As preppers, we know how important hunting is. We know it’s a crucial part of surviving any situation that lasts more than a few days. Heck, most preppers probably are hunters, or have done it at least once before. But for those of you who haven’t, there’s a dirty little secret about hunting that I’d like to share with you.
I’m by no means a veteran in this department. I’ve only hunted on a few occasions in my life, but I’ve done it enough to know the most important thing every beginner should know before their first time. And no, it has nothing to do with marksmanship, or how to stalk prey, or how to clean the animal afterwards, even though those are also really important. Despite but despite how important this fact is, I also suspect that it is the one thing most hunters won’t, or don’t want to talk about.
Killing is an emotional roller coaster.
I’m sure it’s not like that for everyone. And if it’s not like that for you, you’re probably not some kind of sociopath or sicko. I’m also sure there’s a few seasoned hunters reading this who will find my sentiments amusing. But if you catch them with their guard down some time, I’m sure they could tell you all about the first animal they bagged with lurid detail, almost as if it was yesterday. It certainly leaves its mark on the soul.
But if you’ve done it enough times, you eventually learn to compartmentalize it. It can be an awe inspiring experience, but like all good experiences, they do not exist in a void. The way hunters talk about or remember their hunting stories, they have a certain style that cements the good memories and buries the bad.
There’s a reason why hunters often focus on talking about the thrill of the hunt. There’s a reason why they often speak of the animal they killed with reverence and respect, and why they often describe the creature as “beautiful.” There’s a reason why they call it “harvesting” the meat as if it was produce, or why it’s called “cleaning” the animal instead of “butchering” it.
Because there’s a hint of regret behind every kill.
There’s a lot of boredom during the hours of waiting for your animal to show up. Then there’s a sense of meditation that washes over you, as well as an appreciation for the natural world you’re surrounded by. You can get lost in the serenity of it all. And then you see the animal, and those hardwired instincts start to kick in. It can be quite thrilling, and it’s a sensation that’s hard to compare to anything else. But then you see the animal down your sights, and it becomes your entire world. Reality seems heightened for a moment, for lack of a better description. You finally pull the trigger, and for a brief moment, all of the boredom, serenity, excitement, and adrenaline you were experiencing before, drains out of you in a single heart beat.
Now, depending on the type of person you are, your results may very. For some, this is the moment they wish they had never come to woods, and they will decide then and there that they’ll never do this deed again. If you’re an experienced hunter, you may not experience this at all, or it’s a very brief affair that is quickly forgotten out of habit. But for most beginners it will hang heavy in the air for a while, and as I described before, it leaves its mark. You’ll never forget that moment, and the vague sense of dread, and perhaps guilt, that quickly followed. You’ll never forget how that feeling of vivid realness was quite suddenly wrenched away, and now it all feels so unreal.
It’s kind of like that sinking feeling you get when you say the wrong thing to someone you love, and accidentally hurt their feelings. You’ve just done something utterly irreversible and there’s no going back. And that’s where that hint of regret and guilt comes from. We’re hardwired to revel in the hunt. We love it. I know I do. It’s an incredibly exciting experience. But it’s also an experience that is done at the expense of one of god’s creatures, and that fact is very hard to shake. It lingers. It’s often forgotten as soon as the hunter goes to task on the animal (especially if he or she is accompanied by another, more experienced hunter), but this whole ordeal will never leave you. You’ll always remember the first time you took an animal’s life.
There’s also a few other factors that can also influence your emotions, and they primarily have to do with what happens after you pull the trigger. For starters, what happens when you shoot and hit the animal, but he or she goes running off? Very few things in life can inspire as much guilt, and yes, sometimes fear, like accidentally maiming an animal and letting it get away. You’ll probably wish that you had missed. Heavy stuff, no?
On the other hand, what happens if you do completely miss? Some hunters spend hours or days at a time in the elements, waiting for that perfect moment. The feeling you get when that moment is squandered, and all was for naught, can feel worse than than anything I described above. Just as we’re hardwired to revel in the hunt, we’re hardwired to feel awful about coming home empty handed.
But despite this emotional roller coaster, I can say without a doubt that it’s all worth it. Personally, I think it’s something everyone (or at least everyone who eats meat) should do at least once. People who haven’t killed an animal can never truly understand what it means when they buy a steak from the grocery store. They’ve never experienced the cycle of life first hand. They’re missing out on a very visceral, human experience.
But if you’ve never done it before and you think you’ve got what it takes, you’ve got to know now that it’s not like shooting bottles on a fence post. When you pull the trigger on an animal, it shoots back; except not with bullets. It shoots back with a wide range of unpredictable emotions, and oftentimes, they’re not very pleasant. Again, it’s a little different for everyone, but everyone needs to know about this going in. Hunting is serious business. It’s probably more real than anything you’ve ever done before, and it requires all the respect and maturity you can muster.