By TONY EVANS
I have an archery target in my yard for when I am trying to figure things out. I suppose this is because I am told there is an ancient hunter in me which seeks nothing more than the thrill of the chase, a bit of danger, and some well-earned bragging rights around the fire in the evening. Yet I also know from the study of primates that I am equally well evolved for lounging around in the bush all day, grooming with my pals and eating bananas. So which of these two tendencies will prevail from day to day? It seems unlikely there will be a trophy head hanging on my wall any time soon.
I shot a blackbird off a wire with my BB gun when I was 9 years old and then cried alone as I watched it die. I knew better than to admit my weakness to friends, who were already well indoctrinated into the culture of hunting.
When I got a shotgun for my 13th birthday, I started killing all kinds of things, eating most of them. When it came time to hunt larger game I found I didn’t have the heart to kill Bambi; so my father’s friends saw fit to arm me and my friend Turner Simpkins and drop us off in a South Carolina swamp inhabited by a wild boar said to be killing horses. It got dark and we found our way out without having to face the beast, but I suppose the exercise succeeded as a man-making experience; enabling me to confront later challenges in life, like finding a job, signing a lease or picking out a shampoo. Sometimes I find that even the subtlest of efforts, though lacking in drama, can require true acts of courage.
In tribute to some old instincts, I do still wander around the hills this time of year with a bow and arrow, lazily looking for grouse and rabbits. Although I have not hit anything in years, I still enjoy being a good shot. And as an omnivore I tell people I will eat anything that won’t eat me first. But why the trophies?
While hunting can be an experience with deep resonance and noble intent, there is a bit of native wisdom that discourages aiming for the grandest males in a herd. Trophy hunters who take the tallest and oldest males unsettle and disperse the herd, while removing the carefully (sexually) selected DNA from the land. Plains Indians once expressed sympathy and devotion to the sacred game they hunted in ceremonies central to their religious practices. This is a far cry from the idea of hunting as a competitive sport. Maybe I was praying for the soul of my little blackbird without knowing it.
When I shoot arrows these days I think I am really hunting for a sensibility in myself usually having to do with relationships. While hunting is ultimately about killing, relationships are about compromise and mutual survival. A native proverb says we have two wolves inside of us—one angry and ravenous, the other mild and forgiving. The wolf that prevails is the one we feed.