An Outdoor View: Why do we hunt?

Author’s note: This column first appeared in the Clarion on Aug. 14, 1987. I’ve edited it slightly for brevity. — LP

The sight of gold leaves spiraling down and the sound of southbound geese stir something that’s been felt by man since he first began hunting, probably over four million years ago. What is this feeling, this force that compels man to hunt?

Peter Capstick, in his book, “Death in the Long Grass,” wrote of hunting, “ … it is challenge in its most elemental form, the same challenge that provided the drive that brought the hairless, puny-toothed, weak, dawn-creature that became man down out of the trees to hunt meat with is rocks, clubs and pointed sticks.”

Lifelong hunter and author Gene Hill, in his essay “Why,” wrote of his deep feelings about hunting, “I know I hunt without regret, without apology and without the ability to really know why. Let’s say I get a sense of satisfaction out of it that stretches back to the beginning of man’s mind.”

People who study anatomy have noted that man is built like a hunter, with eyes located in the front of his skull, like the wolf and the lion, instead of in the sides, like the moose and the sheep. In addition, man is designed to be an omnivore, with a gut made for digesting both meat and vegetables, not vegetables alone.

Today, few hunters rely solely on wild meat for food. Instead, they hope its value as a substitute for store-bought meat will offset the cost of hunting, if only slightly.

Most Alaskans, especially those of us living on the Kenai Peninsula, are either hunters or “non-hunters” — people who don’t hunt but who understand and respect the freedom of those who do. But hunters have come under attack by a third category, “anti-hunters.” Anti-hunters claim that hunting is no longer necessary, that it conflicts with wildlife viewing, and that it threatens some species with extinction. Hunters respond that they have given more for conservation than all the “preservationist” organizations combined and that they stand to lose the most by not practicing conservation.

As with most arguments, both sides are partly right. But the limiting factor for wildlife is our incessant urge to reproduce, the end result of which is overpopulation and competition with animals for habitat. For this reason, when wildlife habitat protection issues arise, it’s not uncommon for anti-hunters and hunters to find themselves agreeing with each other. They have much in common. Both love wildlife and wilderness, both find rewards in using woodcraft and survival skills, and both enjoy the camaraderie of a camping trip.

However the excitement of the chase and the age-old pleasure of taking home meat are the source of satisfaction that only a hunter can know. This satisfaction is great enough that hunters work hard to protect hunting, passing on their ideals and ethics to their sons and daughters, so the tradition of hunting will endure.

Why do we hunt?

Maybe it’s because hunting feels so natural. Over the years, our rocks and pointed sticks have changed to steel and varnished walnut, but aside from that, we haven’t changed much. Man is still the same hunter he was in the beginnings of time.

So humor the hunter in us, please. And while you’re at it, pray that some things will never change.

Les Palmer can be reached at

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