Thursday, July 12, 2012

Call Of The Wild

I've always thought hunting is weird.

It should also come as no surprise that I have an intense dislike of guns, or as I refer to them, ‘death sticks’. Forget the arguments surrounding the recently-redefined Second Amendment to The Constitution, especially the part about a ‘well-regulated militia’ being the specific reason for ‘Murricans to own weapons (read: flintlock muskets). I totally get why people have a serious Jones about holding and touching and cleaning and shooting their death stick(s) of choice, all while holding fast to the notion that ANY registration or regulation of firearms is tyranny and oppression and don’t tread on me, man.

Really… I get it. Guns are an extension of our national psyche circa 1865, and that hasn’t changed much in the 147 years since. We accept and rationalize the pain and horror and crime and ugliness caused by guns and the people who pull their triggers, because FREEDOM, BABY!!!! I’m among the minority that believe firearms should be sold ONLY if the owners are trained in their use, licensed to use them, registered as owners, insured against incorrect or unlawful use, and subject to retesting and/or surrender if the owner is unable to display proper operational skills and safety. You know, just like a CAR.

Having said that, I understand and accept that we allow folks to own and use guns at their dubious discretion, and I doubt that’s gonna change in my lifetime. Along with my personal distaste for the death sticks, hunting with them also seems insane in this day and age, except for sustenance and/or protection from rabid wolverines. I believe that shooting animals with guns for sport is an unfair assertion of our dominance over living creatures who cannot shoot back (just imagine if they COULD shoot back, heh heh heh). That goes double for the whole idea of stuffing and mounting animals who were unlucky enough to be sighted and capped.

Would it surprise you to know that I have been enlightened about sport hunting?

I know I know I know… I must have been drunk and/or stoned to consider the idea of sport hunting as anything other than man’s vanity game of dominance and death. And yet, my new understanding is another indication that as this Blue Earth keeps on spinning in the vacuum of space, so too am I capable of adjusting long-accepted concepts to keep up with newly-found facts and ideas. No man is an island, right?

Over the past year, I have become friends with a guy (whose name and identity shall remain a closely guarded national secret) that I had met only briefly 30 years ago. Recent celestial turnings have reconnected us in a truly weird and roundabout way… for the purpose of this essay, I’ll simply call him Mr. Bond. He started, built and sold a very successful business, endured a grave life-threatening illness (even receiving his last rites!) and squeezed out the other side with a newfound appreciation for this mortal coil and the people in it (like that ever happens, right?). Although he is a staunch conservative, he and I have many things in common and a simpatico on a wide variety of issues. He is also a consummate outdoorsman and hunter, having bagged creatures large and small on several continents.

Last summer, Mr. Bond was telling me about an upcoming hunt in South Africa where he would attempt to down a Cape Buffalo, one of the ‘Big Three’ of exotic big-game hunting. The gun he was planning to use was a huge caliber double-barrelled weapon with a recoil that could potentially separate one’s retinas. I was put-off about the whole thing at first, but the more he told me about the hunt, the more intrigued I became. The hunt would take place on a private reserve, but once the animal was downed and he claimed the prized head, the entirety of the animal’s remains would be given to the local tribal cooperative to share for food and commerce. I had never heard about this kind of charitable offering of meat and meat by-products from a downed animal… I assumed the hunter kept it all and sold what he didn’t want (actually, they can’t sell what they kill). Mr. Bond explained this protein giveaway was pretty common nowadays for the pros, not so much for the poachers. I was impressed.

Fast-forward to the last few weeks. During his most recent visit to the Left Coast, he invited The Artist and I to spend a few days at his beautiful river-side home (where he escapes the torrid Florida summers) on a well-deserved mini-vacation. He and I had several significant discussions about the many and varied rules of hunting and fishing, the do’s and don'ts, the massive amount of self-imposed etiquette that hunters should (in his opinion) abide by. Since he is the first ‘professional’ hunter that I’ve had a chance to talk with on this subject, I found myself re-thinking the whole ‘I hate hunting’ meme. It was obvious he held his quarry in the highest esteem, and he recalled each and every detail and aspect of the hunt. I mean, EVERY detail… the weather, time of day, how he stalked the creature, the weapon and ammo used, the trigger-pull, the aftermath… all of it. I started to get the feeling it was akin to a religious experience for him.

A bit later, I was checking out the many trophy animal heads mounted on the walls of his home. Another Cape Buffalo he had claimed a few years earlier (the newest one would take a place of honor on the other side of the room, creating a matched pair), an amazing elk with a huge rack of antlers, a wild boar with gleaming tusks, a glorious Rainbow trout sporting the lure that had snagged him. It was the elk, an amazing beast taken down by Mr. Bond's Son, that caught me off-guard. I examined the animal closely, noting how every step of the taxidermy had brought the elk to life, looking as if it could sniff and stomp me RIGHT NOW. I was rapt… I had never spent so much time admiring a trophy like this one, such a beautiful creature taken down by a bullet, when a realization hit me square in my epiphany cortex.

The elk trophy was magnificent, full of the beauty and majesty of the live animal, reeking of power and defiance and wild nature. Remember, this is a stuffed animal head I’m talking about, but it exuded a pure essence that I had never experienced before. I suddenly realized that Mr. Bond revered this animal, this trophy, this example of natural wonder. His son's bullet had taken its life, but by giving it such an honorable place in his own life, he was giving this gorgeous creature a far longer ‘life’ than it could ever have in the wild. Yes, the head was stuffed and mounted on the wall, but it was still ALIVE and in this form would outlive us all, and would likely ALWAYS look this good!

I stood there, mere inches from the elk’s nose, and felt the animal’s strength and vitality pulsing out at me. There was no more blood or muscle or tendon with which it could gore my silly ass for standing so close to it. I was dumbstruck at the emotions flowing through my head and heart and soul, which sounds as weird as it must be to read, but that’s what happened! I was absorbing the elk’s power from where it hung on the wall, mute and motionless, but that feral energy reached right out and smacked me in the face. All the running and rutting and snorting and pissing and regal displays of dominance and authority… it was still THERE. I had to sit down and think hard about what had just happened to me, but I didn’t speak of it to The Artist until later.

Now I understand.

I detest guns and many of the people who own and shoot them, but I will always support an individual’s right to own them. I may never accept hunting as a necessary activity in this modern age, but Mr. Bond has enlightened me to the visceral nature and allure of hunting, especially for those who take it seriously. I would suspect that a large portion of those who hunt are just ‘shooters’ with little regard for their prey, but I’d like to think that many share the same reverence and appreciation of the Wild Things as Mr. Bond does. I don’t plan on ever owning a gun, but at least now I have a better sense that not every animal's life taken by the bullet is forever lost. THAT is one HELL of an epiphany for a pacifist like me to absorb.

Maybe it was the shooting range practice and NRA membership during my Boy Scout years. Maybe it’s the notion that guns themselves aren’t inherently evil, although their sole purpose for existing is to kill. Maybe my life’s core energy once inhabited an ancient Anasazi Indian, with his feet planted in both the wild and domesticated versions of his own short existence. I can’t say for sure, but I know a new seed of understanding has been planted in my psyche, and that is always a great thing. I’ll never fully understand the human desire to personally kill other living creatures that aren’t a threat to life and limb, but my brief exposure to professional hunting has changed me. Thanks, Mr. Bond… I no longer have my eyes wide shut.

Now, about that wolverine pelt I saw in your dining room…

Lead image, gracias de; The Gun Club 'Sex Beat' video, muchismas gracias de