By Patrick Mainelli
My dad never took me hunting. He never thought to because his dad never took him hunting. Whether my great-grandfathers carried guns or bows or slingshots I don’t know. It doesn’t actually matter. If they did, the tradition died in my family before I was born. The trail was cold before I even knew there was a trail.
I don’t think it would be bold to suggest that there is a traceable line running from that guy sitting in a tree-stand and the first ape that ever killed and ate flesh. Hunting as an art/necessity/tradition has survived these millions of years from the savannah to the cornfield because of the real, physical sharing of knowledge. Person to person. There is a lineage to this “sport” that has gone unbroken for a nearly impossible amount of time. The act of carrying a weapon quietly through the woods is a cultural relic, more passionately preserved than most treasures gathering dust in a museum.
Hunting is alive. It’s a tradition that never stays the same. Hunting is a link to memory, and to the past, and to every hunter that came before you. The technology of hunting changes every season (warmer clothes, lighter gear, more convincing camo) and the nature of hunting changes along with it. A hunter is not required recreate the hunt as if today were 1910, or 1870, or 250 BC. There is no obligation to the past. Hunting is not an artifact.
As I write this, I can hear something sizzling in a pan on the stove and the air is thick with the smell of baking bread. My wife is the first woman in her family to cook in three generations. Everything she knows she learned on the Internet. I think I can understand the allure and excitement of hunting; but absolutely nothing compels me to type – “how to kill a deer” into Google and walk out alone into the cold morning and try to recreate a memory I’ve never had.
Hunting is dead. Or at least, it’s dying. In 1982, 17 million hunting licenses were sold nationwide. In 2006, U.S. Fish and Wildlife reported that that number had dropped to 12.5 million. If the passion for hunting is allowed to disappear between the cracks of just one generation, it could be lost for good. Hunting is like an heirloom tomato. Unless the seeds are picked and dried and handed over – in person, generation after generation – fifty years from now, no one will remember the taste or the color of the fruit.
My dad never took me hunting. I might wake up tomorrow and decide to learn Portuguese. I might buy a book on mountain climbing. Maybe I’ll learn the names of all the birds in America and write them down whenever I see one. I will not wake up tomorrow and shoot a deer. I wouldn’t even know where to look.