If you are looking for an apologia for the practice of hunting, look elsewhere.
I long ago abandoned hand wringing explanations for who I am.
What we will address in this post, is how the act of hunting can contribute to your personal development.
Because of the generally negative societal attitude towards hunting, and the potential to bring real vitriol upon oneself when revealing your position, self-development through the act of hunting is a point I have never heard debated. In the circles I move in, people exercise extreme caution before they reveal their penchant for killing animals.
This must change, because the traits associated with The Hunter are synonymous with many of the traits I see in Men who are excellent examples of Masculinity.
Interestingly, while I will focus on Masculine personal development, females who choose to hunt, whilst sadly scarce, are often superbly well rounded beings as well.
Before we examine how hunting wild animals and consuming their flesh can contribute to your development as a person, it is pertinent to present what I envision as the archetype of The Hunter.
This is important, because given the concordance in evolutionary terms between hunting and human development, everyone has the potential to embrace this archetype. It is etched into their DNA.
The Hunter is a physically attuned being, who possesses endurance in abundance and strength when required. He yearns to be out in the wilderness exercising these natural gifts. He projects an aura of calmness and acceptance that comes from intimately knowing the rhythms of life. He is integrated, whole, and at one with his environment. Non-the-less, a quiet dangerousness surrounds him, like it does any other apex predator. Mentally his deep knowledge of the natural world and study of its peculiarities provide him with perspective and intelligent discourse. A deep thinker, The Hunter is a problem solver of the highest order, and his problems are existential. Survival is at stake. Survival but also providence. To provide for his loved ones and ensure their survival. It is a burden that troubles him always. Spiritually he reaches into the past for inspiration and guidance. He can project his mind far into the future to envisage potential, but he lives often in the present. He is stubbornly stoical in his values and rituals, but still artistic and creative. It is the balance between the two that makes him effective at what he does. A lack of malevolence betrays his compassion. No joy is taken in pre-meditated cruelty, for he understands that he is his prey and his prey is him. He accepts his role as custodian of the wilderness and plays his part in protecting and culturing life even as he is ending it.
It is easy to consider how this archetype became embedded in our Psyche.
Imagine if you will, a land before history began. A small group of anatomically modern Humans, some of the first to migrate into what is now Europe, are clinging to life in a brutally unforgiving landscape. Because of the harsh climate, at certain times of the year, the only reliable food source is meat. But protein is not enough. To survive the winter, for physiological reasons the human race will only discover tens of thousands of years later, they need fat. And to get it, small game will not suffice. Only the Megafauna, the huge, strange and dangerous creatures of the time, contain enough fat to get them through the winter.
At dawn, a Male from this tribe leaves his sleeping family and rouses his closest allies. He will need to trust his life in their hands in the days to come. They gather the meagre few useful possessions they own, flint tipped spears and spear throwers, flint tools for processing game, and starting fire.
The leader of this band squats down over his haunches, spear resting over his shoulder, and quietly surveys the landscape. His dark eyes imbibe the awe inspiring scene before him and his brain, the most complex instrument evolution has yet to conceive, begins to process the information at its disposal. It is furtively balancing the chances of a successful hunt with the effort and resources needed to make it a reality. A thick mist envelopes the lands below and the morning cold bites sharply. Winter is coming and hard times are ahead. But that doesn’t need stating. The land calls him. His ancestors beckon him onwards. Visions of successful hunts have disturbed his dreams. Now it is time. He gestures to the others, and they descend into the mists in silence. Swallowed like ghosts into the vestiges of an era that shaped the future of humanity…
Most modern hunters align themselves with a particular code of ethics. These are essential in guiding the participant towards a betterment of themselves through the medium of the hunt. Where once upon a time any advantage possible was sensible to employ against your quarry, Hunters now have a huge range of technology at their disposal to skew the odds ever in their favour.
As in everyday life, having a set of self-imposed standards to hold yourself up against is key to enacting the behaviours that improve your outcomes and the environment you inhabit. I have yet to meet a hunter who extolls high standards of hunting, yet is a poor example of a human being.
Ethical hunting standards may include notions like, ‘eat what you shoot’, a ‘fair chase’ and making every possible effort to exact a ‘clean kill’.
As such these standards represent a line in the sand, a mind-set that transgresses The Hunt and pervades other areas of life. Once you have thought deeply enough about how to conduct yourself in The Hunt, the process is easily repeated in other areas.
Purposeful personal development begins in the physical realm. Mental sharpness and spiritual awareness become easier to attain when the physical body is well cared for. The careful consideration of one’s diet is the first step in creating the right physiological conditions to enable this.
Game meat is perhaps the ultimate protein source to build a meal around. High in essential amino acids, collagen, minerals and with a more favourable Omega 3 to Omega 6 fatty acid ratio than intensively raised domestic animals, it is the ideal basis for an optimal human diet. Hunting delivers this, along with the intense satisfaction that sourcing your own food brings. You gain some control over your food chain every time you displace intensively raised meat with wild game. Furthermore, you become directly connected with nature in a deep and intense way that most human beings will sadly no longer experience. The ebb and flow of a functioning ecosystem, the cycle of life and death and the struggle for survival all become very real, and hunting for your food weaves you into this tapestry in a undeniable way, as we shall explore shortly. The ignorance of popping open a conveniently designed plastic wrapped tray of meat disappears when you have hunted, killed, skinned and butchered an animal.
Cro-Magnon humans, the stock from which we arose, averaged over six feet tall and had a twenty percent larger brain volume than we do even today.
Upon the adoption of agriculture, humans abruptly lost significant height, suffered from skeletal abnormalities and dental diseases and lost brain volume.
Because they displaced a large amount of calories from game meat with calories from grains.
Game meats bring you the vigour and robust health your DNA is coded to provide you with. They will build a leaner, more muscular physique and a sharper mind. This provides a physical foundation which will underpin your development further as a person.
Not so long ago from an evolutionary perspective, Human’s hunted megafauna with little more than flint tipped sticks. I can only imagine the strength of mind and body required to drive a spear through a Woolly Mammoths rib cage to ensure the survival of your family. Today, it is possible to pay money to sit in relative comfort and far from any physical danger, and blast a docile animal to death with a high powered rifle, before retiring to the camp fire to drink booze and recount the ‘hunt’. There is no shortage of woefully flabby and deconditioned Hunters posing for pictures with creatures they have shot. They surely cannot have ambled far from their luxury SUV's.
Embracing a true hunt means maintaining a reasonable level of physicality.
Even the stealth required to stalk within striking distance of wary small game can demand superb conditioning if one is still to shoot accurately immediately afterwards.
Some hunts will ask even more, trekking for miles in tough conditions, or maintaining concentration after hours sat motionless. And when the hunter handicaps themselves further, such as by choosing a bow over a rifle, the physical demands increase again.
Some Hunters take this aspect to the extreme, such as modern bow hunter Cameron Haynes, who lifts weights, practices his shooting incessantly and runs ultra-endurance events in an effort to become what he phrases as, the ultimate predator.
As we have seen, increasing physical function and fitness through diet and exercise provides a bedrock upon which to build a sharp mind.
The best Hunters are remarkably well versed in the biology of their quarry. They study them carefully. I recall spending countless hours pouring over books written on the fish I loved to catch as a young boy. Every time I succeeded because of the knowledge I learned, it fed back into a positive feedback loop that became a catalyst for other areas in my life.
For young Men growing up, Hunting becomes even more important in the backdrop of the straight jacket of modern education. Nothing represses the masculine spirit more than hours sat cossetted by the apron strings of an overly structured educational curriculum. And nothing fans the flames of the masculine spirit more than the ancient traditions of The Hunt.
It is amazing what an enquiring mind can do when it is properly motivated. Some of the Hunters I have had the pleasure of conversing with left school without a qualification to their name. Yet they can happily discuss dissecting laryngeal lymph nodes to assess for signs of disease in their kill, or appraise complex ecological issues.
More importantly still for mental development is the ability to simply pay attention. In the modern world, people spend their time totally distracted from their environment because they have their head stuck in some electronic device or another. I have a relative who was hit by a bus because they were so distracted by their mobile phone.
Very few people ever truly pay attention to their environment any more. How can you learn effectively when you are distracted all the time?
Hunting addresses this directly.
Such is the immersion in the environment that a hunt requires, such is the awareness of what is happening in the moment and how this relates to survival, that being maimed by a bus seems so easily avoidable it is preposterous!
Employing Hunting level awareness in everyday life unveils unimaginable details.
The smell of person lingering in a room that would have gone otherwise unnoticed. The sound of a whispered conversation. The subtle dilation of an Iris that reveals hidden meaning.
Paying attention is a dying art revivified by Hunting.
Becoming a valuable member of society requires one to take responsibility. Responsibility can take many forms, but perhaps one of the highest levels of responsibility entails being entrusted to possess weapons capable of delivering lethal force at a distance. The Hunter learns to manage this responsibility with deadly seriousness. It is true validation of his place in a civilised society.
The ancient skills hunting requires also reinforce the ultimate responsibility. The responsibility for your own survival. Without ensuring your own survival, what chance do you have of ensuring the survival of your loved ones? What chance do you have of making the world a better place?
The confidence imbued by self-sufficiency may seem irrelevant when in reality the game meats you eat from your hunting activities only makes up a modest proportion of your total diet. But that confidence is real, and it manifests itself across your daily life.
All of the above can converge in ways that one wouldn’t expect to be possible.
I have talked to many Hunters who, in struggling to describe what they have felt during the final moments of a very involved Hunt, reach for words that point to a spiritual experience.
Life changing spiritual experiences are often described by those who have them as a feeling of being at ‘one’ with everything. A kind of omnipresent connectedness. A reliable way to experience this is through the use of psychedelic drugs. People who have near death experiences also often recount a feeling of alignment with everything simultaneously.
This is exactly how I have had Hunters describe some of their most memorable hunts. Immersed in the moment completely, they ascend into a deep flow state, and occasionally beyond this. They transcend. For a short time they became the predator, the prey, the projectile…everything. That same connectedness and oneness.
I may have dismissed these transcendental experiences had they not come from such grounded sources, and had I not shared similar experiences.
After such events, ones perspective is irrevocably changed.
Such is the fear of death in our society, that many seem crippled by the very thought if it. Death is like a shadow to be blithely ignored until it inevitably comes to pass.
Cultures of old had different attitudes - death was much more a part of everyday life in their societies. Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor and battle hardened commander repeatedly muses over his own mortality in his book, Meditations.
“Meditate upon what you ought to be in body and soul when death overtakes you; meditate on the brevity of life, and the measureless gulf of eternity behind it and before, and upon the frailty of everything material.”
The Stoics did not waste the opportunity to use their own mortality as a way to expand their philosophical horizons.
Neither did the Pagans. Their religion ebbed and flowed with the cycles of life and death – a direct connection with the upper Paleolithic explosion of consciousness that it evolved from.
Today, the animals that feed us are whisked away to slaughter houses before they end up on our plates. Even dying as a human in your chosen environment is quite a feat of organisation. It is generally preferred that you expire in a sterile hospital bed somewhere convenient.
Thus, today we rarely experience the death of other creatures, let alone of other humans. Despite the fact it is one of the certainties of this world.
Granted, death can be violent, horrific. A bloody end with the participant desperate to cling to their life.
It can also be serene and ethereal, the right and proper consequence of having been alive.
Either way, death is the consequence of a successful Hunt, and as such it provides a stark reminder to The Hunter that one day, this will too be their fate.
The benefits of this cannot be overstated. How much time do you waste every day while your death marches a little closer?
Such is the power of death that humans chose to ritually sacrifice animals as they moved from hunter gatherer populations into agricultural ones. They may have already been moving away from hunting as way to sustain their burgeoning populations, but the kill was celebrated and recreated with domestic animals.
People may curl lips in distaste at the thought of animal sacrifice, or even associate it with some strange occultist practice. But they’ll smack those same lips around a bacon sandwich without even a thought.
The pagan practices of animal sacrifice were not forgotten in the transition to widespread Christianity. The wine and bread of the altar symbolising Christs blood and flesh - to be consumed in celebration of his sacrifice.
The kill at the end of a Hunt is this ritual sacrifice. It is as ancient as time and of monumental significance. Moments of heightened consciousness, grave seriousness and transformational spirituality combine in a way that take the Hunter to places few other personal development pursuits will go.
The kill carries a clear message. Life always follows death. Like the myth of the Phoenix, or the resurrection of Christ, The Hunter comes to understand the sacrifice of death as a celebration of impending growth and new life.
There are personal connotations as well.
Sacrifice who you are now, for what you want to become.
Death therefore becomes transformative, and the consumption of game meats to transform a physique moves to another level of abstract significance.
Hunting personal development
From the physical benefits all the way to the philosophical horizons, answering the call to Hunt is answering a call that synergises your evolution as a being with its natural environment.
When you resolve to understand why you are driven to seek wild and lonely places, to find council in the company of the wondrous creatures we share our world with, and to take your place amongst them in the unending cycle of life, you start to become The Hunter present in all Men.
It is a journey of personal development from which there is no way back.