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September 1st, 2005 was a day that my 13-year-old self had been eagerly anticipating for years. It was opening day of dove season, and the first time that my grandfather was taking me hunting. In the months prior I had meticulously studied for my hunter safety course, purchased my first hunting license, and spent countless hours at the shooting range blasting clay pigeons to dust in preparation for my first hunt. When opening day finally came, my grandfather woke me up well before sunrise and drove us out to a field in Indio, California that he had scouted for several weeks. We crouched down amongst a row of high bushes and fixed our eyes on the horizon as we waited for sunrise. My pulse pounded with excitement as I squeezed the checkered wood grips of my hand-me-down Beretta shotgun, and squinted skyward through my polarized lenses.
As the world slowly began to illuminate, the first birds started flying, and the air became electric. I knew the action had started when we heard the distant shots of other hunters elsewhere in the field, and my adrenaline spiked when I suddenly heard my grandfather call out the position of two fast-approaching dove. Quickly shouldering my gun, I targeted the dove as they rocketed from left-to-right across my field of view. Both barrels of my 20 gauge cracked and I saw two bursts of grey feathers as each bird dropped to the ground. I walked to pick up the dove and turned around to meet the beaming gaze of my grandfather. He smiled from ear to ear as he yelled, “Holy shit, you got a double!”
Ever since that fateful day in the California desert with my grandfather, I’ve been an avid hunter. I loved spending quality time with him and gaining valuable knowledge from his 70+ years of hunting experience, and after a long day of shooting we got to bring back a cooler full of birds to throw on the BBQ and share with the rest of the family. Because I was the only grandchild in my family that showed interest in hunting, my grandfather and I shared some amazing moments chasing dove, quail and pheasant in the fields of California and Mexico. He passed away several years ago, and now whenever I’m sitting in a frigid duck blind at the crack of dawn or scanning distant hillsides for signs of wild boar, I fondly think back to all the great times we had together and feel proud that I’m carrying on a tradition that has been in my bloodline for generations.
While I love talking about my first double in the field and how I consider myself the wing-shooting equivalent of a 2002-2003 Kobe Bryant, that is not why I shared this story with you. I love the pursuit of hunting, and my experiences in the field have helped shaped me into the person I am today. Every countless hour spent hunting is an ever-adapting process of trial and error that gives me a near-primal sense of purpose and focus. Every deadline, distraction and disquiet in my life melts from my consciousness when I am hunting, as I am so engulfed in the process of chasing game. Being so close to the natural world offers a valuable source of mental and emotional cleansing that is vital to my sanity and happiness.
Not only is hunting great for the soul, but it’s great for your body as well. You spend hours at a time working up a sweat while traipsing over mountains and through forests to harvest a source of free-range animal protein from the bosom of nature. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather get my meat from the wild where animals haven’t been fed antibiotics and steroids their entire lives. Game meat has even been proven to be a higher quality source of protein with more favorable amino acid and Omega fat profiles than domesticated livestock. Hunting gives us a great opportunity to appreciate the process that puts food on the table: in the words of Ron fucking Swanson, “In my opinion, not enough people have looked their dinner in the eyes and considered the circle of life.”
I was partially inspired to write this after reading an article on this site several years ago titled I Want To Start Hunting But Have No Idea Where To Begin. This opened my eyes to the fact that people in my generation see the personal benefits of hunting and are eager to start, but don’t always have the opportunities that I had to learn from a family member. Thankfully, we live in a day and age that allows us to connect with practically anyone in the world, and a little time on google can connect anyone with a community of passionate outdoorsmen who would be more than happy to show somebody the ropes of hunting. When I moved to a new city and wanted to start hunting coyote, I hopped on Facebook, found a coyote hunting group with 10k+ members, and within minutes was talking with people who were eager to share their experiences and insights with a curious hunter looking to expand his skillset. If you’re curious about starting the process, you can find resources in online communities, at outdoor stores, or simply by asking around through your personal network. I guarantee you’ll be able to find someone happy to help you out.
The number of hunters in the country has either declined or remained stagnant over the past several decades which is a big problem for anyone passionate about the preservation of wildlife. Hunting license/tag fees are one of the biggest sources of revenue for conservation of wildlife and public land in the US, and the post-frontier model of regulated hunting in the US is responsible for saving the populations of various species of game animals. It continues to be a vital part in allowing their numbers to thrive today. If we want the world-renowned wilderness of our beautiful country to be available for future generations, millennials need to throw on some camo, buy some licenses, and get out in the field.
So I implore you, fellow postgrads, go hunting. Get out in the field and develop the skills that kept our ancestors alive before we had Whole Foods and Postmates. Submerge yourself in the glory of untouched wilderness and feel the cleansing of your spirit by the hand of Mother Nature herself. Get some gun smoke in your lungs, some blood on your pants and some dirt under your fingernails; you will become a better, more complete person for it. You will make amazing memories that you and your hunting buddies will talk about until you’re old and grey. And at the end of your trip, you will get to experience the best part of a hunt: spending time with your family and friends to feast on your spoils. I have learned through my years as a hunter that there is no better feeling than bringing together the people you love with a cooler full of Pacifico and a grill covered in quail..