The Hunter’s Heart – What’s Missing in Today’s Outdoor Industry By BWB Team Member Mark Scheeren
I enjoy watching outdoor television. I’m also aware that what I am watching is entertainment, and that most of it is fairly rehearsed and scripted. As long as I watch these shows with this in mind, I remain entertained and at times amused. It’s fun to watch people have success killing really big deer as well as other species for the record books. These shows make it look easy and give flight to our fantasies about the hunts some of us might never have the opportunity to experience. But while entertaining, a hunting show can only demonstrate a very limited perspective on the topic at hand, and to a certain point, this limited view provides the public with a mere snapshot of the actual experience. Certain aspects of hunting do not make for exciting “entertainment,” so those portions are simply excluded. Unfortunately it’s these parts that give context to the incredible depth of the true hunting experience. Outdoor entertainment misses the center point – in many cases it misses the “hunter’s heart.”
An Important Discovery
As you might know from my other articles, I help people with severe addiction issues. And it was through helping thousands of outdoorsman with these addiction problems that I discovered what I like to call the “hunter’s heart.” I’ve worked with these troubled people for the last 27 years, and I’ve also hunted for more than 34 years. So the discovery of the hunter’s heart was not a casual event. It was exposed through my own personal experience of overcoming a substance use problem, and also by engaging in thousands of conversations I’ve had over the past 3 decades with my fellow hunters and huntresses who happened to have addiction issues.
I originally thought I was unique in my experience with drugs and alcohol and how the outdoors kept me grounded as I struggled through that tenuous period in my life. As the years went by and I found myself helping other sportsmen through their struggles, I began to hear their life stories and their examples of overcoming personal challenges by remaining tied to the outdoors. I can remember the first time I heard one of my retreat guests say, “As soon as my drinking became more important than my annual hunting trip out west, I knew I had to get help.” That statement caught my attention, because that is exactly how I felt when I was drinking too much. That particular conversation happened in 1989 and I began to understand that the outdoor experience, especially hunting, had a dramatic power to guide and right a failing life. I’ve heard that line, or some variation of it, more than a thousand times since. Like my own experience, something deep develops in the hunter that makes him or her acutely aware of their core values. I call that thing; that developed awareness, the hunter’s heart. I wanted to know more about their hunter’s heart and how it kept them grounded and searching for a better life. Why were they, like me, driven to get back to the woods and feel that sense of freedom and the thrill of the chase?
So what is the Hunter’s Heart Exactly?
Inside all humans is a latent desire that can only be ignited by experiencing the outdoors. And if you spend enough time there you will feel the natural pull of the woods, streams and seas, the land and the air. The more time you spend in it, the greater that pull. Watch people run in a marathon sometime, you will see the hunter’s heart is present there too. This development doesn’t just occur in hunters. The need to run, to conquer, to compete in the open air; it’s an unexplainable driving force inside every human. I see it in stand hunters too, like my father-in-law who hunts for whitetails from the comfort of his old-school wooden platform deer stands he has built through the decades behind his house. If the season is good, he gets his deer quick. If not, he spends every day in silence from dusk till dawn until a buck or doe is hanging on the game pole in his garage. He has Iroquois blood in him and you can see his ability to sit quietly like the Indians of old, day in, and day out. That quietness is the hunter’s heart at work too. Human’s desire that quiet whether they know it or not. My dad knows it because the whitetail taught him to wait patiently. Outdoor tv cannot bring that quality to the screen – it’s got no “entertainment” value.
Nowhere is the hunter’s heart more tested and strengthened than in a tracker’s desire to kill a big woods buck. It tests the mind, body, and the full consciousness of the human being. It calms and excites at the same time. The body will get pushed to its limits and beyond. I have been walking, on the track, and found myself in true joy, true freedom of the mind and body. To be honest it’s almost other-worldly – it’s one of only a handful of times I’ve felt true bliss in my life. Can a camera crew catch that? I’ve only seen it a few times in years of watching outdoor television. Those are very personal feelings that I think are very difficult to catch on film.
As I learned more about the hunter’s heart and how powerful it is once fully developed, I also began to see how much of it was missing in the outdoor industry which was becoming more gear driven and for lack of a better term – scripted. You see, the hunter’s heart cannot be demonstrated well on TV because it is inside of you and develops there in the quietness of your most private thoughts and emotions. So it does not translate well on the TV screen.
However, there is a small moment in time, the blink of an eye really, that outdoor TV centers around. It’s the kill shot. And for what it is worth, I think this portion of outdoor TV has been a huge benefit to our society, and also a huge detriment.
The benefit first:
While the anti-hunters can point to these scenes as cruel examples of barbarism, I think it has exposed where food comes from and is unapologetic for it, which is fantastic. It also represents the climax of the hunter’s heart. And for this fact alone, if we get to experience a moment of triumph, I applaud the kill shot. It does translate on film because it is the most dramatic moment of any hunt, and it is a visual imagery of victory and conquest; the ultimate goal attained. I don’t always applaud how the hunters behave after the kill shot, but to be honest I understand that elation too. I certainly get the celebratory craziness of the moment after a kill. I too have gone full bore ecstatic after a hard fought hunt comes to a dramatic close. And make no mistake; killing something, taking its life, is dramatic in every sense of the word.
So it makes sense that outdoor TV would gravitate to the kill shot. Trying to explain what is occurring in the hunter’s heart is a massive challenge, especially in a piece of film that is less than a half hour. So for now the focus will probably remain focused on kill shots and gear (sponsors).
Now the detrimental part:
Because the rest of the heartfelt internal dialogue and feelings are missing from these short visual presentations, the kill shot is cheapened. No matter how much footage is devoted to an explanation of what went into that hunt, the viewer really does not have an adequate idea of the heartfelt emotions and work that goes into a successful hunt. They cannot truly feel what that hunter’s heart feels and what he has put into that effort. Those who do not have the hunter’s heart will never understand the work it takes to be a great hunter, or even a descent one. They will never understand why there is elation in the conquest of an animal and all it provides.
I also think as soon as we as hunters quietly apologize for the kill by using inappropriate soft terms like “harvest a game animal” we are placating the anti’s, and the truth of the real victory we’ve accomplished is tarnished. We sound quietly guilty, and a hunt is probably in reality the most pure human activity in modern society we could be a part of, so no guilt should exist in it. The act of hunting is immersing yourself in the life and death process we all will someday be a part of by default. The hunter embraces and celebrates this inevitable reality, and smiles while being a player in it – he participates! Yet we see the quiet apology through that word - harvest. We’re not picking the animal off a tree for God’s sake – we’re killing it and eating it! The truth is this – we hunt to conquer and devour game. It’s natural, exciting, sad, and blissful all mixed together. And if you do not feel all four of those things at some point in this thing we call hunting, then you have not developed the fullness of your hunting heart. This feeling of elation does not occur in a slaughter house for a reason – because the hunter’s heart is not in such places. And unfortunately, I fear it gets missed on the TV screen as well.
Tracking – The True Essence of the Hunter’s Heart
There is an intimacy in tracking big woods bucks that cannot happen in other forms of hunting. You literally study and participate in your quarry’s life before you take it. This is no small thing. Your mind and heart is wrapped up in imagining the deer and what he was doing in the script of his tracks. You learn his habits, his behaviors and you imagine what he looks like; how big his rack might be, how much will he weigh, how dark is his coat, how wore down are his teeth? It’s visceral. It takes only a few hard tracking jobs to quickly develop the fundamental building blocks of a hunter’s heart. I believe there is no quicker way to ignite the latent hunting desire and develop it more soundly than in tracking and killing a big woods buck.
So while the current outdoor script is based on the kill shot, we must remember that much more went into that hunt than meets the camera eye. We must also assume that those who create these scripts are like those of us that have developed the hunter’s heart, and maybe this is their only way to demonstrate the excitement of a long, weary hunt in less than 15 minutes of actual air time. And in the meantime, if you are interested in developing your own hunter’s heart I suggest you give tracking a try. It is one of the most gratifying ways to hunt and build confidence, and find peace in an overly busy life.
If you or anyone you know has a problem with addiction or would like more information about the St. Jude Retreats and/or the St. Jude Program click here or if you would like to call Mark Scheeren directly and confidentially dial toll free (877) 678-0297.
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