This is Hunting, By Robbie Kroger

The stereotypical picture of hunting isn’t always the most truthful one. There is a perceived idea in the hunting and non-hunting communities of what hunting is — that hunting is about killing. This label is supposedly the culture of who we are meant to be, what we represent, and why we hunt. Without any other perspective of what hunting is meant to be, this objective is seen to be what is expected of a hunter. Luckily, I have a different perspective. Having not been raised in this country and afforded all the opportunities it has to provide, I am fortunate enough to be in a position that very rarely people find themselves in. I am experiencing what hunting truly is for the very first time, and it affords me an opportunity to truly describe why I hunt without considering external expectations.

To me, hunting is a journey. That is what hunting should represent. It’s not all about the kill, but rather all of the intangibles that surround that one moment in time. The unpredictability of the unknown, the journey of emotions that come with it. I think it safe to say and likely echoed by many hunters that unpredictability is the norm. Predicting the weather, the outcome, and what will transpire over the course of the hunt are likely the same odds as you throwing dice in a gambling hall. More often than not, you will be on the losing side of the spectrum, and often sorely disappointed. This hunt that I had built up for months on end — for Barbary sheep in New Mexico on public land — would be this journey for me.

What are the expectations of any hunt? What were my expectations of this hunt? Honestly, I had none. I forced out of my conscious this indelible artifact of the hunting culture that is the kill — that’s it. Without it, the hunt would be a failure to many. But to me, the why is so much bigger. That was my frame of reference. I was there for the experience, and before leaving for the hunt, I was willing to accept every outcome of that experience. The non-hunting audience might ask, “Then why hunt if it’s not about the kill?”

I didn’t say it it’s not about the kill; it’s not just about the kill. People camp and hike for many different reasons. Their purpose may have multiple objectives or outcomes, though it is likely that there is one thing they are after, such as a hike in Yellowstone to see El Capitan. If El Capitan is fogged in, and it wasn’t visible, was the journey into Yellowstone and everything that you did to get there mute? Of course not, and that’s what the kill is to hunting. It’s the finality of purpose. It’s what drives us into those far off places. If the kill is not achieved, any other purpose is often hidden, but why? The culture dictates that the purpose of why we hunt has to be the kill. Without it, the hunt is uninteresting, unworthy. The act of going on a hunt, and the finality of that hunt taking place without killing — if polled — is likely more frequent than pushed out into our all-consuming social media viewing audience. We hunt as a function of experience. Those experiences collectively create who we are as a hunter. The kill doesn’t define the experience, rather the collective does.

This Barbary sheep hunt changed me, I evolved as a result of this hunt. I was weak and timid leading into the hunt, I’ll admit it. I know it may be strange to say this, but I am likely echoing a lot of hunter’s thoughts. I questioned my abilities as the hunter I aspire to be in the eyes of my children. Could I kill that sheep when the time came? Was I confident enough? So many thoughts racing through my brain, the what-if’s clouding my judgment, filling me with self-doubt. But as the days of the hunt continued, the mountains didn’t look that high any longer, the exertion wasn’t as great anymore, and the landscape didn’t look as intimidating. I was still physically and mentally taxed, but the thought of doing this, turning into a part of this ecosystem as that predator that my forefathers were before me, became a reality.

What was it that changed? I can sum it up like this: familiarity begat confidence. It focused me into that moment that we work so hard to get ourselves into. Mantras of friends echoed in the back of my brain. You can do this. Your body is beaten up. Your mind plays tricks on you, constantly forcing you to question yourself. Why? Because this is you, this is me, testing our fortitude. And fortitude is exactly the right term. It’s what is lacking in today’s society. It’s definitely what’s lacking in my constitutional makeup. This hunt was an opportunity to build that fortitude. To put myself mentally and physically in situations that are extremely uncomfortable. Something stirred within me that I had put into motion months ago, something indescribable. I wasn’t here just to kill this animal. As Jose Ortega Y. Gasset stated, “we kill to have hunted.” I would argue that if his philosophy was taken one step further, then the kill is just one tangible outcome of why we hunt. This hunt was about an intangible journey, a journey filled with internal needs and desires, but it was also pushing against the extrinsic forces about why we hunt. Find that sheep, and kill him. But also celebrate our existence because of the moment and become a better hunter if that doesn’t happen.

So I questioned, what is hunting?

This hunt was a shot in the dark. Something I had heard and thought about, even dreamt about, though I knew nothing about. It was followed by an anxiety-laden stare that occurred when I first saw that I had drawn this public-land tag in a state that I knew nothing about, for an animal I knew nothing about. It was the blood, sweat, and early morning pain that came with the many, many, months of build-up training in an attempt to get me ready for the physical rigors of the hunt — built around the realities of life, work, and family. The sacrifices, the many hours of time spent away from loved ones, to then spend even more time away from loved ones to go attempt the hunt.

It was the eventual night before the start of the hunt, where I was literally sick to my stomach with dread for the day had arrived. It was anxiety to a point where I couldn’t even eat a single bite of dinner, as the unknown of tomorrow ravaged my nervous system. The terrain, the animal, the requirement that is going to tax your body, all of it new. Was I ready? What was this hunt going to offer for me? Could I handle it?

It was summiting that first mountain, breathing hard, sweat dripping from every pore on my body and staring across a landscape that was mine. It was realizing here in this moment that you want your boys to be able to experience this same feeling one day, the opportunity that public land provides every American. The indelible freedoms inherently tied with that land, and looking out over the land and realizing the pressures pushing on its borders, and how we must fight to protect them — not just for us — for our future generations.

Hunting is the testing of fortitude to go day after day up those mountains. Beating myself up all day, crashing at night, and waking before light to do it all over again. My legs screaming with lactic-acid build-up, stiff and sore from the previous day’s exertions. My breathing so labored I didn’t know how long it would take to gain my breath back. Looking up to what is left to climb and realizing at the end of the day that I conquered, adding one more notch on that belt of fortitude.

It is the landscape elements that took my breath away day after day — the bitter cold, the sunshine, the wind — causing sunburn and simultaneously pummeling your core with fifty mile-per-hour gusts that were not in the forecast. It was overcoming these obstacles thrown up by Mother Nature to truly understand her beauty.

It was returning late at night, and hoping to catch the boys and wife before they were asleep to share with them the days’ adventures through messages and FaceTime. Sharing with them my experience, engaging them, showing them what Dad is going through. It was also the solitude on that mountain making me contemplate life, contemplate those things that I am so grateful for. Those quiet moments that made me appreciate who my wife is, what she means to me, what she is sacrificing for me to be able to fulfill this dream.

It was stalking into a ram from two miles out, setting up and attempting to control my body convulsing in the nervous excitement of that moment. That singular moment of anticipation stretching out to into eons. The guide saying, “you see him? Take the shot!” All I can see is his head in the scope. He needs to take two more steps and he will be in my crosshairs and likely dead. Those seconds that felt like hours. Only to see that animal turning around, moving off.

It was the intangible unpredictability of it all, the extreme unpredictability of the outcome that comes with hunting. It is something that there is nothing to do but to accept. That same ram — one minute later — was shot out from underneath us by another set of public land hunters that were after the same band. It was being distraught in that moment, not knowing if another opportunity would be available, shutting my eyes and contemplating the what if?

It was looking at the guide at that moment and realizing something. I wasn’t cursing, not saying poor me, all of what I have been through for this, right here? But rather, I broke out in a smile. As I lay prone, raising my head over my gun and I fist-bumped my guide and said: “This is hunting.”

The question likely looming in the back of your mind is whether I got another opportunity? The answer doesn’t matter, as I found what I was after — Hunting.

Posted by Adam Janke