The Truth, Mainly - 11/20/1995

Here's hunting's dirty little secret: It's an aesthetic experience
by Leon Satterfield

Myself, I don't hunt. I decided against it when a friend of mine took a load of buckshot in his knee. I had an immediate epiphany: Killing things is dangerous.

But experience doesn't disqualify me from commenting on hunting. I'm male, and it's a time-honored male tradition to comment on things you don't do. Hang around and I'll tell you what I think about childbearing, breast-feeding, abortion and menopause.

But hunting's my subject now because I've just had a second epiphany about it. I used to think that males hunted because it was our genetic destiny, a carryover from our hunting and gathering days. We hunt while our wives gather — our dirty socks, our ATM paperwork, our used dental floss we leave on the end table. Then we'd come back with dead mastodons on our backs and goofy grins on our faces. Asking us why would be like asking our dogs why they roll in unspeakable filth. We just do. Can't help it.

Then I heard the stewardship argument. It says that males, unlike females, understand that unless we go out to "harvest" the wildlife every so often, we'll have pheasant flying out of our closets like glandular moths, elk rutting about in our basements like steroidal cockroaches. We've got to destroy the poor devils, the arguments go, in order to save them from terminal overpopulation.

I also once thought that we hunt in order to eat — until I broke a tooth on a piece of buckshot. And back when I still believed in Innate Depravity, I figured we hunt because it's fun to shoot creatures that can't shoot back.

But now, with my latest epiphany, I see the new truth about hunting.

A recent writer on this page gave away the dirty little secret: hunting is "an excuse to get together and enjoy the outdoors, the beauty of nature."

I don't want to unduly alarm any hunters out there, but that sounds suspiciously like an Appeal to the Aesthetic: We hunt because it's pretty. Same reason Romantic Poets like Percy Bysshe Shelley took long walks in the boondocks.

Say his name aloud: Percy Bysshe Shelley.

I anticipate objections: If hunters hunt because it's simply an Aesthetic Pleasing, why don't they leave their guns at home? Why don't they just take their dogs for walks in the boondocks and leave the dirty work to Monfort? Hunters do, after all, have to gut the deer they shoot, and that's certainly not pretty.

But here's the rest of my epiphany: Hunters like pretty things, but they'll go to great lengths, including gutting deer, in order to keep anyone from knowing they like pretty things.

The American Male no more wants to be caught in the midst of an Aesthetic Experience than he wants to be caught wearing lace underwear. Don't believe me? Try this:

You're an American Male and you're driving east on Highway 2 between Mullen and Thedford. It's 5 p.m. on a crisp November day, and you notice a spectacular sunset in your rearview mirror, but you're getting only a partial view of it. There are no other cars in sight, so you pull off on the shoulder so you can see the sunset whole. You seat yourself on the trunk, and luxuriate in the pink and fleecy glory of it.

It makes you feel funny, so you check your underwear for lace.

Then a guy in a '71 Dodge pickup comes over the hill from the east, sees you sitting on your trunk, and pulls off on the other side of the road.

"Need help?" he says. He's too polite to ask the rest of his question: "Why the hell are you sitting on your trunk looking at the sky halfway between Mullen and Thedford?"

Who amonst us would dare to say "Thanks for asking, my friend, but I need no help. I'm digging the sunset. I'm having an Aesthetic Experience."

You know what will happen if you say that. He'll get back in his pickup and drive to Mullen as fast as he can.

"Guy sitting on his trunk 11.2 miles east of here," he'll tell the Hooker County Sheriff's Office. "Says he's digging the sunset. Says he's having an Aesthetic Experience."

Ten minutes later, the Body Cavity Search Team has you spread-eagled on the hood.

So of course you don't say anything about your Aesthetic Experience. You say:

"Nah, I'm all right. Going hunting up here next week. Got so tired looking for deer scat, thought I'd climb up here on the trunk and sit. Sure as hell has nothing to do with that sunset."

That's what I'd say, anyway, and I bet most males between Omaha and Scottsbluff would too. We'd rather take a load of buckshot in our knee than admit to having an Aesthetic Experience while real men are out there smoking Marlboros and shooting things.

Besides, if we admitted it, next thing you know we'd shriek and clasp our hands in ecstacy just like Percy Bysshe Shelley. Scare off all the wildlife in Hooker County.


Lincoln English Professor Satterfield writes to salvage meaning from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays.

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