No matter your personality or background, an innate desire to learn more about why you are the way you are exists within most of us. It’s introspection, a desire to dig deep within yourself and your past to determine what makes you tick the way that you do. Stories about generations of outdoorsman have seated into your conscious, evoking thoughts of your own hunting adventures. Each story stirs a distinctive scent deep in your lungs. It pervades your being. It makes you smile. These questions of self and belonging are not unique to any one of us. These stories answer the question of where you belong, to whom you belong.
Unlike a traditional story where fathers, grandfathers, mothers, and grandmothers handed down generations of stories, hunting areas, and even weapons, my story is a little different. I had everything of the hunting life given to me, all BUT the personal experience of it. I was surrounded by the trophies, the stories, and even a letter from my paternal grandfather as he told me that the hunt was “In My Blood.” My heritage was ingrained in the outdoors. On one side, I came from a family that was fiercely protective of a conservation heritage. I was descended from the first forester of the Sachsenwald in Northern Germany, the first nature preserve of its kind. My family was the first guardians of the forest and its creatures. They worked to ensure sustainability and maximize harvest. The other side of the family were hunter-gatherers, not by choice, but by necessity. During his lifetime, my grandfather hunted the far reaches of the world from the Siberian taiga to the African savanna of Mozambique, at times to feed the family and others to connect with with what he knew as a desire to be.
Based on my past and my family, hunting, game management, and a conservation ethic was definitely somewhere in my blood. More accurately, the pulse was there, but I didn’t know what it was. The lifestyle wasn’t afforded to me, and the experience of hunting wasn’t available. A revolution had occurred in Mocambique that curtailed all hunting activities, and the government took away everyone’s guns. In South Africa, where I was raised, there were and currently are no hunting seasons. There are no public lands to hunt on, no public licenses to purchase. Strange, right? You probably have a vision of what Africa is like, with its open expanses of savanna and herds of game flowing through the plains, a hunter’s paradise. Your vision is correct. South Africa is a wonderful country with awe-inspiring vistas and amazing wildlife. But hunting is for the select few who can afford it. A blue-collared, hard-working South African cannot afford to hunt.
When I look at the liberties afforded to you in the United States of America, I consider it incomprehensible. I am going to go out on a limb and say that this liberty is likely lost on most of you, that it is very often taken for granted. I say that only from a perspective of someone who came from a place where there was no opportunity to connect with something that pulsed within me.
This opportunity is not lost on me. I often catch myself walking down what seems like the middle of nowhere, a shotgun or rifle over my shoulder wearing one of those face-splitting, ear-to-ear grins that screams, “What is this life!” I can’t help to exclaim the freedoms provided to us, and I want you to do the same. Next time you are out in the wild, take a moment and look around. Smell it. Feel it. Breathe it in. Let those hard-fought freedoms soak into your pores. Only a minute percentage of the world’s population will ever get to experience what we have inherited, and we get to experience daily, which makes it all the more important to secure the legacy for those who will follow us.
My connection to my past was embedded in me as a result of genetics. Maybe yours was similarly started. But that connection has been slowly fueled through time with knowledge and a way of life that was born out of conservation and hunting.
As you read this, you are reliving that heritage.
You likely feel it beating in your chest.
This stirring, this feeling, is now pulsing within me, and my experience allows me to fully recognize it.
It is also pulsing in my two young boys. Everything that is in my blood is now in theirs.
I have the opportunity to give them what was denied to me during my own youth. I can afford them all the opportunities that weren’t available to me.
I’m encouraging my boys to discover their pulse. You will hear it for what it means to you, and one day, so will they. I realize it’s bigger than you. It’s bigger than me. It’s the investment in our heritage.