2020 Why I Hunt/Trap
Adult, First Hunt Category
My First Harvest
Jefferson County, NY
3:30 a.m.: The alarm goes off on a Sunday morning. My partner all but leaps out of bed as I roll over and groan, sinking deeper into my cocoon of warm blankets.
“Are you coming?”
“Five more minutes,” I mumble.
4:30 a.m.: We arrive at the check-in station. I marvel at a patchwork of constellations and moonlight. I take another sip of hot coffee and let the cold, fresh air fill my lungs.
5:00 a.m.: We trudge through cattails by headlamp and moonlight. We pick a spot with the wind at our backs, strategically place our decoys, and wait.
I reflect on the challenges of the last few months: a back injury, a career change, the stress of an international pandemic…and then, something changes. In the stillness of the swamp I sit with my partner, hidden from the world, completely alone but never more connected. I notice the sparrows rustling behind me, innately aware that dawn is about to break. They take no note of me, and I realize I bear witness to what many never see: nature as if I am not even there.
The sun peaks over the horizon, illuminating the water and sky while the rest remains shrouded in darkness. A swamp sparrow lands close enough that I see in detail his rusty crest and black eye stripes. Six or seven snow geese fly no more than twenty yards above my head. I remind myself to breathe. My heart is about to leap out of my chest at the thrill of it all, and I am overcome with gratitude. The swamp is awake, alive, thriving, and I am part of it as it is part of me.
6:45 a.m.: The swamp is thundering like fireworks on the Fourth of July. Ducks take flight, and everything comes together. The years of studying waterfowl identification, the summer I spent getting my hunter safety certification, the Sunday mornings spent at the shooting range…
A flock of mallards flies towards us – 40 yards, 30 yards, 20 yards… I lock in, lead, and shoot.
I watch as she falls from the sky. I shake with adrenaline and pride, but also sadness over intentionally ending the life of a being I so respect and admire. I reach her and silently express my gratitude: for the meal her body will provide, and for the wisdom the swamp has gifted to me.
Adult, Experienced Hunter Category
A Cook’s Perspective
I come to hunting as a cook. I realized it fully one Sunday, sitting around the table eating a long-braised shoulder roast of venison with my family. I was amazed that I had provided the meal and knew which shoulder specifically we were eating. My choice to take up hunting came initially from a personal desire to minimize my carbon footprint and truly eat local. I shop at farmers’ markets and try to only buy meat from small farms. But even the most sustainably raised animals have an environmental cost, and hunting was the next logical step.
Deciding to take up hunting as an adult is a challenging endeavor. Growing up, my grandfather didn’t hunt, so my father didn’t hunt, and thus I didn’t hunt. I decided I wanted to learn when I was 26 years old. I’m 30 now. Felling a doe this year with my bow represents the culmination of four years of hard work. Between living in New York City and local regulations for firearm ownership, bow hunting is the best option for me. It took a year before I was comfortable heading into the woods.
My first two seasons were filled with excitement and frustration, but no deer. This has been one of the most rewarding challenges of my life. It’s hard to put into words what successfully harvesting a deer feels like, but it is definitely the start of something, not the end.
From the beginning I wanted to carry out the butchering process myself. Breaking down a whole animal was an intimidating prospect, but the satisfaction provided at the end of the process was immense. I have intimate knowledge of what is on my plate. I’m the only person who has laid a hand on it from the moment it was killed until all the cuts were wrapped up in the freezer.
Hunting has completely changed how I view the meat I eat, for the better. There are a lot of reasons to pick up hunting, but for me the satisfaction lies in those moments, sitting around a table with those closest to you, sharing a meal. It makes you consider how much work goes into putting that cut on your plate. You realize that what you’re doing is sacred. As the world grows increasingly digital and fast paced, hunting provides a profound connection to nature. I am looking forward to deepening it for many more seasons to come.
Junior, Experienced Hunter Category
It’s About Learning
There’s nothing like waking up at 4 a.m. on a cool, crisp spring morning, and just listening to a tom hammer off. There’s nothing like the crunching of the leaves of that buck that’s closing the distance. There’s nothing like that rabbit that takes off out of the bush you step on. Sitting around the fire telling old hunting stories, that’s what it’s all about. And until you experience it, you’ll never know the integrity of it.
I am 15 years old and I have been hunting for about four years now. I absolutely love it. I’ve been accompanying other hunters for about as long as I can remember. My dad first took me out when I was 5 years old. If I knew my dad was going hunting, and he didn’t wake me up the next morning to tag along, I would give him an earful! I thought I was the coolest person ever, walking around the woods with my dad. Rarely did we see anything, but I still had fun.
Ever since I was little, I enjoyed going out no matter the circumstance. I would walk all over the place for miles, to see no squirrels with my uncle. I would sit, not still, with my dad and see no deer; however, I enjoyed it every single time, and I still do. It doesn’t matter to me if I’m going out in the middle of the rut, on the edge of a hot bedding area, or if I’m running through the weeds chasing rabbits and squirrels. It’s all a learning thing for me, and I love it all. I have been fortunate enough to meet a lot of cool people who have helped me with hunting’s learning curve. Meeting people like the late Dave Streb, who worked for Quaker Boy turkey calls, has helped me learn a lot.
The best part of hunting is the adrenaline rush after harvesting an animal. There’s just nothing like it. This past year I broke my ankle, which held me back from being as mobile as I wanted to, but it did not slow me down from getting out there. I’ve been fortunate enough to have some pretty good luck. While doing what I absolutely love to do, I’ve been lucky enough to kill 4 deer, 3 turkeys, a coyote, and a bear.
But, there’s more to hunting than just killing “the big one.” Hunting is about learning, telling stories, making friends, and having fun! At the end of the day, it’s a reward if you harvest an animal. As my grandfather once told me, that’s why they call it hunting, not killing. Hunting and being in the woods is my happy place.
Junior, First Hunt Category
Hunting – Expect the Unexpected
I'm a first-year youth outdoorsman. I was certified last year with an online hunter safety course. Since my other sports were cancelled because of COVID-19, I took the opportunity to hunt with my family and friends and learned a lot of things. Before COVID-19, I did not enjoy hunting as much as I do now because I had never had the chance to participate in the hunt. Now it was my turn and I was excited to go on my very first youth turkey hunt. In my turkey hunt, the turkey had gobbled, strutted, spit and drummed 10 yards away from me. It looked and sounded so cool to me because I had never seen that before in my life. I'm sure not too many people have seen that before! After getting my first turkey ever, I wanted to go more and more often. It felt so good to accomplish something I had never done or even thought I could do.
I enjoy hunting because you never know what's going to happen. It's always a surprise. Things don't always go how you would expect, and I learned that the hard way. But that's the thing about hunting, you can't give up because then you won't get to experience the feeling of long-awaited success. It taught me to be patient and to persevere. I hope I will hunt for the rest of my life and get to put a lot more animals on my trophy wall. I will always enjoy the pursuit of any animal I am hunting. Thanks to my family and friends that are hunters, I now have the desire to hunt for the rest of my life. I hope my experience will help other youths enjoy hunting.