his book has
a hell of a lot going for it, simply because it’s a hunting story. That’s because
hunting stories are the oldest and most widespread form of story on earth. The genre has been aroundso long, and has such deep roots, that it extends beyond
humans. When two wolves meet up, they’lloften go through a routine of smelling each other’s breath. For a wolf to put his nose to another wolf’s mouth is to pose a question: “What happened while you were hunting?” To exhale is toanswer: “You can still smell the blood.” Of course, nothing tells a hunting story like a human. Long
ago, our ancestors may have told hunting stories in ways that are similar to those of animals today.
It’s been proposed that the human kiss finds its origins in a mouth
- to- mouth greeting similar to that
of the modern wolf ’s. Similarly, it’s been proposed that the handshake originated as a way of
proving that neither party was concealing a weapon. But at some point
at least by fifty thousandyears ago, though possibly much earlier
we began to tell our hunting stories through the complexlanguages that are now a hallmark of our species. Linguists and anthropologists theorize thatcomplex language evolved just for this purpose: to coordinate hunting and gathering activities, tocategorize an increasingly complex arsenal of hunting tools and weapons, and to convey details aboutanimals and habitat that might be hidden from sight. In short, language came about for the same
purposes that I’m engaged in at this very moment. Granted, the
se first hunting stories were probably
not “stories” at all, at least not in the way we now think of that word. I imagine them more as
instructions and descriptions, which is fitting, since the purpose of the vast majority of writing abouthunting today is
to teach readers how to do something. This “something” can often be quite esoteric.Maybe it’s a technique for hunting mallard ducks over flooded corn in Iowa, or maybe it’s anexplanation of why it’s better to sharpen the blade of your skinning knife at
an angle of thirteen
degrees rather than fifteen. Hunters usually call this kind of information “how
to,” and I have read
and enjoyed a great many pieces of how- to writing in my life. But while you will find a trove of hunting tips and tricks within this book, this is not intended as how- to material. Instead, you mightthink of this book as why- to, who- to, and what- to. That is, this book uses the ancient art of thehunting story to answer the questions of why I hunt, who I am as a hunter, and what hunting meansto me.As I ponder the first of those questions
why do I hunt?
two particular moments come to mind.The first took place on a recent spring day when I was hunting turkeys in the Powder River Badlandsof southeastern Montana with my brother Ma
tt. Early that morning we left Matt’s pack llamas,
Timmy and Haggy, tethered near our camp. Matt headed south, and I went into the next valley to thewest. Around late morning I started after a tom, or male turkey
that I’d heard gobbling several
hundred yards away. I followed the bird for close to an hour, only once catching a glimpse of it. Hewas walking fast along the edge of a sandstone cliff, maybe about thirty yards higher than me andtwo hundred yards out. I sat down amid a tangle of fallen timber and used a turkey call to mimic thesoft clucks of a hen. Almost as soon as I did, the tom jumped off the cliff and took flight. He flappedhis wings maybe six times and soared right over my head. Turkeys are not graceful fliers; nor arethey graceful landers. This one crashed through the limbs of a ponderosa pine and then thudded tothe ground on the timbered slope of a deep ravine off to my left. I turned my head in that direction, sothat my chin was over my left shoulder. I kept on clucking. I was hopeful that the tom would come to
check on the source of the calls, but after a couple of minutes I hadn’t seen or heard a thing. I called
some more, but still nothing happened.
You have to be very careful about movement and sound when you’re hunting turkeys, s
o I continued
to hold dead still even though I hadn’t heard or seen the bird since it landed. Maybe about five
minutes went by without my ever turning my head away from its position over my left shoulder.