Growing up in suburban Chicago, there aren’t many opportunities for hunting. The metropolitan area is filled with human activity and development. Even though there are small parcels of forest, those are off limits to hunting. That was no issue. For most of my life, hunting was the furthest thing from my mind. Our food came from a farm or a factory, often a combination of both. The source was no different for everyone else that I knew. Our family lived at the edge of a small forest. Frequently, we were able to watch deer feed among shrubs in the yard. There was no thought of these wild animals as food. Hunting was foreign.
In college, my diet transitioned to one that was whole foods and plant based. This meant I ate only plants. There was no consumption of processed foods, meat or dairy. Outside of a raw food diet, it is considered by some to be the most extreme approach to a vegan diet (Note that diet is used in the sense of style of eating. Not something that you go on or off of). The choice was mainly related to health and the idea of hunting moved even further off of my radar. Within that same time period, I went to Alaska for the first time, spending the whole summer travelling within Prince William Sound and Wrangell St-Elias National Park. Emerging with a new passion for Alaska, I devoured all the written material about the state that I could get my hands on. I read everything from memoirs to historical and anthropological works. All was fair game. These readings broadened, not just including anthropological works from Alaska, but across all cultures. The approach that hunter-gatherers took to life and the skill they possessed fascinated me.
After a brief return to Alaska in the spring of 2014, I permanently moved to the state in the spring of 2015. I acknowledged that I’d have to be less strict with regards to my diet. The nearest grocery store to my new home would be 275 miles away. I also would not have access to a kitchen to make my own food. I’d be forced to do one of the things that the human species does best. Adapt.
As I spent more time in Alaska, hunting became something more familiar. Many of the people I met were hunters in some capacity. I witnessed the difference in hunting styles: from sport vs. subsistence, road vs. wilderness and motorized vs. non-motorized. The barriers broke down. The more time I spent in the area, the more I wanted to learn about the landscape and traditional native practices. In my second year, I purchased a rifle, pursuing ducks and geese in the spring and grouse in the fall. Now, in mid-winter, I find myself dreaming up hunting trips for the upcoming spring and fall. The goal is to go after larger animals this year.
It’s a journey from ignorance and lack of ability to source food to one of awareness and capability of providing for oneself. The process has not been without a heavy amount of introspection. I found I didn’t have to compromise or change my values. By hunting locally, I reduce my dependence on factory farms and lower my carbon footprint. By using up every usable aspect of the animal, forgoing waste, I show respect and the act becomes sacred, almost like receiving a gift. By avoiding motorized transport as much as possible (when hunting), I’m more aware of the space I’m travelling in and forced to have a higher level of skill. Hunting is a hotly contested topic in many urban areas today but it is something I have become comfortable with, with proximity and thought. The introspection hasn’t ended. And if I’m going to be the type of hunter that I hope to be, it won’t ever end. The act of taking the life of another animal comes with great responsibility and respect. It is something that I don’t take lightly, and I intend to hold myself to the highest standard.