Nothing was moving, not a thing, except the rustling of fluttering leaves across the cold, hard ground, driven by the gusting and biting wind. The sun had just set along a cloudy, yet crimson horizon, and darkness slowly began to descend upon us as the hope of the hunt began to dissolve.
But then, in the blink of an eye, it was there – a whitetail deer.
His heart quickened as he felt the call of the wild pulse through his veins for the first time, taking his breath away for a moment. His hands shook ever so slightly, more from the excitement of the moment than from the cold wind cutting through his camouflaged jacket.
White puffs of air came out of his mouth in short bursts as he took aim, lining up the crosshairs of his scope on the prey he had hunted for with such diligence, waited for with such patience.
Ah, there is nothing quite like handing down the heritage of the hunt to our youth. No one questions the great abundant resources of natural wildlife and beauty in Texas. But even in the Lone Star state where hunting and fishing ranks as one of our greatest heritages, many still ask the question that leaves most of us looking at our inquisitor with great befuddlement.
Even in Texas, many still question why we hunt. And interestingly, often the things we know best in the deepest reaches of our souls can be the hardest things to explain in words.
Consquently, although we are sometimes insolated from the threat in rural Bosque County, the privilege of passing on the tradition to our sons remains in jeopardy, because hunting and the right to bear arms remains under siege and the subject of debate the world over.
Because we, as hunting advocates, are unable or unwilling to effectively explain the complicated, deeply-rooted concept to the “modernized and civilized” malcontents. Many hunters would rather be left alone to hunt than to bother trying to explain to a sneering society that no longer implicitly understands.
But while we turn our backs on them, they won’t turn their backs on us. They will not rest until they have our guns and take away the legacy we love. The hunters have become the hunted, and they intend to pursue us until we become extinct.
There was a time when hunting simply was a way of life for human beings around the globe. Dealing with life and death first hand was a matter of life and death.
But even from its most primitive roots, man has always been conflicted to some extent by his love of wild creatures and their boundless beauty, while coming to terms with the reality of biological law and the desire to survive.
For generation after generation, the circle of life remained the same. Man hunted and gathered his nutritional needs while absorbing the secrets of the natural world.
Men who hunted became the world’s first ecologists, philosophers and spiritual intellectuals, witnessing and understanding the universal laws first hand. They experienced the indivisibility of life in amazement as they watched flowers grow in abundance where they field dressed the game they killed.
The beauty of poetic symmetry.
No break in this cycle could appear without a cascading effect. Consequently, man has maintained and managed the circle of life throughout the history of the world. But somewhere along the way, modern man created the middle man. And civilized society now takes the food it eats for granted.
Ironically, most of those who so ardently turn their noses up at hunters thoughtlessly walk into the local grocery store and stack their carts with beef, pork, chicken and seafood without considering the fact that they have essentially hired the butcher, the farmer and the fisherman to be their “hunters.”
But to use that fact as ammunition against those who want to take our heritage away would be missing the point. Just like the way pointing out the fact that very few of our challengers are aware of the direct impact hunters and numerous wildlife conservation organizations interested in preserving America’s hunting heritage have had on saving and protecting countless species in this country and abroad would be pointless.
At the end of the day, they’re just facts, and this is a very emotional issue. It’s time we all focus on the heart of the matter.
The most meaningful aspect of this great debate remains the hardest part to explain, especially to someone who does not have the heritage of the hunter flowing through his or her veins.
“The pursuit of deer has become much more than its original purpose, which was nothing more than a struggle for food, clothing and survival,” renown Texas wildlife photographer Mike Briggs said in his book, The Whitetail Chronicles. “In many cases, the fulfillment of these needs has now become secondary to the pursuit itself.
“The reason is simple for those who have experienced it, and difficult for those who have not, for embedded within this pursuit lies a totally different level of consciousness, separate and apart from everything else we know.
“And this consciousness holds wonderful secrets and surprises just waiting to be discovered.”
Those of us who hunt experience the reality of the eternal circle of life and death. As we mature as hunters, as well as human beings, we develop the understanding and reverence for the mystery that lies beneath the surface of the hunting experience and life itself.
Through this understanding and enlightenment, we realize how important it is that this heritage is never lost. The passion we possess for the experience must be passed on to our children.
Certainly, my late father, L.E. “Sonny” Voss, Jr., succeeded in passing on the passion for the tradition and heritage to me. My fondest childhood memories revolve around the experiences my father and I shared fishing and hunting. Beginning with fishing off the jetties along Padre Island, to being my father’s “bird dog” hunting for whitewing dove in the Rio Grande Valley, to trolling at the mouth of West Africa’s Cuanza River for trophy saltwater fish, to hunting in Mexico for “muy grande,” my father and I both understood all that went into making the experience special and meaningful.
In turn, I saw it as my responsibility to preserve our family heritage by passing it on to my three sons, Jacob (25), Zachary (23) and Derek (21). While they began fishing at a very young age, it became a right of passage for each of them as they prepared to hunt for their first whitetail deer.
At some point along the way, it became apparent to me that not only had they learned lessons about whitetail deer hunting, the experience delivered lessons on life as well. Even if they didn’t realize it at the moment, they learned about the value of such things as self-discipline and endurance, determination and dedication, perseverance and patience.
While each of us strive to instill the hunting heritage in our children, we must preserve the privilege properly. The future of hunting lies in the sound understanding and the continued presence of the four Rs of hunter education – rights, respect, responsibility and reverence.
We must instill those four Rs in all who hunt as well as all those who have long since lost touch with the hunter that dwells within them. Our fathers who treasured our way of life did not fail us. Now, we must not fail to pass on the hunting traditions and opportunities to those who come after us.
And we must not back away from explaining to those who don’t know why we do.
From the day each of them were born, Jake, Zach and Derek have always shown a thrill and respect for the outdoors experience. And as young boys, they each developed a passion beyond their years for hunting and fishing without much encouragement from their father as if it were an hereditary trait.
Then again, maybe it is.
The youth lifted his cheek off the stock of the gun and looked at all that surrounded him in that instant, as if to savor the perfect moment in time. In that instant, he bathed in the beauty of the world’s wondrous creations while the significance of the circle of life seemed to wash over him and soak into his soul.
He then took a deep breath, steadied his aim, and slowly pulled the trigger.