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Mark R.


A good friend told me about your site. Some background: I'm in the Alaskan bush, 130miles from the nearest village, sitting in our log cabin at the moment, accessing the internet via a satellite system that is running on solar power right now. Techno-primitive lifestyle.

When I first moved the bush, I didn't trap. I picked up three dogs to start my own dog team and began making winter trails hither and yon. At the winter solstice gathering of bushrats along the river, the other men, all trappers, asked me what motivated me to go to the woods, to make trail, to get out with the dogs. They all intimated they'd never go out were it not for the trapping, that the trapping was so much a part of why they went out into the woods in winter.It wouldn't feel the same just going out into the snowy wilderness without the trapping.

I suppose you are alluding to the same type of feeling. Perhaps one gets used to going to the woods for a certain reason. Hunters flock to the woods at various times of the year for a reason. Recreational users such as backpackers go to the woods not to hunt, but to be within nature. They have their reason too, but it's different. Having hunted purely to feed myself and my family all these years, to sustain our subsistence lifestyle in the remote north woods, I can't fathom this difference of feeling one gets when hunting as opposed to just being in the woods. The "forced" feeling sums it up well...so many hunters only go to the woods to hunt, so it's no surprise you'd feel differently when not hunting.

I'm on the other extreme. I find I enjoy the woods just as much, even moreso at times, when I am not intending to kill something. I'm still very much a participant. But in a different way. Just as the wolf with a full belly watches the moose, so it is that I watch the animals, appreciate them, marvel in them. There is no thought whatsoever to the game potential, toward killing. Today I'll head out with the dogteam into the hills simply for the joy of being out in the spring...no traps to check, no animals I need to kill or intend to kill, just me and the dogs and the snowy wilderness. The feeling of naturalness comes from immersing oneself in the woods. When this immersion centers around hunting, it's only natural that a correlation would exist...woods/hunting, hunting/woods. Suddenly the hunter finds himself in the woods at a time when he is not hunting. It feels odd. Different. There is not quite that excitement, that anticipatory reaction to a branch breaking in the distance, the zeal of the hunt. So it was for those trappers who are no longer here, the ones that didn't feel the same heading out into the woods unless they were trapping. I still find this odd. Perhaps they never did have that feeling of naturalness that the woods provides. Many hunters could benefit from woods-time that didn't involve hunting or fishing. Just the sitting with one's back to a tree, simply taking it all in.

Ortega messed things up...one really does hunt in order to kill. A subsistence lifestyle going on 25 years has taught me that. I don't even much care for hunting. It's rather a chore. The killing is hard from a spiritual standpoint. Moose quarters are heavy. But it must be done if we are to eat. When hunting becomes a chore, a worry even (how long will it take to get our two moose? What if I don't? What if this year, like back in '89, we get an early deep freeze and all the rutting moose head to the hills because the river is half-frozen?), then one finds out what hunting was really about throughout time. Most hunters today look at hunting as a "vacation," "woods-time," a return to what was. The sad thing is that most will never really understand what was, what that entailed. I get a bit edgy every fall...a bit stressed...without those two moose we won't make it through the winter. Returning empty handed is not an option. Hunting is about food. It's always been about food, but somewhere along the lines it became something else. We can philosophize about it, write about it, but it seems no one really writes about it from a vantage of the true past. Nature writing is a good analogy: just about every "nature" writer lives in a city, a town, a burb. They take this town perception with them and write about nature. They bring nature back to town in their heads and then write about it. Not that many don't do it well.... So it is with hunting. Perhaps the naturalness you speak of is the knowledge that immersion within nature always involves killing at some point. Your woods-time is probably limited. So you choose to spend most of your woods-time hunting as this allows that certain intimate participation you crave that in a way binds you to nature and the past. But without hunting, ask yourself, would you still go to the woods? Is it your "reason," your primary motivation? And if it is, what does that mean? The subsistence hunters and gatherers (gathering wild food is another way to immerse yourself in nature that is comparable to the participatory feeling of the hunt) of the past weren't always hunting. I wonder if nature felt any different to them when they walked through it with full bellies.

Mark R.
50mile Willow Creek, Alaska



Many thanks for your thoughts--heck of an intersting post!

Let me start my response by trying to clarify a few things about my own post. I spend quite a lot of time in the woods and only a small fraction of that time is practically involved with hunting (hunting/scouting). Like many hunters, I claim to be something of an amatuer naturalist. For instance, I can probably identify the majority of songbirds in the Rockies by sight; or I take a field guide out and identify every species of wildflower blooming on my property. That is to say, my interests in wilderness and nature far exceed hunting per se.

So the post wasn't intended as an endorsement of the view that the *only* reason to go to the woods is to hunt. I take it that you are right that such a single-minded participation in nature would be undesirable. What I was trying to get at in the post instead was a sense of "layering" in the wilderness experience. But I disagree that what I am pointing to is simply a matter of conditioning--if you are used to going into the woods to hunt and then go into the woods for other reasons, the experience will be different. (Compare: if you are used to going into the woods to snowmobile, and then go into the woods for other reasons, the experience will be different.) The issue is more fundamental than that, though I admit I haven't really been able to put my finger on it.

One thing that your post brings to the fore is the fact that, when one's sense of "embeddness" reaches a point of saturation (all metaphor here, but it will have to do), an ever increasing premium is put on those characteristics of human nature that have over time led us to abandon the hunter-gatherer lifestyle: freedom from pressing practical concerns (resource scarcity) and an emphasis on "the life of the mind". That is, in my opinion, an extremely insightful point and something I ought not to forget when reflecting on these issues. Though I should add that my perspective lies somewhere between yours and the "vacation" hunter you mention (I think this is true of a lot of hunters, though I don't know how many percentage-wise). Although my family won't starve to death if I don't kill anything, I do regard game as not merely a supplement to our diet but as integral the quality of our life. The closest alternative is free range, grass-finished beef; something I can ill afford on my salary. (As I said in a previous post: "[T]he idea that hunting doesn't provide "cheap protein" is fairly misleading. Such tabulations are made against the contrast class that if one wasn't hunting one would be doing nothing--that is, not investing one's time or money in anything. But that is a bunch of hooey, as anyone who thinks about it for all of 2 seconds can see. If I weren't hunting in August and September the most likely thing I'd be doing is running around the woods taking pictures with a big old expensive telephoto camera. The differences in cost between these two activities is negligible. I certainly don't spend more on hunting than I would on any reasonable alternative activity I would be engaged in if I weren't hunting. If that is right (and it is), then when I kill something, the cost of the meat to me is effectively zero.")

Incidentally, I am no fan of Ortega's (I thought Meditations on Hunting was not very illuminating and frequently downright silly). I agree with you that the point of hunting is to kill something; in fact, I think this is crucial for understanding hunting.

Thanks again for your thoughts, very informative and very much appreciated.

Mark R.


I realize I'm coming at hunting from a rather unique perspective. I am a fan of Ortega's other works, much as I am a fan of Thoreau's. He stepped outside the box and thought deeply on many issues. I just think we've put more into Ortega's (hunting) work than was really there, just as we have with Henry David's work. It's a matter of shifting times and values. When hunting became a "sport," it automatically lost something. When we started playing with our food, we really were lost. Catch and release fishing, for instance, a widely practiced endeavor by many ethical sportsman, is something the Native culture (and me) will never quite understand. But that issue brings up an analogy too, regarding this "forced" or non-participatory feeling some may get when not(hydraulic)hunting, this "different" take on time in the woods. We are moved by our genes in ways we don't really understand. Untold thousands of years of hunting/gathering heredity. It's not enough to protect and save wathersheds so fish can again thrive; we have to "touch" them in some way, to again become a part of nature in ways that harken to the past. Even if this touching doesn't involve "food" per se. Note that Dave Petersen was one of the few (the only?) to even delve into the ethics of C&R fishing and "hydraulic hunting." Why do you suppose more hunters don't bring this up? It's something we need to dwell on more, because it's an example of how far our species will go to remain "attached" to the past in some tangible way.(White rhinos are now hunted by C&R methods!) When food stopped being a sacred gift, as Paul Shepard often alludes, we turned off on a different track and I fear we no longer know the way back.

Anyway, I'm off on a tangent. Sorry.

What I'm seeing here in Alaska more and more are hunters who are not naturalists, who are not conservationists, who know very little, actually, about the species they are hunting. "Who the hell is Aldo Leupold?" The type of hunter you are, and other "rational" hunters, is not the type of hunter most common today. Perhaps, with your course, you can change this to a degree. Sadly, most hunters do not read Petersen and Shepard and Kerasote, nor do they even want to hear the animal-rights perspective of Regan and others. They now want to watch the Outdoor Channel or see a video of a stalk, listen to tips on how to get a monster muley. The "horn porn" that is the hook and bullet rags these days...all of it is turning hunting into something it never was. I suppose I am cynical! But I suppose, as Jim Harrison says, it is human nature for any group to include barbarous swine, so why should hunting be any different. I just don't know if Harrison's 50% number is correct...I fear we're reaching a much higher percentage of hunters who disobey all notions of fair chase and ethics. But that's just the crank in me talking.

Anyway, I'll jump in here from time to time. Good luck with your endeavors,


Well said. (Incidentally, I am going to be using Dave's book for the hunting course. I would like to find something comparable for fishing--any suggestions? I quit fishing C&R a number of years ago and no longer fish any "trophy" waters.)

I HOPE that you and Harrison are wrong about the number of louts in our midst. One thing I have learned is that many people who on the surface behave in ways that you and I might find bad or even reprehensible, are actually more similar in their attitudes than you would think. But the influences that lead to overt bad behavior are prevelant. But those influences aren't just in hunting, they permeate the culture. (How the hell else can you explain the existence of McDonald's!)

What is wanted are countervailing influences. And one thing I find interesting is the fact that hunting focuses the broader social and philosophical issues in salutary ways. Moreover, I think the focus cuts both ways: careful scrutiny not only indictes many hunters, but many nonhunters, as well. I would stop short of saying that hunting is a necessary activity for a life well-lived, but I think the dangers from the continued "urbanization" of our sensibilities are very real.

Mark R.


I don't know of any comparable books relating to fishing ethics. Interesting part of Heartsblood is when Petersen quotes his wife as saying, "We should all have to witness the deaths and suffering we cause." This is what Shepard alludes to as well when he speaks of our removal from the sources of our food. Even many vegetarians and vegans I speak with are so removed from the sources of their food that they aren't even aware of the deaths and suffering involved. They consider themselves blameless. But recall the hardcore Jains of older times that DID realize this and so starved themselves to death. They were closer to the land back then...that conclusion was unavoidable, but not so today.

This removal, this unawareness of death by so many today, even of the deaths involved in agriculture, of eating just plants, is what I think is the prime factor involved in this urbanization of our sensibilities. It's all a part of our current cultural mindset. Yes, we certainly need countervailing influences inre: hunting, but I don't think hunting is even remotely associated with a "well-lived" life (I too stop short, but miles from that line) for I hear of (and read about) too many other vegetarians who ARE aware of the death and suffering involved in their own way of living, and as such they have that well-lived life I think you are speaking of. They grow their own food, change habitat, deracinate and kill mice and fowl...that well-lived life would be much more prevalent if we all did witness the deaths and suffering we cause. In this way, hunting can enlighten and connect one to the earth. But it isn't the only way. One doesn't have to kill "sentient" beings(I personally feel sentience in some plants, as odd as that may sound) to "get there."

As for Harrison, I'm afraid his 50% figure may indeed be a tad low. Sad, but there it is. How else can you explain the Outdoor Channel! Glad Heartsblood is getting some exposure, and that you are using it in the course...great read and offers much for introspection.


bob hunt

if you don't know aldo leopold you should stay out of the woods

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