I ran barefoot from the fields, past the goose nest, angry roosters, pig pen, and towards our outdoor kitchen where I heard my aunt cursing away. The feeling of the cool clay squishing between my toes was a welcome sensation in the sticky afternoon heat. I arrived to find her lean, wiry arms, wrestling with a brown hen surrounded by smoke fuming from our wood-burning stove. It was a familiar scene that signaled lunch would be ready in a few hours…
This particular memory comes from my family’s hobby farm in Vietnam, where I spent most summers from infancy to my preteen years. They were humbling experiences that kept me grounded when the glass towers of Vancouver, B.C. became my predominant environment as I transitioned into adulthood. The unlimited variables and options in a city can overcomplicate matters and my adolescent memories cautioned me to stay connected to a simpler way of life. But, it’s not easy in a large and modern city.
Nevertheless, as time wore on, my desire to seek out experiences that brought me closer to the rural lifestyle I once knew intensified. I suppose this is normal as we mature and realize what’s important in life.
And so began a somewhat impractical but whole hearted fascination with hunting, attributed no doubt, in part to my upbringing. After much deliberation and research, I decided my desire to hunt was not an unusual path for me to take—despite my urban living conditions—and I dove in.
Venturing into the hunter-gatherer world set me on a journey of awkward, sometimes strained, but progressive conversations with strangers, co-workers, friends, and family. The vast majority were curious to learn more and thrilled at the possibility of trying the wild organic meat I hoped one day to share. A select few were too disconnected from their food sources to comprehend the steak, chicken, or pork they regularly ate came from a whole animal—hair, bones, guts, and all—and expressed distaste in my hunting desires.
One’s detachment from the whole, live animal does gain my sympathy to a certain degree; outside of some very remote communities, subsistence hunting is no longer common in North America. But those communities are so far removed from the glass, concrete, hustle and bustle of modern cities that they may as well be on another planet.
For most of us, eating has become easy, arguably too easy. But easy does not make it right. I wanted to bear the burden, to see and live the experience of procuring my own food from beginning to end, and specifically, work for the meat that ended up on my plate.
Surprisingly, many of those that opposed to my desire to hunt were appeased after I shared a snippet of the vast number of regulations and laws created to ensure we maintain a healthy and sustainable population of wildlife. Despite what you may read or see in the media, there are no legal hunting seasons for endangered or threatened species. And, hunting seasons and harvest quotas are not decided by drawing straws. The province devotes millions of dollars each year to measuring, managing, and regulating the system that determines what and where we can hunt. Is it a perfect system? No. But, what human designed bureaucracy is?
Thankfully, that knowledge quickly eradicated any thought they might have had of a feisty Vietnamese woman recklessly running into the forests, and shooting anything that moved. As much as I was looking to reconnect with a simpler way of life, hunting is actually not that simple.
More recently at a dinner party, while savoring spit-roasted wild Canadian Goose Agnolotti, I asked a local expert on “how-to-hunt” education how many of his students actually decode all the regulations and make it out into the woods? The response was a shockingly small enough percentage to delay another forkful of the to-die-for pasta from entering my mouth. That’s saying a lot, considering I love to eat more than the average person. Buying a hunting license is one thing. Feeling sufficiently comfortable with the regulations and restrictions to take the plunge and head afield was quite obviously another.
After that discussion, I realized that the admittedly boring but critical topic of hunting regulations and how they are determined was rarely mentioned in any conversation involving hunting. No wonder so many non-hunters misunderstand the difference between hunting and simply killing. Admittedly, I too have done a poor job of sharing everything involved in putting wild meat on the table.
For all the countless times I’ve spent recounting my epic adventures and the indulgent dishes I’ve cooked up, I have made zero mention of all the hours spent researching animal behavior, scouring both digital and virtual maps, selecting gear, and teaching myself in-the-field butchery. And that’s on top of familiarizing myself with all the regulations referenced earlier. The immense number of rules that protect not only our wildlife but the safety of the general public cannot be overstated.
I can honestly report that if you want to become a successful hunter, you have to be prepared to spend a lifetime acquiring knowledge across a dizzying array of subjects: animal behavior, age/gender/antler/horn assessment, habitat, diet, tracks, weather patterns, firearms regulations, hunting regulations, land use regulations…the list could go on. It’s a hell of a commitment. And that’s with no guarantee of success. You still need to outsmart the animals—harder than you might think—or get damned lucky.
In my first year hunting, I spent all my weekends, vacation time and even sick days out in the woods to only come home empty-handed. After months of effort, I had one chance to admire a deer on the last day of the designated deer hunting season before my scent scared her away. This is far more common than you may have been led to believe. There’s a going joke in the hunting community: more often than not we’re really just hiking with a rifle or bow in our hands. Every now and then we come home with something.
The forest has a curious way of instilling life lessons in those that spend a prolonged period exploring her. Mother Nature hears my pleas, but she makes me wait. I crave the tangible and the immediate, but instead, I am presented with the practice of patience. Being mindful of each step and focused on the present induces my mind into a meditative state. An effect that, for me at least, is uniquely pronounced when I’m hunting. Nothing else compares. Learning how to hunt and navigate the majestic forests and mountains of British Columbia has been profoundly spiritual. It has awoken a primal instinct that had been dormant for far too long.
I hope this perspective has helped you better understand the commitment it takes to be a hunter. And why, in this modern era, many people are still drawn to this ancient pursuit. Humans, animals, and plants all contain life, why is one organism valued differently from the next? The majority of the population still eats meat in some capacity. Leather purses, belts, and shoes are everywhere you look. I urge you to be willing to ask questions, dig a little deeper and find your own truths because, the hunters I know would all agree, there’s more to being a hunter than just killing. A lot more.
About Jenny Ly
Jenny Ly runs a collective called the Chasing Food Club, where she shares the stories and lessons from interesting individuals that hunt, gather and protect our wildlands. During the day she works as a business software consultant. At night she is the regional leader for one of the fastest growing wildlife conservations groups, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. The key to balancing it all out is good food with a heavy dose of laughter.