As Regards Saint Hubertus: a Lament for Lost Hunting Skills
Dr. John Woods 09.12.17
Have we lost our way when it comes to the old traditions of hunting? Game hunting used to be a treasured past time to enjoy and appreciate the great outdoors, time spent in the fields and woods observing, tracking, and taking wildlife for table fare. It was memory making with family, parents, children, and the best of friends. What happened?
Hunting was acquiring the skills of woodsmanship, orienteering, and mastering basic survival skills. We could find our way afield and back with just our wits and a sense of direction. We knew how to start a fire and heat a can of beans. We learned to clean and process game. And how to clean up after ourselves, leaving no trash and few tracks behind. What happened?
Long ago, around the 15th Century, came the story of Hubert, the eldest son of Bertrand, Duke of Aquitaine. Hubert was enamored with hunting at an early age and indeed became rather excessive in his pursuits with near reckless abandon. As the story goes about Hubert, he lost his beloved wife giving birth to his son. So distraught Hubert escaped to his favorite forest where hunting was his only comfort.
Upon seeing a most amazing stag, Hubert sought the great elk until it finally stopped, offering a clear crossbow shot. At that moment there appeared over the stag’s antlers an illuminated cross. He took it as the cross of Jesus Christ. A voice commanded Hubert to change his ways. He did.
Hubert became a priest, but also took on the role as guardian of all wild game. Upon his death in 742 he was canonized Saint Hubertus. St. Hubertus proclaimed the Law of the Animals, and is credited with perhaps being the first real wildlife conservationist. He taught respect for all wild game and its gathering.
Today, Saint Hubertus is still celebrated by abiding with the Law of the Animals on each November 3rd, and the Feast Day of Saint Hubertus noted as the first birthdate of wildlife conservation. We still have much to learn and follow with the Law of the Animals. However, that respect of game and hunting sportsmanship I am afraid is waning now.
Not to bash all hunters for certain, but many of today’s generation of hunters are not hunters at all, but mere shooters. They rely heavily on technologies to perform their woodsman skills for them. They use rangefinders to calculate distances to a big game animal. Their super accurate rifles are topped with precision optics, some with computerized range estimating built in. They find their way by GPS while riding in a motorized ATV or UTV. Their clothing and footwear are high tech, too.
Many basic woodland skills have been lost or yet never even learned. Game management has become a commercialized science, more than art. Plant a food plot, set up trail cameras, and hang a stand nearby. Pile up some corn if that does not work. I see young hunters today that cannot build a fire or skin a deer. They can’t put down their iPhones or other gadgets long enough to learn anything useful about hunting, nature, or much else. Their only goal is to “smoke” a trophy like those guys on the hunting television shows.
I see too many hunters that having purely lucked upon a decent white-tailed buck scoring 130 or better, and have then given up hunting altogether as being “too easy.” Those are the same guys that never seem to make a deer camp work day, and have no idea about the joyful pain and sweat equity of lifting up bags of seed or fertilizer or running a weedeater around the camphouse.
In fact, at the campfire, started by somebody else with firewood supplied by somebody else, they cannot even pick up their own soda cans and candy wrappers, which they also leave behind in the camp shooting houses. Do they behave this way at home, too?
Their shooting skills and safe gun handling practices are abysmal. Cleaning a hunting rifle or shotgun is completely out of their realm of understanding. When they get an animal down, they have no skills tracking game, or retrieving it. At the skinning rack, they are the ones with their hands in their pockets if they even stand by to watch.
This sounds awfully like an indictment of many of today’s hunters. Well, if we’re honest then, I guess it is. Call’m like we see them. But honestly guys, seasoned hunters, old school woodsmen, we are to blame for this pitiful state of affairs. We need to do more to teach these millennials something before we are gone.
In our deer camp, I try to teach these guys things. What I usually get is either a dirty look or a roll of the eyes. That’s from the parents. Some of the youngsters just laugh, but others honestly want to learn what has never been taught to them. It’s little wonder we are losing great numbers of our flock to other pursuits. Hunting is hurting for hunters.
It’s the job of every good hunter and conservationist to pass on the foundations of good hunting. We have to step up as mentors, teachers, guides, and friends. If we don’t, then likely in the next decade or two hunting may be a forgotten recreation left to the old photo albums and sketches hanging on the walls of long ago abandoned deer camps. Is that what we want?