Master hunter: Past, Present and Future by John C. Street
In every walk of life there are people who are recognized as the very best at what they do. They’re inducted into halls of fame, awarded the Nobel Prize, highlighted on the evening news and featured in our publications. There is hardly a human endeavor from climbing mountains to making peace, from administering the law to driving fast cars that doesn’t have a handful of people who stand out above the rest.
There is one, however, where the best-of-the-best don’t receive much recognition. Sure, there are record books that enshrine people for the killing of trophies but killing an animal – even a trophy animal - is to hunting what driving a car is to understanding its mechanics. Lots of people can drive, few are able to perform even simple repairs.
Until very recently on the clock of evolutionary time, hunting – and the enabling skills of creating and using tools - defined us as a species. From the earliest days of our kind, the best hunters brought home the most meat, not just because they were able to produce and use the best tools but because they had the ability to track their quarry, navigate in their environment and knew, intimately, the natural world around them.
Archeologists and historians have revealed the history of hunting all the way back to the Pleistocene. And, of course, we know what it is like in the present. What we don’t know – and should begin to focus on - is what the future will bring.
Surely, there are efforts being made to retain existing hunters and there are programs aplenty to recruit first-timers from both genders and all ages. These are all good and pragmatic responses to a decline in participation. Sorely lacking, however, is any effort to bring the hunter out of the woods and back to their evolutionary place of prominence.
Just as historical buildings and sites are recognized, restored and often revered, so too should be the defining skills of the hunter. And, just as criteria is set for the inclusion of historical sites in a national registry, so too should criteria be set for the most ancient human endeavor.
Placing standards, therefore, on what it takes to be called a “Master Hunter” and then recognizing publicly the people who have those skills would be a positive and lasting first step in restoring and maintaining the prominent role the hunter played in our successful evolution and hence the hunter’s relevance to our future.
As counterintuitive as it may seem, killing a “trophy” animal should not be considered one of the criteria for defining a Master Hunter. Killing – even a trophy - is but one small factor in the equation of hunting. Many other skills must be employed before the bow string is released or the trigger pulled.
Likewise, accomplishments in a narrow category would not be included on the list of criteria. There are many different types of hunting such as waterfowler, uplander or bowman. However, It is the common basic skills, not the individual’s preferences, that define the act of hunting.
Surely, like our ancient forefathers, the ability to navigate in our environment would be crucial. Being able to venture forth and return to the safety – literally then, figuratively now - of our tribal fire must rank as one of the most basic and essential of all the hunter’s skills.
The physical makeup of our species from the structure of our teeth to our digestive systems attests that we are designed to eat both flora and fauna. Recognition of indigenous plants and animals, therefore, and knowing and understanding their usefulness to sustaining the hunter’s life would have to be measured as well.
Likewise the hunter’s ability to find, recognize and follow tracks and sign and to predict from these revelations of passage the mood and intent of the animal that made them. Reading sign would have been a life or death proposition when there were still creatures about that could fill either role in the predator-prey relationship. Today, although not commonly as important to our longevity, recognizing and reading sign remains an essential skill.
Being able to predict the weather from such things as the formation of clouds or the direction of the winds must have also played an important role in our hunter-gatherer past. It is equally relevant today.
Think of the small craft waterfowler unexpectedly dealing with a wind battered lake or the value of knowing that birds and animals feed ahead of a major storm. Sensitivity to and recognition of these signs and portends, therefore, must be high on the list.
Of hardly less importance than anything listed above, the hunter of the past would have had the ability to both use and maintain his tools, to render his quarry to digestible proportions and to convey all this knowledge to future generations. These skills are equally important today.
There was no need for a testing and recognition process in the earliest days of our kind. The genes of the hunter were only passed along by the most efficient of our species. Survival was both the litmus test and the ultimate recognition.
But now these skills are no longer essential for our survival. They are only vestiges, similar in many ways to our remaining canine teeth and the stub of a tail at the end of our spines.
So, God’s speed, Master Hunters. Our future, as it has always been, is in your hands.