The Comanche were some of the fiercest and most capable horsemen of the American west. The Comanche could strike at a range of over 400 miles and frontier Americans quivered at the mere sight of a small hunting party.
When Comanche weren’t harassing white settlers or other plains tribes, they were hunting buffalo. Along the plains of Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas, the Comanche would set prairie fires to control buffalo herds and guide them into stampeding off a cliff.
This was no small task. As Comanche men galloped behind the buffalo, the lumbering beasts could run as fast as their horses for up to two miles and often threatened to turn and face their attackers with sharp horns and incredible power.
Comanche horsemen used their bow for more than shooting arrows. At the twang of their bowstring, their ponies instantly turned away from buffalo horns. Years of training kept both horse and man safe on their buffalo hunts. One false move could spell death.
Buffalo hunts were usually successful and plentiful. Comanche threw steaks over open fires, made jerky from strips of meat, and children begged for liver and gallbladder straight from the freshly killed animals.
What set the Comanche apart was their devotion, honor, and respect towards the buffalo. In their eyes, the buffalo was the source of life. They cherished the animal in ceremonies, they thanked the heavens for the kill and they used nearly every piece of the animal. To protect the animal, they never killed more than they needed in order to survive.
This romantic view of hunting has been replaced by the sinister stereotype that hunting is immoral, unnecessary, or unjust.
Hunting, when done consciously, is the least-immoral way to consume meat.
This stems from two core truths:
- Human consumption kill animals regardless of food choices (i.e: if you are part of modern civilization, you contribute to animal death)
- An intimate relationship with death alters our perspective of human impact
I was raised vegetarian. My mother ate a vegetarian diet because she believed that it was immoral to kill animals to sustain ourselves. We ate rice, soy, legumes, and other plant-based foods, but these are far from harmless.
I don’t mean to cast stones on vegans or vegetarians, but rather to shed light on a sobering truth we must all come to terms with:
Humans cause animal deaths.
Land clearing and large-scale agriculture kills hundreds (if not thousands) of animals per square mile. One study in Australia showed 500 – 1,000 mice die per 2.5 acres to clear and maintain agricultural land. Another figure suggested that 55 animals die to produce 100 kg of plant protein, which is 25 times more than the same weight in beef.
Soy cultivation has been a major drive of deforestation in the Amazon. Although only a small percentage of soy ends up directly as foodstuffs, a large percentage makes up the basis for biodiesel and energy.
If our energy sources are leading to the the destruction of habitats, how much of our daily life and consumption of resources is indirectly killing animals?
Even something as innocuous as glitter can contribute to animal death. The shimmering plastic so beloved by party-goers and children alike is ending up in oceans and rivers killing wildlife in droves.
These are what famed investor Ray Dalio calls second and third-order consequences. Throwing glitter on ourselves rarely leads to immediate consequences, but we are missing the bigger picture. Because most people have never taken life, they are disconnected from killing and do not consider all the consequences of their actions.
Humans are consumption machines and the more we consume, the more sentient life we kill. Many vegans and vegetarians, with good intentions, try to remove themselves from the killing by foregoing meat. This doesn’t work.
Eating no meat does not mean we contribute to no animal deaths. For many who become disconnected from the process of killing, it may mean the opposite.
Instead of moving away from killing animals, the answer is to become more intimate with the process of taking life.
When we are more intimate with that life and death relationship, we are capable of monitoring our own actions in a more connected way.
In person, people with opposing viewpoints would never say most of the things they feel comfortable posting in Facebook arguments. Sitting behind a screen typing into a blue box creates a disconnect and they spew hatred. The same is true for all our behaviors. The more disconnected we are from our actions, the less capable we are of understanding their impact.
How We Kill Matters
In 1870, Josiah Wright Mooar traveled west to the southern plains (present day Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas) in order to make his fortune. He quickly found buffalo hunting to be a lucrative trade, but decided to think bigger and tan the hides into leather.
Partnering with Charlie Rath, the two men started a business that would eventually lead to the deaths of 4,373,730 buffalo over three years. Almost all of these buffalo were shot, skinned, and their meat left to rot.
Worse than the wanton slaughter of these animals by private enterprise was the encouragement by government and military elite. Phil Sheridan, then one of the leading commanders in the U.S. Army, reveled in the slaughter as the greedy buffalo hunters decimated native hunting grounds and cleared pesky native American tribes for white settlement.
In contrast, the Comanche and dozens of other plains Indians hunted buffalo with reverence. They prayed and infused their spiritual beliefs with their hunts. They expressed deep gratitude for taking a buffalo’s life, used all parts of the animal, and never killed more than necessary.
How we kill animals makes a big difference.
Over 90% of Americans consume meat and we are the highest per capita consumers of meat on the planet.
The treatment of factory raised animals to fulfill this consumption is abhorrent. Even if vegans or vegetarians do not see eye-to-eye on the prospect of hunting, we certainly agree that factory farming contributes to unnecessary animal suffering and death.
This is where the stereotypes of hunting and hunters becomes problematic.
Urban city-dwellers look down on hunters as being savage or barbaric while at the same time eating meat that comes from factory farms. Meat-eaters who do not hunt have no moral high ground.
This isn’t meant to shame those who eat meat, but do not hunt. Instead, it is meant to portray hunters differently; changing the stereotype from uneducated rednecks to conscious meat providers for their family and friends.
How to Kill for Conservation and Protection
Trophy killing is a necessary evils that provides billions of dollars in revenue for preservation and conservation.
Taking the life of a majestic beast simply for the sake of a trophy is not something I personally practice in or necessarily advocate, but I am glad that people do it.
Grizzly bears are one such creature. In Canada, a grizzly bear trophy hunt would cost around $25,000 all of which would be used for conservation of wildlife and grizzly bear habitats.
Now that British Columbia has banned trophy hunting of grizzlies, not only will there be less funding for conservation, but the taxpayers will pay professionals to cull grizzlies from encroaching on human settlements.
The political correctness around killing animals is causing politicians to ban the sale of exotic hunting tags and instead pay “professionals” to hunt the animals so they do not harm humans. It’s not only absurd, but also dangerous to reduce conservation funds for political correctness.
In America, hunting has been directly responsible for the greatest conservation efforts of many species:
- Elk: in 1907 there were 41,000 elk and today there are more than 1 million
- Whitetail Deer: in 1900 only 500,000 remained while there are now 32 million
- Turkey: in 1900 only 100,000 wild turkeys remained while now there are over 7 million
There are many more examples, but the modern hunting culture has evolved in a way similar to the Comanche who once roamed the plains of America.
As a whole, hunters are more connected to the animals, designate large sums for conservation, and support ecosystems that continue to support hunting for generations to come.
The Soul’s Inquiry of Life and Death
Beyond the facts and the figures, there is a far more meaningful reason to hunt. The meaning of life cannot be gleaned devoid from intimacy with death.
Sitting in Ojai, California in a beautiful home with traditional Yawanawa music playing, an image came to me while deep under the influence of ayahuasca (a traditional entheogen and hallucinogen from south America).
It was the image of an animal that I would shoot in less than a month’s time. Praying to mother ayahuasca, to God, to the universe, I hoped the arrow would shoot straight, hit the vital organs, and provide no suffering to the animal. I cried at the thought and the responsibility I have to honor life and death.
One month later, the first arrow I fired (and the only arrow of that 5 day hunting trip) went straight through the antelope’s heart. No matter how much discipline and patience I had, hitting the heart the size of a fist at 25 yards was not without divine intervention.
The experience of praying for a clean kill and having it come true has been one of the most profound connections to source / universe / God that I have had.
There is nothing like taking the life of an animal to fully grasp the fragility of our own lives. The animal, not so different from a human, stands in front of me with friendships, connections to others, and an aliveness; in an instant I take that all away. It is part of the circle of life and death we must all face and it makes the responsibility so much more real.
Seeing death even with humans comes with a helplessness that does not exist when hunting. The death you face during a hunt creates a deep sense of responsibility and perspective to our soul, which is virtually impossible to replicate.
A Call to Hunt
Hunting is not for everyone. Morality aside, hunting in the United States is often a luxury of the rich. In order for me to attend a paid, guided 5-day bow hunt, and properly equip myself in the state of Texas, I will probably pay around $4,000.
While much of that is an investment (bow, arrows, skill acquisition), that will still come out to be around $40 per pound of meat. That’s over four times as expensive as the grocery store and I invested far more time.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Learning how to shoot or bow hunt can be done on the cheap and hunting public land in many U.S. states (Texas isn’t great for it) is quite easy. Even fishing is more intimate of a connection to death and killing than nothing at all.
When I share this perspective with friends, every single person who has experience hunting and killing an animal remembers it vividly. It is not something we forget and it takes root deep within our soul. It takes us back to a more primal way of life, it connects us with our food, and with the process of death.
To be intimately connected with death says much about life. Our perspective with life and death alters the responsibility we feel to protect the world around us, honor the lives that were taken to nourish our food, and offers an opportunity for gratitude for everything that we do.
The easiest way to get started hunting is to find an outfitter to help. It will be more expensive, but an outfitter is the “guide” that sets up the entire hunt and finds large tracts of land / ranches where you are more assured of game to kill.
A simple Google search can provide a few outfitters, but I’ve found Outdoors International to be the best hunting outfitters that I’ve used. They have international connections to land so you are assured a good space no matter where you go.
If the funds are available, I highly recommend this route. It might take longer and it might cost more money, but you will have a guide that goes with you. Typically, this is someone who has been hunting for decades and they are experienced.
It isn’t so much that experience ensures you find animals (although it helps), but rather if you pay attention and ask the right questions you will learn so much so as to make your skill as a hunter far better from only one experience.
After you have gone on one hunting trip with outfitters you can start to more easily make connections within the hunting community in your region. More than likely, you’ll find friends who invite you and cheaper local outfitters who provide more affordable hunts.
When negotiating with a hunting outfitter, it might be good to express an interest in meat and the process of hunting alone. That way you will have hunts that focus on doe (female deer / antelope etc) rather than the bucks (male), which are usually far more expensive because of their trophy value.
My most recent 5-day trip was one of the best and most educational experiences of my life. We hunted a total of 5 whitetail deer doe and 1 blackbuck antelope doe, which equated to around 100 pounds of meat for each of us. More importantly, it was a great learning experience that will be with me forever.
“Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History” by S.C. Gwynne
“The Earth is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West” by Peter Cozzens