So, for that matter, do you. And you, Ms. Vegan singing songs about respecting animal’s names, never calling anyone a wolf or pig, do too. If you’re alive, human, creatures die to keep you that way. When you die, some of them will eat you. Some of them you will inadvertently kill when you scratch your butt. We are a soup of other creatures walking, eating and sleeping and having sex and farting… a soup in a slightly less dense soup of other creatures doing much the same. Ask any microbiologist.
Humans – just like any other life-form – kill. When you start adding in the ways we alter or arrange or support altering our environment, let alone how most of us feed ourselves, we – including Ms. Vegan in her Prius and city apartment (and possibly especially Ms. Vegan – if you consider the number of higher forms of life her diet kills, as compared to Joe Beefburger) are right up there with a kill rate to make the average lion look like a pussy.
But unlike most of us, I actually take my killing personally. It’s my personal moral stance, not one expect anyone else to live by, and not one I am fanatical about. I just prefer it that way. There is almost nothing in my freezers I didn’t kill. Including the tomatoes… (dangerous prey, tomatoes. Many a bold hunter has ended up faced with the savagery of a cornered tomato, and, wisely, fled. Or am I thinking of Zucchini? You should be cautious with something from the ‘squash’ family.)
On the scale of most of Urban and peri-urban first-worlders, when it comes to finding and killing food, you might say I am the equivalent of one of the finest swordsmen outside of France. As 90% of people are at best ignorant and inept about this part of our heritage, I can safely say I am in the top 10 % Compared to people who still live in hunter-gatherers societies… you might say ‘they live inside France’. I’m not up to that sort of level. I do add some modern devices and knowledge of a wider world to trying not to be totally and utterly outclassed.
Look, to survive, let alone thrive, as a hunter-gatherer, the culture you lived in and the knowledge it passed on were a necessity. So, too, probably were the genes that make for a great hunting animal – the human. If you didn’t have those genes, you died. Probably hungry… And spare me the delusion that humans are not hunting animals. “Where’s the big teeth. Where’s the claws? We’re naturally vegetarians because we can’t possibly catch game.” You’re thinking, honestly, like an ignorant modern ‘civilized’ person. When you think of ‘game’ – you think of a deer. And you think of your personal running skills.
When I think of ‘game’ – or rather prey animals, I think like the monkey I am. If it is an animal, and not toxic to eat… it could be food, and if I was hungry enough, would be. As long as it cost me less calories to catch and make edible than I got out of it, I win. I still win, if it costs me more, but I get something else of value – be that an omega-3 fatty acid that is missing in my normal diet, or a sharp horn or warm hide, I still win. Locusts, termites, eggs, baby bird, lizards, shellfish, rodents, fish, octopus, crabs, the young of most animals (if you can get them away from mummy and/or daddy). These are easy prey. Training for children. Most of them need no tools at all. Nothing more than knowledge and your hands, and sometimes a reasonable amount of speed and dexterity. With practice, and the genes helping, that can be very fast and very dexterous.
Most of them are not things that your twenty-first century “humans don’t hunt” individual would even recognize as ‘prey’ (and yes, I have caught – with my hands — and eaten all of them – and a few more that I haven’t actually eaten – hedgehog, for example.)
Once you add tool use – and yes, if tool use is ‘natural’ for Finches and whole selection of other animals, I can’t see why it’s not natural for human hunters to use — even with something no more complicated than a rock (even before you chip sharp edges onto it) or a stick, the list of prey that humans can hunt with a degree of ease increased dramatically.
That’s before we get onto the fact that humans aren’t fast runners… but they have endurance that enables them to run down a lot of prey – especially when you add tools and out-thinking their prey into it. Our brains make us very deadly hunters.
And that was before we get onto organizing. Because, trust me on this – all those admiring paeans you read about wolves and their communication and pack hunting… they’re kindergarten kids compared to human pack-hunts (these are well-recorded from cultures across the globe. It’s human and it is an old, deep part of us).
Once we got started on agriculture this began to change. Mind you, you don’t leave the genes or even culture behind that easily. In fact we didn’t leave them behind at all. All we did was have people who would have died in a hunter-gatherer society, survive. Selection went on winnowing the genome. In some places and situations the hunter genes and the traits were possibly even a disadvantage. Of course, in some places and situations it wasn’t, and, in my opinion, we still get a substantial percentage with the required traits and instincts, if not the culture, training and skill to live as hunter gatherers. If we even get that Armageddon type event, we’ll find out if am right. In the modern first world, with everything going rather well, Triggly-puff types can thrive – but not without it.
Now, I have many friends who hunt for ‘fun’. It’s a deep instinct, in my opinion. A trait that lives on in a lot of humans, particularly men. It can be done well or badly, and done well, be good for the environment and even the animals being hunted for. But that’s another topic, because I am not a ‘sport’ or recreational hunter. As far as my friends in those circles are concerned I’m just a killer with no respect for ‘sport’.
This is correct. If possible, I give my prey no chance at all. And the only way I kill something I can’t eat, is if it is a threat me, mine, or my crops and livelihood. It’s kind of like the difference between a fly-fisherman and commercial fisherman. Both may well eat the fish they catch, but if the commercial doesn’t catch, he doesn’t earn and doesn’t eat. I don’t kill, we don’t eat protein. I do take pleasure in doing what I do, well (and get furious and disappointed in myself when I don’t) – but it isn’t fun, or ‘recreation’. I love to bring home food. That certainly satisfies a deep and basic instinct – and is something I have seen in every solitary individual I have taught (which is quite a lot. I try to pass the old skills on. That too is important to me.). It is what I am and do. The actual killing is the part I like least, and I do with as much efficiency, speed and, yes, respect as I can. Mostly, I can safely say my protein died faster and cleaner than anything anyone buys in a supermarket.
I’m of the solitary hunting kind (except underwater), making me probably more primitive than most. I’ll wear that one. Most of my prey don’t know I’m there, until it is too late. As a wry aside, it’s an illustration of how ridiculous most of the “I feel threatened,” and various forms of abuse flung at my furry pate are. If you actually knew anything about me, and actually even vaguely believed that ‘threat’ you claim…? I mean, it’s a ridiculous idea. I have a very real grasp of human frailty, and what death and injury actually mean. I was an army medic, as well as growing up in a hunter-gatherer tradition — which is why I devote my time and effort to saving human lives. But if you really believed that: It would take a US debt level of derp to start the abuse. So ‘threat’ is just the usual melodrama from the sort of people who have no idea what ‘threat’ or ‘courage’ mean. The ones who say wearing a pussy hat meant courage, or who claimed the claimed the sad puppies were a threat (because, y’know, despite having all of the big five, the media on their side, and control of academia, and most of the review sites, and representing over 90% of the traditional published world and being the powers-that-be, the puppy kickers were ‘disadvantaged minorities’).
It’s kind of like the loud yells “I feel threatened by guns. I feel threatened by Trump. Etc. Etc.” Pure melodramatic nonsense. You’re unhappy about, or frightened into panic by, offended by, or upset by… whatever, not threatened. Trust me on this, I’ve been a threat to enough prey for a long, long time. If you’re all really feeling threatened and really afraid, you shut up and keep low or run like hell. Humans are no different. If one keeps talking about threats – I know sounds like someone ought to do something, whereas the reality is something that is your own business – but eventually there will be a real ‘threat’, like a real wolf.
So why did I write about this – on a writing blog, which largely deals with sf and fantasy? Well, partly because hunting for food and survival comes up often in fantasy (and occasionally in sf). Now I know – it’s not being right that counts. It’s being right in the eyes of most of your readers. But – bits of reality do add veracity – even if they’re not quite what your audience thought they knew about the subject. So long as you make the reality convincing and plausible, and logical, that is!
1) prey is ANYTHING edible. Different cultures have different rules, of course. But the closer to the bone… the more likely anything edible is to be eaten.
2) Hunting is opportunistic and erratic, sometimes volumes are huge. Never underestimate how much hunter-gatherers would eat at a sitting. It could be a long time between those feasts. That’s why being able to store those times of plenty is so important to me, and sets at level of comfort that hunter-gatherers never enjoyed.
3) Status: It’s a man thing. Not now, and not so much among the nobility in medieval fantasy (who hunted for sport and food), but among people who hunt to eat. Women gather, and often communally. Men hunt, sometimes alone, sometimes in small groups. Often this depends on the prey, the vegetation and geography and the seasons. Sometimes (and in seasons), they work in huge groups, surrounding the animals, allowing none to escape. Feasting, and marriages come out of those hunts. But just as women do (political correctness aside) make judgements on the attractiveness of a mate by signs of wealth and power, so the ability to bring home meat, fat and bones and hides (which was a big factor in survival and successful breeding) is a BIG deal, both among one’s fellow hunters and the women of the group.
4) Importance of the hunt. The deeper you go, the closer this gets to being a holy thing. There is a huge amount of respect for the prey – that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t kill it, and sometimes in ways we would consider slow and cruel (as often as not that part relates to the hunter proving his courage and strength to the group.).
5) The concept of ‘sport’ is a facet of hunters with plenty to eat, even if they fail.
6) It’s about 80% patience and 60% obstinate endurance. It’s 100% in total – those two happen together a lot. Hunting is seldom fast or that easy, even if some people make it look that way. That’ll shape the nature of any character you have as a ‘hunter-for-food.’ They can no more be anything else, than humans can avoid flatulence.
7) Hunting is both competitive and communal, especially for bigger game.
8) Hunters tend to be both monofocus (they have a search image, possibly set on ‘anything that moves’ until they have a target, or on an image of that target) and wide peripheral vision. Movement is often on the outer edge of that view. When they’re actually hunting something – then they are almost blind to everything else. (true. I had a seven-gill shark apparently focusing on me a couple of weeks back. I didn’t even see it. I was spearing fish and trying to get close enough for that. My buddy was having a fit. Gatherers (and hunters can go gathering. It’s opportunistic) tend to notice more, to be honest.
9) If your fantasy travelers or space-ship crash survivors are going to hunt to live and travel – It takes time (the more skill, the less time — but it’s never quick and easy. An inn is quick and easy.) Hunting a rabbit and getting one quickly is either luck (acceptable now and again) + prep and cooking time. A lot of time you’re just not lucky. I shoot around 10-15 wallaby a month. I’m fairly good at it, I have a good rifle and scope, and the prey is locally abundant. Some twilights that takes me 10 minutes. Other days, much longer. And every now and again, I come home with nothing. And it is erratic, boom and bust. Bust can kill you if you have no fall-back.