cleanse their spirits.
I like it because it’s a free country, and there’s room for all in the great outdoors.
But the bitter irony is that by and large, these folks HATE seeing me out there.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been ignored, glared at, or even cursed by non-hunters I’ve encountered out in public woodlands.
They see my camouflage clothes or my compound bow as I’m parking or walking in to hunt for the evening…
And looks of disdain or disgust almost invariably follow. Rarely a smile, and never a cordial “good luck” wish.
To most of them, I’m a troglodyte. A murderous, meat-eating Neanderthal who does nothing but take from nature.
So deep is this hatred, it seems, that I wonder if many of them could even accept the awkward truth, if they knew it…
That carnivorous, knuckle-dragging pariahs like me are paying for their party.
Because in many of the public-access lands across America, that’s precisely the case.
You can look this up if you want, and I hope you do. Start by searching the Pittman-Robertson Act. This federal law mandates a hefty excise tax on guns, ammunition, archery equipment, and other outdoor gear.
So far, over $14 billion in conservation funding has been generated under this act.1
The bulk of this money is funneled into state wildlife and resource management agencies for the protection and growth of animal populations, and the preservation and expansion of wildlife habitat…
To a large degree, this means the acquisition and maintenance of huge parcels of land — much of which is open to the public for multiple forms of recreation.
Similar taxes on fishing gear and other goods provides additional money. So do hunting and fishing license sales, at the state level.
This is called the “user pay, public benefit” model.
It means that specific groups of land users (hunters, for my greater point here) foot a big chunk of the bill for thousands of acres of land that everyone else uses, too.
This uniquely American model for conservation funding is the most successful one in the history of the world…
And we owe the existence of many of our public outdoor recreation areas — not to mention our robust and growing wild animal populations — directly to it.
But try telling that to a Subaru full of Spandex-clad vegans from the city who are about to destroy some of this prime public wildlife habitat and create a bunch of stream-killing soil erosion with their mountain-bikes…
Because they’re the benevolent, low-impact users, right?
Not the evil, consumptive ones like us hunters.
I’ll tell you, if I were “king for a day,” so to speak…
I’d decree that a sign be posted at every trailhead and parking area on every piece of public land in this country itemizing all the funding that’s paying for the place.
That would wake people up real quick to the role hunters are playing in their happiness and recreation.
Or maybe it wouldn’t, because nobody reads anymore.
America owes much of its identity to hunting (deal with it)
Most people also don’t fully understand the vital role that hunting and trapping have played in the history of this nation…
America, both colonial and post-revolution, was the place that truly democratized hunting — that brought it to the common people, in other words.
This stood in stark contrast to the European countries many of our forebears came from, where hunting was the legal privilege of royalty or the landed gentry only.
In fact, in at least one of his most popular origin stories, Robin Hood becomes an outlaw for slaying one of the King’s deer on a bet with a bunch of drunken foresters.
But again, I digress…
I was explaining how America wouldn’t BE America as we know it today without a long legacy of hunting and trapping.
And that’s the absolute truth.
Without the right of the people to hunt under the law (or more accurately, the lack of prohibitions against it in a free land), this wild nation of ours couldn’t have been settled in the manner it was.
I actually believe that without the ability to hunt and trap for subsistence — and for the economic benefits of pelts and meat for trading and commerce — our westward expansion wouldn’t have happened…
Or at least it wouldn’t have happened quickly and decisively enough for America to wrest control of our western territories from Spain, and newly independent Mexico.
Yes, one could argue about whether or not westward expansion was a good thing…
And about the treatment and ultimate fate of the Indians as encroaching Americans of European descent settled this land.
But that’s not the point of this article series.
The point of this series is to remind everyone of how vitally important hunting has been to this nation in the past, how relevant it still remains today…
And how — if drastic measures aren’t taken to promote and support it — hunting could soon perish from the American ethos altogether.
That would be a tragedy far greater than you could possibly imagine.
I’ll further prove that in the second installment of this series, coming soon.
Freedoms Editor, Whiskey & Gunpowder