Becoming a Hunter
If I were to go back in time and tell my teenage self that one day I’d become a hunter, I wouldn’t have believed myself. Both of my parents were veterinarians, so growing up, our home was filled with all kinds of furry creatures. I loved all of our pets and thought of them as my best friends. In high school, I even tried to become a vegetarian because I struggled so badly with the idea of an animal dying to become my meal. My vegetarian experiment lasted less than a month, but the concept that drove it stuck with me. For most of my life, I tried not to think about whatever animal I was eating so I wouldn’t be struck by the guilt of eating another creature.
Then things started to change for me. As Tyler and I learned more about nutrition and our food, we started to seek a deeper understanding of the animals that were becoming our food. Did they live happy lives? Were they free to roam? Did they eat well, see the sun, and spend time with their herd? We started to seek out the meat, milk, and eggs that actually told us about the animals that gave these products to us. We wanted to think about the animals we were eating.
This was the start of a revolution in my mind. I was finally starting to face the concept that I had locked away and tried to ignore.
Then last fall, we went on our first hunting trip. Tyler hunted whitetail deer with a bow, and following a disappointing ending to our deer hunt, went out on our last day to go squirrel hunting with a friend. Tyler did the hunting, but I wanted to do what was certain to be one of the more difficult parts for me: turning a cute, furry, little squirrel into meat. Until that point, the only interaction I had had with small creatures was with the guinea pigs, rats, and rabbits that were my pets.
That first squirrel I processed was emotionally challenging, but it felt somehow rewarding. Tyler continued to hunt for a few months, and I helped process more wild game, but it took a while for me to feel ready to do a full hunt myself. So much of hunting seemed perfect for me. I love being outside, I love animals, I even love the strategy of it. But could I really take responsibility for another animal’s life? Could I really end an animal’s life?
But one thing I knew I couldn’t do was spend my life wondering, “what if?”
So we added a stop in northeastern Missouri for my first hunt: a squirrel hunt. We went out early in the morning, and after a bit we found a group of really active squirrels. I set my shooting sticks up, placed the barrel of the gun in the rest, and waited to see if any one of them would quiet down. Then there he was, frozen on the trunk of the tree. I lined up my shot, steadied my thoughts, and slowly pulled the trigger.
A furry tail flew up in the air. I was stunned for a moment, and then, coming back to my senses, I rushed in to see if I needed to place another shot.
He was dead. Alive just seconds ago, now here he was lying at my feet. And I was the cause.
As I picked him up, I could see that it was a perfect headshot. This squirrel likely felt no pain and was dead within milliseconds. I had done my job right, and I had taken full responsibility for this squirrel’s life. And it felt good.
Good in the sense that I earned this meat, in the sense that I did my job right as a hunter, and maybe even in the sense that I had finally stepped into my place in the food chain. After all, humans evolved as apex predators, and I spent most of my life having no idea where my meat came from. In a way, I wasn’t truly human until this moment.
I thought I would feel more sad, that the victory would be more bittersweet. It’s difficult to explain how the love of animals pairs so well with hunting them, but I feel no contradiction in my mind. Squirrels are still some of my favorite animals to see in the wild, and I would never wish pain or suffering upon any one of them, but they have become a favorite animal to hunt. Maybe it’s something to do with how humans evolved or the laws of nature, but it feels like hunting is the way we are supposed to interact with animals.
The deer out here are not Bambi and the rabbits are not Thumper. These animals are not our friends, they are wild and free. Just as I knew I was the hunter, the squirrel knew it was prey. It’s an unwritten law of nature, and it seems like the other animals have known it all along, and I’m only just starting to understand my role.
If I were to go back in time and tell my teenage self that one day I’d become a hunter, I wouldn’t have believed myself, but not for the reasons you might think.
It wasn’t that I was too sweet, too kind, or too gentle.
It was because I didn’t believe that I could do it.
A child with my house full of furry friends, nobody would have believed that I would have become a hunter. But I think there was always a hunter in me. One of my favorite characters growing up was the badass bowhunter, Katniss Everdeen, from the Hunger Games books. I loved the concept of Katniss being strong enough, skilled enough, and self-sufficient enough to go out and hunt her own food. As a high schooler, some of my favorite days were spent stalking, ambushing, and still hunting wild animals with my camera. And I always loved animals.
As soon as we decided to go hunting, I felt like a spark was lit inside me. A spark that unlocked that concept that frightened me and made me feel guilty, and allowed me to look it in the eye, confront it, and understand it. Ignoring the animal behind the meat, living in denial, doesn’t get rid of the guilt. What conquers the guilt is learning the truth, and the truth was that I had already been responsible for other animal’s lives by buying their meat and monetarily supporting those companies. I just didn’t know anything about those animals, and I certainly didn’t take responsibility for them.
Now I am a hunter. I strive to take responsibility for the animals that I eat, and I can truly say that I am much closer to becoming the person I never thought I could be.
Tyler & Andrea
We travel the country full-time in our RV, making documentaries and podcasts about our life. We are the ultimate adult beginners. From RVing full-time to cooking to some of our newer interests like bow hunting and jiu-jitsu, nearly everything we do we discovered as adults. Being an adult beginner is surprisingly challenging, and at times we really do feel like we don’t know anything! But if there’s one thing we know in the Hixson household, it’s that we want our lives to be wild, free, and lived intentionally. If something looks difficult or intimidating, it’s probably worth doing. And there’s no better time to start than now.
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