In my previous article, I discussed the decline in hunting in America – but, it wasn’t always as I described. From the time of the conquering of the Plains Indians to the early 1960’s, a period of a little less than a hundred years, were the heyday for hunting in America as a sport, and a way of life. The years immediately after The Great War, until right before our debacle in Vietnam, were truly the golden years of this period. The “sportsman” was king in the realm of all that was manly. Every men’s magazine was apt to have ads for guns and knives, the world famous archer Howard Hill was a pop icon, and nearly every gas station a mile outside of a major city limits sold a hunting license.
Little baby boomers hadn’t yet had the chance to take a massive shit on all that was given to them by generations past. All hopped up on Fess Parker as both Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone, they ran around the neighborhoods decked out in genuine coon skin caps with kid size replicas of “Ol’ Betsy,” Crockett’s famed rifle. They slinked through woodlots and skulked in the shadows of boxwood bushes, on imaginary missions to fight imaginary Creek Indians, but sometimes the neighbor kids would oblige and play the part of the savages. Of course the family pet would tag along to play the part of the trusty all around hunting dog searching out the track of “Barr” and “Painter.” Our pioneer past was nothing to be ashamed of, it was to be celebrated and the “Deer Slayer” was all around champion, rivaled only by the Cowboy.
Then of course, there was “Dad.” Never mind his urbanite background and the nine to five in the office every week. For a couple of weekends every fall, dad would take the old trusty 30-30 out of the closet, grab the red and black plaid wool jacket, load up the car and head off to hunt camp with the fellows to “get his buck.” Of course, dad stayed sauced the whole time he was there as he hunted whitetail and bear by day, and played cards and smoked cheap cigars with the boys all night.
Hunting then, for the urbanite man, was as much about letting off steam and camaraderie with friends, doing the manliest of pursuits imaginable to red blooded American men at the time – as it was about actually killing a deer. But don’t let that fool ya, Pops was a crack shot and knew his way around the woods from his teen years spent squirrel and rabbit hunting with his grandpa, and the years he spent fighting the Nips in America’s island hopping campaign in the South Pacific. Rest assured, rare indeed was the time that he pulled into the driveway after a weekend at the cabin without a buck strapped across the hood looking like little Johnnie’s heroes on the big screen.
Damn, don’t it sound wonderful? It sounds like fucking America to me. If it sounds good to you, just remember, I’m not even making an attempt here to tell about rural hunting culture, just the urbanite man. Yes sir, it was truly a good time to be a man back then, and to celebrate manhood recreationally with the ultimate expression of our role as men as it has been throughout the ages, that of hunter/provider. I wish that we, as a movement, as a people, could rekindle this love, and hold onto this sacred tradition.
Where It Began
This tradition didn’t just materialize out of nowhere, mind you. When our ancestors arrived on this continent, they stepped into a hunter’s paradise. It was a land teaming with game. Tales are recorded of buffalo being as far east as the Shenandoah Valley, Elk all the way to the eastern seaboard, flocks of doves so dense they blotted out the sun whilst in flight and flocks of turkeys so vast it took half a minute for them to take flight for want of space to flap their wings.
Despite how the narrative of the pilgrims, told to you in elementary school, would lead you to believe that the settlers were ignorant in the ways of the wilderness, they were not. They had no trouble capitalizing on this resource rich land; whether by trading for valuable furs with the indigenous peoples, fishing or hunting for subsistence; it was not hard for them to reap the benefits of the new environment they had entered. With the successful establishment of permanent colonies on the seaboard, the English more than any other, began expansion.
With settlers from many different western European nations, all of them brought with them their own hunting styles and traditions. The Germans in particular, with their knack for superior craftsmanship and efficiency, brought with them their gunsmithing abilities. German made weapons found their way into the hands of men with that Faustian spirit, a love of the hunt, and with an enterprising eye the fell upon the wilderness west of the settlements. The conditions were set for the first two, inseparably linked, American frontier icons to enter the stage: the Long Hunter and his Pennsylvania Rifle.
In describing the Long Hunter, it is hard for me to keep from going overboard, but I will spare you here. In my opinion, he epitomized Western manhood. He was everything that I think a white man should aspire to be: rugged, brave, confident, self reliant, had a will made of iron and was up to every task. Of course, the conditions in which he lived and worked, and the manner in which he had to go about it, required this of him.
These men spent months at a time, years even, away from home and the families that they were supporting; hundreds of miles away in hostile and unforgiving wildlands hunting deer and bear for the price that their hides would bring. They traveled, camped, messed and hunted together in small parties of 10 to 15 men usually sharing in the privations and hardships placed on them. They roved the landscape, set up shop in the most likely places, then dispersed out into the forest, each man practicing the craft in the style that most suited him, bringing back his bounty to camp for meat and preparations. It was in this fashion that, piece by piece, the veil was lifted with the lands to the west, and it became open to settlement.
Not long after the hunters’ treks westward: Scots, German and English frontiersman, rifles in hand and families in tow, would follow suit of the Long Hunters. They would build lives for their families in the low valleys and cool mountain glades; getting bread for the small corn crap scratched from the ground after back-breaking labor to clear small plots of tillable soil; their meat came from the forest. All the while they fought off the predators, Indians and harsh living conditions that came with frontier life.
The early American frontiersman, with the Hunter taking the preeminent role, were the first American heroes. So much so that they were immortalized by James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, a series of novels often referred to as the first true emergence of “Americana.” The most famous book of the series is the well known Last of the Mohicans. Truly, it can be said that hunting was a part of American culture (and by “American” we mean us, white people, as it couldn’t mean any other) from the very beginning. To lose this piece of our culture and history, I think, would be to lose a major piece of ourselves.
Personally, I am very heavily invested in the hunting and outdoor aspect of our culture and heritage, and not just in the practice of hunting in my own life. My fifth great grand father Jesse and his brother, Jonathan, were orphaned at a young age when both their parents died of tuberculosis. Their father’s brother was a very kind, honest, noble, just and righteous man. Though he had just recently married; he, being a good and God fearing white man that he was, saw the need to act. Out of love, loyalty and a sense of duty to family, he took the boys in and raised them as his own, and no finer raising could have been had anywhere. My fifth great grand father was raised by his uncle, THE greatest and most famous hunter, explorer, surveyor and Indian fighter of that era, and very arguably, all of American history – none other than Daniel Boone.
This is nothing unique to me, we’re all descended from hunters and frontiersman, but that is a later article. Hell, a lot of you are probably descended from Boone directly, Crockett, Colter, and other notable frontier hunter heroes and don’t even know it. This is a matter of getting off your ass and doing genealogy, which also is another article for a later time as well. The point here, if you haven’t figured it out by my redundant repetitiveness, is that hunting is our heritage. It is the domain of men, and always has been.
So, my plan here is to introduce a lot of you to a world that you’ve never had the chance to participate in; to encourage others who have lost touch to rekindle the flame, and to inspire those who are currently hunters to push the boundaries of their experience and to make sure to share the heritage with all others. This has only been a primer, and I kept it as brief as possible and did my best to suppress the autiste within. However, in following articles I will be providing practical “how to” articles, pointing out opportunities to get started and enjoy this heritage, providing more history, as well as sharing a lot of my own personal stories and experiences.
If these are things that appeal to you, stay tuned; and remember white man, this is YOUR heritage. We’ve been doing this since before recorded history. It is something our ancestors did and experienced as part of their everyday life, and you can too, in this day and age. To let this die out would be to throw away something that our ancestors gave to us.
-By L.F. Russell.