Hunters with white palms in a Kodachrome forest
By TLB Contributing Author: Ken LaRive
Recently I posted pictures of a hunt on Face Book with very mixed reviews. Seems okay to show a hunter in camouflage blending into speckled and dappled woods, but quite another to point up prey as they lay on the forest floor. Looking at a downed deer with a bullet-hole sets some on edge, and gazing at me skinning it sends others into emotional turmoil.
There seems some very misplaced modern sensibilities going on in the minds of some men and women today, that cannot fully grasp the gravity of our forgotten American heritage, so important just a generation ago. It also indicates why there are certain American men and women who will never give up their guns. It is not just the Constitution, but something ingrained into the very fabric of what we are as men. It is considered a viable part of Liberty, and a God- given right that cannot be denied. So profound is this need, many men would die to keep it…
No disrespect, but there were some who called hunting “a barbaric practice,” and others referring to my particular kill as “Bambi.” Surely, they had to be joking. Could it be that we have among us people who identify with a childhood cartoon personality, with human characteristics? Have we “advanced” to the point were animals are considered higher, or equal to men on the food chain? I’m sure some vegetarian pacifist celibates have come to that conclusion, and a frightful notion for a traditionalist. Some of these folks, of the same cut and jib, are advocating that our American Constitution is a “fluid” document, and needs to change as attitudes change, and this seems most dangerous… Tradition comes from the school of hard knocks, hard won, and many times a survival technique. Change for the sake of change? How did the last eight years fair? Remember, once lost, it is very difficult to get it back…
Anthropomorphism is the word that describes the assumption that human emotions and intellect are in animals, and Hollywood has thoroughly tapped into that sentiment. Though we should have empathy and respect animals, we should not saddle them with our own human characteristics. What primarily separates us from them is our unique frontal lobe’s higher consciousness, something they emphatically do not possess. Emotions and survival instinct should not be confused with intellect, and that brings us to another definition, finely embedded into our physic… personification. This is the related attribution of human form and characteristics, using abstract concepts such a nations, emotions and natural forces like seasons and the weather, to give credence of our reality. We should teach this to our children, while they are watching cartoons, or playing violent video games that revel in killing, for the sake of killing…
To be honest, this trait is found in each and every one of us at one time or another, as we try to define, and ascribe meaning to the world around us. We have, however, been taught a lot of things we have come to question as adults, and some are seen to be little more than lies and fallacies.
Just recently my two oldest grandchildren found that there was no Easter Bunny, Santa, or tooth fairy. After the initial shock, one even questioned the existence of God, and that is a normal response. We have a great gift called the intellect, and that ability gives us a reasoning mind, consciousness. And so, we need to take pause and question just what reality we have been taught as truth, before being so judgmental. Before we take a stance for gun control; before we change a tradition; before we legislate away what just a few years back was a survival technique, we should take a long look and consider just what might be lost…
“Both have ancient roots as storytelling and artistic devices, and most cultures have traditional fables with anthropomorphized animals as characters. People have also routinely attributed human emotions and behavioral traits to wild as well as domestic animals.”
From camera to rifle… and back again
Animals are indeed complex. The elephant, dog, whale, and dolphin for instance, and all endangered species… should not be hunted. Some predators should also be in question too, and given quarter in the wild, like the bear, large cats, and most all monkeys, unless it is necessary in a well-managed game reserve, or, of course, if you are threatened. This may at first glance seem insensitive, but we need to consider and understand our modern circumstances, in relation to our historical past.
I am relatively new at hunting. Before my son-in-law introduced me to the sport about fifteen years ago… my hunting was done entirely with a Minolta camera. For the majority of my woodland experiences, trophies were defined to photos of early evening and mornings of burnt orange and deep blue through the trees. I used a Macro for mushrooms, a zoom lens for a bird, normal lenses for a football game, and a wide angle for family gatherings. I found modern hunting just as specialized, just as complicated in its study and learning. A consideration for depth of field in necessary for an artful photographic capture, and knowing and practicing with your gun and its many various accessories, insures a well orchestrated hunt.
At about the same instant I learned my rifle, I also held a Digital camera for the first time, and there is no turning back for either. Now my Nikon and Browning 7 MAG are inseparable, a symbiotic relationship that gives me great fulfillment, and yet, for dissimilar reasons.
Something happened to me the first time I picked up a camera in the wild. I was hiking with Navy buddies on a little island off the Philippine coast called Grande, back in 1969. On a West Pacific tour aboard the USS Kitty Hawk, some opted for a few days of R and R away from the smoke-filled Olongapoo bars of Subic Bay. Sad to say, but very few chose the good clean fun of scuba and hiking. With wild jungles galore, and voted the third best scuba destination in the world, those days made grand memories for those with an adventure spirit.
My friend Gary carried a Pentex camera. He let me handle it with a new macro lens, and I turned it upon a praying mantis sitting on a leaf. It was amazing to see his entire head come into focus, and fill the frame. “Snap!” And as I took my first Kodachrome slide, I was hooked, and have been now for almost fifty years.
Something similar happened when I shot my first buck. I knew it was the one I had been waiting for, an elusive ten-point my son-in-law had photographed with a night camera the previous season.
Though it was a heart/lung shot, it thundered headlong into the piney Louisiana thicket, disappearing into the evening shadows. I remember what went through my head before I took that shot to this very day. I wanted it clean, not only for the Buck, but I knew that what I did, the quality of my next move, would be remembered by all.
I also remember the apprehension of having to wait the prescribed half hour before tracking it. You learn a lot about yourself as a hunter, and some of what you have inside are rather embarrassing to admit. You see, I just couldn’t wait. I texted my son-in-law the news, and though he reminded me that going after the deer might make him run further, I could not stop myself from immediately going. In two minutes, I was at the site searching for signs, and with a sigh of relief saw a lot of blood. The bullet had gone clean through, and I hoped by the amount that my aim was true. I started taking pictures too…
Deer have an adrenaline rush so powerful they can run a hundred yard dash with a damaged heart, and no oxygen. I know this sounds untrue, but I have seen this many times. Adrenalin overrides pain just as shock does. A seasoned hunter might laugh at such simplistic reminisces, but like that first picture, or a first kiss, it takes something rather powerful to impress an older guy like me.
I was told emphatically that wounded deer are dangerous, and have attacked and even killed an unwary hunter following a blood trail. They can come quickly, virtually invisible in dense thicket, and use their hoofs as formidable weapons. And with this in the back or my mind, and my rifle off-safety, I cautiously tracked the blood trail…
In the quiet of evening, alone in my thoughts, with the woods colored and cool from fall, something deep and commanding took hold. I cannot truly describe it. It was something that welled up, a well-being perhaps, something I see in Gunner, my bird dog, who is bread to point, to track, and retrieve… and without a doubt, men have that inside too. I’m sure not all men, but hunter gatherers, who became farmers, is in my DNA, just like Gunner’s hunting ability.
Blood, from a minuscule dot on a single blade of grass I searched on hands and knees. There, my heart leaped as I saw deep red splashes on the trunk of a tree; it rekindled in me something ancient, seemingly primal, and surely long suppressed, innate. It brought out a primeval mode of thought some men are breed to be, and at the very core of what it means to be a surviving human being. There are some people who consciously attempt to suppress this, for a variety of well meaning reasons, but not very long ago their ancestors waited patiently for their hunters to return carrying a week’s supply of protein on their backs.
It was a good feeling to see that my shot was textbook, and as I stood in the dry autumn grass appraising him, my heart thudded in my chest. I felt alive, and connected to this world in a way I had never felt before. Surely, that feeling is no litmus test for masculinity; it takes all kinds to make our society… but there is, in my book of life, a test of what it means to be a man, and that is wrapped up in a concept called responsibility. Many young men and women today have not been taught that…
My responsible ancestors…
For hundreds of thousands of years, possibly a million, men and women have hunted for survival. Groups of men left their families and sought game in cooperative packs, along with their partner, the dog. When they returned home it was a celebration… not only for their safe return, but the sustenance that insured survival for his family and tribe.
Early American Colonial hunters, who were my ancestors, formed their hunting ability from native Indians and learned respect for both prey and themselves, bordering on reverence. Some even prayed over the downed animal, thanking both it and God for its life, and most hunters I know do this today.
The tools have changed, but what we have inside still burns true for the hunt. It was forged, hardwired in our psyche by the realization that skills and expertise, our collective cooperation, our impetus, brought life to those who depended on us. Hunting was borne of responsibility, the romantic in me thinks… where love is forged. Those who can not grasp his concept, are societies’ victims.
Those adventurous exploits, both success and failure, were told around the home-fire so long ago that a good part of that communication were simple hand gestures. No matter what race we are today, the inside of our hands are a reflective white. The palm of every human can be seen brightly in starlight, moon, and the flickering flash of firelight. Our hands were accents marks for the joyful and sometimes heartbreaking stories they told. It was a tradition that endured for 99 percent of our existence on earth, and should not be so easily discarded. The backstrap is the most tender and tasty part of the deer, and every culture around the world gave the hunter that as thanks. And yet, as we can witness today… that meat is given by the men to the women and children, a true display of Love.
Men recorded their exploits deep in caves to outlast his fragile life, with artful renderings of multicolored powdered minerals, and those same needs and expressions are at the heart of the modern hunter today. This is why I take pictures.
The modern hunter
Putting a mount above his fire-place records the best of his experiences. It represents the efficiency in his choice of weapons, the patience and persistence it took to achieve his goal, the solidarity and patience of long hours, the company he kept, the dreams and memories he alone have made, but also something far more profound and obscure. It indicates a degree of modern men, with a measure of our ancestors, and this revelation cannot be denied.
The modern hunter sits in a painted aluminum tree-stand dressed in state of the art camouflage from head to foot, accented by an invisible orange safety vest over thermal underwear, washed and prepared not to smell.
Several chemical heat packs are in his pockets and boots… Night-vision binoculars… a high-powered lightweight composite rifle with full-metal-jacket ammunition… a directional, battery-powered LED flash-light… a telephone/computer on vibrate… clean water in a plastic bottle… a realistic animal-call… a satellite GPS to find his way home… multi-varieties of pheromone sent-spray that doubles as a insect repellent… pin-point range finders for accurate distance… are standard, and reasonably priced. He can record his experience with an HD 26.0 maga-pixel Sony HANDICAM 1080, mounted next to his scope that can see as well as a hawk.
While in his blind, he can check stocks… text his friends in a nearby stand… research the name of any bird he sees… be warned in a change of weather… play a game… and a myriad of other mind-occupying functions the modern mind demands. He can wear a hearing protector that can rival even that of his dog, who he still watches for directions… still sitting at his feet.
His trophy-mount will be done by a professional, amazingly life-like, or a simple Euro-mount as requested by his wife.
His kill is not processed by tribal women any more, but packaged for his freezer from steaks to smoked-sausage, hermetically sealed by a hunter’s slaughter-house to last years. An obsidian-glass, or flint knife is no longer required to peal leather, as his clothes are mostly synthetic, instilled with odorless multi-colored dyes in computer generated patterns that camouflage for every season.
No longer is he required to freeze-dry strips of meat on racks of saplings for weeks for winter storage, and tanning using the animal’s brain is a method no longer feasible but for the most primitive societies. Precious salt is in abundance now, with hardly a thought of its rarity and extreme health benefits, lacking just two generations ago… and fresh water can be kept cool in a double walled thermos. Today he has infusion drinks, vitamin and salt enriched, tasty fruit and nut bars wrapped in a healthy synthetic plastic made from oil. If he feels sick or weak, he can pull out an energy drink, and take an aspirin…
It is said that primitive hunters were more at one with nature, and that their secret activities are mostly lost. This may very well be true, but the reality of a modern hunter is his virtual control of nature, something our ancestors could not effectively do. In other words, modern hunters try not only to acclimate with nature, but to control it as well. Our ancestors would be proud of our accomplishments, and quickly utilize every tool available. That is the way of men.
On the wall next to my fire place is my ten-point Euro-mount, and I show the experience to my family on a HD flat-screen 3-D TV . On my gas pit I am smoking a roast from my latest hunt, and will invite all of my hunting buddies to retell and embellish our stories, just as former hunters did so many years ago. Even with our far-advanced verbal skills, hand gestures are still used to accent.
Oh, the irony…
It is indeed ironic, but hunters do more than anyone, including Government mandate or agency to safeguard ecology. It is in their best interest to save and restore wetlands, forests, and natural habitats, and all can benefit from his savvy knowledge. On private and public lands alike, hunters are in partnership with research ecologists and government agencies who use variable sciences to maintain a balanced nature and an uncontaminated wildlife habitat for the enjoyment of every kind of outdoors-man, from bird-watcher to mountain climber. And yet, each year, for a wide variety of reasons, hunters grow less and less. We are indeed an endangered species, as humanity forgets his heritage.
Author’s note: The vision of Whit Gibons, of the University of Florida, is of note. He wrote years ago about the needed involvement of hunters in maintaining our forests. He wrote: “Why is hunting good for the environment?” I found it a good source of information of that time, because times are rapidly changing, and recognized that he had an overt premonition of what is happening today.
“Of course, what makes a “good” forest for a hunter may be different from what other groups consider a “good” environment, and compromises must be made to accommodate all of them. Nonetheless, the time has come when hunters must become involved in partnerships with other groups who have an equally fervent interest in maintaining healthy habitats of forests, streams, and small wetlands. The time has also come when these other groups must look to the hunting community for what they can contribute to environmental prosperity.” -Whit Gibons
From my diary, 2008
“As the sun moves glinting through the trees, the day slowly slants by shadows that lengthen in deep purple and pink tones. Through the dazzle of autumn leaves I see all manner of small animals going about their business… the rabbit on the field… the squirrel chattering above my head… clouds of black birds flying in unison on a perfect blue sky… the music of the wind in the pines… and the smells, sight and sounds of life fills me…
As the night falls all too soon, from blue to gold and burnt orange, the songs of birds give way to locusts, and then crickets… and as on cue, an acorn falls to awakens us from these hypnotic suggestions… the night settles in around us moist and cool on our shoulders….
We are reluctantly nudged to climb down from our precarious tree-perch… the way we do most nights at the end of a day of hunting, empty-handed, but filled with awe.” -Diary of Ken LaRive 2008
Ken LaRive – Facets: It’s a simple but beautiful metaphor. Our soul is likened to an uncut diamond, pure, perfect, and unrealized. Each learned experience cleaves a facet on its face, and leaves it changed forever. Through this facet, this clear window, new light, new questions and ideas take shape and form. This process is our reason for being …
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