Cover image for Heartsblood : hunting, spirituality, and wildness in America
Heartsblood : hunting, spirituality, and wildness in America
Petersen, David, 1946-
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Publication Information:
Washington, D.C. : Island Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xviii, 269 pages ; 24 cm

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SK14.3 .P48 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In this age of boneless chicken breasts and drive-thru Happy Meals, why do some humans still hunt? Is it a visceral, tooth-and-claw hunger for meat, tied in a primitive savage knot with an innate just for violence and domination? Or might it be a hunger of an entirely different sort? And if so, what? In Heartsblood, writer and veteran outdoorsman David Petersen offers a thoroughly informed, unsettlingly honest, intensely personal exploration of this increasingly contentious issue. He draws clear distinctions between true hunting and contemporary hunter behaviour, praising what's right about the former and damning what's wrong with the latter, as he seeks to render the terms hunter and antihunter palpable-to put faces on these much-used but little-understood generalisations. Petersen looks at the evolutionary roots and philosophical underpinnings of hunting, and offers a compelling portrait of an animistic archetype-a paradigm for the true hunter/conservationist-that is in sharp contrast with today's technology-laden, gadget-loving sport hunter. He considers the social and ecological implications of trophy hunting and deconstructs the Bambi syndrome-the over sentimentalisati

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Petersen brings an uncommonly broad perspective to this highly personal, passionate and deeply persuasive argument for responsible hunting. He reminds us that humans have been predominantly hunters for 99% of our species' history; by comparison agriculture occupies merely a brief moment in the human timeline and the era of shrink-wrapped supermarket meat even less. Biologically, we were built to hunt, he contends, a reality carved into the human genome as deeply as wildness imprints the genetic makeup of prey. Denying our genetic predisposition makes us less than fully human, he argues, which will undoubtedly strike many as radical. But Petersen is not a polemicist bent on pushing every citizen into hunting. In fact, he calls himself a "fence-straddler," an advocate of animal welfare (which he differentiates from animal rights) who has been criticized by antihunters as "rabidly prohunting" and knocked by hunters' rights advocates as "an anti in hunter's camouflage." Much of Petersen's argument (his delineation of the three different types of hunters, his criticism of holier-than-thou vegetarianism, his disdain of trophy hunting) treads a well-worn path, but this ambivalence lends his conclusions greater credibility. More unique and provocative is his contention that humans, far from evolving beyond the need to kill our own food, instead risk devolving when we avoid facing firsthand the deaths that sustain our survival. Though he goes overboard in strumming the mystical chord and seems at times too fond of inflated language, Petersen's ambitious analysis of this contentious issue is impressively well reasoned. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Why are we humans and not still apes? Because we hunted, claims well-known nature writer Peterson. Since humans evolved via hunting, he argues, it is part of our genetic makeup. Conversely, why do many people continue to hunt, when so few of us need to hunt in order to physically survive? Again claiming that it is part of our genetic heritage, Petersen claims that "the diet, exercise, and social and spiritual norms distilled and instilled by natural selection in our hunter/gatherer forbearers [sic] continue to be requisites for human health and happiness." Even nonhunters will be moved by the importance of hunting in human development and culture. Unfortunately, the editors did little to craft Petersen's "meandering thoughts and unabashed opinions" into a cogent hunting apology, substantially limiting the book's impact. Getting past the poorly organized writing, readers will enjoy his impatience with the two ends of the hunting spectrum: the slobs and hunter-rights zealots that give hunting a bad name, and the antihunters blind to the evolutionary role, ecological importance, and for many, the spiritual necessity of hunting in their lives. Recommended for undergraduates through practitioners and for environmental collections. S. Hollenhorst University of Idaho



Chapter One How Hunting Made (and Helps to Keep) Us Human: A Tribute to Paul Shepard When I was a caveman painting on the walls I never had a dollar but man I had it all. --Chris Smither One of my most cherished teachers, the late Paul Shepard, liked to point out that "in defiance of mass culture, tribalism constantly resurfaces." The minority of hunters who are true (to their heritage) and authentic (in their goals and actions) form just such a tribe, though many hunt alone. * * * It's mid-August and hot here in southern Colorado. Just two more weeks until the opening of archery elk season, which I await each year with all the patience of a child counting down the days to Christmas. To help me through this anxious time, to facilitate getting in shape for the vertical challenge of elk hunting and just because I like it, I'm spending a few days alone, out among the crafty creatures locals know as "prairie goats," albeit with no real hope of bringing home anything meatier than memories. As one frank friend once observed, stalking pronghorn with two sticks and a length of string is about as productive as chasing farts in a hurricane.     So true. And so what? In three years of hard trying, I've yet to work close enough to a wily pronghorn to loose a conscionable arrow. No matter. In hunting as in life, it's essential to avoid tunnel vision. Plenty good enough just to be alive, free, healthy (so far as I know), and semi-sane in a world gone largely mad.     To the point: It's a multiple blessing just to be here now, in this quietly spectacular high-desert place, so near to home in miles, yet so geologically and thus spiritually foreign: a Nearby Faraway if you will (with apologies to Georgia O'Keeffe). How different this place is from the lofty, lime-green mountains I call home, over on the far side of the Continental Divide--visible even now, off in the western distance, quilted here and there with raggedy hold-out patches of last winter's snow, shining cool as a promise beneath a roaring late-summer sun.     Well, that promise--of dark-forested mountains animated by bugling bull elk in their piss-perfumed rutting wallows beneath brassy autumn aspens rattling in a cool mountain breeze--all of that and more will just have to wait. For now, this rocky, pronghorn heaven will do just fine.     Not your typically pan-flat, cow-burnt, gnat-tortured prongy stamping ground, this, but scenic basin-and-range country: rolling, rugged, vulcanized and cliffy, punctuated with verdant pockets grown waist-deep in aromatic sage and yellow-flowering rabbitbrush. Average elevation: eight thousand four hundred feet above the far-off sea.     This is national forest land, mostly, just like at home. But here, ironically, there is no forest; none of the "timber-quality" trees the USDA Forest Service so loves to cut and sell well below cost, at taxpayer expense, ripping the landscape with (taxpayer-subsidized) roads while they're about it.     In light of the lack of logging, the federal keepers of this sparse land manage to find other uneconomical, unecological "uses" for it, allowing it to be sheep-burnt just this side of hell every spring by a brainless blight of woolly maggots.     Domestic sheep, here and everywhere they roam throughout the semiarid West, overgraze the vegetation, foul the water, denude riparian areas, and import noxious invader plants--thistle, leafy spurge, and the like--that squeeze out native vegetation, thus poisoning and starving the ecosystem. Additionally, domestic sheep harass and even kill wildlife (coyotes, bears, lions, and wolves in particular) with help from gun-toting ranchers and tax-payer-subsidized government trappers, spread disease to wild animals (especially bighorn sheep, of which a secretive few lurk hereabouts), and otherwise displace wildlife.     And more. All of it bad for nature. For wild ness . Bad for you and your children, and devastating to the feral likes of me. Private livestock belongs on private range, not on America's nominally communal, nominally "wild," public lands.     But let's forget the stinking sheep for the moment. What else defines this place? Prickly pear here and there, mostly in whiskered clusters; claret cups and spearlike yucca; too many ugly dirt roads with their cruising patrols of pathetic road warriors--pretend hunters looking for easy targets to plug, illegally, from their vehicles. (A losers' game, start to finish, but a popular game nonetheless.) Knotty little pinon pines are ubiquitous all across this rocky, semidesert landscape, though curiously you won't see a one of their sympatric, symbiotic sylvan sisters, genus Juniperus , a shag-barked juniper known locally, and incorrectly, as "cedar."     Even so, despite the scars of the long-term, private-interest, coldly commercial abuses the USDA Forest Service euphemizes as "multiple use," this is one of the loveliest places I know. And much of its beauty arises from its eerie ambiance. The view all around is long and lean, framed on three sides by a majesty of rocky mountains--San Juans south and west, Sangre de Cristos (sweet Blood of Christ!) eastward--and in the near north by stark volcanic cliffs the color of cowboy coffee.     Additionally, owing to this anomalous high-desert basin's altitude and proximity to major mountains, brief violent thunderstorms erupting from massive dark clouds--great steely-blue anvils, pregnant with pyrotechnic energy--come grumbling and flashing through most every afternoon in summer, blessing this parched place with a benediction of chiaroscuro (visible-beam, some call it "God") light.     To many who know and appreciate it, this arid, parsimonious landscape evokes the Alaskan tundra. To me, the travel this place implies is more in time than in miles, all the way back to the icy old Pleistocene, that finishing ground of human evolution. * * * Back then, twelve thousand years ago, with North America just emerging from the long icy ages, the people living here were seminomadic spear-chuckers with such provincial names (assigned by us) as Clovis, Folsom, and Cody. Perhaps, as long believed, they were the recent descendants of wandering Mongol hunters who emigrated overland, via the Bering land bridge, and quickly spread throughout North America. Or perhaps, as science and I are coming increasingly to believe, they were "caucasoids" of the Solutrean persuasion who immigrated here much earlier, more than eighteen thousand years ago, by land and sea, from Europe's Iberian Peninsula (comprising Spain, Portugal, and southwestern France). And just as likely as either of these scenarios, they were some of both. Right now, no one knows with absolute certainty. Nor does it matter all that much to this discussion.     What does matter is that these early Americans were full-time hunter/ gatherers who earned good honest livings by killing, dismembering, and hungrily devouring mammoths and other Pleistocene megafauna.     Too soon, however, these gorgeous gargantuan prey species met their inevitable end--due in largest part, likely, to radical climate and (thus) habitat changes, possibly exacerbated by microbial diseases imported by in-migrating humans ... and yes, in the end, by hunting pressures exerted by those same two-legged invaders.     With the mammoths gone, the agile subsistence hunters turned their predatory attention to giant wide-horned bison, which came to drink at glacier-gouged potholes filled with lucent meltwater. The stones forming these ancient ancestors' fire rings and the coals of the fires those rings contained, along with flaked stone butchering tools and the tool-scarred bones of prey species, lie scattered hereabouts in shallow-buried abundance.     Aside from being drier, the looks of this place haven't changed much. Consequently--owing to the deep-time, subtly magical ambience of the landscape--my hunts, camps, and hikes here have evolved into an annual pilgrimage.     It follows naturally that every time I come here, every year at just this time, my thoughts run to one of the primary influences in my spiritual, intellectual, and hunting life. I'm referring to Dr. Paul Shepard: Pleistocene prophet, prehistoric philosopher, postmodern primitive, and father of the science of human ecology, the study of humanity's timeless, coevolutionary, developmental relationship, both as a species and as individuals, alongside our fellow wild creatures in shared wilderness settings.     In Shepard's vision--in fact a radical revision of the standard take on our "savage" human beginnings--the human hunting heritage leaps to lively and meaningful life. Attempting to simplify and summarize the work of a scholar so compelling, controversial, and complex as Paul Shepard, which even many academics find challenging--and, further, to suggest how such thinking applies to modern "sport" or "recreational" hunting--well, it doesn't make for casual campfire conversation. Yet the exercise--the hard intellectual work necessary to comprehend Paul Shepard--is worth the effort. That's because he, more than any other thinker I've encountered in half a century of searching, offers answers to the central query of this exploration: Why do hunters hunt?     Nor is this so esoteric a question as it may at first sound. As Shepard reveals, in the bigger picture we might as well ask: Why are we humans, and not still apes? * * * True hunters, whatever their differences in geography, culture, gender, or experience, are kindred spirits, a tribe united by a shared love for what Paul Shepard, employing double entendre, calls the "sacred game"--in my present instance, the pronghorn is the sacred game; the pronghorn hunt is the sacred game. It's a love, this ancient game, that cuts so deep yet remains so inexplicable as to seem almost instinctive.     Why so? What is the ultimate source, the prime mover, of the human animal's clearly intrinsic yearning to hunt and fish? Why do young children, across all cultures, respond more warmly to animals than to any other class of objects, real, toy, or "virtual"? (The current Pokémon rage is commercial culture's strikingly successful attempt to capitalize on this childhood interest in real animals by morphing them into toys, video games, collector cards, and TV cartoons. The spiritual loss to the children thus victimized is, for the moment, incalculable.) Why are the names of animals and the sounds animals make among the first words uttered by most human infants--again across all cultures? ("Because," you may well reply, "there are so many kid's books, toys, games, and TV shows based on animals today." But, to press the point, why is this so?)     Likewise, why is the color forest-green universally perceived as restful and reassuring, while blood-red universally excites and agitates?     Finally, circling these universal biophilic feelings back to where we began: What hidden engine drives the more superficial motives, those things so often named as reasons for modern hunting: meat, adventure, companionship, challenge, antlers, and other so-called "trophies"?     What indeed? And why? Why do so many modern humans still hunt, when so few of us really need to hunt in order to physically survive? * * * Most modern hunters, good and bad, just want to hunt--not explore and debate why they do it and how they do it and what others think of them for it. Yet today, no thoughtful hunter can afford to just hunt. In order to defend what we do--to ourselves, our families, our friends, and, especially, to an increasingly urbanized, denatured, domesticated, and virtualized populace--in order to improve hunting ethics and invite and inspire tomorrow's hunters and assure that hunting has a tomorrow ... for all of these reasons and more, hunters must ask themselves why.     And we must answer honestly. For only by discovering the whys can we hope to influence the hows. And only by reforming the hows, where necessary, can we effect the essential change without which modern hunting is likely doomed, and likely deserves to be. * * * I grew up in Oklahoma. It was a place--back in the "olden days" of my midcentury youth at least--where hunting and fishing were readily available to anyone who wanted them. Rabbits and squirrels and quail and catfish and bass all lurked just a bicycle ride from my city-edge home. ("Suburban" was not quite yet a viable term.)     Likewise, in that place and time, so-called blood sport was roundly accepted. While not everyone hunted, almost everyone had family or friends who did, while others kept chickens or rabbits or maintained close contact with relatives on the farm. Simple Okies we were. Yet we possessed a basic sort of knowledge largely lost today: We knew where our food came from.     I recall wondering, even back then, even as a child, why I felt such an all-consuming need to hunt. It has never been something I've taken for granted. It wasn't just for meat, though almost from the start I ate everything I killed. It wasn't just for fun, though fun it was: the camping, the hiking, the learning, the adventure. It wasn't and never would be for "trophies," at least not in the macho/ego sense of that multifaceted and massively misunderstood term. Certainly, companionship played a part: the best of my friends all were hunters.     And yet, from the day I could legally drive, I've hunted mostly alone. Nor did I have more than hit-and-miss mentors to nourish my taste for wild meat, wild country, and the wild life of the chase. For me, from the beginning, hunting has been not a family thing, not a peer thing, not a cultural thing, but a self-powered passion--like a bird's urge to fly, a fish's fervor to swim ... like instinct .     Naturally curious about why I do what I do, for decades I've chewed this quandary: Could there be such a thing as a human hunting instinct, a genetic vestige from our long, formative hunting/gathering past? And if there is, why does this incipient instinct flame so hot in some while seeming dead as cold ashes in most and even infuriating a few?     Although it was fun to think about this "hunting as instinct" hunch, definitive answers remained always just beyond my intellectual grasp. Then, finally, I discovered Paul Shepard--who explained my life to me. Since Shepard plays such an important role in the pages to come--I quote, paraphrase, and otherwise rely on him more than any other single source (save perhaps my personal experience)--allow me to profile the man and outline his philosophical science of human ecology, best as I can, right here and now. * * * In parallel careers as scientist, scholar, teacher, and writer, Paul Shepard spent an actively joyful life examining the skin-tight fit between human nature and wild nature, as revealed in the titles and subtitles of his books and the personal philosophical progression these titles reflect: Man in the Landscape, The Tender Carnivore and the Sacred Game, Nature and Madness, The Others: How Animals Made Us Human, Coming Home to the Pleistocene, Encounters with Nature , and more. Driving all of this was Shepard's exhaustive inquiry into how millions of years of evolution under the tutelage of full-time hunting, scavenging, and gathering--together termed "foraging"--made us human.     Paul Shepard was born in 1925 and grew up in the Missouri Ozarks. During World War II he landed with the Twelfth Armored Division at Normandy and took part, as an artilleryman, in the Battles of the Little Bulge. After the war, Shepard took a doctoral degree in ecology and art history at Yale University and enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a research professor of human ecology--a new way of investigating the long-accepted truth that "all things are connected."     Somewhat ironically, considering his keen intellectual interest in hunting, Shepard was not himself devoted to the activity. Rather, like José Ortega y Gasset ("the hunting philosopher"), Henry Thoreau, naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton, and so many others, Shepard had hunted--and considered the experience important, if not essential, to obtaining a balanced, biological worldview.     As a Missouri country boy, in company with friends, young Paul hunted small game and birds and ran a trapline for rabbit and muskrat. As a young adult, he trained and flew hunting hawks and falcons. And--a classic hunting yarn by any standards while serving with the Army of Occupation at Heidenheim, he ducked out one day to hunt deer, only to flush a hidden covey of German soldiers, whom he escorted back to his unit as prisoners.     Though not well known beyond academic and scientific circles--he never sought pop celebrity and shunned fame when it sought him--Paul Shepard is widely hailed as among the finest minds of the century, of any century; a revolutionary freethinker who envisioned a whole new way of looking at the origins and meaning of life on earth and then conducted a lifelong hunt for unimpeachable scientific, philosophical, and empirical evidence to back that vision.     The radical new take on human history and evolution envisioned by human ecology has been called "the subversive science," by supporters as well as critics, because it shakes the essential underpinnings of civilized culture. Its primary focus is the evolutionary interplay between wild animals, wild landscapes, and preagricultural (foraging) people, and how those ancient mutual dependencies worked their way into the human DNA wiring diagram, or genome, influencing us all still today.     Gathering scattered nuts of knowledge from a broad field of scientific research--archaeology, anthropology, ethnology, ethology, biology, psychology, sociology, evolution, genetics, and more--Shepard synthesized it all to show how millions of years of vocational hunting and gathering, along with the small-group, nomadic, clan, and tribal lifestyle demanded by such a lifeway, made us what we are today--for better and (when our genetically prescribed needs are neglected or perverted) for worse.     Of singular significance to the hunting/antihunting argument is this: Shepard tells us that the diet, exercise, and social and spiritual norms distilled and instilled by natural selection in our hunter/gatherer forebears continue to be requisites for human health and happiness. Genetics confirms that as a species we've not had enough time in just ten thousand years of agriculture--and only half that of civilization (defined by literacy and urban living) to evolve one iota of change in our collective genome. And since modern urban living satisfies few of evolution's mandates for human health and happiness, there's your root of all dis-ease in the world today.     In sum, according to Paul Shepard: We are not living--physically, socially, psychologically, or spiritually--as we were designed to live. And that's the rub.     While hunting's critics often deride the activity as a barbaric anachronism--a filthy red remnant from our distant savage past--human ecology counters that since we evolved via hunting, and remain physically, mentally, and emotionally (genetically) exactly as we were then, to hunt is to be human. Thus, says Shepard, while hunting is indeed an anachronism in today's concrete world, it's a strongly positive anachronism that serves the invaluable purposes of continuing "to put leisure classes in close touch with nature, to provoke the study of natural history, and to nourish the idea of conservation."     And he's right. This truth is evidenced not only by the unfolding of my own hunter/conservationist worldview and many another of far greater significance, but by the remarkable growth of such hunter/conservation groups as Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and more.     Why do "modern" humans hunt? Because hunting is our genetic dictum, our generic heritage, its roots running as deep as humanity's tenure here on good green Earth. Deeper, in fact. O wonderful! O wonderful! O wonderful! I am food! I am food! I am food! I eat food! I eat food! I eat food! -- Taittiriya Upanishad The first hunters were the first humans. In fact, we were hunters long before we were fully human--assuming that "fully" is a title we still deserve today.     Mounting DNA evidence proclaims that our primordial ancestors split with the chimps to begin their long evolutionary trip "upward" five to seven million years ago. By four and a half million years ago, we'd achieved upright posture and moved out of the shadowy jungle onto the sunny savannas of ancient Africa ... or, more precisely, we became creatures of the ecotones, those ecological edges where forest meets grassland.     Skipping forward, through another two million slow years of hominid evolution, the earliest prehuman believed to possess the uniquely human qualities of fashioning stone tools and using them to butcher large animal carcasses was Australopithecus garhi . He/she was not likely yet a hunter, but an avid scavenger, roaming the grasslands of Ethiopia at least two and a half million years ago, in search of fruits, vegetables, nuts ... and easy meat.     Manufactured stone flakes have been found in conjunction with human remains even older than A. garhi , though not in clear association with butchered animal carcasses: So which came first--the dedicated scavenging of meat (muscle tissue), brains, and especially bone marrow, or the invention of tools to facilitate that scavenging?     If necessity is the mother of invention, then a specific need for manufactured stone cutting, chopping, and crushing tools must have preexisted their invention. Plucking and eating fruits, nuts, and grass seeds requires nothing fancier than fingers, or even just teeth, and root-digging technology need progress no farther than the end of a pointed stick.     "Man evolved as a hunter," proclaims the late/great Canadian biologist C. H. D. Clarke. "In South Africa, there were at one time [some two or three million years ago] two types of pre-men. One was a great shuffling hulk with a dentition that shows he was a vegetarian [ Australopithecus robustus ]. The other [ A. africanus ] was small and active, and fed on flesh as well as vegetable matter. This is the one that can be identified as having a place in the human pedigree. Vegetable gathering produced no tools, no forethought or planning, no tradition, no social organization. Pre-man the hunter, in developing and using all these for the chase, became man."     Furthermore, the brain is a high-metabolism organ and can grow--that is, evolve to greater size and complexity--only on a diet rich in the exact combination of fat-derived calories and nutrients found in meat--wild meat, that is. According to nutritionists, wild game such as elk, venison, and turkey contains five times the essential fatty acids found in domestic meat plus a nutritionally rich concentration of iron and other minerals, vitamins, and the protein imperative for brain development. (And all the while, wild meat delivers very low percentages of harmful fats compared to any domestic meat, red or white. The leanest domestic flesh is the white meat of turkeys, containing 3.2 grams of fat per 3.5-ounce serving. The same serving of elk or venison is a third leaner, with only 2.2 grams of fat.)     In a nut: Had our deep-time ancestors been vegetarians, we wouldn't be human today. In two direct and providential ways then--by offering an impetus for the development of lithic technology, or stone toolmaking, and by providing the right nutritional stuff for dynamic brain growth--meat eating presaged and facilitated our becoming human. The stage was now set for the third crucial contribution of carnivory to human evolution: hunting. * * * By the opening of the icy Pleistocene epoch, circa 1.6 million years ago, our prehuman ancestors had been scavenging meat and hunting catch-as-catch-could for thousands of generations, having evolved along the way from gregarious, bipedal brush apes to the penultimate hominid ("manlike") form, Homo erectus --just one short evolutionary leap from self-designated sapience and already armed with an arsenal of uniquely human intellectual, social, and technical skills.     By the close of the Pleistocene, ten to twelve thousand years ago, concurrent with the meltdown of the last continental glaciers, we were exactly as we are today--in every physical, mental, and genetic detail--and had been so for fifty to a hundred thousand, some say half a million, years.     Among the more important developments appearing during the Pleistocene was the refinement of verbal communication: spoken language. Complex language, rich in metaphor, reflects a mastery of abstract thought, which, in reciprocal turn, powers metaphorical language--Everyman's poetry--and facilitates, even compels, the definitively human quality we call spirituality.     And the pathway for all such development--Paul Shepard doesn't just tell us this but explains the process in carefully documented scientific detail--was our blood-bonded kinship, our daily give and tale, with natural wildness, forged through millions of years--the final million of the Pleistocene especially--spent hunting, and being hunted by, large wild beasts. Shepard summarizes: "The dynamic of escape and pursuit is the great sculptor of brains.... Hunter and hunted are engaged in an upward, reciprocal spiral of consciousness with its constituents of stratagem and insight ... the progressive refining of mind by cycles of predator and prey whose dances [through time and shared experience] became less and less random encounters, more and more choreographed."     And so it is, proclaims Dr. Shepard, stoutly backed by many notable others, that contemporary humanity's seemingly instinctive--we could say spiritual--need to hunt, although we no longer "need" to hunt in order to survive, along with all the richness of physical, mental, and aesthetic experience it implies, is in fact instinctive, arising from the ancient depths of the human genome. Similarly, an ongoing genetic need to be hunted is built into the elk, the deer, the antelope. This is Shepard's double-edged Sacred Game of give and take, without which nothing would be the same. (Without which nothing would be .)     Certainly, the greater an animal's reasoning abilities, the less its actions are dictated by knee-jerk instinct. Thus we human animals could, as most "civilized" folk today in fact do, forget our evolutionary history as hunters. Ignoring or even denying our heritage as predatory omnivores, most modern humans contract professional proxies to do their killing and cutting for them, politely out of sight (and thus out of mind). It's the easy way out; the ostrich's philosophy. Yet, by so doing, we are sanctioning the cultural reduction of what, before the agricultural "revolution," was viewed as sacred flesh--to lowly modern "product."     Worse yet, some among us affect moral superiority to the Sacred Game while denying responsibility for the daily deaths that feed us, eating only veggies, thus providing our omnivorous bodies and spirits just half a loaf while pretending to do no greater harm. Sorry, but it's just not so: No body rides for free.     I didn't fight my way to the top of the food chain to be a vegetarian! proclaims a locally popular bumper sticker.     If we aren't supposed to eat animals, why are they made of meat? chides another.     Cowboy philosophy, that, yet--just so.     I too could buy my meat at the supermarket or (re)turn to vegetarianism. But I don't and won't. Not so long as I have wilder, more natural options--which, tragically, most people in today's human-made world do not. I am lucky. And so long as there's a hunting or fishing season to enjoy, or roadkill to scavenge, I shall remain a forager. Notwithstanding its rejection by a minority, this is a basic, universal, human preference, evident in our appetites and physical design, confirmed by Paul Shepard whispering in our collective ear that "man is in part a carnivore ... genetically programmed to pursue, attack, and kill large mammals for food. To the extent that men do not do so, they are not fully human."     In sum, I propose that to hunt, kill, and devour the flesh of creatures wild and free is not only the most natural possible exercise for body and spirit: it represents a palpable and significant, if only partial, return to our evolved animal heritage. Viewed in this light, honorable hunting is a spiritual sacrament, a humbling genuflection to our evolutionary design, genetic plan, and nutritional needs, as well as a sacred affirmation of our ancient blood-bond with the wildlings that for millions of years fed us, fed on us, and, in time, made us human. Thus were we created.     Obeying instinct, doing what comes natural, provides the bedrock motivation for all serious, thoughtful, ethical hunting today, transporting us back, spiritually if not temporally, to the fecund Pleistocene, to the lithic logic of sharpened stone, where it all began--where we all began. "In my imagination," wrote the inimitable desert philosopher Edward Abbey, "desire and love and death lead through the wilderness of human life into the wilderness of the natural world--round and round, perhaps forever, back again to wherever it is we began."     "I think we Homo sapiens lost something," writes Rob Schultheis in Bone Games , "some vital part of ourselves, when we gave up the hunting and gathering life for the fettered, programmed existence of agriculture, and later, industry. Consider just the moves: the lookout, the spoor, the stalk, the cross-country chase, the dead-on throw were replaced by the cramped, repetitive action of stoop labor, the planting stick and shovel, and worse, the quill, keyboard, and computer idiot stick. Time, which once rolled out in loose, measureless rounds of sun and moon, was chopped up into lengths and tied in knots; space, the free earth of the Paleolithic, was quartered and fenced: off limits; trespassers will be prostituted."     Thinking along parallel lines, another wise friend once commented: "In the descriptions of people who depended directly on the natural world for food and shelter and whose stories and rituals revealed an intimacy with the plants and animals sharing their lives, I find human traditions that offer a framework for my own feelings."     Paul Shepard refers to this same hopeful, optimistic, circular/cyclical view--consulting our deep past to guide our collective future--as "postmodern primitivism" or, as he titled one of his most important books, Coming Home to the Pleistocene .     And it's just such a future primitivism that's in play here and now in this weirdly wonderful Wild West place where I've come to hunt the wary, and wearying, pronghorn. * * * Blessed evening arrives at last, shoving long cool shadows across the moonscape valley below, signaling that the time is ripe, in fact beyond ripe, to put aside my campfire philosophy and attempt another guaranteed joyful (if predictably meatless) sneak on those fur-covered, fork-horned, bug-eyed mammalian rockets of the American West that we erroneously call "antelope." In fact, North America has no antelope. And the pronghorn, Antelocapra americana , which rather resembles a cross between a goat and a deer but is none of either has no close relatives anywhere on earth.     For the past half-hour, a dozen prongies have been grazing carelessly in a grassy bowl a quarter-mile below me--courageously close by the species' notoriously standoffish standards. And just moments ago, a score or so more appeared on the southern horizon half a mile out--golden glowing dots in the distance, like so many pyrite nuggets, scattered beneath the late-day sun.     As I watch, the gathering animals feed fast as caribou toward the base of the long, narrow knoll where I'm sitting in plain sight, binoculars in hand. Seeing this swelling swarm of prongies, including several legal bucks, it's tempting to run one last fast stalk. But the day has grown too short; I should have gotten after it an hour ago. The odds, at this point, are far too low to justify the effort. And I'm simply too tired.     Been tired since this afternoon, when I sagged back to camp after an invigorating two-hour sneak-and-peek that took me to within thirty-five yards of a beautiful big buck with high heavy horns, a barrel chest, and thick meaty thighs. Following a fruitless morning spent sitting in would-be ambush over a tiny pool in an intermittent creek, and just after a rowdy mid-day thunderstorm, I spotted the animal lying beneath a rainbow--so far away that even through eight-power optics I could see no horns. Moreover, from that great distance the creature looked small and pale; probably a doe. Then the sun winked out briefly and a jagged line extending from horn-tip down around bulging eye and across bony cheek flashed black as ebony--a buck, thus legal prey.     After assessing the trend of the buck's stop-and-go grazing and contemplating the corrugated terrain along his route ahead, I contoured half a mile in that direction, then leaned into the climb, keeping to the bottom of a shallow arroyo. Every hundred yards or so I'd creep to the lip of the swale and glass until I relocated my potential target, adjusting my route accordingly.     The closer I got, the shallower the arroyo and the fewer the trees, until at last I was on a level with the unsuspecting prongy. Just two brushy little piñons remained between us. The penultimate tree--which I'd knee-crawled to without getting caught and was skulking behind--stood just fifty yards from the buck. If I could only sneak from there to the final pine and lean out around it without being busted, I'd have a twenty-yard shot, corresponding handily with my maximum dead-accurate stick-bow range. Peeking through parted limbs, I noted with relief that the buck had bedded, facing away.     From long habit, I flicked my Bic to check the breeze, even though some hunters claim pronghorns pay little attention to scent. Indeed, as my biologist buddy Tom Beck so eloquently states that case: "Your basic prongy is a whole 'nuther critter from your basic deer." And he's right, as we've seen; the two are related by neither taxonomy nor disposition. Yet I know from hard experience that pronghorns do listen to their noses, scent-spooking at times from hundreds of yards away. Besides, after a lifetime of hunting, it's a habit--reading and heeding the wind--that I'm helpless to ignore.     The lighter's little flame bent directly toward me; the breeze was in my favor. Thus refortified with hope, unto the breach I went, slow as any snail--out and around the sheltering piñon, heart booming like a timpani. Slow, slow, keeping always that last critical tree exactly between the prongy and me, taking one baby step at a time, placing each boot gently down, respectful of the crunchy volcanic rock underfoot ...     Fifteen exhilarating, exhausting minutes passed as I closed the gap to within ten critical steps of the bushy little evergreen--which I, at least, could not see through. And just beyond lay my unsuspecting prey.     Even as I was permitting myself to think, Good grief, man, you may actually make it this time --my fingers already tightening on the bowstring and my mind's mouth watering in anticipation of grilled antelope loin steaks--the bad news arrived. Wheeeee! The dread alarm-sneeze sounded. The buck was standing, rigid, staring arrows at me.     I became a statue, but too late. Wheeeee! With rump hairs flared and flashing electric white, he was going, going, and ... I watched in awe as this most graceful of American mammals sailed like a great wingless bird over the nearest rise and disappeared into memory.     Oh to be a pronghorn--to run flat-out and never stop!     Since I'd come to expect no more, my disappointment was manageable. Like youth and other fleeting pleasures, it sure was fun while it lasted.     With the buck long gone, my feet hot, my legs aching from prolonged isometric strain, and no other game in sight, I glanced down at my watch, then up at the sun--sagging well past its apogee--and decided to pack it in for the day. Make camp early and kick back. But tomorrow ...     It's a game we simply must play, we predators and our prey. To paraphrase Chief Sitting Bull: If hunters do not hunt, we will die of heartbreak--and so will the antelope. They need us, even as we need them. That's the way wild life's meant to be. That's the way it has to be. This is the heart of our sacred unifying wildness, the wily antelope and me.     Abbey said: "We are kindred all of us, killer and victim, predator and prey."     Shepard said: "Wildness is what I kill and eat, because I too am wild." I say: To hell with virtuality; let's get real again. * * * Not so long ago, I was chatting with one of the participants in a nature writing workshop, which I was "facilitating" at the Yellowstone Institute. Bob was (and likely still is) a retired, octogenarian, Roman Catholic priest with a keen and admirable--borderline heretical--interest in "spirituality in nature." Bob's brand of spirituality, of course, was creations apart from my own, as he'd doubtless deciphered across our four days together. So when, inevitably, Father Bob inquired about the precise nature of my religious beliefs--and I wasn't feeling disposed, then and there, to dive into an involved explanation of my passion for "Earthiesm" (more about which later), being in something of a rush to get out and hobnob with the grizzlies and wolves--I said simply, "atheist."     "You mean `agnostic,' don't you?" Father Bob rejoined politely, seeming truly concerned.     "No," I said. "I mean atheist. Or more precisely, "Earthiest," though we needn't get into the distinctions. Let's just say that for me, the meaning of life, the `secret of the universe,' comes down to ... biology."     "Biology," Bob mumbled, tasting the word in his mouth. After a moment he nodded politely and fell quiet. End of conversation.     This--the ultimate importance of biology in our world--is what Paul Shepard is trying to share with us, relating it to all aspects of human being: past, present, future; surreal as well as corporeal. As thoughtful nonhunter Brooke Williams, in his self-transformative Halflives , so succinctly condenses the foundation of Shepard's work and my own spirituality: "In primitive societies, hunting is embedded in custom, ritual, and story. Hunting forges deep obligations, people to people and people to the gods. It weaves a bond between the hunter and the wild landscape so pure and complete that the line where one ends and other begins is invisible."     Onward then: out of the shadows of our formative past, through the flickering firelight of life, into the foggy future. As the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset points out: "Like the hunter in the absolute outside of the countryside, the philosopher is the alert man in the absolute inside of ideas, which are also an unconquerable and dangerous jungle. As problematic a task as hunting, meditation always runs the risk of returning empty-handed. Hardly anyone can fail to know the probability of this result if he [or, of course, she] has tried, as I have ... to hunt down the hunt."     So--tomorrow and tomorrow and ... back to the hunt. Copyright © 2000 David Petersen. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Ted Williams
Forewordp. xi
Preface: Contemplating The Hunterp. xv
Acknowledgmentsp. xvii
Part I Exploring Hunting's Heritage
1. How Hunting Made (and Helps to Keep) Us Human: A Tribute to Paul Shepardp. 3
2. Dersu Uzala: A Hunter/Conservationist Paradigmp. 20
3. Hunting Down the Hunt: Meditations on Jose Ortega y Gassetp. 31
Part II Worldviews in Conflict
4. Hunters: A Scientific Profile (with Personal Conclusions)p. 41
5. Antihunters: A Scientific Profile (with Personal Conclusions)p. 58
6. Hunting for Spirituality: An Oxymoron?p. 78
7. Heartsblood: Getting Personalp. 97
8. The Unnatural Predator? Taking Aim at Trophy Huntingp. 113
9. (Meta) Physician, Heal Thyself! Personal Encounters with Trophy Huntingp. 127
10. Confessions of a Baby Killer: Exploring the Dark Side of Wildnessp. 141
11. The Bambi Syndrome Dismembered: Why Bambi (and Bambi) Must Diep. 154
12. Why I Bowhunt: Confessions of a Pleistocene Throwbackp. 170
13. Hydraulic Hunting: Wading the Slippery Waters of "No Kill" Anglingp. 182
Part III Onward, Through the Fog
14. Gender Be Damned: A Woman's View of (Men and) Huntingp. 197
15. Women and Hunting: A Man's Viewp. 206
16. Should Kids Hunt? Reflections on the Past and Future of Huntingp. 219
17. Bullseye: Process versus Projectp. 236
A Dreamy Postscript: The Wapiti's Messagep. 245
Selected Bibliographyp. 253
About the Authorp. 259
Indexp. 261