Dec 10, 2018

The Hand that Feeds

Reflections on the simple pleasures and the nostalgic gratitude of the hunt

By Cooper Radtke

The signs of time wear heavy on the plywood walls of an old hunting blind. Resting on the spine of a now recycled trailer, the greyed husk and its stark insides have played host to as many shivers as the rest.

Comfortable inside its concealment, a hunter – practiced and proficient – sits rigid in his seat waiting for fantasies to unfold in the clearing outside.

Careful to make little sound, he tenses his shoulders, burrowing his face deeper into the warmth of his collar while the icy whispers of this December morning negotiate the weak points in the layers of wool, down and fleece. Methodical in its practice and endlessly patient, the cold will soon find its way in.

It isn’t long before the thin black silhouettes reveal themselves against the growing light of dawn, and soon thereafter, the relief of sun. First in the treetops, igniting the edges of the few frosted leaves that refused to fall, then down their trunks to the frozen earth.

The wind deceives. Its careless meandering plays tricks on the eyes and ears.

A twig snaps. A squirrel rummages through the litter of snow and leaves. In the distance a lone cry from an old dog goes unanswered. And then you see your prize.

The dance is over quickly and often as abruptly as it came. A few photos taken, and a pat on the back issued for your success. Verification of a job well done. But is it?

Reward of convenience?

It used to take a great man, driven by the necessity of survival, to yield a successful hunt. His skills refined – years of cultivated teachings fixed to the business end of a branch. A branch crafted, shaped and wielded with intent. Yet after all has been endured, the man is grateful for his good fortune.

But things have changed.

We no longer require our best and bravest to battle in the cold with earthen weapons, as the need to survive on hunted game, and the heroism it required was somewhat negated some time ago. Better still, our biggest bother in regards to our clothing and weapons is the price tag. Once paid for, the gear is often more consistent than ourselves, compensating for a hunter’s novice while demanding less. Conveniences in both technology and gear advancements, to land and animal management, have made it easier than ever for anyone to become an accomplished hunter. We’ve been afforded the luxuries of our time, to complete a task as old as time.

But when it’s all done, do we still show the same gratitude? Or are we the heroes of our own story?

The ease and efficiency of a task as a result of better equipment is not intended to inflate or applaud the skill of the operator – though it tends to be the case. The hunter and the hunted end up sharing the same spread. One outside the ears, and the other between them.

Much more rewarding – and more importantly – what these tools offer is time. Your time. Time seized by the opportunist to make the most of a night after work. Time awarded to those young and old, stretching both ends of active years to venture outside confidently. And because of it, there is much more joy to be had in the harvest. Simply put, realize the luxuries we have, but rather than illustrate the luxuries we have as a crutch, value them as an aid. And in turn, appreciate all the hands that help us spending time outdoors doing what we enjoy.

Victories we take home

The scarred, olive hands of a grandfather, dutifully tending the hunting land and blinds. The methodic hands of a professional, obsessing over the function of a product that hopefully will deliver the goods to all who use it. Those of a father, coaching and offering guidance when needed, and perhaps even when not. And those of a sister, flooding a home with the smells of satisfaction after laying a spread of simmering medallions on the stove.

For some, the romantic daydreams of a hunt may still materialize in a number of points. For others, a full freezer. While for many, the joys of a successful hunt do not so easily disguise themselves as a trophy. We escape to the trees hoping merely for good weather, to rejuvenate, or to seize a string of days free of obligation. Where the breeze – rolling through the cutout window in an old blind – can relight the smoldering embers of a shared nostalgic memory.

This is not intended to highlight lavishness or discredit hunting done today. But the reminder is one of humility on our behalf – to realize that as the benefits and tools of hunting evolve, so must the victories we take home.