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The roots of hunting

5/31/2006

North American hunters are out in pursuit of birds and mammals of all sizes and shapes, from ducks, deer, turkeys, geese, pheasant, grouse and woodcock to snipe, bear, antelope, moose and elk.

It is possible to hunt wild game at other times of the year, especially turkeys in spring, but fall is the hunter's time.

I don't know about you, but as the first breath of fall comes whistling down from the north, I sleep a little less.

I find myself waking up as the sun wakes up, even if I am not out hunting. My senses become more acute and I hear birdsongs and smell odors in the air with more awareness and pleasure.

When I see a duck or a buck, the experience is somehow different. I always am interested in seeing animals, but in the fall the feelings are stronger. Perhaps it's because I know that the season is with us and in another place that critter would be my quarry.

Anyone with kids knows that they are more active during the full of the moon. The full moon brings the tides of the mind to flow. But the pull of the hunter's moon is a special pull.

Part of it must be tied to a heightened awareness of the passing seasons. For thousands of years, this has been the time of the year that people gathered food for the coming winter.

Such experiences don't come from nowhere. We remember what our ancestors had to know, even if we sometimes have forgotten why.

Psychologists like Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, William James, Karl Menninger and Erik Fromm have written that they consider hunting to be instinctual in man. That means that the urge to hunt is in our genes; we are programmed to want to go out and hunt.

From their standpoint, what I have been talking about is not abnormal; it is very normal and desirable. To deny one's instincts is to invite illness.

Instincts aren't easy to measure, that's why some psychologists who are numbers crunchers don't like them.

And instincts vary in strength from one person to the next. But down deep in the well of the soul in each of us, there is a hunter, even among non-hunters and even anti-hunters. One way you know that there is a hunter in each of us is by your dreams.

When animals appear in your dreams, they can mean many things.

It is possible for some people to have precognitive dreams seeing things that are to come, like the big buck you will run into tomorrow.

Native people have performed ceremonies for thousands of years in hopes of having such dreams of where the game will be.

If people have been having such dreams for thousands of years, it stands to reason that modern people could have them, too. I've had them.

I'd be willing to bet that you have too, even if you won't admit it. Native people call it "seeing".

It's not some hokey new age thing; it's associated with survival, which, incidentally, is what instincts are all about. Instincts, not schedules and clocks, are supposed to be the driving forces that keep our species going.

There are other animal dreams, too.

According to psychologist James Hillman, when many people today dream of animals, the animals are chasing them. This is especially true of people who live in cities and probably don't hunt.

Psychologically speaking, what this means is that the "animal" in those people is being denied and it wants to get out. This "animal" symbolizes the instinctual self the part of you that is supposed to be in tune with nature and your own inner nature and knows what is good for you.

Here again, native people understood what I am talking about. They formed special societies or clans based on the animals that people dreamed. You can see the records of such dreaming on the totem poles of Pacific Northwest coastal Indian tribes.

People who dream of bears supposedly know special things about herbs, because bears like the grub in the ground. People who dream of deer are good runners. People who dream of predators are especially good hunters. People who dream of elk supposedly are real charmers; you know how that bull elk's bugle brings in the cows. Maybe Elvis dreamed of elk.

Even if you don't remember your dreams, modern people seem to have an urge to form such animal clans. Today we call them hunting organizations.

And they are broken into categories according to species — Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, National Wild Turkey Federation, Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, Quail Unlimited, the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep?

We feel drawn to certain species for reasons we cannot fully explain. As a psychologist, I would argue that it's because we feel a special pull to those animals that are closest to us.

And we are aware of this, whether we dream them or not. When one hunts the animals one dreams, one comes to value them for what they do for the soul, as well as the balance of nature. That is why all ethical hunters become conservationists.

Some people have trouble with the idea of instincts. Even some psychologists debate their existence. I bet they aren't hunters.

If you are a hunter, you will understand the hunter's high that comes at this time of the year. You will know how it stirs your soul and gets you out and moving as if a larger force is calling you to go out. You don't intellectually understand instincts; you feel them to get to know them.

"In the act of hunting, a man becomes, however briefly, part of nature again. He returns to the natural state, becomes one with the animal, and is freed from the existential split: to be part of nature and to transcend it by virtue of his consciousness."

I wish that I had said that, but it was said Erik Fromm, one of the most respected psychologists of the last century.

I don't know whether he hunted, but he knew what we hunters are all about, and he understood why hunting was instinctual. Because when your instincts are working properly, you are healthy and feeling great.

We no longer have to hunt to feed our bellies, but today we need to hunt to feed our soul, and honor the hunter within to keep ourselves honest about who we are and what place we occupy in the food chain.

That's why hunters chase after game in the field, and don't have animals chasing them in their dreams.

As the hunter's moon passes through the skies and you reflect on this hunter's thoughts, consider the words of S. Boyd Eaton, Marjorie Shostak and Melvin Konner in their acclaimed book on the natural diet of man, "The Paleolithic Prescription":

"Our 'hunting instinct' has gone awry in 'civilized' society, where the thrill of the chase and the kill are no longer part of our experience and there are no clear avenues of expression except, perhaps to our peril, in the streets and subways of today's urban jungles."

James Swan is the author of the book "In Defense of Hunting."

To purchase a copy of the title, click here. To learn more about Swan,
visit his website.

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