Hunting for the Health of It: Social

Jeff with Deer

Jeff in a stone-faced group photo by the meat pole

When you sign on to be a wildlife biologist with the DNR, one thing you must understand is that you’ve just signed away much of your gun deer hunting experience; especially the treasured opening weekend. I know I’ll see a bunch of deer opening weekend, and probably some dandies. But they will already be in the possession of another successful hunter at a registration station. Still, I look forward to working at the registration station, aging every deer that comes through. I dare say that opening weekend of deer season is the social event of the year at the gas station I work at. It’s an annual reunion, and a homecoming of sorts for many in the community. There are many friends that I can count on seeing this weekend…deer or no deer in their truck.

The social aspect of deer hunting in Wisconsin is significant. It is woven into the fabric that defines Wisconsin’s culture. When asked, most hunters will tell you the most important part of the hunt to them is getting together with family and friends. Doing something you enjoy with people you enjoy being with. Does it get any better than that? Humans are social beings. We seek each other’s company in search of a sense of connection, of belonging. And when we find it, we are better for it. And so is our community as a whole.

I have the great fortune to be welcomed into a muzzleloader camp the week after the gun season. It is my time to experience the bond of the hunt. Our camp has multiple self-imposed restrictions and traditions. No modern muzzleloaders are allowed, only traditional Hawkins-style rifles. We pass no judgment on others who choose more efficient weapons, but we recognize the limitations of our equipment as a shared challenge and a source for more stories of trial and tribulation around the woodstove. We each carry a supply pouch made from the leather of a deer we harvested on the property. At the end of the trip, we take a group photo by the meat pole, reenacting our ancestor’s preference for serious, stone-faced expressions. My post-gun season schedule isn’t as free of commitments as I would like. Often I need to let the guys know that I have a conflict with part of the trip. Their response is to adjust the dates if possible. It’s an unspoken gesture between men to say, without getting all touchy-feely, “It just isn’t the same without you”. There it is…that sought after sense of belonging that makes you feel valued and appreciated in the most rewarding way. Our individual contributions make our camp complete, and our collective presence enhances each individual’s life. The harmony and balance of nature transcends into our individual existence through the shared experience of the hunt.

Tomorrow this gets physical.

Live Wild, Live Well
Jeff Pritzl

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