By: Spencer Durrant

I can’t speak for all hunters, but I’m confident I speak for most of us when I say that hunting is not about the kill.

PETA and every other fringe group that doesn’t understand responsible, humane consumption of animal meat want the public to believe hunters are a bunch of bloodthirsty rednecks. They paint us as a bunch of trigger-happy idiots, bitterly clinging to our guns and religion, shooting at anything that moves, whether it’s in season or not.

The truth is, of course, far removed from that extreme stereotype.

Hunting is, and always has been, ultimately about putting meat on the table. A legitimate debate exists over whether it’s cheaper to hunt deer or elk instead of buying beef at the grocery store. Wild game is unquestionably healthier – and if you believe that beef cattle contribute to global warming, then harvesting wild game is more sustainable and environmentally friendly than store-bought meat.

Yet for some reason, providing free-range, organic meat through hunting is still viewed by many as unnecessarily barbaric. It’s a ludicrous line of thinking, but it’s prevalent among the left-leaning thinkers of America.

From what I’ve gathered over the years, and having read recent airings of hunting grievances, the biggest objection most people have to hunting is that it is said to cause unnecessary harm to an animal. The thing is, I don’t know a single hunter who thinks harming animals you don’t intend to eat is acceptable.

The only exception to the “only kill for food” rule is when animals are hunted for conservation. Jackrabbits carry a ton of diseases and destroy crops here in the West. Wolves are putting the hurt on cattle herds in Montana, and a high deer population can lead to higher alfalfa hay prices, which in turn bumps up the price of beef at your local grocery store.

By and large, hunting either serves an immediate need for the hunter, or a long-term need for the ecosystems which support the hunter and those who live near them. Either way you look at it, hunting is a net-positive.

But that’s not what I think about when I hunt, and I reckon a lot of my fellow hunters would agree: We’re appreciative of the benefits hunting provides, but we don’t hunt for altruism’s sake.

Another question people have is – why bother with hunting in our advanced, civilized culture? If the greater good of the environment or the food economy isn’t the driving force, why does anyone plan a hunting trip anymore?

Again, I can’t speak for my fellow hunters. I’d bet, though, that most of them relate to why I hunt, and why I plan to keep hunting until I can’t anymore. These reasons are why, in an age of so-called ethical and behavioral enlightenment, I continue to take to the woods each fall:

It’s about the Hunt
Last year I didn’t draw my cow elk tag here in Utah. With no deer tags under my belt either, that meant my only option was the over-the-counter bull or spike elk permits.

I got a spike tag and hunted hard with my buddies. Chad, Alex, and Tyson helped me more than I deserved, and even though I didn’t put anything in the freezer, I still look back on that hunt with fondness.

I think of the black bear Tyson and I saw one evening, plopped between us and an elk, throwing a wrench into our carefully laid plan to stalk the bull we’d spotted at 1,500 yards. I think about walking the horses into camp late at night with Chad and Alex and of the frost inside my tent when I woke up before the sun. I can still hear the echo of a bull’s bugle through an empty mountain valley, during the space between night and dawn when the world’s waking up once more.

And of course, I think of the animals I saw. Cow and bull elk, buck and doe deer, black bear, pronghorn, and even a few moose made an appearance. Most folks have to travel to a national park for that variety of wildlife viewing opportunity. I get to do it each year in my backyard.

Hard Work and Big Rewards
Hunting generally isn’t easy. Sure, some Midwestern guys have a cushy go of it with their big hay fields and huge whitetail populations, but most every hunter puts in days of scouting and preparation. Hunting seasons are short, and hunts are over before you know it.

So we have to give each moment in the field our utmost attention. If I see an elk 2,200 yards away, I’ll start walking without thinking twice. It’s not easy to cover that much ground here in the Rockies, or anywhere else really.

But getting on top of a big herd of elk, all of which remain unaware of your presence, is the reward of a lifetime. Seeing the animals act, unguarded and carefree, is a rare glimpse into a peaceful life we humans can’t really fathom.

There’s an innocence in the way a calf plays with its mother. There’s an immediate connection between humans and elk when the momma elk nudges her calf away, as if to say, I’ve had enough playing for the moment, go find some grass to eat. It’s an action that doesn’t need words to transcend species.

Such glimpses into nature are enough of a reward to hunt. But when you’re able to harvest an animal, your respect for them only grows. You’ve spent so much time and effort, after all, chasing the animal you’ve just shot. You’ve seen them acting as nature intended. You understand, after all that, the sanctity of any life, and the gravity behind taking one.

That’s why hunting isn’t about the killing – which is ironic, considering the time and money spent on buying and sighting in a good hunting rifle. Hunting is instead about the opportunity you have, after the blood and sweat it took to get there, to harvest one of those animals and use it to sustain yourself and your family for the months to come.

The killing won’t ever be joyful, and I can honestly say I don’t know a single person who revels in the act of taking a life.

What I do know, however, is that when it’s all said and done, hunting is one of the most personally rewarding experiences you’ll ever have. It forces you to understand more about yourself, to appreciate the natural world around you, and teaches you things you never thought to learn.

And, as if all that weren’t enough, hunting is just plain fun.

Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer and outdoors columnist from Utah. He’s the Owner/CEO of Cutthroat Creative Media, and Managing Editor of The Modern Trout Bum. Find him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.