By Adam Miller, Department Wildlife Species Program Manager
Who is the modern hunter? We all have an image in our mind. Personally, my initial image is someone donning cutting edge camo patterns and the newest gear while traversing treacherous terrain silhouetted against a mountain background of fall foliage surveying the landscape. Weathered and fit, they’re ready for any challenge the elements can throw at them. On their back they carry the bounty of a successful harvest, packing it to where their hunting journey began miles ago. I revel in the image of what this person represents to me, but is this image an accurate portrayal of Vermont’s modern hunter?
Appearances vs. Reality
Many times we, as a hunting community, can get caught up in the details and appearances of what we believe the “ideal” hunter or outdoors enthusiast should resemble. However, looking deeper, it’s our participation in hunting, angling and trapping that facilitates a common bond more profound than outward appearances suggest. It’s a love and connection to nature that links us to our primitive roots of sustaining off the land, reprising our role in the natural ecosystem. It’s being present in the moment when it counts the most, in the pursuit of the animal we care so deeply about. It’s acknowledging that an animal’s sacrifice of its most precious commodity, its life, is something that we, as a hunting community, don’t take lightly. Today’s hunter, whether an eager novice or a seasoned mentor, recognizes their connection and responsibility to the land and its inhabitants.
While acknowledging the importance of our previous experiences and the backgrounds that bring us into this world of hunting, angling and trapping, perhaps more important is recognizing the bond of common values shared as modern-day conservationists. This bond goes beyond gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, and politics. It’s more complex than our affinity for big bucks or the satisfaction of a venison steak. Rather, our commonality is our connection with the land, the water, the fish, and the wildlife, and the role we as conservationists play in the long-term sustainability of this world for future generations. We all have individual specialties, but whether it’s tracking whitetail bucks through miles of snow, reading the landscape to the exact square inch where a roaming bobcat will walk the next day, or seducing a reluctant longbeard through the early morning fog, the thread that brings us together is our appreciation of the land. Despite potential differences, our enduring support for the conservation of the land and habitat is what binds us and is the platform upon which we find common ground.
Ties That Bind
Our respect, not only for the physical land itself, but the living things that inhabit it, helps maintain today’s hunters as some of the most dedicated, successful conservationists of the modern era. This respect is shown through our financial contributions and support of self-imposed excise taxes on hunting and angling equipment; our continual donations to habitat improvement programs like the Vermont Habitat Stamp; our intense advocacy of public and private land to promote diverse, healthy ecosystems; and our support of, and involvement in, the proper management of wildlife populations. And this respect doesn’t just extend to animals we pursue but a diversity of species that play pivotal roles in our world, from bats to birds to butterflies.
Today’s hunter, angler and trapper knows that to effectively continue the work and land ethic that’s been so successful in conserving wildlife species, it’s imperative we work with all people, especially those who don’t fully understand or subscribe to our values. We know that not all our friends and neighbors connect with nature as we do. They may never choose to join us in the pursuit of wild game or reconcile the presumed paradox of harvesting an animal while simultaneously holding absolute respect for it, but it’s important we serve as ambassadors to help promote an understanding of the vital roles hunting, angling and trapping play in conservation. It’s critical to develop and implement a shared vision among us all for properly conserving and promoting our natural world for the long term.
So, while that “ideal” modern hunter might be out somewhere on the skyline of the Green Mountains, today’s hunter is likely much more complex and continuing to evolve. As true conservationists we must continue our work to represent the values of a land ethic: tolerance and respect for the land, others and wildlife, both in our actions and our words. Given our changing world, this is more important today than ever – holding ourselves and others to these high standards will ensure the successful transition from today’s hunter into tomorrow.
Why I hunt
Reflections from Hunters Across Vermont
Mike Covey, Williamstown, VT
“I hunt because from start to finish it allows me to know my food. I process all my own game, and it’s not only healthy and clean, it’s socially and environmentally responsible.”
Matt Breton, Charleston, VT
“Why do I hunt? For the connections – connection to the land and wild places that I get to roam; connection to the food that sustains me; connections to people- friends new and old, to my family and my heritage; and, lastly, a connection to a primal need for pursuit, solitude and adventure.”
Wendy Butler, New Haven, VT
“I believe going into the woods, fields and mountains as a hunter has allowed me to experience the natural world with all my senses. From watching a bobcat hunting with her young, smelling the stink of an elk wallow in the Rocky Mountains or hearing the howls of wolves in Ontario, experiencing nature more fully in this way has been my biggest incentive for hunting. Bringing home wild game for the table is a bonus.”
Tim Biebel, Windsor, VT
“The final measure of a successful day in the outdoors should never be whether a harvest is made — that is merely the icing on an already tasty cake. At the end of the day, success is found in the oft-overlooked mundane activities, such as witnessing the sunset with your child or sharing a cup of coffee with your dad on a frosty November morning. It’s the little moments that make for big memories.”