I am a hunter. This is true.
I am also a backpacker, a hiker, an angler, a horsewoman. I played soccer and lacrosse for nearly a lifetime, so perhaps I’m still an athlete. I’m a writer by trade, a hobby photographer, a voracious reader, an animal lover, a curious observer of the natural world. I am all of these things and more. And, somewhere in the fray of my mired identity, the word “hunter” became a part of my reality.
It wasn’t until I killed and processed my own deer in the fall of 2017 that I felt ready to call myself a hunter. I did this by myself. It seemed to me that was how I’d become a hunter. To take full responsibility, to carry the load, to give myself over to the moment of life, death, and that strange and twisted place in between. And to do it alone. When I packed my deer off that ridge, I felt the weight of its body on my back and I knew that I had become a hunter. And that I likely hadn’t been a hunter before that moment. Not in any earned and understood way.
Being a hunter is an identity that is easily obsessed over. For many of my friends, the identity of “hunter” is at the core of their being. It’s the beating of their heart, and the word that follows their name in every conversation This obsession creates an insular language, a community of hunters, a tribe of people as old as the human existence on this planet. They are ancient in their obsession. They are primal in their pursuit of this identity.
I see this passion in my friends and I’m envious that they can love and hold something so closely to them. But there are also strange tribalisms that I can’t get behind. Death is no easy chore for me. It is not a celebratory moment, but a sacred one. I don’t want to kill, but I accept it as a part of the bargain of life. And measurements hold little glory for me. Perhaps I am the one who is unevolved, but I’ve never found much meaning in horns and antlers besides legalities. I’m not certain I ever will.
For me, hunting wasn’t tribal, traditional, or familial. It was simply the next step in my evolution as an outdoorswoman. My desire to hunt grew from spending time in the wilderness alone, to better know myself and my own intentions. And in that knowing, I came to an understanding that I wanted to learn how to hunt, to get closer to the landscape, and to understand the cycle of life and death in a more intimate way. I sensed something primordial in my bones. I was moved to explore it.
Circumstance and serendipity led me into hunting in ways I couldn’t have imagined. My education has been expansive and diverse after five years in the professional world of hunting media. But my experiences in the woods have been deeply personal. I intend to keep them that way.
And thinking on this and my experiences as a newer hunter, I’m convinced that this so-called divide between hunters and the recreation community doesn’t exist. Not really. We humans are lovers of dichotomies, and if we’re for something, the only obvious reality is that others are against it. We live within this complex of persecution because we’re told it exists. But our human commonality, across every existence, across every tribe, across every nation and people, at some point has depended on hunting for life, for sustenance, for warmth, for clothing, and even for our homes. We are bonded ancestrally by the hunt. We act on these instincts daily, though we don’t recognize them. We yearn in the same way as the tribal hunters do, yet for different outcomes.
For me, I went on the hunt for knowledge and came away desiring the act of the hunt. For many of my friends, the hunt is a grand personal challenge, rife with success and failure and physical suffering. For you, perhaps you’re embarking on a hunt to better understand how someone, anyone can decide to kill another living being. It’s a good and honest question. But perhaps you’re on the hunt for other answers. There are plenty of other great questions to ask.
We each have our ways of making meaning. For me, I’m a hunter, because I have hunted. And, whether you want me to or not, I recognize the hunter in you. Welcome to the table. The food is good and wild, and you are welcome here.
About Nicole Qualtieri
Nicole Qualtieri is the Hunt + Fish Editor for GearJunkie. She’s an outdoorswoman, an advocate for wildlife and wild places, and a writer by trade. In the warmer months, you can find her on a little brown horse in the Montana hills with a border collie named Butch trailing behind. She can be found on Instagram @nkqualtieri.