Thursday, July 9, 2009

Instincts and Hunting

© 2009, 2010 Albert A Rasch and
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles
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"In a very real sense our intellect, interests, emotions and basic social life - all are evolutionary products of the success of the hunting adaptation."
SL Washburn and CS Lancaster

All the PeTA drama of the last couple of weeks, plus the great intellectual stimulation that I have been fortunate to have when discussing animal issues with Brendan of Screaming Chicken Activism, got me to think more deeply as to why I hunt. I think it was Brendan that mentioned to me that I really didn't need to hunt, and that he thought there was a dichotomy in the desire I have to hunt and kill, and my love of animals.

I believe that when I made the comment that it just sort of came to me. I know it was late and I was tired, so it was more subconscious than deduced and thought out. The answer that I gave him was that I have always been a hunter, even as a child. Not in the sense that I was formally inducted into the hunting fraternity by cousins, uncles, or my dad, no one in my family hunts. But ever since I was very young I stalked animals, bugs, people, birds, even fish. My mother got plenty of phone calls, and not more than a few visits from concerned parents and the occasional cop with young Albert in tow! I don't remember how many bows I made from anything remotely flexible, and the scar on my thumb is from a Gillete single edge razor blade that sliced me down to the tendon while I was sharpening arrows made from bamboo.

As I have been contemplating this, it occurred to me to question how much of that was some deep instinctual behavior, versus an observed or learned one. Well, it seemed to me to be more an instinct than anything else. First, I had no role models to instill the desire to hunt in me. Television in the sixties did not have Sportsman Channel or Outdoor Channel. As a matter of fact it was black and white for those of you that aren't familiar with non cable TV! Another factor would be that I was raised in New York City. I only recall two times that I saw a hunter with a deer strapped to the hood of the car. It wasn't like my neighbors encouraged hunting as a leisure activity.

So where did my instinct to hunt come from then?

Why it has to be from the Paleolithic Era of course!

We have been "civilized" for a little over 10,000 years. But for 2.6 million years before that, we were little more than roving bands of hungry humans looking for our next meal.

2.6 million years as Homo Sapiens, but about 5 million years if you include Homo Habilis, followed by 10,000 years of so called civilization, that has also been punctuated by famines, diseases, and pestilence. 5 million years of evolution and not much has really changed as far as I can tell in the 0.5% of time we have been "civilized."

I'm thinking that my instinct theory is getting some traction here. If all humans are animals, then it stands to reason that we have some instincts left. Just because we are the only reasoning animal on the planet, doesn't mean that we have no instincts left. I and many others must still feel the pull of the outdoors and the need to pit our abilities, as considerable as they are, against nature.

That we don't need to hunt may not be an accurate statement. I am now, more than ever convinced that we not only need to hunt, but it is unnatural to subvert or suppress that need or instinct. As I told Brendan, I could no more be a non-hunter, than he could be a carnivore. Though I think that it might be easier for Brendan to eat a hunk of steak if he was hungry enough and not suffer much emotional discomfort, than it would be to keep me from the outdoors. I think that is very indicative of the importance of the instinct, the natural desire to be the top predator in nature's tapestry.

The more I think about this, the more I conclude that to deny the nature of being human, that is to deny the parts of us tat are still driven by instinct, is just asking to be sick both emotionally and physically. If any of us was forced to forego our basic human nature, physical and emotional harm would soon follow.

For me it all boils down to this: I am a hunter. I am driven by a passion greater than that of those around me because I acknowledge and accept that which nature bestowed upon me. As long as I treat nature and her gift to me with respect, I will continue to be whole... and human.

Albert A Rasch
Member: Hunting Sportsmen of the United States HSUS (Let 'em sue me.)
The Hunt Continues...

Best Regards,
Albert A Rasch
Member: Kandahar Tent Club
Member: Hunting Sportsmen of the United States HSUS (Let 'em sue me.)
The Hunt Continues...

The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles

Though he spends most of his time writing and keeping the world safe for democracy, Albert was actually a student of biology. Really. But after a stint as a lab tech performing repetitious and mind-numbing processes that a trained capuchin monkey could do better, he never returned to the field. Rather he became a bartender. As he once said, "Hell, I was feeding mice all sorts of concoctions. At the club I did the same thing; except I got paid a lot better, and the rats where bigger." He has followed the science of QDM for many years, and fancies himself an aficionado. If you have any questions, or just want to get more information, reach him via TheRaschOutdoorChronicles(at)MSN(dot)com.

Best Regards,
Albert Rasch™
Veteran Paints Lures in Smokin' Hot Colors!

Best Regards,
Albert A Rasch™
TROC: Helping Bird Rescuers

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Albert A Rasch™
Spoons: They're Not Just for Cereal!


me said...

Great post Albert.

As I read novels and nonfiction I find that many people think of animals as people with fur.

I've said this before, I think people are actually animals without fur.

Even people who don't like rodeos have told me they think hunters are some of the most conservation/animal loving people they know.

Wild Ed said...

I have always had the urge to hunt and be in nature. My mother tells stories of seeing me stalk deer with a BB gun in Central Texas when I was 5 years old. The other urge that non hunters do not understand it the urge to be close to wildlife and to preserve it. I have picked up and brought home every kind of young thing to raise and nurture. We raised baby deer,coons,skunks, possums, fox, coyotes and others. I have had every kind of snake, turtle and other weird creature I could find as a child and all were treated well and loved. Hunters are the true naturalists and will not only use the resource but preserve it.

native said...

Albert you have placed into prose what I am always thinking, but just can't quite seem to articulate as well as you have done here in this post.

Thank you for being the voice for me and all of the others like myself.

Anonymous said...

You hit this post right out of the park Albert, nice job!

I especially like the last chapter.

Dick said...

Well said!

"Zack" said...

Great post, Albert. Many people today are one paycheck away from needing to bag their food. Hunting is a heritage. My parents lived much of their lives needing to hunt, it was not a recreation.

Do I need to hunt today? No. Will I need to hunt tomorrow... maybe.

I have been somewhat amused at those who will eat farm raised duck or pheasant at restaurants but frown at hunters.

Isaac said...

In a great book called "The Omnivores Dilemma" Michael Pollan summed it up quite well. While this isn't a direct quote he said something like 'The paradox of the animal rights movement is that they want us to acknowledge how much we are like animals and then ask us to be so unlike them by not hunting'. Again, not a direct quote but that was the jist of the idea and I think it says it quite well.

We are animals, some of us omnivores, some of us herbivores but you don't see deer petitioning mountain lions to change their ways. They just accept that fact of life.

Bonneville Mariner said...

"We have been "civilized" for a little over 10,000 years. But for 2.6 million years before that, we were little more than roving bands of hungry humans looking for our next meal."

Nice point, Albert.

As you might know, I'm not a hunter at all (though I've been known to cast a fishing line or two), but just because I don't have a passion for it doesn't mean I don't still have that instinct somewhere deep down. It's just a matter of which catalyst will bring it out.

SimplyOutdoors said...

Very well said, Albert. It is always so hard to explain to an anti, or a person interested, why we hunt. And I think, as you have touched on, that it is so hard because it is so deeply rooted in our being; in our make-up.

I, also like you, think that to deny our natural need to hunt and provide is ultimate denial and results in lost souls.

We are hunters. We are human.


Phillip Loughlin said...

Man, I've been out of the Rasch loop for too long, I'm afraid.

Sounds like some great discussions have been going on.

As to whether we "need" to hunt wild animals for our food or sustenance, of course not. Modern society has provided that function for us through agriculture. Food, shelter, and clothing are all available without most of us ever needing to get so much as a drop of blood on our hands.

But if you'll look at human nature and behavior, you'll find that predatory behavior runs through much of our daily lives... from childhood through the boardroom. It's everywhere we look.

Someone mentioned Michael Pollan's point that the animal rights folks insistence that we treat animals like humans, kinda flies in the face of the fact that animals aren't human, humans are animal. It's a screwball paradox to call a human hunter "sick" and at the same time revere the predatory nature of the lion or wolf.

Anyway, it's a never-ending discussion. Glad to know it's still going on.

Holly Heyser said...

Re: "I've said this before, I think people are actually animals without fur."

Dennis, I agree!

And Albert, to anyone who says I "don't need to hunt," I respond, "and you don't NEED to go to the grocery store - you could get healthier food elsewhere." I'm tired of people telling me that our perverted system of mass food production for a bloated population is somehow morally superior to my decision to hunt.

But I agree with you on the other "need" to hunt. I'm working on an essay that touches on that as we speak, and it's true - once I tapped into this world (and I'm so grateful I did), I found this really is a huge need for me.


B said...


I just stumbled across this post now, you should have told me sooner. It was a pleasure to read - I'm glad I got you thinking about this issues.

Believe it or not, I somewhat agree with you, in the capacity that survival and likewise hunting for survival is in human "nature" or "instinct". Heck, if I was lost in the forest with a a gun and animals - human or non-human - I would probably kill both for survival.

I have friends who have, and are re-wilding at the moment. They are off in the Canadian woods living on the land, living like people did all those years ago. They forage most of their food, and they use primitive forms of permaculture, but they hunt I'd say 15% of their food. Even though they are living "naturally" I'm not happy with them and I'll explain why now.

Just because something is "natural" or because it has become a "habit" of humans so to speak, does not make it morally right. As far as I understand, your argument in this post is that simply because we been hunting for so long and because it is a "natural" instinct that that makes it morally permissable. I find this argument troubling for a number of reasons.

Firstly, there is much evidence to suggest that human are not natural hunters ( or omnivores for that matter), rather that when we evolved from primates hunting became a thing of opportunity, meaning it was not an intrinsic instinct that was needed for survival. In fact, nomadic hunters would often leave their families for months at a time, at which point the woman of the families would forage for food - which made up over 85% of all their food.

Secondly, as I mentioned before, just because it is "natural" doesn't make it morally right. Furthermore, it is not "natural" in the sense that it is needed for survival. In this sense, the word "natural" means nothing more than habit.

In which case I will propose to you the question: "Would you say that you are against needless suffering and death of an animal?"

I have not yet come across anyone that has said that they are for needless suffering and death of an animal, and you yourself proclaim to love animals.

However, if the term "needless suffering" is to mean anything at all, than it most mean that we cannot inflict suffering for reasons of pleasure, habit, or convenience.

I believe your argument for the continuation of "hunting" falls into the category of habit. I would hasten to guess that it also falls into the category of pleasure and perhaps convenience as well.

In any case, thats my two cents regarding the issue of your moral confusion with animals. I realize that you have been a hunter for many many years, and are less likely to change because of that. You are set in your ways, and will come up with arguments to justify those ways (as I did in the past), but please try to consider my message, and please think about what it means if you can truly say that you love animals that you know while killing animals that you don't.


P.S. HSUS is an animal welfare organization and isn't against hunting per se, just when its done cruelly. I actually think that you would make a good HSUS advocate - from what I can understand your theory on animal use is pretty much in line with theirs.

Holly Heyser said...

Re this: "Firstly, there is much evidence to suggest that human are not natural hunters ( or omnivores for that matter), rather that when we evolved from primates hunting became a thing of opportunity, meaning it was not an intrinsic instinct that was needed for survival."

Uh, not true. There's plenty of evidence we and our ancestors have been eating meat for 2 million years (back to the habilenes), hunting it when we could and scavenging when we were not successful at hunting. Plenty of our fellow primates still to this day hunt when given the chance, and crave meat-based protein, which, incidentally, is widely believed to be at least in part responsible for our success as a species. And since when does opportunistic hunting not represent an instinctive act? That's just silly.

In reality, humans are the most moral hunters on the planet, because we have self-imposed restraints - even historically among hunter-gatherers, with obvious aberrations at certain points in history. Hunters seek a clean, quick kill, which is more than I can say for my cat or any other predator in nature.

Finally, the HSUS position on hunting is a joke. It purports to oppose only "abusive" or "egregious" forms of hunting, when in reality, it focuses on low-hanging fruit - anything that's not popular in the polls. Really, what's egregious about dove hunting? Nothing. HSUS targets it because it's unpopular. I'm far more interested in what HSUS does than what it says - the former is a more reliable indicator of intent.

Feel free to be a vegan or vegetarian, Brendan, but most of us (96.8 percent of American adults) prefer not to deny our obvious desire and need for meat. And among all meat eaters, hunters are most in tune with the real meaning of our actions and don't take a single bite of animal flesh for granted. In short, you're barking up the wrong tree.

B said...

I will keep my comments brief because, Norcal, your right, I'm barking up the wrong tree. Hunters who have been hunting for X many years are not gonna turn around and go vegan because of some comment I write on a blog.

I'll say one thing though, and that is that I've yet to hear a logical moral argument in defense of hunting, or animal use for that matter.

Albert has argued on his blog that because it is in our natural or intrinsic that it is acceptable. I'm pointed out problems with that, firstly that there's no proof its intrinsic, and more importantly that it doesn't matter.

If I may paraphrase your position it is because we can self impose restraints on us that that makes us the most moral hunters. You also used the "other animals hunt so why can't I" approach. However, this approach says nothing about our moral obligation to animals either.

I noticed you did not address my moral argument of needless cruelty, and I wonder what a animal loving hunters would think of that argument.

Also, its funny that you should say that humans are the only ones who hunt with restraint - for the opposite is true. Daniel Quinn touches on this topic a lot in his book "Ishmael", but I'll just say that humans as a species hunt and pillage far more than non-human animals due. In fact, we are responsible for the extinction of millions of species, a feat which no non-human animal has done before.

And lastly, humans are the only rational species, meaning we can understand and empathize with the suffering of others. Non-human animals cannot rationalize or empathize,they are different than use in this capacity, which means we have a moral obligation to other animals, non-human or human, to ensure that we do not inflict needless suffering. The only problem is, that humans all to often choose not to not to be compassionate, and then justify it by pointing to others who are totally different than they are in so way shape or form.

Anyway, I kind of rambled on so I'm gonna stop here.

It's nice to engage in this kind of debate once in a while though.


Holly Heyser said...

OK, Brendan. Let's take it bit by bit:

Whether you call it "intrinsic" or "instinctive," the fact is, we have evolved as a species that hunts. Historically in our species, those who have loved hunting and hunted well have been rewarded with fantastic protein intake and the blessings afforded by natural selection - the survival of their genes. It's a no-brainer that we have the instincts. Even if you choose to suppress yours.

I wouldn't expect you to understand the instinctive pull of hunting, but don't tell hunters that we don't understand our own instinctive drives. Especially don't tell me that. I came to hunting late in life and don't take anything I've felt for granted, and I can tell you I've been stunned every time I've turned around and realized that hunting was satisfying some instinctive drive that had never before had an outlet.

In terms of hunting with restraint: We set seasons, going through long periods where we cannot kill. We generally prohibit killing young, or taking from a nest. We stop at bag limits even if we have the need for more food. Please tell me about the animals that do that. I'd be happy to hear about it and adjust my statements accordingly.

Millions of species? Really? Please cite your source. I know species come and go all the time. I know humans have been responsible for a good number of them. But I would like to see details and a source on this. A credible one - peer-reviewed.

Humans the only rational species? I don't know why it continues to blow my mind that so many advocates for animals have such low opinions of them. What, you think elephants and whales and dolphins have the intellectual capacity of potato bugs? Please - give the rest of the animal kingdom some credit.

Needless cruelty? What, do you think I go blow holes into animals for shits and giggles? Wake up. I hunt animals so I can eat them. I hunt them because it gives me an incredibly healthy and tasty alternative to factory farmed animals. And beyond that, my goal is always to kill quickly, not to inflict long, painful suffering. I do not always reach my goal, but in the real world, those who die an instant death are the very rare lucky ones - among animals or humans.

Moral argument? I have never argued that killing animals is more moral than not killing them - though I will argue that having the courage to do your own killing, rather than cede it to a middleman, does deserve some moral credit. What I say is that I am an omnivore, and like other carnivores/omnivores on this planet, I eat meat. And in the process, I use my rational mind and big protein-fed brain to try to minimize any damage, suffering or harm associated with killing.

If you want to be a peaceful herbivore, content to kill plants and live with the collateral animal damage and habitat loss associate with farming, that's just great for you. I'm content with killing plants and crushing mice with farm equipment and even taking some animal habitat so I can have bread on the table, too. We probably agree on this one. But I'm also quite comfortable with my place on our planet - being an omnivore like many of my primate cousins - and don't feel compelled to change 2 million years of evolution out of some tortured sense of guilt.

Finally, I do not argue that what I do is right because other predators do it to. There's no doubt about it, killing is an unpleasant business. I argue that this is simply the way the planet is, and if I've learned anything in my years on this globe, it's that messing with the natural order of things is not a good idea.

To repeat: I don't care if you don't hunt. However, I utterly reject your judgment of my morals as they relate to the bubble you've decided to create for yourself.

Albert A Rasch said...

Where was I when this all came down the pike?

Looks like the start of another great post!


B said...


I'm tired of interweb battles. Albert, although your polite and all theres no point in continuing the debate. I can tell that even if any of us (you, me, norcal) came up with good arguments it still wouldn't change a damn thing.

That's why I didn't respond to norcals post - though I could have responded to each point with good sources, logic, facts and other stuff that could likely draw many other people to my side. I only responded to this post because I was mentioned in it - in hindsight I should not have said anything.

Please don't make another post about this - your only wasting time.


Holly Heyser said...

Brendan, vigorous debate is seldom a waste of time. Debates rarely result in conversions; what they do - when done well, anyway - is enlighten each side a bit more about where the other side comes from.

And when people pick apart my arguments, I learn from it. That's why I embrace this kind of debate.

B said...


We live in a world were over 100 billion sentient nonhumans are bred into an institutional system of violent slavery. (I should note that many humans unfortunatly also suffer from violence and/or slavery).

Citizens in society for the large part unknownly engage in this violent system. Many people would choose to opt out if the argument is presented to them in a coherent fashion.

Engaging hunters, (who willingly engage in this system) in thier own forum is simply stupid.

With that said I hope I have made my point. However, if your interested in the topic of the moral rights of animals, there is a wealth of compelling philosophical arguments - I suggest you check out the work of Dr.Tom Regan or Dr. Gary Francione.


Albert A Rasch said...


Though I applaud your passion, you also know that I think your position is ultimately wrong. I will however defend you right to discuss it here and elsewhere.

Remember what I mentioned on your blog some time ago: Knife sharpens on steel, Man sharpens on man.

NorCal is a formidable opponent, and I do remember warning you to have your ducks in a row when you crossed swords with her.

So don't give up, we enjoy the reparte, and it is my hope that everyone learns from the exchange.

You have to refine the moral argument. It's too vague and swiss cheese like; full of holes so to speak. Like your comment on social anarchism, you have to look at all the possible permutations.

As you like to say...

PS Remember you always have an open invite to discuss anything here.