Since l972, on the fourth Saturday in September, we celebrate National Hunting and Fishing Day. http://www.nhfday.org/ It definitely supports hunting and fishing by holding events that seek to draw more people into outdoor sports.
More than ever, the challenge to hunters is that general media are not very sympathetic to hunting and fishing. Studies clearly show that mainstream media is 10-17 times more negative and sensational than focused on news, and so when something like Cecil the Lion comes along, the prejudices all come out, targeting all hunters as bad guys, regardless of what the reality is.
Media are a powerful force today. Not that many years ago feature films like "The Ghost and the Darkness" looked kindly on hunters, but these days films in the theaters that show hunters and fishermen as heroes are rare. Positive TV shows about hunting and fishing generally are on outdoor channels that reach people who are already hunters and fishermen.
To solidify hunting as part of modern times, there needs to be a number of different ways to show people that hunters are ethical conservationists, regardless what the media say. In keeping with this goal, I'd like to suggest a second national celebration day to honor hunters – St. Hubert's Day. We already have Christmas, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, and Halloween that combine celebration with some kind of spiritual tradition, although most have become commercial affairs with little meaning beyond greeting cards, special treats, and food. I propose that November 3, be declared St. Hubert's Day to honor ethical hunting, and that it should not become too commercialized, as when St. Hubert's Day is optimally celebrated, the entire community is welcomed into a church for a celebration that honors St. Hubert, the patron saint of hunting, and recognizes hunters as devoted conservationists.
Presently, in the USA, a few churches in the Midwest and Rockies hold a "Hunter's Service" on the eve of the hunting season, and a few St. Hubert's churches may hold special services, but in general the ethics and spirituality of modern hunting are pretty much left up to individuals.
I know people who say prayers when they get into their tree stand, such as the "Hunter's Prayer" that I learned as a child, "God, if I shoot at something today, please let me kill it quickly, or miss it completely." Other hunters say prayers when they kill something, but these are personal, and we need to find ways to draw the entire community into honoring the spirit of the hunt.
In contrast, each November throughout Europe and in some parts of Canada, special ceremonies and festivities are held to honor St. Hubert, the patron saint of hunting, woodsmen, and metallurgy. The epi-center of his veneration is the town of St. Hubert in Belgium, http://www.bargaintraveleurope.com/08/Belgium_St_Hubert_Ardennes.htm which is near the Ardennes forest in southeast Belgium that extends into Luxembourg, Germany and France. Annual colorful festivities on and around November 3, St. Hubert's birthday, draw crowds of 10,000 or more. Elsewhere in Europe, schools are closed on St. Hubert's Day, churches and massive cathedrals conduct the Mass of Saint Hubert, where hunters who are dressed in field gear, their dogs, falcons, and guns, are brought into churches and cathedrals for blessings.
The Story of Saint Hubert
Herbert, the eldest son of Bertrans, Duke of Aquitaine, was born in 638 AD. He became a prince in the House of Aquitaine in France and enjoyed the "good life" of nobility, but most of all he loved hunting. Supposedly one Good Friday, when he should have been in church, Hubert galloped off on horseback to hunt stag. His hounds cornered a large stag. As Hubert approached the stag, suddenly Hubert had a vision of a glowing crucifix appearing over the stag's head. A voice spoke to him and said: "Hubert, unless thou turnest to the Lord, and leadest a holy life, thou shalt quickly go to hell."
Hubert climbed down off his horse and begged forgiveness. The voice instructed him to seek guidance from Lambert, Bishop of Maastrichcht. Not long after seeking out the Bishop, Hubert's wife died in childbirth. Hubert soon entered the Abbey of Staveleot, became Lambert's student, and became a priest, giving his belongings to charity and the care of his young son to his brother.
Lambert advised Hubert to make a pilgrimage to Rome in 705 AD. During Hubert's absence, Lambert was murdered. Hubert was selected by the Pope to succeed his mentor as Bishop. Later Hubert built St. Peter's Cathedral in Liege, Belgium, on the spot where Lambert had died, and he in turn became the patron of the city.
Hubert applied his passion for hunting to his faith, establishing Christianity in large sections of the Ardennes Forest. He preached to many of the hunters and he hunted and kept dogs all his life. Hubert is also said to have been blessed with miraculous powers to heal rabies, aided by a special white and gold silk scarf that he said was given to him by the Blessed Virgin Mary. He also had a golden key, which was reputed to be a healing amulet.
Hubert died quietly on May 30, 727 AD. In 1744 he was canonized as the patron saint of hunting and butchers.
Hubert's body rests in the Andain monastery in the Ardennes, which today is known as St. Hubert's Abbey. The location of the abbey, and the Belgian town of Saint Hubert, is close to where Hubert saw the stag with the cross between his antlers.
Each November 3, Saint Hubert's Day, all across France, Luxembourg, Germany and Belgium, thousands of people attend special masses and celebrations to honor Saint Hubert. http://www.face.eu/about-us/resources/news/european-hunters-day-sthubert During these festivities special blessings are said for the safety and success of hunters and the health of their animals – dogs are blessed for protection from diseases like rabies -- and special religious music (Grande Mess de Saint Hubert) is performed by parforce hunting horns. http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/Name/Franz-Zwierzina/Composer/75339-1
To many European hunters, making the pilgrimage to St. Hubert, Belgium, on Saint Hubert's Day is like visiting Jerusalem at Easter. For a US hunter, the only thing comparable is a visit to Aldo Leopold's "shack" on the banks of the Wisconsin River in Baraboo, WI, https://www.aldoleopold.org/visit/the-shack/ where Leopold penned A Sand County Almanac.
St. Hubert's Day in the US?
Honoring St. Hubert's Day all across North America would be a step in helping the general public accept hunters and hunting as a very ethical pursuit. There are many ways to honor St. Hubert and there are some celebrations in North America, such as the St. Hubert Catholic Churches in Harrison Township, Mi., http://www.sthubertchurch.com/, Langely, Wa. http://sthubertchurch.org/, and Garyville, LA http://www.thecatholicdirectory.com/directory.cfm?fuseaction=display_site_info&siteid=64682 In Kentucky there is a blessing of hunting hounds on November 3. https://houndwelfare.wordpress.com/2009/11/03/st-hubert-and-the-blessing-of-the-hounds/ While St. Hubert is a Catholic saint, he is also honored in other Christian traditions, including Episcopalian http://bondurantwyoming.org/church/ . One special Episcopalian church honoring St. Hubert is found in Bondurant,Wyoming. http://bondurantwyoming.org/church/ This church, built in 194i, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.
One of the most spectacular St. Hubert celebrations is held in Cap St. Ignace, Quebec, (an area known for its snow goose migrations). In early September the Mass of St. Hubert is said in the local church. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cap-Saint-Ignace,_Quebec. Hunters, dressed in their hunting clothes, file into the church, bringing their dogs and guns to be blessed. Then the procession including game wardens and the clergy, enters and exits the church under an archway of guns held aloft by hunters wearing camouflage and orange.
There is also an international order of St. Hubert, http://www.iosh-usa.com/ a worldwide organization of hunters who are also wildlife conservationists and are respectful of traditional hunting ethics and practices. Founded in 1695, the motto of the Order is "Deum Diligite Animalia Diligentes" or "Honoring God by Honoring His Creatures." The International Order of St. Hubertus is a knightly order in the historical tradition. The Order is under the Royal Protection of His Majesty Juan Carlos of Spain, the Grand Master Emeritus His Imperial and Royal Highness Archduke Andreas Salvator of Austria and our Grand Master is His Imperial and Royal Highness Istvan von Habsburg Lothringen, Archduke of Austria, Prince of Hungary.
You don't need to be a knight to recognize St. Hubert. Instead of the normal commercialization of holidays, aside from the blessings of hunters, dogs and guns, why not honor the spirit of the hunt with a wild game dinner that invites all the community to share the bounty of the wild. Such pageantry helps solidifies the ethics, spirituality and community acceptance of hunting as an enduring legacy that honors man and nature.
Happy St. Hubert's Day!*
-James A. Swan, PhD.
*The story of St. Hubert's Day with photos of celebrations in Europe and Canada, and other religious traditions to honor hunters, can be found in THE SACRED ART OF HUNTING by James A. Swan, Ph.D., Willow Creek Press, 2000. http://www.amazon.com/Sacred-Art-Hunting-Legends-Modern/dp/1572231882
Episcopal WY -- http://bondurantwyoming.org/church/