It’s 1 a.m. and I have 25 students showing up to first hour in seven hours.
I want to get back to sleep, but my brain doesn’t turn off. This is not a comment on my intellectual brilliance, but rather the inability of my brain to cope with simple aspects of life, or just calm down.
Spring bear. Spring steelhead. Late summer moose after opening day blacktail deer. It’s a Tuesday, nowhere near an appropriate time for this level of excitement, but it does happen in Alaska. There’s a dizzying amount of things to get excited for here, which is why the year moves so quickly and I am just as likely to wake up thinking about a hunt as I am to have a nightmare about missing one.
“I would take responsibility rather than pay someone else to do the dirty work for me.”
In a few months, I’ll be back where the forest meets the ocean in muddy flats garnished with grassy shoots that attract the first black bears. Killing one is a big deal. Yeah, you know, but seriously. It’s a big deal. Last year I waited for two hours across a creek from an oasis of trees surrounded by tidal grass, hoping for a freezer full of meat. Meat that didn’t come from the revolting meat industry that conjures up images of distressed, sick, overgrown animals pumping methane into the air. Meat that came from an animal that lived a rich and wild life that would die quickly by my hands. I would take responsibility rather than pay someone else to do the dirty work for me.
As we had approached by boat, a bear fled, I thought, to the main forest. Instead, after all those minutes in the breezeless afternoon, it appeared and masterfully moved into the grassy flat between the island of trees and the forest but was protected by a log. It stopped only when it was almost totally blocked by the roots. When it started moving again and I organized myself to take a shot, it started into a jog and disappeared into the woods.
The next day, after another bear gave me the slip, I saw a different bear crossing the creek 300 yards from where I sat. It was big. Through the woods was a grassy beach it was likely working toward since I had disrupted his normal routine by missing a different bear. I crossed the creek and ran along the beach to cut it off when it emerged from the forest.
I sat under a tree and before I could control my breath, the bear emerged. It stepped tentatively into the open but behind a fallen tree. It was broadside and looking directly at me. I made no movements though I didn’t have a rest. It turned and walked a few steps. I put my elbow on my knee, steadied my rifle and breathed. The crosshairs were settled and I felt calm. “Watch the hit.”
“Be who you are, do what makes you happy, young men are told, as long as that doesn’t include being a hunter.”
I wonder where we go from here. If the current call for common decency includes the elimination of 20th century thinking and the archaic ideals of the hunter, that frightens me. Be who you are, do what makes you happy, young men are told, as long as that doesn’t include being a hunter. The 21st Century Man does not believe getting his own food is a noble endeavor. It’s nothing but an excuse to be cruel. Just a boy with a beard, armed with a rifle rather than a magnifying glass, murdering deer and bear instead of cooking ants.
I sometimes think about that bear when I wake up in the middle of the night. It wasn’t my first bear, but it was the first time I was alone on a beach making all of the calls and doing enough right to make it happen. I know I shouldn’t feel obligated to feel any more than the gravity of the knowledge I killed an animal, but there’s a growing contingent of the population that believes the modern man should not only feel no joy, but remorse on the level to make him quit. He is outdated. We have evolved past those emotions. Stop being the anchor that slows the progression of our culture.
Hunters have had their time and that time has passed. That’s what keeps me awake. That’s what’s worse than the nightmare about missing a season. It’s imagining a time in which a society, uneducated in the values of the hunt, the necessity of hunting to manage populations, the millions of dollars that come from hunters to restore habitat, has mobilized against the hunt in ways that affect the next generation. Regulations won’t kill the hunt, it’s the pressure from people who wonder how to stop what they’ve never experienced and don’t care to understand.
Jeff Lund is a freelance writer and high school teacher in Ketchikan, Alaska. His podcast The Mediocre Alaskan Podcast is available on iTunes and Spotify.